Go Free in D.C.
The vibrant blossoms of the cherry trees lining the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., make spring an especially magical time to visit. The appearance of the gorgeous pink flowers varies each year, depending on the weather conditions, but they tend to begin blooming between late March and early April and last as long as a couple weeks. And, of course, the city abounds in other free activities, like visits to the Lincoln Memorial and the fascinating Smithsonian museums.
It may still be chilly up north, but it’s not too early to hit the beaches of the southern states. While some towns traditionally attract party-hearty college students, plenty of others—like Jupiter, Fla., and Gulf Shores, Ala.—come tailor-made for families. Hint: Pick a resort with a robust kids’ program and you’ll have more time for yourself.
A great way to bond as a family is to get behind a cause together. One option: Sign up with a group like The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, where you can volunteer to do things like maintaining hiking trails or creating animal habitats.
Bring History to Life
Learn about the past—without schoolbooks—by visiting historic buildings and battlefields. Natchez, Miss., for example, boasts more preserved antebellum structures than any other city in the South. You can also tour Civil War sites, in places like Gettysburg (in Pennsylvania) and Manassas (in Virginia). Or walk Boston’s Freedom Trail, where you and the kids can learn about Paul Revere’s ride.
Visit a National Park
With pleasant temperatures and thinner crowds than in summer, spring is an ideal time to commune with nature at a national park. (Bonus: The parks offer one day of complimentary entry during National Park Week in April.) Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, has some 187,000 acres of old-growth forest, while the views from Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive in Virginia can’t be beat. Out west, explore the rocky canyons of New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument or Utah’s Zion National Park.
Hit the Slopes
Grab your board or skis: From east coast to west, spring skiing can be great, and many lifts continue to hum through mid-April or even later. (Oregon’s Mt. Hood is skiable virtually year-round.) Need a refresher? Just take a lesson. And keep an eye out for resorts offering family packages, which may include discounts on lodging and even free skiing for the little ones.
Feel at Home on the Range
At a dude ranch, you and the family can ride the trails together or just horse around. From Texas to Montana, flex your thigh muscles with a horseback ride through meadows awakening with flowers. Stay at a working ranch and you can experience the cowboy life: Help out with a cattle drive, or watch ranchers rope and brand cattle.
Hit up a Theme Park
Sure, you may have to brave some serious crowds, but theme parks offer memorable fun for the whole family. Thrill rides, parades, festivals and plenty of food make them a great option, whether you’re heading to Orlando, Anaheim or any of the parks throughout the country.
By Michele Shapiro