It’s time to start planning your summer travels – and we have ideas.

It won’t be long before school ends for the summer and everyone will be ready for a vacation. Whether you take a road trip to a lakeside or ocean-side resort, or a dreamed-of adventure somewhere further away, it’s not too soon to start planning. You need something to look forward to, after all! If you’re short on ideas, allow us to help get your brainstorm started.

Chicago and Wisconsin Dells
The Windy City offers a variety of activities for people of all ages. And it’s easy to fly into and out of, since all major airlines serve the city. Take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory. Shop the many stores on Michigan Avenue. You can also take in one of the many museums, like the Museum of Science and Industry. At Millennium Park, your family can ride the huge Ferris wheel, or take pictures with the “bean” (Cloud Gate sculpture – monument? statute? artwork?). In the evening, the adults can grab tickets to Second City, the infamous comedy theater where many comedians get their start before moving on to Saturday Night Live or Comedy Central.

If you want to venture out of the Chicagoland area, Six Flags Great America amusement park and Wisconsin Dells – the “Waterpark Capital of the World” – are both within comfortable driving distance of Chicago and offer their own style of entertainment.

National Parks
We’re fortunate to have so many national parks that beautifully highlight and protect natural and man-made wonders. This summer might be the perfect time to take the kids to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, or “the heads” at Mount Rushmore. Each offers hiking in or around the park, an interpretive center with tours, and dining options. Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon have accommodations of various types within the park, and the Black Hills National Forest, where Mount Rushmore is located, has campgrounds and lodges. Space fills quickly in these government-owned facilities – sometimes within the first few weeks of the year. If you’re too late, commercial hotels, private campgrounds and vacation rental homes (check AirBnB or Vacation Rentals by Owner) are located near the attractions.

If you’re traveling with younger kids who are quick to say, “I’m bored!” we suggest you choose the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore over the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. Within the Black Hills National Forest is Custer National Park, where you can feed “wild” burros from the car window and see buffalo, antelope and other animals on the Wildlife Loop. You can also rent horses for a trail ride along French Creek and get an ice cream cone at Blue Bell Lodge. Just south of Custer, you can explore subterranean caves at Wind Cave National Park or experience an actual archeological dig at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs.

Lakeside / Oceanside Resorts
Perhaps your idea of summer is fishing from a dock, reading a good book, or just talking to your family without having a phone or computer between you. If this is you, consider heading to one of the many resort towns that dot our countryside. Take a boat out and find a hotbed of fish, or for a workout, strap on water skis or try stand-up paddle boarding. In the evenings, venture into the closest town and patronize the local greasy spoons that depend on people like you visiting. Some of the larger establishments may also have a pool table or dart board to spur on a friendly family competition.

Disney World
Few places in the country compare to Disney World for a family vacation – even in the resort’s “low season.” With the Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, Epcot and the Magic Animal Kingdom, it’s the ultimate destination for family fun. Kids can attend the Jedi Academy, sing along with Elsa, or learn to be a pirate from Captain Jack Sparrow. If that’s not enough, you can also see a Cirque du Soleil show or a movie at the park’s AMC movie theater. There’s no end to the imagination or the entertainment. There is also no end to the money you can spend here. One 4-day pass to the various parks within Disney World for a 10-year-old will run more than $300 – valid for only one park per day.

For all that money you spend, you’ll never need to leave the Disney property during your stay, as accommodations and dining options abound. Lodging options range from campground stays for $49 a night up to deluxe resort hotels for $284 a night or deluxe resort villas for $318 nightly. Book before June 12 and you can get 30 percent off rates on select rooms if you plan to stay between June 16 and August 27.

Wherever your summer travels take you, we hope you have fun and return home to your Heatilator fireplace well rested.

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