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14 Last-Minute Trips to Take Before Summer Ends

From splashing in water parks in Texas to stargazing in Nebraska and riding horse and buggies in northern Michigan, these last-minute trips will help you celebrate the last gasp of summer.

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Cancun Beach resort area, beach shote by Club MedCassiohabib/shutterstock

Club Med Cancun Yucatan

Dive into beach life one last time this summer! Club Med Cancun Yucatan is the resort that started the Cancun tourism boom four decades ago, and it’s still setting the gold standard for Mexican vacation destinations thanks to luxurious upgrades, the new on-site L’Occitane Spa, and being an all-inclusive that includes not only all your food and drink but also activities like water skiing and wakeboarding, trapeze lessons, snorkeling, archery, nightly live entertainment, sailing, and more.

Check out this last-minute Club Med Cancun special: Book by August 30, 2019, and score sweet perks, including a free stay for kids under four, up to 50 percent off for kids between four and 15 years old, and up to $400 air credit to help make flying down to Mexico more affordable.

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Interior of the National Gallery of Art,Anton_Ivanov/shutterstock

Historic post-World Cup weekend in D.C.

Watch USWNT World Cup Champions Rove Lavelle and Alex Morgan do battle when the Washington Spirit take on Orlando Pride at Audi Field on the weekend of August 24th. See a real Degas at the National Gallery of Art, pose with pandas at the National Zoo, and visit the stunning National Museum of African American History and Culture (all for free, of course). The nation’s capital is also a vegetarian’s delight. Be sure to dig into the inexpensive and outstanding Falafel Inc, (a quick-bites standout that shares a meal with a refugee for every one purchased) in the revitalized Wharf area as well as in Georgetown.

For a fine stay in that part of town, look to the always affordable Georgetown Suites, a perfect home away from home this summer. If you want to bet that you’ll have a winning last-minute summer getaway in the D.C. area, find a table with a friendly dealer and a stunning room at the MGM National Harbor. No matter where you stay, get your mouth watering by following District Eats, Washington D.C.’s premier foodie Instagram feed (pun intended).

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Mackinac IslandGary Richard Ennis/shutterstock

Mission Point, Mackinac Island

Escape the hustle and bustle of modern life this Labor Day weekend at Mission Point, Mackinac Island’s premier lakefront property set on 18 acres where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan. The elegant hotel is a kind of time capsule, storing away a more innocent, peaceful time in perpetuity; then delivering old fashioned exceptional service to its guests. Right now, Mission Point is offering an end-of-summer weekend package that includes three nights, daily breakfast, ferry tickets, and more, all for $424 per adult. With an island-wide ban on motor vehicles, your transportation on this Labor Day weekend will consist of horse and buggy rides, bicycles, and your own two feet, making this the ideal destination for a last-minute summer vacation. In a heartbeat, you will disconnect from the outside world and finally focus solely on friends, family, and yourself. Labor Day is the perfect time to visit because it’s still warm enough to experience the island and, at the same time, find the best seats on ferries, prime lakeside restaurant tables, and wonderfully deserted hiking trails.

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Milky Way above Dunstanburgh Castle, at night on the Northumberland coastline in EnglandDave Head/Shutterstock

Dark sky stargazing in Nebraska

For some, the end of summer travel means a bombastic final adventure before returning to the rigors of a new school year. Others seek tranquility before the summer sun sets, and that’s exactly what a dark sky stargazing trip to Nebraska offers. Soak in the stars as you’ve never seen them before at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area, a premier dark sky observation site in Valentine, during the annual Nebraska Star Party (July 28 to August 2, 2019) or anytime before the end of summer.

Astronomers and amateur stargazers alike flock to the Sandhills of Nebraska from all parts of the world due to the minimal light pollution, sparse population (the nearest large town is almost 100 miles away), and ideal weather conditions for night sky observation. It’s one of the few areas in the United States with open access to dark skies amid wide-open spaces for superior stargazing. For families with older kids, there’s a three-day beginner school geared toward educating teens about our galaxy.

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Ritz-Carlton-Amelia-Island-Pirate-tuck-inCourtesy Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

The pristine Ritz-Carlton property on this darling Floridian island just steps from the Georgia border is the dictionary definition of the lap of luxury for adults and, thanks to their unique pirate-themed bedtime routine, for the tiniest of hotel guests too. As part of the Ritz Kids’ programming, the hotel offers a private, pirate-themed bedtime story (“tuck in”) with a buccaneer bearing treats and treasure. To start, milk and cookies will be delivered to your room; then a Pirate and Amelia, the blue and gold macaw that lives at the resort, will read a pirate story and surprise your kiddo with a treasure chest full of goodies. Your child will never, ever forget this experience.

Spend quality time at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island not only before the curtain closes on summer this year but also before your little one outgrows pirates and parrots and being tucked in for bedtime stories. Here’s to hoping they never outgrow milk and cookies. These “experience” gifts will be a blessing for any traveler. 

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Kid sliding a blue WaterslideDWaschnig/Shutterstock

Schlitterbahn Water Park

Whether you head to the original location in New Braunfels, Texas, just north of San Antonio, or one of the other three locations, a last-minute summer soirée at Schlitterbahn is the wettest and most wonderful way to put a bow on another fantastic season. Test your balance on the Boogie Bahn, the ride that started the inland surfing craze, and test your nerve on one of the water roller coasters, including Master Blaster, the very first of its kind (that incredible uphill waterslide tech was invented here too, making a Schlitterbahn trip both fun and slightly historic.)

Of course, you could simply float on the spring-fed river water of the tube chute or careen along the 3,600 foot-long whitewater “transportainment” river, which is equal parts tranquil and exhilarating. Water parks make excellent warm-weather destinations, as do these 15 vacation spots for summer!

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Passengers onboard the Carnival Liberty Cruise Ship in Miami,Debbie Ann Powell/shutterstock

Carnival Caribbean Cruise

Available for a steal—$200 to $400 per person at the time of writing—are a variety of four- and five-day cruise itineraries departing from New Orleans, Mobile Alabama, Galveston, Port Canaveral and Miami, and visiting ports like Key West, Ocho Rios, Costa Maya, Grand Turk, Amber Cove, and Cozumel (where you should absolutely book the remarkable Mayan Ball Game excursion). It usually pays to book your cruise early but this summer, those needing a last-minute summer trip at sea are the ones who score. Often, it’s the older ships working these short sailings, but Carnival has tasked the newer Carnival Dream with the job from Galveston Texas, meaning last-minute cruisers will get a great value on a great ship this summer and, if it will be your first cruise, a perfect opportunity to dip a big toe in the cruising waters. The Dream has a stellar water park and good eats with Guy’s Burger and BBQ joint. Here’s what you’ll need to pack for your last-minute Carnival cruise!

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American buffalo / bison herd grazing in Custer State Park, South Dakotaturtix/Shutterstock

Custer State Park

Few experiences are more life-affirming than a real-life animal encounter in the wild. That’s exactly what Custer State Park in South Dakota’s Black Hills offers every single day of the year. A mere $20 nets you a weekly pass for a car full of happy kids (or just for you and your BFF) meaning you can drive —and get stuck in one of the greatest traffic jams on Earth—among hundreds of bison, mountain goats, elk, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs—over and over during your vacation to the nearby, and more famous, Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Parks. A trip to Custer State Park makes for an affordable summer vacation—here are more ways to save on summer travel.

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Niagara falls binocularsAlexander Sviridov/Shutterstock

Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake

Getting sprayed by the Maid of the Mist never feels better than during the hot hot heat of summer. So before the leaves turn from green to yellow to red, pack up your car, grab your passport, and head north to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Book a massive two-bedroom falls-view room at the Hilton and enjoy the spectacular fireworks from the cool comfort of your room as you kiss summer goodbye with a bang. If you fancy a bit of wine, theater, and culture, make the 30-minute drive on the scenic Niagara Parkway along the river that feeds the falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake. This idyllic community on Lake Ontario, across from Toronto, is just 14 miles away from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and the cheeky trinket shops of the Niagara Falls but feels like an entirely different world. Combining these two disparate destinations makes for a stellar last-minute summer trip.

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Harrah's Southern CaliforniaDavid Tonelson/shutterstock

SoCal’s Vegas Alternative

Can’t make it as far as Vegas or don’t want to melt on the strip this summer? Fear not, Harrah’s Resort SoCal in Funner, California has you covered. Affordable promo rates of $128 per night (at the time of writing) are being offered at the resort located in the appropriately named Funner California for Mondays and Tuesdays throughout August, and the lazy river has your name written all over it. Some of the biggest names in music grace the Harrah’s Resort SoCal stage between now and mid-September, including Nas, The Roots, and Chicago, making a last-minute trip from San Diego (only one hour away) or LAX (a two-hour drive) both affordable and entertaining. When you’re there, keep an eye out for Rob Riggle of The Hangover fame, who as the Mayor of Funner is a frequent guest at the resort.

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Grass fed cows grazing in Burlington VermontBellusviz/Shutterstock

Shelburne Farms Burlington, Vermont

This National Historic Landmark is a nonprofit, 1,400-acre working farm on picturesque Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont. It offers special educational programs, like letting kids get face to face with an owl or hawk, and family farm fun is available every day from spring to autumn. Kids ages 5 and under will be giddy watching the daily chicken parade and delight in the chance to milk a cow or groom a donkey. After hands are washed, check out a cheese-making demonstration before sitting down together for an alfresco lunch from the resident food truck. Building a foundation of sustainable farm-to-table eating in your youngest children may sow seeds that will grow fruit for the rest of their lives, and that alone is a worthy reason for a last-minute summer trip before proper book-learning resumes.

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Downtown Indianapolis skyline at twilight in USAf11photo/Shutterstock

Indianapolis, Indiana

In a city where auto racing rules, young children can also zoom around in the largest children’s museum in the world and interact with orangutans at the zoo’s award-winning research and conservation center. Indiana’s capital city is also home to Conner Prairie, a sprawling 100-acre outdoor and indoor living history museum that meticulously recreates 19th-century life, with views of the past, present, and future from a tethered helium balloon rising 370 feet.

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Love Park is a plaza located in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/shutterstock

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

It is the birthplace of our nation and it’s littered with the landmarks, sights, and museums to prove it. Philadelphia is a unique city that mixes both the legitimately historic with the unquestionably modern, making it perfect for a last-minute summer trip. Stay at the extraordinary Lyric Suite and enjoy a fully stocked kitchen, record player with curated local music scene vinyl collection, smart TV, local contemporary artist’s work hanging on the walls, and comfy Casper mattresses. This unique accommodation choice is situated in one of the most vibrant sections of Philly, a central location to the best Philly cheesesteak (Jim’s on South Street), best new music venue (The Met on Broad Street, which hosts Lenny Kravitz, Kasey Musgraves, Ringo Starr, and Social Distortion among others between now and early September), the best new museum in the city (the stunning Museum of the American Revolution), and Vedge, widely regarded as the best vegan and vegetarian restaurant in the country.

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Crowds Enjoying Themselves At Outdoor Music FestivalMonkey Business Images/Shutterstock

SummerFest at Gaylord Rockies Resort

Make it a mile-high good-bye to summer in the Denver area with SummerFest at the Gaylord Rockies Resort. Through Labor Day, experience a uniquely Colorado take on Lewis Carroll’s storybook classic with an immersive “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” themed celebration. You’ll see costumed characters strolling the property, and you can rock out with live music, play Queen of Hearts Mini Golf, go on an adventure with the Cheshire Cat, and try to solve the puzzle of the Mad Hatter’s Escape Room. Hit the Arapahoe Springs Resort Pool & Lazy River for a water balloon toss, noodle races, and basketball shootout competitions—or just float your cares away down the Lazy River. If you want to experience some of the Denver area, check out the nearby Wild Animal Sanctuary, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, and Colorado Rockies baseball at Coors Field with home games against the Red Sox and Pirates at the end of August.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.