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America’s Dream Destinations

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Most of Mackinac Island in Lake Huron is a state park, but the 3.8-square-mile island is also home to the Grand Hotel, which will celebrate its 130th anniversary this year. Railroad and steamship companies opened the hotel in 1887 as a resort destination, and the tradition is alive and well today.

“Mackinac needs the Grand Hotel, and the Grand Hotel needs Mackinac to be what it is,” said Ken Hayward, the hotel’s executive vice president and managing director.

The 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time” was filmed at the hotel, and just like Christopher Reeve did in the movie, visitors can enjoy stepping back in time. No automobiles are allowed on the island, so there’s no traffic or congestion. People get around on foot, bicycle and horseback. Groups can rent bicycles and explore the island’s coast or ride into town to get some of Mackinac’s famous fudge. At the hotel, Jack’s Livery offers horseback trail rides or horse-drawn carriage rides, with the option to drive your own one-horse buggy or rent a private livery with a driver. One carriage-tour option can carry up to 40 people per three-horse hitch and takes visitors to explore Fort Mackinac.

Back at the hotel, guests can lounge by the pool, play croquet or bocce ball in the garden, or rock on the “world’s largest front porch.” Guests can take afternoon tea or dance with the big-band orchestra playing in the Terrace Room after dinner.

“When people come, they’re looking for something special; they’re looking for a memory,” Hayward said.

Island of Hawaii

On the “Big Island” of Hawaii, Kilauea volcano, which has been erupting since 1983, has added about 500 acres of new land. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and it has been more active than usual in recent weeks.

“The volcano is the big headline; it’s pretty much spewing,” said Roxann Hendrickson, vice president of experience for Hawaii Meetings and Events.

KapohoKine Adventures offers a slate of volcano tours, such as the several-mile lava expedition hike, which leads to the most current active eruption site, or helicopter tours, which allow people to soar high above it. Hawaii Meetings and Events recently took a group on a daylong excursion that included taking a helicopter from Kona International Airport to Hilo International Airport and then going to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home to two active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano.

Kilauea Visitor Center is often the first stop to get acquainted with the park, but the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, built on the edge of Kilauea Caldera, offers views of the caldera and the main crater Halema‘uma‘u. A guide led Hendrickson’s group on an easy walking tour, explaining the island’s rare flora and fauna and delicate ecosystem.

“The forest is absolutely quiet and beautiful, you can hear the birds singing and see rare plants, but the pièce de résistance is seeing the volcano and seeing the crater,” she said.

From the rocky moonscapes of the volcano, helicopters then flew the group to the lush green slopes on the island’s west side, flying into the “long, narrow pinhole-type gorges — definitely not something you can access by foot,” she said. The helicopters landed at a private spot and let passengers off to hike to a waterfall for a dip.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the National Park Service’s largest units with 6 million acres — bigger than Vermont — and Denali, the 20,237-foot mountain formerly known as Mount McKinley, is its centerpiece. A single winding road bisects the wilderness, but groups don’t have to explore the park by bus or shuttle: Trains, planes and bikes are popular. Groups can take the Alaska Railroad straight into the park. When they get off the train at the Denali station, courtesy shuttles are available to explore the front country and take guests the first 15 miles into the park. Visitors can then take a shuttle to the Wilderness Access Center, where tickets are available for bus tours that go the remaining 90 miles into the backcountry.

At the historic mining district of Kantishna in the heart of the park, groups can stay at the Denali Backcountry Lodge and try gold panning in Moose Creek. An air-taxi ride between Kantishna and the McKinley Airstrip at the park entrance gives an aerial view of the glaciers, wildlife and the Alaska Range, or a scenic “flightseeing” tour will fly by the slopes of Denali. Groups can also arrange to take helicopters to Yanert Glacier to land on the icefield and try walking on the glacier in special boots.

Visitors often spend time exploring the Denali Visitors Center and the Murray Science and Learning Center, and most people stop by the kennels just up the road for a sled-dog demonstration. Interpretative programs are offered three times a day, and people can always visit the kennels to spend some time with the dogs — which usually have a litter of puppies every spring and summer. Wildlife viewing is plentiful, and travelers are all but guaranteed to see moose, caribou, bears, wolves and Dall sheep. About 50 to 60 ranger-led programs are offered every week in the summer, from discovery hikes to talks on the visitor center deck.