These days it seems there’s almost no bad time to travel; the number of people taking trips for leisure has reached an all-time high. Still, certain destinations really shine at a particular season of the year.
These places embrace what’s quintessential about a season: bright, colorful flowers to usher in the spring; breathtaking wilderness adventures in the summer; colorful fall foliage ranging the spectrum of yellows, oranges and reds; and mountains of fresh, white snow in the winter.
In Holland, Michigan, groups can take a tour with a docent in traditional Dutch dress or attend one of the largest Dutch festivals in the country.
Alaska’s pristine summer beckons visitors with museums and opera, and every outdoor adventure imaginable, from hiking to wildlife viewing. Whether you want to sleep under the stars in a glamping tent or stay in a boutique hotel amid the downtown brew pubs and shops of Anchorage, your groups will find plenty of options.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire is one of the country’s most beloved places for groups to see fall foliage. Blazing shades of warm colors grace trees changing before the winter months, and groups can experience the colors by train, bike, horseback or hiking.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a winter wonderland that makes the perfect snow-capped playground for skiers and nonskiers alike. Groups can go snowmobiling, take a wildlife tour, go to a food and wine festival or soak in natural hot springs.
Spring: Holland, Michigan
It’s not surprising that Holland was founded by a group of Dutch settlers. In 1929, a local teacher named Lida Rogers started a tradition that put the town on the map. She convinced city leaders to plant a thousand colorful tulip bulbs, drawing visitors from around the country to see the flowers in bloom.
“In 2019, we celebrated the 90th anniversary of Tulip Time, which is now the longest continuously run flower festival in the country,” said Sally Hallan Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have 5 million early-, middle- and late-blooming varieties of tulips in bloom, bringing half a million visitors to the town from around the world.”
The connection to the homeland doesn’t stop there. Holland has a working windmill, imported from the Netherlands. The De Zwaan windmill, which dates from 1791, was shipped over piece by piece. Alisa Crawford, the only Dutch-certified master miller in North America, grinds between 12,000 and 14,000 pounds of winter wheat and locally sourced corn there each year. Windmill Island Gardens also features canals, gardens, picnic areas and an antique Dutch carousel, among other attractions appealing to groups.
Another popular group attraction, Nelis’ Dutch Village, is a theme park where visitors can experience a historical re-enactment of a Dutch village with costumed interpreters; rides the whole family will enjoy; demonstrations such as wooden-shoe carving and Delftware painting; cheese tasting; and a turn-of-the-20th-century schoolhouse.
Holland offers wonderful outdoor recreation options as well.
“We have miles of beautiful Lake Michigan beach, a magnificent Mount Pisgah dune climb and ridge trails, the Lake Macatawa Heinz Waterfront Walkway, plus lots of water sports,” said Laukitis. “Our downtown area has a Taste of Holland walking tour, hotels, restaurants and shops all within walking distance of the Hope College campus.”
The 49th state is high on many a traveler’s bucket list for its infinite variety of outdoor adventures.
“Summer is when people traditionally visit Alaska — everything is firing on all cylinders,” said Jack Bonney, community engagement director for Visit Anchorage. “We have great restaurants, good civic attractions, a great urban scene; but we’re also next door to one of the largest state parks in the country. And obviously, we’ve got access to five national parks in Alaska. So it’s a little bit of both worlds.”
Alaska’s Native heritage offers unique cultural and historical opportunities for groups, whether through exploring totem carving, dancing, crafts, festivals or art workshops. Cities like Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage have ample museums for visitors to explore.
Groups may want to view Alaska’s sprawling natural landscape and wildlife by boat with companies like Alaskan Dream Cruises, owned by the Allan family, members of the Tlingit tribe. On small boats, groups can visit wildlife areas and fjords, small towns and remote villages that can be explored by kayak. Onboard, chef-prepared meals focus on Alaskan cuisine, and evenings include cultural and naturalist presentations and beach bonfires.
Anchorage is the hub of Alaska Railroad, one of the most popular ways to tour the state, but Alaska can be explored by small plane, helicopter, all-terrain vehicle, bike and kayak, and on foot with either a guide or independently. According to Bonney, the state’s national parks are worth visiting, but the great outdoors is just steps away and easily reached.
“For us in Anchorage, having a city experience or a natural outdoor experience aren’t opposites; they’re both parts of visitation,” said Bonney. “My favorite days are when I’m looking out at a view and don’t see another person on a hike or bike ride — we have that kind of scale — and a few hours later, I can be sitting in a brewery having a beer and a slice of pizza. The fact that I can have that in one day is amazing.”
Fall: New Hampshire’s White Mountains
Fall in the White Mountains is all about seeing the spectacular changing leaves and taking in the sprawling vistas for which the area is so well known. The region is peppered with all sorts of accommodations that range from luxurious hotels with spas to quaint bed-and-breakfasts.
“The White Mountains see visitors from all over the world during the foliage season,” said Colleen Eliason, communications and sales coordinator for the White Mountains Attractions Association. “We offer a lot of scenic drives, which is nice for those in their own cars or by bus. All of the scenic overlooks can be accessed by these routes; they give people the opportunity to stop and take pictures and take in the view.”
Zip lining is a popular activity — especially during the fall months, as the lines go directly through the mountains and forest — and provides a different point of view of the foliage. There are train rides that run during the fall, such as the Mount Washington Cog Railway, which goes to the pinnacle of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast; the Conway Scenic Railroad; and the Hobo Railroad, all of which are popular ways to tour the area. Clark’s Trading Post, which has been in operation since the 1920s, rehabilitates black bears and trains them for performances, and many families have been coming to see the shows for generations.
“Loon Mountain Resorts, Cannon Mountain and Wildcat Mountain each have a gondola that runs up to the top of the mountain,” said Eliason. “It’s a great option to explore the mountain and get some great photos of the foliage. We have so many things going on that make us a one-of-a-kind destination.”
Winter: Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole is a gateway to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and two wilderness areas, Jedediah Smith and Gros Ventre, providing lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. In wintertime, the main draw to the town is its three downhill ski areas, accessible for all levels of ability. Nearby Grand Teton National Park offers guided ranger tours and ample cross-country, Nordic skiing and snowshoe trails. Snowmobiling tours are also a popular activity for those who want to explore Wyoming’s rugged backcountry, ending with a soak in Granite Hot Springs.
“The town of Jackson borders the National Elk Refuge, home to one of the largest elk herds in the state of Wyoming,” said Kate Sollitt, executive director of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board. “One really fun activity to do is to visit the elk herd on a horse-drawn sleigh, where you can see thousands of elk that are wintering on the refuge.” Nearby, the National Museum of Wildlife Art is a renowned museum with one of the largest collections of wildlife art in the world — and it’s possible to do both of those activities in a day.
Jackson Hole is naturally a great place to get a dose of Western culture, too. All four corners of the town square have these iconic arches made out of elk antlers that are shed in the spring, a great Instagrammable photo op, and one has to experience an authentic Western saloon.
“Of course, there’s the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, on the town square, which is famous, and they have live music nightly, and people go to swing dance,” Sollitt said. “Another historic bar is the Silver Dollar Bar in the Ward Hotel. It offers swing dancing and local bands that have a great Western feel.”