Grand Canyon, courtesy NPS
Published January 16, 2014
Whether you are frustrated that endless tourists are compromising your beach view or that loud hikers are startling your wildlife sighting, masses of people can stress out the calmest traveler.
Wading through crowds can wear on
your patience little by little until your vacation suddenly feels like an ordeal.
Instead of dealing with overflowing vacationers, don a jacket and bring your group to some of these popular summer destinations in the spring. By traveling when the weather is a little cooler, your group can skip the crowds and experience other spring travel benefits that summer vacationers miss out on.
Spring means more wildlife sightings in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a flower festival in Orlando and roadsides full of bluebonnets in San Antonio. Bargain prices also come hand-in-hand with fewer crowds, which makes it a golden time to visit must-see cities like Chicago.
Be aware that spring break and holiday weekends may raise the number of spring tourists, and plan accordingly. After those considerations, expect to have a more relaxing spring escape at one of these “summer” destinations.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Keep your stretch of New England coast unspoiled from hordes of tourists by traveling to the charming Cape Cod region in the spring. Though the water remains too chilly for swimming until mid-June, the spring season of April and May stays warm enough to enjoy the same picturesque scenery.
Averaging 40 to 53 degrees Fahrenheit, April has fewer visitors but limited hours at some attractions. By May, temperatures range from 48 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and almost all restaurants, resorts and attractions are open. Your group can also take advantage of spring bargains, since peak season rates do not start until Memorial Day.
Different types of whales migrate through the region in May, so booking a tour can lead to a glimpse of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, among others. The Heritage Museums and Gardens also opens its doors in spring so your group can walk past budding flowers undisturbed.
Spring festivals also draw groups to Cape Cod’s 559.6 miles of coastline before the summer months.
“Cape Cod is made up of 15 cities, so we have a lot of spring festivals groups can attend,” said Patti Lloyd, vice president of sales for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “The Nantucket Daffodil Days is a great group-friendly event. Nantucket is completely covered in daffodils.”
Held the last weekend in April, the Daffodil Festival celebrates warmer weather with art shows, tours, parades, exhibitions and the annual Nantucket Daffodil Flower Show. Other spring festivals include Cape Cod Maritime Days, the Brewster in Bloom Festival and Harbor Your Arts.
Great Smoky Mountains
National Park, Tennessee
Anyone who has experienced a bumper-to-bumper summer drive into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will appreciate the benefits of going during the relatively quieter months of April and May. The two months not only bring reduced crowds, but an explosion of wildflowers and wildlife emerging from their winter hideouts.
“Often the bears and deer are out more in the spring, so there are a lot of opportunities to see wildlife,” said Molly Schroer, public affairs office manager for the park. “With our variety of elevation, you get different ecosystems to view, so spring is a really pretty time to be here.”
Spring hikes reveal some of the park’s more than 1,600 wildflower varieties, including the early ephemeral flowers, such as trilliums, lady slipper orchids, crested dwarf irises and bleeding hearts. Wildflowers typically peak from mid- to late April. April and May also bring azaleas and mountain laurel throughout the park.
Since the Smoky Mountains is America’s most visited national park, you can still expect about 745,000 visitors in April, compared with more than 1 million visitors in June. To thin the crowds out further, groups can focus on some of the park’s lesser known scenic drives, such as Rich Mountain Road and Foothills Parkway. Rich Mountain Road offers stunning views of the often-busy Cades Cove, and the Foothills Parkway features open areas with panoramic views of the park and surrounding region.
Be prepared for a range of weather on your spring visit: There can be a 15- to 20-degree temperature difference from the highest to the lowest elevations of the park.
Experiences like sipping a Butterbeer at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter or seeing Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World ignite the childhood enthusiasm of the young and the young at heart. Your group can experience the enchantment of Orlando’s theme parks and other destinations without the hassle of throngs of people by visiting in May.
“May is a great time to visit because there are shorter lines and better weather,” said Denise Spiegel, director of global publicity for Visit Orlando. “It is still sunny and warm, but not quite as humid. Coming in May ensures a really great experience.”
Although a trip in March or April can bump into spring breakers, May means fewer travelers across Orlando’s attractions and seven world-famous theme parks, among them Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld Adventure Park Orlando.
Adult groups will find plenty besides theme parks to excite, such as the Orlando Museum of Art, the Harry P. Leu Gardens and the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. One of Orlando’s most acclaimed museums, the Morse Museum offers 19th- and 20th-century American art, including the largest collection of Tiffany jewelry, paintings, lamps and more.
Your May visit can also offer several renowned festivals, including the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, the Star Wars Weekend and the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Innumerable eyes have gazed in awe upon the mile-deep, 18-mile-wide Grand Canyon. To view the red and orange chasm without having to dodge myriad cellphone photographers, take your group from March through May. The cooler temperatures, between 50 and 70 degrees, will also provide relief from the usually scorching summer weather.
The Grand Canyon Village, the most popular entryway to the park, offers some spectacular perspectives of the 277-mile-long world wonder. The area also features the historic Grand Canyon Railway Depot, Native American souvenirs at the Hopi House and art inspired by the canyon at the Kolb and Lookout studios.
For those looking for an even quieter experience, the North Rim opens May 15. This less-visited side of the park has its own impressive panoramas, including Bright Angel Point, which overlooks Roaring Springs. The 8,803-foot-high Point Imperial also showcases sweeping views of the park, as it is the highest point on the North Rim.
A mule ride allows groups to examine the canyon beauty without having to hike steep trails. The new three-hour Canyon Vista Ride runs year-round; it takes riders on a four-mile interpretive ride past geologic formations, human history and, of course, awe-inspiring views.
San Antonio, Texas
Spring’s thinner crowds, comfortable weather and fields full of bluebonnets make it difficult to choose any other time to visit San Antonio.
“Groups often like to come in the spring because along the drive between San Antonio and the Hill Country, you can experience lots of wildflowers and bluebonnets along the roadsides,” said Dave Krupinski, assistant executive director of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The colors are vibrant and very striking.”
The Texas Department of Transportation activates its wildflower hotline every March and April for visitors to find out the current conditions of the cherished bluebonnets. March and April’s temperate weather also encourages groups to take advantage of the town’s walkability, as several of San Antonio’s cultural attractions are located only steps apart.
The colorful umbrellas and cypress trees lining the town’s River Walk run through the center of the city past major attractions like the Alamo and the San Antonio Museum of Art. The route’s boutique shops, restaurants and mariachi street performers help visitors soak in the liveliness and rich culture of San Antonio.
Two spring festivals to consider planning around are the art-themed Luminaria in March and the Fiesta San Antonio in April. Initially started in 1891 as an event to honor the memory of Texas heroes, Fiesta has expanded to celebrate San Antonio’s rich and diverse cultures with over 100 events.
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Chicago
Between the Windy City’s famously frigid winters and densely crowded summers lies the city’s ideal spring season. Though Chicago is a busy metropolis year-round, the spring months of March through April bring fewer tourists than the summer and lower room rates to match.
Check your dates with those of major conventions visiting town, as those events can sometimes sell out many downtown hotels. Weather can also fluctuate greatly during the spring, so be sure that your group prepares for a variety of conditions.
For groups willing to brave the potentially colder March weather, Chicago is one of the top destinations for St. Patrick’s Day travel. If the Irish parades, festivals, music and beer fail to inspire Irish enthusiasm, the dyed emerald-green waters of the Chicago River will.
April and May also boast world-famous festivals and events, including the opening days for the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. Other festivals center around the city’s abundant spring flowers at the Morton Arboretum, the Garfield Park Conservatory and the Chicago Botanic Garden, which offers narrated tram tours for those not wanting to miss a single bloom.
Naturally, Chicago offers a plethora of attractions throughout the seasons, including the ever-popular Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Willis Tower Skydeck and the Chicago boat tours.