Summer is fleeting but there’s no reason to feel like you totally missed out on the greatest vacation ever. Whether you’ve got a weekend or a week, we’ve rounded up 10 ideas for you to have that big hurrah before school starts again (and some of them require very little planning). From swimming in a grotto to playing tourist at home, read on for inspiration for your next excursion.

photo: bluestocking42 via Flickr 

1. Go Digging for Dinos

From sculptures to skeletons, you can find places across the country that pint-sized paleontologists will go crazy for. You can excavate in a national park, roam around forests with life-like statues or explore the halls of a museum for a history lesson that will take the kids waaay back. While there are hundreds of sites to choose from, we’ll get you started with 14 of our favorites. Click here to learn more.

photo: Smendez via Pixabay

2. Find a Home on the Range

Maybe your little cowpokes are aching for a prairie ride this summer, or perhaps they just want to visit a western-themed amusement park. Get inspiration for your next great excursion from one of these 11 cowboy destinations.

photo credit: NPS/J. Wei

3. Explore a Volcano

When school starts back up, give your kids bragging rights when someone asks “What did you do this summer?” Their answer: “Visited a volcano!” There are volcanoes active and extinct around the world and many of them make the perfect trip for an adventure-seeking family. From bubbling cauldrons of lava to extinct mountain tops, click here to read up on our top 7 volcano vacations (or add your own to the list!).

photo: Nickay3111 via Flickr

4. Take an Epic Road Trip

What corner of the country do you live in? Road trip it! We’ve already done the work for you with itineraries that cover all the basics from where to stay to what to eat and see along the way. Pile the kiddos and Fido into the car and hit the open road: check out our top 5 Midwestern marvels; 10 California trips to do before you’re 10; our 5 favorite lush Pacific Northwest roadtrips; spectacular fun in the South; and what not to miss in the Northeast.

photo: Davide D’Amico via Flickr 

5. See the City Sights

As a local, you’ve got the inside scoop on all the neighborhood hot spots. But when was the last time you and the kidlet played tourist? This summer, see all the sights, do all the tours and yep, even buy the t-shirt in your home city. We’ve got the tips you need to do it right. Go for the day or splurge on a room downtown, complete with that spectacular skyline view you can’t quite see from your place. Oh what a sight!

photo: Ventura County Fair  

6. All’s Fair at the Faires

Maker. Bluegrass. Shakespeare. Renaissance. Whatever flavor fits your fam, engage everyone’s imagination at a nearby festival. You can always expect plenty of food, face painting, music and more to keep the minis entertained, as you wander from booth to booth or tent to tent to get your fill of whatever tickles your fancy.

photo: M&K Huber via Flickr 

7. Take a Magical History Tours

Take a historic trip to your state’s capitol! School may be a couple weeks away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate some learning into your last-minute vacay. From touring the state capitol building to walking the legislative floor, digging deep into local history is a surprisingly fun way to blend the end of summer with impending classes. It’s sure to be one for the (family) history book!

photo courtesy of Chris Mercaldo, Ride Entertainment

8. Ride On

Ride all the rides at a theme park! The costumed characters. The thrilling rides. You can say you go for the kids, but we’re pretty sure you love it just as much as they do. Check out the 8 best amusement parks for families to start planning.

photo: Patrick Lewis via Flickr

9. Swim in a Grotto

Soak up summer’s last moments at a natural watering hole that will absolutely blow your mind. We’re not talking about epic water resorts (but you can read up on those here) we’re talking about cerulean pools inside caves; natural wells that spring forth sparkling waters and waterfalls you can splash in. Here’s our list of the 17 places not to miss.

photo: Alexander C. Kafka via Flickr

10. Visit a National Parks

Take the play outside at one of our nation’s great parks. Learn about the natural world, do some car camping and hike the day away. Take your pick from our list of 17 faves or find an adventure at the one nearest you.

What’s your favorite end-of-summer vaycay with the family? Tell us in the comments below.

—Amber Guetebier & Allison Sutcliffe