Travel has always been something I’ve loved. When my son Henry was born, my husband and I eagerly packed his things to take him along with us as we visited new places. Only recently did we realize that for the next handful of years, planning a trip is as simple as it will get. If we want to go somewhere, we only have to be mindful of our work schedule.
But once he’s in school? Planning an off-season trip will get tougher.
So we’ve decided that for as long as we can, we’re going to prioritize finding shoulder-season trips and skipping peak-season prices and crowds. Here are some of the most enticing spring shoulder season trips we’ve found that we are excited to do with a little one in tow.
1. Fly to Hawaii
While a Hawaiian vacation is never cheap, taking a trip to Hawaii during the spring and shoulder-seasons can make the trip much less expensive. During May, you’ll find some of the cheapest hotel and vacation rental prices you’ll find all year. Plus, the average number of visitors to the islands in April and May is lower than many other months.
Hawaii is the only U.S. state in the tropics, so average temperatures don’t vary as much as they do elsewhere (though to be honest, I live on Maui, and I do wear sweaters in January when it dips down into the high 60s at night).
Springtime ushers in pleasantly warm weather—it can get hot over the summer—and in early spring, you can catch the tail end of whale watching season, which usually ends in mid-April. Depending on how old your kids are, they will love watching them from a boat or the shore.
2. Hit the slopes
Want to teach your kids how to ski? Try the spring season. The crowds will be smaller, the lodging will be cheaper, and you won’t have to worry quite as much about the cold (spring skiing temps can be downright balmy). You can have the bunny hill all to yourself by picking a late spring ski date.
Depending on the weather, many ski resorts stay open through April, and some stay open until the summer. Snowbird in Utah stayed open until mid-May in 2019 and Breckenridge ski resort in Colorado stayed open until May 27th. Both have ski schools that start at age 3.
3. Explore a national park
Most national parks get the biggest crowds during the summer, so why not take advantage of the slower season and plan a visit in the spring? While you may still have cold evenings and rain at many national parks, you can also avoid the searing hot temps that you’ll find at some parks in the peak of the summer.
If you’re want to explore waterfalls with your kids, try Yosemite National Park. Waterfalls are usually at their peak in May and June after the snow has melted. April-June offers the best wildlife watching in Yellowstone National Park. And taking a visit to the Grand Canyon before the heat of the summer kicks in is a good idea for a happy trip with young kids.
While the weather during the spring can be unpredictable, rates at lodging in or near the parks are often discounted.
4. Stay at a dude ranch
For a different type of vacation, why not try a family dude ranch? Let your kids roam through the property, visiting the horses and spotting other wildlife. Take a family horseback ride (if they’re old enough), and sit out by the campfire roasting marshmallows.
Plus, many ranches will have kids programs, meaning you can take some time for yourself while your kids are happily entertained. The White Stallion Ranch in Arizona lets kids under age 5 stay free and has plenty of activities they’ll be excited to do (like a petting zoo!). This might truly be a real vacation for everyone.
5. Visit southern Europe
If spots in southern Europe have been on your bucket list, consider making a springtime trip. You’ll beat the heat, the crowds, and get better prices, making a trip to Europe slightly more affordable. In an off-season trip to Italy, we found a lakefront hotel for one-third of the normal cost!
Consider a trip to Italy, southern Spain, or Greece—all places where you will often find beautiful weather in the springtime, but fewer crowds. But beware: before you book, check the school break and holiday schedule for countries in Europe. From experience, I can tell you that traveling over Easter or the U.K.’s early and late May Bank Holidays can be just as busy and as expensive as a mid-summer trip.