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Beat the Heat With 10 North American ‘Coolcation’ Destinations

Seek cooler summer vacation climates as temperatures rise

spinner image a couple hiking near a body of water
Cool weather destinations make exercising more comfortable for older adults. Here, a couple hikes along a path in British Columbia, Canada.​
Getty Images

Choosing a summer vacation spot used to be as simple as donning a bathing suit, packing a cooler and heading to the nearest beach. But with many destinations growing unbearably hot, travelers are seeking out “coolcations,” places where they can take refuge from searing temperatures. Google Trends has tracked a 300 percent increase in searches for “cooler holidays” compared to last year.

Hospitality marketing expert Andrew Freeman believes that adults 50-plus are driving the trend. “Once the kids are out of the house and on their own, the 50-plus traveler is ready to explore the world via trips to Europe and beyond,” he says. “With families — especially with young children — warm weather trips like Disney World and hotels with pools or beach vacations tend to satisfy the needs of the kids. The 50-plus travelers are eager to seek out popular, or soon to be popular, destinations, and these could be in cooler places.”

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These lower-mercury locales are beneficial for the health of older adults, says California-based geriatrician Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D., and not just because they reduce the risk of heatstroke. “It’s much more comfortable [for] exercising,” she says, especially if you take antihypertensives and diuretics, which can cause blood pressure to plummet when the body overheats. Physical activity in cooler temperatures also activates brown fat, which improves metabolism. And because cooler weather helps you sleep and gives you more energy, Landsverk says that you might even feel more focused or clear minded.

By 2050, more than 200 million more older adults worldwide are expected to be exposed to dangerous heat, compared with now, research published in Nature Communications suggests.

You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars or travel to famously icy destinations such as Iceland, Norway and Antarctica. In North America, we have plenty of chillier cities that cater to a variety of interests, from outdoor recreation and wildlife watching to cultural attractions and craft beverage makers. Here are 10 coolcation suggestions for summer.

spinner image people walking along a walkway at High Falls Gorge in Lake Placid, New York
High Falls Gorge in Lake Placid, New York, is one of the many waterways in the Adirondacks.​
Courtesy Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism

The Adirondacks, New York

The birthplace of the American vacation, the Adirondacks are home to more than 2,000 miles of shady hiking trails and waterfall routes. Go kayaking, canoeing or river walking, a unique mindfulness experience conducted in flowing water, in the region’s 3,000 ponds and lakes and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Board the Skyride Experience gondola or Cliffside Coaster, the longest coaster in North America, in Lake Placid (check with your physician before attempting any strenuous, new-for-you activities). In Wilmington, go fishing on the Ausable River or explore a hidden granite tunnel off Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway. The small but captivating village of Saranac Lake, one of the coldest spots in the contiguous United States, is packed with historic architecture, galleries and shops.

spinner image Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa overlooks the Columbia River
Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa is located along the Columbia River in Astoria, Oregon.​
Courtesy Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa

Astoria, Oregon

Along the northwestern edge of Oregon, Astoria boasts daytime temperatures in the mid- to high 60s, moderated by refreshing coastal breezes. The oldest settlement west of the Rockies, the city — sometimes dubbed Little San Francisco for its abundance of Victorian architecture — has historic gems around nearly every corner.

Head to the Astoria Riverwalk trail for a scenic stroll or climb a portion of the spiral staircase in the 125-foot Astoria Column for 360-degree views. Sample local craft beer or learn about nautical history at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. At the Oregon Film Museum, pick up a map of filming locations for movies including The Goonies, Short Circuit and Kindergarten Cop.

spinner image aerial view of the Lodge at Bodega Bay
The Lodge at Bodega Bay in California is in a region with distinct microclimates.​
Courtesy of Sonoma County Tourism

Bodega Bay, California

The cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean lends California’s Sonoma County a range of distinct microclimates. While the region is justly famous for its wines, breeze chasers will especially love Bodega Bay, in the middle of the county’s more than 55-mile coastline.

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An affable one-block town, Bodega Bay is a prime location for whale watching, paddling, cycling and horseback riding. Sample fresh-off-the-line seafood — oysters and crab sandwiches are a specialty ­— and craft cocktails. Then go set-jetting: Several spots around town, including the former Potter Schoolhouse and St. Teresa of Avila Church, were filming locations for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. It’s only fitting since Bodega Bay is an Important Bird Area. According to Audubon, such areas provide “more than 10 million acres of essential habitat for breeding, wintering and migrating birds.”

spinner image The Chicago skyline overlooking the river
A river cruise in Chicago gives you a chance to soak in the architecture.​
Empire Tours and Productions

Chicago

Even when temperatures are in the 70s, breezes off Lake Michigan make the Windy City feel up to 10 degrees cooler. Chicago-based tour operator Steven Garcia says, “You’ll see people … freezing when it’s like 65 degrees.”

Pack accordingly and you’ll be able to enjoy Chicago’s many public parks, which Garcia characterizes as “straight out of a movie” idyllic in the summer. Choose from a number of cultural activities, such as architecture river cruises, free movies under the stars and summer music festivals, or visit the world-class Art Institute of Chicago.

spinner image The Flathead River
The Flathead River flows through Flathead Lake near Columbia Falls, Montana.​
Alamy

Columbia Falls, Montana

In Montana’s Glacier Country, Columbia Falls — tucked between Flathead Lake, several golf courses and the Whitefish Mountain Resort — is the ideal jumping-off point for a coolcation.

Spend a day in Glacier National Park. With winter snows long melted, you’ll enjoy the park’s greatest hits of unforgettable sights. Cycle or hop on an interpretive bus tour of Going-to-the-Sun Road to take in wildflower-dotted meadows and panoramic views of the valley. Learn about the area’s Indigenous settlers, challenge yourself on more than 700 miles of trails, go fishing or make an advance reservation for wilderness camping.

spinner image Denali National Park
Denali National Park is the main attraction in Denali, Alaska.​
Courtesy Aramark Destinations

Denali, Alaska

Perpetually cool, with summer temperatures that top out in the 60s, laid-back Denali is the gateway to the main attraction: Denali National Park, a unique landscape of forest, tundra and glaciers. Hike, raft or go on wildlife-watching excursions to spot bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and lynxes. Book a fly-fishing or backcountry safari excursion, take a helicopter tour, ride the Alaska Railroad or hike a portion of the tallest peak in North America (20,310 feet). Travel after Aug. 21 and you might just catch the natural fireworks of the northern lights.

spinner image St. Martins Sea Caves
St. Martins Sea Caves are a 50-minute drive from St. John, Canada’s oldest incorporated city.​
Courtesy Envision Saint John

St. John, Canada

Escape the Atlantic Coast’s sticky summers in St. John, Canada’s oldest incorporated city. Nature’s air-conditioning in the form of fog rolling off the spectacular Bay of Fund means that days vary from the mid-60s through mid-70s, with nights that cool significantly. In uptown St. John, shop artisanal boutiques and galleries, or choose from among 80 bars and restaurants. On the waterfront, AREA 506 is a creative food, drink and retail village made from repurposed shipping containers. Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark leads fascinating tours of New Brunswick’s geological heritage, including Reversing Falls, which transforms into roiling rapids and swirling eddies at high tide.

spinner image aerial view of The Power House on the Boldt Castle
The Power House sits on the Boldt Castle property, on the New York side of Thousand Islands.​
Credit: George Fischer

Thousand Islands, New York, and Ontario, Canada

Thousand Islands — actually 1,864, if you’re counting — straddles the U.S. and Canadian sides of the St. Lawrence River, and is a water lover’s dream. Go boating, fishing, kayaking or paddleboarding in a variety of waterfront towns. Or take a tour of Millionaire’s Row, where the Gilded Age glamourati summered, and visit storybook Boldt Castle.

This archipelago is full of quaint historic villages such as Clayton and Sackets Harbor in New York, and Kingston and Brockville in Ontario, Canada. Each has museums, nature trails and dining and hotel options. Remember to take your passport if you’re planning to explore the Canadian side.

spinner image aerial view of Clayoquot Wilderness Resort
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort overlooks Bedwell Sound in Vancouver, Canada.​
Credit: JEREMY KORESKI/Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge

Vancouver Island, Canada

Vancouver Island is gorgeous any time of year, especially when its many gardens are in bloom. Capital city Victoria is a walkable delight, with museums, shops and the second-oldest Chinatown in North America. Wheelchair-accessible Malahat Skywalk offers breathtaking views over the Salish Sea.

Around Clayoquot Sound, home of three First Nations tribes on the western coast, take a cold plunge in the Bedwell River, swim in glacier-fed waterholes or go nature walking or whale watching. To the north, Nootka Island boasts exceptional salmon fishing, boating and cold-water surfing. In up-and-coming Campbell River to the east, go grizzly bear and giant Pacific octopus spotting, or tour the wild driftwood art of sculptor Alex Witcombe.

spinner image aerial view of a bridge in Winnepeg, Canada
Winnepeg, Canada, ranks third among the country’s most livable cities.​
Credit: Courtesy Travel Manitoba

Winnipeg, Canada

Ranked third among Canada’s most livable cities and a popular winter sports destination, the ’Peg enjoys summer temperatures in the 60s.

Take an easy stroll around the winding trails and hue-happy gardens of Assiniboine Park, which also has art exhibits and an outdoor theater. At the Winnipeg Art Gallery, explore the world’s largest public collection of Inuit art. Plan your trip over June 21 and take part in an outdoor festival celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day. Or indulge in self-care at nature-immersed, Scandinavian-inspired Thermëa Nordik Spa, which features a sauna, icy waterfall plunge and a menu of body treatments.

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