Tucked far away in the country's northeastern-most state, Portland embodies many of the things that make summer great for traveling. Its northern proximity removes the area from the smothering heat that blankets the rest of the country, and its unique position along the northern Atlantic positions the area close to the lobster for which the entire state is renowned. Despite its New England seaside atmosphere, Portland is blessed with a rich culture including a major art museum, a professional symphony and a number of jazz clubs. Outdoorsmen are also certain to appreciate the option to hike parallel to the ocean in Two Lights State Park, and Two Lights and Acadia, New England's only national park, welcome campers. For extra enjoyment, be sure to spend some time boating or kayaking in serene Casco Bay.
Although Tennessee is far enough south to feel the effects of hot, humid summers, Gatlinburg's mountain elevation offers Southerners a respite from the heat. Gatlinburg is, of course, famous for its numerous commercial tourist draws, but the original (and still most admired) draw of this small mountain town is its natural environment. Directly adjacent to the 800-square mile Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a nature lover's dream. Nearby mountains of the southern Appalachians vary in elevation from under 900 feet above sea level to over 6,600 feet ASL, and more than 10,000 species of insects, birds and animals thrive in the massive park. Visitors are admitted to the park for free, and camping costs about $15 per night, far below the commercial hotel rates in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Visitors looking for a slightly more urban feel can also easily drive to nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina, two cities often cited for their quiet, low-key summer environments.
The great state of Alaska, the nation's 49th entry into the union, offers what is possibly the largest potential vacation destination on the planet. At almost the size of the entire Western United States, Alaska is grandiose enough to literally have "something for everyone." There can be little doubt, too, that summertime is the best time of year to visit the state's numerous natural attractions; according to online travel site Smarter Travel, in fact, summer is the only time to visit Alaska (long periods without sunlight, massive snowfalls, and weeks of sub-zero temperatures greet Alaska visitors during the winter). In the many state and national parks throughout the state, travelers can kayak, boat, swim, fish, hunt, camp, hike and even come face to face with hundreds of thousands of varieties of wildlife. Residents of the "lower 48," as Alaskans call the United States mainland, may find Alaska somewhat inaccessible, though; travel to the state is often expensive, and many parts are isolated by enormous ice fields that make them accessible only by air. Still, visitors who overcome these travel barriers are rewarded with one of the richest and most pristine natural environments remaining in the Western hemisphere.