Turn Your Visit Into a Vacation at These 10 Colleges

Planning a parents' weekend trip? Here's how to get the most out of your visit.

By Roger Sands, ContributorAug. 23, 2016
By Roger Sands, ContributorAug. 23, 2016, at 11:07 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Turn Your Visit Into a Vacation at These 10 Colleges

View from up high of leaves changing color in autumn and Cayuga Lake, seen from Ithaca, Tompkins County, Finger Lakes, New York, USA.

In these vibrant college towns, you'll find plenty of culture, history and lesser-known attractions to keep you entertained.(Getty Images)

As a new school year soon begins, millions of parents will start planning family weekend trips to college campuses across the country. The annual rite of passage for non-undergrads typically includes attending football games, enjoying homecoming festivities and exploring charming college towns. But at top universities across the country, there's much more to check out than campus activities. Instead, why not explore must-see tourist attractions or discover little-known gems with family members? At these 10 college towns, you'll find small-town charm and enduring vacation appeal. Here's how to map out a mini-vacation on your next parents' weekend visit.

Ithaca College
Ithaca, New York

Located on the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, the longest of New York's 11 Finger Lakes, the Ithaca region affords access to 28,000 acres of forestland for hiking, mountain biking and outdoor recreational pastimes, from boating and swimming to cross-country skiing and ice skating. With the motto "Ithaca is Gorges" for its more than 100 beautiful gorge waterfalls that surround the city, Ithaca's beauty enchants visitors. The 215-foot Taughannock Falls is three stories taller than Niagara Falls. Plus, the region abounds with art galleries, museums and theaters and the Ithaca Discovery Trail makes it easy to partake in the city's top attractions.

East Stroudsburg University
East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

The Pocono Mountains, home to East Stroudsburg University, occupy 2,400 square miles of rolling hills, meandering rivers, resplendent mountain terrain and gushing waterfalls. Plus, the Poconos boast more than 150 lakes, where visitors can water ski, canoe or kayak. And it's almost impossible to drive more than a few miles without seeing a water park, including Camelbeach Waterpark, Great Wolf Lodge or the Pocono's newest attraction, Kalahari Resort. When you're not on campus, go horseback riding at one of the many stables throughout the region or play a round of golf at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort's iconic golf course.

Elms College
Chicopee, Massachusetts

Take in the sights and sounds of the Basketball Hall of Fame in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, where the sport was invented. Or enjoy the theater, the performing arts and the work of skilled painters and sculptors at some of the finest small museums in the country. If you have extra time to spend in the area after your campus visit, unwind in the nearby Berkshires, enjoy spectacular fall foliage tour with a narrated train ride on the Berkshire Scenic Railway or check out annual festivals include the Boston Symphony Orchestra's residency at Tanglewood Music Center.

Utah Valley University
Orem, Utah

Often called "Family City USA," Orem offers a wide variety of fun family attractions catering to visitors of all ages. Spend the afternoon watching the Orem Owlz play baseball, or enjoy a local music and dance events. Provo Canyon is only minutes from town and the outdoors beckons to adventurous visitors in all seasons with opportunities for hiking and fishing at the canyon's six parks. Meanwhile, the Orem Heritage Museum houses an impressive 30,000-piece collection that tells the unique history of the city through artifacts including coal stoves, butter churns, old-fashioned washing machines, popcorn poppers, pioneer clothing and more.

Western New Mexico University
Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City bursts with attractions and activities geared toward families. Some 400 miles of fishing streams lace the forest and hiking options abound in every direction as imposing mountains blend into blue skies on the horizon. Named as one of the "100 Best Art Towns in America," Silver City offers the chance for art lovers to spend hours admiring the impressive works of painters at one of the many art galleries in this historic downtown.

College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, Maine

A premier summer resort in the 19th century, Bar Harbor once housed the largest hotel in North America and Millionaire's Row, a cluster of summer estates built for America's richest and most powerful residents. Today, it doesn't require a million dollars to experience all this region has to offer. Aviation enthusiasts can view Acadia National Park and the rock bound shores of Mount Desert Island from either of four different types of aircrafts, including the magic of "open cockpit" flight in a two-passenger biplane. If you want to get your heart racing off of campus, cover 25 miles a day on a bike tour that provides a challenging yet scenic ride along Maine's beautiful coastline.

Kansas State University
Manhattan, Kansas

Dubbed the "Little Apple," Manhattan, Kansas may not have skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty or Broadway. However, this charming town is surrounded by plenty of hiking and biking trails, 28 public parks and over 108,000 acres of public hunting land. Agritourism has become a popular attraction as farmers and ranchers operate agriculture-based tours to offer visitors a taste of garden- and farm-to-table cuisine. Plus, visitors can easily spend an entire day at the Sunset Zoo, which recently reintroduced a pair of Malayan Tigers.

Pacific University
Forest Grove, Oregon

Oregon Pinot varieties were born in Forest Grove, and today budding connoisseurs and wine enthusiasts can learn about this famous Pinot Noir from a local vintner at dozens of local wineries. After enjoying quality time exploring campus, and enjoying the renowned musicians and performances of the acclaimed Performing Art Series at Pacific University, take in the area's 40 specialty stores, antiques, coffee shops, restaurants, spas and galleries. If you want to soak up the great outdoors, peddle along forest trails, country roads and wineries.

University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

Do you and your relatives love French fries? The world's largest French fry feed is held every September in Grand Forks during Potato Bowl USA. Along the banks of the Red River, Grand Forks offers plenty of family fun with outdoor activities such as biking and camping, and come winter, opportunities for cross-country skiing, sledding and thrilling University of North Dakota hockey games. What's more, North Dakota's first art museum was built in Grand Forks and there's plenty of unique dining spots and accommodations downtown.

West Texas A&M University
Canyon, Texas

Not many towns earn top bragging rights for their rich history and heritage, but Canyon is home to 24 historical sites and three of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Texas. Plus, at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, adventurous visitors can immerse themselves in hiking, horseback riding and biking or enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the rim of the canyon. Meanwhile, the TEXAS outdoor musical festival will take you back in time with music, dancing and spectacle relaying the rich history of settlers along the Texas Panhandle. And if you've raised a history-loving kid, when you're not enjoying parents' weekend festivities or roaming around campus, make sure to check out the Panhandle–Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in the state of Texas.

Roger Sands, Contributor

Roger Sands is an experienced travel writer with a passion for destinations that inform and ...  Read more

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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