Rafting on the Merced River. Rafting on the Merced River

Spring break is just around the corner — are you ready?

The perfect Spring Break can be elusive. You’ve got one week to melt away those winter blues before the big work and school obligations return with a vengeance. The pressure’s on to find the right place — free from cold weather and rowdy college spring breakers — or you’ll have to wait until summer for your next big family excursion.

Fortunately, travelers can find lots of places across North America that welcome campers with moderate crowd sizes and reasonable temperatures (current weather conditions notwithstanding). Take advantage of the spring season to visit popular destinations long before they’re overtaken by summer crowds.

Hikers follow a trail carved into a cliff side with a butte in the distance.

Hiking in Sedona’s Loy Canyon. Photo Courtesy: Sunfellow.

Sedona, Arizona

The crisp spring air makes Sedona the perfect place for mountain biking and hiking amid the iconic red rock formations that dominate the horizon. Cyclists of all levels can experience stellar trails that wind through rocky landscapes. Start at the Bell Rock Pathway (for beginners) and work your way up. If you prefer boots to tires, take the Cathedral Rock Hike for jaw-dropping views of the Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte and colorful Mogollon Rim. Nearby attractions to Sedona include the Montezuma Castle National Monument, a majestic cliff dwelling occupying 4,000 square feet and five stories. Kids will love the Out of Africa Wildlife Park in nearby Camp Verde.

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A couple lounges on the grass with Half Dome in the distance.

A view of Half Dome from the floor of Yosemite Valley. Photo Courtesy: Anneliese Phillips

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite’s epic rock faces and gushing waterfalls attract millions of sightseers each year. Outsmart the summer crowds by planning a spring break trip. It’s worth the occasional chill in the air: Fed by the spring thaw, the park’s waterfalls swell to spectacular volumes, making great visuals for photos. Visitors who are inspired by “Free Solo” — the award-winning film about the ascent of 3,000-foot El Capitan — can take a climbing class with Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Services. Instruction is available for all levels. If you prefer hiking, just lace up the hiking boots and hit one of the many scenery-rich trails in and around the park without the crowds. Water lovers can go rafting on the Merced River.

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A girl kayaks with a dog in the clear waters of the Florida Keys.

Kayaking with a friend in the Florida Keys. Photo Courtesy: The Florida Keys & Key West Office of Tourism / Rob O’Neal.

Florida Keys, Florida

Still feeling the chill from the long, freezing winter? Head south to this chain of islands between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and thaw out in the tropical sun. The Overseas Highway will lead visitors to campgrounds found on Marathon Key, Big Pine Key, Key West for an ocean adventure. Diving and snorkeling excursions beckon on Louie Key, the only living coral reef in the continental United States and the third largest barrier reef system after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Palancar Reef in Mexico and Belize. Sign up for a fishing charter to reel in mahi-mahi, tuna and marlin. Put down the pole and pick up a margarita as you watch a spectacular sunset. You’ll feel the winter blues melt away.

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A dusk walk on Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach. Photo Courtesy: Georgia Tourism

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Once the favorite destination of the idle rich during the Gilded Age, this Atlantic coast barrier island now rolls out the welcome mat for today’s adventure-hungry families. Basking in warm spring temperatures, the island’s 10 miles of shoreline packs days worth of ocean recreation. Outfitters can guide you on ecological kayaking and canoeing tours to learn about the island’s wildlife, like sea turtles and egrets, while folks who prefer dry land can navigate the dozens of trails that wind among the dunes. Watch for birds and dolphins off the shore, or ride a fishing charter for redfish, sea trout and tarpon. You can also tour some of those lavish mansions that gave the island its reputation.

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A Louisiana nature walkway and observation platform.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Spring break heats up in Lake Charles, home to delicious Cajun delicacies and launching pad to outdoor adventures on nearby nature reserves. In town, you can enjoy gaming at the Isle of Capri Casino, with slots, table games and live entertainment. Get in touch with the Pelican State’s wild side by embarking on the nearby Creole Nature Trail, home to alligators, 400-plus bird species and more. Designated an All American Road, this route features several turnoffs to give sightseers an opportunity to embark on foot trails or bike paths. Several fishing opportunities lay along the trail as well.

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A go-karts race along a wooden track in Branson, Missouri.

Tracks Family Fun Park in Branson. Photo Courtesy: Branson / Lakes Area CVB

Branson, Missouri

This Ozark town is synonymous with wholesome live entertainment, but there’s more to this welcoming destination than singers and musicians. And during spring, the crowds haven’t yet grown to epic summer size. Get a jump on the year’s boating and fishing fun in Table Rock Lake, home to spectacular bass angling. Back on land, treat the kids to Spring Ride Days at Silver Dollar City, an amusement park with one of the world’s fastest and tallest spinning roller coasters. Shopaholics can pick up some great deals at Branson Landings or Grand Village, and downtown awaits with a slew theaters offering live shows.

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Mountain vistas greet visitors at the observation tower on Clingman's Dome.

Visitors at the observation tower on Clingmans Dome. Photo Courtesy: Tennessee CVB

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina-Tennessee

Springtime brings spectacular flowers and sweet fragrances to this national park, which straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. When you’re not savoring the aromas of trillium, wild geranium and orchids (there are 1,500 flower varieties in all), you can hit the trail for stunning views without the summer crowds. Ascend the 6,643-foot round-top peak on Clingman’s Dome or reach Gregory Bald, with its stunning sea of Azaleas at the summit. If you prefer entertainment to hiking, nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, features a slew of attractions. Dollywood, meanwhile, is a perennial attraction with rides and live entertainment.

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Hilton Head, South Carolina, lighthouse at twilight.

Harbour Town in Hilton Head Island. Photo Courtesy: SeanPavonePhoto

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

While Myrtle Beach swarms with college partiers, Hilton Head Island to the southeast gives visitors a chance to get away from it all. Start at Harbour Town (above), home to outstanding seafood restaurants and upscale boutiques and galleries. Catch a charter for mahi-mahi, blackfin tuna and sailfish, or head inland and explore 12 miles of beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean. Go hiking and biking on 30 miles of trails, or while away your time on the island’s whopping 24 golf courses.

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A couple walks on the beach near Galveston's Pleasure Pier.

The Galveston Pleasure Pier. Photo Courtesy: Galveston Island CVB

Galveston Island, Texas

With 32 miles of beachfront, it’s easy to avoid the college kids that visit this town for spring break. Galveston Island State Park features four miles of trails through dunes and marshes that are perfect for hiking and biking, and the bayside waterways are ideal for canoeing and kayaking. The town of Galveston dazzles you with gorgeous Victorian mansions and the Historic Pleasure Pier, with rides and games. Spend time at the Moody Gardens, with nature exhibits under pyramid structures.

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