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Must-See Vacation Destinations from the Archives

If you want to learn about a far out family vacation from the 1970s, you don't need to tune into a rerun of The Brady Bunch. We're reliving some of the best stories about popular vacation destinations from the Better Homes & Gardens archives. Like any memorable family vacation, we've planned something for everyone. Maybe you're into nostalgia and want to spark memories of vacations past. Or possibly you want to see how much traveling has changed (especially the prices). Either way, you can pick up a few tips that are still useful decades later. So pile in the station wagon and let's take a trip back in time.

Happy Campers

With gas prices hovering around 33 cents per gallon as the new decade began, it's no wonder camping was growing in popularity.

"Camping used to be one of the best ways to 'get away from it all.' Now, however, there are more people than ever enjoying the nation's wilderness areas, and getting away often means getting to a campground fast in order to beat other families to a choice campsite." (Better Homes & Gardens, "Off-Season Campers Beat the Vacation Rush," February 1970)

While lamenting crowded campgrounds, the editors suggested a pre-Memorial Day or post-Labor Day trip. The key? A little sound planning to prepare for cooler, and potentially much cooler, weather. The checklist includes extra clothes and fuel, a tent heater, and your own drinking water.

With increasingly sophisticated camping equipment and technology, an off-season trip remains an attractive option. A quick internet search will tell you when campsites are open and what amenities they offer. And, you'll no longer have to order U.S. Geological Survey maps to plan your foray into nature. However, you might want to check into cell phone coverage and Wi-Fi availability. Coverage is still spotty in wilderness areas, so using a traditional map as a backup never hurts!

In the May 1971 issue, the editors went one better with a comprehensive guide to the top camping spots in mid-America, using these criteria:

•Is there something about the region so unique or attractive that it's worth a trip of, say, 200, miles?

•Could most families spend a week there without getting bored?

•Are there plenty of clean, comfortable facilities for camping?

(Better Homes & Gardens, "The Best Vacation Camping in Mid-America," May 1971)

Not only was gas still inexpensive, but also nightly camping fees generally started in the two-dollar range! Still, those prices seemed steep at the time and the guide warned, "By the way, fees change often, apparently in only one direction—up." Soon, runaway inflation would make that observation all the more keen.

While the prices may have changed, thanks to nature's enduring beauty, the well-chosen destinations are equally relevant to today's travelers. For the record, the top camping spots were:

•Door Peninsula

•Padre and Mustang Islands

•The Ozarks

•Superior National Forest

•The Black Hills

•Wisconsin's Northern Lakes

•Big Bend

•North Dakota Badlands

•Paul Bunyan Territory

•Ouachita Mountains


Thrill Rides

By 1974, amusement parks had grown to such sizable proportions that a roundup of the top 15 parks that year was epically titled, "Super Colossal Amusement Parks." The article marveled at how Disneyland "keeps getting bigger and bigger," and excitedly anticipated the upcoming Space Mountain ride at Walt Disney World. (Better Homes & Gardens, "Super Colossal Amusement Parks," August 1974)

Today, of course, the Disney empire and the attractions waiting within dwarf the "super colossal" sites of the 1970s. Still, with several impressive parks in operation and many more on the way, 1974 was a good time to recommend the top spots for family fun. The editors wisely incorporated children's opinions into the top picks, which largely hold up today as all but a couple of the attractions are still going, bigger and better than ever.

Much of what made these destinations popular would be familiar to today's vacationers—with rides, musical acts, and cartoon characters leading the way.

The key difference in modern rides comes down to one word—more. More rides, more thrills per ride, and spread out over more acres. While a few of the musical acts touted then might be popular on an oldies tour today, sadly, many others have passed into history. Cartoon characters remain a ubiquitous presence, with the perennially popular Mickey Mouse and Scooby Doo still beloved by children. Others, like the Banana Splits, not so much.

One thing that wasn't super colossal at 1974 amusement parks was the prices. (Sound familiar?) While tickets will run into three figures per person at many parks today, most admission prices still hadn't reached two digits in 1974. Example: Magic Mountain sported a $5.95 admission price for adults and only $4.95 for children.


Shorter Trips with Little Ones

Forty years ago, exasperated parents tried to keep antsy children distracted on family vacations with simple guessing games like I Spy and 20 Questions. While today's parents have much more effective options like tablets, smartphones, and rear-seat entertainment systems, the success of a vacation still depends on keeping the kids interested.

"Great Weekend Vacations with Kids," from the March 1979 edition of Better Homes & Gardens, offered some sage advice on how to make for a happy trip for the whole family:

•Shorter, more frequent vacations are often better than one long trip.

•The destination and activities should be carefully selected to really engage both youngsters and parents.

Simply taking the children's interests into consideration makes it easier to customize an appropriate destination. The editors suggested history, nature, big-city life, geology, fishing, and sea life as possible themes. Whether you use their exact choices for themes and destinations or merely read them to inspire your own creativity, their advice remains relevant—with one exception. You can ignore the tips to write to various convention and visitors bureaus and parks departments. Fortunately, exponentially improved technology once again comes to our rescue as the planning information you need is at your fingertips through travel apps and internet searches.