Now that summer has come to an end and the school year has just begun, this can only mean one of two things:

It’s either time for one more last-minute family trip...

Or start planning for a fall break vacation.

Or maybe both!

Family vacations have evolved over the years.

While it’s always nice to spend a weekend in the mountains if you live out west, or head up north to the lake if you live in the midwest, families are traveling differently today.

They’re using digital resources, seeking out authentic experiences and immersing themselves in educational travel experiences that are still filled with plenty of excitement.

Here are 5 family travel trends for 2012:

1. The Great American Road Trip is Cool Again

Family Road Trip

credit: -Patxi Izkue- via flickr

Remember the good ole days when the kids would pile into the back of the station wagon and you would hit the road for an eight hour stretch filled with plenty of fast food breaks, stops at the world’s biggest whatever and the occasional quarrel between the children?

You can still do that!

According to data from Expedia, the road trip family vacation is making a comeback, despite fluctuating gas prices.

“Families opt to road trip to stretch their vacation dollar while enjoying meaningful family time,” says Amy Whitley, editor of Pit Stops for Kids.

“They’re looking for quality resort and roadside experiences to discover as a family both at their final destination and along the way.”

Of course, there has to be a final destination on this road trip.

You’re not going to just drive and stay at random hotels along the way.

Use the following trends to help you pick a destination to drive to.

2. Families are Listening to Travel Bloggers

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that people are turning to the Internet to figure out where they want to travel to.

But families — especially mothers — are taking more personalized suggestions from online personalities.

Websites like Yelp, TravelAdvisor and Oyster are great, but they don’t offer the same kind of personality that bloggers like Luxury Travel Mom or  professional travel writers like Annie Fitzsimmons can offer.

Moms, and dads too, want parent-backed travel suggestions.

“Families from around the world are using parent-authored blogs to plan vacations because we test everything we recommended with real children in tow,” said Amie O’Shaughnessey, founder of Ciao Bambino.

Do you have a favorite travel website you would like to share with us?

3. Kids can Learn and Have Fun on Vacation

The U.S. Travel Association says opportunities to learn was one of the top reasons behind planning a family vacation last year.

“From museums, to reenactments, to historical routs, cultural vacations offer families a chance to unplug and learn together in an interactive and meaningful way,” Mara Gorman, founder of The Mother of All Trips, said.

So what are some of the best vacation spots where your kids can take something away worthwhile?

A trip to our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., is always a great start.

They can learn the history of our Founding Fathers, tour the Capital Building and possibly the White House (contact your local Congressman to try and secure a tour) and take in the many great museums near the Capital Mall.

Try and travel in the fall, however, as Washington, D.C., is quite hot and muggy during the summer.

Other great vacations could include a trip to Yellowstone National Park or the Galapagos Islands.

Really any vacation where you can have an expert guide help explain everything along the way will be a great experience not only for your children, but for the entire family.

4. Families Want Active, Biking Vacations

Sometimes there’s no better way to immerse yourself and your family into a destination than by biking that destination.

There are many great vacation spots around North America that offer beautiful bike trails, unprecedented scenery and the opportunity to stay active.

In a world filled with computer and video games, texting and social media, it’s more important than ever to get your children outside, enjoying the world around them.

Some great suggestions for biking destinations include Cape Cod, which features the 25-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail; San Antonio, Texas, which offers its famous river trail; and Acadia National Park, which offers stunning glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of these types of places offer some kind of bike-rental service.

5. You can Never go Wrong With a National Park

Families want to learn new things while on vacations, they want to stay active and most importantly, they want to spend time together.

Making a vacation out of a national park can include all of those things.

If you haven’t been, start with the Grand Canyon.

Like most national parks, the Grand Canyon offers a Junior Ranger program for kids 4 to 14, which is filled with great activities for children.

Additionally, you will never be at a loss for taking spectacular photos.

In fact, it could be a great idea to get your children into photography.

Buy them a digital camera before the trip, and create a checklist of the types of photos to snap while on vacation.

Not only will they appreciate a new hobby, but you’ll also have plenty of great photos for that vacation scrapbook when you get home.

National Parks aren’t expensive to get into and offer something new at every turn.

Do you have a trend you would like to add?

We would love to hear from you in the comments below...