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10 options for social distance traveling near Chicago

By Tess Knickerbocker
January 12, 2022
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From dunes to canyons to lighthouses: here is a list of 10 adventures near Chicago.

Chicago is known as a busy tourist destination with lots of food, nightlife, and baseball to experience. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are opting for less crowds and traveling outside major cities. There are plenty of amazing gems to discover in places you wouldn’t expect!

Here are 10 great options for social distance adventures near Chicago:

1. Chicago Botanic Garden

Just a short drive from the city, the Chicago Botanic Garden has 385 acres of beautiful gardens and natural areas. Spend a day exploring the themed gardens, waterfalls, nine islands, or six miles of lake shoreline. The Garden is also offering online classes with topics in gardening fundamentals, photography, yoga, and more.

Much of the garden is open to visitors, but some services will be limited. Face coverings are required when you’re within six feet of people outside your own party. All visitors must pre-register for a specific date and time from the Garden’s website (https://www.chicagobotanic.org/).

Time from Chicago: 30 minutes


2. Indiana Dunes National Park

Indiana Dunes National Park has several beaches, hiking trails, rivers, campgrounds, and much more. It has the area’s three tallest dunes and over 50 miles to explore. Walk the pier to the Michigan City lighthouse, take in the picture-perfect Lake Michigan sunset, or try and spot the Chicago skyline. With 15 miles of shoreline, Indiana Dunes is the perfect beach getaway!

Most of the park is open, but parts of Lake Front Drive in Beverly Shores and Central Avenue Beach are closed. Visit https://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm to stay up-to-date on the park closures.

Time from Chicago: 55 minutes


3. Anderson Japanese Gardens

The Anderson Japanese Gardens is one of the most premier Japanese gardens in North America. Japanese gardens are designed very carefully and are a peaceful beauty. The gardens work to create an art that inspires calm, discovery, and invigoration, which is definitely needed during these times!

The Gardens have reopened with reduced capacities and strict social distancing protocols. Pre-purchased timed admissions are required for entry. Book directly from their website: https://andersongardens.org/

Time from Chicago: 1 hour and 25 minutes


4. Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park, the state’s first recreation park, is one of Illinois’ most beautiful places with a great deal to explore. The State Park offers 13 miles of trails, 18 canyons, waterfalls, campsites, and fishing and boating on the Illinois River.

Starved Rock is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and indoor/outdoor dining and carry-out is available at the park’s restaurants and concessions. The visitor center and playgrounds are closed, and guests must follow state rules for social distancing. More information on the park can be found here: https://www.starvedrocklodge.com/starved-rock-state-park/

Time from Chicago: 1 hour and 30 minutes


5. Matthiessen State Park

Located a few miles south of Starved Rock State Park, Matthiessen State Park also offers amazing views. Matthiessen has a combination of beautiful rock formations, canyons, streams, prairies, and forests. The park has five miles of hiking trails and many areas for picnics.

If the park reaches capacity, it will be temporarily closed until parking becomes available. Face coverings must be worn in the shelters and playgrounds if social distancing cannot be obtained, and the horse campground and trails are now open for use. https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/Parks/Pages/Matthiessen.aspx

Time from Chicago: 1 hour and 35 minutes

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Stepping stones at Matthiessen State Park. Image by @thatrudyguy


6. Kettle Moraine State Forest

The Kettle Moraine State Forest, located in southeastern Wisconsin, has more than 30,000 acres of hills, lakes, and forests. The Forest is known for its beautiful glacial features and contains part of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, a 1,000-mile trail throughout Wisconsin that highlights the wondrous glacial landscape. Take a stroll through the enchanting paths or enjoy one of the three swimming beaches.

Starting July 13, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will begin to allow camping for groups of 50 or less with reservations. Shelters, playgrounds, and visitor centers will remain closed until further notice. For more information, visit: https://dnr.wi.gov/covid-19/

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 10 minutes

shutterstockRF_1494962276-1.jpg?mtime=20200720195911#asset:108699Kettle Moraine State Park. Photo by Tony Savino/Shutterstock

7. Mississippi Palisades State Park

The Mississippi Palisades State Park is known as one of Illinois’ hidden gems. The State Park is located where the Mississippi and Apple Rivers meet up, which complements the steep cliffs and unique rock formations. There are many hiking trails in this 2,500-acre park and plenty of amazing views.

Visitors should check out the guidelines for state parks in Illinois before visiting: https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/closures/Pages/ParksOpenDuringCoVID19.aspx

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 30 minutes


8. Galena, IL

Galena is a small town in northwest Illinois known for its preserved 19-century buildings. Galena has much history to offer, including the house and leather shop of Ulysses S. Grant’s family. Take a stroll through the downtown district to feel like you’ve traveled back to the 1800s. Galena also offers outdoor recreation activities, including: golfing, hiking, boating, fishing, and more.

Galena is moving into Phase 4 of the governor’s Restore Illinois guidelines (https://www.visitgalena.org/coronavirus-updates/), with restaurants offering indoor and outdoor dining and a 10-person party limit.

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 45 minutes


9. Grand Haven Beach, MI

You can’t get enough of beaches when you live in a landlocked state, and the Grand Haven Beach is known as one of the best beaches in the U.S. Located on Lake Michigan, Grand Haven has a soft-sand shoreline, a 2.5-mile boardwalk, and two 19-century red lighthouses.

The Channel parking lot is now open. Officials say visitors to the park and beach should follow the CDC social distancing guidelines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html

Time from Chicago: 2 hours and 50 minutes

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Grand Haven Lighthouse. Image by Dean Pennala/Shutterstock


10. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, located in Grand Rapids, MI, features more than 200 works located both indoors and outdoors on their 158-acre campus. The collection focuses on works from the Modern transition to the present. It includes sculptors dating back to the late 19-century.

Some areas will be temporarily closed and face coverings are required when in enclosed public spaces. Look at the full list of safety precautions on their website: https://www.meijergardens.org/

Time from Chicago: 3 hours


Tess Knickerbocker is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a senior at the University of Iowa.


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Budget Travel Lists

10 ways to explore the San Francisco Bay area while social distancing

San Francisco is unlike any other city in the world. There are always new places to visit with views to appreciate. Unfortunately, this area is in Phase 2B until further notice. This means that the requirement to wear a mask is in full sail and there are still some places that haven’t reopened, thus limiting options for adventure. Though you will not find yourself on the eerie Alcatraz Island, cheering at a Giants baseball game or watching the sea lions at Pier 39, there are still plenty of activities to enjoy. Source: Milleflore Images/Shutterstock Outside of San Francisco 1. Napa Valley and Sonoma County If you like sipping wine with your friends, then this is the area for you. With over 850 wineries between Napa and Sonoma, you will never run out of wine to taste, restaurants to enjoy, places to stay, and shopping/museums to explore. Whether old or new, each winery will bring their own unique taste and experience. Due to COVID-19, only wineries, restaurants, and tasting rooms that are able to operate outdoors will remain open for the time being. 2. Corning, California Though Corning is a small town of only about 7,500 people, it is the olive capital of the United States and the largest olive processing plant in the nation. The Olive Pit is still operating under COVID-19 restrictions, so the café (to-go orders only) and store are open but the option to pick-up is available as well. The Olive Pit has expanded their products beyond just olives to olive oil, craft beer, wine, nuts, flavored balsamic vinegar, mustards, and gift items. This local shop is the perfect way to introduce you and your family to the new exciting olive flavors. 3. Tiburon, California Just across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco lies the beautiful city of Tiburon. Life there includes lovely family bike rides, landmarks, shops, wineries and restaurants and many opportunities to get out in nature. One of the hidden gems within Tiburon is Hippie Tree. All you have to do is park near 100 Gilmartin Drive and take a little hike up the fire road. Once you have reached the top, you will find a secluded area with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge with a huge eucalyptus tree and a swing. 4. Half Moon Bay If you’re looking for a place to go surfing, spend time on a pier, launch a boat for a morning on the water or even fish off-the-dock, Half Moon is the place for you and it’s only about 40 minutes from San Francisco. There is also endless sea food calling your name. San Mateo County is following social distancing guidelines and some places require a mask to be worn but almost everything remains open. Half Moon Bay and Pillar Point Harbor are ready to give you a day of fun. Source: Brian Patrick Feulner/Shutterstock 5. Carmel, California Point Lobos State Reserve has a little bit of everything for everyone. It has even been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.” There are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife such as sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otters, orcas and in the winter, grey whales seen from the shore. Point Lobos is also very well-known for birding and hiking. It is a birders paradise and offers hikers several trails ranging from beginner to challenging. One of the most unique parts of Point Lobo is what lies under the water. The undisturbed aquatic life is one of the most varied in the world and is one of the top preferred diving and snorkeling spots. The reserve has closed and/or changed the hours of operation throughout the pandemic so make sure to check before hopping in the car. Hidden Treasures Within the City 6. Mosaic Stairways One of the reasons San Francisco is adored by so many is because of the culture and art scattered all through the city in the most unique ways. The staircases started as average concrete stairs but were transformed with gorgeous, colorful, and bright handmade tiles arranged in patterns that all flow together. There are three locations. One at 16th Ave, one in the Hidden Garden and the last in Lincoln Park. Source: bgrissom/Shutterstock 7. Beaches Two of the most popular beaches in San Francisco are Baker beach, known for the northwestern view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach on the west coast, though foggy and a bit chilly, is the city’s longest and sandiest stretch of shoreline. These beaches are only open to those on foot or bike (still available for rent throughout the city and perfect for a trip across the bridge) as the parking lots are still closed due to the Coronavirus. 8. Sutro Bath Ruins This architectural landmark in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, on the western side of San Francisco, is from 1894 when millionaire Adolph Sutro designed the largest saltwater pool that was filled by the ocean during high tide. The baths have not been in operation since before the Great Depression, but this piece of history remains and is intriguing to check out. Right near Sutro Baths is the well-known restaurant, Cliffhouse (open for takeout Thursday-Monday.) Normally there are tons of other activities in the park to enjoy, but unfortunately, any facilities that don’t make social distancing possible remain closed until the state of California can find a way to open them safely. When they do open again, one of the main attractions are all of the historical sites. For a jump back in time there are locations like Fort Mason, a Cold War Museum called Nike Missile Site, or a lesson on homeland security in the 1930’s with a 16-inch gun at Battery Townsley. Once there is a plan in place, the park will open in phases. This doesn’t include a long list of beaches, some campgrounds and other outdoor activities that visitors are still welcome to explore. Source: Michael Urmann/Shutterstock 9. Haight- Ashbury This district of San Francisco has always been a hotspot in the city, especially during the 50’s and 60’s. It is a lively and funky place with shops, restaurants, and historical sites. The most magical part of the area is that most of the people who work or live there have been able to keep the flower power and hippie vibe alive over the years. Haight-Ashbury is also known for the brightly colored Victorian style homes that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. (For another hidden gem within the city, search for the golden fire hydrant which is said to be the only functioning hydrant during the fire!) 10. Seward Street Slides For a quick adventure, these slides are always a blast! They were created by a 14-year-old girl in a “design the park” contest in the 1960’s. The slides are still in use today. All you have to do is bring a piece of cardboard with you to sit on! Haley Beyer is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a Senior at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Budget Travel Lists

11 places near Las Vegas to explore

Remember, rules and regulations are frequently changing as the COVID-19 restrictions change. Always do your research before visiting parks and other public use areas and familiarize yourself with CDC recommendations on safely visiting parks and recreational facilities. Valley of Fire Just an hour outside of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire is a state park that offers stunning geology, Instagram-worthy scenic drives and plenty of hiking trails. Take in views of vibrant Aztec sandstone rock formations from your car window or while hiking! According to the Nevada State Parks website, most state park campgrounds opened on May 29 with capacity restrictions and most visitor centers, museums and gift shops reopened on June 1. As of July 2020 the park is operating as normal. If you are looking to hike be sure to check their website of Facebook page for updates - some of the trails close due to the extreme heat. You can always see the beautiful scenery by driving thru the park. 2.) Red Rock Canyon Miles of beautiful hiking, horseback riding and biking trails weave through Red Rock Canyon, Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. Just under 30 minutes from Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is a great outdoor destination for exploration, picnics, rock climbing and nature-watching. According to the Bureau of Land Management website, Red Rock Canyon is open, but not issuing late exit or overnight permits until further notice. The park will close each day when it hits capacity and areas such as the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, campsites and picnic areas remain temporarily closed. Image by www.mileswillis.co.uk/Getty Images 3.) Spring Mountains National Recreation Area In just under an hour, you can drive from Las Vegas to the Spring Mountains, which emerge from the Mojave Desert with opportunities for visitors to hike, picnic and take in the views. The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is home to lush forest, diverse wildlife and a chance to escape the heat of the desert for a while. The Mt. Charleston website posts a weekly update to advise of any closures. As of this update (July 2021) SMVG Visitor Center and Group Picnic Areas are still closed. At this time hiking trails and most recreation areas are open. 4.) Lake Mead As America’s first and largest national recreation area, Lake Mead has opportunities to recreate both on and off the water. A short 45-minute drive will get you to the lake’s beautiful blue waters and nine wilderness areas. Renting kayaks or canoes, hiking, fishing and engaging in other outdoor activities are great ways to get out of the house and spend some time in the sun. As of July 2021 To help keep visitors safe, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is instituting seasonal closures to some areas and trails from May 15 to September 30, 2021. The temporary closures are in response to serious safety concerns related to summer heat effects to visitors. The closed areas are remote with little or no shade and the closed trails have sections of strenuous hiking with some requiring bouldering and climbing. Closures in the park effective on May 15, 2021 are:• Goldstrike Canyon• White Rock Canyon and White Rock Canyon Trail• Arizona Hot Springs and the Arizona Hot Springs Trail• Liberty Arch TrailDuring the closure, visitors can still access the hot springs near White Rock Canyon that are accessible from the Colorado River. The River Mountains Loop Trail and Historic Railroad Trail are remaining open. Lake Mead. Image by weltreisendertj/Shutterstock 5.) Mohave Preserve Sand dunes, Joshua trees, canyons and mountains make up this 1.6-million-acre preserve located about an hour outside of Las Vegas. Escape the city to take a scenic drive past lava flows and cinder cones, pose with the Joshua Trees and explore Kelso Dunes. According to the National Park Service website, as of July 2021, Hole-In-The-Wall Information Center, All Trails, Most Restrooms, All Roads, Mid Hills Campground, Hole-In-The-Wall Campground all all open, The Kelso Depot Visitor Center is currently closed due to major mechanical failure of the climate control systems. Reopening anticipated in 2022 or 2023. Limited visitor services are Available at Hole-In-The-Wall Information Center 6.) Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Explore the beautiful desert and remains of the Ice Age at Tule Springs, located just 30 minutes from Las Vegas. Take a walk through this national monument and keep your eyes (and camera lens) peeled for 200,000-year-old fossils, endangered flowers and desert sunsets. Tule Springs National Monument remains open to visitation, according to the National Park Service website. 7.) River Mountains Loop Trail Thirty minutes outside of Las Vegas, this multi-use trail is 34 miles long and surrounds the River Mountains. The trail leads hikers, bikers and runners through the beautiful Mojave Desert and offers scenic views of the city and Lake Mead. The River Mountains Loop Trail is open for use. 8.) Zion National Park Colorful sandstone cliffs, diverse plant and animal life, and a multitude of hiking trails await you in Utah’s first national park. Take a scenic drive, hike to archaeological sites and along rivers, and soak in the park’s beauty. Zion is a two and half hour drive from Las Vegas. As of July 2021 Zion National Park is fully open and Zion Canyon and Springdale Shuttles are in Operation. Free daily shuttle service is running in Zion National Park and Springdale from March through December 2021. Face masks must be worn on all shuttle buses. Several trails are closed due to large rockfall so be sure to visit their website for updates. Zion National Park. Photo by Laura Brown 9.) Nelson, Nevada The ghost town of Nelson lies about 45 minutes from Las Vegas and is the perfect backdrop to explore your creative side. Bring a camera and some time travel enthusiasm as you explore the remains of Techatticup gold mine. Whether you’re fascinated by antique cars and mining history or just want to spice up your Instagram page, Nelson is a great way to spend a day outside the city.For mine tours face masks are mandatory if you have not been fully vaccinated as of July 2021. 10.) Desert National Wildlife Refuge A 30-minute drive from Las Vegas will get you to this 1.6-million-acre landscape that is home to over 500 plant species, 320 bird species and a wide variety of other wildlife. Bring your hiking poles to explore one of the many trails inside the refuge or grab a camera to try your hand at wildlife photography. Roads, trails and restrooms in Desert National Wildlife Refuge are all open to visitor access. The Korn Creek Visitor Center remains closed as of July 2021. 11.) Laughlin, Nevada A 90-minute drive south of Las Vegas will take you to Laughlin, Nevada, a gateway to explore the Colorado River. You can enjoy boating, water skiing, jet skiing, or swimming in the fresh water. For those that have their own boat, there are plenty of launch ramps. For those that don't, there are plenty of places to rent one. Kyla Pearce is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a student at Arizona State University

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FamilyBudget Travel Lists

7 best US national parks to take your kids

Trying to plan a family vacation in a national park can feel overwhelming. With 62 official parks in the US and counting, there are simply too many options to go down the list, one-by-one, and tick off the best options for kids. To help narrow it down, here are our top picks for family-friendly trips in some of America’s most treasured national parks. With towering trees, colorful badlands, rocky tide pools, and epic wildlife sightings, there’s something for even the pickiest city kid on this list. Death Valley is a great place for outdoorsy families to find some sun in the winter © Armin Adams / Getty Images Death Valley When to visit: Spring, fall, winter Best for: Hiking, rock scrambling, wild west history, scenic drives, car camping Whenever you read about Death Valley, you’ll often find it described as a park of superlatives. It’s the hottest, driest and lowest place in North America. It’s also the largest national park outside of Alaska by over a million acres, which means it’s a massive desert wonderland for families to explore. Most of the top attractions, though, like Badwater Basin, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Devil’s Golf Course, Zabriskie Point and Artist’s Palette, are only a short hike from the car, and many are stroller-accessible. Furnace Creek is the main hub for lodging and food in Death Valley, with several park campgrounds and hotels like The Inn at Death Valley, The Oasis at Death Valley, and The Ranch at Death Valley, all of which have swimming pools for those scorching shoulder season visits. The best time to go to Death Valley is typically the “off season” for other parks – winter – meaning it’s a wonderful option for outdoorsy families looking to escape the snow and go on a road trip! You might also like: US national parks: how to see the best of 5 epic parks in one day each Sequoia When to visit: Summer, fall Best for: Big trees, hiking, backpacking, car camping Kids will feel like they’ve entered into Jurassic Park when they gaze up, awestruck, at the giant sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park. This park is all about big mountains and forest bathing, and the Parks Service has done an excellent job to making the big trees as easy-to-reach and family-friendly as possible. Take Generals Highway up from Three Rivers, then look for deer and black bears on the accessible Big Trees Trail, which circles Round Meadow. Afterwards, soak up some history and learn about the park’s flora and fauna at the Giant Forest Museum before heading off to see the General Sherman Tree. Looking to take the family on a backpacking trip? Sequoia National Park has several great treks up to stunning vistas with water sources that are under 7 miles each way. There are also seven park campgrounds for those looking to car camp, plus several more in neighboring Kings Canyon. If you’re not into roughing it, The Wuksachi Lodge, located inside the park, is dog friendly and offers a full-service restaurant. For interesting wildlife and beach camping, head to the Everglades © Stefanie Grewel / Getty Images Everglades When to visit: Spring, fall, winter Best for: Wildlife viewing, boat tours, beach camping, car camping Because they’re located on the southernmost tip of Florida, the Everglades stay warm and tropical year-round, making them a prime spot for snowbirds looking to escape the frigid winter up north. Kids will love the guided airboat safaris that help visitors spot native birds and cruise right up to the park’s most notorious resident – the alligator. Stick around after the boat ride to catch a wildlife show, included with your ticket. Everglades National Park offers two drive-in campgrounds for car camping and multiple backcountry tent sites, though families looking for epic beach access, a restaurant, and a pool will want to rent a car and stay in nearby Miami, which is only a one-hour drive from the park. Yellowstone When to visit: Summer, fall Best for: Geyser gazing, wildlife viewing, car camping, hiking Imagine the look on your child’s face the first time they see the face of a 2,000-pound bison walking alongside the car. That’s the magic of Yellowstone National Park. There’s wildlife galore, ample lodging options, and many top sights require only a short stroll to reach. The multi-use trail that circumnavigates Yellowstone’s infamous Geyser Basin and Old Faithful is fully accessible for those with strollers or mobility issues and is a must see for any first-time visitor. As for lodging, Yellowstone has got you covered. With nine hotel/cabin facilities and twelve campgrounds located inside the park itself, there’s something to suit everyone’s needs. We love the historic Old Faithful Inn, finished in 1904, which features live music, a full-service restaurant, and easy access to the park’s celebrity geysers. You might also like: National Parks: 11 ways to be sustainable in Yellowstone Acadia National Park has a great Jr. Ranger program and plenty of family-friendly hikes © Jerry Monkman / Getty Images Acadia When to visit: Summer, fall Best for: Tide pools, scenic drives, fall foliage, hiking, biking, car camping With one of the most unique Junior Ranger programs in the U.S. park system, Acadia is a fantastic place to bring ocean-loving little ones. Hop onto a ranger-guided boat cruise, search for seals, and touch real sea life brought up from the water below, then head to the Carroll Homestead for pioneer games and an official Junior Ranger booklet and badge. Looking to expend some energy? Acadia also has 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of historic carriage roads, suitable for biking or those with strollers. As for accommodations, Acadia offers three NPS campgrounds that book up far in advance during summer months and fall weekends. For hotels, check out nearby Bar Harbor, with options galore, many of which have heated swimming pools and a spa to pamper tired parents. Grand Canyon When to visit: Spring, fall Best for: Scenic drives, hiking, backpacking, car camping The Grand Canyon is one of those once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list family road trips that should be on everyone’s radar. The park features one of the most robust paved trails in the entire park system, the 13-mile accessible South Rim Trail, which is virtually flat and perfect for strollers and kids of all ages. Start at the Bright Angel Lodge and continue onto the interpretive Trail of Time, where children can touch samples of rocks and learn about the unique geology of the area. Families who don’t want to hike out and back can hop onto a shuttle bus at the end of the journey and ride it back to the lodge. Horseback riding and mule tours are also a great way to explore the rich history of the canyon. Though backpacking down to the Colorado River is rated as strenuous and not suitable for small kids, Grand Canyon National Park offers three car-friendly campgrounds, two of which can be reserved in advance. Those looking to splurge on a full-service hotel within the park’s boundaries will want to book early and check out the historic Bright Angel Lodge or the panoramic views at the El Tovar Hotel. You might also like: The Grand Canyon: how to get the most from a short trip Carlsbad Caverns When to visit: Year-round Best for: Caving, bat viewing, short hikes Crawl, hike, and shimmy through spectacular, underground rock cathedrals at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With cave tours (open to ages 4 and up) spanning anywhere from one to five hours, there’s adventure to suit everyone’s attention span and ability level here. Stick around for sunset for a real treat, though. Every evening during the summer, thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats soar out of the mouth of the cave at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s a breathtaking natural wonder, and a ranger-lead talk helps explain this unique wildlife phenomenon to visitors of all ages. Though only primitive, backcountry camping is available within the park’s boundaries, nearby Carlsbad, New Mexico offers plentiful kid-friendly hotel options, many of which have a pool and free breakfast buffet.

Budget Travel Lists

Top 7 travel destinations that have had a serious glow-up

For many Americans, repurposing marvelous old buildings is always better than tearing them down. And while the term “urban renewal” comes with a little baggage, it’s hard to argue with its particular way of salvaging and adapting neglected older spaces for our modern world. City planners and architects across the country have found spectacular ways to reimagine vintage structures. You’ve seen it at New York City’s High Line, which converted a dilapidated Manhattan railroad into a lovely 1.5-mile “linear park.” And this year in Chicago, the gigantic, abandoned Old Post Office will open its repurposed 2.8 million square feet as a 21st-century office complex featuring a food hall, rooftop park, and restored Art Deco design. So for those travelers who appreciate the splendors of historic preservation and civic innovation, this shortlist of revitalized urban destinations is for you. 1. BeltLine, Atlanta One of the great Southern cities has circled back to its roots with adaptive-reuse projects across town – most notably along the BeltLine, itself a remarkable project. In 2005, Atlanta opened the first BeltLine section, a retired railway corridor–turned–multi-use trail that’s today lined with public art and parks. It drew more residents and businesses to the east side, and sparked the transformation of a massive old Sears distribution complex into Ponce City Market, now a dazzling mixed-use retail, dining, commercial, and residential center. Other industrial spaces along the trail have found new life too, like Inman Park’s Krog Street Market. More are sure to follow as new BeltLine sections open up in coming years, eventually spanning 33 miles. 2. Crescent Park, New Orleans Waterfronts across the country have been rediscovered in recent decades, thanks to city planners realizing the potential to replace retired wharves with versatile public space. In New Orleans, such creative thinking led to Crescent Park, a 1.4-mile linear park just east of the French Market. What once was a bustling industrial riverfront has since 2014 been a busy 20-acre green space with picnic areas, a dog run, and seasonal events and festivals. The Crescent City is seeing adaptive reuse elsewhere too, as seen across the Warehouse Arts District, at spots like the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, a modern hotel that prizes the building’s 19th-century heritage. In the Central Business District, Pythian Market is a locally curated food hall inside a restored 1908 tower with a fascinating tie to the city’s early civil-rights movement. 3. Discovery Green, Houston From parking lot to 12-acre park – that’s the story of Houston’s downtown Discovery Green. With the support of local philanthropy foundations, in 2002 the city seized the opportunity to convert concrete lots into an urban park with playgrounds, music stages, trails, gardens, bocce courts, restaurants, and other public amenities. The LEED-certified park now draws more than 1.2 million annual visitors, and has inspired revitalization projects across Midtown and East Downtown neighborhoods. 4. The Wharf, Washington, DC Washington’s Southwest neighborhood had for decades been a neglected corner of town, due partly to accessibility challenges caused by highways dividing it from major attractions. But that changed in 2017, when a $2 billion development transformed the industrial waterfront into the mixed-use District Wharf. The 10-acre neighborhood is now more easily accessible from the Metro (with a short walk or free shuttle), by car or cab, or by water taxi or private boat. These days, visitors from around the region flock to the Wharf that’s home to both restored historic structures and new “green” architecture – forming a year-round recreation, entertainment, and dining destination on the Washington Channel. 5. Crosstown Concourse, Memphis Old warehouses remain prized property for urban developers looking to adapt rather than build anew. Just head to the Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, where a humongous Sears store and distribution center, abandoned in 1983, became a thriving “vertical urban village” in 2017. The art deco complex that once served millions of mail-order customers now accommodates shoppers, diners, residents, and workers across its 1.2 million sq ft. It’s even home to a charter high school, medical clinics, a YMCA, and a contemporary arts organization with galleries and performance space. (Memphis is one of several US cities that have reused retired Sears complexes. You’ll find similar projects in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Boston.) 6. Downtown Project, Las Vegas Not so much a single project as an evolving investment, Las Vegas’s Downtown Project is the city’s ongoing urban-revitalization initiative in its historic Fremont East/East Village districts. Driven (and financed) by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, who parked the company headquarters there in 2013, the Downtown Project has poured $350 million into the neighborhood’s 61 acres. Today, Vegas visitors, workers, and residents enjoy new (and newly supported) businesses along the established street grid – from restaurants and bars, to arts spaces and boutiques, all complemented by award-winning urban design and public art. Befitting a project led by an online retail giant, the project’s Container Park houses nearly 40 businesses in repurposed shipping containers. 7. The Steel Yard, Providence The industrial character of Providence’s Valley neighborhood turned out to be a perfect setting for a vibrant urban arts studio. In 2002, the Steel Yard took over the century-old Providence Steel and Iron building just a year after it shuttered. Since then, all 12,000 sq ft have served as nonprofit workspaces for ceramics, woodwork, welding, blacksmith, and jewelry creators on the banks of the Woonasquatucket River. The Steel Yard reopened a refreshed space last year, and along the way it’s inspired other proprietors to make use of Valley’s lofty, leftover brick complexes, including the “elevated street casual” eatery Troop. Look for more action in this area over coming years, as city planners develop a linear park called Woonasquatucket River Corridor linking Downtown Providence to Valley in the coming years.