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The 10 best day trips in the US Midwest

By Lonely Planet Editors
September 28, 2020
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In the Midwest, you’ll find friendly small towns as well as urban sprawls. Roll call for the region's cities starts with Chicago, which unfurls what is arguably the country's mightiest skyline. In Cleveland, the best action is in its walkable neighborhoods. Detroit rocks, plain and simple. Day trips in this region have everything from parks and museums to architectural delights to breweries.

Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.

Best day trips from Chicago

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
At the southern tip of Lake Michigan, 15 miles of white-sand dunes and more than 50 miles of trails await outdoor adventurers. At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, you can swim, bike, fish, ski or hike, depending on the season – or camp overnight from April to October. Beaches fill up fast in the summer, so arrive early to pick the best spot. 1hr 10min by car.

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Lakefront walking path in Lake Geneva ©Sandy Swanson/Shutterstock


Lake Geneva Shore Path, Wisconsin 
You’ll find something fascinating along just about any stretch of this nearly 26-mile path, which was originally forged to link Native American villages. It winds past excellent lake views, wooded stretches and beautiful estates. Strike out in either direction from Lake Geneva Library for the easiest route. 2hr by car. 

Windmill Island Gardens, Holland, Michigan
Get a taste of Dutch life in delightfully kitschy Windmill Island Gardens. The top attraction in the aptly named town of Holland, this 36-acre park contains gardens, dykes, canals, picnic areas and, of course, a giant windmill imported from the Netherlands in 1964. In the spring, more than 100,000 blooming tulips draw admiring crowds to town. 2hr 20min by car.

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Illinois is a great base to explore Frank Lloyd Wright's designs ©Thomas Barrat/Shutterstock


Racine, Wisconsin
Architecture aficionados shouldn’t miss Racine, which is home to several notable Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. Manufacturer SC Johnson is based here, and its third-generation CEO commissioned Wright to build not only his home, Wingspread, but also the administration building and research tower for SC Johnson itself. 2hr 20min by car.

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Best day trips from Detroit

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Dearborn
Plunge into American history. The indoor Henry Ford Museum contains a wealth of American culture, such as the chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated, the limo in which Kennedy was killed and the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. The adjacent outdoor Greenfield Village features Thomas Edison’s laboratory and the Wright Brothers’ airplane workshop. 30min by car.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids
The 158-acre gardens feature impressive blooms and hulking works by Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore and others. The sculpture park offers paths and lawns bejeweled with works by artists such as Ai Weiwei, Claes Oldenburg and Anish Kapoor. The five-story glass conservatory bursts with tropical plants. The children’s garden provides lots to smell, touch and dig into. The tranquil Japanese Garden is another highlight. 2hr 30min by car.

Flight of Craft Beer
Sample the craft beer at the breweries in Kalamazoo ©blizzard_77/Getty Images


Breweries, Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo has an offbeat charm that will surprise first-time visitors. But it’s the local beer that has got people talking; over a dozen breweries produce a huge range of them. The leader is Bell’s Brewery, one of the top craft breweries in the country. 2hr 40min by train.

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Best day trips from Cleveland

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has several waterfalls and hiking trails ©fdastudillo/Getty Images


Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Like a great, cold snake, the Cuyahoga River worms over a forested valley, earning its Native American name of "crooked river" (or possibly "place of the jawbone"). Either name is evocative, and hints at the mystical beauty that Cuhayoga Valley National Park engenders on a cool morning, when the mists thread the woods and all you hear is the honk of Canadian geese and the fwup-fwup-whoosh of a great blue heron flapping over its hunting grounds. 30min by car.

Classic roller coaster with people at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Fast action thrills of a roller coaster ride at Cedar Point ©AWelshLad/Getty Images


Cedar Point, Sandusky
Cedar Point on Lake Erie is one of the world’s top amusement parks, known for its 17 adrenaline-pumping roller coasters. Stomach-droppers include the Top Thrill Dragster, among the globe’s tallest and fastest rides. It climbs 420ft into the air before plunging and whipping around at 120mph. The Valravn is the world’s longest ‘dive’ coaster, dropping riders at a 90-degree angle for 214ft. Check the park’s opening times before planning a visit. 1hr by car.

Topiary Park, Columbus
If you’ve ever thought, "I wonder what Georges Seurat’s post-impressionist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte would look like made out of yew trees," this park is for you. A local sculptor and his green-thumb wife created the Topiary Park some 30 years ago to brighten a neglected patch of downtown. Today you can wander around seven acres and admire the 54 people, eight boats, three dogs, monkey and cat carved from shrubs to resemble Seurat’s famous painting. 2hr by car.

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Budget Travel Lists

The 12 best day trips in the US Southwest

Rugged. Beautiful. And fun. The Southwest is the ultimate playground, luring adventurers with red-rock canyons, Wild West legends and the kicky delights of green chile stew. Day trips in this region conjure up visions of vast desert landscapes, rodeos, and lake adventures. Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice. Best day trips from Austin FredericksburgWith a wealth of events, wineries and in-town attractions, it’s often hard to decide how to best spend a day in Fredericksburg. It was settled by some of Texas’ first German immigrant families, and the European frontier ethos shines through in the architecture and history of the town itself. Further afield, vineyard tours are a hit with groups on weekend trips from Austin. 1hr 30min by car. Fall foliage on the river at Guadalupe State Park ©Richard A McMillin/ShutterstockGuadalupe RiverThere’s no better respite from the Central Texas summer than jumping in the water, and few places could beat the Guadalupe River; specifically, drifting down its course on an inner tube. Head to Guadalupe River State Park for a family friendly float (plus campsites and hiking), or look for local private operators that offer a more party-focused experience on the river. 1hr 30min by car. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, FredericksburgThe 425ft high pink granite dome of Enchanted Rock towers over the surrounding Central Texas hills. The popular Summit Hike tracks past vernal pools and rock fissures to panoramic views from the top. Queues form at the State Park gate as early as 8am on busy weekends, but campers with confirmed reservations cruise straight on through and into the park. 1hr 40min by car. Best day trips from Dallas The daily Texas longhorn cattledrive through the Stockyard streets ©typhoonski/Getty ImagesFort WorthFamous as being "Where the West Begins," Fort Worth still has the cowboy feel. It first rose to prominence during the great open-range cattle drives of the late 19th century. These days, the legendary Stockyards are the prime visitor destination, hosting twice-daily mini-cattle drives and rodeos every weekend. Downtown is bursting with restaurants and bars, while the Cultural District boasts three amazing art museums. 40min by car. Waco, TexasIn this college town, Magnolia Market at the Silos draws more visitors than the Alamo. Once you’ve shopped, played and eaten at ‘Fixer-Upper’ duo Chip and Joanna Gaines’ biggest renovation project, stroll Baylor’s 1000-acre campus or stand-up paddle straight through town on the Brazos River. 1hr 30min by car. Caddo Lake State ParkCaddo Lake State Park is a good place to start your lake adventure. Take an interpretive hike through the cypress forest on the lake’s western edge. Or, in summer, rent a canoe. The park has some great little cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the riverside tent sites are pretty sweet. 2hr 30min by car. Best day trips from Phoenix Saguaro National ParkSaguaros are icons of the American Southwest, and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units, separated by 30 miles and Tucson itself. Both sections – the Rincon Mountain District in the east and Tucson Mountain District in the west – are filled with trails and desert flora; if you only visit one, make it the spectacular western half. 1hr 40min by car. Watch the desert sunset in Sedona ©aaronj9/ShutterstockSedonaNestled amid striking red sandstone formations, Sedona's truly spectacular landscape has long attracted spiritual seekers, artists and healers. Outdoorsy adventurers have begun to see the light as well: there are some inimitable thrills to be had hiking, mountain biking and climbing amid these desert spires. Red Rock State Park has 5 miles of well-marked, interconnecting trails in gorgeous red-rock country. 2hr by car. Historic train station in Flagstaff at sunset ©Nick Fox/ShutterstockFlagstaffThe laid-back charms of Flagstaff, the home of Northern Arizona University, are many; from a pedestrian-friendly historic downtown, bedecked with vintage neon, to hiking and skiing in the country’s largest ponderosa pine forest. 2hr 30min by car. Best day trips from Las Vegas Desert landscape at sunset at the Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area ©Dean Pennalad/500pxRed Rock CanyonRed Rock's dramatic vistas are revered by Las Vegas locals and adored by visitors from around the world. Formed by extreme tectonic forces, it's thought the canyon, whose 3000ft red rock escarpment rises sharply from the valley floor, was formed around 65 million years ago. A 13-mile, one-way scenic loop drive offers mesmerizing vistas of the canyon's most striking features. Hiking trails and rock-climbing routes radiate from roadside parking areas. 30min by car. Valley of Fire State ParkA masterpiece of Southwest desert scenery, the Valley of Fire State Park contains 40,000 acres of red Aztec sandstone, petrified trees and ancient Native American petroglyphs (at Atlatl Rock). Dedicated in 1935, this was Nevada's first designated state park. Its psychedelic landscape has been carved by wind and water over thousands of years. 50min by car. Lost City MuseumWander away from the big city to unearth some of the best art, culture and history on the continent in the most unexpected places. At the Lost City Museum, learn about the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans through reconstructed homes and the artifacts that were saved as this desert land developed. 1hr by car.

Budget Travel Lists

10 low-key destinations to consider for Labor Day

Our cruel summer is coming to a close and the upcoming holiday weekend is one of the last chances for people to get out of the house and enjoy the long days of sunshine. Vacation rental manager Vacasa has released its list of top 10 destinations for Labor Day this weekend. ©Marc Muench/Getty Images1. Sun Valley, Idaho Small-town Sun Valley sits at the edge of the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests, and it gets a whopping 15 hours of sunshine per day during the summer months. Hike all the way up Bald Mountain west of town, then order some takeout from one of Sun Valley’s coveted restaurants. Browse rentals 2. Steamboat Springs, Colorado When you reach historic Steamboat Springs, you may feel like you’ve gone back in time. Reminiscent of the Old West, Steamboat is a naturally stunning escape tucked in the Rocky Mountains. Cool off by floating the Yampa River, or take a stroll through town and expect to be greeted (at a distance) by all the friendly locals. Browse rentals 3. Greenville, Maine Greenville rests on the 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake—the largest of its kind in the state. As the name of the lake would suggest, it’s home to many moose, so keep your eyes peeled for these majestic creatures as you hike through the woods or take a private flight. Browse rentals. 4. Eagle River, Wisconsin Along a large freshwater lake chain, you’ll find the laid-back northwoods town of Eagle River. Bike through densely wooded forests, or take a more leisurely method of travel—a guided horseback ride. Browse rentals. ©Keneva Photography/Shutterstock 5. Sevierville, Tennessee Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains, Sevierville has hundreds of forest trails and several jaw-dropping waterfalls. Boat along Douglas Lake, take a tour through underground caverns, or just breathe in the crisp air from the back deck of your cabin rental. Browse rentals. 6. Sugar Mountain, North Carolina Concealed in North Carolina’s range of Blue Ridge peaks, Sugar Mountain is a treasure of a village. If heights don’t make you queasy, visit the nation’s highest suspension footbridge, the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, or take a chairlift from the base of the mountain to 1,200 feet up. Browse rentals. 7. Ludlow, Vermont Tourists flock to Ludlow to enjoy snow sports during the winter, but the summer months are decidedly less crowded. Don’t be fooled, though: the tiny town is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise year round. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, and hike to the swimming holes at Buttermilk Falls. Browse rentals. 8. Angel Fire, New Mexico Often called New Mexico’s best-kept secret, Angel Fire is a small village rife with adventure in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Visit the largest bike park in the Rocky Mountains, charting 60 miles of terrain, or hike to New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak. Browse rentals. ©SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images 9. Helen, Georgia Venture to Helen in northeast Georgia and you’ll feel like you just touched down in Europe. A Bavarian village set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen has a storied past and unequivocal charm dating back to the 1800s. While you’re there, don’t miss 300-foot Dukes Creek Falls. Browse rentals. 10. Tannersville, Pennsylvania Nestled in the Pocono Mountains, Tannersville is the perfect destination for big families and honeymooners alike. Take a dip in a unique heart-shaped tub, or zipline through the treetops if adrenaline-pumping activities are more your speed. Browse rentals.

Budget Travel Lists

Budget Travel's favorite Fourteeners

The United States claims at least 93 fourteeners and they are all located in only four states. Colorado is home to the most fourteeners with a total of 56, next comes Alaska at 20, California with 14, and 3 from Washington. Mountain trails above 14,000 feet are given a difficulty rating based on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). Ranging from one to five, class one mountains are the easiest and typically have good trails while class fives require technical climbing involving ropes and belaying. Be sure to research individual trails before you start so that you know what to prepare for. Traveling specifically to access fourteeners is common and many people have goals surrounding fourteeners. Here are some highlights of the US’s most mighty mountains. Since there are 93 fourteeners in the United States, choosing one to suit your needs and desires is very possible. Here is our list of our favorite Fourteeners: Most Scenic The scenic Coloradan mountains called Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the state, and in a state with the most fourteeners– that’s a lot of photographs. The Maroon Bells consist of Maroon Peak (14,163 ft.) and North Maroon Peak (14,019). Many people opt for a loop that includes both peaks, takes between 3 and 4 days, and covers 26.6 miles. Be advised though, those who choose to embark on this trail must have a permit for the loop. Grays and Torreys peaks. ©Image by Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock Best for beginners Although in the tenth highest summit in the Rocky Mountains, Gray’s Peak is one of the easiest climbs as far as fourteeners go. Many experts believe Gray’s peak to be one of the best fourteeners for beginners. This is often attributed to its relatively short length, seven miles round trip. Furthermore, hikers do not gain much elevation during the course of the trek, only 2,769 ft. Colorado's most famous As the second most visited mountain in the world, Pike’s Peak has made millions marvel. It is accessible by cog railway, driving, and of course hiking. At the top, there is a gift shop famous for its donuts, refreshing after the 13.5 mile ascent. There are many different points of access, but the most convenient is located only 12 miles west of downtown Colorado Springs, making trail head accessible by rideshare. Be warned however, the ride to the base may be easy, but the climb can be quite tough. Even with an elevation gain of 7,400 ft., the hike is still rated at a class two YDS. Just as there are several trailheads from which to begin, there are also several trails by which to ascend. One of the most difficult, and well known methods is through using the Incline. The Incline is a mile of railroad tie stairs that go straight up Pikes Peak. They cut out 3 miles of the 13.5 mile trek. Highest At 20,308 feet, Alaska’s Denali is the highest mountain not only in the United States, but also in the entirety of North America. After Mount Everest and Aconcagua, Denali is the third most isolated mountain in the world. Named Mount McKinley from 1896-2015, this mountain was restored to its Koyukon Alaskan Native name by former president Barack Obama. It is not for the faint heart, as climbing this fourteener averages between 17 and 21 days and requires mental, physical, and logistical preparation. It should only be attempted by expert mountaineers. ©Gleb Tarro/Getty Images Washington favorite Mount Rainier is a Washington favorite for good reason. As an active volcano, the mountain has a wild amount of flora and fauna. Additionally, it is the origin of five major rivers which provide diversity to the landscape. But the mountain’s real claim to fame is the fact that it is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, meaning there is ice on it year round. The mountain has an elevation gain of 13,219. With over 260 miles of hiking trails, the YDS class varies. It is also a National Park and can be accessed by driving 3 hours southeast from Seattle. Mt. Shasta in California. ©Zack Frank/Shutterstock California favorite Mount Shasta is the shortest class four fourteener in California at 14,162 feet. Because of the persistent year round ice, it is recommended to carry an ice pick while hiking. Additionally, a permit is required to hike the peak. Route dependent, the climb is typically ten to twelve miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 7,000 feet. Be sure to visit the town of Mount Shasta just below the peak for a vegan smoothie. Grace Klaus is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.

National ParksBudget Travel Lists

10 Most Remote National Parks — And How to Visit Them

Amid COVID-19, Americans are flocking to the relative safety of the outdoors. Recreating in national parks delivers fresh air, stunning natural surrounds, physical exercise, and stress relief. However, as the flag went up for summer outdoor recreation over Memorial Day weekend, visitors flooded park viewpoints, trails, and shuttles, making maintaining social distance impossible even in the great outdoors. The National Park System oversees 62 parks, so there are plenty of places to explore beyond the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Here are 10 of the least visited national parks. Don’t confuse a lack of visitors with a lack of merit. These parks are remote, which keeps the number of travelers to a minimum. However, they boast magnificent — and untrammeled — scenic beauty. 1. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska This park’s name is no misnomer: It hugs the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s northern reaches. The 8.4 million acres here offer natural splendor largely untouched by humans, with no roads, trails, or established campsites. This is the domain of enormous herds of caribou, musk ox, moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Only the most rugged explorers, who have solid outdoor survival skills, should venture here. However, a stable of outfitters, guide services, and air taxi operators, who offer flight-seeing trips, can ease the challenges of your expedition. Alaska’s Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, Wrangell-St. Elias, Katmai, and Kenai Fjords also rank among the country’s most far-flung and least visited parks. Take note of Alaska’s COVID-19 travel restrictions before booking your flight. Kenai Fjords National Park. Photo by ©James + Courtney Forte/Getty Images 2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan The centerpiece of Isle Royale is its eponymous 45-mile long island. Hiking the 165 miles of trails there is only an appetizer: The park also includes 400 smaller islands and some 80 percent of it lies underwater. There’s plenty of territory to explore both for trekkers and scuba divers, kayakers, canoers, and anglers. Wildlife watchers will find plenty of sights here, too. From the heavily forested shoreline, visitors may spot eagle or osprey. Although they’re harder to spot, an isolated species of wolves roams here, too. Isle Royale’s ecology is so unique it doubles as an International Biosphere Reserve. 3. North Cascades National Park, Washington Travelers don’t have to venture to Alaska or Patagonia to see epic glaciers. North Cascades has the highest number in the lower 48 states with some 300 clinging to craggy peaks here. In less than a three-hour drive from Seattle, visitors will find a vast wilderness of glacier-carved crevasses and crisp turquoise lakes (such as Diablo and Ross, two of the park’s most popular). Around 400 miles of trails ribbon through forested valleys, trace ridges, and ascend spires. For an alternative to all that trekking, travelers drive the North Cascades Highway, which offers picturesque views from early May to late November. 4. National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa Set more than 2,600 miles southwest of Hawai’i, this national park earns the distinction as the southernmost in the U.S. and one of the most remote. Getting there pays dividends with a South Pacific paradise spread across three islands — Tutuila, Ta'ū, and Ofu — and some 4,000 underwater acres. Fruit bats, which frequent the island rainforests, and the Indo-Pacific coral reefs, which have more than 950 species of fish, are two top attractions. The chance to experience the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture is also reason to make the journey. 5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida The Dry Tortugas are a much-sought-after place to escape in the Florida Keys. A collection of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas are as well known for scenic beauty as pirate lore. The isles are only accessible via boat or plane, so they’re one of the most secluded units in the national park system. The park protects 100-square-miles of sandy shores, shoals, and ocean waters. In those ocean depths, visitors will find coral and seagrass communities that rank among the Keys’ best. Here, shipwrecks are just as common as marine life. Garden Key, home to the massive Fort Jefferson, is often the jumping off point for park visits. Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo by Laura Brown 6. Great Basin National Park, Nevada Four and a half hours north of Las Vegas, Great Basin National Park delivers natural wonders from the cosmos to underground. The International Dark Sky Park, an accolade it earned thanks to its low light pollution and clear views of astrological phenomena, offers particularly heavenly views from Wheeler Peak. Hikers can reach the 13,063-foot summit via an 8.6-mile hike; however, many visitors ascend via Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (June to October). From there, travelers can take in panoramic views of the park’s mountain slopes, which contain stands of bristlecone pines, the oldest living organisms on Earth. The sights are just as impressive below ground, where tours of Lehman Caves reveal elaborate stalagmites, stalactites, “soda straws,” and other formations. 7. Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands The island of St. John is popularly thought of as a polished resort destination; however, more than 60 percent of the island is set aside as a rugged national park. Entering through Cruz Bay, Virgin Islands National Park protects rainforest hikes, sandy beaches, and complex coral reefs (a marine reserve lies offshore). The 20-square-mile park is more than a tropical playground; the landscape delivers a history lesson, too. Travelers may hike to plantation ruins that date to the island’s sugar trade days, as well as ancient petroglyphs the Taino people left. 8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina Set in the middle of South Carolina and only 30-minutes away from the city of Columbia, Congaree National Park feels like a faraway wilderness. In fact, its stands of towering loblolly and white pines, and swamps make it seem like a fantasy movie set. The park is also home to 130-foot-tall bald cypress, and it contains the most ancient stands of old-growth cypress of anywhere in the world. Elevated board walks meander through its towering forests. The 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop offers the shortest tour and departs from the visitor’s center. For another type of trail, paddlers can follow the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail deep into the forests on a float to the Congaree River. 9. Pinnacles National Park, California Visitors may come to Pinnacles National Park for the geology, but they’re also treated to remarkable fauna and flora. Volcanic activity 23 million years ago created a weird and wonderous landscape of rock spires, towers, canyons, and even caves. The park boasts colossal talus caves, which boulders created when they lodged in narrow canyons. Visitors can hike to and through Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves. Townsend’s big-eared bats frequent these caves, so they’re sometimes closed to visitors. Travelers can also spot California condors, California red-legged frogs, and more than 100 species of wildflowers in the park. Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Laura Brown10. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas Texas isn’t just made up of plains. It has peaks, too, and four of the state’s tallest lie within the boundaries of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Guadalupe Peak, the highest in the Lone Star State, looms large. An 8.5-mile hike ascends the summit and offers expansive views over the exposed, ancient fossil reef bed that makes up the park’s landscape. The relatively few visitors who venture are rewarded with true solid among craggy peaks, sand dunes, and desert canyons sprawling across the Texas-New Mexico state line. Keep in mind: Due to evolving COVID-19 conditions, check the park’s website in advance of your visit to ensure it’s open. The CDC recommends following social distance guidelines within parks and wearing cloth masks when social distancing isn’t possible. Finally, many national park gateway communities are small, rural towns. Be sure to follow local guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing to keep residents safe.

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