Save up to 50% on Hotels
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.
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.
Lake Michigan: 8 Perfect Summer Getaways
It's one of the largest—and perhaps the most beautiful—freshwater lakes in the world. Remnants of the inland shipping industry that once dominated the Great Lakes can be found inside charming lighthouses and small-town historic museums, but today, visits to the shore of Lake Michigan are for swimming and sport fishing. City dwellers in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Indianapolis know that Lake Michigan has a deep catalog of seasonal destinations, but for everyone else, it’s still under-the-radar. As such, now’s the time to plan a summer escape “up north,” as locals call it, where Victorian cottages, boating festivals, and fireworks make the area feel like a midwestern Cape Cod. There are countless ways to spend your time: explore the outdoors on a camping, swimming, or hiking trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula or Wisconsin’s most remote island state parks, sample locally caught wild whitefish, take a gay-resort holiday, find a favorite microbrewery, or traverse miles of uninterrupted coastline. So what are you waiting for? 1. Manistique, Michigan At With just over 3,000 residents, Manistique is a population center—albeit small—of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The town at the mouth of the Manistique River on Lake Michigan borders Hiawatha National Forest, nearly 900,000 acres of wilderness spanning the peninsula between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Camping, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing on the Manistique River or the inland Indian Lake lets you stay close to town. Savor Michigan’s fast-growing microbrewing culture at Hops on the Harbor, a statewide craft beer festival that takes place each August. Or, to dive into the real wilderness-culture of the area, find the legendary Kitsch-iti-kipi spring to learn the Chippewa Indians’ culture. An hour’s drive north takes you to Pictured Rocks, a national park with dramatic cliffs and wild dunes on Lake Superior's shore. 2. Rock Island, Wisconsin Nestled off the northwestern shore of Wisconsin, Rock Island is accessible only by ferry or personal kayak from neighboring Washington Island. Once owned by an Icelandic immigrant who made his fortune in electronics in Chicago, the mostly undeveloped island is now a state park. Its limited beach camping allows intrepid travelers to spend the night under the stars in stillness and isolation. Day visitors can hike the trail left by its former owner, who built small cottages and a stone boathouse modeled after Iceland’s parliament building. Elsewhere on the island, Wisconsin’s oldest lighthouse, named after the Potawatomi tribe who first settled the island, is maintained by volunteer docents who give tours with excellent lake views. But the real treat on Rock Island is the splendid isolation. 3. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana Indiana has the smallest slice of Lake Michigan coastline, but you wouldn’t know it when visiting Indiana Dunes National Park, where the shore appears to stretch endlessly across 15,000 acres between Michigan City and Gary. Seasonal camping and fishing make the park a popular summer getaway, but hikers are rewarded any time of year as they traverse the sandy dunes all the way to the beach or hike the waterfront trail near Portage Beach. As the southernmost point on Lake Michigan, temperatures in the water are usually balmy here earlier in the season, making it a solid choice for a June escape. Away from the beach, the park encompasses historic homes built for the 1933 World’s Fair. The Bailly Homestead, a fur-trading post and meeting place for Native and Anglo-Americans in the early 1800s, is a landmark site that you can explore with a guided tour. 4. Harbor Springs, Michigan The twin towns on either side of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, sit near the top of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Harbor Springs, a town of about 2,000, swells during the summer months as vacationers pour in ahead of the annual regatta in July. Ugotta Regatta, paints the bay with hundreds of yachts and sailboats, while spectators take advantage of the charming, historic downtown fudge and ice cream shops in Petoskey, on the south side of the bay, generations of Victorian summer cottages founded as a Methodist church camp in the nineteenth century make up the community of Bay View. Stay at the Bay View Inn or historic Perry Hotel in downtown Petoskey to experience the charm of another era. For a touch of the contemporary, try the local microbrewery, Beards. 5. Saugatuck, Michigan The lakeside village of fewer less than 1,000 inhabitants has been a cultural draw for more than a century. Saugatuck made its name over a century ago with the Ox-Bow art colony during the Arts and Crafts Movement, and continues to attract artists and curious visitors. Today, this lakeside village of fewer than 1,000 residents is easily the buzziest LGBTQ destination in Michigan. The Dunes and CampIt, a duo of welcoming gay resorts, sit across Kalamazoo Lake in Douglas, Saugatuck’s twin village. The club at The Dunes, covered in disco balls and hot pants, hosts parties every night, but in the summer months, every day on the beach feels like a party, too. Hike through beautiful wooded dunes to the peaceful beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, or take a swim at Douglas Beach. For something more chill, check out the retro-style paddlewheel boat cruise down the Kalamazoo River. 6. Two Rivers, Wisconsin Although it was known through most of the 20th century as a fishing and inland shipping hub, Two Rivers isn’t your typical port town. Said to be the birth place of the ice cream sundae (a claim the town’s historical society takes very seriously) no visit here is complete without dessert at the old-fashioned ice cream saloon in Washington House. The only museum dedicated to wood-type printing, Hamilton Wood Type, hosts letterpress workshops and other hands-on events. Design lovers should make a reservation at the Schwartz House, Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. Don’t miss locally caught fish, whether you catch your own on the shore of Point Beach State Forest or order them at Water’s Edge Restaurant, a popular spot known for its panoramic view of Lake Michigan. 7. Charlevoix, Michigan The charming drawbridge that divides downtown Charlevoix makes the town a small but busy shipping port for tall ships seeking access from Lake Michigan to the interior lakes on the other side of the channel. The drawbridge action, on the half-hour, always packs this tiny community of 2,000 within tight quarters. You can witness it perfectly from Weathervane Restaurant, while eating locally-caught whitefish and other seasonal items. Locals don’t seem to mind though. You can find them in the Victorian homes around the scenic natural harbor or the charming “mushroom house” built by self-taught architect Earl Young. The round stone structures, which look curiously like hobbit homes, are made of materials found in the area and blend perfectly into the woods. At the end of July, the eight-day Venetian Festival includes a boat parade, live music, beach festival, and fireworks. 8. Port Washington, Wisconsin It might be the classical brick downtown dating from the early 1800s, the vintage Art Deco pier light, or the neighborly village feel of this harbor community, but Port Washington’s motto, “New England charm and Midwestern friendliness,” fulfills its promise. Visitors to this resort town, 30 miles north of Milwaukee, can swim or yacht on the Lake Michigan shoreline, or head deeper with Port Deco Divers weekend scuba diving trips, which explore one of more than a dozen local shipwreck sites at the bottom of the lake. Since 1964, the town’s largest annual festival, Port Fish Day, celebrates the Lake Michigan fishing tradition with a parade, rock bands, fish and chips stands, and fireworks. Turn up for the atmosphere, stay for the people.
7 Spectacular Things to Do in Baja California, Mexico
Contrary to its name, Baja California is not actually located in California—it's Mexico’s twelfth-largest state. Filled with a heady mix of mountain ranges, beaches, countryside, deserts, and cities, this laid-back peninsula extends from the southernmost point of California into the Pacific Ocean and is just 17 miles from downtown San Diego. Though it's known primarily for Cabo, the A-list and spring-break destination brimming with lavish hotels and hard-partying tequila bars, Baja offers something for everyone. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Sea of Cortez on the east, water lovers will find a full range of activities, from sport fishing to scuba diving to whale watching. The Mediterranean climate and rich soil also support a thriving wine and culinary scene, and there are plenty of hiking trails and camping spots for those looking to spend time in the outdoors. We rounded up a few things to do in this magical and diverse locale. 1. Swim With the Fishes The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, separates Baja from the Mexican mainland. One of the most diverse seas in the world, it's home to over 800 marine species. Though swimming is chillier in the winter months, it’s the perfect time to book a whale-watching trip to see the gray, blue, and even humpback whales making their way to the Arctic—and don’t forget the sea lions and dolphins. Anglers should look into a sailing charter for a chance to nab billfish, snapper, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and grouper—and think about making a stop at one of the many small beaches to fly-fish for roosterfish. For those who want to look at fish instead of catch them, there are many types of boat tours to choose from, allowing snorkelers and divers to commune with the stunning underwater display of colorful marine life and fauna. And you can add kayaking and beach-hopping to round out the adventure. 2. Make It a Family Affair Want to enjoy all the fun and adventure Baja has to offer and still relax with your family? The Hyatt Ziva (hyatt.com), an affordable, all-inclusive hotel perched on the Pacific side of the peninsula, is the perfect home base. A heated pool with a kid-friendly swim-up bar as well as daily activities, like soccer, basketball, and ping pong, keep the kids engaged. Meanwhile, water-based adult exercise classes offset last night's flowing margaritas. There's also an adults-only pool in case you want to sneak in some quiet time, and because everything is contained within the resort—including five restaurants, snack bars, a Teens Club with games and hangout space and the Kidz Club with a small waterpark and counselors—you can stay worry-free as the kids explore, eat, and drink. The beach is clean and expansive, with plenty of sofas and lounge chairs to relax on, but the undercurrent is strong, so swimming isn’t allowed. However, if you’re visiting during whale season, you might catch a glimpse of these stunning creatures from the sand. The staff is helpful and friendly and the food is excellent, especially the overly abundant breakfast buffet, which includes Mexica entrees and pastries, and made-to-order quesadillas. Ready to venture out? The excursion desk will help you choose your journeys. 3. Hit the Wine Trail (Adeliepenguin/Dreamstime)When it comes to West Coast wine, Napa and Sonoma usually get the accolades. But the Valle de Guadalupe, just a 90-minute drive south of the California border, offers a premium, yet low-key and affordable, wine-tasting experience. More than 150 wineries now dot the region, which is green and lush and probably best visited on a weekday—away from the day-tripping crowds. Though wine-tasting is the focus, with a climate similar to a drier Rioja and a blend made from a mixture of French, Spanish, and Italian grapes grown in granite-rich soils, you won’t be disappointed with the seasonal dining and boutique hotels and inns. Stop by Adobe Guadalupe (adobeguadalupe.com) for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot house blends, not to mention pomegranates and olives straight from the property’s trees, then stay in one of six guest rooms named for archangels. You can also take a dip in the pool, go horseback riding, and taste the house olive oil. Though you won’t find many white varietals in this region, the winery Finca la Carrodilla (fincalacarrodilla.mx) offers a crisp, organic chenin blanc, which you can sip in its rooftop garden. The region's dining options are diverse: You can splurge on a five-course meal at Corazón de Tierra (corazondetierra.com), grab a taco from the Troika food truck (facebook.com/TroikaValle), or enjoy a picnic-style meal overlooking the El Mogor winery at Deckman’s (deckmans.com), the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Baja. 4. Chill, Surf, Shop, Eat, Repeat in Todos Santos This tiny town north of Cabo San Lucas is Baja’s answer to Tulum. A sleepy, eco-chic hideaway in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, the town has been dubbed a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government—honored for its natural beauty, cultural richness, and hospitality. Most people, however, know it as the home of Hotel California. Surfers come from far and wide to ride the point breaks in San Pedrito Point and La Pastora, though newbies might consider a local surf camp like Mario Surf School (mariosurfschool.com) and stay close to Los Cerritos beach. Families can enjoy the calmer Playa Las Palmas for swimming and collecting shells. Plus there’s plenty on offer in the lively town, where art galleries, local crafts, and shops abound. Hungry? Baja-style fish tacos should not be missed at the La Copa Cocina at the Todos Santos Inn (todossantosinn.com), and can be enjoyed on the garden patio or inside the more stylish Iguana Lounge. 5. Don’t Miss “The Snorter” Head 20 miles south of Ensenada on a twisty, panoramic road to witness the spectacular marine geyser, La Bufadora. (Bufar is Spanish for “snort.”) The second-largest blowhole in America, created by sucking ocean waves and air into an underwater cave, the geyser is located on the tip of the Punta Banda peninsula and gushes every minute or so—sometimes even multiple times a minute. Watch and listen to the thunderous waterspout from an 80-foot observation ledge, though do keep in mind that it sometimes shoots more than 100 feet above sea level. Guided tours are available and usually include a dramatic telling of the local legend of a baby whale who, stuck in the cave, is doomed to spew water out its blowhole for all eternity. Not the most uplifting story, but this natural treasure is not to be missed. 6. Take a Hike Need a break from the sun, sand, and surf? Head to the Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir mountain region for clean, clear air and Pichaco del Diablo, the highest peak in Baja at 10,154 feet. With more than 140 species of plants, a fir-tree forest, and plenty of fauna to ogle, like muledeer and bighorn sheep, you can hike several marked trails, including the six-mile round-trip to El Altar. In 2002, five endangered California condors were reintroduced to the park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the 28—out of 410 worldwide—that live there now. Come for the hiking, stay for the stars, which can be seen clearly at the park’s Observatorio Astronómico Nacional. Here you can look through three high-powered deep-space telescopes and get a tour inside this working observatory. Campsites are available to rent at the park entrance, but if glamping is more your speed, check out the four cabins near the ranger station. Another option: Reserve a small adobe cottage in the park with Baja Dark Skies (bajadarkaskies.wordpress.com) or book a room at the Rancho Meling (ranchomeling.com), a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch at the base of the mountain. 7. Rub Shoulders with the Stars (Sorin Colac/Dreamstime)Yes, it’s overrun with spring-breakers and other vacationers much of the time, but no trip to Baja is complete without a visit to the southernmost point of Cabo. For celebrity sightings, hit the Corridor, the remote, 20-mile stretch between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Take a drive to view the stunning, cavernous coastline—brimming with small khaki mountains, oceans, golf courses, and private villas, then stop at the Cape, a Thompson Hotel (thompsonhotels.com), for peaceful vistas and a sunset cocktail at the rooftop bar. Dinner should be reserved (weeks ahead, if possible) at Flora’s Field Kitchen at Flora Farms (flora-farms.com), a farm-to-table oasis of organic vegetation and a 150-acre ranch, hidden up a dirt lane past San Jose del Cabo marina. In addition to potential star-spotting and beer crafted at Flora’s Brewery, you’ll feast on seasonal dishes and 15 different types of pizza. Then, if you can muster the energy, hit the town in Cabo San Lucas, which is known for its rows of bars and clubs, including the Van Halen-helmed tequila-centric Cabo Wabo Cantina (cabowabocantina.com), where you can catch live acoustic music every night.
Live Like a Local in the Florida Keys
The 125-mile-long stretch of islands just south of the Florida mainland have been drawing diverse settlers and visitors, from Europe, the Caribbean, and the continental U.S. for centuries, forming one of the most vibrant and inviting cultural melanges anywhere in the world. For travelers, that means jaw-dropping natural beauty sustained by the Keys’ commitment to environmental stewardship, a tasty array of ethnic cuisines (Bahamian seafood, Cuban specialties, and more), and outdoor activities above and below the waters of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida Bay that keep visitors coming back year after year. Here, the best of the Keys, including “live like a local” tips from the savvy residents, conservationists, and forward-thinking business owners of the Keys.. DIVE INTO KEY LARGO (Ryan Jones/Dreamstime)Key Largo is an excellent first stop in the Keys. It’s the longest and northernmost island in the chain, a 60-minute drive from Miami International Airport, and a perfect place to start relaxing and taking in the natural wonders of the region. Bordered by the Atlantic, Florida Bay, and Everglades backcountry, Key Largo has earned the nickname the Dive Capital of the World. Take your pick of scuba, snorkeling, fishing, and much more—beginners can easily learn the basics of diving while on vacation. The star attraction is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The state park draws more than 1 million visitors per year for both on-land hiking and cycling trails and underwater adventures, and you’ll love snorkeling the shallow waters of the colorful reef with hundreds of species of fish and more than 50 varieties of coral. For a one-of-a-kind underwater landmark, don’t miss the adjacent Key Largo Dry Rocks, with its nine-foot-tall sculpture “Christ in the Abyss.” Experienced scuba divers will love exploring Key Largo’s Spiegel Grove, which includes a sunken vessel that’s become a prized artificial reef. After the sun goes down, enjoy a cocktail at Caribbean Club, where scenes from the 1947 classic film Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, were shot. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: For some visitors, renting bicycles and pedaling from Key Largo all the way down to Key West is at the top of their bucket list. Key Largo Bike and Adventure Tours, operated by one-time Louisiana cop Mark Terrill and one-time Ohio bar owner Patrick Fitzgerald, offers a variety of bikes suitable for the journey. FISHING & MORE IN ISLAMORADA Islamorada means “purple island” in Spanish, but the 20-mile-long village, bordered by Florida Bay and the Atlantic, actually includes not one but four of the Florida Keys: Plantation, Windley, and Upper and Lower Matecumbe. Islamorada will be your next stop on your drive south from Key Largo, or either a 90-minute drive from Miami International Airport or a 40-minute drive from Florida Keys Marathon Airport if you’re set on starting your Keys vacation here in the Sport-Fishing Capital of the World. And that nickname is more than just a local boast: The warm waters of the Gulf Stream pass as close as 10 miles offshore, drawing prized sport fish such as sailfish, marlin, kingfish, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and tuna for small-boat anglers to pursue offshore. Those who prefer to cast from piers or shore will enjoy catching tarpon and bonefish (you can also try a local tradition by hand-feeding tarpon off the docks at Robbie’s Marina). When you’re not fishing or diving Islamorada’s reefs full of tropical fish, coral, and sponges, you’ll love the vibrant arts and culture scene in the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District with its art galleries, monthly Third Thursday Art Walk, and wide array of restaurants: Take your pick from fresh-caught seafood, comfort foods like burgers and pizza, and a variety of great ethnic flavors from the melting pot that is south Florida. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Our late 41st president, George H.W. Bush paid many visits to the Islamorada area before, during, and after his presidency and was an avid proponent of catch-and-release fishing for tarpon, bonefish, and permit. Participating in catch-and-release is a fine way to pay tribute to the “kinder, gentler” president and his legacy. FAMILY FUN IN MARATHON (Typhoonski/Dreamstime)The city of Marathon is made up of several keys, with Vaca Key as the epicenter. Settled by fruit farmers from the Bahamas and fishermen from New England more than 200 years ago, Marathon allegedly got its name thanks to the workers who constructed the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad more than a century ago, working a “marathon” schedule of nights and days. Today, Marathon is a magnet for families and boating enthusiasts, with its own airport (it’s also a one-hour drive from Key West International Airport and a 2.5-hour drive from Miami International Airport). Visitors love driving on Seven Mile Bridge, just south of Vaca Key, savoring the perfect water views and the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which was once part of the Over-Sea Railroad. Kids of all ages will enjoy a visit to Pigeon Key, the original headquarters of the railroad construction, home to models, artifacts, and an educational video. Families will want to spend time exploring local hardwood forests and white-sand beaches, fishing for tarpon or diving the local reefs, and kayaking the incredible backcountry waters. But be sure to set aside time for the Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, including a 200,000-gallon tank containing tropical reef fish (and the opportunity to watch divers feed the fish), the truly magical Instagrammable experience of swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center and seeing environmental stewardship in action at the Turtle Hospital. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Marathon resident Rachel Bowman is the only female commercial lionfish fisherman in the Keys, catching up to 400 pounds per day of the invasive species and selling it to local restaurants and Whole Foods Markets; when you order delicious, flaky white lionfish off the menu in Marathon or other regions of the Keys, Bowman says you’re helping to reduce the predatory fish’s numbers and preserve native species such as snapper. EASY ADVENTURES IN BIG PINE AND THE LOWER KEYS We admire the devotion to the environment shown by Big Pine and the Lower Keys, nicknamed the Natural Keys for the district’s advocacy for sustainability and preservation. Here, a 30-minute drive from either Key West International Airport or Marathon International Airport, visitors will find abundant opportunities to enjoy the natural environment while staying within their personal comfort zone—easy adventures you’ll love and brag about when you get home. Bahia Honda State Park provides one-stop recreation opportunities with one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. according to Budget Travel and many travel polls and studies, campsites, and watersports. Get to know the endangered Key deer, smaller cousins of the more common white-tailed deer, at the National Key Deer Refuge. Try snorkeling (even beginners can master the basics in a few minutes) Looe Key Reef for Technicolor coral and marine life such as tropical fish, sponges, and more. Bring your binoculars and camera (or smartphone) on a kayak or canoe paddle or shallow-draft boat ride to Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, covering 375 square miles of water and islands between Key West and Marathon, where white herons and other migratory birds put on quite a show. You’ll find ample campgrounds and RV parks in the Big Pine and Lower Keys area, allowing you to savor the natural environment of the Natural Keys 24/7 during your visit. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Support the environmental mission of the Natural Keys by heeding the 10 Keymandments, assembled by locals to help residents and visitors alike give back to the communities and habitats of the Keys: (1) Adopt a coral (by making a charitable donation, and, of course, don’t touch coral when you are diving); (2) Support the wildlife (by donating food or money, or volunteering time at a local wildlife center); (3) Take out the trash (which can mean literally removing debris from the water, and not contributing to it); (4) Capture a lionfish (an invasive species); (5) Leave a digital footprint (take photos of the Keys and share them with friends and family); (6) Hike it, bike it, or hoof it (these are all low-eco-impact activities); (7) Catch dinner (fishing for bonefish, tarpon, and permit is plentiful just about anywhere in the Keys); (8) Use a mooring buoy at dive sites (instead of an anchor); (9) Conserve vs. consume (continuing the same reuse, reuse, and recyling practice you employ at home while on vacation); (10) Get off the beaten path (explore hiking and cycling trails, kayaking, and canoeing). NIGHTLIFE & WATERSPORTS IN KEY WEST Even in the unique, gorgeous world of the Keys, Key West is a destination apart, a world unto itself. With its own airport, and located closer to Havana than it is to Miami, this southernmost point of the Keys (and the continental U.S. itself) is known for its buzzing nightlife and great food and drinks, but also for outdoor recreation and watersports that rival any other destination in America. Here, the influence of the Bahamas, Cuba, Spain, American literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, and LGBTQ residents and visitors come together to form a culturally diverse and delicious getaway. For a taste of the town’s Caribbean community, visit Bahama Village with its revitalized homes and shops, marketplace, and eateries. Speaking of seafood, hop aboard the Conch Tour Train, named for the Caribbean delicacy, for a guided tour of the area. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum draw not only fans of American literature but also those curious about the life of one of Key West’s best-known party animals; you can tour the influential author’s writing studio and pick up a copy of his novel set in Key West, To Have and Have Not. Enjoy a day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, spend some time at the Key West Aquarium (devoted to the marine life of the Keys and offering guided tours, shark feedings, a “please touch” tank, and more), or hit the links at the Key West Golf Club. Another form of wildlife you’ll enjoy meeting are the denizens of the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory, featuring a 5,000-square-foot tropical habitat under a glass dome, more than 50 species of butterfly, and even colorful birds like flamingos. Drop by the Instagrammable buoy that marks the southernmost point in the continental U.S., just 90 miles from Cuba. And, honestly, where else in the world will you find a nightly celebration of the setting sun, as you will at Key West’s Mallory Square, complete with cocktails, street performers, and the always-captivating colors of the sun going down over the Gulf of Mexico. “LIVE LIKE A LOCAL” TIP: Stop by Frangipani Gallery to see the work of local artists, including Larry Blackburn, the current King of Fantasy Fest (Key West’s annual 10-day October festival devoted to creative costumes and masks) and a prominent Key West-based photographer and board member of the AIDS Memorial. To learn more about the Florida Keys and help plan your trip, visit fla-keys.com.
6 U.S. Scenic Byways You Must Discover
Daydreaming of a road trip? The Federal Highway Administration has done all your homework for you. Though anyone who’s ever crept along in 5 miles-per-hour traffic may have a hard time admitting it, the United States has magnificent highway infrastructure, and when it comes to road trips, no element of that blacktop web is greater than the America’s Byways collection. To earn a place on this treasure map of 150 routes, the road must show "outstanding archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic value," according to the FHA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. When taken as a whole, the Byways are truly the beating pulse of our country's artery system. You could spend years exploring them, but if you’ve only got a couple weeks, here are six unforgettable routes. 1. ROUTE 66: THE MOTHER ROAD The most famous of the Scenic Byways also is one of the longest, and depending where you grew up, you’ll instantly think of certain stops as “the main stretch of Route 66.” For West Coasters, it’s the Santa Monica endpoint and dust-red Arizona towns, but over in the Midwest, Illinois has its own Route 66 Heritage Project to preserve the beginning of this iconic American road. After departing Chicago's metropolitan area, it’s all cornfields, small towns, and roadside attractions until you get to Springfield, the Land of Lincoln and gateway to serious Americana antiquing. SEE: It’s said that ghosts haunt Joliet, a city 30 miles southwest of Chicago. If you’re hoping to spot ghosts, check out Rialto Square Theater and Joliet Prison. Pontiac-Oakland Museum is a haven of American car memorabilia. And since you’ll be passing through Springfield, make time for the Lincoln Home historic site. EAT: Not much has changed on the menu at Springfield's Chili Parlor (thechiliparloronline.com) since it opened in 1945. You can even get a glass of buttermilk to drink at this Food Network favorite. 2. TURQUOISE TRAIL, NEW MEXICO Many of the Scenic Byways have wonderfully expressive names. Case in point: this stretch of highway connecting Santa Fe with Albuquerque. The Turquoise Trail (turquoisetrail.org) is largely surrounded by golden and red earth, although on a normal sunny, arid day, the sky will indeed be turquoise as you pass by ranches, former mining towns, and historic sites. SEE: Quirky roadside attraction Tinkertown Museum (tinkertown.com) in Sandia Park, about 50 miles south of Santa Fe, is a treasure trove of antique toys. The canyon-set mining town-turned-art-colony Madrid, about 20 miles further north en route to Santa Fe, offers galleries and restaurants, and at Casa Grande Trading Post you can stock up on souvenir turquoise. EAT: Jezebel Soda Fountain in Madrid is known for bakery pies, chocolate-dipped ice cream cones, American diner food, and kitsch décor with a 1920s wink. 3. LARIAT LOOP, COLORADO (Jordan Blakesley) Colorado has 11 America’s Byways, and it’s hard to say that one is better than the rest, but for a truly broad range of culture touchstones in a relatively short stretch of roadway, Lariat Loop (lariatloop.org), a 40-mile circle that starts and ends in Golden, stands out. It’s been a Denver-area day drive since the 1920s, when one can only imagine people taking their Ford Model A's up Lookout Mountain. A generation before that, trains were the main mode of transportation, and Buffalo Bill Cody was a household name. And several millennia before, dinosaurs proliferated and left their indelible tracks throughout the mountain passages. SEE: Before—or after—the drive, take advantage of the riches Golden offers, like a historic walking tour, Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and the many beer gardens. Speaking of beer, the town is home to Coors Brewing (serving the malt-brewed golden taste of America since 1873!), where free tours are offered Thursdays through Monday. Other stops along the loop include Dinosaur Ridge, the Colorado Railroad Museum, and Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite. EAT: The Fort (thefort.com) in Red Rocks territory is known for its game meats and “New Foods of the Old West” 19th-century recipes updates. 4. A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME SCENIC BYWAY, UTAH Where other designated byways take you back a few centuries, the epically named 286-mile Utah stretch takes you back to when mammoths roamed the earth. If that sounds dramatic, just wait until you’re at nearly 9000 feet, the red rocks and sub-alpine fir forests arrayed far below. National parks Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, state parks including Kodachrome Basin, and four-wheel destinations like Hole-in-the-Rock are all detours along this all-American road that can take five hours, four days, or a lifetime to traverse. SEE: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is a must-see for geology enthusiasts. Anasazi State Park Museum is a history lesson in Native American lore. Long-distance hikers should make stops at Hell’s Backbone and The Box, but you only need to be human to appreciate Dixie National Forest and the arches of Red Canyon. Also, if you love cowboy culture, try to meet up with the Bryce Canyon Rodeo. EAT: The seasonal Sweetwater Kitchen (sweetwaterkitchen.com) in Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch features about 95% organic ingredients on its tightly edited locavore menu. The mouthwatering dishes are a great way to refuel after a day hiking around Hell’s Backbone. 5. BEACH BOULEVARD SCENIC BYWAY, MISSISSIPPI (Ken Murphy) With a name like Beach Boulevard (gulfcoast.org), you’d think this route maps a West Coast drive, but in a plot twist, we’re actually heading to the Gulf Coast. Yes, the Southeast has its own beach Byway that traverses several states—and yes, Mississippi lays claim to the most beautiful part. Start out in Waveland, visit historic coastal towns, wend your way along 26 miles of beachfront, check out stately homes, and eat fresh seafood galore. If you want a bustling city, check out the casinos in Biloxi. SEE: Mississippi Sound views from Pass Christian (aka “the Pass”) cannot be beat. Gulf Islands Water Park is a top pick for families, and be sure to check out the classic Main Street of artist enclave Ocean Springs—named one of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018. EAT: There’s a lot of good gumbo, fresh fish, and more along this route. Start the AM drive at PJ’s Coffee in Pearlington located on the “The Pearlington Scenic Byway to Space,” just west of where Highway 90 becomes Beach Boulevard. Work up an appetite as you drive east and dive into lunch at Claw Daddy’s, White Cap Seafood, or Half Shell Oyster House in Gulfport. 6. OLD CANADA ROAD If you’ve never driven through rugged, forested, river-crisscrossed upper New England, this journey will be a wonderful deep-dive. Bucolic photo ops abound: a clapboard cabin, a glimmering lake, a large woodland creature. And in fall, this route offers the caliber of fall foliage that turns people into lifetime leaf-peepers. The endpoint of this 78-mile historic byway is, as promised, a border crossing to our northern neighbor and Acadian delights. SEE: If it's summertime, before you follow the south-to-north route, check Lakewood Theater's schedule of musicals. The venue, situated at the southernmost point of the road, is an outdoor culture paradise. It's even worth overnighting here. In the morning, as you head north, pull over for a panorama photo moment at Robbins Hill Scenic Overlook, just below Wyman Lake. The lake is a delightful site for a picnic if the weather allows. Up the road past Caratunk, veer off the byway at The Forks to the stunning drop of Moxie Fall. Retrace a few grueling steps of the historic Kennebec River to the Dead River route that the infamous Benedict Arnold took during his brief moment as a war hero. And as you motor along, note that this route overlaps with the Appalachian Trail, so be on the lookout for people hiking the perilous pilgrimage of a lifetime just off the highway. EAT: If the weather’s warm enough to enjoy the scenery, opt for a lakeside picnic over a restaurant. Buy picnic supplies at Williams’ General Store. When the Northeast's chill hits, join the rowdy crowd at the Marshall Inn, about 80 miles north of Augusta, for food, drinks, and live entertainment.
More Places to go
Carbondale is a city in Jackson and Williamson Counties, Illinois, United States, within the Southern Illinois region informally known as "Little Egypt". The city developed from 1853 because of the stimulation of railroad construction into the area. Today the major roadways of Illinois Route 13 and U.S. Route 51 intersect in the city. The city is 96 miles (154 km) southeast of St. Louis, Missouri, on the northern edge of the Shawnee National Forest. Carbondale is the home of the main campus of Southern Illinois University (SIU). The city is the most populous in Southern Illinois outside the St. Louis Metro-East region, and the most populous city in the Carbondale-Marion-Herrin, Illinois Combined Statistical Area. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 25,902, and it is the state's 20th-most-populated city outside the Chicago Metropolitan Area. In addition, the CSA has 126,575 residents, the sixth-most-populous combined statistical area in Illinois.
Cape Girardeau (, French: Cap-Girardeau [kap ʒiʁaʁdo] (listen); colloquially referred to as "Cape") is a city in Cape Girardeau and Scott Counties in the U.S. state of Missouri. At the 2020 census, the population was 39,540, with the surrounding metropolitan area totaling 134,051 residents in 2019. The city is the economic center of Southeast Missouri and also an emerging college town as the home of Southeast Missouri State University. It is located approximately 100 miles (161 km) southeast of St. Louis and 150 miles (241 km) north of Memphis.
Williamson County is a county in Southern Illinois. At the 2020 census, it had a population of 67,153. The largest city and county seat is Marion.Williamson County is included in the Carbondale-Marion, IL Metropolitan Statistical Area. This area of Southern Illinois is known locally as "Little Egypt". Williamson is a rapidly growing county in the Metro Lakeland area and is located 88 miles (142 km) southeast of St. Louis, Missouri. Via the nearby intersection of Interstates 57 and 24, and Illinois Route 13, a primary east-west four-lane expressway, the city easily has access to the major communities of Murphysboro, Carbondale, Carterville, Herrin, Marion and Harrisburg. The Metro Lakeland area of Jackson-Williamson counties has a total of 120,000 residents. Carbondale (14 miles west), Herrin and Marion are the key urban areas in Metro Lakeland, with a combined population of more than 65,000. Over 235,000 people live within 35 miles (56 km).
Paducah () is a home rule-class city in and the county seat of McCracken County, Kentucky, United States. The largest city in the Jackson Purchase region, it is located at the confluence of the Tennessee and the Ohio rivers, halfway between St. Louis, Missouri, to the northwest and Nashville, Tennessee, to the southeast. The population was 24,865 in 2019, down slightly from 25,024 during the 2010 U.S. Census. Twenty blocks of the city's downtown have been designated as a historic district and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Paducah is the hub of its micropolitan area, which includes McCracken, Ballard and Livingston counties in Kentucky and Massac County in Illinois.