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Top 10 Islands to Visit in the Continental U.S.

Forget about your passport, or even shelling out an arm and a leg for airfare to the Hawaiian Islands – these amazing islands can be visited right in the continental U.S.

Whidbey Island, Washington Deception Pass, Whidbey Island
Credit: Deception Pass, Whidbey Island by bigstock.com

Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey Island is less than a 90-minute drive from downtown Seattle, but it feels as if it’s worlds away. One of the best weekend getaways in Washington State, the tiny town of Langley offers an especially wonderful place to stay with its quiet charming streets overlooking the glistening waters of Puget Sound, with the dramatic Cascade Mountains providing a stunning backdrop. Deception Pass State Park is just one of its highlights, considered one of the state’s most jaw-dropping destinations with its saltwater shoreline and rugged cliffs plunging down to meet emerald-hued waters. Here, you’ll not only find tide pools filled with colorful creatures but offshore you’ll have the chance to spot pods of Orcas, porpoises and the occasional gray whale swimming through the strait.

Mount Desert Island, Maine Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Mount Desert Island
Credit: Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Mount Desert Island by bigstock.com

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Mount Desert Island is a true haven for nature lovers. The largest island off the coast of Maine is best known as the home of Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor, offering everything from spectacular sea views to dramatic mountains. All of the state’s quintessential features can be found right here, including lush forests, soaring peaks, tranquil ponds and a wild, rocky coastline. Just some of the wildlife that can be spotted include seals, whales, fox, moose and peregrine falcons. You’ll find biking and hiking trails throughout the area, including the popular trek that leads to the summit of Cadillac Mountain where especially rewarding views await, while kayak tours provide a perfect way to take in the magnificent coastline from atop the water.

Amelia Island, Florida Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island
Credit: Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island by Madison Y Photo/shutterstock.com

Amelia Island, Florida

Amelia Island is a barrier island off Florida’s northern coast and is home to 12 miles of spectacular beaches. During the offseason, they tend to be particularly tranquil for enjoying quiet relaxation, although visitors will also find plenty to do when it comes to getting active. Enjoy horseback rides on the sand, cycling miles of trails, sailing or paddling through marshes and tidal creeks, or a round or two of golf. It even offers something for history lovers too, with the chance to hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage and discover historic points of interest in Fernandina Beach’s historic downtown, and check out one of the most well-preserved forts in the country at Fort Clinch State Park.

Cumberland Island, Georgia Cumberland Island
Credit: Cumberland Island by Josiah True/shutterstock.com

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, Cumberland Island is accessible only by boat and offers an ideal escape for a day trip, weekend, or longer. Camping is permitted at any of the five designated campgrounds and with a reservation and permit. For those craving something a bit cushier, there’s Greyfield Inn, a historic 19th century mansion that embodies luxury and southern charm. The hotel is all-inclusive, so rates include three full meals daily, access to bicycles and kayaks, round-trip ferry transportation, and more. The island offers visitors the chance to enjoy peace, quiet and lots of picturesque scenery, along with viewing wild horses in their natural habitat. It’s a hiker’s paradise too, with more than 50 miles of trails that lead through wetlands, maritime forests and along beautiful beaches. It’s rare to find such unspoiled stretches of sand right in the U.S., but here you can literally walk for miles on them, sometimes without seeing another human. Cumberland is fantastic for bird lovers too, and by making the 2-mile trek to its southern tip, you’ll likely see a multitude of birds the entire time.

Catalina Island, California Catalina Island, California
Credit: Catalina Island, California by Bigstock.com

Catalina Island, California

There’s no need to fly all the way to the Caribbean for outstanding snorkeling. Catalina Island is known as one of the best destinations in the continental U.S. to experience a spectacular underwater world. Just take the ferry from Long Beach on the Southern California coast, and in just an hour you can be among crystal clear, clean waters that house a diverse array of colorful marine life. Particularly Lover’s Cove, which is famous for hosting one of the heaviest concentrations of fish anywhere along the west coast. Swim among the eels, anemones, sea stars and brilliant orange Garibaldi fish, among many other creatures, while keeping an eye out for splashing sea lions and leaping dolphins. There’s lots to do on land as well, including golf, biking, zip-lining, and open-air, biofuel Hummer tours. You might even spot some bison on your off road adventure.

Mackinac Island, Michigan Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island
Credit: Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island by grandhotel.com

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The storybook Mackinac Island is ideal for those who are seeking to escape to another era. Here you’ll find a peaceful atmosphere where people tour by horse and buggy rather than a motorized vehicle, gazing at lovely Victorian architecture and learning about the island’s history. Outdoor activities include hiking one of the state’s prettiest state parks, which has a network of over 70 miles that wind through the woods and limestone outcroppings. Cycling the gorgeous coastline, playing a round of golf, and horseback riding are popular things to do. After a day at play, by staying at the iconic Grand Hotel, you can enjoy relaxing and taking in the picturesque scene from the world’s largest front porch, which is an impressive 660 feet long.

Martha's Vineyard Martha's Vineyard
Credit: Martha's Vineyard by bigstock.com

Martha's Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard offers a variety of travel experiences depending on the time of year you visit. In the summer, it’s rather lively and often plays host to a number of big-name celebrities. Visitors can enjoy browsing the shops and boutiques in Vineyard Haven including Night Heron Gallery, which hosts one-of-a-kind items made by local artists. In Oak Bluffs, on the island’s northeastern shore, you’ll find a picturesque harbor village with unique, vibrant-colored gingerbread cottages that give Martha’s Vineyard its storybook feel, while the beaches in the area are ideal for swimming in the calm, minimal surf. The Flying Horses Carousel offers the chance to ride the country’s oldest carousel, a national landmark spinning since 1876. Just steps away is Ocean Park, a grassy waterfront park that provides the perfect setting for a picnic.

Channel Islands of California Channel Islands of California
Credit: Channel Islands of California by wikimedia.org

Channel Islands of California

The Channel Islands can be reached by taking a 90-minute excursion from the Southern California coast, offering a glimpse at how the Pacific looked 500 years ago. Named the best islands for wildlife in the U.S. by Islands.com, the five island jewels that make up Channel Islands National Park are Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Anacapa, Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa. They are home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, including harbor seals, sea lions, pelicans, and a number of endemic species like the island fence lizard, island fox and the spotted skunk. Marine life is amazing here too – the endangered blue whale, the largest animal on the planet, can be found in the surrounding waters. Popular activities here include hiking, backpacking, camping, scuba diving and fishing.

Merritt Island, Florida Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge by Rusty Clark via Flickr

Merritt Island, Florida

Merritt Island, located off Florida’s east coast in the Atlantic, is home to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve. It features some of the state’s most impressive wildlife, including some of the very best birding sights and even the chance to glimpse the elusive Florida panther. About one-half of its 140,000 acres is made up of marshes and brackish estuaries, while the remaining land consists of pine forests, coastal dunes, scrub oaks, palm, oak hammocks, and flatwoods. More than 500 species of wildlife live in the refuge, 16 of which are endangered or federally threatened. As many as 400 manatees, a number of wading bird rookeries, multiple osprey nests and about 10 active bald eagle nests can also be found here. The island also serves as the home of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, where visitors can meet an astronaut, explore interactive displays and more.

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina Ocracoke Island
Credit: Ocracoke Island by Bigstock.com

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

Ocracoke Island is the outermost island of the Outer Banks, a remote isle settled in the mid-18th century that’s home to the oldest operating lighthouse on the east coast, and the second oldest in the entire nation. It’s visible throughout the village of Okracoke, offering postcard-perfect photo ops from both the land and sea. There are more than 250 historic structures on the island, many set upon stilts, and most using materials from scuttled ships. Ocracoke also draws travelers with its pristine beaches, wild ponies, outstanding dining with fresh seafood served at locally-owned eateries, shops with authentic crafts from woodcarvings to quilts, and even a happening nightlife.

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