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Many of us are itching to get out and travel again, but with the risk to safety and few countries open during the pandemic, we might have to stick to domestic destinations for awhile. When you feel comfortable enough to hit the road, where should you go? These destinations around the U.S. offer plenty of opportunities to have fun and enjoy some spectacular scenery while social distancing.
*Keep in mind that as things are changing on practically a daily basis, be sure to confirm the latest information on closures before heading out to avoid disappointment.
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Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park, Washington
Located in the remote northwest corner of Washington State, Olympic National Park is an ideal place to get your feet wet by traveling again, offering scenic hikes where you’ll hardly see another soul. It boasts everything from soaring mountain peaks and wildflower-filled meadows to sparkling lakes, countless waterfalls, hot springs, wild coastline and abundant wildlife. There are miles of trails near and around Lake Quinault, whether you’re looking for a short, family-friendly trek or something more challenging. The historic Lake Quinault Lodge lies right along the shoreline, bringing breathtaking views and opportunities for other outdoor adventures too, with canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards available for rent.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Located on one of the most stunning coastlines on Earth, Cannon Beach offers plenty of outdoor adventures and jaw-dropping views. Some of the best can be enjoyed in Ecola State Park, with trails that reveal panoramic ocean vistas and a glimpse of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse. Picnic on the grassy cliffs while elk feed in the meadows nearby. At Haystack Rock which lies just offshore near the main beach downtown, you can explore tide pools filled with a myriad of marine creatures, find silver dollars at low tide and watch for whales, depending on the season.
Located north of Yellowstone National Park on the banks of the Yellowstone River, Livingston is an especially scenic town, ideal for those who want to take advantage of the world’s best trout fishing and other outdoor recreation like hiking and mountain biking. Visitors can also enjoy exploring the regional history and art museums, browsing art galleries, along with western saloons, bars and restaurants.
Black Hills, South Dakota
As long as you go outside of the annual Sturgis Rally which takes place over 10 days in early-to mid-August, you can enjoy a tranquil time without the big crowds in the Black Hills. This family-friendly destination boasts gorgeous landscapes with forested hills, unique rock formations, lakes, streams, waterfalls and abundant wildlife, along with a wealth of attractions. Marvel at Mount Rushmore National Memorial; swim, paddle or fishing the lakes in Custer State Park, enjoy miles and miles of scenic hikes and explore caves. You can also visit a drive-through wildlife park from the safety and comfort of your vehicle to observe black bears, mountain lions, elk, buffalo, reindeer and more.
Founded in 1899 on Cleopatra Hill overlooking Verde Valley, Jerome was once booming with a population of some 15,000 people, mostly made up of those who were looking to strike it rich in the copper mines. The depression marked the end of its good times, with the mines closing in the early 1950s, but it reopened as America’s largest “ghost city” which helped it from going completely extinct. Today, it’s a state park with a population of just over 400. There are intriguing little shops that line its steep streets, along with ruins from the past, like the famous traveling jail. You’ll also find actors and historians who wander the streets to recreate the town’s glory days.
Located just east of the Cascade Mountain Range, tucked between snow-covered peaks and a high desert plateau, Bend is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. A picturesque mountain town that enjoys frequent sunny skies, here you can look forward to scenic hikes like the walk to the top of Pilot Butte, the city’s largest landmark, visible from nearly every vantage point. From here, a breathtaking collection of mountains, including Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, the Three Sisters and Mount Bachelor all come into view on a clear day. And, that reward is reached with a trek that’s just under a mile, ascending 475 feet from the base to the top. Afterward, you can enjoy a cold beer at one of the many brewpubs in town.
Devils Tower, Wyoming
Located in northeastern Wyoming, Devils Tower is an iconic American landmark that was sacred to Native Americans for centuries. It became known around the world after starring in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The flat-topped volcanic formation soars over 1,200 feet above the surrounding plains, and while many come to climb it using their expert technical skills, you can walk around it by following the 1.3-mile oval path. There’s also a visitor center with interactive exhibits focused on how the “tower” was formed and displays on the area’s history and culture.
The Lost Coast, California
If you want to get away from it all without having to share the spectacular beauty, head to the Lost Coast. This is a true slice of paradise as one of the few places in California where solitude and incredible scenery can still be found. Along this mostly undeveloped stretch of shoreline between Shelter Cove and Mattole River is a wildland of waves, sand forests and fog. In the sleepy village of Shelter Cove, you can even enjoy a beautiful black sand beach. If you want to hike all or part the Lost Coast Trail, which takes about three days one way, you’ll be wowed by sweeping vistas of the King Mountain Range.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
One of the least-visited and most remote national parks in the country, Great Basin National Park offers everything from hiking trails to pristine mountain lakes and ancient pine forests where you can walk for hours without seeing anyone else. Its isolation and clear desert air mean you can enjoy some of the darkest night skies for stargazing too. It’s also home to Lehman Caves, a remarkable marble cave that can be visited on a guided tour to marvel at the stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, popcorn and more.
Flaming Gorge, Utah
Stretching across eastern Utah and southwestern Wyoming, Flaming Gorge is a popular spot for swimming, boating, water skiing, windsurfing, hiking, backpacking and camping, as well as offering some of the best fishing in America’s west with Blue Ribbon-designated fishing on the reservoir and the Green River. With the Green River carving its course through colorful rock formations, creating the deep canyons that now serve as a true geographic marvel, the scenery is incredible. Watch for wildlife too, including black bears, wintering bald eagles, bobcat, moose, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild horses and more.
Boundary Waters, Minnesota
The Boundary Waters is a one-million-acre area filled with endless streams, sparkling lakes and lush spruce forests, offering some of the best canoeing in the country. It covers 1,200 miles of canoeing trails that lead to centuries-old cliff paintings, and countless bodies of water where you’ll hear the echo of the loon calling. Visitors can base their stay in Ely which brings the chance to enjoy another attraction, the International Wolf Center. It explores the symbolic power of the wolf on human folklore, from Little Red Riding Hood to the Three Little Pigs, as well as the social dynamics among wolves in an effort to ensure their survival. Meeting the resident gray wolves is a highlight.
Ozark Mountains, Arkansas
The wild and untamed Ozarks in Arkansas offer gorgeous scenery and a long list of outdoor adventures. There are stunning waterfalls, pristine rivers, and 75 miles of horseback riding trails, along with opportunities for hiking, kayaking and rafting. By walking the isolated Buffalo River Trail that stretches for 36 miles, you might see bald eagles, bobcats and otters. Eureka Springs makes a great base for enjoying it all as one of the prettiest Ozark Mountain towns, built into the steep hillsides and surrounded by more than 60 natural springs.
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
The Apostle Islands are made up of 22 wild, rugged islands nestled off Northern Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula in Lake Superior. They’re highlighted by spectacular rock formations and six historic lighthouses while offering some of the country’s best blue-water paddling. Madeline Island is an ideal base as the largest, which also offers plenty of attractions of its own, including the Madeline Island Museum. It’s easy to explore from there too via water taxi, sailboat or kayak. On Devil’s Island, you can check out sea caves, and in the summer in many areas, you’ll find wild blueberries to pick.
Carova Beach, Outer Banks
Ranked as the second most secluded stretch of sand in the entire U.S., Carova Beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina offers miles and miles of uninterrupted coastline, pounded by the Atlantic waves. One of the top draws is the famous wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs that roam the waterfront, with the only access by an unpaved track along the beach, keeping most humans away.