An unforgettable adventure closer to home
Even if you love to travel far, you can sometimes discover the most amazing things while staying closer to home. If you’re currently in the United States, here are some ideas about where to go for a getaway to find yourself away from the crowds, take a deep breath, and let go.
Visit the first national park east of the Mississippi River, Maine
With fall unstoppably approaching, Maine could be one of your more rewarding options. The leaves are turning all shades and the land is preparing to go into winter hibernation.
The weather can be unpredictable this time of year but despite that, and especially if you enjoy dramatic views and scenery, the Acadia National Park should be on your list of places to see. Mostly stretching across Mount Desert Island and various smaller islands on the rugged Maine coastline, it became the first national park east of the Mississippi River in 1919 (although under the name Lafayette National Park).
This year it closes for the season on 1 November which will allow you to take in the colorful foliage of its coniferous and deciduous woodlands, visit the Bass Harbor Head Light — the only lighthouse on the island — dip your toes in the water at Sand Beach and Echo Lake, hike, kayak, bike, or go horseback riding. Acadia is also home to black bears, moose, and spotted salamanders, and its natural vibrancy is definitely worth exploring.
Good all year round, Hyalite Canyon, Montana
Bozeman is known as the most livable place in Montana and every outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Within a one- or two-hour drive you’ll suddenly find yourself fly fishing in the rivers, wading through creeks and lakes, ice climbing, or skiing down one of the dramatic peaks in the area.
South of the city, in the Gallatin National Forest, sprawls the Hyalite Canyon opening up a range of year-round activities for all skill levels and capabilities. It includes six hiking trails, from very short ones to those of several hours in length leading up to a total of ten spectacular waterfalls, such as the Grotto or Palisade Falls. Along the way, you can set up a picnic and enjoy lunch watching the wild around you.
Trail off towards the Hyalite Reservoir, built in the 1940s in a valley which is an ideal location for all sorts of water activities. Both locals and out-of-towners come here for boating, scuba diving, or angling, and it’s even possible to camp out there. All you might need in one place.
Pay a visit to the Toadstools at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Be it a short day trek or multi-day advanced rock climbing and canyoneering, you will hardly uncover more than a sliver of Utah’s untouched beauty. The Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the largest national monuments in the country, preserving over one million acres of land.
Compared to the nearby Bryce and Zion National Parks, the GSENM is considerably less crowded but no less stunning. Every turn and curve and snoop displays a variety of sandstone cliffs of different shapes and sizes, and multi-colored rock formations.
You won’t find all the different paths on the map; some are hidden and worth exploring if you’re prepared and up for it. If you’re only driving through on your way elsewhere, don’t forget to look for giant Toadstools. They’re a short hike from where you’ll park and the sight offers an other-worldly experience, perhaps like nothing you’ve seen before.
Thousand Islands and the longest zipline in North America, New York
Along the border with Canada lies an area called the Thousand Islands. In fact, it’s a group of more than 1,800 islands scattered in the St. Lawrence River. It attracted many a wealthy vacationer back in the 19th century and today still boasts lavish buildings, several of which have been made into landmarks. The first castle built here — Castle Rest — no longer survives but others, such as Singer Castle and Boldt Castle are still standing.
These days, the uniqueness of the scenery attracts visitors who enjoy boating, fishing, diving, leisure strolling, visiting historic battlefields, maritime museums, and lighthouses, and dining out on the water. A truly serene place, it entices visitors to stay here time and again.
A little further south at Hunter Mountain, about a two-hour drive up from New York City, lies the longest and highest zip line in North America. This zip line soars for almost five miles through the Catskills and reaches a height of 600 feet above the ground, so it’ll definitely be a unique experience.
Cruise the rugged coastline, New England
Not to anyone’s surprise, Maine’s Acadia National Park is just one way to explore the nooks and crannies of the New England coast. Getting offshore will definitely show you the land from a different perspective.
There are plenty of schools and courses to learn how to sail or you can go even grander and learn how to operate a windjammer. Windjammers were popular at the end of the 19th century as large commercial ships with at least three masts and being aboard one will blow a fresh breeze into your sails.
Hopping from islands through bays to fishing villages, you will get a chance to partake in daily ship activities like setting and trimming the sails, learning knots or taking the helm, and in the evening, your captain will doubtless tell thrilling tales from the seas, you’ll share a freshly caught meal and stargaze until the calming movement of the vessel rocks you to sleep.
Herds of elk at Tomales Point Trail, California
If you’re traveling around the San Francisco area and would rather escape the crowds of a big city, head for the Tomales Point Trail. Sitting on a small peninsula just north of San Francisco, it spans out into the Pacific Ocean and is ideal for hiking all year round.
The hike’s got some of the most fantastic views of the ocean, Tomales Bay, and the coastline. Herds of elk roam the lands out there and when all goes still and quiet, you might walk in on them sleeping on the trail. Setting out at daybreak might be your best chance to behold the magnificent wildlife of the area.
Plan a few hours for this experience since a round trip to the very end of the narrow Point Reyes peninsula is a solid 9.7-mile (15-km) jaunt. Pack a lunch and take your time exploring the Californian wilderness.
Underground vistas, Luray Caverns, Virginia
Virginia is a state with a lot of variety. From hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail through camping in the Great Outdoors to walking the stretches of pristine beaches at Assateague Island National Seashore, it seems like it has it all, including the largest caverns in the eastern United States.
Open rain or shine, Luray Caverns have been in the making for millions of years. Drop after drop has formed cathedral-like domes with ceilings that are ten stories high, rock columns and other formations like the Titania’s Veil or Double Column, an underground lake, and even a stalactite organ.
The Great Stalacpipe Organ is billed as the largest musical instrument in the world and makes the rocks in the caverns literally sing by gently tapping stalactites across three acres of the underground. Make sure to get down below early in the day to avoid bigger groups of visitors.
Conquer the volcanoes of Washington
Nicknamed the Evergreen State, forests cover over half of Washington where hiking trails are in abundance, from ones that take less than half an hour to those miles long (it’s also where Cheryl Strayed ended her 1,100-mile adventure along the Pacific Crest Trail).
To give the average hike a bit of a twist, you can obtain a hiking permit and set out to the very top of Mount St Helens. The daily capacity of hikers is limited so you’ll have to book well in advance. After its last eruption in 1980, the volcano lost roughly 1,300 feet in height and opened up to the north, forming a horseshoe-like crater.
Once up, you’ll be welcomed by breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and landscape of the Mount St Helens park, barren since the last eruption that washed all the trees away but is now dotted with sheared tree stumps, lush with wildflowers and brush.
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