Summer's here and that means its travel season! To help you make the most of your summer adventures, we put together a list of our favorite off the beaten path places for an awesome summer vacation. We've included when to visit and some of our favorite things to see and do. While we couldn't pack everything into each place, we give you a good starting point for making the most of your visit. Just click the next button to get started!
#10 Ithaca, New York
When the cold and snow are gone, the Finger Lakes region comes alive. In the summer enjoy fresh produce, new wines, beautiful gorges to hike around. Ithaca stands out for being a pedestrian-friendly college town full of eclectic shops and high-quality restaurants and makes the perfect home base from which to explore this region.
Enjoy a meal at the famed Moosewood Restaurant (www.moosewoodcooks.com) or head to the Farmer's Market (www.ithacamarket.com) by the lake for a mix of local produce and delicious prepared foods (which make a great picnic if you're out hiking!). There's swimming in Cayuga Lake, along with sailboat, kayak and canoe rentals. Stewart Park and Cass Park both offer spectacular views of the lake and plenty of opportunity to enjoy a summer sunset.
Ithaca's famous gorges are not to be missed. The most popular hikes are to Buttermilk Falls, Taughannock Falls, and the magnificent Treman State Park. You can only access these trails from April until November due to icy winter conditions so enjoy them in the summer, especially on a hot day as the big trees offer plenty of shade and there's lots of swimming!
#9 The Oregon Coast, Oregon
If you usually live in a city, the Oregon Coast and its temperate, misty, and lush climate will be a welcome break from the heat of summer. Two hours due west from Portland and you'll encounter Tillamook, the most hiking friendly town on the Oregon Coast. There's over a dozen great hiking trails. You'll particularly want to check out the spectacular Three Capes Scenic Loop, which takes you through damp old-growth forests to dramatic Pacific cliffs. In addition to its outstanding hiking Tillamook is also the birthplace of Oregon's Tillamook Cheese. Local fruit and homemade pastries make the perfect beach lunch.
Once you've finished head down the coast and stop in towns like the family-oriented Lincoln City, energetic Newport, and eclectic Yachats. Try to catch a tour of the Yaquina Head lighthouse (www.yaquinalights.org), and take time to stop and head to the water. The tidal pools offer an up close and personal encounter with nature, especially the formations at Boiler Bay in Depoe Bay. If you get as far south as Florence, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (www.nps.gov/grsa/faqs.htm) is not to be missed. The park extends forty miles along the coast, making it the largest of its kind in North America.
#8 San Juan Islands, Washington
Visiting the San Juan Islands isn't just about how green they are, how they emerge out of nowhere out of the mighty Pacific, or how the light hits them just so. Its both about the slower, relaxed island pace of life and the San Juans' proximity to Seattle. In the summer the city is bustling and if you do this trip consider July's Beerfest and Bite of Seattle, though most weekends there is something exciting going on.
The islands are busier during the summer but there's also lots more to do. The locals love the influx of people and you'll see summer-only activities like the various farmer's markets, events like Lopez Island's Tour de Lopez in July, and what could be the best fourth of July fireworks anywhere. Remember that the San Juans are a cyclist's paradise. If you're not an avid cyclist still consider renting a bike and poking around the mostly flat, rural Lopez Island. Orcas Island's Mount Constitution is the trek for those more serious about the sport.
#7 Knoxville, Tennessee
Located on the banks of the Tennessee River, Knoxville is the ideal warm-weather town. The pedestrian-only Market Square is expansive yet inviting and features installation art fountains that are made for splashing around in. There's tons of interesting restaurants and bakeries in the square, where you can sit at wrought-iron tables out in the open, or under the shade of the trees found at its far end. Summer means the square boasts a great farmer's market, loads of festivals and events as well as Shakespeare on the Square.
Other attractions include walking through the Knoxville Museum of Art's outdoor sculpture gallery, or Old City, where much of the city's gritty southern character is on fine display. Live music, from bluegrass to contemporary rock, is around just about every corner and definitely worth enjoying.
The Tennessee river is not to be missed. When you're done in the city lounge on the deck of a cruise boat with a drink or paddle around in a kayak. If you visit as late as Labor Day, you'll get to see Boomsday, the "largest Labor Day fireworks display in the nation."
#6 Glacier National Park, Montana
Not many people prefer snow, but there's something special about snow in July! The summer is actually almost the only time you can access Glacier National Park, one of nation's most ruggedly spectacular public spaces, as its usually closed in the winter due to bad weather. The region has a short summer that allows city-dwellers to cool off, find solitude, and cast your eyes upon some of the world's last true glaciers. The park's U.S. Geological Survey team encourages you to see these magnificent sheets of ice before they're gone forever.
Rent a car and head up Going-to-the-Sun Road, a twisting, turning, mountain-hugging road that takes visitors deep into northern Montana. This scenic route is one of the most spectacular drives in the entire nation and one you won't forget any time soon. If you want to get out into the woods, the park offers 700 miles of hiking trails and you can even camp in one of its 13 campgrounds, or buy a backcountry permit and go off the marked trails. During the summer you can indulge in an array of ranger-led programs such as guided hikes, talks, and boat tours.
#5 Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Delaware isn't the first place most people think of for a summer getaway but if you're looking for a sleepy beach town that's a bit under the radar, Delaware's the place to head this summer. Rehoboth's known for its seafood, beautiful sunsets, and outdoor recreation opportunities that are some of the best on the Atlantic coast. Rehoboth's long boardwalk is perfect for a stroll or bike and you can find a nice spot and just lounge on a patrolled beach like Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, or Bethany Beach. Delaware's shore state parks are absolutely pristine, so be sure to check out Cape Henlopen State Park. With over 3,000 acres there's plenty of hiking, camping, and swimming. The Walking Dunes Trail is an easy hike that travels through marshland and woodland, ending at The Great Dune.
Rehoboth's great community vibe is inclusive, with lots of family-friendly events all summer long. August's annual Sandcastle Contest will test your construction skills, while restaurant week has plenty of great deals, and June offers free tours of historical cottages.
#4 Tybee Island, Georgia
The islands off Savannah offer a Southern-charm twist on the classic beach experience. You'll find private islands, marshlands, sea turtles, and loads of rare birds. Check out bike-friendly Tybee Island, just 18 miles south of Savannah, for peaceful public beaches, fresh shrimp, dolphin tours, and relaxed nightlife. Most bars will serve you drinks in plastic cups so you can walk along the beach (watch for giant sea turtles!)
Tybee is famous for its birdwatching. It's directly in the Atlantic Flyway, which means thousands of migratory birds stop there each season including rare species like the Piping Plover and the Purple Sandpiper. The best places for bird watching are The Sally Pearce Nature Trail, Little Tybee (a pristine nature preserve), and Fort Pulaski (www.nps.gov/fopu/index.htm).
For even more privacy you can head to Georgia's Golden Isle, a slightly further-afield group of smaller islands off the coast of Jacksonville, Georgia, including St. Simon's Island. Full of Southern sophistication, St. Simon's stately houses and flowing Spanish moss are reminiscent of the mainland city of Savannah, minus the hustle and bustle.
#3 The Maine Highlands & Baxter State Park
Maine has some of the coldest winters in the country but be sure to take advantage of the warm weather and head into the highlands. Start at Mt. Katahdin, the terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Located in Baxter State Park, Katahdin is the highest point in Maine at 5,267 feet. Backpack up and spend the night outdoors and enjoy breathtaking views, not to mention stars. Among Baxter State Park's 200,000 acres of natural riches, Penobscot River is famous for its whitewater rafting opportunities, countless lakes and ponds for fishing and swimming, and miles of trails.
If you'd like to relax a little more, take a cruise on Moosewood Lake on the Steamship Katahdin, being sure to keep a sharp lookout for moose. The surrounding forests are some of the best moose habitat in the country. If you really want to get up close and personal with these gentle giants, you can take a Moose Safari with an experienced guide who will do the tracking.
Once you're ready to get back to civilization, explore the town of Bangor. It's a small, eclectic logging town on the banks of the Penobscot River. Take a relaxing walk through downtown's shopping district, or visit the Maine Forest and Logging Museum (www.leonardsmills.com) to learn more about the rich history of the area. The American Folk Festival (www.americanfolkfestival.com), a three-day event in August, draws thousands to the region for blues, zydeco, bluegrass, gospel, and more.
#2 Ohio State Parks (Mohican to the Lake Erie Waterfront)
Ohio's state park system is one of the largest in the nation. It offers diverse, family-oriented, summer fun. Mohican State Park, in Loudonville, Ohio, is a great place to start. This 1,110-acre park offers lots of diverse scenery: Shady old-growth hemlock forests, the Mohican River, and the spectacular Clear Fork Gorge. The gorge is a magnificent glacially carved chasm that is approximately 1,000 feet wide and 300 feet deep. Mohican has a wide variety of accommodation options that can easily be tailored to fit your needs, whether you want to camp, stay in a two-bedroom cabin, or put your feet up at the lodge.
Once you've seen the spectacular forest, head northwest to the shores of Lake Erie, where you can swim, boat, and lunch under the sun at the one of the many lake-front state parks (particularly interesting are Catawaba Island State Park, Kelleys Island State Park Beach, and East Harbor State Park).
Once you've had your fill of nature, ride the 17 world-famous coasters at Cedar Point (www.cedarpoint.com), an amusement park of gigantic proportions. There's thrills for adults and kids here, including a display of 50 roaring, flailing, and full-sized animatronic dinosaurs.
It's not exactly off the beaten path in terms of fame, but its remote location makes it a little tougher to get to. Yet once you fly into Jackson Hole (JAC) or Yellowstone Airport (WYS), you'll be glad you did. The first national park in the world, Yellowstone, is a renowned sight to behold. Check out the magnificent Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is 20 miles long and one of the most scenic highlights at Yellowstone.
You'll also want to check out the geysers and hike some of the pristine trails. There's plenty of hiking for all levels and you can charter a guide if you want to get off the beaten path a little bit. Yellowstone is rugged and remote, so with all the beauty comes an element of danger - this is wild, so if you head into the bush make sure you either take a guide or know exactly what you're doing.