We’re all ready to start traveling again, but perhaps waiting in line at a theme park or spending time in a crowded resort isn’t the way to go. So why not look for something a bit different this year? Something that focuses on outdoor adventure, fewer crowds, and a way to experience something wonderful with your family. The country is filled with beautiful places to explore, making this summer the perfect time for a road trip. Here are seven ideas for somewhat off-the-beaten-path trips that will make this summer special.
1. Redding, California
Drop Redding into just about any other state and it’s instantly a top attraction. But with all of California’s natural wonders, Redding is all too often left off the itinerary. This gem within sight of Mt. Shasta in northern California is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Sacramento. It has something for everyone—with far fewer crowds than you’ll find at Yosemite or Lake Tahoe. Surrounded by mountains to the north, east, and west, Redding serves as the perfect basecamp for exploring the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Choose from the endless options of hiking trails, enjoy watersports on Shasta Lake, go whitewater rafting on the Trinity River, or enjoy world-class fishing and paddling on the Sacramento River, which flows through town. Younger kids will love the Turtle Bay Exploration Park, a hands-on museum and aquarium that takes full advantage of its location on the river next to the stunning Sundial Bridge. Enjoy a lazy day on beautiful Whiskeytown Lake or go underground and explore the Lake Shasta Caverns. You’ll never run out of things to do here.
2. Virginia Creeper Trail
Were you one of the families that rediscovered bicycling in 2020? Take advantage of one of the country’s best cycling experiences with a trip to the Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia. The 34-mile trail starts at Whitetop Station atop the second highest peak in the state. From there you’ll enjoy an incredible downhill ride that features some of the region’s most impressive views. The 17-mile ride to the town of Damascus is all downhill (as in you barely have to pedal) and you’ll travel over 50 wooded bridges as you criss-cross streams along the way. You don’t even need your own bikes, as plenty of outfitters will deliver you and rental bikes to the trailhead. If you want to continue after Damascus, the trail stretches another 17 miles to Abingdon (an excellent spot to basecamp), which requires a bit of pedaling, but is still quite fun. The trail is just one of the outdoor attractions in southwest Virginia, which also features a awe-inspiring section of the Appalachian Trail, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, and Grayson Highlands State Park, home to wild ponies.
3. Lake Placid, N.Y.
Known for hosting the Winter Olympics twice, in 1980 and 1932, Lake Placid is often associated with its cold-weather activities as well as the “miracle on ice” story of the U.S. hockey team. But Lake Placid is a year-round destination, and the surprisingly small town in the Adirondacks is filled with mountain and water activities that make for a memorable summer vacation as well. Hiking options are found in every direction, and an easy trip to the top of Mt. Jo is a good place to start for its panoramic views. Calm Mirror Lake is a quiet spot right downtown for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. You’ll find an extensive network of mountain bike trails, with something for everyone from beginner to expert, and, of course, plenty of Olympic attractions, including a museum. Go ahead and take the glass-enclosed elevator to the top of the ski jump — you’ll have a new appreciation of the sport.
4. Custer State Park, South Dakota
South Dakota, while generally off the beaten path for most people, does feature some major attractions for a road trip, including Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park. Both are worth visiting, but you can get a little bit further afield by including Custer State Park to your itinerary. Only about 45 minutes from Mount Rushmore, Custer is a 71,000-acre preserve in the gorgeous black hills. It’s known for its striking mountains, granite spires, and more than 1,000 bison who roam through the park. Go fishing or boating on Center Lake, or take advantage of the network of hiking trails throughout the park. One of the largest state parks in the country, there’s plenty of room to explore, and animal-crazy kids will have a blast spotting pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats, and burros, in addition to the majestic bison.
5. Bear Lake, Utah
With its “Big Five” national parks, the Wasatch Mountains, and Park City, Utah is filled with year-round vacation destinations. But those outside the state may not be familiar with Bear Lake, which straddles the Utah/Idaho border. The 109-square-mile lake is known for its turquoise/blue water, which has led to its nickname as the “Caribbean of the Rockies.” Take a trip to Bear Lake State Park to rent all manner of watercraft, from jet skis to stand-up paddleboards. There’s a sandy beach for swimming and lots of camping options — including “glamping” in an old-school Conestoga wagon. Off-the-water activities include hiking, ATV trails, and taking a guided tour of nine rooms of Minnetonka, Idaho’s largest limestone rock cave. Go zip-lining at the nearby adventure park or take a short drive to the Cache River Valley for hiking and visiting its alpine lakes.
6. Asheville, North Carolina
It’s tough to call Asheville off-the-beaten-path anymore, if it ever was. This town in the Blue Ridge Mountains has exploded in the last few decades as a popular getaway for those looking for mountain-town charm, great dining, and outdoor adventure. But if you want to explore the Blue Ridge without traveling through the country’s most popular national park (Great Smoky Mountain), you can find much to love around Asheville. The area is particularly known for its waterfall hikes, and you could spend an entire trip checking off the best on the list.
The Adventure Center of Asheville has thrilling rope courses, zip-lining, and a bike park. You’re not far from whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and paddling for those who like adrenaline. A family-friendly hike to the top of the Craggy Pinnacle Trail gives you 360-degree views of the whole region. Save time to visit the Biltmore Estate, a French-style chateau that’s America’s largest home. It’s located on an 8,000-acre compound with an outdoor center for activities like horseback riding, hiking, biking, and fly fishing.
7. Florida Adventure Coast
What part of Florida isn’t packed with tourists? Well, it’s tough to truly break from the crowd when it’s time for vacation in the sunshine state, but you will certainly have a quieter and more contemplative trip by exploring its wild side. The area that calls itself the Florida Adventure Coast is centered near Brooksville and Weeki Wachee on the Gulf Coast, about an hour north of Tampa. This mostly undeveloped part of the state is known for its first-rate fishing and paddling. There are swimming beaches as well, and it’s one of the state’s best spots for manatee watching. Lots of bike trails and flat terrain make it a good spot for bicycling with the little ones, and if you indeed need a bit more excitement, you’re less than an hour and a half from Orlando.
Written by Jeff Banowetz for Matcha in partnership with Gregory Mountain Products.