This year, travel to places in the USA that are less-crowded and just as beautiful as those on everyone’s bucket list. (Step one, forget your own bucket list. Lists tend to be blinding.) Use a good city as your base and take off from there—the natural world is all around you. A trip to the ocean, the healing power of red rock desert, or trekking into majestic mountains renews our spirits.
Exceptional travel includes slowing down with lodgings and experiences that bring you back to yourself. Here are seven of our favorite escapes.
After settling in, you might want to forego the urge to head straight to Rocky Mountain National Park. Visit Ft. Collins instead. Just north of Denver, it’s a vibrant town that feels like the Rocky Mountains in microcosm. The Old Town historic District has 19th century homes and shops, a vintage trolley, nature exhibits, interactive museums, terrific restaurants, and craft breweries.
From there, go to the Horsetooth Mountain range, known for its distinctive rock formations and waterfalls. You can explore on foot or take advantage of the bike park. Head back to your Denver hotel and luxuriate. There are 300 days of sunshine, mountains, picture-perfect lakes, and tumbling rivers nearby. Best of all, you’ve gotten into the wilds without battling the crowds.
Portland is the perfect base to discover the area from Mt. Hood to Cannon Beach. Head east along the Columbia River Gorge, where the state’s tallest mountains meet a mighty river. Hike among Dogwood and Whitebark pine trees—the scent as the sun blankets the forest is heaven. There is excellent trout and salmon fishing, and the sound of waterfalls is the ideal background music.
Head west from Portland and day trip to Cannon Beach. The town is a gem, and the beach itself was named one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places by National Geographic. Walking the beach, and sighting Haystack Rock, is breathtaking. Sit for a while and just let everything go. Next, dive into the village with an artistic soul. Savor local culinary delights, showcasing the best of the Northwest. Spend the evening in luxury and delight in Portland’s unique personality.
Scottsdale is a gateway to the Sonoran Desert. When summer turns into fall, hike soft paths or get onto trails into the McDowell Mountains. Spend the day at the Desert Botanical Gardens, home to thousands of species of cactus, trees, and flowers. Do some serious cloud-watching, and in the evening be amazed by sunsets that blaze orange and purple across the sky. This is the place where you remember how to breathe.
Enjoy world-class spas, wellness retreats, and inspired cuisine. A golfer’s paradise, there are 50 courses in the city limits, and all use gray water for irrigation. Cultural highlights include the Musical Instrument Museum, an interactive experience with music, dance, and costumes from every continent. If you feel energetic, take a day trip to the Grand Canyon. Come here to connect with the desert’s deep healing.
Salt Lake City, Utah
This city is a great base for a taste of the authentic American West. The Great Salt Lake itself is the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River and the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere. Head to Antelope Island for the wildlife and then stay in the fabled mountain town of Park City.
Go horseback riding with views of the Wasatch Range and Mount Timpanogos—it’s rated as the #1 ride by horse-lovers around the world. You can paddleboard inside a crater filled with warm, mineral water or take a sunset hot air balloon above vast canyons. Perhaps you’d enjoy a unique dog sled experience with heart? Vacationing in the mountain west brings a deep feeling of peace and adventure.
Established as a fishing village in 1633, Portland was New England’s largest port. With its fresh cuisine and cobblestone streets, it’s now one of America’s most vivid cities. And it’s the perfect base for exploring New England. Head into New Hampshire’s White Mountains for bubbling streams and towering trees.
Drive up the coast for Maine’s extraordinary shoreline. When the trees fall back, you’re in Booth Bay, the coastal capital of America. While in Portland, indulge in sunsets on a schooner and fine dining, overlooking the ocean. Imagine white, blue, and calico lobsters. Day trip to Acadia National Park. The natural beauty of the highest headlands along the Atlantic coast also has a rich cultural heritage.
Bourbon and lush back roads make Louisville the perfect center to dive into blue grass country. Louisville is a handsome city and surprisingly hip, sitting on the glorious Ohio River. The small, neighboring towns are gems—delight in superb farm-to-table restaurants. Head off the beaten path and find the longest cave system on earth, complete with underground rivers. And, of course, there are the bourbon distilleries.
You can have a private tour with 4th generation experts for bourbon tasting in their home and bottle your own to take back with you. Go antique shopping, indulge in a toe-tapping time with southern and soul food—you’ll feel the pulse of life lived with joy. Relax in overgrown gardens and count the stars. The heady beauty of bourbon country is incomparable.
Boston and Beyond
Boston, Salem, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts—all sound like a song. When you arrive in Boston, explore. The Freedom Trail winds through the city, connecting 16 sites such as Paul Revere’s house and the Old North Church. Head to Faneuil Hall, the cradle of liberty, particularly glorious in the autumn. Now, head north to infamous Salem, home of witch trials, great shops, and old Clipper Ships.
Gloucester, a pleasant drive from Boston, is in the heart of Cape Ann. Imagine unique ocean adventures, exquisite seafood dinners, art, and whale watching. Two other notables are Provincetown and the Cape Cod National Seashore—40 miles of beaches, dunes, and nature trails. Breathe in that fresh, salt air!