For many in the US, what it means to live your best life has changed markedly with COVID-19. With large gatherings canceled and international flights grounded, we’re all doing our utmost to lead a safe yet somewhat normal existence. Necessary as it is, it’s hardly satisfying. But if your rona-stressors have got you in need of a getaway, these local nature travel destinations might be just what you need to escape (at least mentally) during the pandemic.
With over 400 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve searched America’s boundless backyard for some of its most inspiring nature travel destinations. From glorious great lake escapes to vast southern deserts, these outdoor adventures offer some great ideas for a crowd-free vacation. If you’ve still got your fingers crossed for a little late-season sand and sea, you might want to check out our guide to the world’s top secluded beaches.
1. Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman is the Treasure State’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park, with easy access to five of its entrances. But that’s not the only site worth seeing while you’re in town. Two nearby mountain ranges, the Bridger Range to the north and the Spanish Peaks to the south offer endless hiking and mountain biking. There are frequent sightings of grizzly bears, elk, coyote’s, and bison at this nature travel destination, so bring your binoculars. For summer visitors, Beartooth Highway — a couple of hours to the south — offers astounding scenery and is an unmissable detour if you’re road tripping.
Top Bozeman Experiences:
- Palisade Falls — Make the short hike to this towering cascade, which in winter freezes into a turret of ice.
- Gallatin Canyon — This dramatic 100-mile-long waterway offers hiking and world-class trout fishing. It’s best known as the setting of Academy-Award-winner A River Runs Through It.
- Grisley Bear Encounter — Have an incredible ursine experience at this ethical Bozeman sanctuary.
Where to Stay: Best Western Plus GranTree Inn
This conveniently located Best Western is an excellent base for exploring Bozeman and the surrounding area. Light sleepers will love that the well-appointed guest rooms offer a pleasantly silent night’s rest, despite the interstate-adjacent location. Furthermore, their bare wood furnishings and tree branch bedside lamps add a boutiquey touch. Arriving back at the GranTree Inn after an active day on the trail, the heated indoor pool will go down a treat. If you’re hungry, there’s also an excellent onsite restaurant.
Star Rating: 4*
Price: USD 111 – USD 294
Guest Rating: 8.6
Address: 1325 North 7th Avenue, Bozeman, MT 59715-2511, United States
2. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Michigan’s ample shoreline is stringed with picturesque small-town escapes for every kind of traveler — such as this charming LGBT destination. One of the region’s highlights is Mackinac Island, a scenic community known for its beach cottages, historic fort, and tempting local fudge. Positioned at the junction of Lakes Michigan and Huron, this great escape is best explored along its gorgeous coastal trails, either on foot, two wheels, or sitting atop a saddle. In particular, don’t miss fantastic lookouts like Sunset Rock, which gazes over the stunning Straits of Mackinac and St. Ignace. It’s best enjoyed at… Well, you know when.
Top Mackinac Island experiences:
- Arch Rock — Make your way out to this remarkable lakeside formation, which occupies a special place in local Native American lore.
- The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World — Observe hundreds of vibrantly hued species at this historic center.
- Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum — Explore the island’s artistic traditions at this charming colonial building, formerly the island’s Indian Dormitory.
Where to stay: Hotel Iroquois
A postcard-perfect image of Mackinac Island’s Victorian charms, Hotel Iroquois offers charming lakefront accommodation and immediate beach access. Enjoy its spellbinding views from the sunkissed verandah of Carriage House, the acclaimed onsite restaurant. Alternatively, request a tower suite and revel its unbroken island panorama.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 153 – USD 782
Guest Rating: No ratings
Address: 7428 Main Street, Mackinac Island, MI 49757, United States
3. Crater Lake, Oregon
One of North America’s most remarkable nature travel destinations, Crater Lake should be on everyone’s bucket list. Interestingly, it’s the US’s deepest lake, formed only 7,500 years ago, when a volcano collapsed in on itself. Open all year round, the peaks and ridges that crown the lake make offer some jaw-dropping outings in summer. Rim Drive, in particular, is a spectacular way to enjoy the lake on two or four wheels. During the colder months, a cross-country ski tour is a simply magical way to experience the water. Ashland Tours operates a fantastic one for ages six and up, with plenty of hot chocolate pitstops to fuel you along the way.
Top Crater Lake experiences:
- Cleetwood Cove Trail — A steep yet scenic summer trail of 2.2 miles that takes you down to the lakeside. Swimming is permitted, though the water is pretty chilly.
- Toketee Falls — Bring your camera for snaps of this spellbinding two-tiered waterfall, which torrents down through a vertical cliffside of hardened magma.
- Pinnacles Overlook Hike — An easy 0.8-mile hike showcasing some exciting geological features. If you’ve been to Bryce Canyon in Utah, you’ll see the resemblance.
Where to stay: Union Creek Resort
Offering rustic wood cabins in the tiny community of Union Creek, this charming resort is arguably the closest you’ll get to Crater Lake without having to camp. The majestic lake itself is just 23 miles away. Closer to the accommodation, you will also have access to some world-class forest trails and fishing spots — Rogue River is one site you can’t miss. There is plenty of good eats too, thanks to the comforting home-style fare served at Beckie’s Café.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 96 – USD 259
Guest Rating: No ratings
Address: 56484 Highway 62, Prospect, OR 97536, United States
4. Ruidoso, New Mexico
With their promise of year-round adventure, it’s no wonder that the Rockies are among North America’s most popular nature travel destinations. While tourists crowd its big-name resort towns — the likes of Aspen and Durango — the range’s southern extreme is blessed with numerous lesser-known escapes that are well worth exploring. Ruidoso clusters quietly at the foot of the majestic Sierra Blanca. Discerning powder hounds are known for their superb skiing at Ski Apache, which rises to a colossal 11,500 feet above sea level. Meanwhile, during the warmer months, this winter wonderland transforms into thrilling terrain for hikers and mountain bikers.
Top Ruidoso experiences:
- Tremendous local dining — A favorite local getaway, Ruidoso sports some fantastic regional dining. Check out joints like Pena’s Place for great breakfasts and Mexican food.
- Ruidoso Downs Racetrack — The stakes are highest here on Labor Day when Ruidoso holds the world’s richest race to the tune of USD 3 million.
- Grindstone Lake — Kayak swim and splash your way around this pine-fringed lake or try your chances on its exciting summer assault course.
Where to stay: MCM Elegante Lodge & Resort
With proximity to Ski Apache plus a golf course, MCM Elegante is a fantastic year-round resort and retreat. Noteworthy facilities include a heated pool and jacuzzi, as well as a full spa offering reflexology, facials, and couples treatments. Settle into one of the cozy cabin-inspired guest rooms, or upgrade to one of their generous suites for thoughtful luxuries like a two-person jet tub.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 139 – USD 209
Guest Rating: 9.0
Address: 107 Sierra Blanca Drive, Ruidoso, NM 88345, United States
5. Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Glacier Bay is one of America’s most remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s a shattered landscape of razor-tipped mountains, plunging fjords, and blue-hearted icebergs. During the warmer months, private boats, cruise ships, and kayaks are the best way to explore this striking region. Local wildlife tours are a memorable opportunity to familiarize yourself with Glacier Bay’s abundant wildlife, brown bears to humpback whales. Savor every second in this dynamic park. Timeless as it may seem in the folklore of the local Huna Tlingit clans, this is a changing place, where ice flows thousands of feet thick have vanished in just a couple of centuries.
Top Glacier Bay National Park experiences:
- Beardslee Islands — These vibrant islands are a fascinating day trip by kayak on which you may be able to spot moose and bald eagles. Plan your trip carefully though, water levels vary considerable from day to day.
- John Hopkins Glacier — A poster boy for climate change activists, this colossal glacier calves ice at such high frequency that it’s often impossible to approach it closer than two miles.
- Go Fishin’ — Guided fishing trips out of Gustavus are a fantastic way to explore the coast while hunting for humungous, primeval-looking Alaskan Halibut.
Where to stay: Four Points by Sheraton Juneau
This newly reoutfitted hotel is a highly comfortable base for exploring Glacier Bay’s many nature travel destinations. Hunker down for the evening in the Junior Suite, with glorious views of the bay and an American-style kitchenette. There is also an excellent bar and restaurant on-site, serving pleasing bites and heartier fare.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 242 – USD 309
Guest Rating: 8.5
Address: 51 Egan Drive, Juneau, AK 99801, United States
6. Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Towering over the prairie, this table-topped rise is by far the most striking of northeast Wyoming’s nature travel destinations. Local Native American tribes say that the great spirit drew this enormous rock out of the ground to save a group of young people from a bear attack. However, it’s wrinkled surface tells a different story. Devil’s Tower is the core of an ancient volcano that was weathered down over millions of years. The imposing natural feature that stands there today was its molten core. Several trails around the Devils Tower will offer you different perspectives of the monument, as well as lead you down to the Belle Fourche River, and the pretty-in-pink sandstone formations that run adjacent to it.
Top Devil’s Tower experiences:
- Red Beds Trail — This gorgeous loop takes you through dusty landscapes for various views of Devil’s Tower.
- Have Your Own Close Encounter — The KOA campground, just outside the monument, holds a nightly Close Encounters of the Third Kind screening, in which Devil’s Tower features prominently.
- Venture Out into Black Hills National Forest — Just across the South Dakota border, this park is best known for being the site of Mount Rushmore. Further exploration reveals dense cave networks and remotely beautiful hikes.
Where to stay: Lytle Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast
Few places can promise a silhouette of Devil’s Tower at dusk, but that’s what you can expect at Lytle Creek Inn. This charming homestead offers total escape, surrounded by peaceful pine forests and gently rolling hills. Really settle in with a stay at the generous loft suite, offering a private living space, country decor, a king-sized bed, and a twin. In the morning, you can look forward to a home-cooked breakfast by owners Kim and Dee Carroll. Lytle Creek Inn is open from April 1st through September 30.
Star Rating: 2*
Price: USD 135 – USD 155
Guest Rating: No rating
Address: 289 Lytle Creek Road, Devils Tower, WY 82714, United States
7. Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington
Also known as America’s Everest, Mt. Rainier is Washington’s highest mountain and the most prominent mountain in the contiguous United States. This particularly beautiful volcano is one of those nature travel destinations for all seasons. Its best known for its vibrant meadows of violet wildflowers, which bloom every summer, and the burnt-orange autumn foliage along trails like Pinnacle Saddle. Snowfall from mid-November through mid-April provides optimal conditions for thrilling backcountry skiing and ensures that you’ll visit Mt. Rainier time and time again.
Top Mt. Ranier experiences:
- Crystal Mountain Resort — Great downhill skiing resort with fantastic views of Mt. Rainier from the top of the gondola.
- Grove of the Patriarchs Trail — This easy but epic amble winds its way around towering red cedars and 1,000-year-old Douglas firs.
- Brunch at Paradise Inn Dining Room — Enjoy hearty rustic fare at this panoramic lodge. Paradise Inn Dining Room is located on the trail of the same name, which is also one of Mt. Rainier’s most scenic.
Where to Stay: Alexander’s Lodge
This elegant Victorian house occupies an important space in the history of America’s nature travel destinations. It was built at the turn-of-the-century shortly after the creation of Mount Rainier National Park, making it one of the first purpose-built lodgings for nature tourists in the region. Most of its charms remain intact a century on, and guests can look forward to beautifully appointed period rooms and a delightful English-style garden. Best of all, you’ll be under two kilometers from the national park, and an easy drive from the mountain itself.
Star Rating: 3*
Price: USD 110 – USD 219
Guest Rating: 8.6
Address: 37515 State Route 706 E, Ashford, WA 98304, United States
America’s Nature Travel Destinations Are a Breath of Fresh Air
With its dramatic mountain, serene lakes, and topographic oddities, the American outdoors offers some truly great escapes. But a visit to one of these nature travel destinations isn’t just rewarded with great views. Lacing up your hiking shoes and hitting the trail is an opportunity to trace the US’s unique natural history, enjoy a satisfying workout, and get a sense of yourself in this great land. Best of all, many highlights at nature travel destinations are free or close to it!
Where are you going to head on your next outdoor adventure? Let us know in the comments below!