10 social distancing day trips from Washington, DC
1. Great Falls Billy Goat Trail
Great Falls Park is just outside the beltway on the Potomac River, where the river has carved a rock paradise that seems perfectly designed for an excellent afternoon of hiking. The Billy Goat trail is 3 miles of climbing over rocks and exploring hidden crevices. It’s a great workout.
2. Kayak in Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary
Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary is the newest marine sanctuary in the United States. Visitors can kayak or canoe through the largest ship graveyard in the western hemisphere, featuring over 225 sunken ships. It is located 30 miles south of DC in Charles County, Maryland.
Interested visitors can book a guided tour through Charles County Parks & Recreation https://www.charlescountyparks.com/parks/kayak-tours or bring their own canoe/kayak.
Teddy Roosevelt Island. Photo: Eric Lewis, Grand Atlas Tours
3. Explore Teddy Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island is mostly wilderness—deliberately so, and appropriate for the president who founded the National Park Service. Accessible only via a footbridge from the Virginia side of the Potomac River, the island is actually legally a part of the District of Columbia.
There are miles of trails to walk in relative solitude around the perimeter of the island and bird watchers will often find wading birds, raptors, and warblers. In spring and early summer, flower enthusiasts enjoy gorgeous wildflowers.
Another way to enjoy the island is to canoe/kayak; those so inclined can bring their own craft: simply you can put it in the water near the footbridge from the Virginia shore or near the culvert between the two parking lots. You can also rent a vessel in Georgetown; note that the Potomac is wide—and often busy!
Getting to the footbridge without a vehicle is possible. Pedestrians and bicyclists can reach the parking lot and footbridge by following the Mount Vernon Trail south from the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lynn St. in Rosslyn, near Key Bridge. The closest Metro station is Rosslyn, on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines.
The centerpiece of the island is a plaza with the centerpiece memorial, dedicated in 1967. It includes a 17-foot-tall statue by famed American sculptor Paul Manship and four large stone towers with a selection of Roosevelt's quotations. Contemplate them in relative solitude.
4. Canoeing/Tubing in Front Royal
The town of Front Royal, about an hour west of DC on I-66, features both the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. It is also a great launchpad for day trips on the plethora of local rivers nearby. Front Royal Outdoors offers canoeing, kayaking and tubing trips.
Bring friends and some beers, and enjoy a day on the relaxing Shenandoah River.
5. Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive is a 105 mile parkway that winds through the top of the mountain ridge through Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is a perfect way to spend a weekend driving through the mountains and chasing the sunset. It is especially magical in late summer and early fall, where meteor showers and brilliant sunsets abound, and the leaves of the mountains begin turning into their infinite shades of gold and red.
The park’s North entrance is in Front Royal, Virginia. There are 3 additional stops to highways that can take you home along the way. Campers will find a well-managed campground at Big Meadows Campground (51.2) and Loft Mountain Campground (Mile 79.5).
There are also several major hikes to fill the day. We recommend Old Rag for the experienced hiker and Stony Man for those wanting an easier day.
6. Manassas Battlefield
Just outside DC in Manassas, Virginia, is the site of the first and second battles of Bull Run, the first major conflict of the American Civil War. The battlefield and related era structures have been preserved, There are more than 40 miles of hiking trails available for people who want to spend a day stepping back in time.
7. National Arboretum
The U.S. National Arboretum was created in 1927 and is operated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Azalea, boxwood, daffodil, daylily, dogwood, holly, magnolia, and maple specimens are among those visitors to the Arboretum enjoy on foot. Other major garden features fill the 446 acres, including aquatic plants, the Friendship Garden, and a collection of conifers.
In the National Grove of State Trees, each state is represented across 30 acres. Walk among bald cypresses one might see in Louisiana. Just beyond are pines and birches one would recognize from New England. Redwoods represent California and cottonwoods will remind guests from Great Planes states of home.
A particular highlight is the National bonsai collection, and perhaps most famous are the National Capitol Columns, originally from the United States Capitol, replaced when the building was enlarged in the 19th century. It’s an especially popular place for wedding photos—you’re quite liable to see an engaged couple posing for very unique shots!
Picnicking is allowed in the National Grove of State Trees.
There are two entrances to the Arboretum: the R Street gate is open to cars and pedestrians 1pm to 2pm weekdays and from 8am to 5pm on weekends.
From 2pm to 5pm on weekdays, the R Street gate is pedestrian only.
The gate at 3501 New York Avenue is open to cars whenever the Arboretum is open.
Loudoun County has 40+ vineyards. Source: Visit Loudoun/Todd Wright Photography
8. Spend the weekend in Loudoun County
Loudoun County is a winning choice for a road trip in the greater DC area – without having to deal with the big city. Just 25 miles west of the nation’s capital, it offers a mix of rolling vineyards, mountains, and colonial towns that will delight travelers looking for off-the-radar choices. It’s a getaway that won’t make you feel like your social distancing – and the perfect place to plan an outdoor and safe vacation amidst this new era we live in.
There’s plenty to do for everyone without feeling like travelers are conceding to rigorous restrictions. Social distancers can take the LoCo Ale Trail and sample the best local craft beers Loudoun has to offer, responsibly of course. There’s also Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet, full of outdoor adventure activities including whitewater rafting, tubing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. The center also offers the possibility to camp, and features both cabins and camp space to bring your own tent. Or rent one of 12 vacation cottages along the Potomac River at Algonkian Regional Park. Keeping six feet away has never felt so good. Stroll or bike the Washington and Old Dominion Trail or get lost in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park with its Blue Ridge Mountain vistas, river views, and a generous dose of Civil War. Unwind later in the day with some rosé from one of the 40+ vineyards in the region.
9. Go apple and pumpkin picking near Frederick
Less than an hour Northwest of DC is a town called Frederick, Maryland. Frederick is surrounded by farmland, making it an ideal place to go in the Fall for apple picking and pumpkin patch outings. Summers Farm offers a pumpkin patch, corn maze, sunflower field, and all sorts of fall-themed activities that kids and their parents can enjoy.
The Lincoln Memorial at sunset. Photo by Laura Brown
10. Take a guided tour of the National Mall
DC has some of the world’s best monuments, and everyone should take a professionally guided tour of the National Mall sometime in their life. Our favorite tour company is Grand Atlas Tours, which offers affordable and personalized private tours of DC catered to your interests.
We especially recommend touring the monuments at night, when lights bring out the shining marble of the monuments against the night sky.
Here are our top picks for how to escape the crowds and find a slice of pristine wilderness in some of the country’s most visited national parks. Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice. Mineral King Found in Sequoia National Park Sure, you’ll have to drive an hour down a rugged dirt road to get to Sequoia’s Mineral King area, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada Range and plentiful hiking and backpacking opportunities. The trail up to Franklin Lakes (12 miles round trip) is an awesome day hike or overnight trek, passing by waterfalls and, in summer, spectacular wildflowers. Serious adventurers might want to tack on a 3-4 day journey over Franklin Pass to secluded Kern Hot Springs. East Inlet Trail Found in Rocky Mountain National Park Situated on the far less traveled, western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, the East Inlet Trail is a great jumping off point for hikers seeking big mountain vistas, wildlife, waterfalls, and, most importantly, solitude. The trail starts with Adams Falls, then steadily climbs up through a mountainous valley, with views getting better the further your climb. It’s a 16-mile round trip to Spirit Lake, and an even farther overnight trek for those who want to travel to Fourth Lake and over Boulder Grand Pass. Kolob Canyon is a little-visited area in Utah's Zion National Park © Nickolay Stanev / ShutterstockKolob Canyon Found in Zion National Park Located in the park’s northern, higher elevation section, Kolob Canyon has all the fabulous red rock and big vistas that you’d expect from Zion, but with far fewer crowds. Take a scenic drive along East Kolob Canyon Road, then go on a hike amidst towering, rust-colored fins and escarpments on the La Verkin Creek Trail. Serious trekkers won’t want to miss Kolob Arch (15 miles round trip – mostly flat) as a long day hike or a mellow backpacking trip along a gently burbling creek (permits available online or at the visitor center). Schooner Head Overlook & Tide Pools Found in Acadia National Park Download a tide schedule app onto your phone, then traverse the Park Loop Road to Schooner Head Overlook. Head down to the rocky seashore at low tide to check out numerous tide pools filled with barnacles, sea urchins, and crabs, just watch out for slippery seaweed on the rocks. Visitors comfortable scrambling on wet rocks will definitely want to check out Anemone Cave, which can be accessed only at low tide via careful rock-hopping. Like the NPS, we don't recommend entering the cave, but the interior can be safely viewed from the rocks nearby. You'll have quiet places like Hetch Hetchy Reservoir all to yourself © Nickolay Stanev / ShutterstockHetch Hetchy Found in Yosemite National Park Located in the least-visited northwestern quadrant of the park, Hetch Hetchy is an area John Muir once called “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.” Unfortunately, the valley was dammed to create a reservoir for drinking water, but the surrounding mountainous landscape is still spectacular and free of the usual hustle and bustle of the rest of Yosemite. Visitors can day hike here or check out an epic, 25-mile backpacking loop that traverses several of the area’s stunning lakes and waterfalls. Go in spring for rainbow bursts of alpine wildflowers. Sidewinder Canyon Found in Death Valley National Park Just 20 minutes by car from Badwater Basin lies a small, unsigned parking lot and a vague trail leading toward a series of three slot canyons. After hiking .6 miles up an imposing desert wash, visitors here can squeeze, shimmy, and scramble through narrow breccia rock formations. Grab detailed, printed directions for the 5-mile (round trip) journey at the ranger station in Furnace Creek if you’re at all nervous about off-trail exploration, and be sure to pack plenty of water. With the water from this nearby waterfall rushing by, the Sinks is a perfect place for a relaxing swim © Ehrlif / iStock / GettyThe Sinks Swimming Hole Found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Enjoy one of the most picturesque spots on the Little River Road scenic drive, located just 12 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Travelers here can hang out on the massive river boulders, relax near a rushing waterfall, and swim in the clear, natural pools to cool down on a hot, summer day. The bravest of your group might even want to try cliff diving from the nearby rocks, a popular activity among locals. Bogachiel River Trail Found in Olympic National Park Bypass the ever-popular Hoh Rain Forest Trail while still enjoying the same temperate rainforest ecosystem, filled with verdant spruce, mossy alders, and gardens of sword fern. Hikers can go the distance and parallel the river for a 12-mile round-trip out-and-back or simply turn around whenever they’ve seen enough. At .3 miles from the trailhead is a junction with the Kestner Homestead Loop, which is a lovely, accessible trail to an old barn, house, and outbuildings that colors the historic significance of the area. The Lone Star Geyser is a little out of the way, but it offers the spectacle of Old Faithful without the crowds © Kris Wiktor / ShutterstockLone Star Geyser Found in Yellowstone National Park Escape the madness at Old Faithful and visit Lone Star Geyser instead. A mellow, 4.8-mile (round trip) hike or bike ride down an old park road takes visitors here through a dense pine forest, occasionally opening up to beautiful meadow views. At the turn-around point is Lone Star Geyser. The geyser erupts about every three hours, so use a geyser times app to check the predicted schedule. It’s a great spot to hike to for lunch and hang out as you wait for the geyser to blow. Be sure to download the NPS Yellowstone App onto your phone before going on this hike – there’s little to no cell service inside the park. Shoshone Point captures the scope of the Grand Canyon without the crowds seen at more popular spots © Chr. Offenberg / ShutterstockShoshone Point Found in Grand Canyon National Park Shoshone Point has all the grandeur of Mather Point and Bright Angel, without the throngs of crowds that can make it difficult to snap a decent picture. That’s because travelers here have to walk an easy, 1-mile (each way) former service road to get to the viewpoint. Gaze out at layer upon layer of bright red canyon rock and try to catch a glimpse of the powerful Colorado River, a vertical mile beneath your feet. Go at sunrise to have the place all to yourself.
15 unbelievably cheap private islands you can rent in the US
Hotels? Too full of other guests. Vacation rentals? Too close to other people. A private island? Just right. Monmouth, Maine A classic A-frame house, hammock, rope swing, and canoe all await you on this private island on Maine’s Annabessacook Lake – for as low as $150 per night. The price includes a private ferry ride to and from the island for all guests and their luggage. Guests can spend the day walking the island’s 14 acres of trails, swimming, and kayaking, and then cook dinner in the fully-equipped kitchen or on a campfire under the stars. Juggler Lake, Minnesota This cheap private island on Juggler Lake is a budget hiker’s paradise, with 18 acres of lush forest to explore, as well as wild strawberries, ginger, and morels to forage for. Only about an hour and a half from Fargo, the island offers a relaxing nature-focused getaway for anyone looking for some peace and quiet. The A-frame cabin sleeps up to 10 people in three bedrooms and has all the amenities – including three patios, floating diving dock, and a fully-equipped kitchen. A boat is available for rent for just $200, and the private island itself costs only $375 per night. Hilton Head, South Carolina When you rent the Private Islands of Old House Cay, you get not just one private island but three – all for the low price of $536 a night. This lowcountry group of islands is just 10 minutes from Hilton Head, but feels like a whole world away. The main island included with the rental comes with an off-the-grid, modern home that’s equipped with all the creature comforts you’ll need for a relaxing getaway. A tour boat passing between islands at Thousand Islands National Park © Getty Images / iStockphoto Thousand Islands, New York For a cheap private island getaway in the Thousand Islands, rent Quadkin Island. The island’s spacious five-bedroom house can be yours (along with up to 11 of your friends) for as low as $471 per night – spectacular sunsets, swimming, and boating included. Hinesburg, Vermont Named Dogatraz Island, this one-acre getaway is perfect for pets and their owners. Set on Lake Iroquois, this Vermont escape offers swimming, fishing, bird-watching, and incredible sunsets. The two-bedroom house has all the amenities (including potable water, which isn’t always a guarantee on an island). A cozy outdoor seating area, fire pit, and long dock complete this outdoorsy rental. This cheap private island can host four people (and any number of dogs) for a mere $379 per night – dog treats not included, but kayaks and canoes are. Republic Island, Michigan For as little as $106 per night, Republic Island on Michigan’s Michigamme River can be rented to groups of four or less. The private island hosts a three-bedroom cedar log cabin that was built in the 1800s, and is surrounded by two-acres of densely wooded land. A boat is included with the rental to close the 300ft gap to the shoreline. Bremen, Maine This log cabin nestled on a private island in Maine can be rented for just $150 a night by groups of six or less. The gorgeously designed house features a fieldstone fireplace, cathedral ceiling, and a screened-in porch. The island is a short row away from mainland Damariscotta, and there are three kayaks and life jackets available for guests to use to explore the surrounding waters. Explore miles of pristine shoreline in Minnesota © GeorgeBurba / Getty Images Lake of the Woods, Minnesota Blackbird Island, on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, is just one mile from Canadian waters and provides the perfect base for exploring the 65,000 miles of pristine shoreline nearby. The private island’s charming cabin sleeps up to eight, and rental prices start at just $143 per night. Poulsbo, Washington From the shores of Poulsbo, Washington, guests are ferried over to their private paradise on Island Lake via an electric raft (a service that’s included in the $304/night rate). The island’s main house sleeps up to eight people, and for stays of four nights or longer, a second cabin will be made available for the group’s use so they can spread out even more. Gloucester, Rhode Island The large cabin on this private island comfortably sleeps 11 people, so a big group might pay just $31 per person per night – a true bargain considering the beautiful sandy beaches, rowboat, beach chairs, and picnic table that come along with the rental. The island is kept natural and wild, so there’s no running water or electricity, but there are solar lights, a wood-burning stove, firepit, and gas grill. Douglas, Massachusetts Forget camping – a private island in Douglas State Forest can be rented for almost the same price as a campground spot. Dodd Island sleeps eight people, bringing the cost down to $34 per person per night. The 7-acre cheap private island is perched on Whitins Reservoir, a warm and shallow lake with visibility down to 40ft, making it a paradise for snorkelers and divers. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire Foley Island is a private island surrounded by the beautiful waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. A secluded swimming area and over-water sundeck make this a true island paradise, and it can all be rented by up to 12 people for just $386 per night. Sands Island, North Carolina Sands Island rents for $325 per night and gives groups of up to four 32-acres of undeveloped land to explore. The private island’s two-bedroom cottage is the only building on the entire island and was built from locally milled pine. It uses solar power to seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment. Eagle Island, Georgia A 1500-sq-ft house with wrap-around screened porch, hot tub, and wood-burning fireplace can be yours for as little as $475 per night on Eagle Island, which includes access to the entire private island. Boat rentals, fishing tours, and eco-adventures are also available to book at an extra cost. Swansboro, North Carolina This famous private island in Swansboro, North Carolina, has appeared on the Island Hunters television show. If you missed the episode, the island has a small cabin that sleeps up to four people. Surrounded by white sandy beaches, the island is great for relaxing, but not too far from civilization (you can kayak right up to nearby bars and restaurants with dock entry). Rates for this ultra-cheap private island start at $101 per night. This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
Budget Travel's favorite Fourteeners
The United States claims at least 93 fourteeners and they are all located in only four states. Colorado is home to the most fourteeners with a total of 56, next comes Alaska at 20, California with 14, and 3 from Washington. Mountain trails above 14,000 feet are given a difficulty rating based on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). Ranging from one to five, class one mountains are the easiest and typically have good trails while class fives require technical climbing involving ropes and belaying. Be sure to research individual trails before you start so that you know what to prepare for. Traveling specifically to access fourteeners is common and many people have goals surrounding fourteeners. Here are some highlights of the US’s most mighty mountains. Since there are 93 fourteeners in the United States, choosing one to suit your needs and desires is very possible. Here is our list of our favorite Fourteeners: Most Scenic The scenic Coloradan mountains called Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the state, and in a state with the most fourteeners– that’s a lot of photographs. The Maroon Bells consist of Maroon Peak (14,163 ft.) and North Maroon Peak (14,019). Many people opt for a loop that includes both peaks, takes between 3 and 4 days, and covers 26.6 miles. Be advised though, those who choose to embark on this trail must have a permit for the loop. Grays and Torreys peaks. ©Image by Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock Best for beginners Although in the tenth highest summit in the Rocky Mountains, Gray’s Peak is one of the easiest climbs as far as fourteeners go. Many experts believe Gray’s peak to be one of the best fourteeners for beginners. This is often attributed to its relatively short length, seven miles round trip. Furthermore, hikers do not gain much elevation during the course of the trek, only 2,769 ft. Colorado's most famous As the second most visited mountain in the world, Pike’s Peak has made millions marvel. It is accessible by cog railway, driving, and of course hiking. At the top, there is a gift shop famous for its donuts, refreshing after the 13.5 mile ascent. There are many different points of access, but the most convenient is located only 12 miles west of downtown Colorado Springs, making trail head accessible by rideshare. Be warned however, the ride to the base may be easy, but the climb can be quite tough. Even with an elevation gain of 7,400 ft., the hike is still rated at a class two YDS. Just as there are several trailheads from which to begin, there are also several trails by which to ascend. One of the most difficult, and well known methods is through using the Incline. The Incline is a mile of railroad tie stairs that go straight up Pikes Peak. They cut out 3 miles of the 13.5 mile trek. Highest At 20,308 feet, Alaska’s Denali is the highest mountain not only in the United States, but also in the entirety of North America. After Mount Everest and Aconcagua, Denali is the third most isolated mountain in the world. Named Mount McKinley from 1896-2015, this mountain was restored to its Koyukon Alaskan Native name by former president Barack Obama. It is not for the faint heart, as climbing this fourteener averages between 17 and 21 days and requires mental, physical, and logistical preparation. It should only be attempted by expert mountaineers. ©Gleb Tarro/Getty Images Washington favorite Mount Rainier is a Washington favorite for good reason. As an active volcano, the mountain has a wild amount of flora and fauna. Additionally, it is the origin of five major rivers which provide diversity to the landscape. But the mountain’s real claim to fame is the fact that it is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, meaning there is ice on it year round. The mountain has an elevation gain of 13,219. With over 260 miles of hiking trails, the YDS class varies. It is also a National Park and can be accessed by driving 3 hours southeast from Seattle. Mt. Shasta in California. ©Zack Frank/Shutterstock California favorite Mount Shasta is the shortest class four fourteener in California at 14,162 feet. Because of the persistent year round ice, it is recommended to carry an ice pick while hiking. Additionally, a permit is required to hike the peak. Route dependent, the climb is typically ten to twelve miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 7,000 feet. Be sure to visit the town of Mount Shasta just below the peak for a vegan smoothie. Grace Klaus is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.
Amid COVID-19, Americans are flocking to the relative safety of the outdoors. Recreating in national parks delivers fresh air, stunning natural surrounds, physical exercise, and stress relief. However, as the flag went up for summer outdoor recreation over Memorial Day weekend, visitors flooded park viewpoints, trails, and shuttles, making maintaining social distance impossible even in the great outdoors. The National Park System oversees 62 parks, so there are plenty of places to explore beyond the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Here are 10 of the least visited national parks. Don’t confuse a lack of visitors with a lack of merit. These parks are remote, which keeps the number of travelers to a minimum. However, they boast magnificent — and untrammeled — scenic beauty. 1. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska This park’s name is no misnomer: It hugs the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s northern reaches. The 8.4 million acres here offer natural splendor largely untouched by humans, with no roads, trails, or established campsites. This is the domain of enormous herds of caribou, musk ox, moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Only the most rugged explorers, who have solid outdoor survival skills, should venture here. However, a stable of outfitters, guide services, and air taxi operators, who offer flight-seeing trips, can ease the challenges of your expedition. Alaska’s Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, Wrangell-St. Elias, Katmai, and Kenai Fjords also rank among the country’s most far-flung and least visited parks. Take note of Alaska’s COVID-19 travel restrictions before booking your flight. Kenai Fjords National Park. Photo by ©James + Courtney Forte/Getty Images 2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan The centerpiece of Isle Royale is its eponymous 45-mile long island. Hiking the 165 miles of trails there is only an appetizer: The park also includes 400 smaller islands and some 80 percent of it lies underwater. There’s plenty of territory to explore both for trekkers and scuba divers, kayakers, canoers, and anglers. Wildlife watchers will find plenty of sights here, too. From the heavily forested shoreline, visitors may spot eagle or osprey. Although they’re harder to spot, an isolated species of wolves roams here, too. Isle Royale’s ecology is so unique it doubles as an International Biosphere Reserve. 3. North Cascades National Park, Washington Travelers don’t have to venture to Alaska or Patagonia to see epic glaciers. North Cascades has the highest number in the lower 48 states with some 300 clinging to craggy peaks here. In less than a three-hour drive from Seattle, visitors will find a vast wilderness of glacier-carved crevasses and crisp turquoise lakes (such as Diablo and Ross, two of the park’s most popular). Around 400 miles of trails ribbon through forested valleys, trace ridges, and ascend spires. For an alternative to all that trekking, travelers drive the North Cascades Highway, which offers picturesque views from early May to late November. 4. National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa Set more than 2,600 miles southwest of Hawai’i, this national park earns the distinction as the southernmost in the U.S. and one of the most remote. Getting there pays dividends with a South Pacific paradise spread across three islands — Tutuila, Ta'ū, and Ofu — and some 4,000 underwater acres. Fruit bats, which frequent the island rainforests, and the Indo-Pacific coral reefs, which have more than 950 species of fish, are two top attractions. The chance to experience the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture is also reason to make the journey. 5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida The Dry Tortugas are a much-sought-after place to escape in the Florida Keys. A collection of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas are as well known for scenic beauty as pirate lore. The isles are only accessible via boat or plane, so they’re one of the most secluded units in the national park system. The park protects 100-square-miles of sandy shores, shoals, and ocean waters. In those ocean depths, visitors will find coral and seagrass communities that rank among the Keys’ best. Here, shipwrecks are just as common as marine life. Garden Key, home to the massive Fort Jefferson, is often the jumping off point for park visits. Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo by Laura Brown 6. Great Basin National Park, Nevada Four and a half hours north of Las Vegas, Great Basin National Park delivers natural wonders from the cosmos to underground. The International Dark Sky Park, an accolade it earned thanks to its low light pollution and clear views of astrological phenomena, offers particularly heavenly views from Wheeler Peak. Hikers can reach the 13,063-foot summit via an 8.6-mile hike; however, many visitors ascend via Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (June to October). From there, travelers can take in panoramic views of the park’s mountain slopes, which contain stands of bristlecone pines, the oldest living organisms on Earth. The sights are just as impressive below ground, where tours of Lehman Caves reveal elaborate stalagmites, stalactites, “soda straws,” and other formations. 7. Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands The island of St. John is popularly thought of as a polished resort destination; however, more than 60 percent of the island is set aside as a rugged national park. Entering through Cruz Bay, Virgin Islands National Park protects rainforest hikes, sandy beaches, and complex coral reefs (a marine reserve lies offshore). The 20-square-mile park is more than a tropical playground; the landscape delivers a history lesson, too. Travelers may hike to plantation ruins that date to the island’s sugar trade days, as well as ancient petroglyphs the Taino people left. 8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina Set in the middle of South Carolina and only 30-minutes away from the city of Columbia, Congaree National Park feels like a faraway wilderness. In fact, its stands of towering loblolly and white pines, and swamps make it seem like a fantasy movie set. The park is also home to 130-foot-tall bald cypress, and it contains the most ancient stands of old-growth cypress of anywhere in the world. Elevated board walks meander through its towering forests. The 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop offers the shortest tour and departs from the visitor’s center. For another type of trail, paddlers can follow the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail deep into the forests on a float to the Congaree River. 9. Pinnacles National Park, California Visitors may come to Pinnacles National Park for the geology, but they’re also treated to remarkable fauna and flora. Volcanic activity 23 million years ago created a weird and wonderous landscape of rock spires, towers, canyons, and even caves. The park boasts colossal talus caves, which boulders created when they lodged in narrow canyons. Visitors can hike to and through Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves. Townsend’s big-eared bats frequent these caves, so they’re sometimes closed to visitors. Travelers can also spot California condors, California red-legged frogs, and more than 100 species of wildflowers in the park. Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Laura Brown10. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas Texas isn’t just made up of plains. It has peaks, too, and four of the state’s tallest lie within the boundaries of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Guadalupe Peak, the highest in the Lone Star State, looms large. An 8.5-mile hike ascends the summit and offers expansive views over the exposed, ancient fossil reef bed that makes up the park’s landscape. The relatively few visitors who venture are rewarded with true solid among craggy peaks, sand dunes, and desert canyons sprawling across the Texas-New Mexico state line. Keep in mind: Due to evolving COVID-19 conditions, check the park’s website in advance of your visit to ensure it’s open. The CDC recommends following social distance guidelines within parks and wearing cloth masks when social distancing isn’t possible. Finally, many national park gateway communities are small, rural towns. Be sure to follow local guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing to keep residents safe.