While we were dreaming of a summer visit to Aix-en-Provence in France, in actuality we’re only going to make it to Aix, Indiana. COVID-19 might have knocked out the possibility of international travel this summer, but we’re not going to let that stop us from enjoying our vacay! We’re seeking new and creative locales that will get us out of town, meaning that clocking these lesser known (but still special) locations closer to home base are now officially “our thing.” Check out these ideas for getaways near major U.S. metropolitan areas—some close enough for day trips if an overnight seems overwhelming—then start planning, get packing, and let the good times roll again!
Near Washington D.C.: Clover Lick, West Virginia
Situated near the Monongahela National Forest, the town of Clover Lick, West Virginia, is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from the nation’s capital—substantially far enough away to be considered a real vacation from the ordinary if you live in the D.C. metro area. The draw here is (obvi) the massive Monongahela, which spans over 900,000 acres through the Allegheny Mountains and includes plenty of hiking trails, camping, bird watching, and kinds of other outdoor “fun-having.” Hitch your caboose to the Cass Scenic Railroad, a historic train line running along the Greenbrier River, with a restored depot in town that’s a vintage lover’s dream. Cabins and chalets rentals in this town and others nearby offer the chance to get away from it all and enjoy some much-needed fresh air and wide-open space without crowds (and without crowded hotels), which is something all city-dwellers are needing badly right now.
Near L.A.: Oak Glen, CA
Yes, the City of Angels is known for its year-round amazing weather. Yes, it also boasts an impressive number of things to do. But you shouldn’t feel bad about ditching it for a weekend away—and this rings especially true if you’ve been cooped up at home due to the coronavirus outbreak. Head inland, where you’ll discover Oak Glen situated in a valley between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Little San Bernardino Mountains (confusing, we know). This tree-filled locale is a prime spot for socially distant activities like picking your own apples or berries at local orchards, nature walks, and scenic drives—extra points if you drive through in a convertible, a So-Cal icon. Take time to smell the wildflowers at the Oak Glen Preserve or taste fresh apple cider or something more adult (wine!) at the Parrish Pioneer Ranch. One thing that’s important to note: this locale is a quite a bit cooler—up to 10 degrees on any given day—than the hot paved streets of Los Angeles, making it a perfect day trip or weekend getaway when temps rise in the city and the beaches are simply too busy to be comfortable.
Near Portland: Painted Hills, OR
One of the noted “Seven Wonders of Oregon,” the Painted Hills are around four hours away by car from Portland, making these artfully named rock formations a lot closer to home than other more famous painted ranges. (The best-known and most-photographed of the painted mountains in the world are in Zhangye, China and Cusco, Peru—both substantial plane rides away. Just saying!) This picturesque site with its painterly layers of sediment is actually just one the units of the larger John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, nestled deep in the central part of Oregon. It’s hard to fathom, but this site was created over 33 million years ago and visiting it will make you feel like you’ve stepped into another world...possibly one straight out of a Star Wars movie. Fuel up, eat up, and rest overnight in nearby Mitchell, which is only a 30-minute drive away. Or, you can bring a picnic to the Painted Hills and set up at a camping site nearby overnight. Just be aware that if you want to visit more of this striking national monument, the other units are not close by. But hey, these ancient fossil beds have been hanging around for millions of years—surely another hour or two in the car doesn’t sound so rough in comparison.
Near Chicago: La Salle, IL
A quick jaunt that’s a bit over an hour-and-a-half away from the Windy City, you could easily make a day trip to La Salle on the fly if you’re itching to get out of the metro area, and who isn’t these days? Close to Illinois’ top-rated and most-visited state park, Starved Rock, there’s still plenty of room to be six feet away from other quar-pods and still have a great time. If you can’t deal with the face-to-faceiness of a hotel room or B&B just yet and you’re not a clutch camper, stay overnight at one of the privately-run Starved Rock Lodge’s cabins for a secluded treat. After you’re through hiking, fishing, and kayaking through the limestone canyons and over 2,600 acres on the park, you’ll be thirsty, so head to August Hill Winery in nearby Peru, IL. While there is outdoor seating available at the tasting room, you might want to skip it and opt for a picnic outside instead, since the winery has now opened up the vineyard for reservations. “Wine on the Hill,” as their new socially distant endeavor is called, happens on Fridays and Saturdays. Simply book a spot, bring a blanket, and get down the important business of enjoying that new bottle of August Hill wine.
Near Denver: Crested Butte, CO
Denver residents have it pretty good between the plentiful outdoor space, microbreweries galore, and proximity to world-class skiing all winter (and some of spring). However, everybody, even Denverites, welcomes a summertime break from the city. We recommend taking that break in the adorable town of Crested Butte. This famed ski spot is be better known for its elegant slopes and snowy weather, but it’s also a lovely escape in warmer months that’s less than four-and-a-half hours away from downtown Denver. It’s easy to stay out-of-doors and the appropriate amount away from others when racing up a mountain on a bike, rafting a river, or climbing a rock face (for the truly brave among us). After you’ve worked up an appetite from the hard job of having all that fun, walk to Crested Butte’s main street, Elk Avenue. The town council recently made this normally two-way thoroughfare into a single one-way lane so that restaurants and bars can open up even more space for outdoor dining and curbside revelry.
Near Atlanta: Blue Ridge, GA
A short 90-minute car trip from Atlanta, Blue Ridge makes for a lovely little escape for ATLiens any time of year, but it’s particularly good in summer. That’s because of natural attractions like the Chattahoochee National Forest, with its 300 miles of hiking trails (some with waterfalls!), and Lake Blue Ridge, where you can rent a pontoon boat for a lazy day of floating and sunbathing in your Cupshe swimsuit. Don’t forget the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway if you have kids: a ride on the train is a great time-killer and smile-maker for little ones with short attention spans. The small-town atmosphere—there’s actually a Main Street that you can stroll—belies Blue Ridge’s sophistication. Restaurants like Harvest on Main, with its creative take on American cuisine, or the Black Sheep, with its giant outdoor patio that’s perfect for socially distant dining, rival the best of larger cities. If you’d rather pick your own food…er, actually more like your own snacks…visit Mercier Orchards to harvest a tree-fresh bushel of Georgia peaches!
Near New York City: Lake George, NY
It’s true that certain New Yorkers have already been hiding out in their Hamptons summer homes for months, while others skedaddled out of the city to their hipster havens along the Hudson river, aka: Brooklyn North. However, there’s more to life outside of the Big Apple than these trendy second-home locations. Lake George, approximately three-and-a-half hours away, is a whole different world. Here you’ll find plenty of high-octane activities like horseback riding, ziplining, and parasailing (which might be the ultimate socially distant sport, since you’re alone...in a parachute…high above a boat) along with all of the usual suspects like hiking, biking, and fishing. Explore the islands in the lake during the day or book a camping site on one of them overnight if you truly need to get away from humanity and reconnect with nature. Scores of waterfront restaurants on the lake means there’s plenty of patio space to enjoy the view and feel the breeze without being too close for comfort.