Want to Escape the Crowds on Your Summer Vacation? Here's Where to Go
Ditch the tourist track for a more secluded escape.
Nothing ruins a relaxing summer vacation quite like massive crowds. After all, who wants to lounge on a beach with hundreds of other sun-baked bodies? Or go to a stunning national park just to be surrounded by hordes of children and campers? Not us! Which is why we've found the best under-the-radar destinations, from a secluded wine region in Virginia and a windswept New England island to Hemingway's mountain hideaway in Idaho. We promise that you'll have these blissful American escapes all to yourself.
Loudoun County, Virginia
How to get there: Drive 45 miles west of Washington, D.C., via VA-267.
Less than an hour outside Washington, D.C., you'll find the burgeoning wine region of Loudoun County. The area has 40 vineyards—more than any other county in the state of Virginia. Cruise by bucolic horse farms and historic estates on your way to a tasting at premier wineries such as Creek's Edge, Breaux, and 868 Estate, which has a fabulous farm-to-table restaurant as well.
Where to stay: Salamander Resort & Spa features an equestrian stable, culinary garden, and 23,000-square-foot spa. Golfers, meanwhile, will want to snag a tee time at the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed golf course at Landsdowne Resort & Spa.
Tillamook Coast, Oregon
How to get there: Drive 70 miles west of Portland via US-26 and OR-6.
It's easy to overload one's senses on Oregon's Tillamook Coast, an hour west of Portland. Cruise along the Three Capes Scenic Loop, hike through the untouched coastal rainforest of Oswald West State Park, and eat your way through the North Coast Food Trail, starting with some delicious cheese from Tillamook Creamery. The area offers plenty of festivals and events throughout the summer months, but the crowds are far less intense than those you'd encounter on other West Coast trips.
Where to stay: Headlands Coastal Lodge & Spa made its grand debut two years ago, featuring 33 chic guest rooms and 12 cozy cottages as well as a seafood-focused restaurant and daily activities, including surf lessons, sunset dune hikes, and vinyāsa yoga classes.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
How to get there: Take the 45-minute ferry from St. Marys. Greyfield Inn also operates a private boat from Fernandina Beach, Florida. The closest airport is Jacksonville (JAX), just 30 miles away.
Easy-to-access Tybee Island bears the brunt of visitors from Savannah, while Cumberland Island lies blissfully off the beaten path 100 miles south. Here, wild horses trot along the 18 miles of isolated white sand beaches, Spanish moss drips from oak tree groves, and herons stand stoically on marsh banks. Plus, you'll have the entire island to yourself as there's only one hotel.
Where to stay: Greyfield Inn is a gorgeous 19th-century mansion formerly owned by the Carnegie family. The 200-acre property oozes Southern charm, with a pleasant veranda and an organic garden.
Bering Land Bridge Preserve, Alaska
How to get there: Hire a small bush plane or fly your own private plane to the Serpentine Landing Strip.
With 100,000-acre Imuruk volcanic fields, Serpentine hot springs, and dramatic granite outcrops, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is a wild landscape that's like nothing you've ever seen—and one that few people ever do. It's home to indigenous communities who live off the land like their ancestors did for millennia, right at the crux of continental crossroads that changed life in the Western Hemisphere back in the Pleistocene Epoch. If you really want to escape summer travelers, it's hard to beat one of the most remote places in all of North America.
How to get there: Fly to Honolulu International Airport (HNL) or Kahului Airport (OGG) in Maui, and transfer via a local plane to Lanai Airport (LNY). Ferry service is also available from Lahaina and Manele harbors in Maui.
When most vacationers go to Hawaii, they'll probably choose Maui's beachfront resorts or the bustling big island. But Lana'i, the state's smallest inhabited island just nine miles off the coast of Maui, has surprisingly remained under the radar among tourists. Spend your days lazing about on the shores of Hulopoe Bay, a gorgeous white sand beach that offers prime views of spinner dolphins playing in the crystalline Pacific.
Where to stay: Lana'i is home to three retreats, such as the luxurious Four Seasons Resort Lanai and Hotel Lanai, a 1930s hideaway with 11 intimate guest rooms. The all-inclusive Four Seasons Hotel Lanai at Koele, a Sensei Retreat opened in November 2019 with a Nobu restaurant and custom wellness programs.
Black Mountain, North Carolina
How to get there: Drive 16 miles east of Asheville via I-40.
While nearby Asheville attracts an eclectic culinary crowd, Black Mountain is barely known outside of the South. The town of 8,000 is home to gorgeous natural attractions (like Chimney Rock and Lake Lure), a rich arts scene, and a walkable downtown with bakeries, breweries, and boutiques selling locally-made crafts. Pro tip: Stop at Blue Ridge Biscuit Company for its homemade pecan buns and breakfast biscuits.
Where to stay: Red Rocker Inn is a quintessential bed and breakfast in an 1896 Victorian house.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
How to get there: Drive 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Nevada, via I-15; or 200 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, via US-89.
Moab, the gateway city to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, is packed to the gills in the summer months. And Zion gets so busy, the park has had to start up a shuttle to manage traffic and parking. Meanwhile, nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is equally awe-inspiring with barely any visitors. Encompassing the last lands to be mapped in the continental United States, it offers colorful rock formations and many slot canyons, including Zebra, Peek-a-Boo, and Spooky.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
How to get there: Drive 275 miles north of Minneapolis via I-35 and US-53.
While Maine's Acadia National Park and Washington's Olympic National Parks swell with summer warriors, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota still keeps its cool. With more than 500 islands, 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and pristine waterways, it offers the same sort of aquatic activities with a fraction of the people.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
How to get there: Drive 240 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, via US-50 and US-6; or 300 miles north of Las Vegas, Nevada, via US-93.
From the 13,063-foot summit of Wheeler Peak and the underground stalactites of marble Lehman Caves to ancient bristlecone pine groves and the sage-covered foothills, Great Basin National Park is diverse and stunning no matter which part you choose to explore. It is also one of the least visited national parks in the country, offering visitors pure unadulterated wilderness and some of the darkest night skies in the world.
Block Island, Rhode Island
How to get there: Year-round ferries are available from Point Judith; seasonal ferry service runs from Newport and Fall River as well as New London, Connecticut, and Montauk, New York.
Far less busy than neighboring Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, Block Island has just as much New England nautical appeal. The landscape is straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, with windswept beaches, freshwater ponds, and postcard-perfect lighthouses. Go to the far side of the island (away from the town of New Shoreham) for your own secluded escape.
Where to stay: Rest your head at Payne's Harbor View Inn, a peaceful three-story stay just a mile from the main street.
How to get there: Drive 150 miles east of Boise via I-84 and US-20.
Ketchum and the greater Sun Valley resort area have long drawn adventure enthusiasts—Ernest Hemingway even spent a lot of time in the region during his day. The mountainous region is dotted with hot springs and watering holes for those who want to swim, fish, or hike without another soul to be seen. But when you're feeling a bit social, Ketchum's quaint downtown is full of shops, cafés, and galleries, as well as the impressive Sun Valley Museum of Art.
Sonoma Coast, California
How to get there: Drive 70 miles north of San Francisco via US-101.
Though oenophiles flock to Sonoma for its famous vineyards, the California county has a secret in store: 55 miles of untouched Pacific coastline. Head to the 6,000-acre Salt Point State Park, where you can hike more than 20 miles of trails throughout soaring redwood forests and rocky beaches. And unlike Big Sur, you'll have the entire nature preserve to yourself.
Where to stay: Reserve a room at Timber Cove, a rustic retro resort with mid-century modern furnishings, or The Sandman, a former roadside inn that's been revamped with quirky decor, bocce ball courts, and a poolside bar.
Grand Valley, Colorado
How to get there: Drive 275 miles west of Denver, Colorado, via I-70; or 280 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, via US-6 and I-70. The closest airport is Grand Junction (GJT), just 35 miles away.
A few hours west of Denver, Colorado's Grand Valley is one of the most beautiful outdoor playgrounds in the country. It looks sort of similar to southern Utah—but is a heck of a lot quieter than Moab—surrounded by rivers, canyons, mesas, mountains, and lots of red rocks. Comprised of Grand Junction, Palisade, and Fruita, the landscape is dramatically different from anywhere else in the state, offering all kinds of outdoor activities from hiking, climbing, and canyoneering to mountain biking, off-road driving, and golf.
Paso Robles, California
How to get there: Drive 110 miles southwest of Fresno via CA-41; or 160 miles south of San Jose via US-101; or 205 miles north of Los Angeles via I-5.
During the summer months, wine lovers travel from all over America to experience the world-class vineyards in Napa and Sonoma valleys, infringing upon the tranquility of those who want to sip their vino in peace. Lesser-known Paso Robles has equally elegant wineries that produce Rhône-style reds as well as plenty of distilleries, breweries, and cideries to mix it up. You also won't want to miss the acclaimed art installation, "Field of Light," which features 15 acres of rolling hillsides adorned with thousands of colorful LED lights. It's on view through June 2020.
Where to stay: For a quick trip to Europe, there's Allegretto Vineyard Resort, a Tuscan villa surrounded by olive orchards and manicured Mediterranean-style gardens. Splurge on a sprawling suite with a fireplace or private terrace.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
How to get there: Year-round ferries are available from St. Ignace; seasonal ferry service runs from Mackinaw City, which is 290 miles north of Detroit via I-75.
Set in the middle of Lake Huron, this isolated island, is like a time-warp to the 19th century. Only 500 residents live on the pedestrian-only island, where horse buggies trot down Main Street past old-school general stores, charming inns, and artist markets. It's pretty adorable and the lack of transportation—or easy access—keeps the crowds to a minimum.
Where to stay: Mission Point is a gorgeous 18-acre property where you can while away the days playing tennis matches, lounging in Adirondack chairs on the lakeside lawn, watching films at the historic movie theater, or getting pampered at the salon and spa.
How to get there: Drive 15 miles west of San Francisco via I-80. The closest airports are Oakland (OAK) and San Francisco (SFO).
Mark Twain allegedly once said, "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco." No one has ever verified that the author actually uttered those words, but the Californian city sure is cold—and overflowing with tourists—in what is usually the warmest time of year. Just across the bay, Berkeley has neither of those problems. Far fewer people venture here, and the weather is far warmer and sunnier than it is on the peninsula. Spend an afternoon browsing the galleries at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive or enjoy an outdoor concert at the Greek Theatre, where big-name artists like John Legend and Old Dominion are set to play this season.
How to get there: Drive 145 miles northwest of Boston, Massachusetts, via MA-2.
Stratton may be best known as a winter ski destination, but the dramatic scenery that makes it a powdery paradise is just as impressive in the summer months—with far fewer people clogging up the runs. Whether you want to mountain bike through the forests or take a chill gondola ride up to Stratton's one-of-a-kind summit yoga deck, it's a great place to escape from the stresses of modern life.
Where to stay: The Equinox is more of a historic landmark than a hotel. The property dates back to the American Revolution and has hosted four U.S. presidents. Want a more contemporary alternative? Look no further than the Kimpton Taconic Hotel.
How to get there: Drive 100 miles north of Denver, Colorado, via I-25.
Get a taste of the Wild West in this former supply depot. Considered the nation's rodeo and railroad capital, Cheyenne is home to numerous museums and attractions celebrating both cowboys and conductors. (The Frontier Days cultural center is particularly popular.) Plus, it's a quick escape for city slickers seeking a crowd-free western getaway, just 90 minutes from Denver. You'll love it for the art and adventure—and a really cool selection of cowboy boots.
Where to stay: Built in 1911, The Historic Plains Hotel still stuns with its grand lobby and original stained glass skylights.
Fox Cities, Wisconsin
How to get there: Drive 35 miles south of Green Bay via I-41.
Fox Cities are a string of charming towns that sit on the banks of Fox River, a waterway that streams from Lake Winnebago to Green Bay. Each enclave has an undiscovered Midwest gem, from Appleton's Hearthstone Historic House Museum (look for the original Thomas Edison light fixtures) to Neenah's Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass, which houses the world's largest collection of glass paperweights. The area is also ideal for nature enthusiasts thanks to the many kayaking, hiking, and cycling trails that follow the river by bridges and boardwalks.
If you're looking for more places to dodge the summer crowds, you may want to skip the 50 Most Overrated Tourist Attractions in the World.