Sunday, October 31, 2021

17 Places Visit Without The Crowds

Overlooking New River Gorge via the Endless Wall Trail. West Virginia, 2019.

Admit it, you're already planning spring break and next summer's vacations (if you haven't already begun the bookings). I know I have our list of places to visit in 2022 down as we settle on dates later this year. Sure we do some touristy things when we travel. Isn't that half of the fun? Seeing all those places that are plastered everywhere? Of course, sometimes the crowds can be too much. The real bread and butter of our epic vacations happen when we chose to go at a less busy time or places off the beaten path.

 We've had entire State and National Parks to ourselves when we go in the off season! We've watched the sunset in Canyonlands National Park with no one else around because we chose to go in the evening. We've hiked trails with deer walking next to us in Voyaguers because we went in the beginning of November, on a drizzly day. We played in the ocean at dusk with wild horses in Assateague National Seashore because we skipped the busy part of the day. We have pages of experiences like this because we did things a little different. Other than visiting during the off season, you can also go to less crowded, less touristy destinations that still pack a punch and quench the travel thirst.

Looking for such places? Here are 17 places that fit the bill:

1.) Olympia, WA. We were there for an afternoon and I instantly fell in love. The city has a laid back vibe that fits somewhere between mountain and rainforest people. The gateway to the Olympic peninsula, Olympia has it all. Big city amenities, small town feel, farmers markets full of fresh produce, hiking both within the city, and easy day trips to the mountains.

2.) Cape Lookout State Park. The entire Oregon coast is one big tourist attraction, but some have more of a tourist feel than others. Cape Lookout State Park features hiking along the cliffs, a beach, and campgrounds. It does not seem to have the same, Instagram enthused tourists that overwhelm Cannon Beach. At the State Park, you'll get the views, you'll have the fun, without being asked to take someone's perfect picture.

3.) Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, ID. Southern Idaho does nothing for me. Excluding this place. Once you begin to see the blackened land you'll feel like you're on another planet! Not only are there hiking trails, but you can climb around in lava tubes (a fun way to say caves formed out of lava), hike up the very volcanos that are responsible for the area, and enjoy the surrounding mountains.

4.) Lake Coeur d'Alene, ID. While I don't understand the current obsession with southern and central Idaho, northern Idaho left me in awe. Lake, mountains, resorts. A week at a relaxing lake house in the mountains is superb.

5.) Turner Falls/Chickasaw National Recreation Area, OK. Chickasaw was once Platt National Park and it's still kept up as though it is one. Campgrounds are well kept, hiking trails, nature preserves, waterfalls, and swimming holes make this recreation area a playground for outdoor enthusiast alike. Nearby Turner Falls is much the same way, but also features cabins and restaurants inside the private grounds. While you're in the area, do yourself a favor and grab a fried pie from Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies. You can thank me later. 

6.) Pisgah National Forest, NC. If you're looking for a Smoky Mountains getaway, but don't want to deal with the millions of people who head there each year, aim for Pisgah National Forest. Settled in the mountains of western North Carolina outside of Asheville, not only is the forest less busy, but it offers chances to slide down waterfalls. Who can pass that adventure up? 

7.) Fenwick Island, DE. Just North of Ocean City, MD, where the boardwalk and beaches are crammed with people, sits Fenwick Island. Quiet, but offering the same fun beaches with half the crowds.

8.) Assateague Island, MD. Again, it you want to skip the tourism of Ocean City, head to Assateague Island National Seashore. You may have the chance to swim, see wild horses, hike, and build sand castles on the beach.

9.) Matthiessen State Park, IL. Starved Rock State Park may be the place to head to, but it can get unbearably crowded. Head (literally) down the highway to Mattheissen State Park. There you can hike a canyon, fish, or enjoy the lake.

10.) Ely, MN. Looking for a quiet lake adventure? Northern Minnesota's Boundary Waters Area is your place. Rent a houseboat on a lake, kayak, take in some beautiful state parks. It has it all.

11.) Bayfield, WI. The same beautiful sites as the Minnesota's North Shore, but just the other side of it. Bayfield has charm, all of the outdoor activities, and then some. Be sure to drive Hwy 13 along Lake Superior and make a stop at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Trail.

12.) Scottsbluff, NE. When you think of geological features, Western Nebraska probably isn't the first place that pops into your head, but it should be. With cool features such as Chimney Rock, Scottsbluff National Monument, North Platte River, and Lake Minatare around the area, it really must be put on travel lists.

13.) Big Sky, MT. Yellowstone, Glacier, and Tetons National Parks usually take the focus in this area, but go off the beaten path a bit and head to Big Sky. Skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, with lift rides to the top of Lone Mountain make this small mountain town a relaxing getaway.

14.) Ogden, UT. On the edge of the Wasatch Mountains, north of Salt Lake City sits Ogden. An unassuming town that's on a mountain with suburban feels. A vacation in suburbia? Hear me out. It provides easy access to all those fun places in Northern Utah: Park City, Salt Lake City, Provo, Bear Lake, the Great Salt Lake. Plus, it's an outdoor haven with hiking and biking trails all around.

15.) Fredericksburg, TX. In the heart of Texas Hill Country lies Fredericksburg with local wineries, fun shops and restaurants, wildflowers galore, amazing state parks. 

16.) New Mexico: Tularosa, Alamagordo, Taos, Santa Fe. Anywhere in New Mexico is magical, of this I'm convinced. Tularose and Alamagordo provide a great base for adventures to White Sands National Parks, Gila Cliff Dwellings, hiking in Lincoln National Forest, and pistacio farms. Taos and Santa Fe sit in Northern New Mexico and provide excellent hiking, hot springs, delicious food, breweries, plenty of National Monuments, white water rafting, skiing, and so much more. Truly New Mexico is like a little slice of heaven. I don't think you could go wrong with any place in that state.

17.) New River Gorge National Park, WV. Plenty of small towns dot the river that provides endless hiking trails, amazing views, white water rafting, fishing, and so much more.