Just because we’re well into summer doesn’t mean it’s too late to plan an awesome and affordable vacation.
Here’s how: Focus on travel destinations that have fallen off the radar. While the crowds they once attracted may have moved on to trendier trips, many of these spots are still delightful places to visit. The good news for travelers is that these choices tend to offer lower prices, more availability and attentive service. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Silver Springs, Florida
If you’ve ever watched the 1960s TV show “Sea Hunt,” early Tarzan movies or the classic 1954 film “The Creature From the Black Lagoon,” you’ve seen Silver Springs, Florida, about 90 minutes northwest of Orlando.
The lush habitat surrounding one of the largest artesian springs in the world once was Florida’s biggest tourist attraction — well before there was a Disney World — but it fell on hard times amid pollution and overuse of the spring water, as NPR reported. In 2013, Florida’s park service melded the springs with Silver River State Park to create Silver Springs State Park, and has worked to restore its pristine waters and wildlife — from cormorants and alligators to manatees. Now is a good time to enjoy Silver Springs’ waterways on a glass-bottom boat tour or by kayak. Once word gets out that the area is returning to its former glory, expect crowds to grow.
2. The Poconos, Pennsylvania
The Pocono Mountains area in northeastern Pennsylvania has long been known for both recreation and romance. You couldn’t pick up a bridal magazine for decades without paging through ad after ad showing newlyweds honeymooning Poconos-style, enjoying indulgent bubble baths in champagne-glass-shaped whirlpool tubs.
But you don’t have to be a bride or groom to fall in love with the 2,600-square-mile-area known as The Poconos. The bubbly tubs still exist, but the area’s real focus is outdoor recreation. Visitors enjoy fly fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, biking and more. Most lodging in the area is comfortable though not posh, in keeping with the outdoorsy attractions, but guests can also seek out more upscale B&Bs and hotels.
3. Sedona, Arizona
The Red Rock landscape of Sedona, Arizona, near Flagstaff, is jaw-dropping. Expect to be continually dazzled, whether you’re rock climbing, hiking, biking or just honing your photographic talents amid the city’s famed colorful sandstone formations. Even the local McDonald’s fits in with the desert color scheme, as it’s the only McD’s location in the world featuring turquoise, not golden arches. Popular activities in Sedona include Jeep tours, awe-inspiring art galleries and sumptuous spas. Trek out to see the many nearby ancient cliff dwellings and pueblos for a fascinating history lesson.
Sedona is a destination for New Age spiritual quests as well. The area is home to a number of “vortexes,” spots where some believe swirling natural energy rises from the earth. Psychic and astrological readings, aura photography and spiritual healers abound, and gift shops selling crystals cater to the mystical side of Sedona souvenir-hunters.
4. Olympic National Park, Tree Root Cave, Washington
Olympic National Park in Washington state features a combination of forest, coastal, and mountain ecosystems — creating a living laboratory for scientists and students. It’s also a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, as designated by the United Nations.
What do all those fancy terms mean for travelers? First off, the park is a great place to hike, bike and get in tune with the outdoors. And here’s a tip: One of the more unusual attractions there is easy to miss — be sure to seek out Tree Root Cave, a favorite landmark for many hikers. This enormous tree still thrives despite what seems to be its entire root system hanging over a cave, with no apparent grounding. Find it on Kalaloch Beach in Forks — and yes, “Twilight” fans, Forks is the supposed home of Edward and Bella and that whole vampire clan.
5. The 1,000 Islands, Alexandria Bay, New York
The 1,000 Islands (actually closer to 2,000, some say) are scattered throughout the sections of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Lake Ontario between upstate New York and southeastern Ontario, Canada. The pull of the islands made it a major tourist destination in the 1960s. Today the tourists have dwindled, but the area still boasts cozy shops, wineries, British tea rooms and recreational and historic tours.
When you visit, be sure to visit Boldt Castle on Heart Island. Hotelier George C. Boldt began construction on the mansion in 1900 as a gift to his wife Louise, but she died in 1904 just months before it was completed. Her grief-stricken husband abandoned the castle and never returned to the area. Today, visitors can tour both the 120-room castle and take a free shuttle boat to the home’s impressive Yacht House on nearby Wellesley Island (at press time, the Yacht House was temporarily closed due to unusually high water levels)
6. Wisconsin Dells
Midwesterners know there’s a lot more to the Wisconsin Dells than waterparks, though the area does bill itself “The Waterpark Capital of the World.” Yes, the Dells has all kinds of wacky and wild water attractions, but don’t get so caught up in them you miss the natural beauty of the canyons, moss-covered landscapes, and walkways. See even more when you take a horse-drawn carriage ride, a boat tour or other guided quest.
Enjoy old-fashioned fun in the evening at the Big Sky Drive-In Theater, and spend days horseback riding, golfing and visiting wineries. Drive-In Theater too tame for you? The Dells also offers a 4-D “Dive-In” Theater, where moviegoers must be braced for splashes, smells and other special effects while they watch.
7. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Lake Huron’s Mackinac Island, located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, is just about 4 square miles, but it packs a lot of fun into that small space. The area is vibrant with candy-colored houses, old-time shops and world-famous fudge. Brush up on your bicycle skills — almost all motor vehicles are banned on the island.
If you insist on hopping off your bike, wooded Mackinac Island State Park boasts some of the best kayaking in the region. History buffs will enjoy Fort Mackinac and its historical re-enactments (for a fee, you can fire the fort’s cannon), while nature enthusiasts will find several butterfly sanctuaries. Much has changed through the years, but Mackinac Island has kept its family-friendly vibe.
8. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
Those who visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks know that one of its most secluded and natural areas is Ocracoke Island, accessible only by boat, plane or ferry. Snuggled away from the more commercial spots in the Outer Banks, Ocracoke boasts a wealth of history, including thousands of shipwrecks, a British cemetery (a British ship was sunk nearby by a German submarine during World War II) and the state’s oldest operating lighthouse.
Stroll through the maritime village, enjoy the area shops, dine on fresh fish and just relax.
9. Easton, Pennsylvania
Color yourself relaxed when you visit Easton, home of your favorite Crayola crayons. Easton, about 55 miles north of Philadelphia, has a laid-back, family-friendly vibe, befitting the main audience of its favorite product.
Many vacationers stop in the city to tour the Crayola Experience, once the actual factory that produced the classic art supply. Smart visitors also enjoy the numerous antique shops, locally owned restaurants and brewery, local dairy and ice cream factory and biking and hiking trails.
10. McCormick’s Creek State Park, Spencer, Indiana
McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer, Indiana, about 17 miles from Bloomington, still boasts the natural attractions that attracted past generations. Grandpa and Grandma might have taken the family to Wolf Cave, Twin Bridges and the spectacular Falls on McCormick’s Creek. Now visitors can also enjoy 10-plus miles of marked hiking trails, horseback and pony riding tours, and even an Olympic size swimming pool.
You can still travel thriftily just like Grandma taught you by staying in a “housekeeping cabin,” where you supply linens, plates, utensils, and other needs — a favorite rental choice to save cash in the 1940s and ’50s. Other lodging options include camping areas and the lovely Canyon Inn, which dates to the late 1800s.
11. Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls was once known as “The Honeymoon Capital of the World” in part because many famous couples honeymooned there — including Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia (calling all “Hamilton” fans). The area, not far from Buffalo, was still booming as a honeymoon destination well into the 1950s. (For an idea of what it was like then, don’t miss Marilyn Monroe starring in the 1953 film noir thriller “Niagara.”)
But Niagara Falls is a great vacation destination regardless of your marital status. The Falls, of course, are the main attraction with plenty of viewing sites and tours including the famous boat tour “Maid of the Mist.” Shops, restaurants, nearby wineries and historic Old Fort Niagara are also visitor favorites.
12. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Fort Lauderdale is a long-time destination for fun in the sun, as illustrated by this spread of old photos in the Fort Lauderdale Daily. Fueling the beach town’s popularity was the 1960 film “Where the Boys Are” — the story of college students on Spring Break looking for romance and fun (with a young George Hamilton in a starring role).
Today Fort Lauderdale is still a Spring Break destination (though tamed by stricter rules) and now has much more than beach parties to offer, including historic districts, mansions on Millionaires’ Row, a popular Riverwalk, and a thriving arts and entertainment district. There are also plenty of chances for outdoor recreation, including trips to the nearby Everglades.
13. Pismo Beach, California
Many a vacationer enjoyed this small seaside town in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Visitors sought out its warm temperatures and picturesque beaches, and dined on its fresh seafood (especially shellfish).
Today you can enjoy the same fun in the sun, of course, plus visit wineries, gourmet restaurants, sea kayaking and the beauty of the Pismo Beach Monarch Butterfly Grove. There are also plentiful seaside resorts for those who seek luxury accommodations.
14. Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona
In 1892, gold was discovered at a site about 40 miles east of modern-day Phoenix, and before long the Goldfield area had 1,500 residents. The town’s initial boom lasted just a few years, and then it experienced a second renaissance in the 1920s before falling off the radar again.
In the 1960s, an entrepreneur discovered and began to rebuild the town, turning it into a tourist destination. Although early visitors saw more of the authentic town, today’s visitors can experience underground mine tours, period shops, a replicated brothel, saloon and more, populated by folks in period costumes. There’s also some new-fangled fun, including ziplining. Goldfield makes a good jumping-off point for those who wish to visit the rugged Tonto National Forest.
15. Reno, Nevada
Reno began to boom when gambling was legalized in 1931. The town also gained fame as the place for “quickie” divorces, perhaps from the partners some selected for “quickie” marriages in Las Vegas.
Although the place dubbed “The Biggest Little City in the World” has fallen on some tough economic times, its gambling area still booms. Reno, which has joined tourism forces with nearby Lake Tahoe, also boasts great hiking and golf.
16. St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, is a longtime vacation spot. Its history is rich — the area was home to Native Americans, was the site of pirate invasions in the 1500s, saw periods of both British and Spanish rule and served as a refuge for loyalists during the Revolutionary War. Later, the area became a playground for John D. Rockefeller and other rich industrialists.
Today, visitors can enjoy historic sites, relics and old world architecture, blended with modern attractions ranging from sports to wineries to trendy coffee shops. Tram, self-guided and ranger-led tours allow visitors to experience it all with minimal hassle. The city boasts 43 miles of beach.
17. Gulf Shores, Alabama
The Gulf Shores area of Alabama was mostly a destination for locals until Hurricane Frederic hit in 1979, destroying most of the town’s buildings. The aftermath brought with it high-rise beach front condos and something of a renaissance for the area. Still, the area is often overlooked in favor of more famous destinations — resulting in plenty of good deals on lodging.
Deep-sea fishing, boating and golf are among the activities that make it attractive. There’s also plentiful dining with a concentration of — you guessed it — seafood.
18.The Catskills, New York
The Catskill Mountains, about 100 miles north of New York City, have always been a popular vacation pick, but perhaps never more than just after World War II. The area became especially popular among Jews who faced anti-Semitism in other resort destinations.
Today, groups of all religious persuasions and interests travel there. Outdoor recreation includes climbs on steep trails, zipline tours, water parks, breweries, wineries and more. And the Catskills are known as the birthplace of American fly fishing, so if you’re a fan of that relaxing hobby, just know a river runs through it.
19. Atlantic City, New Jersey
Beginning in the 1930s or earlier (see “Boardwalk Empire“), Atlantic City, New Jersey was known for its vibrant nightclub scene, though the area fell on tough times in the 1960s. Developers rolled the dice and hoped to revitalize Atlantic City by turning it into a gambling mecca. Crowds came for the gambling, big-name boxing bouts, concerts and shows.
There’s much finger-pointing about why Atlantic City again fell on hard times, but whatever the cause, city officials are trying for another resurgence by emphasizing “family friendly” fun alongside legal gambling. Visit now and you’ll still enjoy the gambling, beaches and legendary Boardwalk, but can also check out lighthouse tours, shopping, concerts and dance clubs.
20. Bemidji, Minnesota
Remember learning about Paul Bunyan in grade school? The giant lumberjack who stars in so many folk tales is memorialized in an 18-foot high wooden statue in Bemidji, Minnesota, three-plus hours north of Minneapolis. Next to him is a 10-foot high replica of his faithful companion, Babe the Blue Ox. The statues were were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, and are among the most photographed statutes in the U.S.
Bemidji has drawn visitors since the late 1800s, particularly outdoorsy types. The growing popularity of the automobile in the 1920s and 1930s secured the town’s place as a travel destination, and early-day motor courts, cottages, and lakeside cabins still dot the local landscape alongside more sprawling resorts.
What travel spots do you recommend that may have fallen off the radar? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.
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