Now that we can (mostly) travel, try exploring small towns
With pandemic problems somewhat behind us, people can again travel for vacation. Cities have fared especially well during the summer, with tourists dropping dollars at theaters, restaurants, concerts, and sporting events.
Still, that’s a lot of people in a city, so we’re going the other way: now is the best time to visit small towns, beaches, lakes, mountains, and forests.
National Park bucket list?
Our national parks have found themselves overwhelmed by persons wanting to commune with nature this summer. To keep the National Park experience manageable, daily quotas have been instituted in some places.
Your trip to a national park might not be what you thought.
“Consistent with CDC recommendations, people who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear mask indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. Masks are required for everyone on all forms of public transportation,” the National Park Service writes.
More troublesome is this warning: “Before visiting, please check the park website to determine its operating status” along with the note: “Please recreate responsibly.” (The equivalent of “be prepared to bring a face mask” and “Sorry for any inconvenience.”)
- Yosemite National Park, California: Expect traffic congestion in Yosemite, especially on weekends.
- Arches National Park in Utah: Temporary Entrance Delays Possible. Parking lots at trailheads often fill before 7:30 am, causing the park to temporarily restrict access until congestion lessens. Periods of restricted access can last 3-5 hours
- Acadia National Park, Maine: Cadillac Summit Road Vehicle Reservations Required May 26-Oct. 19
- Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York: Limited reopening of Statue of Liberty National Monument. Statue of Liberty Museum and theater are open with limited capacity. Ellis Island Museum is open, but theaters remain closed. Limited snack, beverage, and gift shop services are available. The statue's pedestal is open, the crown remains closed
Still have your heart set on visiting national parks? Download the NPS app to your smartphone for the latest park information.
Find outdoor adventures
Okay, so cities are out, but nature still calls. We understand—you haven’t been anywhere in well over a year. So why not take something familiar and use it in a whole new way? That UTV you use all around the farm…
UTV adventures get you into nature and often far away from crowds. Often connected with RV campgrounds, tiny houses, or hotels, your side-by-side UTV or ride-on ATV can be used the way you always hoped: running wide open with a big grin on your face!
Many campgrounds even offer ATV or UTV rentals, which is a cost-effective way to enjoy off-roading with having to trailer yours from home.
UTV and ATV manufacturers often have relationships with premier off-road adventure companies. Polaris, for instance, has a list of Polaris Adventures on their website to explore. : adventures.polaris.com
Take your best equine friend
Equestrian campgrounds aka “horse camping” offer range- or trail-riding adventures for you and your horse. Often usually true under-the-stars campsites where hardy souls just pitch a tent, horse campgrounds usually offer amenities at or close to a trailhead.
Horse-focused Kentucky (of course) lists dozens of horse-friendly campgrounds and horse camping adventures where you can explore trails and see new sights. Some are operated in conjunction with national or state parks, but many are individually owned as student day camps with overnight accommodations.
Nearly every state offers equestrian camping, and some are more extreme than others. Minnesota’s Crow Hassan Park Reserve has more than a thousand miles of trails, while Iowa’s Lake of Three Fires State Park has but 10 miles—but you travel through a variety of habitats on one ride.
Find local history
Sure, you could stand in line and visit landmarks of national significance in big cities. But when you really think about it, history is built on the local level.
There is hardly a town or county around that doesn’t have a historical society or museum to visit, and you can usually be assured of little in the way of crowds. What’s your interest?
- Small town life? Tiny Lusk, Wyoming (pop. 1,500) has a surprising history that includes Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch
- American history? Try the Fort William Henry Museum in Lake George, NY to learn about the French and Indian War
- Trains? Check out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa or the Las Cruces Railroad Museum in Las Cruces, New Mexico
- Military? The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site in Cooperstown, ND will blow you away
- Small crafts? The Museum of Beadwork in Portland, Maine offers crafts like you’ve never seen
Search for museums according to your interest at aam-us.org/about-museums/find-a-museum, a directory of the American Alliance of Museums.
Go to the next level
The city and county level offers a quieter, more off-the-beaten-path experience. You’re likely to find fewer people, especially during the week.
Marinette, Wisc. is “the waterfall capital of Wisconsin,” and a handful of wonderful county parks feature falling water. Learn about them at therealnorth.com.
Jackson County, Mo. boasts comfortable parks, campgrounds, golfing, museums, historic sites, and Fort Osage National Historic Landmark…built by William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame. Check out more at their Blue Springs, Mo. offices or their website, makeyourdayhere.com.
In a state regarded for its state and national parklands, Colorado’s Larimer County has reservoirs, lakes, fishing, and open spaces galore in Devil’s Backbone Open Space, or Big Thompson parks. You’ll find native trout, healthy Ponderosa Pine forests, pristine sage shrub lands, and spectacular wildlife, the county says.
Beauty in your back yard
So maybe it’s time to think a little less grand and look at state parks and other areas where people might be less likely to cause problems with congestion.
Just look around. Small town live is less “people-y” by nature, making it not only safer, but more interesting.
How to find the best small towns to visit:
Take a UTV tour in Zion National Park