In the past few years, the pandemic has compelled many people to gain a deeper appreciation for the outdoors, transforming us from night owls who love dancing at loud nightclubs into nature lovers who’ve embraced the harmony of the natural world.

For those who value the great outdoors, there are many one-of-a-kind destinations to experience this year, especially if continuing to stay socially distant from other travelers is at the forefront of your mind. Visiting these scenic spots can become a memory that stays with you for the rest of your life as well as make you feel more connected to the planet.

Depending where you live, these locales might be just a short road trip away or worthy of a longer adventure. Whether you’re interested in camping under the stars or staying in a quaint inn, going fishing or horseback riding, traveling solo or with others, each place offers an array of jaw-dropping scenery and unique activities.

Hoh Rain Forest, Washington

Hoh Rain Forest’s moss is very effective at absorbing sounds.

Stuart WestmorlandGetty Images

You might assume you’ll have to board a plane out of the U.S. to visit a rain forest, but that’s not the case if you journey to the Pacific Northwest, home of Olympic National Park’s Hoh Rain Forest, the only protected temperate rain forest in the Northern Hemisphere. There, hiking trails are surrounded by Sitka spruce, red alder, cottonwood, and moss-covered maple trees.

The forest shares its name with the nearby Hoh River, which runs from Mount Olympus to the Pacific Coast in a valley that was formed thousands of years ago by glaciers. The name is thought to come from the Quileute word Ohalet, which means “fast-moving water” or “snow water.”

For accommodations, camp directly in the park, or check in to the cozy and romantic Lake Crescent Lodge. If you’re a Twilight fan, stay at the Miller Tree Inn in nearby Forks, and go on a Twilight tour to see locations that inspired author Stephenie Meyer to set her vampire saga in the rainiest town in the continental U.S.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

aerial view of mackinac island

Mackinac Island has been car-free for more than 100 years.

Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

This beloved Midwest vacation spot sits in Lake Huron, nestled between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island’s name comes from the Anishinabe word Michilimackinac, meaning “place of the great turtle.” To the Anishinabe people, Mackinac’s limestone bluffs resemble a giant turtle rising out of the water.

Cars aren’t allowed — you park them by the ferry that shuttles you there — so bikes and horses are the only transportation options. The remoteness adds to the experience, where highlights include eating freshly caught lake trout, learning how to ride horses, cruising along on bikes, and hiking up to Arch Rock, one of the most beautiful nature sites on the island.

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Camping also isn’t allowed on Mackinac, so staying at the island’s hotels and inns are a key part of the experience. Stop by the landmark Grand Hotel for shopping, lawn games, afternoon teatime, a spa treatment, or a scoop of Seaside Caramel from the ice cream parlor. The venue also provides history lectures where you can learn about why the remote hotel was originally built in 1887, while sipping a glass of wine. For a romantic bed and breakfast, check out Cloghaun Bed and Breakfast, one of the oldest family-owned bed and breakfasts in Michigan. And for a sumptuous meal, order a bowl of tomato bisque and a plate of trout at Pink Pony or go for the fried jerk chicken at the homey Jamaican spot Kingston Kitchen.

Glacier National Park, Montana

couple sitting on cliff, glacier national park, montana, usa

There are more than 700 miles of hiking trails in Glacier National Park.

Evgeny VasenevGetty Images


Surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park is a prime spot for both visitors new to the outdoor lifestyle as well as seasoned hikers. For an appreciation of the area’s rich Native American history and culture, come in the summer when Blackfeet, Salish, Kootenai, and Pend d’Oreille tribal members speak to visitors as part of the Native America Speaks program.

Glacier Highline provides thrilling escapes like zip-lining and white-water rafting. Fishing in the park requires no license, and it’s one of the most enjoyable year-round activities. Also, before you visit, be sure to brush up on nature photography skills because you’ll want to capture these views for yourself.

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There are plenty of campgrounds where you can park an RV or sleep in a tent. Many feature opportunities to glimpse wildlife like bighorn sheep, moose, and bears through binoculars. After building up an appetite, head to Josephine’s Speakeasy for the bison gyros and fried green tomatoes.

Door County, Wisconsin

women sitting on lawn chairs drinking wine

The Door County Wine Trail features eight different wineries.

John Nienhuis/Destination Door County

Located near Green Bay, Wisconsin, Door County is a vineyard-lined destination located along the 44th parallel, the same as Bordeaux, France, making it an ideal climate for growing grapes. One of the best wineries is named Parallel 44. You can enjoy tastings there — try the award-winning ice wine — with a view of rolling hills.

Door County’s many campgrounds include the Daisy Field Campground at Potawatomi State Park, which boasts views of Sturgeon Bay and is a beach perfect for skipping rocks. Several area campgrounds offer kayak rentals, fishing opportunities, and hiking trails.

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For a hearty meal with a twist, check out Al Johnson’s, a Swedish restaurant where goats graze on the grass roof. Island Orchard Cider offers cider flights made with apples from its orchards. Don’t miss the Pomona Cider, which tastes like an apple whiskey cocktail.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

young man watching sunset at badlands national park, south dakota, usa

The Lakota people dubbed the region “badlands” because of its extreme conditions.

Adam HesterGetty Images

Nicknamed “the land of stone and light,” the 244,000-acre Badlands National Park features the beauty of ancient rock formations that were formed over millions of years. Observe wildlife, sky gaze with the park’s astronomers, and visit the Fossil Preparation Lab to learn about long-gone dinosaurs from paleontologists.

Cedar Pass Lodge has cabin rentals, and you can camp in the park for eye-popping wildlife views. For those craving a more rugged experience, there are also backcountry campgrounds. The aforementioned Cedar Pass Lodge is the only place to eat within the park, so be sure to pack plenty of food and water before heading out.

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While in the area, it’s worth making the trek to not-to-be-missed landmarks like the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and Crazy Horse Memorial, which are located almost 100 miles away from Badlands National Park.

Nylah Burton is a Chicago-based writer. Follow her on Twitter @yumcoconutmilk.

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