It might sound counterintuitive, but these days of closed borders and restricted travel offer a great opportunity to see parts of the United States that you may have missed. Head away from the cities to these coastal towns and mountain hideaways. They’ll treat you to the stunning natural attractions and outdoor pursuits that you might’ve overlooked when longing for more exotic surrounds.

    We have gathered a collection of places from across the country that each offer plenty of adventure but without the large crowds. Whether it's hiking among a lush forest, kayaking past mangroves with dolphins for company, or taking the more leisurely option of a romantic sunset cruise on a crystal-clear lake, one or more of these nature vacations should tempt you.

    1

    Orange County, CA

    Fun in the sun on the Cali coast

    Orange County straddles the Californian coast, just south of Los Angeles, and is one of the most picturesque beach towns on the West Coast. With John Wayne Airport in nearby Santa Ana, you can bypass the crowds at LAX and head directly to the wide-open beaches. For your fix of golden sand, choose between the surfing hot spot of Huntington Beach, swanky Newport Beach, or lesser-visited Laguna Beach.

    For a more leisurely day out in Orange County, join a whale and dolphin watching eco-tour. The best time to see whales in the wild is during the annual migration, between December and April. Backed by Limestone Canyon Regional Park, there’s far more than sea, sun, and sand to enjoy in Orange County. Depending on the time of year, you can hike through limestone canyons, enjoy mountain biking or even horseback riding. READ MORE…

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    2

    St. Petersburg, FL

    Island-hopping off the Gulf all year round

    St. Petersburg on Florida’s Gulf Coast is a relaxing all-year escape to sunny climes. Known as a place for mature visitors, there’s more to this beach town than strolling the promenade and relaxing on the beach.

    Although within touching distance of Tampa Bay, St. Pete feels a million miles away from the city. Outdoor adventures in St Pete’s area include hiking on Honeymoon State Island and kayaking past mangrove forests to Caladesi Island, with the chance to see manatees and dolphins. Nearby Weedon Island Preserve offers miles of secluded trails with plenty of exotic birds and stunning coastal views. READ MORE…

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    3

    Myrtle Beach, SC

    A popular beach resort packed with outdoor action

    With an incredible 60 miles of beachfront to explore, Myrtle Beach has plenty of outdoor adventures away from its exciting Grand Strand. Well known as a place for golf and sport fishing on the East Coast, Myrtle Beach welcomes plenty of groups to this sunny spot in South Carolina.

    Myrtle Beach State Park is home to endangered maritime forest, which is served by saltwater and freshwater estuaries, home to an abundance of wildlife. Animals you might encounter on a tour of the area include the American alligator, loggerhead sea turtles, and many rare bird species like the red-cockaded woodpecker. READ MORE…

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    4

    Lake Powell - Glen Canyon National Park, AZ

    A huge reservoir surrounded by a stunning desert landscape

    Lake Powell is home to a variety of outdoor pursuits such as boating, fishing, and hiking. The canyons found in this area of southern Utah have an otherworldly quality that makes for unmistakably American landscapes. The lake is actually a reservoir that was created in the 1960s by flooding Glen Canyon. It’s now a popular tourist destination for those who want to escape to the Arizona wilderness.

    With average summer temperatures of well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this desert landscape is better experienced from October to April when the weather is more manageable. As well as the fun activities available on the lake itself, you’ll be able to explore many unique geological features in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, such as iconic natural bridges and bizarrely shaped rocks that make for some stunning photos.

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    5

    Gatlinburg - Pigeon Forge, TN

    Family-friendly forest adventures in the Smokey Mountains

    Gatlinburg, and its sister town of Pigeon Forge, is found high up in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. As an outdoor enthusiast, you have endless possibilities for filling your days in this beautiful region of the US, whether that's skiing in winter or relaxing among lush forests in the summer.

    Horseback riding is enduringly popular around Gatlinburg, with many stables catering to novices and experienced riders. Fans of history will enjoy the Cades Cove Loop, a 10.6-mile trail that passes several log cabins dating back to the days of settlers in the 1800s. If you’re looking for something more exciting, head to the Pigeon River and book your spot on a rafting adventure, but be prepared for some adrenaline-pumping white-water action. READ MORE…

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    6

    Atlantic City, NJ

    Hit the coast for plenty of adventure in the original Sin City

    More famous for glitzy casinos than outdoor adventures, Atlantic City in New Jersey is surprisingly blessed with activities based on land and out at sea. Stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, dinner cruises, and even parasailing are all popular water-based pursuits. Back on dry land, you can enjoy 20 miles of trails and running tracks in the Atlantic County Park at Estell Manor.

    Once you’ve had your fill of the adventurous options in and around the region, it’s worth exploring the main highlights of Atlantic City. After all, the famous boardwalk is America’s oldest such thoroughfare, combining family-friendly attractions by day and glitzy casinos and nightlife after dark. READ MORE…

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    7

    Lake Tahoe, NV

    There’s something adventurous in every season up here

    Lake Tahoe is a massive body of freshwater that offers sublime views and plenty of action-packed days among rich nature. Straddling California and Nevada, a string of beaches line the water – Zephyr Cove and Emerald Bay, in particular – offering relaxing days spent enjoying the sun. Meanwhile, waterskiing, kayaking, fishing, and sunset dinner cruises are popular attractions on the water. The Sierra Hot Springs is a short drive away, with plunge pools and hydration massages available.

    Come winter, this whole region attracts skiers and snowboarders who head to the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe to enjoy the regular snowfall at any of the 15 weekend resorts found in Lake Tahoe. READ MORE…

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    8

    St. George-Zion National Park, UT

    A real hikers’ playground in southwestern Utah

    St. George and Zion National Park is an awe-inspiring and desolate natural playground of sheer canyons and bizarre rock formations. Most people arrive in the quaint town of Springfield before heading off on a hike into the canyons. Other popular activities here include ATV rides and rock climbing.

    The sheer walls of Zion Canyon reach as much as 2,640 ft from top to bottom, which makes for some awesome pictures of sandstone and blue skies. Angels Landing is an especially peaceful spot, giving you the ideal view down the canyon. For the adventurous, climbing to the aptly named Scout’s Lookout is particularly rewarding. The climb up to the summit involves pulling yourself up by a chain rope, so you’ll need a high level of fitness. READ MORE…

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    9

    Santa Barbara, CA

    This upmarket town is a hub of outdoor pursuits

    Santa Barbara is a coastal town backed by the beautiful Santa Ynez mountain range. This popular yet relatively secluded town is around 100 miles north of Los Angeles. It offers stunning views and leisurely hikes, as well as many water-based adventures, including surfing, kayaking, and whale watching.

    This town is typically Californian, with a hot, dry climate and over 300 days of sun per year. Whether you choose a day of rock-climbing, sailing, or hot-air ballooning, Santa Barbara is one of the West Coast’s finest hubs for adventure sports. Mealtimes are another highlight of this upmarket town, thanks to fantastic local produce and many of the nation’s finest vineyards nearby. READ MORE…

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    10

    Vail - Beaver Creek, CO

    Famous winter sports hotspots that are just as fun in the summer months

    Steep and stylish, Vail and Beaver Creek are mountain resorts that combine world-class skiing and snowboarding, with high-end hospitality, dining, and nightlife. From November to April, these 2 connected towns in Colorado offer some of the best winter sports in the US.

    In the summer months, Vail and Beaver Creek become a haven for hikers, who use the excellent coverage of chairlifts to access steep trails across the region. Other fun, fair-weather activities include mountain biking, fishing, and golf. Flying in and out of Vail is particularly easy as there are several airports within the region, including Eagle Airport and Aspen Airport – both are less than 1 hour’s drive from these coupled mountain towns.

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    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveler

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