There's something very special about late summer. In many places, there's the first cool hint of fall in the air, and the promise of a season bountiful with colors and crops. And, in many places, the crowds are starting to thin out, leaving much more beach, mountains, plains, forests...for you!
Here are my Top 5 late-summer getaways in America...
5 - YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING/MONTANA/IDAHO - Yellowstone National Park Lodges are at their most beautiful this time of year...and bursting with great activity programs. The "Roosevelt Rendezvous," for example, is a four-day, outdoor educational experience offered by Roosevelt Lodge, including guided hikes, easy geology strolls or searching for wolves with a biologist. Other Park Lodges are offering programs such as The "Total Yellowstone" package, in which participants can experience three different lodges, and try "fun" activities like a Scenicruise on Yellowstone Lake, a horseback ride, and a stagecoach ride. There are also "Yellowstone Couples Adventure," and a "Wild About Yellowstone" offering that includes an Old West cookout at which you arrive via stagecoach. The biggest program at Yellowstone in late-summer/early-fall, though, is the magnificent natural beauty everywhere you look, the incredible diversity of wildlife, and, now that the summer's drawing to a close, the opportunity to experience them without the crowds!
4 - CAPTIVA ISLAND, FLORIDA - Ever dream of having your own private beach? Well, at this time of year on southwest Florida's Captiva Island...you can! The families are back home, getting ready for school. And you can walk along the world's greatest shelling beaches, with the breeze blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico (along with spectacular sunsets), and not see another soul. The best way to get around this scenic, lush isle dotted with mansions and Caribbean cottages and folksy restaurants and shops is by the ubiquitous golf carts you'll see everywhere. At South Seas Island Resort, you can experience full-service luxury with several good restaurants, boat cruises from the docks, and a collection of very interesting shops. And at the 'Tween Waters Inn, a Captiva landmark since the 1940's, you can choose between Florida-style rooms in the main lodge and brilliantly-painted cottages from the early days.
3 - NEW RIVER GORGE, MINDEN, WEST VIRGINIA - The New River Gorge National River is called "Grand Canyon of the East." Here's where you'll find what many people believe is the best whitewater rafting in America. You'll also find world-class rock-climbing and rappelling off of the walls of the gorge, 1,000 feet high at some points. Mountain biking through virgin forests. Standup paddle-boarding on the New River or a nearby lake. Hiking on 30 miles of forest trails that wander through ghost towns and the gorge (with vistas of the river a thousand feet below!). And that's just for starters! One of the best places to experience it all is at ACE Adventure Resort, which offers accommodations ranging from tents to lodges to luxury cabins, and three excellent restaurants, along with a five-acre lake and adventure park.
2 - DOOR COUNTY, WISCONSIN - Door County is a 70-mile sliver of land jutting out into Lake Michigan. With a bucolic, intimate ambience, Door County has 300 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, rows upon rows of cherry trees, epic sunsets, and tiny communities with big personalities and endless recreational opportunities. In August, the sun is bright, the sand is warm, the water is cool, the lake breeze is divine. There are new wineries and old lighthouses, and the peninsula and islands are alive with activity. What types of activity? Well, you can explore five state parks, find one-of-a-kind boutiques and shops, and dine at award-winning restaurants. Late-summer and early-fall also bring colorful outdoor festivals. It's a wonderful slice of Small-Town America, with a healthy dose of natural beauty thrown in.
And now, my choice for the top late-summer getaway in America...
1 - FAIRBANKS, ALASKA - Autumn comes fast here. And with it comes spectacular foliage, breathtaking scenery, and some of Alaska's great attractions and natural wonders pretty much all to yourself. In Fairbanks, you can visit a sled-dog kennel, and even "mush" a team of dogs on a sled with wheels. The Riverboat "Discovery" will take you further into the interior, past ancient Native encampments and magnificent - and huge - log cabins. Go canoeing, kayaking or rafting in the scenic wilderness surrounding the town. See the full range of Alaska's exotic wildlife at the Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary. Soak in the hot springs at the beautiful Chena Hot Springs Resort, in the mountains sixty miles east of Fairbanks. Visit the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, not only the most northerly auto museum on Earth, but also boasting a collection of surprising depth. Go panning for gold...in a place where you're guaranteed to get some! Visit Denali National Park on the Alaska Railroad, and thrill to the sight of majestic Mt. McKinley - at 20,320, the highest peak in North America. Or, take a trip to the Arctic with the Northern Alaska Tour Company. This is one late-summer trip that'll stay with you forever.
What's your choice for the best late-summer getaway in America? We'd love to hear from you!