Destinations with wide-open spaces, fresh air and easy access to nature have long been popular. The pandemic’s demand for social distancing has only enhanced the allure of more remote locations with plenty of room to roam.
Sparsely populated destinations are perceived as safer, turning the tourism tide towards under-the-radar towns and regions far from crowds.
Choosing a location with sleepy scenery and less people doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty to enjoy. Whether you crave a fresh-air adventure or a peaceful sojourn, there are a wealth of enticing options. For your next vacation, consider these 10 less crowded domestic destinations.
Instead of Los Angeles, visit Morro Bay, California
Morro Bay is a seaside town with a yesteryear vibe, located three hours north of Los Angeles in San Luis Obispo County. Its landmark Morro Rock is an extinct volcanic peak dramatically perched on the edge of the Pacific.
Watch fishermen haul in their daily catch, paddle a kayak in calm harbor waters and view sea otters at play. It’s only minutes to Montaña de Oro State Park, where secluded coves and majestic bluffs feel a million miles away from civilization.
Stay: Anderson Inn is a waterfront boutique hotel with casual décor and rooms with private decks.
Instead of Cape Cod, visit Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Cape Elizabeth is a quintessential coastal Maine town with a venerable lighthouse commissioned by George Washington. Swim in the chilly sea, pick lowbush blueberries and breathe in salty air. When you’re hungry, head to Lobster Shack at Two Lights to eat delectable seafood with a view of windjammers sailing by.
Stay: Inn by the Sea has inviting guest rooms and a beach path that meanders through a wildlife sanctuary.
Instead of Yosemite National Park, visit Olympic National Park, Washington
National parks are experiencing a surge in popularity and are expecting big crowds this summer. Thanks to its remote location and nearly one million acres of preserved wilderness, Olympic National Park is often referred to as one of the quietest places in the United States.
Blissfully disconnected from the modern world, soak in the silence of a lush rainforest, hike trails lined with 500-year-old trees and explore magnificent waterfalls in the Enchanted Valley.
Stay: Lake Quinault Lodge is surrounded by emerald-colored ferns and musk-covered conifers with manmade perks like a heated indoor pool and sauna.
Instead of Miami, visit Sanibel Island, Florida
Sanibel’s Gulf beaches are an unspoiled oasis of colorful seashells with hundreds of exotic species of migratory birds. Much of the island is pristine wetlands and dense mangrove forest. There’s an old-time Florida vibe, with not a high-rise, fast food eatery or big-box store in sight.
Stay: The cozy rooms at the West Wind Island Resort offer an oceanside immersion in nature.
Instead of Washington, D.C., visit Loudoun County, Virginia
Located 45 miles west of the nation’s capital, Loudoun County presents a low-key mix of vineyards, mountains and villages with rich colonial history. Many D.C. residents come here when they crave a respite from the Beltway’s hectic pace.
Saddle up in Middleburg, the heart of horse country. Try whitewater rafting, tubing, canoeing or fishing at Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet.
Stay: Goodstone Inn is an upscale country inn with its own farm.
Instead of Denver, visit Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado Springs’ robust outdoor assets are a magnet for fresh-air enthusiasts. Pedal Legacy Loop, a 10-mile mixed-use trail circling the downtown.
For an eyeful of beauty while you hike, Garden of the Gods displays vibrant red and orange sandstone rock formations set against snow-capped Pikes Peak, while Cheyenne Mountain State Park offers a taste of the Rocky Mountains.
Stay: Kinship Landing is a new boutique hotel with a large outdoor patio and rooftop deck.
Instead of Cleveland, visit Hocking Hills, Ohio
With numerous state parks and nature preserves, it’s a breeze to be socially distant in Hocking Hills. There are miles of spectacular hiking trails punctuated by caves and waterfalls, plus ziplining, rock climbing and kayaking. Stargazing is unbeatable, as the night skies are undisturbed by light pollution.
If your muscles are sore from all that exercise, book a barrel-shaped cedar sauna at Sauna Pods Hocking Hills. There’s room for a party of four to sweat it out in a private pod equipped with Bluetooth speakers and adjustable mood lighting.
Stay: Enjoy the silence and scenery when you book a cabin or yurt at Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls.
Instead of Chicago, visit North Platte, Nebraska
North Platte is as American as apple pie. Train buffs will enjoy the view of Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard from Golden Spike Tower’s observation deck. It’s the world’s largest rail yard, handling up to 14,000 rail cars daily.
No outdoor activity defines Nebraska more than tanking. At Dusty Trails outfitters, float down the North Platte River in an empty cattle tank as your virtually unsinkable cruising vessel.
Stay: Tru by Hilton offers a warm welcome and well-appointed rooms.
Instead of New York City, visit Columbia County, New York
Rural Columbia County’s pastoral landscape is a patchwork of spring-fed lakes, fields and forests, located two to three hours north of New York City.
This rustic county is a cultural hotspot, but you don’t need to go indoors to enjoy art. Art Omi, in the town of Ghent, is an outdoor sculpture park with dozens of cutting-edge works dispersed over 120 rambling acres of hills, ponds and glades. Guests are encouraged to explore in a hands-on manner, adding up to a dynamic interplay between visitors and art.
Stay: Inn at Silver Maple Farm is an intimate property located on bucolic grounds.
Instead of Boston, visit Amherst, Massachusetts
Nestled in rolling hills, Amherst is a classic New England college town with leafy scenery and a walkable downtown with bookstores and eateries. Cycle the Norwottuck Rail Trail, lined with farms selling fresh apple cider doughnuts, and hike peaceful paths at Mount Pollux Conservation Area.
Stay: Located in the center of town, Inn on Boltwood’s décor is pure Americana.
10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network — providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world — in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.