As one of the Midwest’s lakeside crown jewels, Traverse City is possibly one of the most underrated small cities in the country. There is a variety of things to do there, including plenty of outdoor adventures and even some haunted wonders! It’s home to an impressive food and wine scene and is surrounded by cherry orchards, making it an ideal destination for foodies and nature lovers alike.
Here are 30 awesome things to do in Traverse City:
30. Ghost tour
If you are into all things creepy and supernatural, this downtown tour is made for you. Traverse City is full of spooky history, and this 1.5-hour evening ghost tour will take you to the city’s most famous haunted locations, on a humorous and thrilling ghost hunt that you’ll definitely remember, even if you don’t find any troubled spirits lurking about.
29. Rickshaw tour
A rickshaw, in Michigan? That’s certainly a first! This quirky tour is great for first-time visitors, as it will take you to five different areas of town. The guide will tell you all about Traverse City’s architecture, attractions, and businesses.
Start your Traverse City adventure with this rickshaw tour to get the lay of the land before you embark on the rest of your visit.
28. Asylum flashlight tour
If you can’t get enough of spooky tours after your ghost tour, check this one out! Traverse City is famous for its haunted asylum, the Northern Michigan Asylum, on the old Traverse State hospital campus. On this tour, you’ll explore one of the popular cottages on the property, as well as take a flashlight-lit walk through steam tunnels from 1885. You can make your reservation here. Good luck!
27. Guided historic walking tour of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons
Also on the grounds of the old Traverse State Hospital campus, you can take a historic walking tour to learn all about the hospital and its interesting characters. One doctor in particular is an important part of the site’s history: Dr. Munson, who popularized the “beauty is therapy” theory. The tour also offers an inside look at the site’s architecture and uses of the buildings. Make your reservation here.
26. Wine tours
You might not expect northern Michigan to have many wineries, but this part of the state is actually known as the Traverse Wine Coast and has some impressive selections. Not only do the wineries in this area produce incredible products, but the surrounding area offers some spectacular hillside views of Grand Traverse Bay.
The Leelanau Trail in particular has stellar tour options to see the region’s best wineries. You can see a list of the offerings here.
25. Kayaking + brew tour = KaBrew
Yep, you read that right. You can visit some of Traverse City’s best breweries via kayak tour with Kayak Brewery Tours. The tour actually starts on a bike, taking you to Right Brain Brewery for your first visit. After one more stop, you’ll finally hop into your kayak and float down the Boardman River to the next destination. This is an awesome way to enjoy the river and get a little buzzed along the way.
24. Walking history tours
The Traverse Area Historical Society offers history walking tours led by local experts. Choose between a downtown tour, with stops at monuments and historical buildings, or an Oakwood Cemetery tour, which showcases the town’s beautiful and spooky graveyard. You can find tour dates and more information here.
23. Traverse Area Recreational Trail (TART)
This 10.5-mile paved trail runs from Bates Road in Acme Township all the way to Carter Road in Traverse City, where it links up with the Leelanau Trail. You can hike, jog, or bike along the trail, stopping at several spots along the way. While on the trail, you’ll see recreational areas, quaint local neighborhoods, and downtown businesses. It’s the perfect way to get acquainted with Traverse City if you’re in town for the first time!
The TART even passes through Boardman Lake Trail, which is next on this list.
22. Boardman Lake Trail
This trail is part of the TART and is about 4 miles long, running along the lakefront at Boardman Lake. Boardman Lake Trail starts in Medalie Park, passes through Hull Park, and even has access to the public library in town. This part of the larger TART is wooded and generally quiet and serene. It’s a great place to relax and connect with nature.
21. Leelanau Trail
If you want to take your trail adventure to the next level, set your sights on Leelanau Trail, which is 17 miles long and connects Traverse City to Suttons Bay. It follows the route of an old railroad corridor and runs near forests, farms, lakes, ponds, and vineyards.
Summertime is ideal for bike riding on Leelanau Trail, but what about winter? All winter long, you can try your hand at skate-skiing, fatbiking, and snowshoeing on the trail. Leave it to Michigan to have a plan for all seasons!
20. Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park
It’s hard to believe that this 47-acre state park is just two miles from downtown, but Traverse City State Park really is that close. The TART runs parallel to the park, making it the ideal spot to take a break from a long bike ride. It also has a modern campground, mini-cabins, a lodge, and a quarter mile of sandy beach to enjoy.
19. West End Beach
Along West Grand Traverse Bay, West End is a large bayfront park and beach. It’s a hot spot for volleyball players and dog owners alike, and popular for swimming and kayaking as well. You can access West End Beach from the TART, and there is a parking lot on the eastern side of the park.
18. Clinch Park and Beach
This spot offers 1,500 feet of sand along West Grand Traverse Bay in downtown. It’s easily the most popular beach, so it gets pretty crowded in the summer — get there early to save your spot! This beach is along the TART, making it easy to stop at if you’re biking or hiking the trail.
17. Paddleboard/SUP yoga
With so much fresh water around, it’s no surprise that Traverse City is a great place to get your paddleboard on. Padde TC is one of the city’s best such rental companies
It even offers stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga classes at Clinch Park on West Bay. If you thought simply paddleboarding was a workout, try doing yoga on a board! It’s a fun way to challenge yourself and enjoy the water while you do it. You can book your class here.
16. Manitou brunch cruise
What better way to enjoy the bay at Traverse City than on a ship while having brunch? Tall Ship Co. has an awesome brunch cruise that offers a slow sail through Grand Traverse Bay and a delicious wood stove–cooked meal along with a drink. Book here.
15. Catamaran cruise
Another way to cruise through Grand Traverse Bay is to hop on a catamaran with Nauti-Cat. This company has a variety of options, including a sunset champaign cruise and a windjammer cruise. There are also specialty cruises, including one that features a burlesque show! The outings are typically 1.5–2 hours long and are a fun way to get some great views of the bay.
14. Hickory Meadows
This classic urban trail system is tucked into the hills above Traverse City and offers two miles of unpaved paths to explore. There are meadows and wooded areas at the base of 230-foot Hickory Hill, which visitors can climb if they’re up for the challenge. It’s also a great wintertime spot for cross-country skiing! Find a map of Hickory Meadows here.
To get the most epic aerial view of Traverse City and the crystal-clear waters of the bay, get airborne by parasailing! This is by far one of the most exciting things to do in town, and TC Watersports is the most experienced such operator in Michigan. The company has a great reputation that keeps customers coming back for more adventures.
12. Boardman River Experience
If you are an experienced paddler, consider heading out on the River Outfitters’ Boardman River Experience for the closest thing you’ll get in Michigan to white-water rafting. Where once there was a dam that prohibited people from paddling on the river, there are now two light rapids perfect for paddling. The river experience runs through a cedar forest teeming with wildlife, making for an unforgettable experience.
11. Skiing or snowboarding at Crystal Mountain
While most of the items on this list are specific to summertime, there are plenty of things to do in Traverse City in the winter as well. One of the best wintertime activities here is skiing or snowboarding at Crystal Mountain. There you’ll find 58 downward trails, from beginner to advanced.
Museums & Historical Landmarks
10. Mission Point Lighthouse
From 1870 to 1933, this historical lighthouse guided mariners through West Traverse Bay. Nowadays, this neat landmark is open for self-guided tours and offers a glimpse into Traverse City’s past. Guests can even climb all the way to the top of the tower for a small fee.
Another great feature of the Mission Point Lighthouse is that it right next to a five-acre park with hiking trails and picnic areas.
9. The Dennos Museum Center
This quirky art museum has been around since 1991 and is the top cultural center of the region. At the Dennos Museum Center, you’ll find entertaining exhibits, hands-on galleries, and elegant sculptures. There are almost 3,000 works of art to see, so plan to spend a couple hours perusing the space.
Admission is $6; the museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday. Check out the website for more information on planning your visit.
8. Music House Museum
The charming Music House Museum is full of unique instruments and music-related artifacts that have a special place in history. The collection includes instruments dating back to the 18th century, including simple music boxes that were state of the art for their time. You’ll see expertly crafted instruments that are works of art all on their own.
Festivals & Events
7. National Cherry Festival
Traverse City is the United States’ national cherry capital. I’m a big lover of cherries, so my ears certainly perked up when I heard this news. Every July, the city hosts the annual National Cherry Festival, which it has been doing since 1926. That’s almost a hundred years of cherry festivals!
The festival has over 150 activities and events during the week, with hundreds of vendors selling cherry-licious treats and goods. For more information on next year’s event, see the Cherry Festival website.
6. Traverse City Chocolate Festival
First cherries, now chocolate?! Sounds like a match made in foodie heaven. The Traverse City Chocolate Festival happens every spring and is expected to resume in 2022. There you’ll find chocolatiers from all over the region selling their delicious confections. Besides the vendors, there’s also live music, demonstrations, and other fun events during the festival.
5. Traverse City Restaurant Week
If you happen to be in Traverse City during Restaurant Week, you’re in for a treat. It’s a wonderful way to explore downtown and try some of the city’s best gastronomy for a reasonable price. Three-course menus are offered at either $25 or $35 per person; the city’s best restaurants participate each year. Traverse City Restaurant Week usually takes place at the end of February each year.
4. City Opera House
The City Opera House first opened its doors in 1892 and has been hosting live events ever since. As one of the premier cultural landmarks in town, you won’t want to miss out on an opportunity to see a show here. The architecture inside is breathtaking and makes the perfect setting for an opera, ballet, or theater performance. You can find a full list of events at City Opera House here.
3. Downtown Art Walk
If you want to see Traverse City’s art scene from the perspective of a local, join the Downtown Art Walk. Not only will it take you to the above-mentioned Dennos Museum Center, but it also includes stops at some small locally owned galleries and art centers.
This event happens sporadically throughout the year. Keep an eye out for it on downtown Traverse City’s calendar of events.
Day Trips from Traverse City
2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
At just 40 minutes west of Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a must-do day trip while you’re in the area. You’ll find 450-foot bluffs, miles of sandy shores, expansive forests, and crystal-clear waters at this epic lakeshore heaven.
You can go for the day, or camp overnight at the park. If you want to take the pressure off of planning your trip, consider this 6-hour tour from GetYourGuide.
1. Michigan Tunnel of Trees
Known as one of the most scenic drives in the United States, the Tunnel of Trees along highway M-119 is one of the best day trips you can imagine from Traverse City. The drive skirts Lake Michigan between Harbor Springs and Cross Village, for about 20 miles. You’ll encounter beautiful tree canopies, lake views, and charming small towns along the way.
Pure Michigan put together a list of places to stop along the way, so you can enjoy this short day trip to the fullest!
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You might not have expected to find so many things to do in this northern Michigan paradise, but Traverse City certainly has plenty to keep you entertained. From the spooky to the charming and everything in between, you’ll definitely have an unforgettable experience there.
Are you a Michigander? Let us know what your favorite spots are in your home state!
Have you ever wanted to know what it’s like to spend time on Mars? When traveling through Utah, you just might ask yourself if you’ve actually taken a trip to the red planet, because the landscapes can be out of this world.
After spending a cumulative month in Utah spread out over four trips, I looked high and low for the coolest things to do, both urban and natural. These are some of the best things you can possibly do in Utah:
65. Zion National Park
If coming from the south, your first logical stop will be Zion National Park. Picture a gorgeous red canyon with hikes and adventures galore. This was my first stop on my first-ever trip to Utah, and I’ll always treasure my memories here.
The following are some specific places in the park you won’t want to miss:
64. Angel’s Landing
This has become the most popular hike in the park over the last few years, and when you see the viewpoint at the top, it’s obvious why. If you can believe it, when I did this like in 2007, I was the only one at the viewpoint! But times have changed, and now it can sometimes be dangerously crowded. Try to pick an off time to go, like a weekday afternoon or early morning.
Keep in mind that this hike has very narrow passages at the top, requiring that you hold onto chains as you go. For those afraid of heights, this could be an uncomfortable experience. But if you still want that view, consider the next entry.
63. Observation Point
This is the hike that I chose the second time that I visited Zion National Park. It is higher and steeper than Angel’s Landing but does not have the chains and narrow passages. You get a similar view — actually looking down on Angel’s Landing. I recommend starting this hike in the morning so that you’re not climbing up with the sun on you in the heat of the day.
Still choosing between the two hikes? Here’s a full comparison.
62. Slot Canyon
This canyon is the photography muse of many hikers, and for good reason! The way the light pours into the narrow cavern creates a dreamy orange atmosphere for the entire length of the canyon. The widest gaps you can walk through are just 10 feet wide, and the narrowest are a mere 6 feet wide. Considering the stellar height of the canyon walls — reaching 100 feet in some places — it’s a pretty breathtaking hike.
This tour features Slot Canyon and even provides a detailed description of its unique geology and Native American cultural significance.
61. The Narrows
Another iconic hike in the park, the Narrows takes you through a wide slot canyon that’s filled with water. In the winter, it even ices over!
These days a permit is required to hike the Narrows, and you’ll want some kind of amphibious shoes for the experience (this is my favorite pair (affiliate link)).
Be mindful of the weather forecast as well, particularly during the summer/monsoon season. The rain comes fast and flash floods are common, and any slot canyon is the worst place to be in this scenario!
60. White Mountain on horseback
What’s better than exploring the backcountry of Zion? Doing so on horseback! Horseback riding is very popular in southern Utah, so this is a fun way to get in touch with the local culture. Consider this White Mountain tour, which welcomes beginner riders and goes through some impressive slot canyons along the way.
59. Dixie National Forest
Are you ready to visit the largest national forest in Utah? Dixie National Forest is two million acres of red sandstone formations, mountain peaks, and unique landscapes in every direction. Plus, it’s right next to three national parks and two national monuments, making it the perfect central point for all kinds of outdoor adventures.
If you haven’t gotten enough of horseback riding after your White Mountain trek, you can explore Dixie National Forest on horseback as well!
58. Bryce Canyon National Park
Famous for its hoodoos (natural columns of rock) and overlooks, Bryce Canyon is stunning at any time of year. It’s great for camping and hiking, as well as those incredible sunrise and sunset viewpoints.
Here are a couple of trails in Bryce Canyon:
57. Bryce Canyon Rim Trail
This 5.5-mile trail is easily accessible from the road and takes you to many famous viewpoints throughout the park. Most of the pathway between sunset and sunrise viewpoints is paved as well, making it more accessible.
56. Navajo Loop Trail
Start at the sunset point and make your way down to the canyon floor on this 1-2-hour hike through the hoodoos. You’ll see the famous Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer.
55. Mystic Hot Springs
These hot springs would be a detour if you plan on heading to Escalante from here, but a worthy one. The entrance fee is $25 for a two-hour soak, and you can also book one of the old buses to spend the night in.
It’s rustic, but I loved watching the sun setting over the mountains while soaking in the travertine hot springs. I highly recommend booking for the sunset hours. Reservations will most likely need to be made ahead of time due to popularity.
54. Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase was once the largest protected area in the US. It was reduced by half in 2017, but it still remains one of the most remote areas in the country, full of adventures. A four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicle is recommended.
53. Paria Canyon Backpacking Trip
This five-day backpacking trip begins in Kanab, Utah, and takes you through gorgeous canyons and rivers all along the way. Permits are required, as there is a strict 20-person per day limit.
NOTE: Keep in mind that this part of Utah is huge, and if you choose to experience this adventure, the best way to orient your itinerary would be to place this after Zion, and before Bryce. This is also close to Page, Arizona, the jumping-off point for the Wave and Horseshoe Bend.
52. Zebra Canyon
Love slot canyons? This one is way less popular than Antelope Canyon and the Narrows, though just as stunning. This out-and-back hike is just over 5 miles through a narrow slot canyon that can, at times, have waist-deep water in parts. The best time to hike it is in the spring and fall. Keep in mind that you want to avoid any times that rain is predicted in the vicinity.
51. Devils Garden
This requires a long drive down a washboard road outside of Escalante town, but it’s on the way to Coyote Gulch and has unique rock formations and hoodoos. So while I wouldn’t make it my destination, it’s absolutely worth the stop. The hike is short and easy!
50. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon covers a large area as well, and much of it is accessed via Grand Staircase–Escalante. Honestly, an entire trip could revolve around this part of Utah alone, as there’s so much to see and do. Here are some favorites:
49. Jacob Hamblin Arch hike in Coyote Gulch
When I did this hike, I actually thought that it was part of Grand Staircase–Escalante, because you’ll be driving through Escalante to access it. But as you begin this hike, you actually cross into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
There are several ways to access the Jacob Hamblin Arch, including parking at the more accessible Hurricane Wash, or taking a 4WD vehicle to the crack in the wall. The third option, which is the only single-day one, is to take the sneaker route at the water tank and rappel down with a rope. This is how I did it, and you can learn all you need to know about the hike here.
48. Reflection Canyon backpacking trip
This hike is completely exposed and requires a 4WD vehicle — you’ll be driving along the same washboard road that brings you past many of the preceding stops on this list. It’s a 15.2-mile hike that requires overnighting, but imagine that view as the sun rises over the canyon!
47. Capitol Reef National Park
Are you tired of amazing national parks yet? Neither am I! Capitol Reef provides quite a grand entrance while you drive by gorgeous buttes and bentonite hills. This is one of my favorite areas of Utah.
46. Navajo Knobs Hike
The Navajo Knobs is a tough hike, clocking in at just over 9 miles. But the views are incredible. Imagine alien-like holes in the rocks, unique formations, and grand, sweeping views. This hike is uncovered, and is best done during the cooler months.
45. Goosenecks Overlook
I stopped by this overlook for the first time on my most recent trip to Utah, and I love how easy it is to just pull right up and do the quick hike to the overlook. This road can get a little tricky, and though I drove it in my 4WD truck, I feel a high-clearance vehicle would be best, as a 4WD is probably not needed.
44. Scenic Drive
The most accessible part of Capitol Reef National Park, the Scenic Drive takes you through lovely canyons and washes. Having driven it, I admit I’m not that impressed with it, and I believe there are other parts of the park that are more beautiful. Those would be the Bentonite Hills in the Temple of the Sun and Moon — which we will discuss next — but to access these, it is imperative that you stop by the visitor’s center at the beginning of the Scenic Drive, just off of Highway 24, to check the road conditions first (when wet, the road is impassable).
43. Bentonite Hills
Have you seen the photos of that Mars-like landscape with multicolored hills? Though there are probably hundreds of bentonite hills all throughout the American Southwest, these are some of the more famous. They’re conveniently on the way to the Temple of the Sun and the Moon (see below) as well. The whole drive is stunning, so give yourself plenty of time for it.
As mentioned in the previous stop, be sure to check the road conditions at the national park headquarters before you go, as this road can become impassable when wet.
42. Temple of the Sun and Moon
I loved seeing this part of Capitol Reef. When my friend Kristen and I went a couple of years ago in February, we were the only ones there.
Keep in mind these are accessed down a dirt road that can become impassable at times. However when accessible, this is a must-see in my book.
41. Goblin Valley State Park
On your way from Capitol Reef to Moab, you’ll see a sign to the left with a detour to Goblin Valley State Park. This is absolutely worth it, as this is one of the most unique landscapes I have ever seen — and that is saying a lot, considering how crazy beautiful Utah is! These heaters are different from the ones that you will see in Bryce Canyon, with a more knob-like shape.
There is a campground in the area, and of course plenty of dispersed camping.
40. Little Wild Horse Canyon
For lovers of slot canyons, we’ve got another one close to Goblin Valley! Little Wild Horse canyon is an 8-mile loop, but you can see some amazing parts of the narrow canyon right at the beginning. When Kristen and I visited in February a few years ago, it looked like it might rain, so we just explored the beginning part, and that was amazing in and of itself.
Next we’re heading into my absolute favorite part of Utah, and the one place that I have visited every single time that I have made it out. There is so much to see in Moab that I always feel like I have only barely scratched the surface! It’s the perfect jumping-off point for the next 15 things on this list:
38. Off-road Canyonlands tour
Getting off-road to explore the canyons, cliffs, and winding rivers of Canyonlands is a thrill. This tour is perfect if you’re based in Salt Lake City and will take you on a wild ride through Canyonlands (of which there’s more information later on). It’s perfect for anyone who wants to get their heart pumping and enjoy the beauty of Canyonlands in an exciting way.
37. Rafting on the Colorado River
I think it’s a rule that you can’t leave Utah without rafting on the Colorado River, right? I’m pretty sure they won’t let you fly home unless you arrive to the airport soaking wet and flushed from the adrenaline rush…
All jokes aside, rafting on the Colorado River is a fun way to taking in the gorgeous scenery of the Fisher Towers and Professor Valley. You’ll be able to take in the spectacular desert sights while you splash through mild rapids on a raft fit for beginners and expert rafters alike. This rafting tour from Moab — along a seven-mile stretch of the Colorado River known as the Fisher Towers section — is an excellent option.
36. SUP-board the Colorado River
If rafting isn’t quite your thing and you’d rather take in the sights of the Colorado River at a slower pace, try stand-up paddleboarding! There is a section of the Colorado in Arches National Park where the steady flow of water is perfect for a leisurely float. Consider a guided SUP-board tour that includes some neat information about the area while you paddle.
35. Arches National Park
Easily one of the most famous parks in Utah, Arches truly delivers! Whether you are going into look at the beautiful dark skies, catch sunset at Delicate Arch, or drive up to the Windows, prepare to be wowed. You should also prepare to share this with plenty of people, as this somewhat small national park is popular, and highly accessible.
34. Corona Arch
This might be the best arch in the entire area, IMHO. Although you have Arches National Park practically across the street, I loved that Corona Arch was so much less crowded. When my friend and I hiked there in late July 2021, we were the only ones there for sunrise.
This is an easy, three-mile round-trip hike that also takes you past Bowtie Arch. Just keep in mind that it is completely uncovered and can get brutally hot. I highly recommend it for sunrise!
33. Bride’s Canyon
On your way to Dead Horse Point and much of Canyonlands National Park, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at Bride’s Canyon. I know at this point, you’ve seen a lot of unique rock formations, but Bride’s Canyon has a uniqueness all its own, and plenty of dispersed camping options too!
32. Dead Horse Point Overlook
This must be one of the best sunset views in all of Utah! Having seen the sunset on the Grand Canyon, I can’t say it’s any better than Dead Horse Point State Park. There’s not much to do other than drive up and look, but I highly recommend that you do so at sunset.
Plus, if you happen to go in the winter, you can buy a drone permit, which they don’t allow in the summer. This was one of the best drones of my life!
31. Canyonlands National Park
On the same road as Dead Horse, you’ll find your way to the most accessible and popular part of Canyonlands National Park. For incredible canyon views and even more arches, you’ve come to the right place!
30. Island in the Sky District
The Island in the Sky District is the most popular part of the park, but for good reason. There are several overlooks in the area, including the Green River Overlook, that are stunning at sunset.
I recommend giving yourself plenty of time in order to stop at all of the overlooks that interest you. Most of them are easily accessible and quick stops, but they each have unique views.
29. Mesa Arch at sunrise
Certainly the most popular sunrise spot in the whole area, Mesa Arch provides the perfect frame for the rising sun over the canyon. Having witnessed it myself, I can vouch that it is beautiful, but even having arrived an hour early, the best spots for the photo were taken up by other people and their tripods. I got lucky, though, as there were low=hanging clouds on the morning that I went, causing some of the photographers to leave early and vacate a prime spot. By waiting a little bit longer, I got that gorgeous morning glow on the arch.
The moral of the story is, if you’re a photographer and you want an iconic photo, it’s probably best to get there at least two hours early during the busy spring and fall months. If you don’t really care, then still prepare to queue up for your opportunity to take the photo at any time of day!
28. Flight over Canyonlands and Arches at sunset
The sunset flight over Canyonlands and Arches National Parks was one of the highlights of my Utah experiences. Imagine the opportunity to view these amazing places from above, and with the perfect light! It’s a small, lightweight plane, so everyone gets an amazing view.
This is such a special experience to share with one or two other people as you fly for an hour over stunning landscapes and get a bird’s eye view of what would take weeks to traverse by car and foot.
Our pilot, Tracey, always had photography in mind and would perfectly situate the plane for photos, chasing the best light. There is only one company that is allowed to fly over the national parks, as helicopters are too loud! You can book a flight here.
27. Needles Overlook
Canyonlands covers a large area, with many hikes and districts. We could talk for hours just about the options in Canyonlands alone, but for those who love a gorgeous view for minimal effort, I recommend the Needles Overlook. Because sometimes you just don’t want to hike, amiright? This one provides sweeping views in nearly every direction.
26. Hite Overlook
In the more accessible part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, you’ll find the Hite Overlook. This is one of my favorite drive-up views in Utah, looking out over the Colorado River. Note that this is included on the list here because of how you’d logically access it, after Capitol Reef and via Hanksville.
25. Goosenecks State Park
You could be forgiven if you’re confused by how many things are named “goosenecks” in the American Southwest, but this state park provides yet another wonderful, drive-up overlook of a unique, winding canyon. You can also camp in the area.
24. Valley of the Gods
The Valley of the Gods isn’t in a national or state park. It’s not even on most itineraries of Utah, and I wouldn’t have ever known much about it unless I had decided to go explore it when I saw the sign on my way to Monument Valley — and I am so glad that I did! The road is probably not always perfectly accessible, as it is dirt and gravel, but it provides gorgeous views and red buttes.
There are also plenty of dispersed camping spots. As always when dispersed camping, there will be no services, and you are responsible for leaving absolutely no trace.
23. Forrest Gump Point
For lovers of the movie, this is where Forrest Gump famously finishes his long run. But it’s not just for the movie buffs out there. This gorgeous stretch of highway provides beautiful views all the way to Monument Valley in Arizona.
You can find the perfect spot to snap a photo of this iconic point just outside of Monument Valley, in Mexican Hat County along Highway 163 Scenic Drive, also known as Forrest Gump Road.
22. Utah Lake
Utah Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the state, at 148 square miles in size. The lake and surrounding areas are part of Utah Lake State Park, which hosts a variety of recreational activities, including swimming, boating, paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing.
The lake’s location in the middle of the desert definitely gives it an oasis feel, which is the perfect refreshing break after a desert hike.
21. Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
The United States Department of Agriculture says this national forest is “free from modern human control or manipulation, is undeveloped, and provides outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.” If that’s not a good enough reason to go there and completely unplug from modern society, I don’t know what is.
The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest encompasses 109 million acres of land featuring scenic byways, recreation areas, cabins, and epic hikes.
20. Uinta Mountains
Whether you’re looking for a day hike, a full-on backpacking trip, or an equestrian adventure, the Uinta Mountains are an awesome destination. The scenery in this part of Utah is sure you make your jaw drop, and there are a variety of trails that all have something special to offer.
19. Mount Timpanogos
On the northeast side of Utah Valley sits Mount Timpanogos. This 11,749-foot monstrosity of a mountain is one of Utah’s most popular hiking destinations. Two trails are available to hike to the summit: the 8.3-mile Aspen Grove Trail and the 7.5-mile Timpooneke Trail. Each of them provides a different hiking experience, but both promise incredible views, wildlife settings, and plenty of wildflowers to admire.
18. Wasatch backcountry skiing
Get ready to immerse yourself in a winter wonderland in the Wasatch Mountains. Here skiers of all levels can hit the slopes and spend the entire day in the fresh, powdery snow. This is one of the best places in the state for backcountry skiing, and this guided tour provides a professional skiing guide who can show you the ropes.
17. Utah Olympic Park
In 2002 when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, Park City was the site of five events: bobsled, skeleton, luge, and the Nordic combined events. Nowadays, the Utah Olympic Park is open to the public and has plenty of activities available, including a zip line tour. This is a great place for solo travelers, small groups, and families alike.
16. Hot-air ballooning
If you want to get your hot-air balloon fix while visiting Utah, Park City is the perfect place to do it! From a thousand feet above the gorgeous landscape surrounding the city, you’ll be able to see the Kamas Valley and the Wasatch Mountains. Each season offers a different kind of beauty: bright blue skies with lush green hills in the summer, red- and orange-speckled mountains in the fall, snow-capped peaks in the winter, and colorful wildflower blossoms in the spring.
15. The Park City Mountain Resort Alpine Coaster
This roller coaster is nothing like the mega-industrial ones you’d find at Six Flags. With over a mile of loops and turns, the Park City Mountain Resort’s Mountain Coaster offers a breezy mountain atmosphere while moving at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. It’s a must-visit if you like your gorgeous views served up with a side of adrenaline.
14. Salt Lake City
As Utah’s state capital, Salt Lake City is a hub for arts, culture, entertainment, gastronomy, and much more. The city has a unique and fascinating history worth exploring. Its proximity to so many state and national parks makes it another wonderful launching point for your outdoor adventures.
13. Great Salt Lake
No visit to Salt Lake City is complete without checking out Great Salt Lake. As the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, it’s truly an amazing site to marvel at. Consider taking a road trip on Interstate 80, along the southern coastline of the lake, for some stellar views.
There are several beaches along Great Salt Lake’s shores that are ideal for swimming, kayaking, SUP-boarding, and fishing. You’ll also find plenty of hiking trails at nearby parks that showcase the area’s wildlife and flora. Make sure not to miss one of the lake’s iconic colorful sunsets!
12. Antelope Island
Antelope Island is easily one of the most popular places to enjoy Great Salt Lake. It’s a small peninsula that features soft, white-sand beaches ideal for swimming and sunbathing. At Antelope Island State Park, you can explore backcountry trails on foot, horseback, or mountain bike while admiring the natural beauty all around. This is also a highly popular camping spot and great for viewing local wildlife.
11. Ensign Peak
This lookout point is one of the best ways to see Great Salt Lake from above. You can find the trailhead in Salt Lake City behind the capitol building. From there, make the upward hike to the top and catch an amazing view of the city and the lake all in one. It’s only about a mile round-trip but definitely best to do early in the morning or late in the afternoon, as the scorching temperatures of Utah summers are not ideal for a midday hike.
10. Salt Lake Trolley Tours
If you want to see the sights of Salt Lake City in the most theatrical way possible, consider a trolley tour. This “show-tour” features historical tales told by an eccentric crew of entertainers, which is bound to have you laughing the entire ride. You can make your reservation here.
9. Natural History Museum of Utah
If you go to any museum in Utah during your visit, make sure it’s this one. The Natural History Museum of Utah features an impressive collection of dinosaur bones, anthropological artifacts, and fossils dating back millions of years. You could spend hours exploring the treasures inside! Reservations are required and can be made here.
8. Temple Square
The entirety of Salt Lake City was built around Temple Square, indicating that this point is the city’s origin. In fact, the gridded street system designates addresses according to how many blocks to the north, south, east, or west a particular place is in relation to Temple Square.
When the temple stands today was once the epicenter of the city, but it now encompasses 35 acres and several city blocks full of landmarks. You’ll find the temple, tabernacle, assembly hall, and visitor centers here, along with other important buildings.
7. Red Butte Garden
Created by the University of Utah, the Red Butte Garden is easily one of the most beautiful botanical treasures in Salt Lake City. This 21-acre garden features a variety of plant species, five miles of hiking trails, and loads of community events year round. The garden is known for its outdoor summer concert series, which hosts big-name artists as well as local favorites.
6. Salt Lake Public Library
You might be thinking, why is she telling me to visit the library? I get it — it’s not exactly your typical tourist destination, but hear me out. The Salt Lake Public Library is one of the coolest buildings in town and has some stunning modern architecture to admire. It’s completely free to visit, too! After all of the outdoor adventures, this could be a welcome change of scenery and an excellent place to relax with a good book.
Ogden is the ultimate gateway to northern Utah’s ski resorts. This charming city is brimming with delicious eateries, hip breweries, and fresh outdoor spaces. It also makes a great central point for adventures to the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and other natural areas.
4. Nordic Valley
Nordic Valley is the perfect place to visit during the wintertime. This ski resort is known to be the best for all levels out of the three resorts close to Ogden. It has well-groomed slopes, of which 35% are suitable for beginners. For intermediate skiers and snowboarders, 45% of the slopes are ideal and 20% for advanced skill levels. You can even go night skiing here, as all of the slopes are lit up at night!
3. Fort Buenaventura
This historic park is a popular community gathering place. Here you can camp, fish, play disc golf, check out the visitors center, canoe, or catch an event at the pavilion. It’s only about a mile from downtown Ogden and is the ideal place to spend a relaxing afternoon.
2. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
If you’re a birding enthusiast, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge is about to become your new favorite place. The refuge is a habitat for over 250 species of migrating birds, with different ones passing through with every season. It’s a wetlands area that is beautiful and serene to visit any time of the year and has plenty of opportunities to see wildlife.
1. Bonneville Salt Flats
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to walk on a landscape that looks like snow in July, head to the dreamy Bonneville Salt Flats!
The best way to access this lake bed covered in salt deposits is to navigate to the Racetrack Playa, where in the late summer months, cars go out to race and set land speed records.
That said, don’t just drive on any part of the flats, and keep time of year in mind: it is not always dry, and people are constantly having to be towed out. Since there’s only one company that tows out there, prepare to shell out hundreds of dollars for the service. It’s really only the summer months that it is dry enough to drive on. That’s why it’s best to head to the Racetrack Playa, where the salt is patted down.
It’s also located on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, and although you cannot camp directly on the flats, there is plenty of dispersed camping nearby!
With this list, your options for things to do in Utah are truly limitless. It’s one of the most beautiful states in the USA because of its diverse and otherworldly landscapes, but it also has some lovely mountain towns that are worth visiting as well.
Have you been to Utah? Let us know what your favorite thing to do there is!
This guest post is by Monica Chapon, a California-based desert enthusiast.
Exploring the Middle East can often feel intimidating for travelers, and even more so for solo women.
While I personally love to travel throughout this region, I can certainly understand the hesitancy! This is a very misunderstood part of the world, and it isn’t always portrayed as very “female friendly.”
But if you are dreaming of sweeping orange dunes, spice-filled souks, intricately decorated mosques, and a glimpse into Muslim culture, then Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is the perfect place to dip your toes.
The UAE is a small country with a strong religious foundation. Islamic law dictates day-to-day life and traditions in this neighbor to Saudi Arabia. Honestly, it’s quite beautiful.
After an oil boom, Dubai quickly went from a “small town” in the desert the now-glittering hub that we see today.
Because of these fast changes, Dubai is truly a city of duality. Each time I visit, I find myself pondering the juxtaposition of towering, record-breaking skyscrapers just minutes away from hand-built, rustic camel farms in the sand.
While the UAE is one of the safest countries in the world to visit, it religious roots and rapid modernization mean that not everyone who lives and works there is accustomed to seeing a solo female traveler.
So, while I highly recommend the UAE as a great place for women who travel alone, it is not without some challenges. Below are my best insights for women traveling solo in Dubai.
Solo Female Travel in Dubai
1. Crime rates are super low.
First and foremost, know that the crime rates in Dubai are very low. Theft and violent crimes are extremely rare. In fact, the rates in the UAE are light-years better than my home country, the United States.
As such, I have never felt unsafe here in terms of crime. I’ve never had any items stolen, and I’ve never felt in danger of any type of attack. (For better or for worse, CCTV is common in downtown Dubai.)
As a solo woman in Dubai, rest assured that you are in a country where the laws are taken very seriously.
2. But you will be stared at.
Realize that while most people will not harass you in any way, you are a bit of an anomaly. Though solo female travel is not a new concept in the Western world, it is still somewhat “new” in this region.
The majority of stares you receive are simply out of curiosity. People will wonder why you are alone or where you are going, and some will just be intrigued about how “different” you may look.
Most men will look away quickly once you return their gaze, proving that it was harmless. But if anyone tries to hold your eye or use it as a reason to approach you, be cautious. Trust your gut. Balance courtesy with caution.
3. Women’s places at school, home, and work differ from those in the West.
It is worth highlighting a bit about women’s roles in Emirati society.
Schools and universities are segregated by gender, though more women attend college than their male counterparts do.
However, the vast majority of women do not enter the workforce and instead opt for marriage and raising children. The Emirati women you do see in the workforce will typically be employed in education, health, and government services. I do see a lot of expat women in the workforce, too.
While I don’t know how much of that is choice and how much is societal expectations, I will say that UAE society places a high value on those roles.
There is no denying that patriarchal ideology is still visible in UAE life, but I do applaud the small strides that the country has taken in recent years.
4. Dubai is a melting pot.
Over 80% of the population in the UAE is made up of expats, and the vast majority of them live in Dubai. Here you will find everyone, from Indians to Pakistanis to Lebanese to Canadians — and everything in between.
Dubai is a true melting pot. It is a colorful blend of many different cultures, living and working in various industries and making a life on this small piece of the Arabian Peninsula.
5. It can cost much less than you think.
You are probably familiar with Dubai’s reputation for riches.
The Burj Al-Arab hotel has a glamorous Royal Suite that goes for $24,000 USD per night. The city built several manmade islands in the shape of palm trees. And there is even an ATM in nearby Abu Dhabi where users can withdraw solid gold. Solid gold!
So, it’s not really surprising that I am often asked how I can afford to stay there.
Luckily, these extreme cases — while plentiful — are not the norm. It’s pretty easy to find hotels and guesthouses for under $40 USD per night. And decent ones, too! Comfortable beds, Wi-Fi, a kitchen, and a washing machine can be included for that price.
I recommend checking in the Deira and Al-Barsha areas for these deals, though I’ve frequently found them in the Marina as well.
Additionally, hostels have started to crop up in Dubai. This was not a thing when I first traveled there seven years ago. With the cultural expectations demanded of men and women, this was not a sleeping arrangement that was “allowed.” Nowadays, it’s an option. (Note that in more conservative areas, like Sharjah, this will likely still not be the case).
Avoid the large and expensive restaurants and opt for tasty, authentic food stalls instead. Falafel sandwiches, fresh-squeezed juices, and aromatic Indian dishes can be had on the cheap.
6. You have a lot of transportation options.
In Dubai, there are a lot of ways for solo women to get around.
The metro system is cheap, clean, and on time, in my experience. Uber operates in Dubai, too. And it is possible to hire private drivers, though this will be the more expensive route.
Yes, women can drive and rent a car in the UAE. It will be no problem to do so. However, traffic can be intense in the city, and there are crazy drivers here, just like everywhere else!
One unique transportation option in Dubai is women-only pink taxicabs. If you are feeling particularly nervous, these would be a great way for a solo woman to travel around Dubai. Look for the telltale pink rooftops that indicate “women only.”
7. Be mindful of how you dress.
In Dubai, you will see a lot of variation in the way that women dress.
Local women typically wear a long black dress called an abaya and a head covering called a hijab. It is not uncommon to see even more conservative dress, such as a full burka, covering women’s entire body except for the eyes. (In contrast, men wear a long white kandoura.)
But you will also see tourists showing cleavage and midriffs, wearing short-shorts, and ultimately dressing like they are in laid-back Bali rather than conservative Dubai.
While you might get away with it, I would strongly caution solo women not to dress this way in Dubai. At the very least, you will be inviting a lot of unwanted attention and certainly offending local sentiments.
Instead, your Dubai packing list should include items like loose palazzo pants, flowy kimonos, and scarves (which will be needed to cover your head when entering mosques). A good rule of thumb is to cover the shoulders, elbows, knees, and head.
8. You may need to work harder to get off the grid.
When I first traveled to the UAE, my goal was to spend most of my time deep in the desert, near the Saudi border, exploring and camping in this beautiful landscape.
Spoiler alert: I did make that happen! And I have done the same thing on almost every subsequent visit.
However, it did take a lot of persistence.
Solo women will have no issues getting around Dubai. But if you are trying to get to the far corners of the country, you will probably run into some issues.
In Islamic culture, it is not common or accepted for a man to be alone with a woman that he is not related to or married to. So it took a lot of persistence for me to find a driver who would do this.
9. Be aware of local laws.
This is something travelers should do regardless of their destination, and solo female travelers in Dubai are no exception. This is especially important in the UAE, as it is governed by sharia law, which most Western travelers may not be familiar with.
The rules and laws in the UAE forbid such things as drinking alcohol, using crude language, kissing in public, taking someone’s photo without asking (particularly women), homosexuality, and a long list of other infractions.
A few legal exceptions do exist, like purchasing alcohol at larger hotels or establishments. And though Dubai is the most liberal of all seven emirates, I still recommend not testing the waters.
10. Solo women will get a unique perspective.
One benefit of being a woman in Muslim countries is that you will get a unique perspective that your male counterparts cannot.
Men are typically not be able to interact in any way with local women they are not related to. But as a woman, you will be able to approach other women, speak with them about the area, or ask them for help if you need assistance.
One of the experiences I value most in traveling is to get to know local people and customs, so this is one of my favorite benefits of solo female travel in Dubai.
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The United Arab Emirates is one of the safest countries in the world to visit, and Dubai in particular is one of the most liberal of all Middle Eastern cities.
It’s a great place to travel if you want a safe and comfortable crash course in Middle Eastern life. If you go there knowing the benefits and challenges of solo female travel in Dubai, you are more likely to have a fun and successful trip!
About the author: Monica Chapon has traveled to six continents solo and chronicles her adventures on her blog, This Rare Earth. She can usually be found exploring the deserts of the world, taking impromptu road trips, or performing as an aerialist on silks. Follow along with Monica’s adventures on Instagram.
Thinking of heading to Lake Tahoe this summer? You’ve seen the photos of it all over social media, and the lake is calling you! After all, it is one of the best places in the USA to visit for its beauty and abundance of awesome things to do.
No matter how long you plan to visit or the level of luxury you seek during your stay, here are 45 things to do during the summer in Lake Tahoe:
45. Tahoe Rim Trail
The Tahoe Rim trail circles Lake Tahoe, passing through Desolation Valley and Carson Range. It’s a 165-mile loop that you can walk, bike, or ride through on horseback. You’ll find gorgeous vistas, lakes, peaks, meadows, and more on this trail. If you want to backpack, it’s possible to do the whole loop in one trip. However, the eight trailheads can be broken up into one-way day hikes between 12 and 33 miles in length.
44. Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay has scenery that includes some of Lake Tahoe’s best sunrises and clear blue waters. In fact, it’s one of the most photographed spots in California! You’ll find Emerald Bay on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe, on tiny Fannette Island. You can get there by boat or kayak.
Vikingsholm Estate, a famous 38-room mansion, is close to Emerald Bay and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s open for touring and definitely worth a visit. Consider booking a cruise tour to get some stellar views of Emerald Bay.
43. Mountain Biking
Because of its numerous bike paths, dirt roads, single tracks, and bike parks, Lake Tahoe is a paradise for mountain bikers. Flume Trail is one of the most popular rides and follows mountain ridges up above the lake for 14 miles. Take advantage of nearby ski resorts’ lifts for an easy ride to a summit, which allows you to coast the trails down the mountainsides. Keep in mind, though, that some trails only allow bikers on either even or odd days.
42. Mt. Tallac Hike
One of the most famous hikes in the area is Mt. Tallac. This steep and challenging hike has an overall 7,000-foot elevation change during the 10.4-mile round trip. You can choose between a day hike or a several-day trip into Desolation Wilderness. If you want to take it slow, you can camp overnight on Mt. Tallac, which requires a Desolation Wilderness backcountry permit.
41. Sand Harbor
Sand Harbor is a great swimming spot, where you can also go boating, kayaking, and much more in the clear Lake Tahoe waters. To cruise along the east shore, you can rent an e-bike, which is a fun and relaxing way to take in the sights.
You’ll find plenty of barbecue grills, picnic tables, and shady trees in Sand Harbor, making it the ideal picnic spot. Summer is definitely high season, so get there early in the morning to secure your spot. It’s also the home of the annual summer Shakespeare Festival, which happens from mid-July to mid-August.
40. Sand Harbor Overlook Hike
For a stunning view of the lake and surrounding mountains, don’t miss out on the Sand Harbor Overlook, which is a popular segment of the Tahoe Rim Trail. This bird’s-eye view is impressive and allows you to see all of the lake’s shades of blue. This moderately difficult four-mile loop is great to do on a guided hike with a local park ranger.
39. State Line
Gambling isn’t allowed in most of California, but it is in Nevada, so many visitors like to cross the state line in South Lake to take advantage of Nevada’s casino scene. Here you’ll find a strip of bustling hotel-casinos, including Harrah’s, Harveys, and the Hard Rock. Gambling isn’t everyone’s thing, but State Line still has some pretty cool luxury hotels, famous restaurants, and big events to check out.
38. Kings Beach
Kings Beach, named for card shark Joe King, is on North Shore. It’s a huge stretch of sand that is perfect for sunbathing in the late morning to afternoon. The town of Kings Beach has a bunch of restaurants, shops, and street vendors close to the beach for easy access. There’s even a minigolf course close by!
Lake Tahoe has no shortage of campgrounds, from rustic tent sites to fully equipped RV hookups. It’s truly one of the best places to camp, because it has tons of hikes, a chill forest feel, and a gorgeous lake. What more could you ask for?
36. Scuba Diving
Scuba diving in Lake Tahoe is still a relatively unknown activity, probably because of the abundance of surface-level activities. However, there are also awesome diving opportunities due to the lake’s surprising depths. It’s actually the second deepest lake in the US! If you want to see the sunken barges and boats, check out Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail.
35. Steamboat or Ferry Ride across the Lake
If you’re a first-time visitor to Lake Tahoe, spending a few hours heading to the far side on a daytime cruise is an awesome way to see the lake’s beautiful scenery, get acquainted with the area, and see as much as possible in a short amount of time. The MS Dixie II is a great option.
Kayaking is one of the most popular ways to enjoy Lake Tahoe. Unlike SUP boarding, you can kayak with a friend by grabbing a two-seater. It’s also a bit more leisurely than paddleboarding since you’re sitting down. Overall, it’s a laid-back way to venture around the lake.
By parasailing over the lake, you’ll be able to enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe in a relaxing way. The panoramic views and floating feeling of parasailing are a thrill! There’s no shortage of parasailing providers in Lake Tahoe, but Ski Run Boat Company comes highly recommended.
32. Speedboat Beach
If you want a great place to go kayaking, check out quiet Speedboat Beach. It has huge rocks along the shoreline that are interesting to explore from a kayak. It’s on the California side of the state line in the middle of North Shore.
31. Hidden Beach
The large rocks and Highway 28 hide this busy beach, which is near Sand Harbor. It’s an ideal place to swim and sunbathe, so its popularity makes sense. Get there early for a good parking spot along the highway.
30. Jet Skiing
An exciting way to enjoy the lake in the summer is renting a jet ski at one of the many rental spots. It’s a fun solo adventure, but it can also be enjoyed with a friend. Be careful while operating a jet ski, as they can go up to 70 miles per hour! Also, they should only be driven in open areas, away from swimming spots where there are people in the water.
29. Bonsai Rock
Bonsai Rock is an enormous boulder with four lovely bonsai trees growing out of it. You’ll find it on the Nevada side of the lake, halfway between Hidden Beach and Sand Harbor. It’s a great spot for photos, especially at sunset or sunrise!
28. D.L. Bliss State Park
D.L. Bliss State Park, on the lake’s western shore and spanning 750 acres, is easily one of Lake Tahoe’s most popular destinations, because it’s close to so many attractions and has an adjacent campground. You’ll find Lighthouse Trail here, a 2.3-mile loop to a 1916 lighthouse. Other famous places include Rubicon Point on the north end of the park and Balancing Rock Nature Trail.
27. Rubicon Trail
While you visit D.L. Bliss State Park or Emerald Bay State Park, check out the Rubicon Trail out-and-back hike. It’s 4.5 miles long and goes between Vikingsholm Estate and D.L. Bliss. You can do the hike in either direction, and there is a 2-mile optional extension past Vikingsholm.
26. Cave Rock
You can see Cave Rock on Lake Tahoe’s southeastern shore from practically any location on the lake. It’s also known as “The Lady of the Lake,” because it looks like the profile of a woman’s face from a distance. It is part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and you can get there on a 15-minute hike. Note that the Washoe Native American tribe considers this rock to be sacred.
25. Olympic Valley
On the northwestern side of Lake Tahoe lies the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw Valley. It’s a sprawling, 4,000-acre property that has 34 ski lifts, 6 peaks, and an Olympic museum. You can take the Squaw Valley Aerial Tram up the mountain; the 10-minute ride runs 2,000 vertical feet upward and has some awesome views.
24. Watching a Sunrise or Sunset
You definitely don’t want to miss a sunrise or sunset at Lake Tahoe. The glistening aquamarine waters are stunning during the day, but the sunrise or sunset creates an even more breathtaking scene as the light reflects off the perfectly smooth water. If you want to avoid crowds, a sunrise is your best bet, as sunsets tend to attract many more viewers. Get up early and head to any east-facing viewpoint to see the brilliant colors!
23. Train Tracks into the Water
Years ago, train tracks were built on the shore of Lake Tahoe to launch boats into the water. Nowadays, the spooky tracks raise some eyebrows — why would a train run into a lake, right? The tracks are at Sugar Pine Point State Park and make for a neat photo!
22. Bayview Trail
For a great view of Emerald Bay and the rest of the lake, head to the challenging Bayview Trail. It’s a steep one and goes uphill most of the way, taking two to three hours to get to the top at Maggie’s Peaks. A permit is required to access the trailhead.
21. Cascade Falls
At the end of a moderately challenging hour-long hike in the southwestern region of Lake Tahoe near Emerald Bay, you’ll find massive Cascade Falls. It’s 200 feet tall, and the trail leading to it has some killer views of Cascade Lake.
20. Stand-Up Paddleboarding
So, you tried kayaking and you want to explore the lake with a bit of a tougher workout. Try SUP boarding! It’s a fun and active way to take in the beauty of Lake Tahoe. Rental facilities are abundant along the lake. If you’re a first-timer, check out this tour, which is perfect for beginners.
19. Carnelian Bay
Carnelian Bay on the western side of North Lake gets its name from the red and yellow stones dotting its shore. If you want to check out the town, be prepared to see lots of kayakers, SUP boarders, trout fishermen, and adorable dogs everywhere.
18. Eagle Lake Trail
This moderate two-mile round-trip hike is right off Highway 89, and the scenery is incredible. Expect crystal-clear waters at Eagle Lake and Eagle Falls, with a backdrop of vibrant green foliage. There are a bunch of hiking trails that you can explore from Eagle Lake Trail (near Emerald Bay), which vary in difficulty.
17. Ski Run Marina Village
The Ski Run Marina in South Lake is a crowd favorite for both locals and tourists and has been around since 1939. It has a beach next to it where you can enjoy the lakefront before popping over to the village for a bite to eat at one of its restaurants or for some live entertainment. Here you’ll find Riva Grill, which is easily the most popular restaurant in Lake Tahoe.
16. Heavenly’s Lakeview Lodge
One of the best views of the lake can be found at Heavenly Resort’s Lakeview Lodge, which sits 2,000 feet above the water’s surface. You can get there via a short tram ride up the mountain. The lodge has great dining options, as well as an outdoor deck and a massive bar with 97 beers on tap.
15. Tahoe Tastings Boat Wine Tasting
Imagine cruising around on Lake Tahoe in a 1953 Venetian water taxi with a glass of South Lake’s finest wine from Tahoe Tastings. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than that! This activity is perfect for a girls’ weekend getaway. Tahoe Tasting partners with popular wineries to give guests the best tastes of Northern California’s wine.
14. Glen Alpine Falls
On the southern side of Lake Tahoe, you’ll find Glen Alpine Falls, a 65-foot tiered waterfall that is right along the roadside. Early summertime is a great time to see it at its best, while the water levels are still high from the spring snowmelt.
13. Tahoe Treetop Adventure Park
An afternoon spent at one of the three Tahoe Treetop Adventure Parks is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. There are 10 treetop adventure courses at each park, all with different levels of difficulty. There are 97 tree platforms, 27 zip lines (from 30 to 200 feet), and 60 other obstacles. Don’t miss out on this thrilling adventure on a summer afternoon!
12. Shirley Canyon Trail
Passing waterfalls and granite rock formations, this half-day hike along Shirley Canyon Trail will take you to gorgeous Shirley Lake. It’s a fairly difficult hike, taking three hours round trip; it’s three miles to Shirley Lake and two more to the highest point of the trail. It’s a 2,000-foot elevation gain on the way up, but the natural beauty all around makes it worth it.
11. Ring Road
This 72-mile drive takes around three hours with no stops, but you can make a full day of it by stopping at different places along the way. You’ll find Kings Beach, Carnelian Bay, South Lake, Sand Harbor, and Emerald Bay all along this route. It’s the perfect summer road trip and can be done at a leisurely pace.
10. Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point is 600 feet above the lake, looking out over Emerald Bay, Fannette Island, Vikingsholm Estate, and beyond. It’s a great place for an epic photo, because it is close to a few Emerald Bay hiking trails, including Cascade Falls and Bayview. Tack it onto your Emerald Bay itinerary!
9. Downtown Truckee
Truckee is a quaint mountain town with plenty of different things to do. It’s about a half hour northwest of North Shore and has lots of places to eat, boutique shops, and art galleries. Donner Lake is also in Truckee, which makes the town a local favorite. Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? The ice cream at the Little Truckee Ice Creamery is pretty legendary.
8. Meeks Bay
At the mouth of Meeks Creek on the western side of the lake lies Meeks Bay. This area has a resort, a campground, bike paths, and both public and private resort beaches. You’ll find family-friendly camping and long stretches of soft sand here, with shallow waters perfect for swimming.
7. Pope Beach
This three-quarter-mile-long sandy beach is three miles west of South Lake on Highway 89, on national forest land. Pope Beach is famous for its shallow waters and beautiful scenery, and has plenty of shady trees to picnic under.
6. Hot-Air Balloon Ride
If you’ve ever thought about going on a hot-air balloon ride, Lake Tahoe is one of the absolute best places to do it. They reach elevations of up to 10,000 feet above sea level, but can also go down to just a few feet above the water’s surface. Some of them actually touch down onto the water! The sunrise balloon rides are incredible. I mean, can you think of a better way to start your day?
5. Zephyr Cove
Popular Zephyr Cove, on the southeastern part of the lake (on the Nevada side), has beaches, a marina, a variety of restaurants, and camping. It’s a great launching pad for a bunch of summer activities.
4. Moraine Trail
Running to the dam at Fallen Leaf Lake, this easy trail is only about two miles round-trip and takes about an hour and a half to complete. You’ll find some killer views of Cathedral Peak and Mount Tallac along the way. Summer is just the right time to hike this trail, because the water at Fallen Leaf is warm and perfect for swimming and fishing.
3. Pacific Crest Trail
The 3,000-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs all the way through the western United States down to Mexico. Along the way, it passes through the Desolation Wilderness Region on the west side of Lake Tahoe. This section, between Tahoe and Mt. Whitney, is known as “the crown jewel of the PCT” because of its varied topography: lakes, valleys, granite peaks, and forests. Hikers usually access this part of the PCT through Eagle Falls, Lake Aloha, Fallen Leaf Lake, Wrights Lake, or Echo Lake.
2. Wakeboarding and Waterskiing
If you’re an outdoor adventure enthusiast, consider trying wakeboarding and waterskiing when you visit Lake Tahoe. If you have a boat or can rent one, these activities are great to enjoy with friends. There are a variety of places around Tahoe to take lessons or rent equipment, since this is such a popular activity.
1. South Lake Food and Drink Scene
South Lake’s food and drink scene is definitely not something you want to miss while visiting Lake Tahoe. The hustle and bustle of South Lake is exciting, and the delicious restaurants and neat breweries are abundant. Not sure where to start? Check out South Tahoe Restaurant Association’s Elevate Your Palate Map!
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As you can see by now, Lake Tahoe has no shortage of incredible things to do in the summer. Whether you’re heading out on a camping trip, staying a cozy Airbnb, or going for a more luxurious resort vibe, there is enough to keep you busy for your entire stay. In fact, I’ll bet that you’ll be returning time and time again to continue exploring the area.
There’s so much more to Chicago than deep-dish pizza, baseball games, and the Bean. All of those are lovely, but there are plenty of other neat ways to get to know the Windy City — for free! As a Chicago native myself, I am thrilled to introduce newcomers, repeat visitors, and even Chicago residents to some of my top free things to do there:
21. Be a beach bum at Montrose Beach
If you are visiting Chicago in the summer, you can’t miss out on a trip to the beach. If you’ve never been, you might be wondering how the Windy City has a beach. I hear you. It’s nothing like the pristine white-sand beaches of the Caribbean, but Lake Michigan’s pleasantly calm waters are perfect for taking a summertime dip.
Montrose Beach is on the north side of the city and has the most chill vibe of all the beaches in Chicago. It’s very family friendly, and you’ll see lots of people having cookouts in the grassy areas behind the beach. My favorite thing about this place is that Mexican popsicle and ice cream carts regularly make their rounds there.
Another neat feature of Montrose is the dog beach adjacent to it. Even if you aren’t a dog owner yourself, it’s fun to see the dogs having a blast running around and playing in the water.
20. See the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is easily one of the top things to do in Chicago, let alone one of the best free things to do. The zoo is on the north side, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, as the name implies. It’s close to Lake Shore Drive and a great place to begin an entire day dedicated to this historic and charming area of the city.
The zoo is open every day and definitely attracts significant crowds in the warmer months. Consider getting a head start in the morning when it opens at 10am, so you can get a better view of the animals, especially if you’re visiting in the summer.
19. Find some peace at Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
Steps away from the famous Lincoln Park Zoo is the quaint Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. This urban oasis free of the bustle of the city is surrounded by trees. Around the small pond, you’ll find species of local plants and plenty of serene places to sit and take in nature.
The history of the lily pool is a testament to Chicago residents’ long-standing dedication to preserving nature whenever possible. I used to go to this special spot often, and I always recommend that people stop there to take a breather while visiting the city. Add it onto your Lincoln Park Zoo visit for a quick recharge before your next activity.
18. Meander through the Lincoln Park Conservatory
Just north of the Lincoln Park Zoo is the Lincoln Park Conservatory, where you can check out plant species from all around the world. You can visit any time of year, but spring and summer are especially ideal, because the gardens surrounding the conservatory are a beautiful place for a walk, a picnic, or a photo op.
The conservatory features four display houses: the Orchid House, the Fern Room, the Palm House, and the Show House, which hosts annual flower shows. Plan to spend at least 30 minutes to an hour walking through, unless you’re an overly enthusiastic plant lover like me — I could spend hours there just looking at all the flora.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory is open from 10am to 3pm from Wednesday to Sunday.
17. Soak up the sun at Oak Street Beach
This downtown beach has a completely different vibe than Montrose. For starters, it’s much smaller and more crowded than most other beaches. However, the stark contrast between the sandy shore and the shimmering skyscrapers is nothing short of surreal.
Oak Street Beach is much more of a party scene: it has a bar and restaurant right on-site. They’re quite pricey, so consider bringing your own picnic if you want to save a few bucks. I recommend getting there early to secure your spot and avoid the mid-afternoon crowds that accumulate in the summer.
16. Stroll along the Riverwalk
Chicago is known for the rivers that flow through downtown and into Lake Michigan. In the last decade, the city has worked hard to create the Riverwalk, so that pedestrians can take in the fantastic view of Chicago’s world-class architecture.
The walk is 1.5 miles long and perfect for an evening stroll. You’ll see musicians playing, art installations, and plenty of other visitors out and about. There are six different areas, or “coves” along the route: the Riverbank, the Jetty, the Water Plaza, the River Theater, the Cove, and the Marina. My personal favorite is the Marina, because there are many more places to sit and people-watch.
15. Enjoy Art on theMART at the Chicago Riverwalk
One of the most prominent spots to see art along the Riverwalk is across from theMART building (formerly known as Merchandise Mart). Every night at 9 and 9:30pm, an art show is projected onto the massive façade of the building, creating a dazzling display. It’s completely free to visit and makes a great after-dinner stop.
To see when Art on theMART is operating, stay tuned to the website.
14. See some snapshots at the Museum of Contemporary Photography
As one of the leading photography museums in the Midwest, it’s awesome that the Museum of Contemporary Photography doesn’t charge admission. It’s part of Columbia College Chicago and began its collection in the 1980s. Since then, it has accumulated over 16,000 pieces by over 1,500 artists.
The museum regularly features collections from both well-known photographers and Columbia students. You can even take a free tour of the museum led by a docent. Reservations to visit aren’t obligatory, but they are encouraged.
The Museum of Contemporary Photography is open from 10am-5pm (with the exception of Thursday when it closes at 8pm) from Tuesday to Sunday.
13. Admire the architecture at the Chicago Cultural Center
Do you know where the world’s largest Tiffany glass–stained dome is? It’s OK if you don’t… it’s not really common knowledge. Just in case you wanted to see it, you can at the Chicago Cultural Center! This vintage building showcases some of Chicago’s finest architecture and is completely free to visit.
The Chicago Cultural Center often hosts free events, including musical performances, dance and theater shows, art exhibitions, and so much more. Since the building is a popular wedding venue and this results in closing parts of the center, avoid visiting on a weekend. A weekday morning is the best time to go.
You can visit the Chicago Cultural center any day of the week from 11am to 4pm.
12. Check out the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Tuesdays on the Terrace
It’s no secret that Chicago is known for its iconic blues and jazz music scene. There are plenty of venues to catch a blues and jazz show, but the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Tuesdays on the Terrace events are some of the best. The terrace at the museum boasts an incredible view of downtown Chicago, which is the ultimate scene for listening to some of the city’s best jazz musicians.
Check the Tuesdays on the Terrace schedule to see who’s playing and to make a reservation. Also, you can visit the museum itself for free on Tuesdays if you are an Illinois resident.
11. Have a movie night at Millennium Park
This is another summertime must-do in Chicago. On Tuesday evenings at 6pm during the summer months, Millennium Park hosts a free film series. You can find the full schedule here.
I went to these free movies a lot when I lived in Chicago, and it was a blast to go with friends. We would bring a full picnic spread, which is common at these events. So pack up your picnic basket, get there 30 minutes early, and enjoy your favorite movie in a pretty epic setting.
10. Take a Chicago Greeter neighborhood tour
Chicago has a reputation for Midwestern politeness, and the Chicago Greeter neighborhood tours are a perfect example of that. These operate in over 25 districts; local guides give you a complete rundown of the neighborhood’s history, culture, and unique gastronomy. The guides are volunteers who genuinely want to show the best of their neighborhoods.
Tours are completely free, but you must make a reservation 10 business days in advance on Chicago Greeter’s website. You’ll be able to choose the neighborhood you want to see; tours takes between 2 and 4 hours.
9. Step back in time at the Jackson Park Japanese Gardens
Near the Museum of Science and Industry lies historic Jackson Park, which contains a beautiful Japanese garden: the Garden of the Phoenix, aka Osaka Garden. With such a massive museum so close, this beautiful piece of history is often overlooked.
The garden was originally built in 1893 by the Japanese government as part of Japan’s contribution to the World’s Columbian Exposition. What stands now is an expansion of the original garden and features a variety of Japanese plants and sculptures.
8. Peep at art at the National Museum of Mexican Art
This is another museum that always impresses me and makes me wonder how something so wonderful can be completely free. It is right in the center of the Pilsen neighborhood, which is historically Mexican but continues to suffer severe gentrification — a lot has changed in the last decade. However, Mexican art and culture is hugely important to the societal fabric of Chicago, and a few long-standing institutions still exist, including this museum.
Much of the museum’s art showcases the modern Mexican American experience, along with traditional Mexican art. It’s a flawless mix of old and new, delightfully displayed. The museum also hosts a variety of cultural events, including an epic Día de los Muertos party.
The National Museum of Mexican Art is open from 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Sunday.
7. Get your chloro-fill at Garfield Park Conservatory
Please excuse my terrible pun…
This is the second conservatory on this list and, in my opinion, the better of the two. While it’s not as centrally located as the one in Lincoln Park, the Garfield Park Conservatory is much bigger, less crowded, and more beautiful. In fact, it’s the third largest garden under glass in the world.
You must make a reservation to visit the conservatory; you can do so here. It is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, with the exception of Wednesdays when it closes later at 8pm.
6. Breeze through Smart Museum of Art
If the sticker price of the Art Institute has you feeling discouraged, the next best art museum (which happens to be free!) is the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. It houses a sculpture garden and various impressive exhibitions that feature world-renowned artists, such as Salvador Dalí and Edgar Degas, among others.
You can visit the Smart Museum of Art by making a reservation here. It is open from 11am to 4pm, Thursday through Sunday.
5. Check out the Hyde Park Art Center
The Hyde Park Art Center is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of Chicago’s brightest creative minds. It commits itself to showcasing diverse voices and challenging artistic norms with its groundbreaking exhibitions. The center hosts a plethora of events that are free to the public and feature Black artists, especially those from the neighborhood.
The center has sporadic hours, which you can check here.
4. Learn about sustainability at The Plant Chicago
The Plant is one of my favorite places in Chicago because it has a truly remarkable mission. A lot has changed since the building that houses the project was a slaughterhouse in the meat-packing district — nowadays The Plant consists of several small businesses that operate in a circular economy, meaning that the by-products of one business must be beneficial in some way to another in the building.
Stop in for a visit and check out the brewery, bakery, community garden, and much more at The Plant. They hold free events throughout the year, including an awesome farmers market.
3. Volunteer for a day at a community garden
There are hundreds of community gardens all over the city of Chicago, all hoping to combat the city’s food desert issue. Chicago is a culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse city, which means that each neighborhood has its own unique social issues. One of them that spans across the city is food insecurity.
Chicago Community Gardeners Association works with local leaders to implement community garden programs. To learn more about them and to sign up to volunteer for a day, fill out an inquiry here. Not only will you be able to give back to Chicago while you visit, but you’ll have an awesome time doing it!
2. Catch a summer street festival
Chicago becomes the land of festivals in the summertime. Each neighborhood has its own lineup, on a wide variety of themes. The city’s diversity shines at these festivals, as many of them showcase music, food, and art from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
A full schedule of Chicago’s free street festivals can be found here. Even if you visit during the spring, fall, or winter, you can still find a festivals somewhere in the city.
1. Peer at the Navy Pier summer fireworks
On Wednesday and Saturday nights between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, Navy Pier hosts a spectacular fireworks show. The best spot to see them is from Navy Pier itself, which is an exciting place to wander around. There are a ton of restaurants, and the city just remodeled the entire pier a few years ago, so it’s quite a sight to see, even without the fireworks.
Stay up to date on the Navy Pier fireworks show here.
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I have a lot of pride in my home city, in case you couldn’t tell. Chicago has so much to offer in terms of cultural diversity, entertainment, architecture, and gastronomy. From this list, you can definitely see that it’s totally possible to have an amazing time in the Windy City on a tight budget.
For more tips on saving money on summer travel, check out this post as well.
What are your favorite cities to visit on a budget?
It’s no secret that Orlando is one of the most touristy cities in the United States, because of Disney World, Universal Studios, and other theme parks. It truly is a giant playground for kids and adults alike — but many attractions cost a pretty penny to indulge in.
Even if you are traveling to Orlando to visit the parks, these free things to do in Orlando will not only allow you to save some money but also give you a more authentic experience:
18. Theme park fireworks
The best part of the Disney World fireworks show is that you can see it from several places outside the theme park. To see the nightly Magic Kingdom show, check the schedule first to see what time it starts. Then get a great view of the display from the boat launch of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, which you can access if you have a drink or a meal there.
Another option to watch the fireworks for free to catch them from the next item on this list: Disney’s BoardWalk.
17. Disney’s BoardWalk
This quarter-mile boardwalk, whose design evokes a charming 1920s Coney Island feel, is a beautiful place to stroll along the water’s edge, catch street performances, and scope out that perfect dinner spot, all for free. (And see the fireworks show mentioned above.)
The BoardWalk is also connected to Disney’s free ferry system, which can take you over to the next free thing to do in Orlando: Disney Springs.
16. Disney Springs
Disney Springs is mostly just a shopping and dining area, but also a great place to spend some time exploring. On any given day, you’ll be able to take in the epic architecture all around you, along with pop-up street performances.
From there, you can take the free ferry to EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, or the Magic Kingdom, even if you don’t have a pass to those parks — the ride from Disney Springs is still fun to do on its own!
15. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
This kitschy art museum in nearby Winter Park is just 25 minutes away from downtown Orlando. It features the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including his glassworks, paintings, jewelry, pottery, and more. Most of the pieces in the museum are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, giving you a true blast from the past.
The museum is free to visit during the month of August if you make your reservation here.
14. Harry P. Leu Gardens
Just a few minutes from downtown Orlando lies a 50-acre botanical oasis, the Harry P. Leu Gardens. This lush green heaven used to be the home of Leu and his wife Mary Jane before they donated the home and surrounding gardens to the city of Orlando in 1961. The mission of the gardens is to preserve native plant life and allow visitors to enjoy it fully.
The Harry P. Leu Gardens has several free-admission days, which you can find here.
13. Winter Park History Museum
If you’re looking to dive into the Orlando area’s rich history, don’t miss out on the Winter Park History Museum. Featuring rotating exhibits dedicated to storytelling and preservation, the museum gives visitors a neat picture of what this area was like before Disney World came to be, along with snapshots of how much has changed since then.
You can visit Winter Park History Museum from 10am to 4pm Tuesday through Friday and from 10am to 2pm Saturday.
12. Universal CityWalk
After 6pm you can find free parking at Universal CityWalk, allowing you to enjoy the sights and sounds of this several-acre area without paying a dime. You can even catch a free water taxi at CityWalk, which will take you to other Universal Orlando theme parks without needing a park pass to board.
Universal CityWalk has free dance parties to live DJ sets, along with other street performances. For a complete list of shops, restaurants, and other attractions there, check out the website.
11. Movie nights
A great way to enjoy the big screen without the insane price of a cinema ticket is checking to see if your destination has free movie nights in a local park. For example, in nearby Maitland, just under 20 minutes from Orlando, Enzian hosts free movie nights called Popcorn Flicks in the Park; these are free to the public and typically start between 7 and 8pm.
Pack a picnic and a cozy blanket to lounge on, and enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere of this wholesome event.
10. Old Town
Old Town is another shopping district that has more to offer than just its shops and restaurants. It features vintage architecture and a classic feel. Check out the calendar of events to see when you can catch the next free car show or live music.
9. West Orange Trail
This peaceful nature trail just 15 minutes from downtown Orlando spans 22 miles. You can start your West Orange Trail adventure — walking, jogging, biking, or rollerblading — in the town of Winter Park, which sits on the edge of serene Lake Apopka. There are plenty of shops along the way, too, where you can rent a bike or skates to enjoy the trail the way you’d like.
This is a calm break from the theme park madness of Orlando and an awesome way to spend a day outdoors — for free!
8. Mead Botanical Garden
Also in Winter Park, the 47-acreMead Botanical Garden is a wonderland of native plants and animals. You could spend days exploring its hiking trails, creek, butterfly garden, greenhouse, and more.
It’s completely free to visit; you can do so from 8am to dusk, any day of the week. There is also a variety of free events throughout the year, so keep an eye on the calendar to see if any of them interest you.
7. Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
Have you ever heard of wineries offering free tastings and tours? I hadn’t either — until I came across Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, just 25 minutes from Orlando. Florida isn’t exactly famous for its wineries, but Lakeridge offers a brilliant selection that you can taste for free.
Free guided tasting tours happen every weekday, between 10:15am and 3:45pm. They last around 45 minutes and include a full rundown of how the wine is produced, ending with a tasting. If you visit on the weekend, your complimentary tasting and tour might also include some live music!
6. Watch a rocket launch
Seeing a rocket launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex might require some careful planning, but it’s an epic free thing to do while you visit Orlando, from which you can see the vehicles making their way to space. The Space Center is about an hour away if you want to get a closer look, but the launches are visible from Orlando.
Check out the launch schedule to see if your Orlando vacation lines up with a rocket launch!
5. Orlando Farmers Market
Every Sunday from 10am to 3pm, the Orlando Farmers Market takes place in Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Spend time enjoying the festive atmosphere and checking out the booths. You’ll find everything from local produce to freshly prepared food to handmade arts and crafts at this vibrant market.
Since this is such a local favorite, a stop here will give you a more authentic picture of everyday life in Orlando beyond the theme parks.
4. University of Central Florida Arboretum
This gorgeous botanical space is part of the University of Central Florida’s experiential learning initiative and works like an outdoor laboratory for students, staff, and visitors alike. The arboretum has both natural areas and community gardens, which you can explore on a free self-guided tour.
You can visit the Arboretum Monday through Friday, from 8am to 4pm.
3. Cornell Fine Arts Museum
Another great free museum option is the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College. It has rotating exhibitions featuring anything from ancient art to contemporary works. It also has an extensive permanent collection, with pieces spanning centuries of art history.
To visit, you must register for tickets in advance.
In downtown Orlando, the non-profit CityArts showcases the both international and local art in the largest collective of galleries in the city, housed in a historic building on the corner of Pine and Magnolia. The organization hosts a variety of creative events as well.
This hip spot is free to visit Tuesday through Sunday, from 11am to 6pm.
1. Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts
If you’re looking for your fine art fix while visiting Orlando, this free museum is perfect for you. Featuring giants such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Monet, the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts has one of the most impressive collections you can find in Florida.
The museum is open and free to visit Monday through Saturday, from 9am to 4pm.
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There you have it, folks! Eighteen wonderful ways to enjoy the Orlando area without breaking the bank. There’s so much to see in this part of central Florida, so get out there and see what there is off the beaten theme park path. If Orlando is part of your road trip through the south, check out our southern road trip ideas for more inspo!
Whether you’re looking for your perfect island getaway, next big hiking adventure, a gastronomical paradise, or a complete historical immersion, Greece truly has it all.
You’ve seen the photos of dreamy places like Santorini all over your Instagram feed, but there’s so much more to this scenic country than just that. Are you ready for one of the most diverse lists of the best things to do in Greece?
Tell me you’re obsessed with Greece without telling me you’re obsessed with Greece. I’ll go first:
31. Rent a boat
Renting a boat to sail around the Greek islands is the ultimate flex, if you ask me. The best part is that it’s totally doable, and there are several options to choose from. If you are traveling with friends, you can rent a boat together for a more customizable experience. You can also rent a yacht through Yacht Week, which is more glamorous. Read about all the different boat rental options here!
30. Go sailing with a guide
If you’d rather experience the gorgeous seas of Greece without the pressure of sailing your own boat, consider hiring a guide or joining a tour to take you around. Get Your Guide has hundreds of options, with a range of prices and amenities to choose from. Happy sailing!
There are 227 islands in Greece just waiting for you to experience. One of the best things to do is to spend some time hopping from island to island. There are several island chains that can be visited on their own or be made into a complete island-hopping itinerary.
There are two island groupings that are particularly famous. First there are the Cyclades, which include Santorini and Mykonos. Then there are the Ionians, which are just off the west coast of the Greek mainland. Whichever island chain you choose, you’re sure to find plenty of diverse culture, gastronomy, and scenery on each island.
28. Be wowed at the Acropolis in Athens
The Acropolis is easily one of the most well-known attractions in all of Greece. It is the birthplace of Western civilization, after all! For that reason, no trip to Greece is truly complete without making a stop at the Acropolis.
This tour from Get Your Guide includes a licensed guide who will take you to hidden spots like Pnyx Hill. From the Acropolis, catch a killer view of Athens and the Aegean Sea for a truly memorable experience.
27. Pretend to be an Olympian at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens
Simply visiting the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens is an awesome experience in itself. Take your trip to the next level by doing an Olympic-style workout in the stadium! That’s right: You can learn about the history of the stadium and find out how ancient Olympians trained during this totally immersive experience. Lace up your shoes and get ready to sweat like an Olympian!
26. Wander through the National Garden in Athens
In the middle of the bustling city of Athens lies the breathtaking 24-hectare National Garden. Within the garden, you’ll find thousands of species of plants, a conservatory, children’s library, a small café, and six lakes. You could spend an entire afternoon simply wandering about and admiring the beauty of the garden.
For a speedier zip through the garden, consider renting a bike or going on a bike tour. This is a great way to see the National Garden if you don’t have as much time to walk though it.
25. Be charmed at Hephaestus Temple
This gorgeous temple is known to be the most-preserved temple in all of Greece. It was dedicated to Hephaestus, the god of fire; and Athena, the goddess of pottery and crafts. It is one of the best examples of Dorian architecture atop Agoreao Koronos Hill in Athens.
The Pentelic and Parian marble decorations, along with the quintessential columns, are the temple’s best features. As one of the most historically significant temples in Greece, the temple is included on many tours, like this unique nighttime bike tour.
24. Time-travel at the Ancient Theatre of the Asklepieion at Epidaurus
This ancient Hellenic theater is located in the small village of Epidaurus and was founded in the 4th century BCE, making it one of the oldest of its kind. The most mind-blowing thing is that it’s still in use today! A visit will have you feeling like you are stuck in a time warp as you observe how the site has truly stood the test of time.
If you want to tour Epidaurus and nearby Mycenae in the same day from Athens, check out this tour that goes to both!
23. Go on a pilgrimage to Delphi
On the side of Mount Parnassus, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage Site Delphi in all of its architectural glory. The ruins here include a theatre, a stadium, temples, and more.
The ancient city was the destination for pilgrims who would journey there to pay homage to Apollo and seek guidance from the Oracle of Delphi, aka the high priestess Pythia. Take yourself on your own pilgrimage to Delphi and discover its wonders. Book a guided tour here.
22. Climb Mount Olympus
Climbing Mount Olympus (aka the Mountain of the Gods) is one of the most epic things you can do in Greece. It’s an absolute must-do for any outdoors enthusiast. As the highest mountain in the country (9,570 feet tall), its skyscraping peak was believed to be the home of twelve ancient gods.
The entire hike takes two days, but there are plenty of mountain refuges along the way where you can stay. For more information on how to hike to the peak of Mount Olympus, check out Olympus Climbing.
21. Marvel at the Olympia Archaeological Site
The Olympia Archaeological Site is one of the most historically significant places in Greece, being the birthplace of the first Olympic games in antiquity. For this reason, they still host a torch-lighting ceremony before the start of every modern Olympics to carry on the ancient tradition.
The most notable feature of the site is the temple dedicated to the gods Zeus and Hera. Before being destroyed in a fire, there stood here a famous gold and ivory statue of Zeus, which was once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
There is also a museum that is worth visiting in order to learn more about the site’s history. You can see both on this private tour.
20. Trek through the Samaria Gorge
This is another one for all of you adventurers out there. The Samaria Gorge, 4,000 feet above sea level, is one of Europe’s longest. It is in the White Mountains of western Crete and goes through a thousand-year-old forest.
Trekking through the Samaria Gorge is a highly sought-after experience and definitely worth hiring a guide or joining a tour to take full advantage of it. This full-day tour starts in Chania and ends in the charming village of Agia Roumeli.
19. Be a beach bum at Balos Bay
We all know that Greece is packed full of stunning beaches. Somehow, Balos Bay on Crete stands out from the rest, with its pillow-soft white sand and the crystal-clear shallow waters of the lagoon. Due to its beauty and ideal shores for swimming, it gets quite crowded during the months of July and August.
To get to Balos Bay, you will have to take a ferry from Kissamos port. Get there early in the morning for fewer crowds. You can also visit on a full-day tour.
18. See the birthplace of Zeus
Also on the island of Crete is Dikteon Cave, which is believed to be the birthplace of Zeus. This attraction is certainly more off the beaten path, which makes a visit a unique and less touristy experience. (It is near the village of Psychro, so it is also known as Psychro Cave.)
The cave itself is full of stalagmites and stalactites, which creates a spooky atmosphere. It was once the destination of many pilgrims who wished to pay their respects to Zeus; even today, you might find offerings to the ancient god inside the cave.
Intrigued? Check out this Land Rover Safari tour that makes a stop at Dikteon Cave.
17. See the man-made Lake Plastira
Nestled in the Agrafa mountain range is the serene man-made wonder of Lake Plastira. It’s one of Greece’s largest man-made lakes and attracts visitors who are looking for a quiet place to connect with nature. The lake is surrounded by bike trails, fir-tree forests, rock-climbing spots, and more. Other activities are horseback riding, kayaking, and exploring the nearby villages and monasteries.
16. Witness a miracle at Meteora
Meteora is home to some of the most astounding feats of architecture, with monasteries that sit on top of near-vertical rock formations. The natural pillars below the monasteries reach heights of nearly 400 meters (1,300 feet), like the one underneath the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.
Not only should you explore inside the monasteries, but you should definitely take advantage of the incredible panoramic views from their decks. Consider joining a tour to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
15. Look for nymphs at Melissani Lake
This B-shaped lake is inside a cave with algae and moss-covered stalactites hanging down from the stone walls.
Melissani Lake, an unspoiled natural wonder on Kefalonia Island, is famous for its legends regarding nymphs. During its excavation, third- and fourth-century figures of nymphs were found, giving meaning to the ancient stories. A visit to this magical spot will send your imagination running wild, thinking about these mythical creatures.
The turquoise waters of the lake are best enjoyed around noon, when sunlight can enter through the top of the cave-like structure in which it is located. Take a day tour of Kefalonia Island, which highlights this mystical lake.
14. Visit Ancient Corinth
This ancient city is where St. Paul spoke to the Corinthians, making it one of the first places in Europe to embrace Christianity. The ruins are full of Greek and Roman relics, which showcase the area’s architectural diversity. Because the ruins are situated so close to the village, visitors get a clear picture of the contrast between ancient and modern Greece.
There is a museum on-site that houses a variety of artifacts that bring the history of the ruins to life. If Athens is your base, consider this half-day tour of Corinth.
13. Bungee-jump at the Corinth Canal
Looking to get your adrenaline fix while in Greece? This is the opportunity for you. The Corinth Canal is a man-made wonder — it literally took centuries to build and stands today as one of the most impressive feats of engineering of ancient Greece. Ships still pass through it today.
It’s also the perfect spot for bungee-jumping. Zulu Bungy calls itself the most exciting bungee in the world and has the best reputation of any such company. This is definitely one of the more unexpected activities in Greece and worth a try.
12. Sip red wine in the Nemea Region
It’s no secret that Greece is known for its superb wine, and there are plenty of wine tours throughout the country. Nemea, just southwest of Corinth, has some of the best reds. (It’s also the site of Hercules’ first task of twelve: to slay the Nemean lion.)
While you tour some of the region’s most notable wineries, make sure to stop at the ancient stadium of Nemea to see the ruins there.
11. Drive through the Mani Peninsula
If you’re like me and enjoy a good road trip, consider doing one on Greece’s Mani Peninsula. This peninsula in southern Greece is home to a population who claim to be direct descendants of ancient Spartans. It’s divided into two parts: the Outer Mani and Deep Mani. Each half has its own unique character.
Outer Mani is known for its quaint coastal villages that have a more authentic feel than other, more touristy places in the country. Deep Mani has a legendary coastline and is even less visited than Outer Mani. Being able to drive through both makes for the road trip of a lifetime, full of coves, seaside views, caves, and lighthouses.
10. Take a rack-railway train through Vouraikos Canyon
A rack-railway is a unique feat of engineering that uses cog wheels that latch onto the rail in order to help the train navigate steep terrain. Traveling along this type of railway is an exciting experience in itself, but even more exciting when paired with the magnificent views of the Vouraikos Canyon.
This train ride is only 22 kilometers (14 miles) long and goes between Diakopto and Kalavryta, through the Vouraikos Canyon. It’s one of the top train rides in the world! Expect to see the Vouraikos River, flowing waterfalls, expertly crafted tunnels, and more.
Check the Odontotos Railway site for the train schedule and other useful information.
9. Buy local goods at Modiano Market
If you know me, you know I love a good market. In fact, I make it my mission to beeline it to the closest market in any new place I travel to. The Modiano Market in Thessaloniki is one of the absolute best places to indulge your foodie fantasies. It features local products, from spices to candies to cheeses and everything in between.
The Modiano Market’s central location makes it one of the most bustling places in town. You’ll find local people milling about, making their everyday purchases and eating at the food stalls inside. It’s one of the best places to get a feel for the local food scene and culture, so don’t miss it!
8. Immerse yourself in history at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
As one of the largest museums in Greece, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki has an awe-inspiring collection of historical artifacts that will keep a history buff entertained for hours. The museum itself is an excellent example of stunning modern Greek architecture.
It’s located in the heart of the city Thessaloniki, making it the perfect launching point for archaeological sites and other museums. Consider passing through to learn some local history and context before heading to other sites.
7. Peruse the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil
My mouth is already watering as I think about how delicious Greek olive oil is. Can you relate? The Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the entire process of olive oil making, from planting the trees to bottling the oil.
Here you’ll also learn about the historical, cultural, and economic significance of olives, along with the myriad of ways that they are used. I mean after all, J-Lo allegedly accredits her agelessness to olive oil.
6. Get underground at the Vergina Royal Tombs Museum
Located inside a grassy burial mound, the Vergina Royal Tombs Museum is unlike any other. The museum houses the ancient tombs of Macedonian royalty, such as Philip II, who was buried with an ivory and gold shield, full suit of gilded armor, and other glamorous treasures.
Other tombs are lavishly decorated with mythic friezes; one of them is even thought to be the final resting place of Alexander the Great’s son. If you want to check out this museum and other ancient sites nearby, this tour has an in-depth itinerary of the area.
5. Hike the Corfu Trail
If you’re looking to get way off the beaten path in Greece, consider hiking some or all of the Corfu Trail. This 220-kilometer (137-mile) trail boasts scenery that has been untouched by mass tourism. Expect to see virgin beaches, olive groves, rugged gorges, and much more along the way.
Hiking the Corfu Trail is still a relatively unknown activity in Greece, making it a great option for anyone who desires a bit of solace while traveling. There are plenty of options for where to hike, for how long, and where to stay along the trail.
4. Explore Mystras
Located in the countryside of the Peloponnese region, this rural town is home to the Palace of Despots, idyllic chapels, and hilltop views. The town has held on to its laid-back, sleepy nature, mostly due to a lack of tourism, so it’s the perfect place to relax and enjoy the rhythm of local life.
There are old footpaths throughout the surrounding region that make for perfect hikes, weaving through small settlements and forests. You’ll find ancient ruins, historic cathedrals, and Byzantine monuments along the way.
3. Hike from Monodendri to Vikos through the Vikos Gorge
The Vikos Gorge is one of the world’s deepest canyons; it is located in the Pindus Mountains of northern Greece. The gorge is part of Vikos National Park, which is home to some of the most diverse flora and fauna in Greece.
There’s no wonder why it’s one of the most popular places to hike in the country: as you move through the canyon, expect to see 5,500-foot cliffs, crystal-clear springs, and limestone and dolomite formations.
Most hikes start in the village of Monodendri and end in Vikos village, like this one.
2. Take a dip in the Edipsos Thermal Springs
If you want to pamper yourself, the healing thermal springs scattered across the city of Edipsos on the island of Evia are the perfect place to do so. Since ancient times, people have been visiting the magnesium-, calcium-, and iron-rich springs in search of healing.
On Evia, you might even find some beaches with semithermal sea water that has spilled over from nearby thermal springs. Sounds like an epic spa town to me!
1. Live your Mamma Mia fantasy at Skopelos Island
Even if it seems a little cheesy, visiting the filming locations of Mamma Mia is a fun and lighthearted way to enjoy the beauty of Skopelos Island, which is home to the famous wedding church from the movie. This tour will take you there, along with other locations.
You can also go for a swim at Panormos Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches on the island and the site of many panoramic shots from the movie.
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This list is by no means exhaustive , but I hope it gives you enough variety and inspiration for your trip to Greece. With so many distinct regions with their own historic treasures, beautiful views, and unique cultures, you could spend months traveling around the country and still only skim the surface of everything there is to do and see there.
Have you been? Let us know what your favorite places in Greece are!
I pulled into the secluded campsite in the National Forest. It was even better than what I expected – silent, down a dirt road most cars can’t make it down (but my 4WD truck had no problem!), and surrounded by giant sugar pines.
The best part about it is I didn’t have to set up camp. I already had it ready to go in the bed of my truck.
Let me tell you, it’s a good 10x better than tent camping!
But if you’re like me, it’s usually not as easy getting good sleep while camping as it is when you’re at home. That seems like a given, right? But it doesn’t have to be.
I love road trips and off the grid camping too much to end them before I’m done having adventures just because my sleep is suffering. So I went on a mission to make my truck bed as comfy as possible.
Here are my best tips to make your truck bed camping experience a cozy one:
Get a Real Mattress
The hardest thing about backcountry camping for me is always sleeping. When I have to carry everything on my back, it’s not possible to luxuriate with a real mattress. It’s usually impossible when car camping, too, because who can fit an oblong mattress into their back seat?
But with a truck with a cover, it’s the only logical thing to do. So I implore you, don’t settle for an air mattress when you can put a real twin mattress in there.
Ours is a cheapie. It was one of the least expensive mattresses that they had at the mattress store. The clerk was even trying not to sell us on it, but it’s perfect for the truck.
Keep in mind that you have wheel wells to consider, so that usually means a twin mattress. That said, I’ve shared it with my boyfriend in the wilderness and friends at festivals, and it’s worked out for us just fine.
Get a Weighted Blanket
Trust me, a weighted blanket will make your sleep that much deeper.
Bearaby (the sponsor of this post) gave me a napper to try and I couldn’t believe how much it made me feel swaddled like a baby. There were a couple times when the wind or random forest sounds kept me awake, but as soon as I put the weighted blanket on it was like a grown-up pacifier, calming me down instantly and helping me sleep. It’s amazing how well it works. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible if I hadn’t tried it. It feels like a natural anxiolytic.
I slept 11 hours that night in the truck. I didn’t even think that was possible!
According to Bearaby, Research studies show that sleeping with a weighted blanket reduces anxiety and stress while improving sleep. It can help to alleviate pain, lull insomnia, and bring the health benefits of hugging, along with a surprisingly long list of other benefits.
The Travel Napper is made from open weave, plant-based, organic cotton fabric. This makes it significantly less sweaty than most weighted blankets, and minimizes the environmental impact, too.
Lights, Coolers, and More
The only downside of the truck is that usually, you won’t have a screen to keep the bugs out. When I’m in a buggy area, I deal with that by attaching a mosquito net to the top of the cover (easy enough with duct tape) and tuck it around the mattress.
I also love having cute little unicorn lights. They’re squishy rather than glass, so they can handle some jostling. The longer strand also plugs into a USB outlet, which works perfectly with my rechargeable power bank. I just charge the power bank during the day with my solar charger and let the whole system run off of renewable energy. Even if you’re not in one spot to use the solar charger, I find it works perfectly on the car dashboard while I’m in transit.
Other little things that can make your experience more enjoyable, especially if it’s hot, are battery-powered swamp coolers. These will also plug into the power bank and work best if you can put ice cubes and a bit of water in them. Battery or USB-powered fans also work well. You can find any of these items at big box stores or Amazon.
Get out in the Middle of Nowhere
One of the most entertaining things to me is passing by the KOA campgrounds and other RV parks and marveling at how closely together everyone is parked. It’s like a parking lot! To me, that’s not camping.
I want to find those secluded spots under the stars, on public land, where I can be the only one out there for miles.
I know some people would probably not find this comforting, but consider getting out into the complete darkness and see if it’s for you. I tend to get the best sleep in forests, swaddled in my blanket and surrounded by giants. To me, that’s the essence of calm, and best of all there, are not lights or sounds to disrupt my sleep.
Park facing west
If possible, I park so that the sun will rise behind me. That way, if I get warm in the morning but am not done sleeping, I can push a window open without the sun radiating down on me. It also helps me to stay cooler for longer in the mornings, as the sun will be at the hood of the car rather than the back where you’re sleeping.
Depending on the windows of your truck bed cover (or truck tent), you may also wish to bring an eye mask along. I’m fortunate that my windows are opaque, blocking the light for the most part.
The best part about this setup is that it’s all doable for under $1k. So many truck retrofitting posts and videos make it seem like the only way to comfortably truck camp is to build compartments, but as someone who isn’t handy (or motivated to build out a truck), I loved that I could come up with a comfortable truck bed camping setup that helped me to get good sleep out in the wild.
*This post was created in partnership with Bearaby. All thoughts on the blanket’s awesome sleep benefits are my own.
This guest post is written byTheresa McKinney, a USVI enthusiast and travel blogger:
St. Thomas is a Caribbean paradise in the Lesser Antilles, and the most densely populated of the US Virgin Islands. If you wish to visit this island, you won’t be alone; it has one of the busiest cruise ports in the Caribbean. That said, a trip to St. Thomas USVI offers the chance to swim in clear, turquoise waters and take in amazing views from its lush peaks.
Americans especially love visiting St. Thomas due to its convenience. As the US Virgin Islands are an American territory, no passport is required upon entry or return from the islands. Additionally, many major US cities offer direct flights to St. Thomas, which makes it even more of an obvious choice for a tropical escape.
If a trip to this mountainous island is calling your name, below you’ll find the perfect itinerary for one week in St. Thomas USVI. Whether you seek lazy beach days, time exploring nature, or adventurous day trips, it’s all covered!
How to Spend One Week in St. Thomas USVI
Day 1: Arrival & Drake’s Seat
Arrive at Cyril E. King International Airport
Your first day in St. Thomas will begin with your arrival into Cyril E. King International Airport. The best flights arrive sometime in the afternoon, between noon and 4pm.
You can then grab your rental car right at the airport. While taxis are available on St. Thomas, it is far easier to properly explore this island with your own wheels.
Depending on where you stay, a 4×4 Jeep may be required to reach your lodging. The vacation rentals with the best views sometimes involve steep climbs up unpaved driveways. Double check the property’s listing or ask the owner to be sure.
If you don’t want to rent a car, grab a taxi from the stand right outside the airport. There is no Uber or Lyft in the US Virgin Islands.
View Magens Bay from Drake’s Seat
Once you’ve left the airport, head to your lodging to drop off your luggage and get your bearings. St. Thomas is a very developed island, and there are a myriad of both hotel and vacation rental options to choose from.
Depending on when you arrive into St. Thomas, you might not have time to do much besides grab groceries and dinner on your first night. However, one thing you can easily squeeze into your first evening is a drive up to Drake’s Seat.
This necessitates driving up some hilly roads to reach this high perch, but the sweeping views over Magens Bay are totally worth it. This is the perfect intro to one of St. Thomas’s best beaches before heading there on your first morning.
Day 2: Magens Bay & Charlotte Amalie Overlook
Day two of your St. Thomas USVI vacation will begin at pristine Magens Bay. This is arguably St. Thomas’s most stunning beach, although large cruise ship crowds sometimes take away from the scenery. St. Thomas can have as many as six cruise ships at port simultaneously, and it’s possible to see thousands of people enjoying Magens Bay at one time.
To beat the crowds, it is best to visit St. Thomas outside of peak season, which runs December through May. You could also arrive at Magens Bay first thing in the morning. This will give you the chance to pick the perfect beach spot and experience some solitude before the worst crowds arrive.
That said, there’s a reason why crowds flock to gorgeous Magens Bay. The water is calm as could be, and is perfect for utilizing the kayaks and stand-up paddle boards that are available for rent on site. Magens Bay is also long and perfect for leisurely strolls, and has the added bonus of a bar and grill for food and drink purchases.
There is a $5 fee to enter Magens Bay, as well as an additional $2 fee to park a vehicle.
Charlotte Amalie Overlook
When you’ve had enough sun or if the crowds become too much, hit the road again for a change of scenery. One of the most popular photo spots on St. Thomas is the Charlotte Amalie Overlook, and it is only an eight-minute drive from Magens Bay.
From this point, you can see the whole of Charlotte Amalie, as well as cruise ships docked at the Havensight and Crown Bay ports. A tad further out to sea, you can also view the green hills of Water Island and Hassel Island.
Day 3: Cas Cay & Duffy’s Love Shack
Virgin Islands Eco Tours is one of the most reputable tour companies on St. Thomas and neighboring St. John. One popular tour option is the kayak, hike, and snorkel tour out to Cas Cay.
There are both full and half day tours available. The full day tour includes lunch, and the half day tour is an abridged version of the full day. Both experiences include kayaking through mangroves, hiking a deserted island to a blowhole, and snorkeling in crystal clear waters.
Duffy’s Love Shack
As Cas Cay tours run all morning, your next stop could be either lunch or dinner. A five-minute drive to Duffy’s Love Shack in Red Hook will satisfy either of those needs.
This laid back “bar that serves great food” has a unique location in the middle of a parking lot, and is a St. Thomas staple. Some of the best menu items are fish or jerk chicken tacos with a side of fried plantains, as well as the blue cheese and bacon burger.
If you’re craving a cocktail, Duffy’s serves drinks like frozen bushwackers in fun souvenir glasses shaped like mermaids, pirates, sharks, etc.
Day 4: Sapphire Bay & Sunset Grille
Although Sapphire Bay is located on a resort property, it is one of the most beautiful beaches on St. Thomas. The water ranges from shades of sapphire to bright turquoise, and there are gorgeous views of St. John to the east. Sapphire Bay is truly magnificent during sunrise, when you can watch the orange glow of the sun appear from behind St. John.
It may be difficult to rise early enough to watch the sunrise at Sapphire Bay, but it’s still a great beach to visit later in the day. You can lounge in a beach chair, go snorkeling, or rent a kayak or SUP to get out on the water. There is also an open air beach bar right on the sand with casual menu items like tacos and surprisingly good fries.
Sunset Grille at Secret Harbour
One of the best things to do in St. Thomas is enjoy a lovely meal on the water during golden hour. For a dinner to remember, book a reservation at Sunset Grille for a little before sunset. Located in Secret Harbour, this upscale restaurant is steps away from a pretty white sand beach that itself is worthy of a visit.
The menu is top notch, with bright and delicious appetizers like jalapeno tempura octopus and entrée items like crispy whole snapper and miso Chilean sea bass. Your experience hits a whole new level when you consume this deliciousness as the sun sets before you.
Day 5: Ferry from St Thomas to St. John USVI
With St. Thomas and St. John being just a twenty-minute ferry ride apart, it would be remiss not to visit St. John at least once during your stay. This sister island is St. Thomas’s smaller and less developed counterpart. A visit to each really completes a USVI vacation.
From St. Thomas, most car rental companies will let you take your vehicle to St. John, but you could also opt for the traditional passenger ferry. Once in Cruz Bay on St. John, it will be very easy to grab a taxi.
From there, you can choose among various experiences in Virgin Islands National Park, like visiting the magnificent North Shore beaches or hiking the Reef Bay Trail. When you’re done you can grab food in Cruz Bay before catching the ferry back to St. Thomas.
Day 6: Smith Bay & Dinner in Red Hook
Smith Bay is another great beach to visit during a trip to St. Thomas USVI (aka Lindquist Beach). This beach doesn’t feel as remote as Magens Bay, with a large resort visible from the beach. However, it doesn’t get near the crowds that Magens draws.
All along the crescent shape of Lindquist Beach are small trees and shrubs forming little cubbies, which make your beach spot feel more private. All that’s left for a perfect beach day is to sink your toes in the slightly pink tinted sand and wade in the gentle waters. The right side of the beach is more rocky when entering the water, but it’s also quieter than the left side.
There is a $5 fee to enter Smith Bay, as well as an extra $2 to park a vehicle.
Dinner in Red Hook
Besides being where the ferry dock is located, Red Hook has a lively scene in the evening. There are many restaurants in the area to check out, some of which are even on the water.
For an elegant option that still feels beachy, check out The Easterly. The menu is filled with sophisticated sea food offerings for both small plates and entrée size portions. The cocktail menu is excellent as well, with enthusiastic bartenders who are happy to leave the menu and craft whatever you want.
Alternatively, for a dressed down waterfront option, Outriggers is a solid choice. This is the place to go when you’re craving fried appetizers like calamari or mahi bites. For entrées, keep things casual with a mahi sandwich or taco, or splurge on one of the many fresh fish plates.
Day 7: Last Day on St. Thomas USVI
Spend your last day on St. Thomas USVI at one of the island’s prettiest beaches: Coki Beach. The water here is simply incredible, with some of the brightest turquoise waters on the island, which pop against the fluffy white sand.
Coki Beach is not very big and gets crowded throughout the day. Therefore, it’s best to arrive around 9am to enjoy the best of this beach’s scenery.
This beach also has the perk of offering snorkel and scuba gear rentals right onsite. This is convenient for diving enthusiasts seeking to explore these magnificent waters. For those less interested in actually going in the water, there is also a beach bar just off the sand.
That said, be mentally prepared for aggressive venders hawking chair rentals all along the beach. They tend to set guests’ chairs and umbrellas right on the water, which could possibly block the view from where you set up your own towel or chair. If this will dampen your experience, you may just want to rent chairs yourself so no one can block your view.
It’s also worth mentioning that Coki is a notorious weed smoking beach, and you will probably be able to smell it. If this will bother you, then definitely try to arrive early in the morning before the beach gets busy, or perhaps return to a previous beach you enjoyed.
There are both free and paid parking spots available near Coki Beach.
After a morning spent at Coki Beach, head to historic Charlotte Amalie to explore and grab lunch. This port city was founded in 1681 when the colony was under Danish rule. Today, you can still wander cobblestone paths and visit remaining historic structures, like Fort Christian and Blackbeard’s Castle.
While exploring, you can also do some duty free shopping and grab a souvenir to take home with you. If you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants in this popular tourist area to check out.
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There you have it – the perfect way to spend one amazing week in St. Thomas USVI. This bustling island is an amazing choice for vacationers seeking convenience, but wanting a more adventurous experience beyond an all-inclusive resort. St. Thomas will allow you to enjoy the best of both worlds: breathtaking scenery without sacrificing abundant restaurants, nightlife, and amenities.
About the author: Theresa is the creator of Fueled By Wanderlust. Although she did not start traveling until her mid-twenties due to some pesky student loan debt, with careful budgeting, she was able to pay that off and start planning trips. Since then, she has traveled more and more each year to various places in the U.S., Europe, and the Caribbean. You can follow along with Theresa’s adventures on Instagram.
When it comes to uncrowded National Parks, the West doesn’t have many. Considering how Yosemite, Zion, and more are receiving record visitor numbers, how wonderful is it to be able to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park, where you may not see others on the trail at all in the evenings and early mornings? It’s the least-visited national park in California, and it does not disappoint.
There’s much to love about Lassen, and after spending a few days there, I’ve got the perfect Lassen Volcanic National Park itinerary for you, with some options so you can build your own perfect visit and itinerary:
Ridge Lakes Hike
There are many lovely lakes that you’ll find near the southern park entrance (near the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center), but after looking at photos of all of them, I settled on the Ridge Lakes hike.
It’s a short but surprisingly steep 1 mile (each way) hike up to a glittering green lake. I saw deer chasing each other around at the lake edge, lots of wildflowers, and plenty of birds.
Given Lassen is conveniently in the middle of nowhere, it’s amazing for star gazing as well. Pick any lake in the park for a lovely view, although Ridge Lakes is nice and high, giving you a good view of the sky.
Want something easier? Check out the Crystal Lake Trail (1 mile), and the Terrace, Shadow, and Cliff Lakes hike (3 miles, but with three lakes!)
The most famous feature of Lassen Volcanic National Park is unquestionably Lassen Peak, or Mount Lassen. It’s the the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range, with its most recent eruption occurring in 1917.
I don’t know about you, but I found it crazy to be casually sitting across from a volcano that erupted a mere 100-ish years before while at Lake Helen at its base (more on that gorgeous stop next).
The hike up Lassen peak is a barren, uncovered climb of nearly 2000 feet over just 2.5 miles up, and back down again. If you can manage it, this hike is best done for the sunrise, watching as the sun illuminates the park and beyond. Best of all, you do the climb before the hot sun is up!
I chose to hike Brokeoff Mountain instead, as it’s considered to have the better view between the two hikes. It’s slightly longer with more elevation gain, as we’ll discuss later.
Lake Helen is one of the clearest, most lovely alpine lakes you can hope to find. With such a great variety of lakes in the park, you’re spoiled for choice, but Helen is pleasingly simple, as it’s a roadside pull off without any hiking required.
The lake provides the perfect mirror of Lassen Peak, particularly in the early morning when it’s still and quiet. I loved it during the hot afternoon for a dip, too. Plan on the water being super cold – it’s snowmelt after all – but on a scorching summer’s afternoon it’s perfect for cooling off.
There’s limited roadside parking on both sides of Lassen Peak Highway, but if that’s full, you can also park at Bumpass Hell and walk over. There’s a clear break in the trail after about a quarter of a mile.
Please wash off any sunscreen before entering the pristine lake.
Those in the know consider this hike the crown jewel of Lassen, rather than Lassen Peak. That’s not to say that Lassen Peak isn’t amazing – it is – but if you only pick one, make it Brokeoff.
I loved that I could gaze out at Lassen Peak from the summit of Brokeoff, along with views all the way to Shasta.
This hike is also less popular than Lassen Peak, and when I hiked up for sunset in early July, I only passed two other people who were on the way down. I was the only one at the summit watching that amazing sunset unfold, and it was magical.
Unlike Lassen Peak, Brokeoff also offers more trail diversity, with a wooded and flowery section near the bottom with streams, followed by a continuous uphill climb that, if you go in the early evening, will be mostly on the shady side of the mountain. The trail is 7.6 miles out and back with a 2,582 foot climb, so be prepared for a great workout with very few flat parts.
Remember that you’re already at altitude when you start, so give yourself plenty of time. I was surprised that it took me two and a half hours (but I was filming and photographing a lot along the way, which significantly slows things down).
The trailhead is south of the southern park entrance, which makes it a convenient option for those coming from the direction of Redding.
If Lassen Peak is the most famous feature of the park, then Bumpass Hell must be a close second.
It seems like it must be an urban legend, but I was surprised to find that the park literature confirms that this trail was named after a man named Bumpass who fell and burned himself in the hot, boiling landscape, making it his personal hell.
You can’t make this stuff up.
This trail is an easy 2.7 mile meander up a lovely mountainside, past Lake Helen, and up to the boardwalk. Obviously, stick to the established trail lest you get burned like Mr. Bumpass.
You can also combine this with other trails in the area. I recommend going right after sunrise, as you’ll likely have the trail all to yourself.
Even better, get to the parking lot just before sunrise, watch as the sun illuminates Brokeoff Mountain, and hike the trail just after. When I did this, I was the only one watching the sunrise and one of only a few on the Bumpass Hell trail.
Manzanita Lake Loop
The most popular and famous area to camp in the park, Manzanita Lake offers services like gas, a convenience store, paid camping (though you can free camp in the national forest, more on that later), and of course, lake access. Word on the street is this is a great sunrise spot, though I didn’t test it myself.
The above itinerary takes you to most of the popular spots, and is the most convenient way to do it if you’re coming from west of the park and accessing it through the south entrance. That said, there are several more stops that I wished I had time for:
Boiling Springs Lake + Terminal Geyser
How can a lake be this opaque and green?! It’s one of the most unique features of the park, with a lake that’s a cross between white and turquoise. There are a number of steam vents under the lake, keeping it at 125 degrees F.
You can hike to just this lake and cut out the geyser, making it an easier, 2 mile hike with only a 200 foot climb.
This area is reminiscent of Bumpass Hell, but with fewer people. You can add it onto the Boiling Springs and Terminal Geyser hike, making this 11 miles round trip.
Kings Creek Falls
I was sad to miss this hike during my time in Lassen, and along with Boiling Springs, this will be on my list for when I return. The 2.7 mile hike takes you up 472 feet in elevation with a beautiful waterfall view on your return hike.
Mill Creek Falls
This hike will take you up, down, and up again, but the waterfall view at the end (pictured above) is what makes it worth it. Plan on 3.8 miles out and back.
Where should you camp? I chose to do this trip last minute, so camping in the National Forest just south of Lassen Volcanic National Park (in Lassen National Forest) was my only camping option. It’s amazing to me that there’s free, dispersed camping so close to the park.
Keep in mind that there are no services when you free camp. You’ll need to bring your own water, shelter, and food, and will have to pack out your trash and human waste. That said, I didn’t see another person almost all day at my campsite, and was surrounded by gorgeous towering sugar pines with the world’s largest pinecones.
Take road 29N22 to find dispersed camping. Keep in mind that there are only a few spots accessible to non high-clearance vehicles. You’ll want a 4WD truck or at least a high-clearance vehicle for most of the forest roads, as they’re not maintained and can be very rocky. These spots are first-come, first served and can’t be reserved in advance. There are additional options on the north end of the park as well.
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Lassen blew me away with its beauty and lack of crowds. If you go, love it, leave no trace, and enjoy the views!