Fun Outdoor Getaways You Can Easily Hit from 25 Cities

Take a short drive to a different world

One thing the pandemic has taught us—beyond how much we hate Zoom—is that nature is not a luxury. It is essential for human survival. And while many city folks have gained a new appreciation for the outdoors, you don’t have to commit to some epic cross-country RV trip just to get some fresh air.

With that in mind, we searched the country for the best outdoor getaways—national parks, national forests, state parks, and the like—to find seven iconic destinations within easy driving distance of major US cities. Regardless of your level of experience in the outdoor world, these spots offer natural beauty and invigorating adventure in spades. Now hit the road already.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Close to: Washington DC (70 miles), Baltimore (108 miles), Pittsburg (214 miles), Philadelphia (250 miles)

While most well known for its sensational displays of fall foliage, this nature-packed park just outside DC makes for one great urban escape any time of year. The 105-mile Skyline Drive running the length of the park is Shenandoah’s most famous asset but the park also boasts nearly 200,000 acres of backcountry camping and numerous waterfalls, views of which you’ll share with black bears, red-tailed hawks, and the full slate of charming wildlife forest creatures. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Mathews Arm Campground (MP: 22.1), Big Meadows Campground (MP: 51.2), Loft Mountain Campground (MP: 79.5)

Coolest pit stop: Charlottesville is one of the most beautiful towns in America—and it’s just 37 miles from Shenandoah and home to the University of Virginia, Jefferson’s home of Monticello, and the picture-perfect pedestrian Historic Downtown Mall, C-ville’s more than worthy of a pit stop.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Forest, California

Close to: Los Angeles (128 miles), San Jose (234 miles), Sacramento (257 miles), San Francisco (279 miles), Las Vegas (285 miles)

National parks may protect some of the best-known natural landmarks but national forests have just as remarkable landscapes. The U.S. Forest Service manages 154 national forests including Sequoia. Named for the world’s largest trees, Sequoia National Forest has the greatest concentration of giant sequoia groves in the world. One of America’s finest national forests features a gargantuan 1.1 million acres in three counties of Southern California and offers an abundance of recreation opportunities for people to enjoy. The Forest offers 52 developed campgrounds, hiking on more than 1,147 miles of trails including 47 miles of the Pacific Coast Trail, over 314,448 acres of wilderness, 222 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers, 2,617 rivers and streams, world-class whitewater rapids, 158 ponds and lakes, boating, fishing, biking, horseback riding, and more.

River Run RV Park, Bakersfield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: River Run RV Park (Bakersfield), Orange Groove RV Park (Bakersfield), Bakersfield RV Resort (Bakersfield)

Coolest pit stop: As you drive on Generals Highway between the Lodgepole area in Sequoia National Park and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park, you will pass by several popular areas within the national forest. Here, you will find access to campgrounds, Buck Rock Lookout, the Big Meadows area, Jennie Lakes Wilderness, and Montecito Sequoia Lodge.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Close to: Phoenix (134 miles), Tucson (203 miles), Las Vegas (267 miles), Albuquerque (290 miles)

This unsung 1.8-million-acre national forest has a little bit of everything for the outdoor enthusiast. From mountains like the famous San Francisco Peaks and the Grand Canyon-Esque Oak Creek Canyon to the magnificent Zion-like desert landscapes of Red Rock Crossing and Arizona’s largest natural lake (Mormon Lake), one thing you won’t be here is bored. Pack some extra energy if you wanna see it all. 

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park, Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Black Barts RV Park (Flagstaff), Grand Canyon Railway RV Park (Williams), Distant Drums RV Resort (Camp Verde)

Coolest pit stop: Flagstaff brings a wintery vibe to challenge your notions of what Arizona is all about. If that’s not enough, you’ve also got Route 66 running west of town as well as the nearby freakishly beautiful artsy paradise of Sedona. This road trip basically plans itself.

Cradle of Forestry, Pisgah National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

Close to: Charlotte (126 miles), Knoxville (137 miles), Atlanta (173 miles), Chattanooga (248 miles)

While the iconic Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the foliage-packed Blue Ridge Parkway are perhaps the most-well known nature retreats around these parts, the lesser-visited Pisgah National Forest outside Asheville remains content to fly under the radar. Explore the forest for top-tier wildflower-dotted mountain landscapes, verdant rolling hills, and serene waterfalls in addition to vibrant swimming holes and rushing whitewater. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Asheville Bear Creek RV Park (Asheville), Asheville West KOA (Asheville), Mama Gertie’s Hideaway Campground (Swannanoa)

Coolest pit stop: The national forest is only 30 minutes outside Asheville, so there’s no reason not to visit one of America’s best mountain towns. When you’re done with all the craft and stuff there, nearby Chimney Rock State Park makes another excellent diversion for heart-stirring mountain vistas.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Close to: San Diego (87 miles), Los Angeles (151 miles), Phoenix (372 miles)

This sprawling 600,000-acre state park between San Diego and Palm Springs has appeared in fewer movies than spotlight-hogging Joshua Tree National Park but manages equal levels of awe. While known for its trippy metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other strange creatures, the park has so much more to offer than a cool Instagram backdrop. Observe desert bighorn sheep, hike the trails, and, when you get tired, head back to your camping site at Palm Canyon and revel in some of the country’s most mind-blowing stars in the night skies.

The Springs at Borrego RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, The Springs at Borrego RV Resort & Golf Course

Coolest pit stop: Slab City—an off-the-grid community that’s flush with eccentric desert art and even more eccentric characters—always makes for an interesting stopover. Be sure to check out man-made Salvation Mountain and wander the eerily beautiful Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Sea while you’re here.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Close to: New York City (214 miles), Boston (234 miles), Buffalo (268 miles)

Clocking in at a mind-boggling 6.1 million acres—more than twice the size of Yellowstone— Adirondack Park’s nearly endless list of attractions includes more than 10,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers, and 200,000 acres of forest. Explore iconic mountain towns like Lake Placid, scale some mountains, do some canoeing, or just kick back and relax: You’ve heard of Adirondack chairs, right? 

Village of Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Lake George Riverside Campground (Lake George), North Pole Resorts (Wilmington), Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Paradise Pines Camping Resort (North Hudson)

Coolest pit stop: Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont makes for a nice diversion on the route from Boston or NYC. Serious question: Has there ever been a bad time to visit Vermont?

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park, Texas

Close to: Austin (56 miles), San Antonio (64 miles), Houston (142 miles), Corpus Christie (146 miles), Dallas (247 miles)

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water (including the San Marcos River), Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

This small park offers a large amount of fun, both on water and land. You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay if you’re camping: Palmetto State Park offers 18 RV and tent camping sites

Coolest pit stop: Luling is home to the Luling Oil Museum and is renowned for watermelons, barbecue, and colorfully decorated pump jacks. Texans know Gonzales as the “Cradle of Texas History” where the first shots were fired for Texas Independence. If you’re hankering for barbecue, head north to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

—John Muir

The 10 Best State Parks in America

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

America’s 62 national parks may get all the glory and the Ken Burns documentaries but nearly three times as many people visit the country’s 10,234 state parks each year. In total, they span more than 18 million acres across the US—or roughly the size of South Carolina.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This summer with so much of the world effectively grounded and many national parks limiting access and services, state parks are poised for a long-overdue place in the spotlight offering a chance to get out, stretch, and explore. Below you’ll find the cream of the state-park crop from picturesque mountainscapes and deserts, lakes and ocean beaches, and expansive hikers’ playgrounds. Time to get outside! Here’s how to do it right.

NOTE: Be sure to double-check each park’s status before making the trip—as with most things right now, their status can change day by day.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

It may be South Carolina‘s most visited state park but that doesn’t stop this secluded barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort from being one of the most picturesque destinations in the South thanks to its famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, and popular fishing lagoon. Fun fact: many of the Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed here.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Part state park, part forest preserve, and part privately owned land encompassing 102 towns and villages, Adirondack Park is massive. Totaling 6.1 million acres, America’s biggest state park is larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Nearly half of the land is owned by the State of New York and designed as “forever wild,” encompassing all of the Adirondacks’ famed 46 High Peaks as well as 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of river. So pack up the canoe or kayak, get ready to scale Mount Marcy, or simply meander about its 2,000 miles of hiking trails. You’re gonna be here a while.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces, bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities, you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in South Dakota‘s fabled Black Hills region, the state’s first and largest state park is most famous for its photogenic herd of 1,500 wild bison that freely roam the land as well as other Wild West creatures like pronghorns, bighorn sheep, burros, and mountain lions. The scenery is everything you think of when you close your eyes and picture the great American West, laid out amidst 71,000 acres of vast open vistas and mountain lakes. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. The place is so cool that even President Calvin Coolidge made it his “summer White House,” so that has to count for something, right?

Myakka State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka State Park, Florida

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Sprawling out across a stark expanse of 600,000 acres, California’s largest state park (and second-largest in the lower 48) is a crown jewel of America’s state park system. By day it has 110 miles of hiking trails to explore and 12 designated wildlife areas and by night the huge desertscape delivers some of the best stargazing in America. The park is also a site of great geological importance as it has been found to contain over 500 types of fossils that are up to 6 million years old. If you can’t picture the prehistoric vibes on your own, there are also 130+ giant metal animal sculptures that pop up out of nowhere as you roam the park’s unforgiving terrain.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

You could be forgiven for thinking you drove to Utah and ended up in the Grand Canyon instead. Mountain biking the Intrepid Trail is a must for thrill seekers, but the more relaxed can simply gaze open-mouthed at the deep-red rocks and glorious hues via panoramic vistas of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The park gets its name from horses that died in this unforgiving landscape and with much of the park open with unfenced cliffs and little signage you’re best exercise a bit of common sense if you want to make it out of here alive.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. 

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so emerges with sunshine and air and running water that whole eons might pass in a single afternoon without notice.

—Loren Eisley