Looking for your next getaway adventure? Here are four options – fun in every direction!
7 Hours North: Bear Lake
Nestled in the mountains between the Utah-Idaho border at an elevation of 5,923 feet, Bear Lake is a natural, freshwater lake called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for its unique turquoise-blue color, which is created by the refraction of light on the water’s suspended limestone composition. With sediment cores dated back to 250,000 years, Bear Lake is known by geologists as one of the oldest lakes in North America; it’s possibly several million years old. There’s plenty of American history here too, with stories and relics of mountain men, Native American tribes, fur trappers and Mormon pioneers.
Open year-round, there’s plenty to do on the lake, with its 48 miles of shoreline and water as deep as 208 feet in some places. In summer, there’s tubing, boating, skiing, swimming, kayaking and sailing. If you like to fish, there are tens of millions here, with more endemic species than any place other than the Great Lakes, including a native subspecies of Bonneville cutthroat trout, the official state fish of Utah.
Around the lake are nicely developed campgrounds and quaint surrounding towns offering accommodations, shopping and dining. The surrounding valley has gained a reputation for having high-quality raspberries, and the area is famous for raspberry shakes served during the Bear Lake Raspberry Days festival held in early August. Nearby Logan Canyon offers rock climbing and two caves can be explored via guided tours during summer months, Minnetonka Cave and the smaller Paris Ice Cave.
10 Hours West: Carmel
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on California’s Monterey Peninsula. The historic Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo, built in 1797 is not to be missed. One of the most authentically restored Spanish missions in California, and the only one that has its original bell and bell tower, the Carmel Mission campus includes an active Roman Catholic diocese, history museums, library and K-8 school. The beautiful venue also hosts concerts, art exhibits, lectures, and numerous other community events.
When you’re there, Carmel’s scenic “17 Mile Drive” along the Pacific coastline passes iconic golf courses, natural landmarks and cliffs. Originally, the drive was designed as a pleasure excursion via horse and carriage for guests of the Hotel Del Monte, circa 1885. (The hotel burned down in 1887 and was rebuilt in 1926—it’s now known as Herrmann Hall.) You’ll pass by mansions and scenic attractions, including the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock and the 5,300-acre Del Monte Forest of Monterey Cypress trees, and there are lots of turn-outs where you can stop and take pictures.
If you’re a golfer, Pebble Beach Golf Links is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful courses in the world—with greens fees to match. If science appeals to you, around two million visitors per year visit the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium, built in 1984 by four marine biologists affiliated with Stanford University. The aquarium is known for spotlighting native marine habitats, including a living kelp forest. Located at the site of a defunct sardine cannery, it is the attraction that was responsible for the economic revitalization of the area known as Cannery Row.
Carmel Beach is a white sandy beach popular for volleyball and surfing, and the Scenic Bluff Pathway leads from there to bird-rich Carmel River State Beach, with a scuba diving entry point. South lie the sea animals and whaling museum of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. If you’re an architecture buff, there are 20 unique fairytale cottages scattered throughout Carmel built between 1924 and 1929, as well as a shopping area with a cluster of storybook-style retail shops in front of the remaining façade of an historic theater.
10 Hours South: Puerto Peñasco
If you have a passport, consider Puerto Peñasco. Often called “Rocky Point” in English, this Mexican fishing and resort city is located on the northern shores of the Sea of Cortez on the small strip of land that joins the Baja California Peninsula with the rest of Mexico, 62 miles south from the border of Arizona. Many of Rocky Point’s 62,000 or so residents are from the U.S. or Canada, most restaurants offer menus in English and most businesses accept U.S. dollars.
Since 1993, there has been a push to develop the area and it is now one of the most important tourist destinations in northern Mexico, with housing developments, hotels, condos and campsites available for visitors. Up until the 1990s, there had been little tourism and you couldn’t find much here except for campers and fishermen. Shrimp has had a large impact on the area’s economy in the past and you can still purchase shrimp fresh-caught from the sea for sale by the pound at local markets.
The geography of the region is comprised of volcanic rock, much of it solidified from lava flows back when ancient eruptions met the ocean. There is an estuary called Morúa east of the community of Las Conchas where thousands of birds live, including migratory species. The CET-MAR Aquarium is a marine research center open to the public with displays of marine life such as turtles, octopus, and numerous fish species.
But most visitors come to Rocky Point for the beaches and to fish; the area is known for dune-backed Sandy Beach and Bahía la Choya’s tidal pools. The miles and miles of light-brown beaches here include Sandy Beach, Las Conchas, El Mirador, La Choya, Playa Encanto, Estero de Morúa, Playa La Joya, Playa Miramar, and Playa San Jorge. You can often spot leaping dolphins in the surf while sunbathing, and at low tide, the beaches reveal a large number of tidal pools in the craters of the rocky coastline filled with crabs, starfish, and other marine life. Hurricanes are possible, but rare, usually occurring in September.
8 Hours East: Vail
Vail, Colorado, is a small town at the base of Vail Mountain, home of the massive Vail Ski Resort. Set within White River National Forest, the town is a gateway for winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but it’s also a summertime destination for golfing, hiking, biking, kayaking, zip-lining, rafting, tubing and cultural festivals.
Gore Creek, popular for fly-fishing for trout, runs directly through the town center. You can take a gondola to enjoy breathtaking alpine views. Or head to Vail Village via a free shuttle that runs between it and Lionshead Village; both are Swiss-style destinations with cobblestone streets, shops, hotels, spas, eateries and nightspots. The whole town of Vail offers shopping with high-end stores, art galleries and ski and active-wear.
You can spend a whole day at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, which sits at 8,250 feet above sea level and can be accessed via the Vail Recreation Path—a 20-minute walk from Lionshead or by public transportation. There are more than 3,000
species of high-altitude plants featured in its four sections: Mountain Perennial Garden, Mountain Meditation Garden, Alpine Rock Garden and the Children’s Garden. Additionally, there is an educational center that offers informational displays, activities for children and a state-of-the-art alpine house featuring plants from around the world.