When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems. Not the kind of gem you mount on a ring; I’m searching for a place, a special place that doesn’t show up on most travelers’ itineraries. I prefer heading to the offbeat locations where I won’t have to fight crowds and where I know my slouching emotions will be reawakened and maybe a few neurotransmitters will be reignited. In other words, I look for places rich in history, culture, and landscape that will take me away from our crazy, everyday world and remind me again what it is to be human.
Here are fifteen of my favorite places that you should visit, too.
15 Amazing Destinations In The USA and Abroad You Will Love
In the USA
Allagash River, Maine
A 92-mile stretch of Class I and Class II rapids that meanders past forest and pastureland, the Allagash is a front-row seat for the best that nature can offer. Depending on how long you choose to paddle, you’ll be on the water from four to seven days, keeping an eye out for eagle and moose. And here’s the best part: you’ll be unplugged because there’s no cell service, or much civilization of any sort, on this trip.
Nestled against Mt. Bachelor of the Oregon Cascades, this little town of 82,000 will steal your heart. Hiking, skiing, camping, rock climbing, paddling, golfing, horseback riding, cycling, mountain biking, and lazy river floating will satisfy your outdoors hunger, and a trek along Bend’s Ale Trail will satisfy your thirst. And if you’ve still got energy left, you can find fantastic restaurants, concerts, and all sorts of shopping to keep you busy and happy.
Brown County, Indiana
Jack Frost is just as busy in southern Indiana when autumn comes as he (or she) is in Vermont (and the maple syrup’s pretty good in the land of the Hoosiers as well). One of our country’s original art colonies, Brown County inspires artists and art lovers with the natural landscape and the area’s covered bridges as well as the many galleries, public art exhibitions, and events promoted along ArtsRoad 46.
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Kenai Fjords National Park is a land of extremes, from towering mountains and deep glacial-cut bays to crashing waterfalls and floating icebergs. If you can, take a tour by boat so you can get up close and personal to a menagerie of marine life: humpback whales, Dall’s porpoise, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, jellyfish, King salmon, and nearly 50,000 marine-based birds.
Kohala Coast, Hawaii
Forget about Oahu and Maui if you’re looking for amazing. Forget about Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, too. Instead, head straight for the Kohala coast for the best beaches, snorkeling and diving in the islands. Crowds are smaller, the sun always shines, and you can see five mountains from there, as well as numerous pods of humpback whales in the winter.
Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
After you’ve seen Old Faithful with hundreds or thousands of your closest friends, head on over to the Lamar Valley to get away. There you’ll find panoramic vistas of the Wild West as it once was. Grazing bison and elk are guaranteed, but you may very well also spot grizzly or black bear, coyote, bighorn sheep, river otters, and even the Yellowstone wolves who famously changed the entire Yellowstone ecosystem.
Pacific Ocean coast, Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park offers mountains, rainforest, rivers,and lakes, but my favorite is the rugged and remote coastline. Crashing waves, huge driftwood logs, strange sea stacks, and spectacular sunsets will evoke awe in just about anyone, but best of all are the natural tide pools and their resident anemones, crabs, urchins, and gumdrop-colored sea stars. While some of the coastline is accessible by car, much of it can be seen only by those willing to hoof it in.
Scenic Byway 12 and The Hogback, Utah
There’s a reason this stretch of road was named one of the world’s ten most beautiful highways, as it passes by alien rock formations and unnaturally red soils beneath afternoon skies that will blow your mind. As for your adrenaline needs, no worries. Just take a drive over The Hogback section, with 1,000-foot drop-offs on each side of the narrow road…without guardrails or shoulders.
The Donner Party, Hollywood, and 20th-century Olympians discovered there wasn’t just gold in them there hills. The north shore of Lake Tahoe is rich in history, tradition, landscape, and year-round outdoor fun, and the town of Truckee also embraces a strong sense of community. With its fine dining, luxurious B &Bs, and art galleries, Truckee is the charming antidote to Lake Tahoe’s touristy south shore or neighboring Reno’s casinos.
Imagine you’re sitting at an al fresco bistro on a town square in the Andean foothills. You’re sipping regional organic Torrontes or Malbecwine and nibbling on steak-and-cumin empanadas. You’re watching donkeys roaming about the square and visiting with friendly locals. Now wake up. It’s not a dream. You’re in Cafayate.
Costa Brava, Spain
It’s not every day you get to stay in a town perched on the Mediterranean Sea and walled in since the 12th-century. Although Tossa de Mar is popular with European tourists, you won’t find many Americans there despite the dramatic coastline, labyrinth streets, and charming hotels and restaurants. A perfect romantic getaway, it’s easy to see why Marc Chagall called it a blue paradise.
If you want to discover a landscape not found anywhere else in the world, which the Chinese call “the best under heaven,” you must visit Guangxi Province and take a trip on the Li River. You’ll wear out your camera taking shots of the limestone karst hills, with names like Bat Hill and Five Tigers Catch a Goat, as well as the young boys on the banks washing down their family water buffalos, the fishermen in bamboo hatscatching fish with their trained cormorants, and the children on rafts begging for coins.
Jasper may lie in the shadow of its southern neighbor, Banff, but it offers at least as much natural beauty with fewer crowds. Jasper gives you all you’d expect in the Canadian Rockies: gorgeous mountains, tremendous flora and fauna, and plenty of wilderness adventures, but it’s got something extra special, too. Jasper National Park is designated as an official Dark Sky Preserve.
Two decades ago, tourists wouldn’t have dreamed of ever going to Rwanda, but now it’s considered one of the safest places in Africa. You can visit the Presidential Palace, experience the nightlife, and take a day tripto Nyarutarama Lake, and, as difficult as it will be, you’ll want to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Perhaps best of all, you can venture up into the Virunga Mountains to see the famous Mountain gorillas.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Like Kigali, Phnom Penh carries the weight of a violent and sorrowful history that includes the genocide orchestrated by the Khmer Rouge regime in the latter part of the 20th century. Now, the city is teeming with hope and possibility. It’s a hubbub of motorcycles and tuk-tuks, monkeys and feral cats, market vendors, silk-weavers, restaurants serving international cuisine, and Khmer children munching on corncobs.
French novelist Gustave Flaubert said that travel makes you “see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” When I travel, it’s not so much to discover how small I am, but to recognize how big our world is, and how much it has to offer. I travel for entertainment, and for education, but most of all I travel for some sort of enlightenment, and I can say that these fifteen places, perhaps above all others, have succeeded in making the world seem brighter to me.