This Unknown Desert Destination Makes For The Best Fall Getaway
by Kristin Corpuz
Originally Published: 
Carina Otero / Kristin Corpuz / Christine Tran
Three desert destinations. A cottage in the woods, a woman going down an empty road, women in kayaks

As someone who spent half of 2019 traveling around the globe, quarantined life during COVID-19 has been quite a change of pace for me. I'm happy to stay home in order to keep others safe and to slow the spread of the virus, but I definitely miss being on the road. Fortunately, there are safe ways to travel and see more of the country while still being socially distant, so I consulted a few fellow frequent travelers for all of the best outdoorsy destinations that are safe to travel to during quarantine — and are super Instagrammable to boot.

While it's always fun to visit dreamy international destinations and collect stamps in your passport, I firmly believe that domestic travel within the U.S. is supremely underrated. There are so many different landscapes, climates, and terrains to explore throughout the country — from the Mars-like mountains in Valley of Fire, Nevada, to the towering trees in Sequoia National Park, to the postcard-worthy fall foliage in New England.

Though you're probably not getting on a plane to cross a country off your bucket list anytime soon, you can still safely satisfy your travel bug by visiting one of these beautifully scenic locations around the country.


Alpine Lake, California

"I love road tripping from LA to the Sierra Nevadas," says Daisy Christophel, Founder of Alpenglow Apparel. "It has endless hiking trails, camping and stunning alpine lakes in a pristine setting."

She continues, "I recently hiked Kearsarge Pass Trail near Lone Pine — the hike is challenging but well worth it with waterfalls, panoramic views, and a total of nine alpine lakes along the way. We packed a big picnic and stopped early to swim at the first two lakes (about halfway through) with our pup. We camped at Grays Meadow Campground nearby which also had an amaze sunset & moonrise each night."


Big Sur, California

"Glamping at Ventana Big Sur has been on my bucket list for a long time, and this year was the perfect opportunity to finally visit," says Carina Otero, Founder of She Is Not Lost. "Big Sur itself is the ultimate road trip destination due to its remote location, but close proximity to both Southern and Northern California."

She continues, "For me, glamping is a great compromise for feeling outdoorsy while still enjoying luxe hotel-like amenities. Ventana Big Sur was a great home base between the hiking trails and sight-seeing destinations, and every turn along the surrounding California coastline seemed to out-do the last. Everything about our stay was perfect, and as we were driving away to return home, I was already plotting my next visit to Big Sur."


Bighorn National Forest, Wyoming

Bighorn was an accidental find I came across when roadtripping with my boyfriend from LA to Boston in late July. We had just left Yellowstone National Park and needed to merge onto I-90 to head toward Boston, and we happened to see Bighorn National Forest on the map. Needless to say, we were unbelievably happy that we stopped to explore.

It's a winding drive through the entirety of the forest, which is full of towering mountains covered in trees. There are also a ton of scenic overlooks so you can take in the sights (and let your four-legged furry friend out for a potty break). It's a breathtaking stop in the middle of nowhere and, though it was just a road stop for us, I'm sure it would make a beautiful place to hike through and camp out.


The Catskills, New York

If you're based in New York City and are looking for a dreamy snowy vacay, head up to the Catskills like content creator, Chelsea Henriquez. She recommends booking a room at Scribner's Lodge, which is close to tons of hikes, as well as Hunter Mountain for skiing and snowboarding during the winter season.


Irvington, Virginia

"I'm currently based in Richmond, Virginia, and since I'm pretty far inland, I sometimes forget about how much of the state is on the ocean," says freelance writer and editor, Isis Briones. "One romantic, picture-perfect spot I recently visited with my boyfriend is The Tides Inn in Irvington. It's on the Chesapeake Bay and filled with tons of socially distant activities including golf, kayaking, or my personal favorite, an intimate sunset cruise on the water. Think of it like an elevated, country club version of a five-star resort."


Joshua Tree, California

As someone who is based in LA, I'm fortunate to be within close driving distance of a few different desert getaways. One of my favorites is the Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms area. It's so easy to stay socially distant because of the huge stretches of desert between each property, and the National Park is spacious enough for isolated hikes.

I took a mini vacay to stay at Folly, which is a gorgeous luxury Airbnb that features an open-air bedroom. I fell asleep under the stars with nothing but the sounds of the desert to lull me to sleep. The property offers contactless check-in and is totally isolated (you have to drive up a dirt road to get to the house) so it felt completely safe. And of course, you really can't beat golden hour in the desert.


Kerhonksen, New York

Celine Bossart

"I am absolutely obsessed with The Starlite Motel in the tiny, peaceful town of Kerhonkson, New York," says freelance journalist, Celine Bossart. "It's the perfect mix of Schitt's Creek vibes (but way nicer), modern convenience, and the great outdoors. There's so much to eat, drink, and explore both on property and in the area: It's pretty close to some cute restaurants and shops as well as Minnewaska State Park, where there are a ton of trails to be hiked."

"My boyfriend and I stayed here for a few nights for my birthday back in August and it was the perfect little getaway," she raves. "We drank Champagne on the deck out back, hung out at the pool, visited some antique shops and farmer's markets, and went for a long, beautiful hike over at Minnewaska."

She adds, "Everything felt very safe in terms of COVID precautions and social distancing, as Starlite is really being cognizant of guest wellbeing. It's easy to keep your distance on hikes, especially if you hit the trails super early."


Lake Houston, Texas

Ciara Johnson

"Lake Houston Wilderness Park is a hideaway set on the outskirts of Houston, and it's the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature," says content creator, Ciara Johnson. "If you had told me this place was in Houston, I wouldn't have believed you. I’m so glad I got the chance to see and experience this place for myself because it provided a much needed reset. You can camp overnight in an A-frame house or take a day trip to hike the trails! No highways, traffic, or homes — just nature."


Lake Powell, Arizona

"Lake Powell is one of my favorite road trip destinations driving from LA to Arizona," says content creator, London Ellis. "You can rent a kayak to explore Lake Powell, or book a house boat in Page right next door. It's easy to safely socially distance while exploring the lake's magical nooks."

Lake Powell and Page are also where you should stay if you want to visit popular tourist attractions like Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, so make sure you hit those spots as well.


Lake Tahoe, Nevada

"When living in San Francisco, I loved driving to Lake Tahoe for the weekend," says content creator Christine Tran, who says that both North or South Lake Tahoe are about a three-hour drive from the Bay Area.

"Both areas have great outdoor activities that are perfect for social distancing. A few of my favorite activities are going on hikes, paddle-boarding, kayaking, parasailing, and swimming in the lake," she continues. "It's also a great area for winter activities like snowboarding and skiing." She adds that Sand Harbor and Bonsai Rock are the best spots for pictures in North Lake Tahoe, while Emerald Bay is the best spot in South Lake Tahoe.


Marble Canyon, Arizona

"I'm based in Phoenix and cannot tell you the number of times I've driven to the Arizona-Utah border area in my 10 years living in the state," says lifestyle reporter, Wendy Gould. "It's arguably one of the prettiest bits of land in the whole country with Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, Antelope Slot Canyons, Monument Valley, Grand Staircase Escalante, and of course, the Grand Canyon."

"One area that doesn't seem to get quite as much love is the Vermillion Cliffs and Marble Canyon area," she continues. "My husband and I took the six-hour drive up there in May to do some proper car camping and to hike through Marble and Soap Creek Canyons — lots of boulder hopping and scrambling! It was an absolutely divine weekend, and I don't think we saw more than two other people since it's not as traversed. There are plenty of camping spots — some are more hidden than others, so go exploring! — but everywhere you look the vistas are glorious."


Multnomah Falls, Oregon

"Multnomah Falls outside Portland, Oregon is beautiful, and for novice hikers like myself, it has the perfect balance of being relatively easy to navigate while still feeling impressive once you reach the top," says Annie Werner, Managing Editor of Away's Here Magazine.

"I wore street clothes with hiking boots, but I definitely broke a sweat. It helps that the air is deliciously cool at that altitude. Wind down at the Thunder Island Brewing Co. just 15 minutes up the Columbia River after. You deserve it!"


New Smyrna Beach, Florida

"Located an hour outside of Orlando, New Smyrna Beach Dunes Park is beautiful, easily accessible, and not crowded at all," says Marissa Anwar, Editorial Director of Darling Escapes. "It's a bit further from the main beach and the trails are pet-friendly. It's also the best place to catch the sunset, to go fishing, or just go for a hike. While pets are allowed in the park, they are not allowed on the boardwalk."

She adds, "Pro tip: Get there early because parking does tend to fill up quickly."


Ojai, California

"I highly recommend taking a trip up to Los Padres National Forest in Ojai," says content creator and entrepreneur, Evelynn Escobar-Thomas. "It's about an hour and a half away from Los Angeles, so it's just the perfect distance to get a nice day hike and swim in. I hiked along the Sespe River Trail, where there are numerous water holes to relax in. It's a great place to get away and get some fresh air when it's not wildfire season."


Scottsdale, Arizona

Angelenos have no shortage of gorgeous desert landscapes to escape to within California, but one I can't stop revisiting outside of the state is Scottsdale, Arizona. (Seriously — I even got a Saguaro cactus tattoo because I fell so deeply in love with the desert landscape there.) If you've ever wanted to see giant cacti three or four times your height, this is the place to go.

There are plenty of outdoorsy activities to indulge in, from kayaking on the Salt River, to hiking around the Sonoran Preserve, to going on a hot air balloon ride over the desert. The Four Seasons is my favorite hotel in the area because it's located outside the city center, making it a more remote option if you're looking to stay socially distant.

Scottsdale is also well-known for its spas — all of which are following proper COVID protocols — so you can indulge in a treatment for ultimate relaxation.


Snowmass, Colorado

Ali Wunderman

"This summer I visited Snowmass, Colorado, where I tried my hand at fly-fishing for the first time and caught (and released) this beautiful rainbow trout," says freelance travel writer, Ali Wunderman. "Only a few miles from Aspen and just a few hours from Denver, Snowmass has the best of Colorado's outdoors with a much chiller, more accessible vibe — plus the added bonus of being a hotbed of Ice Age natural history."

She continues, "From killer slopes to inventive restaurants, Snowmass has plenty to offer all year round. But I'll never forget my peaceful morning spent on the river learning the subtle techniques of fly-fishing, and how meditative and accomplished it made me feel. Talk about a perfect socially distant activity!"


Valley of Fire, Nevada

Valley of Fire is probably one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The valley, located just an hour northeast of Las Vegas, is a picturesque oasis in the middle of a brown Nevada desert. The mountains are as red as flames — hence the landmark's name — and offer the most stunning backdrop for all of your Instagram shots.

There are a ton of hiking trails to explore (which I clearly did not take advantage of in these boots), as well as gorgeous overlooks that offer views of the vast desert landscape. Just keep in mind that this is one of the hottest places in the country — the temperature was over 115 degrees when I visited in late July — so stay hydrated and avoid hiking during the peak hot hours.

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