When was the last time you got out of the house and spent some quality time with Mother Nature? Research has shown that communing with nature is vital to your physical and psychological well-being, but we often spend most of our time in front of screens or in busy environments. Take some time to refresh yourself with a road trip to one of these scenic spots around the country, some of which might be close to your own backyard. If you’re up for an epic adventure, hop on the highway for a cross-country nature tour!
Truly Texan Getaways
As the saying goes, everything’s bigger in Texas – and that includes the scenery. The Lone Star State boasts just about every type of landscape you could want, from lush, green forests and mountains to cactus-studded deserts and wide-open beaches.
South Padre Island is the place to find mile after mile of unspoiled coastline along the Padre Island National Seashore. Whether you’re swimming in pristine waters or observing local birds and sea life, you’ll find plenty to enjoy on the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island. The U.S. National Park Service currently protects 66 miles of the coast, including dunes and prairies.
Caddo Lake extends from East Texas into Louisiana and is Texas’ only natural lake. With cypress trees growing directly out of its waters, the lake and its marshlands create a dramatic backdrop for canoeing and kayaking or going on a photography hike. Since Caddo Lake is home to alligators, be sure to read Texas Parks & Wildlife’s safety tips before you go.
Enchanted Rock, a pink granite dome steeped in Native American legend, presides over the renowned Hill Country north of Fredericksburg. Rising approximately 425 feet above the surrounding land, this designated historic landmark is an ideal destination for stargazers due to its lack of light pollution.
Colorado Bend State Park has something for everyone, including the otherworldly 70-foot Gorman Falls, natural springs, camping, caves and the Colorado River itself. Hikers and mountain bikers will find plenty of trails at various levels of difficulty. And, day trippers rejoice: the park is located only two hours northwest of Austin.
Heading west, Big Bend Ranch State Park offers the same majestic mountains and canyons as its nearby (and very popular) counterpart, Big Bend National Park, but with far fewer visitors. The park – Texas’ largest – offers hiking, biking, camping and especially stargazing, as it’s designated an International Dark Sky Park.
Finally, two sustainable communities in Texas offer a mixture of scenic spots and urban life for those who aren’t ready to spend too long away from modern amenities. The cities of Austin and Plano have both received 4-STAR (Sustainability Tools for Assessing and Rating) designations from STAR Communities, a national nonprofit, for environmental, economic and social livability initiatives.
Jewels of the Northeast
The northeastern United States is rich in both history and natural beauty, with its rolling mountains and crystal-clear lakes. States like New York and Pennsylvania grace visitors with an ever-changing seasonal landscape to enjoy, from snowy blankets to vibrant fall colors.
Never miss “leg day”? The Whiteface Mountain Stairway Ridge Trail in northern New York State’s Adirondack Mountains challenges you to climb 27 stories’ worth of natural stairs … and be rewarded with stunning views from the top. Bring your camera to capture nearby Lake Placid, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and – on a clear day – maybe even the skyscrapers of Montreal.
Watkins Glen State Park in New York’s Finger Lakes region is a must-see for fans of waterfalls. Nearly 20 of them grace the park’s gorge, but Rainbow Falls is a particularly spectacular sight due to its fairy-tale-like setting amid lush foliage and a stone bridge. The park also offers more than 300 campsites and other amenities for those who want to linger longer than a day.
Cherry Springs State Park in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, is where you’ll want to spend a few hours watching the next meteor shower or eclipse. A public viewing area is available for casual stargazers, but more serious astronomy fans can register for the Overnight Astronomy Observation Field where white light is completely prohibited.
Tips for Sustainable Scenic Travel
Visiting natural wonders comes with responsibilities, so if you want to be a mindful (and safe) traveler:
- Don’t hurt nature for “likes.” This should go without saying, but as much as you may want that Instagram photo, please leave wildlife and plants alone when taking photos. Trying to hold or pose with an animal in the wild can be harmful to them, and potentially dangerous to you too.
- Bring healthy snacks and water from home in reusable containers. When you’re out exploring, your energy level will make you glad you resisted the temptation of grabbing fast food on the road, and the Earth will be glad you aren’t leaving any trash behind.
- Pick up your trash (and any other trash you see). Leave no trace … even if others already have. Keeping trash out of the environment is being a good friend to the planet.
- Look for destinations off the beaten path. If you want to plan a trip that’s out of the ordinary but closer to your home than those listed above, visit sites like Roadtrippers or Atlas Obscura for ideas.
- Have a charging plan for your EV. An electric vehicle is the greenest way to take your road trip, but if you’ll be headed toward the wilderness, be sure to research EV charging stations along your route.
- Research and follow all park or destination rules. Some of these attractions may only be open seasonally or on a limited basis, for your safety and the safety of the environment.
Experiencing the beauty of nature firsthand will make you feel good about helping to protect it. So, hit the open road and take memories with you that will last a lifetime!
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