TRAVELING BY ANYTHING other than a car right now is rough. Suffering through the dark days of winter with a severe case of the stir-crazies is even rougher. That’s why we worked with the editors of Atlas Obscura to come up with 23 incredible, mostly outdoor adventures designed to get you way out of the house and doing something really different that stimulates your body and mind. No matter where you live, you’ll find a place that’s within a day’s drive. Are they funky? Yes. But isn’t that exactly what you need right now?
(And a heads-up: Be sure to check the hours and accessibility of your destination before the trek. Some businesses and public spaces may be impacted by changing COVID-19 safety measures and guidelines.)
(Jefferson County, Washington)
OH, SO you want to get away from it all? How about this designated “silence sanctuary,” which sits at the heart of Olympic National Park? The space, devoid of all man-made noise, is actually a sound project designed by acoustic ecologist (seriously!) Gordon Hempton. From the nearby visitor center, take the 3.2-mile trek to the location marked by a red-colored stone. Then soak in the quiet.
IT’S THE HIGHEST point in Massachusetts, and depending on your trail, hiking the peak can take about half a day round-trip, but you can see up to 90 miles away on a clear day. You can even snowmobile along snow-covered trails toward the top, a mere 2,500 feet above the surrounding valley, if that’s your jam.
THIS FERN-FESTOONED paradise in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park served as the filming location for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. And honestly, surrounded by the walls of the 50- to 80-foot-tall canyon and a burbling stream, you can’t help but hum the theme song.
THERE’S ALMOST TOO much to do in this 2,000-acre parkland in southeast-ish Ohio. Winding hiking trails, rocky cliffs to climb and rappel, caves, waterfalls, and even two spas in the area—because you’ll likely need at least one after all the activity.
(Bridal Veil, Oregon)
JUST 30 MILES from Portland and cascading 630 feet, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Oregon and arguably the most stunning in the Pacific Northwest. Pro tip: Hike another mile and you’ll encounter the nearby Wahkeena Falls, another holy-whoa backdrop along the Columbia River Gorge.
(Garfield County, Utah)
JUST OUTSIDE Glen Canyon National Recreation Area sits one of Utah’s most epic trails. Formerly a cattle trail for ranchers, the switchback area is now a scenic drive (or adventurous hike) through rugged backcountry, with faaaar fewer tourists than nearby Zion National Park. Four-wheel drive highly recommended.
(Humboldt County, California)
FLANKED BY 300-foot redwoods, this scenic highway is a trip through an iconic stretch of California. It’s a 31-mile drive packed with views so compelling they’ll make teens turn away from their screens.
THERE’S SKATING on a man-made rink downtown (meh?), and then there’s skating on a 4.5-mile maintained path that winds among tree-lined mountains. The trail isn’t for beginners, but there are also rinks for ice hockey and marshmallow roasts.
(Yosemite National Park, California)
FOR A FEW weeks in mid-to-late February, you can take in (and Instagram!) the surreal effect of a 1,000-foot waterfall off the east side of El Capitan mountain set “aflame” as the whitewater reflects the sunset. If you can’t hit that window, the falls can be viewed between December and April.
WHEN THE TEMPS drop in Michigan’s Hiawatha National Forest, melting snow runs over a cliff and freezes, forming massive ice caverns. You’ll need ice cleats for the mile-long hike to the caves, which you can enter, explore, and marvel at.
(Camp Verde, Arizona)
IT’S A five-story structure, built by the prehistoric Sinagua people, that teeters on a vertical cliff face 100 feet over the valley floor. While the castle itself is closed to visitors, you can still hike the trail around it and gape in wonderment.
(Central City, Colorado)
RUSSELL GULCH, Colorado, was once a thriving gold-rush town. When its gold supply ran dry, the mining town was largely abandoned until, in 1999, a developer purchased the land and converted it into a sprawling destination for disc golf, a cross between Ultimate Frisbee and golf, set among the deserted buildings. Game on.
THE LOCAL LORE here says that a farmer once discovered diamonds in his turnip fields, thanks to volcanic activity millions of years ago. Although you probably won’t find a diamond, there are plenty of rocks and even gemstones for the taking. BYO tools. (No battery-operated or motor-driven ones allowed, though.)
OVER A .38-mile path, you descend 140 feet below ground level into a sweeping up-lit cavern, to find America’s largest underground lake. Like, the visible part is longer than two football fields and 220 feet wide. Crazier still: You can take a boat tour of the lake, where you may even see some of the stocked trout flitting beneath the waters. (Fishing not permitted.)
IN 1974, a group of San Francisco-based artists and the eccentric millionaire Stanley Marsh paid homage to a classic American car: They half-buried ten graffiti-covered Cadillacs in a field alongside historic Route 66. (It was relocated in 1997 to a nearby cow pasture.) Visitors are encourages to pain the vehicular Stonehenge. It’s art!
FOUNDED IN 1911, Pekin, the oldest continuously operated Chinese restaurant in the U. S., has built a reputation from its American spins on Chinese dishes. See: tomato-beef chop suey and sweet-and-sour chicken with pineapple. The dining room has curtained booths, perfect for socially distanced seating—and of course takeaway is an option.
AFTER THIS former church went through deconsecration in the early 1990s, owners seized on its prime Lawrenceville location, repurposing the pews to create booths and adding biergarten tables. Its craft-beer menu offers multiple styles from its own brewery. Outdoor seating abounds, though it’s not quite as impressive as the seating indoors.
PLENTY OF DINERS boast “home cooking,” but this two-table predominantly takeout shop is actually in someone’s home. Owners James and Betty Jones operate one of the oldest continuously run Black-owned restaurants in America. The Jones family has been cranking out its James Beard Award–winning slow-smoked barbecue pork since about 1910. Just be sure to get in early; when they sell out for the day, they close shop.
(Hackensack, New Jersey)
THIS 22-SEAT joint, home to one of the best burgers in the state of New Jersey and possibly the nation, has hosted foodies like Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri. Founded in 1939 as part of the World’s Fair, White Manna makes slider-style burgers, sizzled with onions and cheese. They’re satisfying in their simplicity.
LOCATED IN the sleepy Connecticut town of Essex, “the Gris” is one of the oldest inns in the U. S. Founded in 1776, it was once occupied by British troops during the War of 1812. Since then, it’s weathered both the Great Depression and Prohibition. Outdoor dining will help it weather COVID-19, too.
AT THE HEART of the Mississippi Delta, you’ll find . . . some of the best tamales in the U.S.? Opened in 1941, the tiny combination grocery store and juke joint mainly served the local Black community at first, but as word spread of their stick-to-your-ribs specialty, they converted the entire space into an “eat place.” Their steaks are incredible, should an order of tamales not suffice.
NOT MANY RESTAURANTS allow you to park your horse out front. This largely outdoor burger-a-and-beer pub—part of a resort that offers hiking and horseback riding—is tucked under a massive rock outcropping the Appalachian foothills. For those without a mount, it’s accessible via a steep trek from the parking lot. Weird-but-works pairing: fried apple fritters and a cold beer.