For most of us, Memorial Day is the unofficial kick-off to summer. It ushers in the start of endless barbecues, picnics, beach time and countless popsicles. The Memorial Day holiday weekend provides that extra day off to enjoy some corner of the country over a long weekend. At the same time, the holiday can also mean crowds and loads of them if you decide to spend the long weekend at popular Memorial Day destinations.
If you are looking to get off the beaten Memorial Day travel path and venture out into the unknown, we have come up with a few getaways ideas you have probably never heard of around the U.S. From a car-less Michigan island to getting some color on a beach with wild horses in North Carolina, here are a few ideas of Memorial Day getaways in the US you might not know.
Snorkeling Through Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida
For many families and adventurers, Memorial Day weekend often means heading to a national park. Yellowstone and Yosemite are all fine and well but they are also some favorite national parks to frequent for the late May holiday weekend. If you want to get away from the crowds, you can instead seek out one of the most inaccessible parks in the National Park system. Roughly 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, you’ll find just that at the Dry Tortugas National Park.
Known for its marine life, coral reefs and blue waters, Dry Tortugas National Park spans 100 square miles and consists of seven small islands. Usually a delight for snorkelers, the park is also worth the trip by ferry or seaplane to see the 19th century Fort Jefferson seemingly floating in the water. Most travelers take a ferry out and spend the day swimming and snorkeling through this seldom mentioned national park.
Discover the Rugged Beauty of Big Sur at Pfeiffer Beach
Big Sur, California doesn’t fill with strip malls and chain restaurants. The stretch of land between the Santa Lucia Range and the Pacific Ocean is one of California’s most rugged coastal stretches. The inspiration for writers, musicians, and artists, Big Sur relishes in its unmatched scenery. It provides all the necessary eye candy and quiet you might seek in an off the beaten path Memorial Day weekend escape.
However, what makes Big Sur truly magical are its beaches, some of which take some navigating to find. Pfeiffer Beach is one of the area’s beaches, often photographed but quite difficult to locate. The beach sits at the end of the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road. It features a wide sandy beach and a distinctive arch rock just offshore. We dare you to not want to photograph this one, especially at sunset. Pfeiffer Beach also features unique purple sands to sink your toes into on the holiday weekend. You can rest up and relax for the week at the Post Ranch Inn. The luxury resort dramatically perches on a cliff in Big Sur. Throughout the property’s 41 rooms, guests can appreciate floor to ceiling windows, many of which offer ocean views.
Vineyard Hop Through Rhode Island
Memorial Day vineyard hopping through Napa or Sonoma has become a popular activity for many travelers over the holiday weekend. If you love your bottles of red and white yet you want to explore a lesser known wine region, head for Rhode Island this Memorial Day. While the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island surprisingly packs in the vineyards with wineries from Blackstone Valley to Newport County to Warwick and West Bay.
All of Rhode Island’s wineries are open for some sort of tour or tasting, including Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard in Little Compton. The vineyard spans 163 acres and has been churning out award-winning wines since its founding in 1975. Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard boasts a similar microclimate and soil conditions to that of northern France, allowing it to produce some tasty bottles. Tours are held at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard every hour from 12PM to 3PM. If want to explore more vineyards, you can always have your Memorial Day weekend follow the Coastal Wine Trail. The trail heads through the heart of southeastern New England, through many Rhode Island vineyards. You can find 14 locally owned wineries along the trail, through many historic cities and villages.
Paddle Your Own Canoe Through America’s First National River in Arkansas
Good old-fashioned Memorial Day getaways usually boil down to finding the nearest body of water and enjoying the weekend out on a boat. While many famous lakes and rivers get plenty of attention over the holiday weekend, Arkansas quietly tucks away its own treasure of a river. Flowing for 135 miles from the Boston Mountains of the Ozark Plateau to its confluence with the White River, the Buffalo National River identifies as America’s first national river. It also takes pride in being one of the few remaining undammed rivers in the lower 48 states.
Exploring the Buffalo National River provides Memorial Day travelers with a variety of conditions from running rapids to quiet pools. Encasing many stretches of the river are massive bluffs. In fact, some of the bluffs bordering the river reach heights of 400 feet. Several outlets offer canoe rentals so you can explore the river at your own pace, one paddle at a time.
Uncover The Arts in The Old West Mountain Town of Salida, Colorado
Under 3 hours from Denver, Salida might not make it on those Memorial Day lists of hotspots but its rich art scene and proximity to Denver make it an appealing getaway. Frequently being compared with the likes of Santa Fe, New Mexico, this Western town in Colorado has made a name for itself in the art department. Due to the town’s growing arts community, it has even been named a Colorado Creative District by the state. If you are feeling the folksy vibe for a Memorial Day escape this year, you can rest up in Salida and roam its more than 20 artist studios and galleries. The mountain town is also home to one of the state’s largest historic districts.
The former railroad hub turned ranching community doesn’t just offer loads of art galleries to explore and art festivals throughout the summer. Salida is also right smack in the middle of dozens of the state’s 14ers, mountains over 14,000 feet. Over the holiday weekend, you can explore more than just canvases by appreciating the area’s natural gifts by whitewater rafting, mountain biking, hiking or simply relaxing in one of the area’s natural hot springs. Salina also puts you in close proximity to explore some old Colorado ghost towns like St. Elmo.
Unplug on the Car-less Michigan Island of Mackinac
Most of us seek a Memorial Day escape in which we can just unplug and relax. If you need to escape gridlock traffic and busy work schedules, Michigan’s Mackinac Island is up to the task. Cars were banned from the island in 1898, so that you can pleasantly roam the four square mile island on foot, by bike, horseback or by way of a carriage. Laced with Victorian architecture, Mackinac Island was once the summer playground of well-to-do Midwesterners.
Set between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas in the Strait of Mackinac, Memorial Day travelers will find the island is a great place to unplug. No cars aside, the island features plenty of shops to peruse and miles of tree-lined trails to explore throughout the interior of the island. In addition, you can also step back in time at Fort Mackinac. Built by the British in 1780, the fort is regarded as one of the best-preserved military forts in the country. Mackinac Island also provides that classic Americana taste of summer over the Memorial Day weekend with activities like kayaking, boating, and sailing. If you can’t make it until the following weekend, you’ll get to experience the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, a 10-day celebration of the island’s historic varieties of lilacs held every June.
Be a Beach Bum With Wild Horses at Shackleford Banks, North Carolina
Most Memorial Day getaways consist of beach destinations. Reached only by boat from neighboring cities and towns, Shackleford Banks provides a beach retreat with a little something special for Memorial Day weekend. The southernmost barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore is home to more than 100 wild horses. It is thought that horses have been here for more than 400 years, descendants of Spanish mustangs from a shipwreck. While there are no towns or amenities on Shackleford Banks, you can enjoy the beach and comb for seashells largely undisturbed, minus the occasional horse trotting on by.
Where do you like to escape to for the Memorial Day weekend? Share your favorite spot or secret hideaway with us in the comments below.