Have you ever reconsidered your vacation destination choice while standing in a three-hour line for a theme park ride, or sweltering under the hot sun in a beach or resort town? If you’re looking for a truly cooler family trip this year – and one that involves the outdoors in a way you can enjoy (sans humidity and heat!), then read on. We looked up and found vacation spots throughout the U.S. with altitude but not attitude that are sure to keep everyone relaxed this summer.
What Else is Grand in the Grand Canyon State?
When you think of high elevation, Arizona doesn’t often come to mind. However, Bruce Leadbetter, guide and owner of the Arizona adventure vacation company 360 Adventures, advises that “The White Mountains in eastern Arizona require more of a time commitment than a quick trip to the Grand Canyon, but the camping is amazing and wildlife abounds.”
Rich in the history and heritage of ancient native American and pioneer families that inhabited the region, the White Mountains (11,400 feet at the highest point) border the Arizona-New Mexico border and include the communities of Alpine, Eagar, Greer, Hannagan Meadow, Pinetop-Lakeside, Show Low, Snowflake, Springerville and Taylor.
Ideal for family summer fun activities afforded by the mountain lakes, streams and trails, plenty of campsites can be found in Arizona’s second highest mountain range. Sites like Big Lake Recreation Area Campground offer fishing, boating, showers and restrooms. In the mixed-conifer forests of the central White Mountains, visitors also have the chance to be guests on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation’s 1.6 million acres of pristine land. Special reservation permits are required for many outdoor activities like hiking, camping and fishing, but camping on this tribal land is more secluded than what may be found in off-reservation campgrounds in the region.
Leadbetter also recommends escaping the desert heat by traveling to Mount Lemmon (9,157 feet), just north of Tucson. Mount Lemon, part of the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado National Forest, can be accessed via the Catalina Scenic Byway. Those seeking outdoor adventure will find an abundance of campgrounds that will accept tents and RVs. Spencer Canyon and Rose Canyon are two campgrounds located far up the byway that offer cool temperatures.
Utah Winter Resort Becomes Summer Escape
Skiers, snowboarders and tourists who flock to Utah’s world renowned winter resorts can also escape the state’s hot summer sun with some strategic vacation planning to those same higher elevations. One example is southwest Utah’s Brian Head Resort (200 miles from Las Vegas), which boasts 400 inches of snow in winter, but in the summer transforms into another kind of outdoor adventure playground. Mountain biking, hiking, rappelling, fishing and camping are also available atop the Markagaunt Plateau (elevations up to 11,000 feet). Just 10 minutes down the road Brian Head, Cedar Breaks National Monument provides excellent opportunities for sightseeing and camping, and Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are right next door. Nearby Cedar City is a great place to stop and load up on supplies before heading into the mountains.
Bob Willets, an avid outdoorsman, has spent many days and nights exploring and camping in southern Utah’s mountains. One of his all time favorites is Twisted Forest, near Brain Head. “It is a uniquely beautiful place,” Willets says of the area, “fresh air, beautiful views and all sorts of wildlife. There are countless camping spots and hiking trails with spectacular views.”
Families looking to escape the heat and the crowds will discover a solution for both in the area. Bonnie Char of the Cedar City-Brian Head Tourism Bureau notes, “This is a region that is relatively undiscovered by the mainstream tourist. The nearby National Parks are a big draw, but there are equally spectacular views of Cedar Breaks National Monument and our stunning red rocks.”
Point Supreme campground in Cedar Breaks National Monument offers 28 campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis for tents and RVs. Camping is also available at Panguitch Lake North and Duck Creek campgrounds in the surrounding Dixie National Forest.
Dream California Big
The search for a cool summer climate and some outdoor fun wouldn’t be complete without exploring northern California. Tim Loftus, a program manager for REI Adventures, designs and manages weekend getaways that offer short and accessible adventure travel trips. When asked about his recommendations in this area, Loftus suggested Mount Shasta as being an excellent high elevation region with cool temperatures and great outdoor activity options.
Mount Shasta is located in the southern end of the Cascades and is the long mountain range’s second highest peak at 14,179 feet. Plenty of campgrounds are offered in the Shasta National Forest, however, Loftus advises, “Attempting to summit Mount Shasta should involve a guide and mountaineering experience.”
Loftus also recommends the Lake Tahoe region of the Northern Sierra as “another perfect higher elevation getaway location within a few hours of the San Francisco Bay area.” The lake’s crystalline waters are known worldwide for clarity and the region in general offers a host of outdoor activities.
While 90 degree highs may be considered typical summer temperatures for inland areas of southern California, residents of San Diego (just over a two-hour drive for Angelenos) need only travel upwards into their nearby mountains to escape the heat.
Located just south of San Diego’s historic mountain gold rush town of Julian, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park offers over 100 miles of hiking trails, most also open to horseback riders. Campgrounds and picnic sites are nestled among meadows, oak and pine woodlands, and the Sweetwater River’s headwaters. Boating and fishing are available at the park’s Lake Cuyamaca. On a clear day, the park’s highest viewpoint, Cuyamaca Peak (6,512 feet), offers views of Mexico, and the mountain ranges and wide expanses of the nearby Anza-Borrego Desert. The park is also home to magnificent wildlife, including herds of mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, an occasional mountain lion and more than 150 species of birds.
The area’s Laguna Mountains (6,000 feet), located within the Cleveland National Forest’s 8,600 acres, are also another hotspot to cool down, offering outdoor enthusiasts hiking, biking, camping, fishing and mountain climbing during the summer months.
Northwestern High Altitude Holiday
Traveling up the Pacific coast to the Northwest, one can find a seemingly endless array of options of high elevation recreational spots to cool down during a hot summer.
Loftus, who also guides trips for REI in the Pacific Northwest, says “Mount Rainier National Park is the crown jewel of the region. With stunning hikes out of paradise above 6,000 feet, cooler temperatures and in some cases, year round snow, this is a great summer getaway!”
Camping inside Mount Rainier National Park is generally on a first come, first served basis, although campers can reserve sites at the Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh Rock campgrounds. The national forests around Mount Rainier National Park also provide a variety of camping and recreation opportunities, with campgrounds located along highways 12 and 410 in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Gifford Pinchot, and Wenatchee National Forests.
Rethink Altitude: Fun at 1,500 Feet
When planning summer travel with high elevations in mind, many may look past the Midwest, best known for the Great Plains. However, even where elevations do not exceed 1,500 feet, like Cathedral Canyon in the St. Francois Mountain Range of Missouri, one can find some of the best-kept travel secrets of the Midwest. Loftus offers that the views from Cathedral Canyon “are spectacular and exploring this area can be prolific, with natural caves and deep canyon walls.”
He also recommends Mount Magazine in Arkansas, and the state’s Ozark Mountains as other high points worth visiting in the Midwest. Mount Magazine, a flat-topped plateau with a sandstone cap rimmed by precipitous rock cliffs, is the highest point in the Midwest at just less than 2,800 feet. It is also home to one of Arkansas’ newest state parks with a campground that includes 18 campsites for tent and RV campers.
The Ozark Mountains (elevations up to 2,560 feet) cover parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and are a rugged and deeply dissected plateau. Its topography with altitude is what creates such a variety of outdoor vacations, including an abundance of water-driven outdoor recreational activities like fishing, canoeing and kayaking, thanks to its multiple lakes and rivers, in addition to hiking and camping. The Ozarks include America’s first National River, the Buffalo River, one of the few remaining in the lower 48 states without dams. One of the last worries you’ll have in planning this trip is finding a place to camp, with sites available throughout the region, including inside the Ozarks National Forest.
Escape Southern Summer Humidity
Atlanta, which is a short distance from the start of the Appalachian Trail, is also situated in a climate zone that inflicts brutal summer heat and humidity, and has achieved record-breaking levels in recent years. While the Atlantic coast is less than half a day’s drive away, many residents of Atlanta and its surrounding areas can enjoy an outdoor adventure that doesn’t involve intense heat and humidity by exploring the Blue Ridge Mountain destinations in and around Asheville, North Carolina, which are just three and a half hours away from the city.
Regional sites worth exploring include the Dupont State Forest spread over 7,600 acres and featuring 90 miles of trails. There are also several breathtaking waterfalls, like the beautiful Triple Falls and Hooker Falls, a popular swimming hole. Asheville is also home to one of the most popular sections of “America’s Favorite Drive” – the Blue Ridge Parkway. A short drive from town offers several gorgeous overlooks.
Located on Goldview Knob, 10 minutes north of downtown Asheville, Campfire Lodgings is a campground offering 110 acres of mountaintop camping with full accommodations and facilities for RVs and tent (cabins in the area are also available). The Tipi Camp Asheville, a biker friendly campground, is also nearby offering tipis and screen lodges in the woods complete with beds, linens, and coffee in the morning. It also offers visitor sites where your own tent.
Natural Wonders Near The Big Apple
New Yorkers, whose habits of ‘vacating the city’ at seasonal points throughout the year (like July and August when average temperatures peak at 85 degrees) may have sparked the use of the word ‘vacation’ in a tourist sense, and have any number of escape routes leading to cooler temperatures in elevated areas. Traveling 90 minutes south into the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, New Yorkers yearning to escape from city stress, humidity and pollution can regroup in the clear crispness of the mountain air and enjoy water recreation at the Otter Lake Camp Resort in East Stroudsburg. Set upon 300 wooded acres and featuring a 60-acre pristine lake, this campground offers spacious and fully equipped campsites with fireplaces, hookups and cable.
New Yorkers can also stay in-state and still find reprieve from city noise and heat but travel in quintessential “Big Apple”, larger-than-life fashion by hitting the Adirondacks, the largest park in the contiguous United States, and the largest National Historic Landmark. Offering over 6 million acres, its land area is far greater than the area covered by Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky National Parks combined. Some of the park’s high interest areas for families include tubing, canoeing, kayaking, paddling, fishing and swimming in 2,000-plus lakes, ponds and rivers (and accompanying sandy beaches); not to mention hiking trails ranging from something for the beginner to the backcountry trail runner in search of a challenge and solitude. The highest elevation in Adirondack Park is Mount Marcy at 5,344 feet.
Trek a Piece of the Appalachian Trail
There seem to be a near infinite number of places to camp and enjoy the cooler temperatures of summer by doing so at the elevated areas offered along the vastly long 1,500-mile, and at places, 300-mile wide Appalachian Mountains. One popular location that is centrally located to such major metropolises as Boston and New York are the White Mountains of New England.
Covering 25 percent of New Hampshire and a small part of western Maine, the White Mountains offer both rugged areas that could best be traveled by a guided tour for those looking for adventure, while also offering a number of fun close-by town activities for those looking to balance a nature-tour experience with fun perks of civilization like summer festivals and sight-seeing. Hikers can also enjoy the White Mountains’ well-known alpine huts, a 100-plus year old tradition and network of base camp mountain huts that are each a day’s hike apart along the Appalachian Trail, and offer shelter and a place to relax and recharge for both beginner as well as experienced hikers.
Contact Info for Quotes and Photos (and Credits) Provided Follow:
- All quotes crediting Tim Loftus of REI Adventures can be fact checked with the REI PR contact: Caitlin Sullivan Caitlin@turnerpr.com
- The following photos should receive the credit “Courtesy of REI Adventures” and can also be verified with Caitlin Sullivan Caitlin@turnerpr.com:
- All photos for Mt. Shasta (in 1 folder)
- All photos for Mt. Rainier (in 1 folder)
- All photos for Northern Sierra (in 1 folder)
- All quotes crediting Bruce Leadbetter, guide and owner of the Arizona adventure vacation company 360 Adventures, can be verified by contacting him directly at email@example.com
- All quotes crediting Bob Willets or Bonnie Char (both in Utah section) can be verified via their PR contact - "Steve Szczecina" firstname.lastname@example.org
- All photos in the Utah folder can also be verified by contacting "Steve Szczecina" email@example.com
- Photo credit for files in the Utah folder should be provided as follows:
- File name “Cedar Breaks” please photo credit Asher Swan
- File name “ Cedar Breaks Brian Head Peak ” – please photo credit “ Cedar City ~ Brian Head Tourism Bureau”.
- Photos in the San Diego area folder can be verified by contacting PR person Robert Arends rarends@SDCVB.org (includes photos of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Laguna Mountains) – photo credits for all files in this folder should be given to: “San Diego CVB”
- Photos in the Asheville folder can be verified by contacting PR person "Cat Kessler" CKessler@exploreasheville.com and should receive the credit “Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau”
- All files in the New York – Adirondacks folder should receive the credit “Courtesy of VisitAdirondacks.com” and questions can be directed to PR Contact Rebecca Steffan firstname.lastname@example.org
- The 1 file in Pennsylvania folder can be directed question-wise to PR Contact "Porterfield, Rebecca (HBG-TNC)" RPorterfield@tierneyagency.com and should receive the credit of “Otter Lake Camp Resort”
- The 1 file in the White Mountains/New Hampshire folder can be verified by contacting Rob Burbank at email@example.com and should receive the following photo credits / description “White Mountain alpine flowers in bloom.”
Credit: Robert Kozlow, Courtesy of AMC