Travellers tend to fall into two general categories: city seekers and hideaway seekers. Increasingly, though, the line between these two gets blurred as great retreats become over-publicized and overrun with people all looking to get away. But hope is not lost, there are still some great spots to withdraw from your work life and fully embrace your blissful side. Here are four spots in America for the escape-seeking traveller that mainstream wanderlusts have not yet discovered:
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
Many of the marquee state parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite are without a doubt able to be seen with little to no interruptions from other visitors but for some escapists it’s a sense of uniqueness they want just as much solitude during their stay; they’ve seen the pictures a thousand times and are ready to be exposed to something they’ve never really seen before.
For you, rugged individualist, I present Hocking Hills in central Ohio. The hills themselves are dissected areas of the Alleghany Plateau and feature cliffs, caves, and gorges—many of which featuring breathtaking waterfalls. The natural beauty is not to be missed but the name of this game is seclusion and Hocking Hills is chock full of open space.
I’ve stayed in two cabins in different areas of the 2,356-acre park and both times I was wowed by the region’s untouched feel. Both cabins, no matter how big the complex, was staffed at the most by two or three people, enough to welcome you and tell you which dirt road your cabin is located down before sending you on your way. For some this brings up questions like “what am I paying for??” but for others this is true hospitality: inviting, helpful, and out of the way.
There are, of course, some better known gorges and caves than others where you may be forced to see a lone soul or two but the large size and non-contiguous status of the park (there are several smaller sections disconnected from each other rather than one large park) means more likely than not you’ll find yourself master of your own adventure with no real must-see’s unless they are a must-see to you. With unbelievable sights like Ash Cave and Conkle’s Hollow and no one to shame you into seeing any of it if you so choose, Hocking Hills is a great (and cheaper) alternative to the decked-out lodges of more widely visited state parks.
What’s So Hidden?
. Non-contiguous park makes for a lack of central destination where all travellers go
. Distance from major metropolitan area decreases gentrification
. Hands-off hospitality at many lodges and cabins
The Hudson Valley, New York
The next two hideaways require a little more explaining, as they are both increasingly well-known hotspots. The first of these two is the Hudson Valley region of New York. Recent mentions like in the National Geographic list of the “Best Trips of 2013” may make this area stretching from about an hour north of Manhattan to the lower tip of the Adirondacks seem like a fools errand for a quiet retreat. But there is a very narrow section taking up most of the travel media’s attention these days and it’s still easy to consider this a top spot for rural vacationers.
Most of what’s garnered the Hudson Valley national attention lately is its attractiveness to hustle and bustling Manhattanites buying weekend and summer homes in places like Beacon, Hudson, and Woodstock (full disclosure: Woodstock is my hometown, but I like to this this only increases my authority on the subject). As both a one-time resident and current outsider I can say with certainty these towns may be touted for their natural beauty and peaceful living but they are attractive to urban dwellers primarily because they are very reminiscent of city life.
Chic trendy restaurants and art galleries line the streets of Beacon and a lot of city-based companies like Etsy have opened offices in Hudson because they can take the Amtrak right from Penn Station to the heart of town, creating a commuter atmosphere not unlike that found in the immediate suburbs of the New York City. But for every Woodstock there is a slew of surrounding areas (Mount Tremper, Phoenicia, Ashokan, Hunter to name just a small few) where the bankers and doctors would never be caught dead in.
This is the real Hudson Valley and it’s in these towns that feature plenty of B&B’s, hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and rock climbing opportunities that you can get the real experience of finding a true hideaway. The lush green and orange of the Catskill Mountains is beautiful particularly because of, not in spite of, their small rounded tops. Unlike the Rockies or Adirondacks that take all the limelight, the Catskills are great canvases on which foliage, sunrises and sunsets, and long sweeping landscapes are painted.
Additionally it’s only once you’ve found yourself feeling really cut off from urban life that you can appreciate the close proximity to major spots like NYC, which make getting to and from the Hudson Valley very easy.
What’s So Hidden?
. Tourism-driven economies in surrounding areas keep low-profile townships off the radar
. Thousands of miles of untouched land that’s not state-landmarked, making it hard for guidebooks and travel sites to pinpoint where to go
. Catskill Mountain ranges offer didn’t aesthetic appeal than more well known Rockies or Cascades and so don’t attract many mountain-seeking travellers
Santa Fe, NM
I know what you’re thinking; EVERYBODY knows about Santa Fe, it’s featured all the time as one of the best and biggest travel destinations in America. This is true, but it’s given this distinction for its artsy downtown and crisp ski mountains in the distance. The hideaway part of Santa Fe is, as it should be, hidden. What puts Santa Fe on my top hideaway list, and what distinguishes it from the others, is that it’s not secluded in the way a state park or mountain range is secluded, it’s hidden in plain sight.
In between the great cuisine and architecture downtown steep ski and snowboard trails are miles and miles of trails and camping spots that come up seemingly out of nowhere.
During my time in Santa Fe I was staying very near downtown when one evening my travel companion suggested we get in the car and see if we can find a nice spot to watch the sun go down. After five minutes and no more than two or three turns we found ourselves high up in the hills at the foot of a long winding trail on which the sounds of the rooftops cantinas below us were no more than a memory. Further investigation proved that we’d stumbled on just one of many spots like this all surrounding downtown.
Real lodging accommodations in these parts can be a bit pricy but for those not afraid of camping (make sure you read up on avoiding snakes and scorpions) the peace and solitude will be hard to beat as so many of those coming to this area will be only a few miles below you but worlds away.
What’s So Hidden?
. Major hotspots down in the city and way up in the mountains, keeping a peaceful no man’s land in between
. Trails and campgrounds are so close to downtown that travellers seeking the city don’t tend to stray beyond and those seeking “hideaways” tend to look farther away.
. Low-rise architecture and older demographic of the population make proximity to downtown easy to forget
Elk Lake, Michigan
Finally, we’ve come to what may be my favorite “true” American hideaway. Elk Lake, and surrounding town Elk Rapids is blessed with some of the same attributes that make the others on our list so well hidden—it’s proximity to very well known spots. Traverse City is a quick drive from Elk Rapids and a popular spot for summer travellers looking for dry cool air and the world famous Traverse City Cherries and the lake is sandwiched between the famous Torch Lake and Lake Michigan.
Because of this when you find yourself in a secluded spot along Elk Lake, of which there are many along it’s nine-mile stretch, you can take full advantage of the clear-as-glass water as if it’s your own private spring of rejuvenation. Similar to Santa Fe this is not a hideaway where you are miles from the nearest human, it’s a hideaway where you are closest to the kind of peace and revitalizing rest a retreating trip should offer. Java Jones in Elk Rapids has all the fixings of a contemporary, hip coffeehouse stripped away of any of the pretention in city centers and trendy vacation spots.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes a short drive from the lake is the kind of outdoor adventure a real escape-seeker wants, no equipment, no line, no payment, just you climbing the most challenging and rewarding pile of sand you’ve ever seen. Fall asleep to the cool dry Michigan breeze and wake up with a swim that will stay with you the rest of the day. Elk Lake is why we started travelling in the first place.
What’s So Hidden?
. Sandwiched in between major destinations; Torch Lake, Lake Michigan, Traverse City that attract more visitors
. Large area of lake (nine miles long) makes secluded spots abundant
The great joy of travelling is to go to places you’ve never been. Isn’t it that much more rewarding going where no one has ever been either?