10 Incredible Day Trips Within Easy Reach of America's Major Metros

Whether due to the pandemic, or the accompanying economic fallout, this is not the ideal time to splurge on that big summer vacation—but that doesn't mean you have to sit at home. Luckily there are plenty of social-distance-friendly day trip destinations within easy journey of America's major cities.

Explore What America Has to Offer

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Best day trips near major US cities

Many summer festivals and destinations have shuttered for the season, and considering health concerns associated with traveling by plane at the moment, it may be just as well. Being in the midst of a major public health crisis, isn't the summer you were expecting, but that doesn't mean you can't have some responsible fun. If your locality has not advised against traveling within the region, consider hopping in the car and taking a drive just outside of America’s major metros. On your own or in a small group, you can spend a day learning about the history of the region, visiting unique towns, or climbing to awe-inspiring outlooks.  However, before traveling, make sure to check the current hours of operation, COVID-19 policies and regulations, and emergency closure notices so that you can enjoy your day—safely and without any surprises along the way.

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Atlanta: Etowah Indian Mounds

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Etowah Indian Mounds day trip

Located about an hour outside Atlanta, Etowah Indian Mounds is a 54-acre protected site that offers a glimpse into the South Appalachian Mississippian Native American culture, ancestors of the Muskogee (Creek) nation, who thrived here between 1000 and 1550 A.D. Explore the village site, plaza, pits, defensive ditch, and the six earthen mounds that served as the center for the once-bustling metropolis. You can also glimpse a portrait of day-to-day life in the ancient city by visiting the indoor museum.

Related: 10 American Landmarks That Were Almost Destroyed

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New York: Catskills Mountains

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Catskills Mountains day trip

Get out of New York for the day and drive about two and a half hours to the Catskills, where open air and breathtaking panoramic views will help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated in no time. Spend the day hiking the trails or taking a dip in one of the many swimming holes. Patronize a local shop to support small business, and order a take-away lunch to enjoy as you make your way to one of many stunning waterfalls, like Vernooy Kill Falls, Russell Brook Falls, and Tompkins Falls.

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Los Angeles: Solvang

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Solvang California day trip

Imagine visiting a Northern European city without ever leaving American soil! Two hours up the coast from Los Angeles, lies Solvang, a city founded in 1911 by Danish-Americans eager to create a stateside version of an average Danish town. When visiting Solvang, delight in Danish cuisine—including hundreds of Danish beer and wine tasting rooms, bakeries, and restaurants—or partake in Danish culture at shops, art galleries, and museums.

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Chicago: Starved Rock State Park

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Starved Rock State Park day trip

Visit Starved Rock State Park, located just two hours outside of Chicago, to hike along the Illinois River or picnic with your partner. You may even wish to rent a boat and some fishing gear and head out on the water. If fishing isn’t your thing, take on the 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons for extraordinary views and stunning photo ops.

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Philadelphia: Brandywine Valley Wine Trail

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Brandywine Valley Wine Trail day trip

Located one hour from Philadelphia, the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail was formed in 2003 when a group of local wineries collaborated to create a wine-lovers destination. Enjoy a wine tasting, or tour a vineyard to learn how the wine is made before taking a bottle home. Depending on the winery, you may have the opportunity to bring your own food and picnic on the grounds, or sup at an onsite restaurant where you can enjoy an ideal wine pairing. Just be sure not to overindulge, so you can drive safely and soberly home—otherwise you may need to extend your day trip into an overnight stay!

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Denver: Garden of the Gods

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Garden of the Gods day trip

An hour and a half south of Denver lies the spectacular Garden of the Gods. The natural park is full of stunning rock formations, some of which are safe for climbing. Avid climbers and boulderers should seek a permit before climbing so that park staff can ensure guests keep themselves and the delicate ecosystem safe. Visitors can also enjoy hiking, biking, guided nature walks, and interactive museum exhibits that explain how the natural landscape formed over time.

Related: 25 Places Every American Should Visit at Least Once

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San Francisco: Muir Woods National Monument

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Muir Woods National Monument day trip

Only 11 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is the Muir Woods National Monument. This untouched wilderness contains 6 miles of trails that weave through the towering old-growth coastal redwoods. These impressive trees can grow taller than any other plant species on earth, meaning you can walk among actual giants. Before visiting Muir Woods National Monument, make sure you have everything you need, including directions and your parking reservation, because the park has no cell phone service or WiFi. There are no pets or bikes on these trails—so leave the dog at home and bring a pair of comfortable hiking shoes.

Related: America's 10 Least Visited National Parks

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Boston: Castle Hill on the Crane Estate

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Castle Hill on the Crane Estate day trip

Castle Hill and the surrounding protected 165 acres once belonging to industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr., is now listed as a National Historic Landmark. Located about an hour northeast of Boston, Castle Hill on the Crane Estate is a 59-room, Stuart-style mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and designed by notable American architect David Adler. Take a tour through the stunning architecture and manicured gardens that surround the home, or meander any of the several walking trails to live large for a day.

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Washington, D.C.: Kent Island

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Kent Island Washington DC day trip

About an hour east of D.C. is the small, peaceful community of Kent Island. Boasting attractions for people from all walks of life, it's easy to find something fun for everyone in your group. Connoisseurs of spirits will look forward to visiting Blackwater Distilling for a drink and a tour of their production facility, while outdoor adventurers will be ready to hit the Cross Island Trail or Terrapin Beach Park for walking, hiking, bicycling, and swimming. Sign up for paddleboard lessons with Dragonfly Paddle and Fitness, or head to Cascia Vineyards for a wine tasting and vineyard tour to round out your trip.

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Miami: Hobe Sound National Wildlife Preserve

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Hobe Sound National Wildlife Preserve day trip

Located just an hour and a half north of Miami, Hobe Sound National Wildlife Preserve is a great place to take the kids for a day of wildlife appreciation and environmental education. Amateur and professional photographers won’t be disappointed with the stunning natural landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife such as shorebirds, seabirds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Come with a group or head out on your own, but if you are bringing your dog to keep you company on the trails make sure to keep them on a leash at all times and away from the beach where they may disturb the wildlife and natural habitat. If you want to break out your fishing rod, head up to the Indian River Lagoon beach or the Atlantic Coast beach where sport fishing is permitted in accordance with all state and Hobe Sound National Wildlife Preserve regulations. Don’t miss out on this incredible refuge, home of one of the most productive sea turtle nesting areas in the Southeastern United States.

Wikimedia Commons via carol bean

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