Everyone has big dreams and grand intentions. But between work, family and finances, it's easy to let stress drag you down. Even the best of us sometimes fall into a creative and emotional rut.
If you're looking for a way to raise your spirits and change your perspective on life, sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to a place that has reliably inspired others.
Whether its awe-inspiring nature, thought-provoking history or locations rich with cultural heritage, there's no shortage of places nearby. And you don't need a week off to climb out of a valley — or into one. Many of these locations can anchor a weekend visit.
In a reflective and conservationist mood? There's good reason that Massachusetts' Walden Woods provided inspiration for Henry David Thoreau to write his famous book on nature and self-reliance. "Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest... where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession for ever, for instruction and recreation," wrote Thoreau in 1859, leading to the conservationist efforts of generations to follow. Today the Walden Woods Project provides tours and educational programs for visitors interested in the area's natural beauty.
Few natural vistas can compete with the awe-inspiring grandeur of Yosemite Valley. While it wasn't the first designated national park, the work in documenting and preserving the area's profound beauty done by naturalists like John Muir inspired the movement to preserve national parks. Stay at one of the park's campgrounds or hotels (the architecturally ambitious Ahwahnee Hotel provides a suitably dramatic setting) and as evening nears, drive up to Glacier Point to hear a park ranger discuss the history of the valley as the sunset paints the mountains around you.
Or perhaps you're run down by our contentious national political climate, and looking for a more historically nuanced frame of reference. Thomas Jefferson can help set you straight. History tends to lose its distance and increase in relevancy with visits to places such as Jefferson's home at Monticello. Redesigning and working on it for more than 40 years, Jefferson left the surprising and unique house as a living testament to his genius and contradictions.
Visits to famous Civil War sites can lead to reflection on the fragility of America's union, and what it takes to keep it whole. The "well-organized and moving" national park at Little Round Top, in Gettysburg, Pa., can do just that, says Robert Reid, Lonely Planet's USA editor. "It's easily as powerful as any military site I've visited in the world."
You may find meaning in one of America's great cultural hot spots. Rich Beattie, executive editor of Travel + Leisure, says he finds renewed inspiration in New Orleans' French Quarter. "Listening to jazz spill out from cafés and happening upon street musicians — all in the birthplace of jazz — is very inspiring," says Beattie. "It's great to see so many people with such a passion for this type of music, all surrounded by a rich history and tradition."
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The Pacific Northwest is world famous for its natural heritage, and provides no shortage of opportunities for inspirational renewal. Take a drive up the destroyed volcano called Mount Mazama in Oregon, where towering fir trees line both sides of Route 62. It's a fittingly dramatic prelude to the deep azure glow of Crater Lake, when it finally becomes visible at the rim. Stay at the stunningly beautiful Crater Lake Lodge, and take a trip into the belly of the filled-up caldera, along with a boat ride around the lake that will have cameras clicking nonstop. It is the deepest lake in the United States — 1,943 feet — with the clearest, purest rainwater and snow-melt imaginable.
Or if you're looking to finally get some work done on that novel, take the four-hour drive down to the Timberline Lodge, which provided the inspiration for exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 version of Stephen King's "The Shining." (King himself was inspired by a stay in room 217 of the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colo.) Just don't stay for extended snowstorms.
We've collected 15 favorite inspirational locations, across America and its territories. Some have civic value, others bring us into history, and others are impressive natural locations. Each is guaranteed to lift your spirit and get creative juices flowing — even if it's in the form of great photos to share with friends.
© 2012 Forbes.com