10 beautiful destinations off the beaten path

A year-round outdoor sporting destination, Jackson, Wyo., is just a stone's throw from Yellowstone National Park and a great jumping-off point for rafting trips on Snake River.
A year-round outdoor sporting destination, Jackson, Wyo., is just a stone's throw from Yellowstone National Park and a great jumping-off point for rafting trips on Snake River.
/ Source: Forbes

Schools are almost out for the summer, yet it can be hard to think sunny thoughts with all the doom and gloom hanging over the economy. The budget-conscious are cutting down on restaurant meals, shopping sprees and travel: U.S. tourism declined 22 percent last year. Yet a vacation from the turmoil may be just what you need. The farther away, the better.

With that in mind, Forbes reached out to guides, hoteliers and residents at some of the Western Hemisphere's most remote destinations, places one step removed from the nearest airport or major city that require an extra shuttle, ferry or long drive to reach. We focused on spots that American travelers could reach in a day's journey.

Our list includes pristine, un-peopled beaches like Isla Holbox, Mexico; mountain paradises like Mammoth Lakes, Calif.; adventure destinations like Valdez, Alaska; and a couple of little-known gems smack dab in the middle of America. Jackson, Wyo., for example, offers some of the country's best whitewater rafting.

The extra travel can be both a burden and a blessing. It adds costs and planning hurdles, but once you get there, the scenery is all yours. Scenery — whether crenelated coastline, blue-white icebergs as big as a house, or wooded wilderness fit for a fairy queen — is what these places have in spades.

"The people who come here come for the nature," says Bruce Kominsky, a retired engineer and resident in Cranberry Isles, Maine, who rents his home to summer visitors. A 50-square-mile archipelago of five small islands in the shadow of Acadia National Park, Cranberry is known for sailing, hiking and wild, pebbled beaches. With only 200 residents, one restaurant, and no cars, it's a far cry from better-known boating destinations like Nantucket, Mass. Cranberry is also a lot cheaper: Depending on the season, Kominsky says visitors can rent a cottage on Great Cranberry Island (the largest of the five) for as low as $600 a week. From Bangor airport, drive to the town of Manset, where a $15 ferry departs every two hours on a 20-minute trip to Great Cranberry.

The Spartan life draws visitors to another Cranberry: the town of Cranberry Lakes in New York's Adirondacks, home to the federally protected Five Ponds Wilderness. Fly into the Adirondacks' main airport, at Saranac Lake, then drive one hour to catch a rented float plane ($200) into the Wilderness. After the day's journey, you can settle into the Packbacket Adventures eco-lodge (a five-night stay is $895) or camp in the woods.

There's a similar vibe at Cabbage Key, an island retreat just off the coast of Florida. Visitors fly into Fort Myers, drive or take a taxi north 24 miles to Pineland Marina and then hop on the resort's private ferry service. Boats leave twice a day, and the trip is an hour long. The 100-acre island is almost entirely undeveloped — good news for hikers. The surrounding waters are popular with fishing enthusiasts. In the summer, says resort owner Robert Wells, visitors rent kayaks to enjoy the neighboring beaches. Prices are reasonable. A private cabin for a week is just $1,400. But don't expect five-star service. A concierge notes that none of the rooms have televisions.

An offbeat vacation awaits visitors to Michigan's historic Mackinac Island, where horse-drawn carriages and bicycles rule the streets.Larry Ebbs/iStockphoto

Nature doesn't have to be unvarnished to be far removed. At Mammoth Lakes, a southern California ski resort ensconced between Yosemite and John Muir parks and prime ground for mountain biking and hiking, visitors enjoy a world-class golf course (the Sierra Star), top-notch dining from the Patina Group of restaurants and four-star hotels with all the usual perks.

During the winter ski months, the resort is a tourist beehive, but in the summer, when the nature vistas are at their best, there are no flights to Mammoth from anywhere. Instead, travelers fly into Los Angeles and drive five hours along a stretch of highway peppered with hot springs. The marriage of rustic nature and high-end luxury comes at a price: During peak ski season, rooms at Mammoth can be $1,200 a night. But come here in the summer and you can enjoy the same perks for as little as $100. At that price, a week in the mountain sun can melt recession fears away.