Research has confirmed it: People who take frequent vacations are healthier and happier. With that in mind, we’ve taken the guesswork out of choosing the ideal location. After investigating a variety of factors — air quality, recreational opportunities, and the health of residents, to name a few — we’ve identified seven great escapes. Whether your idea of heaven is the ocean, the mountains, a lake, or the desert, we have the top spot for you. And if you’re not one for traveling far, don’t worry — we’ve also got a little something in each region of the United States. Grab some friends and take a road trip!
The North Shore of Minnesota. Named the healthiest state by the American Public Health Association, Minnesota offers a variety of attractions, particularly for people who like to rough it.
For a few days of back-to-nature solitude, pack up your tent and some food and take a ferry to Isle Royale, the least visited national park in the United States. This 850-square-mile island sitting in the middle of Lake Superior was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 due to its biological and ecological uniqueness. Home to wolves and moose and other wildlife, Isle Royale’s 165 miles of scenic trails and surrounding shores provide an ideal setting for serene summer hiking and fishing.
Though slightly less remote, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a web of more than 1,500 miles of canoe routes, is also a great escape from modern life — particularly if you like canoeing, kayaking, or fishing. Motorized boats, as well as airplanes and helicopters, are restricted in most areas. All the better to hear the sound of your paddle moving through water and, very likely, the occasional cry of a loon.
For those who prefer a warm bed at night, a variety of hotels, resorts, and lodges dot the shore of Lake Superior. From Gooseberry Falls to Grand Portage, the North Shore has a total of eight state parks to explore in day hikes, plus the Superior National Forest and the renowned Superior Hiking Trail. During the long Minnesota winters, you can ski (downhill and cross-country) and snowshoe.
Santa Fe, New Mexico. This artsy community has the cleanest air in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. They also have some of the lowest overweight and obesity rates in the nation.
One thing’s for sure — if you’re a fan of Native American, contemporary, and western art, you’ll get plenty of exercise touring Santa Fe’s 200-plus art galleries. Most of the galleries are downtown or on Canyon Road and are best navigated on foot.
If you don’t mind crowds, consider scheduling your trip during the weekend of August 18 and 19, 2007, when the Santa Fe Indian Market comes to town. This annual art fair features work from approximately 1,200 artists from about 100 tribes, offers authentic Native American cuisine, and attracts an estimated 100,000 tourists each year.
Art is not the only thing that Santa Fe has to offer, though. Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, the downtown area is just seven miles from the boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest. Several trails, both within the city and just outside it, will give you a glimpse of the serene desert landscapes that artists have celebrated for years.
Portland, Oregon. When it comes to cities, Portland is one of the best for getting around without a car. With half-size city blocks (200 feet versus the standard 400), an award-winning light-rail system, and some of the best bicycle-friendly roads in the nation, it’s a model of environmentally conscious, active living.
In addition to a hip and thriving downtown area, Portland has 278 public parks, including the 5,000-acre Forest Park — the largest urban wilderness in the United States — and several noteworthy gardens. Check out the Portland Classical Chinese Garden, which was built by Suzhou artisans in Ming Dynasty style; the 5.5-acre Japanese Garden; and the International Rose Test Garden, the oldest test garden in the United States. For more ideas, go to www.portlandparks.org.
If nothing else, be sure to walk around the 62-acre Catholic sanctuary known as The Grotto. This shrine and botanical garden, with its natural gallery in the woods and marble replica of Michelangelo’s famous Pietà carved into a 110-foot cliff, is one of Portland’s most visited sites. More than 175,000 people of all faiths visit each year.
If you choose, your dinner plate in Portland can exude a green, healthy glow. As in all coastal cities, lean, heart-healthy fish and seafood are widely available. And according to research done by PETA, Portland is one of the top-ten vegetarian-friendly cities in America, proving that nutritious high-fiber meals are easy to come by.
Weston, Vermont. Bed and breakfasts, historic inns, museums,
old-fashioned country stores… The entire village of Weston, Vermont is
listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is right in the heart of the second-healthiest state in America, according to the American Public Health Association.
Located in a valley by the Green Mountains, Weston’s surrounding countryside is great for hiking, biking, picnicking, fishing, horseback riding,
and swimming in the warm seasons,
and snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, sledding, and maple sugaring in winter.
Antique- and craft-lovers should plan their visit in fall, during the annual Weston Antiques Show or Weston Craft Show. See www.westonantiquesshow.org or www.westoncraftshow.com for details.
Healthy Cruises. It’s not an oxymoron — at least not anymore. Today’s cruises offer healthier food options, even on-board gyms. On a recent Silversea cruise to the Baltic Sea, Michelle Harris, television host of “Alive & Well with Michelle Harris,” savored gourmet vegetarian meals prepared by Rudi Scholdis, former chef for London’s Dorchester Hotel. And when she was not walking through the beautiful cities of the Baltic, she had an entire room of treadmills, Stairmasters, elliptical machines, and free weights at her disposal — not to mention aerobics, yoga, and Pilates classes.
Silversea is not the only cruise company that is changing its ways. Celebrity’s AquaSpa offers sunset yoga classes, certified personal trainers, state-of-the-art equipment, and more — all in a fitness center with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. On their Millennium-class ships, the AquaSpa Café serves fresh vegetable salads and fruit smoothies, as well as seafood, lean meats, and light soups, to people looking for healthier fare.
Royal Caribbean also has six ships that include what they call their Shipshape Fitness Center, which contains everything you’d expect at a fitness club on land; and Crystal Cruises offers fish and vegetarian entrées at each meal, as well. Go online and do some research. If you do your homework before you book, you may even return from your trip a few pounds lighter.
Fort Myers and Sanibel Island, Florida.
If you love the feeling of sand between your toes,
head on down to the beaches of Sanibel Island and Fort Myers, Florida. When you
see the zillions of shells (around 400 different species) nestled in the sand, you’ll
find yourself walking for hours without a second thought. The shrimp-shaped Sanibel Island has the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum — the only shell museum in North America. It is also home to the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge — a birdwatcher’s paradise. For best viewing, come at low tide, early in the morning, or
at sunset, and bike or drive the 4-mile Wildlife Drive.
When your feet get tired, hop into a kayak or a canoe and explore the quiet
waters of Florida’s Great Calusa Blueway. On the nearly 100 miles of well-marked waterways and trails along the Gulf of Mexico coast, you will likely bump into dolphins and manatees, as well as a variety (more than 300 species) of birds.
A variety of excursions are available through local outfitters if you’re looking for a particular experience or are wary of going it alone.
Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado. Winter sports are Colorado’s claim to fame, but the more than two million acres of public lands and approximately 1,500 miles of trails make these two small tight-knit communities a wonderful getaway year-round. Wildflowers are abundant in July and August (Crested Butte is the official wildflower capital of Colorado and hosts an annual Wildflower Festival every July), and in fall, the mountainsides are lit up with the bright sunny yellows of the aspens.
The people of Colorado — more likely to be slim than residents of any other state in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — will inspire you to get moving in the great outdoors. When they’re not perched at the top of mountains on skis, you will see them tirelessly winding up and down dirt trails on mountain bikes or on foot.
If you’re in the mood for a little glitz and glam, Aspen is just a day hike or a three-hour car ride away. The West Maroon Pass Trail will get you there on foot in 10.5 miles, and in the process, you’ll get to see the 14,000-foot peaks of one of the most photographed sights in Colorado: the Maroon Bells.
Another must-see, particularly in fall: Kebler Pass. This byway, about 7 miles northwest of Crested Butte, is home to the second-largest living organism in
the United States — an aspen stand entirely connected by its root system.
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