Seven Keys To A Vacation That Doesn't Suck - 1 | Active Light Photography | Photo Tours to Hidden Destinations, Anasazi Ruins
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You’re probably thinking about it already – where can you go for an unbeatable summer vacation?

But you’re sick of the same old destinations with the same old activities and the same old crowds.

How do you find a new place offering something you’ve never seen or explored? Or different activities and ‘looks’ in a familiar place? After that, how do you plan for it?

I’ll show you the first three keys this week, and the final four next week.

1. Avoid Summer

I know, that’s when you have time off. But everybody vacations in summer, when the kids are out of school. Unless you head to an undiscovered site (more on those later), you’ll find half a million other folks in the same popular places, especially in California.

Your best bet?

Go off-season. That’s when almost nobody will be there. For Yosemite and most other U.S. National Parks, that can be mid-winter. Cross-country skiing Yosemite’s Glacier Point Road lets you see quiet forests with granite crags poking up through the snow, as most people never do. If you’d prefer a slower pace, snowshoeing works too.

XC skiing the Glacier Point Road

XC skiing the Glacier Point Road

Mesa Verde and some other parks restrict your access in high season and close some areas entirely in winter. And you may only have time off in summer. What can you do then?

2. Find Nearby Alternatives

Everyone’s heard of Mesa Verde’s cliff ruins – to the tune of 500,000+ visitors in 2014. But less than a day’s drive away, Chaco Culture National Historical Park’s 13 Great House ruins saw just 38,386 people in 2014 – less than 10% of Mesa Verde’s visitors. Closer to Mesa Verde, Utah’s Hovenweep National Monument had even fewer visitors – just 26,808 in 2014.

Chaco offers 3- and 4-story buildings, hand-made by related Chacoan Anasazi cultures, some featuring majestic mesa-top views. Hovenweep has Mesa Verdean Anasazi towers and pueblos in less-accessible mountain locations.

Great Kiva, Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Both these alternatives give you spectacular ruins in gorgeous settings, without the crowds. But you may not want to visit them in summer, when temperatures can soar over 100° F. So then what?

3. Go High

Even in summer, elevated locations like Yosemite’s Mono Pass offer glacially-sculpted beauty in reasonable temperatures and solitude, except for ground squirrel companions. The trail to Mono Pass requires you to gradually climb about 1000 feet.


Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel, Mono Pass

Mono Pass, Yosemite National Park

Mono Pass, Yosemite National Park

The nearby Ansel Adams Wilderness has comparably-gorgeous high alpine scenery without the crowds, but also takes some effort to reach.

In Montana, Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier area will give you undervisited craggy mountain scenery in summer. But you need to hike to reach those great views most visitors won’t exert themselves to see. You’ll also need to use my favorite technique for hiking in grizzly country – make as much noise as possible. Remember that even front-country trails have their hazards.

High country view, Glacier National Park, Montana

I’ll post the final four keys and planning resources next week.