Seven great islands for vacations



If you want to get away from it all, this remote national park is your place. Dry Tortugas sprawls for 100 square miles, and its seven coral islands dot the turquoise blue of the Gulf of Mexico about 70 miles west of Key West, Fla. A daily ferry from Key West shuttles visitors to Garden Key, the archipelago’s second-largest island. (Alternately, you can book a private boat or seaplane.) The small island has a rustic campground with minimal facilities, and there is no cellular reception or WiFi. Don’t expect restaurants or shops, either; visitors must bring enough food and water (park officials recommend two gallons a day per person) to last the duration of their vacation. The main attraction is the Civil War-era Fort Jefferson, a grandiose structure full of history and surrounded by submerged docks teeming with marine life that make for great snorkeling sites. For epic underwater landscapes and even more aquatic eye candy, book a private scuba tour with a local dive company.

Meaning “out-to-sea island” in the Algonquin language, Monhegan is perched 10 miles off Maine’s rugged coast and is only accessible by ferry services operating from Port Clyde, New Harbor and Boothbay Harbor. Since the late 19th century, the isolated isle has been a colony for artists. Today, more than a dozen creatives have working studios (open to the public during select days and times), while many others come for the island’s quietude and inspiring vistas. Although the island is less than one square mile, 12 miles of trails crisscross its mostly wild terrain with fun stops such as the selfie-ready rusted hull of a beached tugboat, the working lighthouse adjoined by the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, and the picturesque cliffs at the island’s northern end. Visitors’ cars are not allowed on the island, although people with medical needs can rent a golf cart to get around. For lodgings, there are inns, bed-and-breakfasts and rental cottages; camping is not permitted.

Although the island is considered to be in the high-risk category for community transmission of the coronavirus, there are no travel restrictions. Visitors should monitor monheganplantation.com/covid-19-resources.html for updates.

Cumberland feels removed from the modern world. You can only get to the 17-mile-long barrier island off Georgia’s southeastern corner by ferry departing from St. Marys. (Reservations are highly recommended, because it books up quickly.) Once you land at this national seashore, your only transportation will be your feet or a bicycle; be warned that the roads are rough in places. Most visitors choose to pitch a tent in one of the five campgrounds, although those looking for a more elevated stay can book a room at the Greyfield Inn, which offers a private ferry service, haute cuisine and naturalist-led tours of the island. There’s a lot to take in. The untamed forests and marshes teem with wildlife — alligators, armadillos, feral pigs, feral horses — while the surrounding waters are home to dolphins and whales, and to sea turtles that nest on the beaches. Fishing opportunities abound along the shore and in freshwater ponds and trout-packed streams.

This archipelago of 172 named islands and reefs spreads across the stretch of Salish Sea between Washington state’s coast and Vancouver Island in Canada. Its three main islands — San Juan, Orcas and Lopez — are accessible by ferry or flight and are popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts. Sea kayakers are drawn to paddling along the rugged coastline; more bespoke adventures include nighttime expeditions to see glowing, glittering bioluminescence and foodie-friendly longer trips with Discovery Sea Kayak Tours, powered by meals of locally sourced organic produce and fresh seafood. Hikers revel in the many trails that wend their way across rocky beaches, golden prairies and lush forests. Naturalists can bet on spotting orcas, humpback whales and seals out on the water, while sea lions are installations on the shoreline. Lodging options run the gamut, including camping and rental homes, as well as resorts and boutique hotels.

Nestled between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas at the northwest edge of Lake Huron, the emerald island is rich with history. Its name is a modified version of the Indigenous Odawa peoples’ word for “great turtle,” inspired by the shape of the shoreline. Mackinac can feel as if it’s frozen in an earlier time. It’s accessible only by ferry or plane, and cars are banned (except emergency vehicles), so horse-drawn carriages are on hand in place of taxis. The island is dotted with historical sites: Revolutionary War-era Fort Mackinac; a restored, circa 1820 family home; a working late-19th-century blacksmith shop; and Skull Cave, a onetime hideout. Learn about the region’s first people by biking or hiking the Native American Cultural History Trail along the eight-mile, mostly flat highway circling the island. There are plenty of lodging options, including hotels, B&Bs and cottage rentals.

The Island of Enchantment is only a 2½-hour flight from Miami, offering easy access to the Caribbean without leaving U.S. territory. Get out of the capital city of San Juan to spend time outdoors exploring the lush isle’s natural beauty. There are three bioluminescent bays — Mosquito Bay, Laguna Grande and La Parguera — where you can paddle or swim through the glimmering, shimmering microorganisms. Trek through the tropical rainforests of El Yunque National Forest, which is networked with trails for hikers of all abilities, including one to an observation tower atop Mount Britton that offers sweeping views of the countryside down to the sea. (Reservations are required for El Yunque; they can be made up to one month in advance at recreation.gov/camping/gateways/14487.) Thrill-seekers will get a rush at Toroverde Adventure Park’s epic ziplines, including some you can whiz down on specially adapted bikes. Relax and recharge after your adventures at Coamo Hot Springs, where the thermally heated water will soothe aching muscles.

Despite the distance and cost, the tropical archipelago has been a popular getaway throughout the pandemic. For a full-range experience, book your vacation on the multifaceted, 4,000-square-mile Island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island), home to lush rainforests, snow-topped mountains, active volcanoes and black-sand beaches. Outdoor opportunities abound: riding horses down into the deep, lush Waipio Valley; watching whales migrate (season goes from November to May, and February offers peak sightings); clambering over the lava fields at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; and stargazing atop Mauna Kea, the highest sea mountain in the world. Looking for unforgettable hiking? Tackle as much as you want of the 175-mile King’s Trail snaking its way along the Kona Coast. Depending on where you go, you’ll pass reminders of the island’s rich history, including petroglyphs, fish ponds and temples.

Hawaii is in the final days of its Safe Travels program. Beginning March 26, there will be no coronavirus-related requirements for arriving domestic passengers. If you are traveling before then, go to hawaiicovid19.com/travel.



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