Where to Travel Before Winter Comes

Winter is coming. That’s not just relevant for the characters in “Game of Thrones.” After a summer spent rediscovering the great American road trip, we’re headed toward cold weather again. We’ve been keeping you up to date with openings and regulations in the Caribbean, and starting Oct. 15 visitors to Hawaii will be able to avoid a 14-day quarantine with a negative COVID-19 test and health declaration form. That will come in especially handy when the first snows fall. Meanwhile on the U.S. mainland, a lot of destinations will get a lot less pleasant to be outside in soon. These places are great to check out before winter arrives.

New York City

Sadly, it will be well into next spring before Broadway is back. But NYC is hardly “dead forever” as some have opined. Autumn in New York is so lovely there’s a jazz standard and a movie about it. Without international visitors, the businesses that depend on tourism could really use some income, and prices for accommodations are far below their typical highs. New York is still New York, and there are a million things to do. Be aware, though, that only visitors from certain states are allowed to travel to New York without a 14-day quarantine, so consult with your travel advisor — who can also set up private and behind-the-scenes touring — before planning a trip.

The Mountain West

The aspen trees are golden in Colorado and the Tetons. The Big Sky Country of Montana has a few more weeks before that sky is filled with snowflakes. The temperatures for hiking and biking are becoming much more bearable in the national parks. There’s one last chance to save the fresh air of the great outdoors before Old Man Winter creeps in and much of the wildlife goes into hibernation. Alaska’s Katmai National Park has already crowned a “Fat Bear Week” champion, so it’s only a matter of time before the Lower 48 bears start heading to their winter quarters.

New England

The fall foliage is always a sight to behold. This year there are far fewer cruise options since ships with more than 250 passengers are under a no-sail order. A car trip through the region going from one great boutique inn or wellness resort to the next is the relaxing getaway you need before settling in for a long winter. Again, be sure to plan your route with your travel advisor to ensure you’re following state-by-state travel advisories.

Lakeside

Wherever you live, you’re bound to be within a few hours of a lake. The fishing is just as tranquil and the calm of the water just as soothing as it was in summertime. Now there might even be a mist rising off the water in the mornings as the cool night air starts to warm. The leaves are changing colors and reflecting off the glassy surface of the water, making for a picture perfect scene as you kayak or paddle across, or just take the scene in from afar.

Destinations to Practice Social Distancing Outside

We’re all eager to travel somewhere besides the backyard or the basement, but people are definitely going to be very cautious even when venturing out again. Domestic travel is going to restart ahead of international travel, and at first a lot of people might stick to places they can drive to in a few hours’ time before flying, even as airlines continue their vigorous sanitization efforts. We want our travelers to be safe first and foremost, so we have some tips on how to social distance while traveling.

Wine country

California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys get the most publicity, and with good reason because there are some great wines and wonderful places to enjoy them along with some great views and meals. The Willamette Valley in Oregon and wine regions of Washington are also very nice. If the West Coast is too far afield for you, though, there are ample wineries in New York’s Finger Lakes and North Fork, throughout Virginia and five American Viticulture Areas in Pennsylvania. Wherever you live, there are wineries with vast vineyards and boutique hotels full of charm.

Alaska

With a population density of 1.2 people per square mile, our largest state is almost entirely wide open spaces. The wildlife is of a different type but plentiful enough to rival anything you’ll see on safari. Fishing lodges reachable by float plane can ensure plenty of breathing room. Alaska’s summer season ought to correspond fairly well with the relaxation of shelter at home orders. It’s yet further evidence that Seward’s Folly wasn’t such a bad deal at all.

Ranches

Living the cowboy life in Big Sky Country sounds pretty good to us right about now. There are a bevy of Virtuoso-preferred ranches out West — in Montana and other states — that have an array of personalized activities outdoors day and night, from horseback riding to stargazing. Fresh air and mountain scenery abounds. Accommodations are typically well spread out. The endless sure beat walking around your block for the 5,000th time.

National parks

The entire system was designed with returning to nature in mind. While the highest concentration of parks is in the West, there’s almost certainly a national park within a few hours of your home. There are also national trails and monuments throughout the country. Operations are modified on a park-by-park basis, so be sure to check before planning. Glamping options and National Park lodges abound, so you can be in the heart of nature.

Outdoor cities

Some might not be able to resist the lure of a new city. If that describes you, make sure to pick one with good weather and tons of outdoor activity. The Phoenix, Houston and San Diego areas have some of the largest urban parks in the U.S. Denver, Seattle, Portland and Salt Lake City have abundant outdoor opportunities and are within easy reach of nature areas. We don’t know what reopening will look like exactly, but we’ll keep dreaming with you until we make your travel dreams a reality.

National Parks of Alaska

It’s more than twice the size of Texas, the next largest state, and bigger than all but 18 sovereign countries. It’s the third least populous state in the union. Alaska has a lot of land and not too many people, so it’s no wonder that the state warrants its own national parks region. Alaska boasts a total of eight national parks, second only to the nine of California. These Alaska parks are worth a look.

Denali


The highlight, of course, is the 20,310-foot-tall mountain which is the highest peak in North America and gives the park its name. But over more than 6 million acres, there is much to explore. Along the 92-mile road the traverses the park, visitors can see a diversity of wildlife, including caribou and several bear species. The topography features tundra, taiga forest, lakes, glaciers, and mountains. For adventurous spirits, dog-mushing and heli-skiing are popular activities.

Glacier Bay

Visiting cruise ships spend a full day and are joined by a park ranger so passengers can get the full Glacier Bay experience, which includes icebergs and calving glaciers plus bears, goats, otters, seals, sea lions, bald eagles, and many other bird species. Those exploring by land can visit an Huna tribal house, the first permanent clan house in the area since advancing glaciers swallowed up Tlingit villages along the shore of the bay 250 years ago. The rich waters also are frequented by orcas, whales, and Pacific white-sided dolphins.

Wrangell-St. Elias


At more than 13 million acres, it’s the largest of the national parks. It has a wide range of terrain, going from the waters of the Gulf of Alaska to the peak of Mt. St. Elias at 18,008 feet. The Wrangell Mountains are a string of volcanoes — some still active — that form the spine of the park. With climate zones from tundra to temperate, there is a variety of wildlife, including grizzlies, caribou and Dall sheep on land; salmon, trout, and whitefish in the water; and terns, gulls, and eagles in the air.

Kenai Fjords

Mountains, ice, and ocean meet at this park outside Anchorage. Harding Icefield is the central feature, with near glaciers surrounding ice-cold waters that the Sugpiaq people have fished for a millennium. The Exit Glacier area is accessible by road from Seward, although when the snows hit in mid-November, the road closes and cars give way to snowmobiles and dog sleds. When the weather warms, retreating glaciers yield to pioneer plans such as fireweed before shrubs and small trees such as Sitka alders rise up from the soil.

Gates of the Arctic

The name is no joke, and with no roads and a remote location, this is the least visited national park. But the 10,000 or so souls who visit each year are treated to unspoiled wilderness. Visitors fly or hike into the park, which saw the first nomadic hunter-gatherers arrive about 13,000 years ago. Not much has changed in Gates of the Arctic since, with the rhythm of the seasons dictating activity. Temperatures hover around -20 to -50 in winter before hibernating animals begin to stir in spring and birds arrive from all over the world to enjoy the endless summer days.