Combination city/hiking vacation ideas?
May 11, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Looking for destination ideas for a five-day vacation in September, with a mix of city and outdoors activities.

Girlfriend and I are planning a trip for September. We'll have five total days to go somewhere, and we're trying to figure out where to go. We're looking for a mix of the following:

-Outdoors activities, especially day-hikes. We're not quite fit or inclined enough for multi-day backpacking trips.
-A City with a bit of culture.

I took a similar trip to Santa Fe a few years ago which was just about perfect - downtown was a nice place to wander, there were museums to see, plus plenty of hiking within an hour's drive. We live in Boston, so different scenery would be great (something other than low hills and pine forests, I guess) but not necessary.

Due to the length of the trip, we're considering sticking to the continental US or closer parts of Canada. We've come up with a short list, but other ideas are also welcome:

-Iceland (not too much longer of a flight than getting to the west coast...)
-Glacier National Park area
-Michigan's Upper Peninsula
-Some of the parks in the Southwest again, maybe Arizona-ish or further out in the boonies in New Mexico
-Nova Scotia/PEI

Any other ideas? I, personally, would probably appreciate getting away from the "big city" feel and stick to smaller, compact cities.
posted by backseatpilot to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Portland, OR would serve as a great home base for day hiking on the coast, in the mountains, or through a beautiful river gorge. Also, Portland is a beautiful, walkable city, with lovely restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and cultural attractions.

Also, Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle will offer much the same - though admittedly with a bigger city feel.
posted by kables at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2010

Iceland has the most scenery in the world, I think. Cliffs! Waterfalls! A place that looks like Mars! And Reyjavik and Akureyri are very interesting, small towns. When I went, things were crazy expensive. Now, they should be rather cheap.

However, five days is a little short for a trip there. If you have five working days off, plus a couple weekends bookending those days, then I think you can have a fun, relaxed trip there.
posted by ignignokt at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2010

Response by poster: This would be five total days, as the girlfriend can only budget three vacation days.

Her family also lives in Oregon, so she's done quite a bit in that area and we'd like to not feel obligated to visit.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:30 PM on May 11, 2010

San Francisco! Great museums, galleries, and entertainment within city limits, and you're a close drive to Muir Woods and Mt. Tam for day hikes with wonderful scenery. If you want to drive a tad further, I think Pt. Reyes is one of the most beautiful places on the west coast, and you can stop in charming Pt. Reyes Station to stock up on picnic supplies first.

From the city you've also got optional ferry trips to Angel Island or Sausalito. And when you do get back from your wanderings, undoubtedly hungry, you'll have about eleventy-billion restaurants to choose from.

SF is pretty compact at 7x7 miles and realistically, your experience of the city will probably be more like 5x5.
posted by missmobtown at 12:37 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, September is probably the *best* time of year to visit SF. Balmy weather, blue skies, and no fog.
posted by missmobtown at 12:38 PM on May 11, 2010

We did the Yellowstone/Glacier trip last summer and it was great.
If you are looking for solitude then Glacier is the place to be, since Yellowstone is always crowded.
Once you visit Yellowstone and Glacier I don't think there would be much to see in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Similar thing happened to us when we visited Olympic National Park after Yellowstone/Glacier. Coz at that point your bar for natural beauty would be so high nothing would measure up to it. Yellowstone/Glacier is that awesome.
posted by WizKid at 12:44 PM on May 11, 2010

Savannah, Georgia is a nice compact city and Hilton Head, South Carolina is not far away.
posted by soelo at 12:51 PM on May 11, 2010

Yellowstone won't have much city activity/culture. The towns bordering the park are very small. West Yellowstone is a bit bigger, but is very touristy.

We loved spending time in Seattle. There was plenty of city activities, but the proximity to Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades gave us plenty of access to outdoor fun.
posted by MorningPerson at 1:16 PM on May 11, 2010

San Juan, PR
posted by not_on_display at 1:20 PM on May 11, 2010

Asheville, NC would fit the bill. Lots of galleries and touristy things to see along with the Biltmore which you could easily spend a day touring the house and grounds. There are also lots of state parks near by as well as the Great Smokey Mountain National Park which is a bit farther away but pretty damn stunning.
posted by mmascolino at 1:43 PM on May 11, 2010

I enjoyed Portland, OR quite a bit. It's very pedestrian friendly (much like Boston). The parks have excellent not-so-hard hikes (walks, really), and if you had a car (we did not) you could certainly make it out to the coast for more nature time. If you do decide on Portland, Memail me for a list of totally awesome places to eat.

Oh, and if you want to stay closer to home, Portland, ME has a lot going for it as well!
posted by hungrybruno at 1:51 PM on May 11, 2010

Palm Springs for a small-city, and Joshua Tree National Monument for hiking and the most spectacular landscape. I would imagine these are about as different from Boston, scenery-wise, as one can get!
posted by chez shoes at 1:55 PM on May 11, 2010

Was popping in to say Asheville, but mmascolino beat me to it.
posted by dilettante at 3:10 PM on May 11, 2010

Missoula, Montana--just to throw another idea out there that would get you into the mountains. College town with decent cultural events for its size, mountains all over the place, nice hole in the wall restaurants and brew pubs. I stayed there a couple of weeks once and kept discovering hidden gems. 3ish hours from Glacier, so you could do that for a day if you wanted.
posted by BlooPen at 3:59 PM on May 11, 2010

Duluth Minnesota is beautiful that time of year: leaves, lots of day hikes up the Shore, and plenty of nightlife/culture.
posted by RedEmma at 7:05 PM on May 11, 2010

Colorado! (I live here, of course I am a fan). You can fly into Denver and head west into the mountains for real beauty. There are ski towns everywhere (Vail, Aspen, Steamboat) that are not cities but have their own appeal, culture and fine restaurants/eating and are great to visit in September with the wildflowers and hiking. You can do a loop through the state and will be rewarded with great towns and 14,000 ft snow peaks.

Also, one of my favorite places is Stanley, Idaho. You can fly into Ketchum/Sun Valley (ski town) and drive a few hours to Stanley, home of the Sawtooth mountains and Red Fish Lake Lodge - a great western lodge with cabins, camping or lodge rooms. Such a wonderful area with breathtaking scenery, horse back riding, fishing, boating, hiking, etc.

Finally, sticking with the Rockies theme here - Calgary. Nice sized city, within an hour of Canmore and Banff and the Canadian Provincial parks, which are fabulous.
posted by boulder20something at 8:00 PM on May 11, 2010

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