The Empty Beach

PORTSMOUTH ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA - On a weekend last summer, while the rest of the beachgoing world descended upon overrun sand traps like Nags Head and Virginia Beach, I took a 4x4 and a shortboard and made for Portsmouth Island. There are a few selling points to this skinny, 18-mile-long barrier island in the northernmost part of North Carolina's Cape Lookout National Seashore. The surf, for one—you can catch punchy beach-break waves all along the eastern, Atlantic-facing shore. The fishing's not bad, either—bring a spinning rod and some shrimp and you'll pull in as much drum as you can eat. Also, the whole damn place is uninhabited. Except for a smattering of cabins near its middle, all that's to be found is miles of sea oats and dunes and the Atlantic coast's finest, most surprisingly reachable beach camping. There's not a paved road on the entire island, so the Park Service permits beach driving, which does wonders for people who secretly harbor redneck alter egos, like me.

Fly into Wilmington (US Airways flies direct from LaGuardia in less than two hours), rent a vehicle, and drive the three hours to the town of Atlantic. Go to Morris Marina and catch a 40-minute ferry ride to Portsmouth Island (round-trip, $14 per person or $75 per vehicle; portsmouthislandfishing.com), but don't board before renting a kayak at the marina ($150 for three days). Portsmouth offers only a few lodging options with roofs and walls, such as the unfortunately named Kabin Kamps (from $100; portsmouthislandfishing.com). Pass the cabins by, head for the beach on the eastern shore, and pitch your tent above the high-tide line. Paddle out to the west side of the island and explore the miles of tidal marshes. Upon returning to your campsite, you'll notice, well, nothing. No lifeguard towers, no Rollerblades, no wafting scent of hair gel mixed with sunscreen. Just a big, white beach that's all your own.

The Easiest Catch

fly-fishing rock creek, montana
Hats off to Montana fly-fishing

MISSOULA, MONTANA - There are fishing purists who throw fits if another angler comes within 100 feet. In general I agree with this principle. But not in June, not in southwestern Montana. As fat, ugly salmonflies hatch and die by the thousands on Rock Creek, some 20 miles east of Missoula, the trout spend a good month slapping the surface of the 52-mile freestone river, and they don't care how many orange or yellow stonefly imitators are floating over their heads or how many hacks are elbowing for backcasting room on the shoreline. So go, fight for space, get tangled in the cottonwoods, splash around. You'll still catch fish. Purists: There might be some open water above mile 21 on Rock Creek Road, where the holes in the road turn back sedans.

Fly into Missoula, secure a vehicle with four-wheel drive, and rent a fully furnished cabin on the creek (from $95; rockcreektroutbums.com). For fishing advice delivered by a gravel-voiced old-timer who knows every riffle on the river, stop at Doug Persico's Rock Creek Fisherman's Mercantile, just off I-90 (rcmerc.com). Warm up in town with the aspiring novelists at the Old Post Pub, where the food is bad, the music is slightly better, the waitstaff are beautiful, and the hatch chart on the wall is to be trusted, for the most part (oldpostpub.com). Afterwards, drink and gamble around the corner at the Oxford Saloon. If you're still on the poker table at 4 a.m., the bartender will serve you a free chicken-fried steak (the-oxford.com).

Lights Out

grand canyon at sunset
Head north—to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim—for primo, crowd-free night skies (Robert Glusic/Photodisc/Getty)

How Not to Spend Summer
Collecting prize money for killing gophers at the Gopher Count festival, in Viola, Minnesota, June 19

Spitting seeds for four days at the Watermelon Thump, in Luling, Texas, June 26–29.

Literally watching paint dry at the National Fence Painting Championship, in Hannibal, Missouri, July 3–5.

Calling mosquitoes at the Great Texas Mosquito Festival, in Clute, Texas, July 24–26; contestants try to lure the biggest bug with their voices.
—CLAIRE NAPIER GALOFARO

GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA - The summer solstice at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a throng of shuttle buses, clicking cameras, and vendors hawking I ♥ GC booty shorts. But on the less frequented North Rim, there's a nighttime solstice party where you can watch the skies erupt in peace. Under the orchestration of Arizona's Saguaro Astronomy Club, a score of astronomers from across the country converge to set up powerful telescopes on the terrace of the Grand Canyon Lodge, a castle-like stone building perched on the edge of the canyon (doubles, $100; grandcanyonlodgenorth.com). For eight nights, more than 100 people—hikers, amateur stargazers, passersby—stop for a quick peek through a scope and end up staying, starstruck, as late as 5 a.m. Since the Grand Canyon has one of America's darkest night skies, you can see Saturn's rings, storms on Jupiter, and millions of stars glittering like galactic bling. Exploit the extra daylight with a quad-busting, nine-mile round-trip hike on the North Kaibab Trail to the Roaring Springs waterfall, 3,050 feet down the canyon. Afterwards, refuel with the lodge's brand-new Grand Cookout dinners. The chuck-wagon-style beef brisket, roasted chicken, and fresh-baked biscuits will sate the most astronomical of appetites ($35 per person). Nearest airport: Flagstaff, Arizona, a somewhat daunting 200 miles away.

Flatwater Freedom

Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area
At peace with Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (Debbie Hartmann/courtesy, Superior National Forest)

GRAND MARAIS, MINNESOTA - The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is one of the largest wilderness areas east of the Rockies. It's also one of the most heavily trafficked: More than 200,000 people ply its 1,200 miles of routes annually. So while the weather's best in late summer, I go toward the end of June, when the water is cool, the smallmouth are biting, the blackflies are disappearing, and the Boy Scouts hoping to earn their tree-carving badges have yet to arrive.

Fly into Duluth and pick up a canoe on your way to Grand Marais at Sawbill Canoe Outfitters ($85 for three days; sawbill.com). There are nearly 80 entry points to the Boundary Waters; ignore most of them and enter at East Bearskin Lake, 26 miles from Grand Marais up the Gunflint Trail highway (entry permits, $16 per person; bwcaw.org). A 2.5-mile paddle plus a short portage lead to Alder Lake, where there's a perfect camping spot on the tip of the main peninsula. Bring a lightweight rod and cast a Rapala into the rocks just offshore. With any luck, you'll catch dinner to fry over the fire. The next night, stay six miles away in a lakeside cabin at the Old Northwoods Lodge, bear-and-lumberjack kitsch at its finest (doubles, $120; oldnorthwoods.com). Before leaving, dine on Lake Superior trout at the Angry Trout Café (angrytroutcafe.com), a refurbished fishing shanty on the harbor in Grand Marais.

The Backyard

ANYWHERE, USA - Look, I'm a patriot. I like beer. And having mostly overcome a scarring childhood incident involving a bottle rocket, the San Francisco police, and a hefty insurance claim by a downstairs neighbor, I like fireworks again. So don't get the wrong idea when I tell you to stay home on the Fourth of July. But for God's sake, do stay home. Something like 41 million Americans will celebrate by going somewhere, making this the busiest travel period of the summer. Even if you're the kind that digs the woozy high of flirt-flirt honking as your convertible crawls through a carbon monoxide haze—which, I think, makes you a high schooler—consider that July 4 is traditionally the deadliest day of the year on our nation's roads. The second-deadliest? July 3. And anyway, I've devised the ultimate at-home party: a few friends, lots of beer, barbecue (see The Guide, page 65), and a kiddie pool. You can add bottle rockets—just don't shoot any into the neighbor's window.

Great Green North

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
THE GREAT CAPE ROAD: Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton (courtesy, Canada Tourism)

STRATEGY: THE WELL-PACKED WEEKENDER
Seven items to have at the ready:
1. Rubbermaid’s 75-quart DuraChill Cooler, which keeps beer cold for almost a week ($43; rubbermaid). 2. Sweat- and waterproof K2 Endurance Sunblock ($13; k2suncare.com). 3. Patagonia’s wrinkle-free Vitaliti polo shirt, which looks better at dinner after you’ve worn it hiking ($55; patagonia.com).4. Smith’s gold-rimmed Bellaire sunglasses ($100; smithoptics.com). 5. Hi-Tec’s V-Lite Radar II eVent light hikers, which can double as trail runners, since they’re built onrunning lasts ($120; frameworkfitness.com). Drive west an hour to Baddeck and set up camp at the Chanterelle Country Inn, a solar-heated B&B where the organic dinners mean wild mushrooms, fresh mussels from the harbor out back, and, until July 15, lobster; for the rest of the month you're stuck with the snow crab (doubles, US$158, including breakfast; chanterelleinn.com). Then load up your bike and drive out to 200-year-old Acadian villages, through Highlands National Park, and, if 18 percent grades don't dissuade you, to the majestic north end, where you can take a guided sea-kayak tour through pilot whale feed zones (US$100; kayakingcapebreton.ca). Before leaving Baddeck, unwind at a ceilidh, the old Celtic precursor to the rave, with fiddles, tin whistles, and (in place of ecstasy) the island's own single-malt whiskies.

The Uncrowded Mountain Town

Telluride main street
MOUNTAIN TOWN, USA: Telluride, Colorado (courtesy, Colorado Tourism)

TELLURIDE, COLORADO - Between the weekends of Memorial Day and Labor Day, the town of Telluride hosts no fewer than 15 festivals. Think about that. On any given Saturday, you might have to share this remote outpost's epic hiking trails, casual restaurants, and approximately 23 parking spaces with either hordes of slamgrass fans (the Bluegrass Festival), a gaggle of oeno­philes (the Wine Festival), or an army of downward-doggers (the Yoga Festival). But crowds are the last thing you want to see here. Placed at the dead end of a box canyon and surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks, Telluride offers as good a setting as any town in America for a quiet summer idyll. So there's only one celebration worth attending: The Nothing Festival. For three days, there are zero planned events—but something incredible does happen. Hotels open up (try the Telluride Mountainside Inn; doubles, $119; telluridemtnsideinn.com), Main Street empties out, and a few visitors breathe easy. How to spend those days? Just bring your hiking boots and follow the directions on telluridenothingfestival.com: "Thank you for not participating." Nearest airport: Montrose, Colorado, 70 miles away.

America's Oktoberfest

Portland Oregon skyline
Hopheads unite at Portland’s Oregon Brewers Festival (courtesy, Oregon Visitors Association)

PORTLAND, OREGON - Nothing says summer like 60,000 people raising glasses of beer into the air and letting loose a spontaneous cheer that makes Yankee Stadium sound like the baking section at Borders. Welcome to the OBF, or Oregon Brewers Festival, which takes place every July in Portland's Tom McCall Waterfront Park. With 72 participating breweries from around the country, it's the finest outdoor tasting in the world that doesn't require speaking German. The beer's cold and often of the hard-to-get variety—I'm partial to Allagash White, a spicy Belgian-style wheat beer. By the end of the day, the local blues bands sound much better than they are, and as the sun sets, those cheers grow longer and a hell of a lot more infectious. The wise visitor, though, doesn't spend all four days at the festival: With more than 270 miles of bike routes in the city, plus Forest Park, the nation's largest urban forest, Portland offers ample opportunity to work up a healthy thirst (rentals, $28 for a half day; waterfrontbikes.net). Freshen up at the Heathman Hotel and browse their library, which contains first editions signed by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut (doubles, $230; portland.heathmanhotel.com). Then go drink up and scream ($5 for an official mug, $4 per beer; oregonbrewfest.com).

The Non-Hamptons

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK - For discerning New Yorkers, the North Fork of Long Island has long provided a much more relaxing escape than the Botox-injected Hamptons side. But as word gets out that North Fork wineries like Bedell are rivaling their cousins in Napa, there is some concern among locals that things may not stay so quaint. My suggestion? Stay home and pretend to visit. A few things you could imagine and then brag about at the watercooler: sailing from Preston's dock, in Greenport, on a restored 1906 schooner while slurping down fresh oysters (day trips on the schooner Mary E, $38; schoonermarye.com); tromping through Shelter Island's vast nature preserve; kiteboarding Peconic Bay ($100 per hour with Island Riders; islandriders.us); bathing with locally made goat's-milk soap at the North Fork Table & Inn (doubles, $275; northforktableandinn.com); or riding the 40-mile North Fork bikeway toward Orient Point beach with the sun and salt water on your face (daylong rentals, $28 at the Bike Stop, in Greenport; bike-stop.com). Your co-workers will be none the wiser, and I won't get in trouble for letting the secret out. Nearest airport: MacArthur Airport, 50 miles from Greenport.

True Grass

Grand Targhee base area during the summer
Grand Targhee's sun-filled base (courtesy, Grand Targhee Mountain Resort)

GRAND TARGHEE, WYOMING - Perhaps you're one of those people who holds to the misguided notion that bluegrass music is for hippies. If so, you may be familiar with Telluride's annual jam-o-rama, which is a great party and a good place to go if you like Hacky Sacks and Ani DiFranco. Real bluegrass festivals, on the other hand, are about impromptu circles of fiddlers and banjo pickers in which solos are passed around with far more reserve than whiskey.

Go to Targhee and you'll see. Fifty miles across Teton Pass from Jackson Hole, at Grand Targhee Resort, the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival (three-day pass, $125; grandtarghee.com) hosts 6,500 people over the course of the weekend, compared with the 10,000 who choke Telluride per day. Mountain-town favorite Tim O'Brien headlines, but listen closely to Tony Trischka's Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular. The two banjos (never a good idea) can be abrasive, but Trischka plays with Michael Daves, a Georgia-born guitarist with a gut-wrenching high tenor that's far more Joe Strummer than Jack Johnson. For a break, ride Targhee's new lift-accessed mountain-bike park. If you can score a room in the resort (doubles, $125), look for the headliners picking and passing bottles in the lobby, and don't say a word. Nearest airport: Jackson Hole.

Moon Paddle

Tomales Bay California at dusk
Dusk settles over Tomales Bay, California (Alex L. Fradkin/Stockbyte/Getty)

STRATEGY: THE SURPRISE DIRECT FLIGHT
Easy routes to the regional airports mentioned in this story: Delta flies from Atlanta to Jackson Hole in just under six hours (from $370; delta.com). Continental flies from Houston and Dallas to Montrose, Colorado (from $400; continental.com). Allegiant Air flies regularly from Las Vegas to Duluth (from $270; allegiantair.com) and Missoula ($140). And barring any planning hiccups, Horizon Air will offer direct service from Los Angeles to Flagstaff starting this June ($200; alaskaair.com).

TOMALES BAY, CALIFORNIA - It wouldn't be hard to miss the coastal village of Marshall, an hour north of San Francisco on Highway 1—only 100 or so people live here, and the place looks kind of scrappy. But gritty is in these days, and last summer, restaurateur Pat Kuleto turned Marshall into the home of the North Coast's most serenely stylish digs. Nick's Cove & Cottages is a cluster of gussied-up fisherman's cabins, complete with water-view decks and bedside cheese plates. Next door, Nick's roadhouse serves oysters caught out front and pinot noir from up the road. But the reason to go is the full moon on Saturday the 16th: As night falls, kayak due west from your cabin, past Hog Island, and visit Tomales Point's tule elk herd (daylong rentals from Point Reyes–based Blue Waters Kayaking, $60; bwkayak.com). When you return to shore, moonlit wine tasting and oyster slurping await on the deck of your cabin (doubles, $300; nickscove.com). Nearest airport: San Francisco.

Lightning Show

walter de maria's lightning field
MOTHER NATURE’S LASER SHOW: Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field

QUEMADO, NEW MEXICO - Whoever named the two-diner town of Quemado (translation: "Burnt"), in southwestern New Mexico, had a way with words. The place attracts a fair amount of lightning strikes. That's why sculptor Walter De Maria put his installation, the Lightning Field, which combines highbrow art with one of the last great remote landscapes in America, nearby.

Fly into Albuquerque, rent a car, and drive three hours southwest to Quemado. At a small white gallery-like space that could be in SoHo, you'll await a grizzled cowboy who drives precariously fast in his truck and drops you off 45 minutes later at a three-bedroom cabin overlooking the fields. Your provisions: enchiladas, whatever libations you've brought, and orders to wander. The installation consists of a surreal one-mile grid of 400 stainless-steel poles in the lightning-happy high desert. The display is best viewed from the back porch, with a cold Negra Modelo in hand. Book far in advance—you can rent the cabin for only one night ($250 per person with maximum six-person occupancy; lightningfield.org). What to do with the rest of the weekend? Doesn't really matter, if you're lucky enough to see lightning strike out the back door. But there are plenty of weird attractions around that could exist only in New Mexico—the Very Large Array of radio telescopes, near Socorro, for instance. Spend the next night in the emerging artsy town of Truth or Consequences and soak at the Sierra Grande Lodge (doubles, $130; sierragrandelodge.com).

Treasure Island

Catalina Island
MEDITERRANEAN BY WAY OF CALIFORNIA: Catalina Island’s Avalon (Nathan Borchelt)

SANTA CATALINA, CALIFORNIA - In the early days of Hollywood, Santa Catalina Island's sand coves doubled as Tahiti and its mountains stood in for the Wild West. A 76-square-mile island located 25 miles southwest of Los Angeles, Catalina has retained its flair for drama because 88 percent of the place is a land trust. Charter a sailboat on the mainland in Marina del Rey (from $100 per day; marinasailing.com), five miles from LAX, and sail five hours to Catalina. Catalina's port town of Two Harbors provides immediate access to the island's 50-mile network of rugged hiking and mountain-biking trails (daylong bike rentals from Two Harbors Dive & Recreation Center, $53; 310-510-4272). For cozier digs than the berths on your boat, stay at the Banning House Lodge, which has 11 ocean-view rooms (doubles, $216; 800-626-1496). To branch out from the sails and trails, sign up for Two Harbors' annual buffalo-chip contest, during which townsfolk gather at the pier to throw buffalo dung onto the beach. The record toss—187 feet—is waiting to be broken.

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