Seven great islands for the holidays

If you want to get away from it all, this remote national park is for you. Dry Tortugas spans 100 square miles and its seven coral islands dot the turquoise blue Gulf of Mexico about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. A daily ferry from Key West transports visitors to Garden Key, the second largest island in the archipelago. . (You can also book a private boat or seaplane.) The small island has a rustic campground with minimal facilities, and there’s no cell reception or WiFi. Don’t expect restaurants or shopping either; visitors should bring enough food and water (park officials recommend two gallons per day per person) for the duration of their vacation. The main attraction is the Civil War-era Fort Jefferson, a grand structure steeped in history and surrounded by submerged docks teeming with marine life that make excellent snorkeling spots. For epic underwater scenery and even more aquatic fun for the eyes, book a private snorkeling excursion with a local dive company.

Meaning “offshore island” in the Algonquin language, Monhegan is perched 10 miles off the rugged coast of Maine and is only accessible by ferry services operating from Port Clyde, New Harbor and Boothbay Harbor. Since the end of the 19th century, the isolated island has been an artists’ colony. Today, more than a dozen creatives have working studios (open to the public on certain days and times), while many more come for the island’s tranquility and inspiring views. Although the island is less than a square mile, 12 miles of trails weave through its mostly wild terrain with fun stops such as the rusting hull ready for selfies from a beached tugboat, the working lighthouse adjoining the museum of art and history of Monhegan, and the scenic cliffs at the northern end of the island. Visitor cars are not permitted on the island, although people with medical needs can rent a golf cart to get around. For accommodation, there are inns, bed and breakfasts and rental chalets; 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 watch myheganplantation.com/covid-19-resources.html for updates.

Cumberland feels removed from the modern world. You can only access the 17-mile-long barrier island in southeast Georgia by ferry from St. Marys. (Reservations are highly recommended, as they book up quickly.) Once you land on this national coastline, your only means of transportation will be your feet or a bicycle; be warned that the roads are rough in places. Most visitors choose to pitch a tent at one of the five campgrounds, although those looking for a higher stay can book a room at Greyfield Inn, which offers a private ferry service, haute cuisine and tours of the island led by naturalists. There is a lot to do. The forests and wild marshes teem with wildlife – alligators, armadillos, feral pigs, wild horses – while the surrounding waters are home to dolphins and whales, as well as sea turtles that nest on the beaches. Fishing opportunities abound along the shoreline and in freshwater ponds and trout-filled streams.

This archipelago of 172 named islands and reefs spans the stretch of the Salish Sea between the coast of Washington State and Vancouver Island in Canada. Its three main islands – San Juan, Orcas and Lopez – are accessible by ferry or plane and are popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts. Sea kayakers are drawn to paddling along the rugged coastline; other bespoke adventures include nighttime expeditions to see the bright, shimmering bioluminescence and longer foodie-friendly trips with Discovery Sea Kayak Tours, fueled by meals of locally sourced organic produce and fresh seafood. Hikers delight in the many trails that wind through rocky beaches, golden meadows and lush forests. Naturalists can bet on spotting orcas, humpback whales and seals on the water, while sea lions are settled on the shore. Accommodation options run the gamut, including camping and rental homes, as well as resorts and boutique hotels.

Nestled between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas on the northwest edge of Lake Huron, the Emerald Isle is rich in history. Its name is a modified version of the Odawa indigenous peoples’ word for “large turtle”, inspired by the shape of the shore. Mackinac can feel like you’re frozen in an earlier era. It’s only accessible 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 historic sites: Revolutionary War-era Fort Mackinac; a family home restored around 1820; a working late 19th century blacksmith shop; and Skull Cave, an old hideout. Learn about the area’s first inhabitants by biking or hiking the Native American Cultural History Trail along the mostly flat 8-mile highway that circles the island. There are many accommodation options, including hotels, bed and breakfasts and cabin rentals.

The island of enchantment is only 2h30 flight from Miami, offering easy access to the Caribbean without leaving American territory. Venture out of the capital, San Juan, to spend time outdoors exploring the natural beauty of the lush island. There are three bioluminescent bays – Mosquito Bay, Laguna Grande and La Parguera – where you can paddle or swim through the shimmering, shimmering microorganisms. Hike through the rainforests of El Yunque National Forest, which is connected to trails for hikers of all skill levels, including one to a lookout tower atop Mount Britton that offers sweeping views of the countryside to the sea. (Reservations are required for El Yunque; they can be made up to one month in advance at leisure.gov/camping/passerelles/14487.) Thrill seekers will rush Toroverde Adventure Park’s epic ziplines, some of which you can ride on specially adapted bikes. Relax and rejuvenate after your adventures at Coamo Hot Springs, where thermally heated water will soothe sore muscles.

Despite the distance and cost, the tropical archipelago has been a popular getaway throughout the pandemic. For the full experience, book your vacation to the multifaceted 4,000 square mile island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island), home to lush rainforests, snow-capped mountains, active volcanoes and black sand beaches. Outdoor activities abound: horseback riding through the deep, lush Waipio Valley; watch the whales migrate (the season runs from November to May, with February offering peak sightings); climb the lava fields of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; and stargaze atop Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest seamount. Want unforgettable hikes? Tackle as much as you like of the 175-mile King’s Trail that winds 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. From March 26, there will be no more coronavirus-related requirements for arriving domestic passengers. If you are traveling before this date, go to hawaiicovid19.com/travel.

About Jermaine Chase

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