Only Have a Day? Here Are 10 U.S. Places You Should Check Out
Whether you’re in need of a fun day trip, an interesting detour, or a quick getaway, there are plenty of places to visit in a limited time frame. With just enough to see and do, you’ll be happy with the 24 hours spent in these small cities, national parks, and U.S. attractions.
Nicknamed “Little San Francisco” for its colorful Victorian houses and hilly streets, Astoria, Oregon is an excellent 24-hour getaway. Situated on the Columbia River and only three hours from Seattle, Astoria’s small downtown is filled with cafes, art galleries, restaurants, and museums. Movie aficionados will love that Astoria was the filming location of the popular 90's flick Kindergarten Cop, while history buffs will be happy to visit the historic Flavel House for a museum tour. To spend time outside, stroll along the River Walk and then end your day by climbing the Astoria Column to watch the sunset.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana
Although many more days can be spent at Glacier National Park, don’t fret if you’ve only allotted time for one. Thanks to the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a good portion of Glacier can be done in one day. Enter the park at St. Mary’s and prepare yourself for 50 miles of nail-biting turns and gorgeous scenery. Stop to stretch your legs at the Logan Pass Visitor Center and use the opportunity to hike out to Hidden Lake, a 2.8-mile, family-friendly hike. From there, continue the drive down towards West Glacier and stop for a photo op at the crystal clear Lake McDonald before grabbing a celebratory “I survived the Going-to-the-Sun Road” meal at the lodge.
Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts
The small towns of Lexington and Concord are just outside of Boston and together are an essential day trip for anyone who loves U.S. history. Start the day in the Lexington Green, the site of the first skirmish between the Redcoats and the Minutemen before touring Buckman Tavern, a Revolutionary War gathering place. Next, make the short drive to Concord to visit Minute Man National Park and the North Bridge, the site of the “First Shot Heard Round the World.” Grab a to-go lunch at Verrill Farm and then explore the trails at Walden Pond to enjoy a leisurely picnic on the water. Depending on your literature tastes you may also visit The Old Manse (once home to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne) or the Orchard House (home of Louisa May Alcott) before strolling through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where these authors are interred.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Offering subterranean exploration, impressive natural rock formations, winding passageways, ghost stories, and strange occurrences, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is a thrilling experience inside one of the longest caves in the world (that we know of). We recommend booking at least two separate tours to get the full Mammoth Cave experience in a single day. Depending on your interests, abilities, and the time of year, you might choose between a historical tour, a geological tour, a lantern-led tour, or a spelunking adventure into the cave’s tightest spaces.
The Overseas Highway, Florida Keys
The Overseas Highway, a 113-mile roadway that passes through every single Florida Key, is the perfect 24-hour road trip. The waterway highway crosses islands, coral reefs, and miles of turquoise waters and takes about four hours to complete one way. Drive as far as you can — Key West, if possible — to spend the night and then make your way back the next day. If you prefer less of a drive, go as far as John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, which is about an hour and a half from Miami. The park’s shallow reefs and clear waters are ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving, and glass-bottom kayaking.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
A quick jaunt from Washington D.C. by car, train, or even bike, Harpers Ferry has enough going on to fill up a lovely day outside of the city. As a National Historic Park, the town is most famous for being the site of an 1859 abolitionist raid, but its varied history also involves notable figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and W.E.B DuBois. To get the most out of your morning, sign up for a vehicle-led tour of the town’s historical and natural offerings. Then spend the afternoon exploring miles of hiking trails — including the Appalachian Trail — in the park’s surrounding land before ending the day with an evening ghost tour.
French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a mid-sized city with lots to see, but if you only have one day, stick to the French Quarter. You’ll be able to get to the true essence of the Big Easy and you’ll have loads of fun too. Fuel up for the day with a beignet and coffee at Cafe Du Monde — there may be a wait, but it will be worth it. Next, sign up for a walking tour of the French Quarter or visit St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Spend the afternoon at your leisure by peeking into voodoo shops and getting your tarot cards read. Your evening should include live music (try Preservation Hall) and a stroll down Bourbon Street — both of which are bound to be entertaining.
Two hours from Chicago and three hours from Detroit, Lake Michigan’s eastern shores are prime for a last-minute adventure. Saugatuck, especially, provides equal doses of small-town charm and pristine, natural wilderness. Saugatuck’s downtown has coffee shops and boutiques for shopping and provides easy access to the Kalamazoo River. In the afternoon, hike a half-mile to Oval Beach in Saugatuck Dunes State Park or opt for the longer South Trail loop. Then grab a pint at the Saugatuck Brewing Company for an easy way to end the day.
Muir Woods National Monument, California
Spending time beneath a canopy of redwoods is a requisite for northern California visitors, and since Muir Woods is only 40 minutes from San Francisco, it’s a great day trip out of the city. The park’s lack of cell service will offer the opportunity for a quiet, phone-free walk beneath the trees — an experience that is sure to refresh and rejuvenate you. Just don’t forget to reserve parking in advance to get a spot in the limited lot. Once you arrive, take time to explore the six miles of trails, listen to a Ranger Talk, and then end your day at Muir Beach, which is just off of Route 1.
The Badlands, South Dakota
If you find yourself driving along Route 90, the Badlands present a perfect 24-hour detour from cross-country travel. To see this vast network of buttes, spires, and multi-colored rock formations in the South Dakota prairie, exit off I-90 to Highway 240, which is also known as the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway. The two-lane road covers 58 miles and travels through the northern and almost unearthly part of Badlands National Park. Further west in the Black Hills National Forest lies Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, which can also be squeezed into the day if you don’t stop for a hike.
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