America's Most Beautiful Springtime Destinations
Around the corner is almost here.
After a long and dreary hibernation season, it's always nice to stop and smell the flowers come spring, when a whole world of color opens up, often overwhelming our senses (and sinuses) and reminding us, forcefully, to see the beauty around us.
Chasing spring’s mighty colors makes for a celebratory kind of journey, and if you’re still in the year of the road trip (and aren’t we all?), reaching that beauty doesn’t have to be too far from home. To get you out there, we’ve scouted out some of the best places to enjoy the outdoors this spring, with each of these destinations offering a healthy dose of wildflowers, the promise of birds and breezes, and a serious detox from those winter blues. Here’s where to travel around the US this spring.
Coachella Valley, California
This Inland Empire valley’s eponymous music festival is back after a post-Covid hiatus; but the region makes for a chill visit in and of itself any time of year—particularly in spring, when the flowers are blowing up and the weather hasn't yet turned into a dry, triple digit heat.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park—the biggest park in the state—is once again celebrating an explosive spring bloom of wildflowers, so get you some of that. Not to be overlooked are the oddball artist colony of Slab City, the eerily beautiful Salton Sea, and the burgeoning "desert rock" scene around the Queens of the Stone Age recording studio Rancho de la Luna, near Joshua Tree. The region is also home to Palm Springs and one of America's best nudist resorts, if that's your thing.
Key Largo, Florida
As much as America likes to josh Florida (there's endless material to work with), it's hard to deny the state’s easy accessibility to sun and beach when you just want to get the hell out of Dodge. Key Largo offers a funky taste of old Florida without the relentless untz untz untz of South Beach. The largest island in the Florida Keys features the beautiful and always-happening Playa Largo Resort, the first full-service resort built in Key Largo in more than 20 years, featuring private bungalows and a two-story beach house. This is where to loll before June wakes up the subtropical humidity (and kicks off hurricane season).
Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
Part hot springs, part resort, part unincorporated community, part alternative-energy research center, Chena Hot Springs—about 50 miles north of Fairbanks—is a go-to spot for soaking your tired bones in a natural, heated rock lake. While resting in the healing waters and shaking off the last bit of winter, look up and you’ll be able to enjoy an early-spring northern lights display. Be sure to indulge in sightseeing flights over the surrounding glaciers before heading back to the resort to sip drinks in hand-carved ice glasses at the onsite Aurora Ice Bar, located within the year-round Aurora Ice Museum. The area's spectacular spring northern lights shows are best viewed between 10pm and 3am, so you might want to keep that ice drink handy.
Is there a more famous bloom than the cherry blossoms of Washington, DC? About 110 years ago, the mayor of Tokyo probably didn’t realize his donation of 2,000 cherry trees to DC was also a gift of the biggest of big spring festivals in the US. From March 20 to April 17, the capital city erupts in a riot of pinks, from the pink buds on the trees to pink tour buses to thousands of pink balloons, pink patio umbrellas, and pink-clad dancers in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. Petalpalooza throws live music and beer gardens into the mix, Art in Bloom means installations across the city, and “Cherry Picks” restaurants can even bring pink fare to your dinner table.
But you’re probably here for the trees—3,800 of them lining the National Mall. You can even watch them, right now, on the #BloomCam.
Antelope Valley, California
About 80 miles north of LA near the town of Lancaster, the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is another eye-popping SoCal springtime flower destination. Picture expanses of brilliant color—even in slow years—exploding out of the parched desert. Sandwiched between the Tehachapi and snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains at the western edge of the Mojave Desert, the stunning vistas can be taken in via eight miles of dirt trail that wind through gentle rolling hills.
No matter how tempting, do not go frolic in them Wizard of Oz-style… unless your spring travel plans also include a trip to the ER to treat rattlesnake bites. The poppies enter their full bloom at the end of March and will be best viewed through the first half of May. And stay on the damn trails if you go! Appreciate the pretty flowers, but don’t ruin them for the rest of us.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Spring in Santa Fe is the time to celebrate all of life’s nice things. Mid-April in one of the largest and liveliest arts scenes in the country sees the return of an outdoor weekend market where you can browse—and buy—the work of local artists (it’s a thing that runs till October). Can’t take your vacation quite yet? Catch vendors from the Northern New Mexico Fine Arts & Crafts Guild on May 28-30. From May 31–June 2, it’s time for the New Mexico Cocktails & Culture Culinary Festival (tickets start at $30). And to say goodbye to winter in the very best way: there's one more chance to hit the slopes. Yeah, you'll probably get wet, but who cares?
Texas Hill Country
In the vast expanse of "real Texas" extending west from Austin and north from San Antonio, the rolling terrain of Texas Hill Country truly pops in spring when the bluebonnets come into full bloom. Peep the bright blues, whites, yellows, and purples sprouting up from the grassy hills along endless miles of two-lane Texas tarmac, passing through dusty old cowboy towns with scenic caverns, rivers, and swimming holes up along the way. Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area is a prime spot for bluebonnet peeping, or you can pair your flower-gazing with a glass of vino on a Wine & Wildflower winery tour between March 28 and April 22 (tickets start at $65).
Brockway Mountain, Michigan
If your idea of a wild spring break involves seeing migrating hawks on a remote stretch of mountain road at the northern tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Brockway Mountain Drive is calling your name. Running along the ridge of Brockway Mountain, with panoramic views of Lake Superior extending all the way to Isle Royale National Park on a clear day, this scenic road is shut in winter but comes roaring back to life in the spring for bird migratory season. The area also boasts its fair share of spring wildflowers as well, with over 700 species, including rarities found nowhere else in the state. Stargazing and getting away from it all are key activities here, with the biggest town along the road being the bustling metropolis of Eagle Harbor (population: 76).
Long known as one of the best, most charming small towns in Colorado and one of the best Denver getaways, Breckenridge is famous for skiing but is also delightful at any time of year—especially spring, when lodging is at its cheapest. Plus, some runs remain open all the way through Memorial Day. Don’t miss Breck Pride Week and the Breck Spring Beer Festival, both usually in early-to-mid April. Plus you can check out live music in the historic downtown, head out to Boreas Pass for panoramic mountain vistas over the water, or take a short trip to visit the funky nearby towns of Alma and Dillon.
Park City, Utah
Spring shoulder-season deals make this time of year the cheapest to visit Utah's most well-known resort town. While it has a reputation for celebrity sightings during Sundance, in spring, it's just another laid-back mountain town up for pretty much anything. Strolling or riding the free trolley down its picturesque Main Street is a must, and there is perhaps no finer activity than basking in the spring sun over a few pints of craft beer on the rooftop of local hangout No Name Saloon. Nearby Salt Lake City is one of the most underrated (and cheap) destinations in America, while the surrounding Wasatch Mountains are as good a place as any to lose yourself in nature.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
After Washington, DC's famed cherry blossoms have already peaked, you can still get your flower fix in the DC area with a trip to Northern Virginia's stunning Shenandoah National Park, with its 850 species of wildflowers. While the park nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains is most famous for its spectacular fall foliage, its fantastic springtime displays have flown more under the radar. The park hosts a "wildflower weekend" in early May with guided hikes to some of its best flower-spotting sites. You can also take in the scene by driving the picturesque 105-mile Skyline Drive. But the best part about this park may be its close proximity to the town of Charlottesville—home to University of Virginia and a punching-seriously-above-its-weight food and drink scene. Hell, you might just come to this gorgeous town as a base to explore the park and decide to just stay here instead.
If springtime to you means 300,000 tulips waving between Dutch windmills, there’s pretty much only one place you belong: Pella, Iowa. The 10,000-person town throws a legit tulip extravaganza—seriously, expect 40,000+ visitors all vying for parking—known as Tulip Time, and it’s a Big Deal Time. Always in early May, come to wander the technicolor fields, gorge on Dutch pastries, try your feet in wooden shoes (why not?), or even have your first experience at a Dutch-themed drive-thru. Toto, you’re not in Iowa anymore.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
If it’s good enough for Harrison Ford, it’s good enough for you. Jackson Hole is the southern gateway to Yellowstone and the basecamp for Grand Teton National Park, where spring springs so hard it’s like Harrison Ford himself paid for the grand display. The wildflower show in the valleys and on the forest floor of Grand Teton get your feet stepping over indian paintbrush, fireweed, columbine, and even the rare calypso orchid, starting in May. And no one seems to mind the incredible jagged peaks and alpine lakes, either.
Spring is arguably the best time to explore the Teton–Yellowstone corridor: the wildlife are coming out of their slumber, the blooms are doing their thing, and the crowds have yet to descend in full through those park gates. And back in Jackson Hole, there are also wolf safaris, world-class art galleries, and the world’s best steak tartare pizza. Happy springing!