7 Lesser-Known Places to Cool Down This Summer

Chill out at these refreshing destinations throughout the West.

A woman looks at a rock at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site in Wrangell, Alaska.
Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site in Wrangell, Alaska.
Courtesy Travel Wrangell

Being popular is overrated. These seven outdoorsy wonderlands have every reason to be considered hotspots: epic scenery, once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters, TV-worthy historic sites. But for some reason, popularity has passed them by. Luckily, you don’t have to. 

Wrangell, Alaska

Though it’s located along the stunning, glacier-jeweled Inside Passage between Ketchikan and Juneau, Wrangell is bypassed by most large cruise ships. So the town remains relatively undiscovered despite its bonanza of cultural riches and bucket-list experiences. In July and August, travelers can book a boat tour to Anan Wildlife Observatory to watch bears catch fish leaping up a waterfall during Southeast Alaska’s largest pink salmon run. Also from Wrangell, jet boats whisk visitors up the magnificent Stikine River to marvel at glacial valleys, coastal rainforest, and wildlife such as beavers and moose. About a mile from town, stroll Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site to see swirling patterns carved into rocks thousands of years ago, likely by the ancestors of the Tlingit people. At Totem Park, you can learn about the area’s cultural history and the significance of these carved wooden poles from a Tlingit guide.

Two people stand on a large rock on California's Lost Coast at sunset.
California's Lost Coast at sunset.
Joe Cuzz / Shutterstock

The Lost Coast, California 

On the northernmost end of the Pacific Coast Highway, the shoreline becomes so craggy and crenulated, the builders of the popular roadway had no choice but to turn inland. The sparsely populated area they left behind became known as the Lost Coast, and today it’s California’s only coastal wilderness. In the charming Victorian town of Ferndale, pop into Mind’s Eye Manufactory and Coffee Lounge to caffeinate and check out the wood and ceramics workshop. Then stroll Artisan Alley to see local creatives crafting. Next, venture out on the Lost Coast Scenic Drive—a slow, serpentine jaunt on a paved but rough road through rolling farmland and breathtaking coastline. You can go tidepooling at Black Sands Beach and tramp along the boulder-dotted strand, following part of the 24-mile Lost Coast Trail. And remember that cliffside beaches are dramatic but can be dangerous, so it’s essential to check the tide tables before you go.


Pine-Strawberry, Arizona 

This sleepy pair of historic pioneer settlements tends to fly under the radar. But the setting is ideal if you want to lay low a mile high in the conifer-scented mountains, soaking up the small-town vibe. For a refreshing introduction to Arizona’s beloved Mogollon Rim area, head to nearby Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Here, you can meander shaded trails to a waterfall, a lush grotto, and the world’s largest natural travertine arch. At Pine Creek Canyon Lavender Farm, breathe in the therapeutic aroma of floral fields, shop for bath products, and look for occasional cooking and art classes. Refuel in Pine with a mushroomy Mountain Mamma empanada at PIEbar AZ and a crisp Backwoods Blonde ale at THAT brewery. If you book into the Lodge at 5600, you can enjoy occasional live music and sound bath meditations, plus wake up to views overlooking a seemingly endless ponderosa pine forest.

A hiker in Titcomb Basin, Wind River Range, Pinedale, Wyoming.
Hike through Titcomb Basin in Pinedale, Wyoming.
Cavan Images / Alamy

Pinedale, Wyoming

Jackson may attract more celebrities, but an hour and a half southeast, Pinedale welcomes visitors looking to bask in the Old West atmosphere amid towering peaks just as gorgeous as the famed Tetons. Lace up your hiking boots and hit the moderate 3.3-mile round-trip Sacred Rim Trail for awe-inspiring panoramas of the Wind River Mountain Range’s storm-gray massifs and cerulean lakes. Just outside Pinedale, you can rent a kayak or standup paddleboard and ply the waters of Wyoming’s second largest body of water, Fremont Lake. Alternatively, splash into the crystalline waters from the sandy beach. For a quintessential cowboy cookout, slide onto an alfresco picnic bench and tuck into wood-fired trout or steak at Pitchfork Fondue. In July, don’t miss the Green River Rendezvous, which celebrates the area’s mountain men and Native communities. And throughout summer, you can join locals for the free Soundcheck Concert Series in the park. 

Hamilton, Montana

Fans of the TV series Yellowstone starring Kevin Costner may recognize some of the historic buildings in Hamilton and nearby Darby, where the show is filmed. But despite their newfound fame, these towns, about an hour south of Missoula, remain low-key and authentic. Begin your exploration of the Bitterroot Valley by picking up permaculture-produced picnic fare at the farm shop at ABC Acres, just outside Hamilton. Then beeline to Lake Como to swim in the brisk blue water and mosey the 8-mile Loop Trail, drinking in mountain and forest views. You can forage for wild huckleberries on the Sawtooth Creek Trail, just over 6 miles southwest of Hamilton. And fish or wade in the Bitterroot River, which is dotted with numerous access sites throughout the valley. In town, savor healthy Filipino fusion bowls at Suzette’s Organics or indulge in a cheese curd burger and (gluten-reduced) ale at Bitter Root Brewing.

Neon signs lit up at dusk at Star Hotel in Elko, Nevada.
Get a taste of Basque history and cuisine at the Star Hotel.
Gary Whitton / Alamy

Lamoille Canyon, Nevada

If Lamoille Canyon weren’t located in northeastern Nevada, far from the crowds of the state’s hotspots, it would probably be overrun with tourists. But because it’s in the remote Ruby Mountains, this glacier-sculpted wonderland is instead packed with mountain goats, wildflower-flecked meadows, waterfalls, and glistening lakes. From the town of Lamoille, get your camera ready and greet the land on the 12-mile Lamoille Canyon Scenic Byway, stopping to learn about the geology at several interpretive signs and to check out the beaver ponds at Lamoille Creek. The journey ends at the 8,800-foot-high access point for Island Lake Trail. This switchbacked nearly 4-mile round-trip thigh-burner rewards hikers with a dip in an alpine lake carved by a glacier. Base yourself in Elko to get a taste of Basque history and cuisine at the Star Hotel and the National Basque Festival in July.

The view from Bald Mountain overlooking Mirror Lake in the Uinta Mountains, Utah
Uinta Mountains, Utah.
Gary Whitton / Alamy

Uinta Mountains, Utah 

With more than a thousand lakes and 400 miles of streams, this alpine wilderness east of Park City makes a perfect summer playground. The Mirror Lake Highway, which stretches 42 miles from Kamas to the Wyoming border, strings together a garland of gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, and scenic viewpoints. Just outside Kamas, stop at Samak Smoke House to stock up on the signature beef jerky, smoked fish, and other picnic provisions. Then cruise the highway to Provo River Falls, where you can take a chilly dip in the natural pools beneath the cascade. Further on, foray to Mirror Lake to amble the 1.5-mile trail around the placid waters backdropped by mountains. In addition, anglers can fish for trout at Mirror Lake, Trial Lake, and several other lakes along the scenic byway. If you’d like to stay overnight in this national forest, you’ll need a tent and, in summer, likely a reservation at one of the many campsites.