After an almost two-year streak of takeout dining and no real nightlife, vaccinated Americans suddenly have options when it comes to ringing in the new year. Restaurants and bars have since reopened their doors and extended their hours, dance floors are filling up, and America’s big cities feel alive once again. But just because you can celebrate the New Year shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded place doesn’t mean you have to, or even want to. Not everyone is ready to trade in peace, quiet, and personal space for a sweaty night on the town.
For those of us who are mentally stuck somewhere between dying-to-leave-the-house and uneasy-with-boozy-crowds, a New Year’s escape to the countryside could be just the thing. From Baja to the Great Smoky Mountains and beyond, consider welcoming in 2022 from these scenic and relatively easy-to-reach locales.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling the rocky edges of Western North Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, and Northeast Georgia, the peaks and valleys of the Great Smoky Mountains offer visitors some of the country’s most picturesque spots for a New Year’s retreat. In popular Cades Cove, New Year’s visitors have their pick of endless hiking trails, and, if you’re feeling especially outdoorsy, camping here is permitted year-round.
Flights to Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The Smokies are easy to reach from most major U.S. cities,and competition keeps fares reasonably priced. On the Tennessee side of the park, Knoxville’s McGee-Tyson airport (TYS) is the closest to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Cades Cove. Those who prefer to spend more time in North Carolina should consider Asheville (AVL). The Greenville-Spartanburg airport is another option, just an hour’s drive from the South Carolina border. If you’re up for a scenic 3-hour plus car ride, add Atlanta (ATL), Charlotte (CLT), and Nashville (BNA) to your roster of nearby airports.
Where to stay in the Smoky Mountains: The best way to spend a quiet New Year’s in the Smoky Mountains is, of course, in a cozy pine cabin with a wood-burning stove, a hot tub, and a view. That can be a tall order over the holidays, especially if you haven’t booked in advance. Staying in one of the nearby resort towns may sound counter to the goal of avoiding crowds, but many of these properties tend to clear out after Christmas, and you may be able to snag a room for less than you think.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley receives its lowest number of visitors during the months of December and January, which also happen to be one of the best times to visit. Not only will you have to contend with fewer folks crowding the hiking trails, but temperatures will be mild enough to enjoy a long hike without fear of overheating. Average highs over the holidays tend to hover around the upper 60s and 70s.
Flights to the Death Valley area: It’s easy to reach Death Valley by car from Las Vegas McCarran (in just over two hours) or Los Angeles LAX (in just under four hours). These are two of the country’s busiest airports, making it easy to score a reasonable flight from much of the country.
Where to stay in Death Valley: Travelers will find no shortage of vacation rentals scattered throughout the desert, though prices tend to rise according to proximity to Death Valley National Park. Those who do prefer to stick close to the park and don’t mind sharing a swimming pool with other humans can spend the holiday at the historic Inn at Death Valley, created in 1927 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, or the slightly more affordable Ranch at Death Valley.
Acadia National Park
Just off the coast of central Maine lies Acadia National Park, one of the most popular national parks in the United States and an ideal spot for early birds (or all-night revelers) to welcome in the very first sunset of the new year. Acadia’s famed Cadillac Mountain isn’t the easternmost point in the continental U.S,, but due to the Earth’s tilt, it is the first to see the sunrise from the months of October through March. Along with the privilege of feeling the first rays of 2022, those willing to brave Maine’s winter weather can explore the park’s system of hiking trails or spend the early hours of 2022 cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Flights to Acadia National Park: Bar Harbor (BHB) may be Acadia’s closest airport but getting there could prove a tad complicated, depending on where you’re departing from. Some visitors may find it easier (and often cheaper) to book a flight to Boston (BOS) and buy a separate ticket to Bar Harbor on a smaller carrier like Surf Air or Silver Airways. JetBlue and United also fly this route. Other nearby airports include Bangor (BGR), located about an hour drive, and Portland (PWM), which is just over a two-hour drive.
Where to stay in Acadia National Park: From oceanfront to mountain views and sometimes both, there are plenty of available vacation rentals in the Mount Desert Island area. Some visitors may prefer to choose one of the local resorts or smaller hotel properties to take advantage of amenities, not to mention concierge services to help arrange snowmobile rentals or airport transportation.
Related: The 7 Least-Visited National Parks
Baja California Sur, México
With over 1,385 miles of coastline along the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, the Baja peninsula is home to some of North America’s most beautiful and undeveloped beaches. Baja California Sur also has the lowest population of any Mexican state, making it a top choice for anyone hoping to kickstart 2022 with a quiet beach getaway. December also marks the start of Baja’s whale watching season, lasting through April along the Pacific coast.
Flights to Baja California Sur: The lowest fares between the U.S. and Baja are generally for flights to Los Cabo (SJD). Though they do go on sale, expect to pay a smidge more for flights to Baja’s capital city of La Paz (LAP) or Loreto (LTO). Alaska Airlines routinely has sales to these cities.
Where to stay in Baja California Sur: The small fishing villages and off-the-grid beach communities of Baja are a heaven for sun-worshipping recluses. If you choose to anchor yourself around Cabo or one of the other major cities, steer clear of the resorts as this is high season in Mexico. When opting for a remote rental, confirm that it is reachable by bus unless you plan to go rent a car.