Sail Away To These Idyllic U.S. Islands

Sail Away To These Idyllic U.S. Islands
Today’s vacationers are searching for spectacular U.S. destinations where they can escape the crowds, rejuvenate and relax. Some of the nation’s most unspoiled island vacation spots aren’t well known and are easily accessible by boat or ferry. These breathtaking isolated isles are filled with places where it’s easy to find your place in the sun, enjoy nature’s scenic beauty, and recharge.

When you need a break, plan to sail away to these beautiful islands in the United States:

1. Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. Ocracoke Island was once the secluded refuge of Blackbeard the pirate, and it’s still a top escape for vacationers today. Officially part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke’s sandy strands are legendary. Ocracoke’s Lifeguarded Beach has been repeatedly named as one of the best beaches in the United States by Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach. This laid-back island is accessible by ferry, boat, or private plane. Vacationers can rent private homes and cottages, camp at the National Park Service Ocracoke Campground, or stay in small inns and lodges. While automobiles are allowed, vacationers can also get around the island by bike, tram, or golf cart. Ocracoke has a vibrant culinary scene. Fishing, beachcombing, and a wide variety of watersports are popular here. Visitors can also see Ocracoke’s wild ponies while staying on the island.

2. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Spending time on the pristine island of St. John is a favorite activity for cruise passengers visiting St. Thomas. St. John can be reached via ferry from the Red Hook Ferry Terminal in St. Thomas or by boat or ship shore excursion. There is also a ferry from Charlotte Amalie where cruise ships dock, but it takes longer and runs less frequently. The ferry ride from Red Hook to the Cruz Bay Ferry Terminal in St. John takes about 20 minutes. Upon arriving in Cruz Bay on St. John, guests typically board open-air safari taxis for a short tour of the island and a stop at spectacular Trunk Bay, one of the world’s most stunning beaches. Trunk Bay has a marked underwater snorkeling trail for those who wish to see the coral and marine life found in this area. Some cruisers may want to spend their time on St. John hiking along the island’s National Park trails, while others may wish to take a scenic tour of the island, stopping to take pictures of some of the island’s many stunning beaches. Those heading to St. John on their own can rent a 4-wheel drive jeep for a private tour of the island.

3. Channel Islands National Park, California. This gorgeous national park in Southern California encompasses close to 250,000 acres and is comprised of five distinct islands and one mile of ocean marine area. Channel Islands National Park is accessible by boat from both Ventura and Oxnard harbors. Popular activities include hiking, boating and kayaking, fishing, surfing, and relaxing on the islands’ beautiful beaches. Visitors can also enjoy whale watching, birding, and viewing the area’s seals and sea lions. Kids can participate in the Channel Islands National Park’s Junior Ranger Program. Camping is available on all five islands, and it’s important to make reservations in advance.

4. Mackinac Island, Michigan. Beautiful Mackinac Island is often referred to as the Jewel of the Great Lakes. The island was named “Best Island in the Continental U.S.” by Travel + Leisure and is ranked high on other travel lists. Mackinac Island is a perfect place to relax and unwind. Motorized vehicles are prohibited on Mackinac Island, so all visitors arrive by ferry or plane. Carriage rides, tours of historic Fort Mackinac, bike riding, and shopping for local treasures are popular pastimes. While on Mackinac Island, make sure to spend some time at the iconic Grand Hotel. This National Historic Landmark is home to the world’s longest porch, which provides a lovely spot to sit in a rocking chair and enjoy the views. Afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel is a memorable treat.

5. Little St. Simons Island, Georgia. Little St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles and is accessible only by boat. This spectacular 11,000-acre private island is a secluded nature sanctuary filled with abundant wildlife, seven miles of white sand beaches, maritime forests, and marshlands. Vacationers can stay at The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, an idyllic all-inclusive retreat. This special resort accommodates only 32 overnight guests and is a paradise for families and nature lovers. Rates at The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island include three full meals daily, non-alcoholic beverages, unlimited island activities and use of recreational gear, daily naturalist-led outings, and boat transfers to and from the island. A Junior Naturalist Program for children is also offered during the summer months.

6. Penobscot Bay Islands, Maine. Maine is one of the most naturally beautiful areas of the country, with over 3500 miles of rugged coastline to explore. Mid-coast Maine’s Penobscot Bay contains hundreds of small islands that are only accessible by boat. Sailing on one of the Maine Windjammer Association’s iconic tall ships is one of the most memorable ways to explore this area. These historic sailing ships are based in Rockland and Camden and sail from late spring through early fall. Sailing on one of Maine’s windjammer ships is a great way to relax and recharge. Maine windjammer cruises are all-inclusive, and each of the ships offers a variety of different sailing itineraries. Ships such as Schooner American Eagle feature specialty sailings focused on music, art, hiking, photography, festivals, special race events, and other topics. Maine windjammer cruise guests can explore Maine’s beautiful bays, sparsely populated islands, and classic 18th-century fishing villages. Lobster feasts on deserted islands and viewing picturesque lighthouses are memorable parts of this Maine vacation experience. Spotting wildlife like eagles, osprey, seals, and porpoises is also a highlight.

7. Bald Head Island, North Carolina. Located at the convergence of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, this 12,000-acre subtropical island can only be reached by ferry or private boat. No cars are allowed on the island, and transportation is available via tram, bicycles, or golf carts. The island is known for its 14 miles of wide sandy beaches and extensive recreational activities. Loggerhead turtles nest along the shores during the summer, and the island’s 10,000 unspoiled acres of scenery are inviting. Vacationers enjoy climbing Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, as well as hiking, kayaking, fishing, sailing, and playing golf or tennis. A wide variety of vacation rentals is available on Bald Head Island, including some pet-friendly accommodations.

8. Catalina Island, California. Picturesque Santa Catalina Island is less than 25 miles from California’s southern coast, and it’s a popular port of call on short cruises sailing from Los Angeles. Visitors can also reach the island via passenger ferries departing from Long Beach, San Pedro, Newport Beach, and Dana Point, California. Catalina Island enjoys temperate weather year-round and features attractions for all interests. Some of the most popular activities include taking glass-bottom boat and semi-submarine voyages, chilling out at Descanso Beach Club, playing mini-golf at Golf Gardens, watching movies at the Avalon Theatre, taking scenic island tours, and relaxing at the spa. Zipline excursions are also available for those seeking an adrenaline rush.

9. Cumberland Island, Georgia. Cumberland Island National Seashore is a stunning private spot accessible only by ferry. Filled with wildlife and over 17 miles of isolated white beaches, Cumberland Island is rich in history and natural beauty. American business magnates once made their homes on Cumberland Island, and John F. Kennedy Jr. was married here in 1996. Wild horses make their home here, and loggerhead turtles nest on the beach. Visitors to Cumberland Island can explore the dramatic ruins of Dungeness, formerly the home of Lucy Carnegie. Those who wish to vacation on the island can camp or stay at the all-inclusive Greyfield Inn, built by the Carnegies in 1890. Rates at this 15-room luxury property include round-trip ferry boat transportation, three full meals daily, non-alcoholic beverages, unlimited access to bicycles and kayaks, and much more.

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