By: Jay Gentile
Yeah, we get it. You've ogled Yosemite's Half Dome. You've bathed in Yellowstone's Old Faithful. But just because you live-tweeted your Aspen ski vacation or your family trip to the Grand Canyon doesn't mean you've seen the American West. Because you haven't. Not until you experience these 12 hidden gems located so far off the beaten path not even Siri can help you find your way back.
Mono Lake, CA
Why you need to go: Just look at the place. While this eerily beautiful Salvador Dali-like desert lake located just east of Yosemite has inspired everyone from Pink Floyd to Clint Eastwood to Mark Twain, it's still largely overlooked by the throngs of tourists too busy Instagramming El Capitan to notice. Which means you're pretty much free to roam its trails or get a closer look at its stunning beauty by canoe or kayak.
The one must-do thing: Take a sunset walk around South Tufa grove. You can also go on a tour, but the area is best explored via solo mission. Maybe throw on some Pink Floyd.
La Push, WA
Why you need to go: Because it was featured in the Twilight series (kidding!) While we begrudgingly admit this fact to be depressingly true, La Push remains one of the chilliest beach towns on the Pacific coast. Located entirely within the Quileute Indian Reservation surrounded by national forest west of Olympic National Park, all of its businesses are tribe-owned and offer that exact type of relaxed (non-vampire) lifestyle you've been looking for... being that you're on vacation and all.
The one must-do thing: Whale watching on the wide, crescent-shaped First Beach after hitting up the salmon bake during Quileute Days every July
Why you should go: Can a town also be a state park? In the case of remote Bannack, Montana, the answer is yes. While buzzworthy Montana towns like Livingston attract the attention of Jim Harrison and Anthony Bourdain, the ghost town of Bannack soldiers on, fully operated by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks department near the state border with Idaho about a three-hour drive from Yellowstone.
The one must-do thing: Ghost tours and gold panning are popular activities, but just wandering the dusty former boomtown (and marveling at the fact that it's 2016) is the main attraction here.
Why you need to go: Because sorry Paso Robles, Murphys is the "next Napa" (until somewhere else is the next Napa). This historic Gold Rush town located two hours east of Sacramento features two dozen tasting rooms conveniently located along Main St -- all of them within walking (i.e., stumbling) distance -- plus the nearby Mercer and Moaning Caverns where you can argue with your significant other over the difference between stalactites (which hang down from the ceiling) and stalagmites (which grow up from the cave floor). (Now you will win said debate -- you're welcome.) You can also rent a houseboat on nearby New Melones Lake, which you totally should do.
The one must-do thing: You mean, in addition to renting that houseboat? Stay at the Murphys Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in California. If it was good enough for J.P. Morgan and Ulysses S. Grant, it's good enough for you.
Credit: Flickr/get directly down
Collins Beach on Sauvie Island, OR
Why you need to go: While Pacific coast nude beaches like Black's Beach get all the attention (and crowds), that doesn't mean you can't also get naked by the river. Such is the case at Collins Beach on Sauvie Island, located 25 miles north of Portland on the Columbia River. The laid-back, one-mile beach is frequented by friendly, polite nudies rather than the usual assortment of creepy lookie-loos.
The one must-do thing: Besides GETTING NAKED (well, not really -- it's "clothing optional"), you need to check out the weird (even for Portland) spaceship-like, graffiti-covered abandoned boat locals call the UFO. Preferably nude.
Why you need to go: If you're looking for your own private Idaho, Stanley is all yours (well technically you'll have to share it with the town's 63 residents). Stanley is located about three hours from Boise surrounded by the stunning Sawtooth National Recreation Area, so keep your head on a swivel because you'll basically just be staring at jaw-dropping natural beauty the whole time you're here.
The one must-do thing: Enjoy staggering scenery hiking the Redfish Lake Loop Trail surrounded by jagged mountain peaks, then plop down at Redfish Lake Lodge's funky shoreside gazebo for a well-earned burger and beer.
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