Great Spring Weekend Getaways
Each year as March fades into April, acres of Indian paintbrush and Mexican poppies blossom across Arizona’s Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. It is one of America’s best spots to watch the desert bloom each spring—and it’s just an hour outside of Phoenix.
For much of the country that has spent this lingering winter cooped up indoors, once the weather begins to warm, the urge to take off for some long weekend getaways can be overwhelming—so why resist?
We’ve planned easy weekend getaways from major U.S. cities to help you take advantage of the rising temperatures. Each itinerary includes suggestions for where to stay, eat, and play.
Sporty types can ditch D.C. to watch a horse race in Middleburg, VA, or chant “Hey batter batter” during spring training in Port St. Lucie, FL. Since state and national parks are most crowded later in the year, a weekend getaway in spring is an especially peaceful time for nature lovers to stretch their legs, be it for a hike through Franconia Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, close to Boston; a wildflower tour around red rock formations at California’s Pinnacles; or a kayak around Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Don’t let the last few weeks of winter get you down. Instead, browse these spring getaways, and sign up for T+L’s weekend getaways email newsletter for more warmer weather ideas. —Lyndsey Matthews
History on Roanoke Island, NC
Getaway from: Washington, D.C.
The mysterious disappearance of the original 16th-century colonists of Roanoke Island, NC, hasn’t tainted its modern-day pleasures. Head down in late spring for ideal weather without summer beach crowds. Every May, a team of 200 actors and designers puts together a theatrical imagining of Roanoke’s doomed settlement at the Lost Colony Theater.
Hiking Pinnacles National Park, CA
Formed more then 23 million years ago, the red rocks at this year-old national park, in California’s Steinbeck country, rival Sedona’s. But Pinnacles is more than just rock formations: between March and May, 80 percent of the scrubby plants that surround the rocky landscape are in bloom. Use the park’s western entrance to get to the High Peaks Trail, a 5.5-mile round-trip hike among eerie volcanic-remnant rock spires, blooming lupines, and springtime poppies. The park also draws bird-watchers for its endangered condor and raptor populations.
Watch Mermaids Swim in Weeki Wachee Springs, FL
Weeki Wachee Springs is a quirky Old Florida oddity where for more than 60 years mermaids (a.k.a. a troupe of aquatic acrobats in mermaid-like tails) perform Esther Williams–esque routines entirely underwater in a giant hot-spring-fed aquarium pool. There are also bird shows and a river cruise included in the entry fee, but the kitschy show is the main lure at this one-of-a-kind amusement park.
Port St. Lucie Spring Training, FL
Getaway from: Miami
Burgeoning A-Rods can pick up tips during the spring training season in Port St. Lucie, FL, when the New York Mets are in temporary residence. It all goes down at Tradition Field, which seats up to 7,000 and is only minutes from the PGA Village golf complex with its 54 holes. Join other like-minded fans over a beer and hot dog and take it all in. See the New York Mets baseball team practice at Digital Domain Park in March; there’s also a local minor-league team, the St. Lucie Mets, which plays from April on.
Whale-Watching in Sea Ranch, CA
Getaway from: San Francisco
The weather remains fairly cool in the spring months in Sea Ranch, but it’s still a great time to explore the town’s weathered wooden buildings, sea grass, and dunes. Should you tire of watching the gray whales on their northern migration (February through April) from your hotel-room window seat, check out the arts scene in the nearby hamlet of Gualala.
Boyce Thompson Flora Tour, Arizona
Getaway from: Phoenix
The Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is one of the prime spots in Arizona to watch the desert bloom each spring—a spectacular, acres-encompassing display of blossoming Indian paintbrush and Mexican poppy—especially in March and early April. Home to some 3,200 plants, this preserve is the place to see the Sonoran’s botanical greatest hits. Most can be seen along the 1.5-mile main trail, but the 320-acre expanse also has gardens dedicated to cacti, eucalyptus, herbs, even legumes.
Mount Hood Wildflower Walks, OR
Getaway from: Seattle
Head to Mount Hood, Oregon’s tallest mountain at more than 11,000 feet, in the late spring, when its trails are surrounded by blossoming wildflowers. Stop at the Mount Hood National Forest Headquarters to find out what’s blooming (depending on the month, you might see lupine, columbine, purple foxglove, fireweed, Indian paintbrush, or asters). With 1 million forested acres, stretching 60 miles from the Columbia River Gorge to the Olallie Scenic Area, there’s plenty of room to roam.
Coulee Corridor Bird-Watching, WA
Getaway from: Seattle
This area of interlinked wildlife preserves in northeastern Washington is home to thousands of migrating birds—in all, more than half of the state’s 346 bird species. Wander among the sagebrush, basalt cliffs, and grasses, and you can expect to find 25,000 sandhill cranes in the spring.
Seaside Escape in Carlsbad, CA
California’s “Village by the Sea” is quainter and quieter than its beach community neighbors to the south. Miles of coastline with waters made for swimming and surfing enhance the small-town vibe, as does the colorful evidence of its commercial flower-growing past that sprouts on the hillsides. From early March to May, 50 acres of ranunculus flowers bloom at Carlsbad Ranch—one of the most overwhelmingly colorful sights you’ll ever see.
Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree, CA
The unique topography of this national park is a magnet for rock climbers. With 800,000 acres spread over the Colorado (Sonoran) and Mojave deserts, Joshua Tree can be explored countless ways, but offers more than 400 formations and 8,000 routes for rock climbers. Go in the spring or fall to stay safe and comfortable before the temperatures rise.
Living Desert in Death Valley, CA
Getaway from: Los Angeles
Despite its ominous name, this is one of the most hauntingly beautiful spots in all of California, especially in spring when the wildflowers bloom and fill the desert in swaths of gold, pink, and purple. Its landscapes are a study in contrasts: soaring snow-covered mountains, baked desert flats and dunes, and colorful wildflowers that erupt into bloom after a rare rain.
Wisconsin’s Indoor Water Parks
Getaway from: Chicago
The Midwest is often covered in snow in the spring. But the self-proclaimed water-park capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells, in central Wisconsin, scoffs at weather forecasts. Eighteen indoor parks include some of the country’s largest, and draw more than 2 million people each year. Perfect if you want to go swimming but can’t get to warm weather.
Georgia’s Barrier Islands
Discover these unspoiled Deep South hideouts on Georgia’s Atlantic Coast, deeded largely to freed slaves after the Civil War. It’s hard to choose just one, but it’s worth the drive via the FJ Torras Causeway to St. Simons Island for two pristine white-sand beaches, excellent golf courses, and two public tennis courts. But those are just a few of the activities on offer—expect fishing, biking, and more.
Hot Springs in Ojo Caliente, NM
For centuries, this high-desert community’s mineral springs have been sought out for their healing properties. Come here for an invigorating yet relaxing retreat. By day, bask in the warmth of the waters and take yoga lessons or go for easy hikes. Wind down in the evenings by dining at the resort’s organic restaurant or by enjoying a soak in a private outdoor hot tub near a crackling kiva fireplace.
Desert Wildflowers in Tucson, AZ
Spring is the most colorful time in Saguaro National Park, with wildflowers blooming in March and the saguaros in late April. Hike through the landscape of green paloverde trees, purple cacti, and fuzzy teddy-bear cholla, and keep your eye out for cartoonish roadrunners and piglike javelinas. Tucson makes a great base for excursions into the national park, with plenty of delicious Mexican food, historic attractions, and world-class golf outings to round out the trip.
Classic Spring Break in Daytona Beach, FL
Relish the gaudy glories of Daytona Beach, a prime example of the classic seaside town in Florida. The town is known for its serious, spring break–fueled party scene, but your best bet is to skip all that in favor of nodding to its NASCAR heritage, which began here in 1947, by driving on the beach, wind in your hair.
Horse Racing in Middleburg, VA
Located between Washington, D.C., and Winchester, VA, Middleburg is now a chic country enclave, known for its purposefully preppy residents and see-and-be-seen events like the annual Middleburg Spring Races steeplechase event. A horse-racing tradition for almost a century, the race takes place during the third weekend in April at the Glenwood Park Racecourse. First held in 1911, the event now comprises six different races, including the Temple Gwathmey hurdle contest, which draws some of the best competitors in the nation.
Hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
Stretching across a quarter of New Hampshire, the rugged White Mountains are best explored during the spring when the sky and the trails are clear. With high peaks—including the well-known Mount Washington—and more than 1,000 walking and hiking trails, the forest is rightly considered New England’s top recreation area. The area’s more than 100 waterfalls are especially stunning when they’re running in full force from spring melt.
Explore Mount Desert Island, Maine
Getaway from: Boston
The largest island off the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park’s Mount Desert Island is blissfully quiet in the spring before the summer crowds come. A reliable bus network has stops throughout the park, but it’s the perfect cycling and kayaking destination, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the celebrities who vacation here, like Susan Sarandon and Martha Stewart. Luckily, a local favorite restaurant, Red Sky, is open year-round, and it’s easier to get a table in spring (although service during the off-season is limited to Thursday–Saturday).
Cherry Blossoms on D.C.’s National Mall
The National Mall packs more culture and history into a two-mile strip than most cities do in their entire urban sprawls—and it’s even better during spring when thousands of cherry trees blossom in late March and early April around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Golf Course.