Eager to hit the road? US News ranks 2021’s best vacation spots

With COVID-19 vaccinations increasing daily — and health restrictions being lifted nationwide ahead of Memorial Day — this year’s ranking of best vacation spots from U.S. News & World Report carries special significance.

And whether it requires flying halfway around the world or staying closer to home, U.S. News & World Report has some intriguing options this year — particularly when it comes to the great outdoors.

“We’re really kind of seeing this ongoing interest in getting outside, being able to socially distance from other people and just get some fresh air,” said Christine Smith, U.S. News’ senior travel editor.

“Especially after all this time being pent-up indoors, everyone’s really itching to keep going outside and spending their time outdoors.”

When it comes to a mountainous destination, the best-ranked option is a day’s drive away, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It topped the list of “Best Mountain Towns to Visit in the USA.” The No. 2 — Bar Harbor, Maine — is also somewhat drivable in a day.

“Road trips are going to be super popular as the pandemic continues,” Smith said.

Another mountainous area that’s just a day’s drive away — Asheville, North Carolina — topped the list of “Best Weekend Getaways in the South,” with Gatlinburg again scoring well, this time at No. 2.

Four national parks were on the top five list of best places to visit in the U.S. — and unfortunately, they require either a longer road trip or a flight: Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks were Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5, respectively. Maui, Hawaii, also made the list at No. 4.

Travelers who are beach-inclined but unable to make that trip to Maui should take note of U.S. News’ pick for best Caribbean destination: St. Lucia. It edged out the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Nos. 2 through 5, respectively).

Farther away from home, the spot to visit is New Zealand’s south island, which offers opportunities to hit either the slopes or the beach. It topped the lists of “World’s Best Places to visit“ and “Best Places to Visit in Australia and the Pacific.”

For travelers who aren’t quite ready to deal with extended travel, there are great options close to home. D.C. topped the list of “Best Historical Cities in the USA,” and three of the runners-up are just a short drive away: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (No. 3); Philadelphia (No. 4); and Williamsburg, Virginia (No. 5).

“You’ve got all these great areas that are just full of rich history,” Smith said, “And families, in particular, might be looking for some fun activities for the kids to do … that happen to have an educational bent to it.”

U.S. News combined travelers’ opinions with expert and editor analysis in ranking each destination, which was scored in such categories as sights, culture, food and nightlife.

Check out the complete set of rankings on the U.S. News website.

WTOP’s Valerie Bonk contributed to this report.

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Jack Pointer

Jack Pointer is a writer and editor with a variety of news and publishing experience, including more than a decade at The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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