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Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at some relatively uncommon summer vacation destinations, and explains why they should be on your list.
If you’re looking for great summer destinations to beat the heat, consider some of your favorite winter destinations — namely, ski areas. While it used to be that ski resorts and other winter tourist havens turned into ghost towns during the summer, they’re now offering dozens of mountain activities (along with cool weather) once the snow melts.
Unlike at beach resorts, the summer isn’t considered to be peak season in the high country, so you’ll pay far less than you would on lodging, which is fairly plentiful. Finally, you stand a better chance of getting an award flight (at the lowest mileage levels) during the summer than you would in the winter to some of the smaller mountain airports.
2015 might be a great year for booking a trip to Europe, but there’s plenty of adventure to be had closer to home. With that in mind, here are seven ski destinations that are going all out to make your summer as fun as it can be:
1. Telluride, Colorado. This remote mountain town can be very difficult to reach in the winter, but it makes for an easy and spectacular trip in the summer. Summer activities like hiking and mountain biking include free access to the gondola, which also serves as public transportation between the historic mountain town and the Mountain Village at the base of the ski area. Other attractions include golf, ropes courses, fly fishing, and even paragliding (with tandem rides offered).
Getting there: United’s connecting service from Denver to Montrose (about 1.5 hours away) are the only flights there over the summer. Other options include flying into Durango, which is 2.5 hours away by car, and has summer service from United, US Airways, and American; or Gunnison, which has United service during the summer and is also 2.5 hours away by car. Finally, you can fly into Denver or Albuquerque and enjoy a scenic day trip through the mountains (see TPG’s post on the most useful credit cards for a summer road trip).
2. South Lake Tahoe. After a poor ski season due to California’s severe drought, I’m sure businesses in this area are looking forward to the summer. Also one of my top family spring break destinations, this region’s strength is the unique beauty of the deep blue Lake Tahoe, framed by the Sierra Nevada mountains. Take it all in from a scenic gondola ride at the Heavenly Valley Ski Area, or from a dinner cruise or other boat ride on the lake. Heavenly Valley also offers ropes courses, zip lines, and a 500-foot long water slide for tubing. And if that’s not enough, you can always put the money you saved on your family ski trip toward catching a show or trying your luck in the casinos on the Nevada side of the border.
Getting there: All major carriers offer service to Reno, which is only about an hour drive from South Lake Tahoe.
3. Mt. Snow, Vermont. These days it’s almost as common to see families geared up for a day of downhill mountain biking in the summer as it is to see families skiing together in the winter. Mt. Snow was one of the first ski areas to really embrace mountain biking, and it’s renowned for its downhill mountain biking trails, perhaps even more than it is for winter sports. And while it has enough ramps and drop-offs to satisfy even the craziest cyclists out there, it also boasts the only introductory downhill trail in the eastern United States. For those less adventurous visitors, there are activities such as golf, spas, and even a family camp.
Getting there: While residents of the Northeast Corridor will probably drive to the resort in southern Vermont, others might fly into Albany, New York (about two hours away by car). Boston, Hartford, and New York are also pretty close.
4. Winter Park, Colorado. This is a great place to enjoy the high peaks of Colorado, while being just a short drive from Denver. Like Mt. Snow, Winter Park has eagerly embraced downhill mountain biking, and it offers a gondola and a bicycle terrain park to indulge in. Other activities include Colorado’s longest alpine slide, mini golf, disc golf, an outdoor climbing wall, bungee jumping, and zip lines. And if that’s all a little bit too commercial for your taste, you can visit nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
Getting there: Just fly into Denver International airport, about 2 hours away by car, which has service from all major airlines and is a hub for United, Southwest, and Frontier. You can even take Amtrak’s California Zephyr train that runs between San Francisco and Chicago, which stops at Winter Park, the highest altitude train station in the country.
5. Taos, New Mexico. At 9,300 feet above sea level, Taos Ski Valley stays cool in the summer even as the New Mexico desert bakes. In addition to chairlift rides, hiking, and mountain biking, other activities include horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, rafting, and hot air balloon rides. Both Taos and nearby Santa Fe are classic Southwestern towns filled with art galleries, craft stores, and the distinctive New Mexican cuisine that is neither Mexican nor Tex-Mex.
Getting there: Taos is within one hour of the Santa Fe airport, where American offers service from Los Angeles and Dallas, while United has flights from Denver. Most travelers will arrive in Albuquerque, a much larger airport just two hours away from Taos.
6. Big Sky, Montana. The name says it all, as this is one of the most scenic areas in the country. Summer activities include mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hunting, golf, hiking, and of course, blue ribbon trout fishing. In fact, the movie “A River Runs Through It” was filmed at the nearby Gallatin River. Spectacular Yellowstone National Park is also nearby.
Getting there: You’ll want to fly into Bozeman, Montana, which offers a surprising amount of service from United, Delta, Alaska, Frontier, and even Allegiant.
7. Park City, Utah. This upscale resort has several things going for it. First, there are three ski resorts near the town, each offering its own slate of summer activities. In addition, Park City’s historic Main Street is a great place to go shopping and hang out, and the town is only an hour drive from Salt Lake City International Airport, which is a major Delta hub. While you won’t spot celebrities like you do at Sundance, there’s plenty of hot air ballooning, horseback riding, river rafting, golf, and mountain biking to be done.
Getting there: One of the great things about Park City is that you can spend all day there, catch an evening flight home from nearby Salt Lake City airport, and be home in time for a good night’s sleep. Or, if you decide to spend the night, there are plenty of great hotel properties to try out, including the Hyatt Escala Lodge and the Waldorf Astoria.
What are your favorite winter destinations for summer vacation?
Know before you go.
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