Can you have peak fun in a ski town without snow? Play without melting in winter getaway spots in the heat of summer? Yes and yes. The reasons “slow season” can be a superb “go season” include fresh unexpected attractions, lower prices for lodging and airfare, and fewer tourists. Here are five destinations where the fun flows on long after high season.
JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING
The Wyoming ski valley’s thrills continue after the snow melts. Surrounded by the jagged Teton Mountains with the peaks of Mormon Row, and the rolling Gros Ventre Range, Jackson Hole has an Old West vibe, and its summer activities include hiking up bloom-lined ski trails and festivals such as Old West Days (this year May 24 to 28).
Go white-water rafting on the Snake River surrounded by mountain views; tackle the area’s infamous Big Kahuna rapid. In Grand Teton National Park, take a Jackson Hole Wildlife Safari or hike around Jenny Lake, where alpine waters sparkle between picture-postcard peaks. Join locals hiking up Jackson’s in-town Snow King Mountain along its 1.8-mile switchback-laced trail. The climb provides breathtaking mountain views in all directions.
Pedal 60 miles through Jackson and into Grand Teton National Park, pictured, on Jackson Hole Pathways. In Teton Village, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s aerial tram runs up to mountaintop dining, craft beer drinking and the new Via Ferrata, a high-altitude rope course geared to casual climbers.
At night, enjoy national and regional acts in Teton Village at Walk Festival Hall and at Jackson’s Center for the Arts (there’s also Thin Air Shakespeare beneath the stars). Catch bands and line-dance at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which has been rocking this Wild West stronghold for eight decades.
FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA
Yes, mermaids swim in Fort Lauderdale. Each weekend, choose from family, dinner, burlesque or Sunday brunch live mermaid shows at the Wreck Bar at B Ocean Resort.
In the 1920s, some of Florida’s first snowbirds built what is now the Bonnet House. Each breeze-cooled room, decorated with carved wooden animals from island temples and carousels, opens to an enchanting courtyard. Real monkeys and swans occupy the banyan tree-flanked gardens and pond just steps from the ocean.
Along the oceanfront, people chill in elevated pools at recently renovated hotels such as W Fort Lauderdale, where you can drop in for its nightly parties at its bar, Living Room. Casual eateries include GG’s Waterfront Bar & Grill, which serves small bites dockside as yachts breeze by.
Take a morning stroll through Flamingo Gardens, a wildlife sanctuary with 60 acres of native plants and trees, a free-flight aviary and glimpses of alligators, Florida panthers and flamingos. Then go diving at Shipwreck Park at quiet Pompano Beach. At sunset, bring bubbly and hop a quiet Gondolas West miniboat to cruise the canals and ogle the waterfront homes. End the night at Rooftop @1WLO’s new open-air garden lounge atop a high-rise on Las Olas Boulevard. While gazing across the city, sip a cucumber-laden Garden Party or booze-free Rosemary’s Baby.
It pays to be a fair-weather fan in Vail. Designed to look like an old European alpine village, this ever-popular Colorado ski mountain resort with fanciful architecture offers year-round attractions from art exhibits and concerts to outdoor recreations both peaceful and thrilling.
White River National Forest has 2,500 miles of trails and 10 mountain peaks topping 14,000 feet. Soar 10,350 feet on Vail Mountain’s gondola. Ride a mountain bike down world-class trails. Hike aspen forests filled with wildflowers and wildlife.
Ridgetop rambling on Eagle’s Loop offers breathtaking views of Mount of the Holy Cross. Free guided day and evening hikes start from the Nature Discovery Center at Adventure Ridge.
Playtime ideas? Epic Discovery runs a zip line across Game Creek Bowl, a mountain coaster and a ropes challenge course. Ride the Adventure Bahn covered carpet up 550 feet and tube downhill to the sound of music. Jump on a bungee trampoline, take a high-altitude gondola ride or Zen out at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.
Luxury quarters are great values now. Up at 8,150 feet, the new Hotel Talisa’s aspen forest neighbors include marmots, moose and trout in Gore Creek, a great spot for mountain biking and dips. The resort’s Après Everyday offers Champagne, a hot chocolate bar, nibbles and music. Around town, dine like royalty — without wintertime waits.
Craving something different? Paragon Guides leads a wilderness hike called Take a Llama to Lunch.
CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
A serene landscape of mountains, desert, sea and striking granite formations. Superb diving. Good local ingredients dining. A friendly, safe, relaxed atmosphere. No wonder travelers make repeat visits to Cabo at the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
In summer, prices drop at luxury resorts, shops and outdoor centers. The breeziest area is Land’s End, where the Sea of Cortez (Gulf of California) meets the Pacific Ocean. There stands El Arco, Cabo’s iconic natural rock formation.
Summer is terrific for diving, with warm water and peak visibility. Prime spots include Lover’s Beach and Pelican Rock. Watch for animals from the open ocean and others unique to Baja; species include blue parrot fish, yellow angelfish and rays. Pacific waves are powerful, but Lover’s Beach is safe for swimming.
Balmy Land’s End base camps include Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort. Designed to blend into the landscape’s natural granite formations where cactuses sprout between rocks, this resort arranges snorkeling, scuba and kayak outings, and transports guests to Cactus Tours’morning camel rides on the beach and ATV rambles on off-road terrain.
After adventuring, chill in infinity pools edging the beach, sipping drinks from swim-up bars while watching huge waves curl onto the shore and seaside rocks. Before savoring local fare at waterfront terraces such as La Roca, do a tequila tasting and learn why connoisseurs sip the agave-based spirit instead of doing shots.
GULF SHORES, ALABAMA
Stress melts away on 32 miles of Alabama’s sugar-sand Gulf of Mexico beaches.
Gulf State Park fills days with paddling ($20 kayak tours include rental equipment), guided nature walks, biking and hiking on trails and boardwalks, and fishing one of the Gulf’s largest piers. On a walk at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll pass coastal scrub, maritime forests and a placid lagoon. Look for sea turtles and 340 species of birds, from bald eagles to ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Go tubing, slide down chutes and surf simulated waves at Waterville USA, or tee up at nearby golf courses including Kiva Dunes, one of the South’s best. At sunset, take an eco-cruise on winding waterways.
Skip the fried seafood and sample new restaurants. Chef-driven CoastAL edges a bayou where Coasty the alligator resides. On a beach sofa, pair mojitos with catch-of-the-day tacos at The Gulf, based in 27 shipping containers sunk in the sand. Indoor-outdoor Fin & Fork pairs fresh Gulf bounty with well-chosen wine.
At these spots and sandbars like Flora-Bama, get a Bushwacker, the local refresher of rum with coffee and chocolate liqueurs. Or, after dropping in on a Glow Yoga beach class, hydrate with newly opened Picnic Beach’s southern-accented smoothie: the Beach Body made with collard greens.