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Outdoors

5 Cool U.S. Destinations to Beat the Summer Heat

By Cynthia Barnes
Read time: 4 minutes

As summer descends on the United States, the mercury begins to soar in many places, with daily temperatures reaching into the triple digits. While you could embrace the heat like a lizard or retreat behind air conditioning for the next few months, perhaps you should consider a refreshing getaway to cooler climes. Here are five of our favorite spots in the U.S. for beating the worst of the summer heat.

Leadville, Colorado

View of mountain landscape in Leadville, Colorado
Photo credit: Dream2LiveYourDreams/ Shutterstock

Higher altitudes often mean lower temperatures, so the highest incorporated city in North America is a no-brainer for a heat-escaping summer getaway. Situated at 10,158 feet above sea level and surrounded by Colorado’s largest and second-largest mountains (Mount Elbert and Mount Massive), Leadville is a Victorian-era mining town that boasted 30,000 residents at the height of the silver boom in the late 19th century.

Visitors can catch a show at the historic Tabor Opera House, which was one of the most expensive buildings in Colorado when it was built in 1878, or take a refreshing ride along the Continental Divide on the Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad, which has gorgeous views of the San Isabel National Forest. There are plenty of opportunities for enjoying the surrounding nature, too — kayak, windsurf, fish, or take an icy dip at Turquoise Lake, just five miles out of town. At the end of the day, belly up to the historic bar at the Legendary Silver Dollar Saloon, and don’t miss the pizza at High Mountain Pies.

Talkeetna, Alaska

Red cabin in mountains of Talkeetna, Alaska
Photo credit: DCrane/ Shutterstock

Denali — the tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet above sea level — towers over the tiny town of Talkeetna, which is located just two hours north of Anchorage. Famous as the inspiration for the fictional town of Cicely in the ’90s television drama Northern Exposure, Talkeetna has a quaint two-block downtown filled with historic storefronts, a brewery, and a general store — which is also home of the town’s honorary feline mayor. After Alaska’s long, chilly winter, summer (and its many hours of daylight) is the ideal time to explore the area’s nature — there are also miles of hiking and cycling trails and three rivers to explore outside of town. (And that’s not counting the hearty folks who challenge themselves on Denali.) After a day of exploration, make yourself at home in front of the grand fireplace at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge.

San Francisco, California

Sea lions resting on Pier 39 in San Francisco, California
Photo credit: Jeff Whyte/ Shutterstock

“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” is often (mis)-attributed to Mark Twain, but — like many of his supposed quotes — there’s no evidence of his authorship. But perhaps the phrase caught on for a reason — the city by the bay is (usually) blessed with a temperate marine climate that sees cool summers, and more than one tourist has hurriedly purchased an overpriced sweatshirt to deal with an unexpected chill. Cable cars, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate Bridge — there’s no shortage of iconic sights in San Francisco to enjoy (as long as you remember to pack a light jacket). Summer is also filled with events, from the Fillmore Jazz Festival and Outside Lands to Giants games at Oracle Park and a Japanese film festival. 

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

Ice caves of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Photo credit: critterbiz/ Shutterstock

Covering a stretch of shoreline and 22 islands on Lake Superior at the northern tip of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers an excellent antidote for muggy Midwestern summers. Sea caves, 19th-century lighthouses, and the rich culture of the Ojibwe peoples provide a true retreat from the heated rush of summer. Take the ferry to Madeline Island (the largest of the Apostles) and enjoy hiking, shopping, and a night of live music at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, where a 1992 fire destroyed the building but didn’t put a stop to the fun. Back on the mainland in Bayfield, enjoy a traditional Wisconsin fish boil at Greunke’s Restaurant.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Lake with clear waters in Bar Harbor, Maine
Photo credit: JaysonPhotography/ Shutterstock

Rocky beaches, glacier-scoured granite peaks, vast forests, and a mild coastal climate are the hallmarks of this northeastern corner of the United States — all of which makes Maine ideal for a summer escape. Along the wave-tossed Atlantic Ocean, the charming town of Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island is a convenient base from which to explore the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park — which became the first national park east of the Mississippi River in 1919. A whale-watching excursion is a must, followed by a traditional New England lobster roll. 

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