Some of the best—and delightfully unexpected—travel destinations are conveniently reached by smaller airports. Here’s how to venture off the beaten track and enjoy a getaway in a region with sights and activities for adventure lovers and relaxation seekers alike.
New York’s Long Island MacArthur Airport. If beach time, wine-tasting and farm-to-table dining sound like an ideal escape, fly into this airport in Islip, New York, and explore eastern Long Island (DiscoverLongIsland.com). It is only two hours from New York City, but it feels much further away. Home to the celebrity-laden Hamptons, Montauk and Fire Island, this summer and fall playground has rental beach houses and cottages as well as charming inns and B&Bs. Situate yourself on the North Fork to enjoy 70-plus vineyards around Jamesport, Mattituck and Southold as well as the restaurant scene in Greenport. The manicured, shop-lined villages of the Hamptons on the South Fork are an easy drive away. Or head further east to Montauk for fishing, watersports, horseback riding and hiking. If you want something more low-key, hop a ferry from Bay Shore, near the airport, and escape to car-free Fire Island, where beach house rentals are plentiful and bicycles are the best way to explore the towns of Ocean Beach, Fair Harbor and Kismet. MacArthur Airport (MacArthurAirport.com) is served by American, Frontier and Southwest.
Michigan’s Pellston Regional Airport. Fly into this northern Michigan airport to enjoy summer and fall adventures on and around the magnificent Great Lakes. The region is best-known for
car-free 3.8-square-mile Mackinac Island (MackinacIsland.org), home to the circa-1887 Grand Hotel and historic Fort Mackinac. The nearby coastal town Petoskey (PetoskeyArea.com) offers pontoon boating, scenic walks and the chance to stumble on pebble-shaped fossilized Petoskey stones. Venture further north to the Upper Peninsula’s dense forests and rushing waterfalls (UpTravel.com) to explore breathtaking Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (nps.gov/piro) and remote Isle Royale National Park (nps.gov/isro) as you kayak, fish and hike along Lake Superior’s shores. The latter, located on an island and accessible via ferry, is one of the top 10 least visited national parks. Pellston Airport (PellstonAirport.org) is served by Delta.
Florida’s Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport. Florida has 1,358 miles of coastline, but if you’re looking for sugar-white sand and emerald-hued Gulf of Mexico water, it’s hard to top the Beaches of South Walton (VisitSouthWalton.com), a 26-mile stretch on the Florida panhandle encompassing a series of resort enclaves that include Rosemary Beach, Seaside and WaterColor. All feature stellar rental homes, restaurants with outdoor dining (fresh Gulf shrimp and oysters are specialties), galleries filled with artwork, several state parks, bike rentals and watersports. Blackwater River State Park, located one hour northwest, offers river kayaking and birding. About 100 miles west, just over the Alabama state line in Gulf Shores (GulfShores.com), the spectacular beaches continue, along with activities such as golf, zip lining, kayaking and canoeing along the Coastal Alabama Back Bay Blueway and bird-watching on Dauphin Island (DauphinIsland.org). Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (FlyVPS.com) is served by Delta, Allegiant, American, United and Southwest.
Idaho’s Friedman Memorial Airport. Sun Valley (SunValley.com), located at an elevation of 6,000 feet just outside the town of Ketchum, may be known as a skier’s paradise, but from June to October, the 400 miles of trails on and around Bald Mountain offer hiking and biking amid wildflower fields set beneath clear blue skies. Other pursuits include fly-fishing, horseback riding, tennis and golf—followed by a relaxing spa treatment or soak in nearby Frenchman’s Bend or Sunbeam hot springs. Outdoor summer concerts and pottery-making classes are artsy alternatives, while Ketchum’s downtown is a lively place to stroll amid shops and galleries before enjoying dinner. Take a scenic drive through the lunarlike volcanic landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (NPS.gov/crmo), located just 76 miles away (caves and some trails are closed through 2021). Friedman Memorial Airport (IFlySun.com) is served by Delta, United and Alaska Airlines.
Texas El Paso International Airport. Landing in far west Texas offers access to three national parks and endless open spaces. The spectacular mountains, canyons and sand dunes of Guadeloupe Mountains National Park (nps.gov/gumo) are 105 miles east. Just 30 miles further north, amid the cacti and wildlife of New Mexico’s desert landscape, you can experience the subterranean drama of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (nps.gov/cave). If that’s not quirky enough, Roswell, New Mexico (SeeRoswell.com), a mecca for all things extraterrestrial (including a UFO museum and planetarium), is 103 miles north of Carlsbad, and the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Park (nps.gov/whsa) are 195 miles northwest back toward El Paso. You also can drive three hours southeast of El Paso to Marfa, Texas (VisitMarfa.com), an isolated artists’ outpost with the motto “tough to get to; tougher to explain.” El Paso (ElPasoInternationalAirport.com) is served by American, Delta, United, Southwest, Frontier, Alaska Airlines and Allegiant.
North Carolina’s Wilmington International Airport. There’s something for everyone, from beach bums to botanists to film buffs, around Wilmington (WilmingtonAndBeaches.com). This city, set on the Cape Fear River, features an historic downtown plus easy access to three island beach towns—Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Green-thumb types can admire plant and bird species in 67-acre Airlie Gardens (AirlieGardens.org) or explore the Nature Conservancy’s Green Swamp Preserve, home to the carnivorous Venus Flytrap. Love wine? This is one of the largest wine-producing areas in the US (NCWine.org). And if parts of Wilmington look familiar, it’s because the TV series One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek were filmed here. Wilmington (FlyILM.com) is served by American, Delta and United.
Oregon’s Roberts Field—Redmond Municipal Airport. For fresh air, spectacular views and lots of active sports—kayaking, fly-fishing, hiking, whitewater rafting—head to Bend, Oregon (Visit Bend.com). For after-adventure thirst-quenching, visit the 22 breweries on the Bend Ale Trail. Outdoor enthusiasts have myriad choices within a two-and-a-half-hour drive—Crater Lake National Park (nps.gov/crla) to see the deepest lake in the US and enjoy miles of hiking trails…54,000-acre Newberry National Volcanic Monument, home to lava flows and geologic formations…McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, an 82-mile loop with volcanic peaks…and the High Desert of Southeast Oregon to experience its Painted Hills and wild horses. Redmond (FlyRDM.com) is served by American, Boutique, Delta, United and Alaska Airlines.
Iowa’s Eastern Iowa Airport. This airport in Cedar Rapids (TourismCedarRapids.com) is a gateway to Midwestern fun, especially in summer and fall when festivals abound (TravelIowa.com). Movie and baseball fans can drive 75 miles northeast to the Field of Dreams movie site (FieldOfDreamsMovieSite.com) in Dyersville. History buffs, handicrafts collectors and beer lovers can head 19 miles southwest to the Amana Colonies (AmanaColonies.com), seven 19th-century villages founded by German immigrants where you can watch artisans at work in their shops and enjoy savory wursts paired with local brews and wines. Head 85 minutes east to sample life on the Mississippi along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway with its panoramic overlooks and charming towns. Stop in LeClaire on a Saturday for an excursion on the Riverboat Twilight (RiverboatTwilight.com) and Dubuque to ride the Fenelon Place Elevator (FenelonPlaceElevator.com), the world’s shortest, steepest funicular railway, offering views of three states. Cedar Rapids (FlyCID.com) is served by Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier and United.