Best Places to Relax in the Great Outdoors

American summers are synonymous with the outdoors. From baseball games, to farmer's markets, to balmy evening street fests, the best things to do aren't far from patios and parks.

I've recently discovered a love for hiking, biking and enjoying the truly natural side of nature. Outdoor activities are exhilarating, especially in a beautiful backdrop. That said, sometimes you just want to spend an afternoon basking in nature's beauty -- no sweating required. These four spots are great places to do just that.

Watkins Glen, New York

Located in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York, Watkins Glen boasts an impressive state park with beautiful walking trails winding through a network of waterfalls. The region is well known for its wineries, so you can easily pass a few days alternating between easy nature walks in the park and long lunches on winery verandas. Don't miss: Wagner Vineyards.

Ridgedale, Missouri

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Big Cedar Lodge sits on a peaceful lakefront stretch in Ridgedale, just outside of Branson. The conservation-conscious resort blends a perfect balance of outdoor activities with upscale amenities, making it a great place for family gatherings with mass appeal. You can be as active or relaxed as you want, and with such gorgeous views you don't feel guilty spending a whole day just lounging by the pool. 

Shenandoah, Virginia

On a family vacation through Virginia to South Carolina, we stopped for a night in Shenandoah National Park and stayed in a cabin at the popular Big Meadows Lodge. Talk about a perfect outdoor retreat! The views of the Blue Ridge Mountains are unmatched, especially when followed by a laid-back evening roasting s'mores around the campfire. 

  • Bonus Tip! Hiking is a must, and it's even better when you plan ahead (read: wear the right shoes). These five hiking tips from Colorful Places are a good checklist to make the most of your exploration. 

Devil's Lake, Wisconsin

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Back in middle school, our brave teaches packed the entire seventh grade class into buses and spent two nights camping in Devils Lake State Park. With easy hiking trails, a large beach and lots of camping sites, this park is a great weekend getaway for outdoor enthusiasts.

America's Most Beautiful Scenery

Since today is Earth Day, I've been thinking about some of my favorite scenery trips across the country. From beaches to mountains, volcanoes to forests, canyons to waterfalls, the United States really does have an amazing variety of landscapes. And while I've seen quite a few, there are so many places still on my list -- Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Badlands, just to name a few!

That said, here are my three favorite natural sights, so far:

1. Haystack Rock - Cannon Beach, OR

The Pacific Northwest is probably one of my favorite scenery destinations in the United States. When I think back to a vacation throughout Washington and Oregon, Cannon Beach stands out as a highlight. Nearby Haystack Rock, pictured above, authoritatively commands the coastline. When we were there, it was a cloudy, cool afternoon, which only accentuated the formidable formation's appeal.

2. Mendenhall Glacier - Juneau, AK

While on a cruise up the Alaskan coast, unfortunately our ship had mechanical errors and had to sail home before we made it up to the northernmost destinations. But, we did have the chance to be impressed by the sheer size of Mendenhall Glacier, just outside of Juneau. It's impressive to see the scenery's calm reflection in the icy, smooth-as-glass waters below. 

3. Bryce Canyon - Cedar City, UT

Like I've said, if you're looking for an adventurous, dynamic getaway, you can't go wrong touring Utah. While each national park is essentially filled with rock formations, you'd be shocked at just how different the topography can be. In Bryce Canyon, we took a horseback riding trip along the rocky cliffs. The way the sun streams through the rocks creates such unique and beautiful lighting, and is certainly a sight for your bucket list.