We’re all pent up from seven months of coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions in one way or another.
Daylight savings time and shorter days are also closing in, while case count hotspots are spiking across the majority of U.S. states, particularly in the central and upper Midwest and West, portending a potentially long and isolating first COVID-19 winter.
Notwithstanding the pandemic’s second wave, however, now is one of the major times of year when Americans get the itch to travel, hit the road for the holidays, or just explore—especially from north to south.
So in the interest of avoiding another subjective list about what’s “Best”, “Safest”, or “Most Desirable” in terms of where Americans should be road tripping right now during a coronavirus surge, I decided to cut through the all data at the source.
To compile this list of the best places to vacation right now with the lowest chance of contracting COVID-19, I researched and overlayed more than half a dozen criteria, and pulled maps and data from sources like the CDC, the Harvard-Brown Pandemic Tracker, TripAdvisor, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including current case counts, population density, average weather, public health guidance, number of short-term rentals, proximity to outdoor activities, reviews, and drive times from at least two of the country’s major metropolitan areas.
I also looked at the most recent CDC data on coronavirus infections by region down to the county and Congressional District level, including new cases per 100,000 people, new cases over the last seven day rolling average, total cases, and total deaths to assess the current coronavirus risk relative to historical trends dating back to March. I further cross-referenced each location’s data to state and surrounding county statistics to ensure there were no unexpected geographic anomalies (i.e., renting a vacation home just across the state line from a hotspot).
I can’t say with any scientific certainty that these top 10 places represent the most definitive list of America’s best places to vacation right now. But your risk-to-reward ratio in all of these destinations couldn’t be statistically any better to maximize your peace of mind while minimizing risks to your health as America steadies itself for an unprecedented U.S. Presidential election.
The small businesses in town, including hotels, restaurants, bars, and retailers, will also thank you for showing up, spending money, and supporting the local economy (so will the local politicians). Everyone needs a little boost right now. I will keep updating this list frequently as the data change.
1. South Lake Tahoe, CA (Alpine County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 0.0
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 0.0
· Total Cases: 3
· Total Deaths: 0
The upside: Mild weather (for now), towering mountains, Lake Tahoe beaches, hiking and mountain biking, resorts, nightlife, historic architecture, and casinos across the Nevada state line. Skiing at Heavenly opens Thanksgiving weekend.
2. Killington, VT (Rutland County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 0.5
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 0.3
· Total Cases: 135
· Total Deaths: 0
The upside: Vermont’s winter wonderland five hours from New York City, three hours from Boston. Small town charm, seclusion, and scenery with old country stores, crafts, and world-class breweries nearby. Great for kids. Killington Ski Resort, the largest ski area on the eastern U.S. opens November 14th.
3. Hood River, OR (Wasco County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 7.5
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 2
· Total Cases: 348
· Total Deaths: 16
The upside: Gateway to Oregon’s iconic Mount Hood on the spectacular Columbia River. Small town feel with big time outdoor adventure at your fingertips (e.g., optimal social distancing while maximizing fun), including hiking, biking, snow sports, and fishing on the River. World-class orchards and wineries nearby.
4. Easton, MD (Talbot County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 8.5
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 3.1
· Total Cases: 645
· Total Deaths: 6
The upside: Small town, Chesapeake Bay flavor with big city amenities, including award-winning restaurants, shops, and an historic downtown. World-class hunting and fishing and some of the best oysters, crabs, and seafood in America. Excellent for kids. Under two hours from Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.
5. Cedar Key, FL (Levy County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 8.9
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 7.7
· Total Cases: 1129
· Total Deaths: 12
The upside: Classic, unspoiled “Old Florida” community full of quaint cottages, artists, writers, nature lovers, and a working waterfront on the Gulf of Mexico. World-class fishing, birdwatching, kayaking, watersports, and seafood. Near perfect weather right now through spring.
6. Prescott, AZ (Yavapai County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 7.4
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 17
· Total Cases: 2,919
· Total Deaths: 88
The upside: Historic pioneer-era downtown set within Arizona’s red rock country and one of America’s most scenic gateways to the Southwest. Idyllic fall and winter weather with cool nights and warm days. Legendary hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, bouldering, and rock climbing.
7. Brunswick, GA (Glynn County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 13.19
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 11.9
· Total Cases: 3,723
· Total Deaths: 104
The upside: Impeccably preserved Victorian historic town frequently voted the gateway to the #1 islands in America, including St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Island. Pristine beaches, marshland, hammocks, and barrier islands with world-class golf, fishing, resorts, galleries, and Southern hospitality.
8. South Padre Island, TX (Cameron County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 9.0
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 38.1
· Total Cases: 24,005
· Total Deaths: 997
The upside: Resort barrier island at the southernmost tip of Texas, world-renowned for its wildlife, birding, beaches, fishing, and watersports. 40 miles from SpaceX’s new launch facility and under five hours from Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Perfect for kids with hundreds of vacation rentals, short-term rentals, and beachfront condos with pools. Idyllic winter weather.
9. Palm Springs, CA (Riverside County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 13.4
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 332
· Total Cases: 66,993
· Total Deaths: 1,303
The upside: Old school mid-century Hollywood meets world-class outdoor adventure in the desert three hours from Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Award-winning resorts, restaurants, museums, and events with some of the most challenging golf courses in America. 45 minutes from Joshua Tree National Park.
10. Jackson Hole, WY (Teton County)
· New Cases/100,000 People: 34.7
· New Cases (7 Day Rolling Average): 8.1
· Total Cases: 772
· Total Deaths: 1
The upside: Gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and two world-class ski areas with an upscale downtown and dozens of award-winning restaurants, designer shops, bars, and outdoor adventure outfitters. Fly fishing and whitewater rafting paradise. Though Wyoming overall is seeing an increase in new cases, the state’s low population overall, low density, and wide-open spaces make it a low risk, high reward vacation destination.