Close to home: 51 fresh summer destinations

As Memorial Day Weekend kicks off summer road-trip season, high gas prices may be prompting travelers to stay closer to home. With that in mind, USA TODAY's travel staff uncovered one new event or attraction in each state to enliven vacationers' warm-weather travels — no matter where they live.


Stretching 631 miles from the Georgia state line to the Gulf of Mexico, the just-launched Alabama Scenic River Trail lets kayakers, canoers and motorboaters glide through scenic portions of nine lakes, seven rivers, two creeks and the USA's second-largest river delta. A flotilla will gather at Montgomery's Riverwalk for the June 6 dedication, and Paddle Alabama hosts group trips on portions of the trail through mid-July. 800-252-2262; — Laura Bly


Once part of two-time governor Winthrop Rockefeller's homestead and model cattle farm, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton now welcomes individuals as well as groups. Guests can fish at Lake Abby, take in an art class or learn to cook with ingredients plucked from a demonstration garden that resembles what the mountain looked like when Rockefeller arrived in 1953. 866-972-7778; — Laura Bly


Hikers, campers and cruise day-trippers can go farther into the Chugach National Forest southeast of Anchorage, thanks to "Whistle Stop" service on the Alaska Railroad. Cars can't reach iceberg-dotted Spencer Lake (with shutter-clicking views of the Spencer Glacier), but tourists now can, via a train that allows riders to hop on and off in the wilderness and take a new trail to the lake. Trains can be boarded at Anchorage, Portage, Girdwood and Whittier. Once in the back country, keep an eye out for brown bears and moose. 800-544-0552; — Kitty Bean Yancey


The air may be as dry as toast in the desert north of Tucson, but inside Biosphere 2's rain forest, the weather is positively lush. New tours of the tropical 3-acre garden, with its 150 species of plants, mark the first time visitors have been allowed into the habitat within the glass-enclosed Biosphere 2, where University of Arizona researchers study a variety of biomes. $20 adults; $13 children. 520-838-6200; — Jayne Clark


Brigs and brigantines, schooners and sloops (including the full-rigged HMS Bounty of Mutinyon the Bounty fame) will breeze into five California ports from July to September as part of the Festival of Sail 2008 and Tall Ships Challenge port-to-port race. Each port of call will host festivities with nautical-themed activities and a chance to visit with the crews competing in the tall ships race. The lineup: San Francisco, July 23-27; Channel Islands, Aug. 7-10; Los Angeles, Aug. 15-17; San Diego, Aug. 20-24; Dana Point, Sept. 6-7. 401-846-1775; — Jayne Clark


Get down and dirty in Steamboat Springs' 10-acre adult sandbox Dig This in what's billed as "America's first heavy-equipment play area." For $350 for a half-day ($650 full day), participants can commandeer bulldozers and excavators and skid steer loaders around individual work areas. The drill starts with simple stuff — moving dirt around — and works up to knocking 1-ton boulders through an obstacle course. 888-344-8447; — Jayne Clark


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