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


MGM Grand continues its march from Las Vegas with a $700 million casino resort in the Foxwoods gaming complex. Just-opened MGM Grand at Foxwoods boasts 825 guest rooms and suites, with 300-thread-count sheets. There's a 4,000-seat performance arena, too. Eateries range from upscale Craftsteak to deli-style Junior's. Introductory rates start at just under $300 a night. 866-646-0050; — Kitty Bean Yancey


The over-the-top estate of an eccentric member of the du Pont clan is back on display after a three-year, $39 million face lift. Nemours Mansion & Gardens, constructed in Louis XVI style for Alfred I. du Pont in 1910, boasts a world-class art collection and formal gardens modeled after those at Versailles. It's named for the French city from which the du Ponts emigrated and later made a fortune in chemicals. Alfred was on such uneasy terms with his family that it's said the estate's perimeter walls topped with glass shards were meant to keep them out. 302-651-6912; nemours — Kitty Bean Yancey

District of Columbia

D.C.'s Extra! Extra! special attraction is the $450 million Newseum, reopened after a six-year hiatus in jaw-dropping new digs on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol. This 643,000-square-foot celebration of the First Amendment has a 90-foot atrium and contains more than 6,000 artifacts (from pieces of the Berlin Wall to a TV traffic helicopter) and 130 interactive stations. Visitors play newscaster, watch 3-D films of headline-making events and view historic front pages. 888-639-7386; — Kitty Bean Yancey


Move over, Shamu: Central Florida's newest water attraction is Sea World Orlando's Aquatica, a South Seas-inspired park that lures the bathing-suit crowd with 36 slides, six rivers and lagoons, and 80,000 square feet of sandy beaches. The Dolphin Plunge sends riders down 250 feet of see-through tubes through a lagoon with black-and-white Commerson's dolphins, while surfers in training can paddle through crashing waves and 5-foot swells at Cutback Cove. 888-800-5447; — Laura Bly


Look, up in the sky! Millions of necks have craned heavenward during suburban Atlanta's Stone Mountain Lasershow Spectacular, the most popular attraction at a park named for a granite dome carved with representations of Confederate heroes. In honor of its 25th anniversary — and the park's 50th — the show is revving up its sound system and adding new tunes and pyrotechnics. Traditionalists needn't worry: Such sacred cows as The Devil Went Down to Georgia are still on the lineup. 800-401-2407; — Laura Bly


It has been a rocky ride for the Hawaii Superferry. Since late last summer, the ferry has launched, canceled and relaunched its inter-island passenger and vehicle service in the wake of local protests and high winter seas that earned it the nickname "barf barge." But the 866-seat Alakai recently added a second Honolulu-Maui trip four days a week, and its summer one-way promotional rate of $49 per passenger is competitive with advance-purchase airline fares. 877-443-3779; — Laura Bly


The Famous Potatoes state is swingin' with the addition of two new courses to the Idaho Golf Trail. Falcon Crest Golf Club in Kuna, southwest of Boise, mixes natural terrain with other elements to make each hole a "one of a kind" experience. Jug Mountain Ranch in McCall, a par-72 course designed by Donald Knott, was named second-best new public course under $75 by Golf Digest earlier this year. 800-847-4843; — Jayne Clark


An over-the-top water park with a Down Under flavor flows into Yorkville with the mid-June opening of Raging Waves. Billed as the state's largest water park, the Australian-themed attraction covers 45 acres and features splashy options as a three-story head-spinning contraption called The Tornado, 18 slides, a wave pool, a raft ride and massive replicas of marsupials. 630-882-6575; — Jerry Shriver


It has been a dozen years since koalas last showed their cuddly-wuddly selves at the Indianapolis Zoo, but that streak ends Memorial Day when Bamba and Muuri settle in for a three-month residency. The 3-year-old Australian natives are on loan from the San Diego Zoo and will be accompanied by their trainer, who will feed the creatures all the eucalyptus leaves they can eat. 317-630-2001; — Jerry Shriver


A sea change takes place along the unspoiled shore of Appanoose County's 11,000-acre Rathbun Lake, referred to as "Iowa's Ocean." In August, the gates open to Honey Creek Resort State Park, a $44 million project serving as the flagship among Iowa's 90 state parks. Honey Creek features a 105-room lodge, convention center, 18-hole golf course, spa, restaurant/lounge, indoor water park, boat-docking spaces and 9.7 miles of trails. 641-724-9600; — Jerry Shriver


Long before there were Stuckey's along the Interstate, there were stagecoach stops along the Santa Fe Trail. Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm Historic Site in Olathe, the last station still open to the public, now features a new $3.3 million Heritage Center with exhibits of the 19th-century Western migration. The Mahaffie family home, icehouse and wood-peg barn canalso be toured. 913-971-5111; — Jerry Shriver


If your knowledge of frogs starts and ends with kissed princes and little boys' pockets, hop over to the Newport Aquarium's Frog Bog. The new exhibit, which spotlights the environmental dangers facing amphibians, features 30 species of frogs and an updated, Frogger-type video game with an interactive pad that lets kids do the jumping. 859-261-7444; — Laura Bly


Starting in New Orleans and winding north to Shreveport and east to Tallulah, the newly designated African-American Heritage Trail encompasses more than two dozen noteworthy sites, from Grambling University to the Alexandria birthplace of poet Arna Bontemps, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Plot your trip online, where "voices from the trail" stories are narrated by actor Louis Gossett Jr. 800-334-8626; — Laura Bly


For the first time, 11 of the state's museums have joined to create the Folk Art Trail, a statewide exhibition in multiple locales. Visitors can drive a circuit to Portland, York, Waterville and elsewhere to view portraits, dolls, decorated furniture, trade signs, pottery, weather vanes and more. — Kitty Bean Yancey


The just-renovated Hampton Mansion near Baltimore was the USA's largest private home when completed in 1790. Today, the estate is run by the U.S. Park Service as the Hampton National Historic Site. It includes a manor house — a stellar example of Georgian architecture — plus impressive gardens and original stone slave quarters. 410-823-1309; — Kitty Bean Yancey


The island of Nantucket was once the Interstate 95 of shipping for food and other goods, as well as whaling. Not every trip was blessed with calm seas, as the revamped and renamed Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum attests. Brimming with artifacts, photos and dramatic tales of sea rescues near this "graveyard of the Atlantic," the museum will reopen July — Kitty Bean Yancey


Rothbury Festival, a music and camping extravaganza to be staged July 3-6 at the sprawling Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, bills itself as a "party with a purpose," using high-wattage rock acts to raise awareness of climate change and clean-energy choices. In addition to 70-plus bands, highlighted by Dave Matthews, John Mayer and Widespread Panic, there will be a scientists-led Think Tank and an interactive Energy Fair. 888-512-7469; — Jerry Shriver


Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater caps off its third summer in its new building with the world premiere of Little House on the Prairie, a musical based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House book series. Francesca Zambello (most recently director of Disney's The Little Mermaid on Broadway) directs the show, which depicts life on the Midwest frontier. Previews begin July 26; performances will run Aug. 15-Oct. 5. Box office, 877-447-8243; — Jerry Shriver


Severely damaged when Hurricane Katrina pummeled the state's Gulf Coast in 2005, the Biloxi retirement home of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis reopens June 3, in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Davis' birth. Among the opening-day tributes at the 52-acre seaside estate, known as Beauvoir, will be a military processional, musket and artillery salute, and music. 228-388-4400; — Laura Bly


Just look at yourself! Self-assessment is the whole point of the YouZeum in Columbia, a new interactive health-science museum that explains to visitors how the human body works. The 3-D All Systems Go movie spurts viewers through the heart of the matter while virtual-reality games test their reactive abilities. Afterward, a virtual vending machine called Snackster dispenses healthy advice. 573-886-2006; — Jerry Shriver


Native American craftspeople, Chinese dragon dancers and cowboy poets are among the multicultural performers touching down in uptown Butte July 11-13 for the National Folk Festival. Sponsored by the National Council for Traditional Arts, the event begins the first of a three-summer stint in Butte. Performances on seven stages will showcase blues, jazz, zydeco, gospel and other musical styles. More than 250 musicians, dancers and craftspeople are expected at the event, which also will feature hands-on workshops and other chances to join in. Admission is free. 406-497-6464; . — Jayne Clark


Railroad enthusiasts should make tracks to North Platte when the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center opens June 12. The 115-foot-tall structure offers a 360-degree view of Union Pacific Railroad's Bailey Yard, the world's largest rail freight classification yard. Each day along the 315 miles of tracks, 15,000 rail cars pass through, and about 3,000 are sorted into newly configured trains. The Tower also should be a prime viewing spot for the whooping crane migration along the Platte River. 308-660-3776; — Jerry Shriver


The Silver State may have miles of wide open space, but since November, outdoors enthusiasts in the Reno area need only veer off Interstate 80 to witness a wild scene inside the cavernous Cabela's. The store, which dubs itself as the "world's foremost outfitter," boasts a two-story "conservation mountain" populated by big-game trophies and "museum-quality" dioramas. 800-237-4444; — Jayne Clark

New Hampshire

The most visited cultural attraction in New Hampshire (The Children's Museum of Portsmouth) moves to new and bigger quarters in Dover and is due to reopen as The Children's Museum of New Hampshire in July. Tripled in size and housed in a historic red-brick armory, it's constructed to modern eco-friendly specifications. The museum will offer interactive exhibits such as a human-size kaleidoscope and a dinosaur-detective learning game. — Kitty Bean Yancey

New Jersey

Hold the slots and Texas Hold 'Em. Atlantic City's effort to transform itself into an upscale destination continues with the June opening of The Water Club, A Signature Hotel by Borgata — a $400 million, 800-room non-gaming addition to the popular Borgata casino resort. The resort city's first major non-gambling resort is betting that visitors will ante up $279 or more a night and up for a two-story spa, outdoor and indoor pools, and rooms with 40-inch flat-screen TVs. 800-800-8817; — Kitty Bean Yancey

New Mexico

The Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, a museum, arts and events venue that showcases the state's 19 Pueblo Indian communities, unveils a $2 million face lift and expansion June 30. The new structure incorporates Pueblo artwork and indigenous materials. The restaurant, the city's only Native American-owned eatery, has expanded its seating and hours (it'll now serve dinner and Sunday brunch) and boasts bread baked in traditional earthen ovens, New Mexican lamb, buffalo tenderloin and other Southwestern specialties. 866-855-7902; — Jayne Clark

New York

Psychedelic! Nearly four decades later, the hippie-dippy 1969 Woodstock music fest gets its own museum. The Museum at Bethel Woods, due June 2, contains artifacts, photos, and documentary and performance footage (including a movie screened on the windshield of a bus painted in wild colors). One film on four huge screens makes visitors feel as if they're in the festival crowd. Woodstock vets also can record their experiences. The museum is on the site of Woodstock festivities, next to an arts center with a 15,000-seat concert venue. 866-781-2922; — Kitty Bean Yancey

North Carolina

Named for a Swahili term meaning "fatherland," the North Carolina Zoo's newly expanded, $8.5 million Watani Grasslands Reserve gives its seven elephants and nine rhinos a lot more room to roam — and adds a 130-foot "immersion walkway" and interpretive exhibits for their human admirers. Located about 75 miles west of Raleigh, the zoo is known as the country's largest walk-through, natural-habitat zoo. 800-488-0444; — Laura Bly

North Dakota

If you've ever wondered what motivated a French nobleman to build a cutting-edge meatpacking plant and a 26-room mansion in a remote spot on the Midwestern frontier in the 1880s, now there's a $2 million interpretive center to explain it all. The center at Chateau de Mores historic site in Medora houses galleries showcasing memorabilia from the Marquis de Mores and his family, including a refrigerator car used to ship dressed beef — a revolutionary idea at the time. 701-623-4355; — Jerry Shriver


High-flying adventurers can don a helmet and a harness and hook up with the new Hocking Hills Canopy Tour, which employs a 3,300-foot network of cables and rope bridges to enable customers to soar above the treetops and past the rock cliffs of Hocking County in southeastern Ohio. Modeled after "zipline" attractions in Costa Rica and Hawaii, the three-hour, $75 tour is open to people who weigh between 70 and 250 pounds. 740-385-9477; hockinghillscanopy — Jerry Shriver


The largest traveling exhibit of Roman art, on loan from the Louvre in Paris, lands at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art June 19-Oct. 12. Roman Art From the Louvre will be shown at only three U.S. venues. The 184 works (most of them sculptures, some weighing more than 6,000 pounds) span the first century B.C. to the early fourth century. 405-236-3100; — Jayne Clark


The comeback of Astoria's riverfront continues with the restoration of the Red Building, a former boat-repair facility built on pilings over the Columbia River. The 1896 structure, with its 5,000-square-foot wrap-around deck, sports a restaurant serving local cuisine, a wine tasting room, a chocolate shop and loft space. Next up: a Greek-style amphitheater and distillery with tasting room. The complex sits on the 5-mile Astoria Riverwalk. — Jayne Clark


Surviving: The Body of Evidence has nothing to do with a whodunit: It's the new exploration of human evolution at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Designed to appeal to both kids and adults, with fossils, interactive exhibits and thought-provoking discussions of genetics, the exhibit runs until next May. While at the museum, check out its popular stone sphinx. 215-898-4045; — Kitty Bean Yancey

Rhode Island

About 500 multicolored butterflies will be fluttering at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence this summer in an exhibit in a 2,100-square-foot greenhouse that opens Saturday. An endangered red panda is in the house, too, and the elephant area has been expanded as part of the zoo's ongoing $35 million improvement program. 401-785-3510;— Kitty Bean Yancey

South Carolina

The transformation of historic Greenville's downtown continues with this spring's opening of the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery at Heritage Green, a rotating collection of European masters, antiquities, sculpture, biblical artifacts, decorative pieces and Russian icons. The new space is part of an expanding art scene at Heritage Green that includes the Greenville County Museum of Art, the new Upcountry History Museum, a community theater and the county library. Up next year: a children's museum. 864-770-1331; — Laura Bly

South Dakota

The encouraging word out of Custer State Park is that come June 1, visitors will find a fancy new home from which to watch the buffalo roam. Creekside Lodge and Outdoor Pavilion, located 25 miles south of Rapid City on the grounds of the State Game Lodge, features 30 luxurious rooms with views of the Black Hills, a two-story lobby with a fireside seating area and a pavilion/picnic area with a wood-burning fireplace. 888-875-0001; — Jerry Shriver


Falling head over heels for the Great Smokies is easier than ever this summer, thanks to Zorb Smoky Mountains, not far from Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. It's the first North American outpost to feature the extreme sport of "zorbing," a New Zealand invention that involves tumbling downhill while harnessed inside a clear, 11-foot-high plastic ball. Just make sure you save the corn dogs and cotton candy for later. 865-428-2422; — Laura Bly


Dinos rule at the new Dinosaur World in Glen Rose, where life-size replicas — some up to 80 feet long — lurk along tree-lined paths. Indoor exhibits showcase triceratops horns, velociraptor eggs and, sure to delight visitors of a certain age, "authentic" dinosaur dung. A dig site enables visitors to plumb for bone chips, shark teeth and other souvenirs. The attraction is meant to complement nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park. 254-898-1526; — Jayne Clark


A $2.8 million visitors center at Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border opens in mid June and spotlights the historical, geological and cultural significance of the signature red-rock landscape that defined dozens of classic Westerns. Also at the Navajo-run facility: a vendors' village where native craftspeople sell their wares. 800-574-4386; utahcanyon — Jayne Clark


Stowe, the East's grande-dame ski area, gets its first grand base resort, à la fancy Western and European ski destinations. The ski-in, ski-out Stowe Mountain Lodge, due in June, will boast 139 rooms and suites done up in "Vermont-Alpine" style, golf course, a sybaritic 21,000-square-feet spa and a Cooper Wellness Center. It also will cater to hikers and birders, who help make summer Vermont's peak tourist season. 888-478-6938; — Kitty Bean Yancey


Opened last fall near the most visited presidential home in the nation, a reconstructed slave cabin at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate sheds a new, more realistic light on how field hands who worked the 8,000-acre property lived. Built of daubed mud and rough-hewn logs, the 16-by-14-foot dwelling, along with a small vegetable garden and chicken coop, provides a sobering contrast to Washington's nearby white-pillared mansion. 703-780-2000; — Laura Bly


Bear Track Landing, a 60,000-square-foot water park featuring slides, tube ride, wave pool and a treehouse with a 1,000-gallon tipping water bucket, beckons the wet-and-wild set to Grand Mound, between Seattle and Portland. Opened in April, the park is the 10th in the Great Wolf Resorts chain. Room rates at the all-suites resort range from $319-$529, sleep from two to eight, and include two-day passes for the water park. 800-640-9653; — Jayne Clark

West Virginia

For years, the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley has given visitors the lowdown on underground mining culture, and in late June they'll add a new dimension with the opening of a $3.5 million replica of a Company Store. The building will embrace a visitors center, gift shop and museum and will serve as a gateway to tours of the exhibition coal mine 1,500 feet below ground. 304-256-1747; — Jerry Shriver


Motorcycle fans, start your engines. A $75 million Harley-Davidson Museum roars into downtown Milwaukee on July 12, in time for the company's 105th birthday celebration in August. Among the draws: a 1956 Model KH motorcycle once owned by Elvis Presley, a replica of the Captain America bike from the movie Easy Rider and a custom-built 13-footer dubbed King Kong. 877-436-8738; — Laura Bly


Veteran cowboy entertainer Dan Miller has relocated his cowboy revue to the 1936 art deco Cody Theatre in downtown Cody. The performance combines cowboy classics (think Sons of the Pioneers and Roy Rogers), Old West history and cowboy poetry. It runs through September. 800-393-2639; — Jayne Clark