- The US is chock-full of beautiful islands – from ruggedly mountainous to tropically beachy and everything in between.
- Many of these islands are accessible by bridge, vehicle ferry, or plain old highway.
- Mount Desert Island in Maine is home to Acadia National Park, one of the most popular national parks in the country.
- The town of Nantucket on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts is a National Historic Landmark in its entirety, and home to over 800 pre-Civil War-era buildings.
- It’s important to note that the Centres for Disease Control still warns against nonessential travel and that some states require quarantine for incoming travellers.
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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have become wary of hopping on planes (though the risks of flying are lower than you might think).
RV rentals and road trips have swelled in popularity this summer, as Americans find ways to explore their own backyards as safely as possible.
But just because you can’t visit a tropical island doesn’t mean an island vacation is out of the question: From sea to shining sea, the US is full of stunning isles that you can get to by car.
However, it’s important to note that the Centres for Disease Control still warns against nonessential travel, and that some states require quarantine for incoming travellers.
Keep scrolling to see beautiful island escapes – from ruggedly mountainous to tropically beachy and everything in between – that you can drive to in the US.
Orcas Island in Washington is only about three hours from Seattle, Washington, including about one hour and 30 minutes on a ferry.
The largest of the San Juan Islands, Orcas Island is forested and rugged, filled with crystal-clear lakes and stunning beaches. Its 57 square miles are hilly and rocky, known for epic hiking and biking trails, as well as whale watching and kayaking. However, for the less athletically-inclined, the village of Eastsound has plenty to eat, see, and do, and nearby Olga is known for its many artist co-ops that sell local ceramics, paintings, and jewellery.
One of the best things to do is hike up the 2,409-foot Mt. Constitution, the highest point on the San Juan Islands, to take in the incredible 360-degree views from an observation tower built in 1936.
Mount Desert Island in Maine is around four and a half hours from Boston, Massachusetts, and about two hours from both Augusta, Maine, and Portland, Maine.
Mount Desert Island is probably best known for being home to Acadia National Park, one of the most visited national parks in the United States. Its 47,000 square miles encompass everything from rugged mountains and lush forests to Atlantic ocean beaches, with tons of hiking, hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking. Bar Harbour, the closest town, is known for its charming shops and restaurants, and is the main jump-off point for most visitors to the park.
One of the most popular things to do is hike Cadillac Mountain at sunrise – not only is it the highest mountain on the East Coast, from May to October it’s the first place in the US that sees the sunrise.
Kodiak Island in Alaska is a four-hour drive from Anchorage, Alaska, followed by a nine-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Homer, Alaska.
Kodiak is the second-largest island in the US after Hawaii’s Big Island, and famous for its population of brown bears, as well as its hiking and biking. It’s accessible by car thanks to the ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway, which covers 3,500 miles of coastline.
Only a small part of the island is populated – two-thirds of the island is wilderness protected by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, making for some unrivalled wildlife viewing. And since the city of Kodiak is Alaska’s largest fishing port, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood to enjoy.
Beaver Island in Michigan is two hours by ferry from Charlevoix, Michigan, which is five hours from Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Beaver Island calls itself “America’s Emerald Isle,” but not for its lush flora – it’s named for the many Irish immigrants that moved there in the late 1800s. Its earlier history is even more intriguing, however, as the site of a Mormon colony known as the Strangites, named after their self-appointed king, Joseph Strang, whom they ended up killing.
Now a popular vacation destination in the Midwest, Beaver Island has a year-round population of only around 600 people, and is known for a slow and serene pace. There are beautiful beaches, over 100 miles of hiking and biking trails, kayaking, fishing, and golf.
Jekyll Island in Georgia is about one hour and 30 minutes from both Jacksonville, Florida, and Savannah, Georgia.
Jekyll Island is the southernmost island of Georgia’s Golden Isles, which are also comprised of St. Simons Island, Sea Island, and Little St. Simons Island.
In 1886 the whole island was bought by a group of wealthy families as a private getaway, which, by 1900, included well-known names such as the Rockefellers. The island was purchased by the state of Georgia in 1947, and is far more egalitarian today, though many of the opulent mansions remain, as well as a 250-acre Historic Landmark District.
Visitors can swim with loggerhead turtles, go whale-watching, collect shells, or relax at one of the island’s many beautiful beaches. Since by law development on the island is limited to 35%, the island is uncrowded and features an abundance of wildlife and lush flora.
South Padre Island in Texas is a little over four hours from San Antonio, Texas.
Practically on the Mexican border, this 34-mile-long sub-tropical barrier island is an almost Caribbean paradise on the Gulf Coast, with white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
It’s a popular spot for Spring Breakers, and is home to tons of bars, restaurants, and resorts, with activities ranging from surf lessons to fishing excursions, skydiving, parasailing, and ziplining.
Block Island in Rhode Island is about a 30-minute ferry from Newport, Rhode Island.
Block Island sits roughly between Montauk, Long Island, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
The tiny, 10-square-mile island is equally chic, and New England at its best: Gingerbread houses from the Victorian era, plenty of lighthouses, windswept beaches, glittering harbours, and tons of restaurants and boutiques.
However, it also has such an abundance of wildlife and rare flora that it was named “one of the last great places on Earth” by the Nature Conservancy in 1991 – one of only 12 in the Western Hemisphere.
South Bass Island in Ohio is about two hours from Cleveland, Ohio, and around two and a half hours from Detroit, Michigan, including a 20-minute ferry ride.
Located in Lake Erie, South Bass is sometimes referred to as “the Key West of the Midwest.” Its main town, Put-in-Bay, is known as a summer hotspot filled with party boats, swim-up bars, and popular restaurants, but there are also tons of quiet spots to camp, fish, and kayak.
Despite only being 3.7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, the island is home to an amusement park, a 33-acre state park, two wineries, and plenty of historic sites to explore.
Sanibel Island in Florida is about 45 minutes from Fort Myers, Florida, and three hours from Miami, Florida.
Sanibel Island is quaint, quiet, and serene, as much of it is protected for conservation – it’s home to the 5,200-acre J.N. (“Ding”) Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It’s probably most famous for being one of the best spots in the world for gathering seashells.
The barrier island on Florida’s southern Gulf has golf courses and spas galore, as well as beautiful beaches, hiking, and kayaking, like the Great Calusa Blueway, a 190-mile-long canoe and kayak trail.
Chincoteague Island in Virginia is around three and a half hours from Richmond, Virginia.
On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Chincoteague Island is the state’s only resort island. A quaint fishing village at heart, it has no high rises, but plenty of fresh clams and oysters, which the island is well known for.
It’s probably most famous for being the gateway to Assateague Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, home to the famous beach-roaming wild ponies. One of the most popular attractions on the island is the July Pony Swim, in which around 150 wild ponies swim from Assateague to Chincoteague Island.
Coronado Island in California is 2 miles from downtown San Diego, California, and around two hours from Los Angeles, California.
Only a 2-mile drive across a bridge (or a short ferry ride) from downtown San Diego, Coronado Island is an upscale escape for many locals, with its ritzy restaurants and swanky boutiques. The Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark, is the most famous site on the island: It was opened in 1888 as a destination resort by two developers who are credited with turning the island into the charming resort town it is today.
Coronado Beach is often listed among Dr. Beach’s top 10 US beaches.
Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is 45 minutes from Savannah, Georgia.
The second-largest barrier island on the Atlantic, Hilton Head was the first eco-planned destination in the country, with strict laws on signage, zoning, and conservation. There are plenty of beautiful nature preserves and 12 miles of white sandy beaches, but Hilton Head might be most famous as a top golf destination, with dozens of prestigious courses across its 42 square miles.
While there are plenty of upscale restaurants, between wealthy retirees and young families, it’s not exactly known for its nightlife scene.
Tybee Island in Georgia is less than 30 minutes from Savannah, Georgia.
While nearby, Tybee is more relaxed and less moneyed than Hilton Head.
Modest clapboard cottages and casual seafood eateries give the place a Caribbean vibe, and wide sandy beaches with gentle waves make this a popular resort for families.
Washington Island in Wisconsin is six and a half hours from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and two and a half hours from Green Bay, Wisconsin, including a 30-minute ferry ride.
Washington Island in Lake Michigan has a Nordic vibe, thanks to its Scandinavian settlers, whose descendants still largely live on the island and keep their heritage alive with a Scandinavian dance festival and the liberal display of Scandinavian flags. One of the island’s main attractions is the timber Stavkirke Church, a replica of Norwegian church that was built in 1120.
The island is home to stunning lavender fields, charming little museums on fishing and farming, and, of course, beautiful rocky beaches. The 35-square-mile island also has around 100 miles of paved roads best explored on two wheels.
Shelter Island in New York is around two hours and 30 minutes from New York City, including a very short ferry ride.
The Hamptons on Long Island, New York, are already known as the exclusive playground of New York City’s wealthy, but Shelter Island takes that exclusivity to the next level, with a vehicle ferry that takes approximately four minutes from the mainland.
But among the ritzy mansions and cafés selling high-priced lobster salad are casual seafood shacks, laid-back beaches, and a 2,100-acre nature preserve that makes up a third of the island.
Nantucket in Massachusetts is around three and a half hours from Boston, Massachusetts, which includes an approximately one-hour ferry ride.
Nantucket has New England charm in spades, with its cobblestone streets (the entirety of the former whaling port is a National Historic District, with over 800 pre-Civil War-era buildings), many historic harbours and lighthouses, and windswept beaches flanked by massive sand dunes.
The 14-mile-long island is the perfect combination of ritzy and upscale and charming and authentic, with cute cottages sprinkled with old whaling captains’ mansions, fancy restaurants mixed in with local chowder shacks, and expensive boutique hotels among cosy B&Bs.
The Outer Banks in North Carolina are about three hours and 30 minutes from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Charming homes on stilts interspersed with colonial mansions and sand dunes as far as the eye can see are the hallmark of the Outer Banks, a thin series of barrier islands that snake parallel to the coastline for over 100 miles and are connected by bridges and ferries.
Essentially a giant sandbar, the Outer Banks are a super popular vacation destination for their many state parks and windswept beaches, and their mix of upscale towns and quaint villages.
A popular activity here is exploring the many shipwreck diving sites.
Amelia Island in Florida is about 45 minutes from Jacksonville, Florida.
Consistently named one of the top islands in the US by various travel publications such as Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveller, Amelia Island is known for its 13 miles of beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife population, but also its golf courses and upscale spas. It also features tons of history, with a 50-block historic district in Fernandina that’s home to more than 400 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and is full of charming boutiques, restaurants, and bars.
Drummond Island in Michigan is around five hours and 45 minutes from Detroit, Michigan, including a 15-minute ferry ride.
Practically on the Candian border in Lake Huron, Drummond Island beckons with tons of hiking, biking, fishing, and kayaking opportunities, though it’s probably best known for being home to one of the longest and most varied off-roading and ATV trail systems in the state.
From hardwood forests, open meadows, rocky hills, dozens of lakes, and miles of beautiful beaches, there’s something for everyone.
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