The Return of the Great American Road Trip (Part 1: The West)

(This article first appeared in beachLIFE, a 360 Blue, publication.)

AFTER A YEAR AT HOME, BEACHLIFE HITS THE OPEN ROAD WITH NATURAL RETREATS…

It’s a uniquely American rite of passage, documented in song and film, from Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” to the movie, Easy Rider. It’s an idea that reminds Americans that we’re never stuck at home (notwithstanding 2020). And let’s be clear: Times like these call out for a road trip.

The impulse to develop such an article struck a number of us here at beachLIFE all at once and for the same reason. Last year our parent company, 360 Blue, partnered with Natural Retreats, a travel company very much like our own in that they too offer luxury vacation homes. But there is one important difference: Natural Retreats offers homes in 16 destinations scattered throughout the country. Make sure you read about a stellar road trip to take in the Eastern part of the United States.

If you’re into travel—as all of us are—it’s a thought that toys with the imagination. It causes the mind to wander. A travel company with 16 destinations… And these are iconic destinations—places like Big Sky, Montana, Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, California, and the Sea Islands of South Carolina. Some of the homes in the Natural Retreats collection are themselves iconic, touched with fairy dust of history and lore. One of their homes in Palm Springs, for example, was once owned by Frank Sinatra.

Consider this: If you wanted, you could book Sinatra’s former home. Just log on to the Natural Retreats website, maybe check availability with a call. Upon arrival in Palm Springs, you get to spend a week or two hanging out around the piano-shaped swimming pool with the ghosts of Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. Maybe have a martini on the patio with the spectral presence of Dean Martin. If you’re merely into mid-century modern architecture, the Natural Retreat’s Palm Springs page is worth checking out.

So this is the inspiration for what follows. It’s the dream of hitting the open road, of cruising from one spectacular destination to the next, of watching the road unfurl before you for mile after mile—if only in your mind’s eye. To paraphrase Jackson Browne, it’s time to call the road your own. It’s time to pick a suitable Kerouac novel and, as Jack himself might say, ramble on. You’ll find your maps and travel guide below.

Park City, UT

Convict Lake, Mammoth CA

PARK CITY
Welcome to winter’s favorite town and summer’s best-kept secret. Located 30 miles east of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Range, Park City is a natural treasure. This vast resort city hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 2002, and all of the incredible winter sports venues are still here and still in use—from the cross-country trails to the Nordic ski jump. In the last week of January, it becomes home to the Sundance Film Festival, attracting indie filmmakers and film lovers from around the world.

Summer brings countless blue-sky days to Park City, with high temperatures in the low 80s—the perfect weather to take advantage of the 400 miles of mountain bike trails through rugged alpine terrain. The area is also home to multiple arts festivals, balloon festivals and a farmers’ market. Utah itself is incredibly national park-rich. We head off for the red rock sandstone of the Canyonlands to the southeast of Park City before turning southwest, where we wind our way through the awe-inspiring national treasures of Bryce and Zion National Parks. Next stop: The Golden State.

MAMMOTH LAKES
Welcome to California’s High Sierra, a realm of staggering natural wonders, the most epic of which needs no introduction—Yosemite National Park. This is Ansel Adams country, with one storybook view after another presenting itself as you make your way through the valley. There’s the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, and the 600-foot drop of Bridalveil Falls. Just outside of the town of Mammoth looms the Devils Postpile, a majestic geologic wonder of basalt rock formations that has to be seen to be believed. The surrounding highlights include the Long Valley Caldera and Convict Lake (one of the most photographed lakes in the country), and the Bodie Ghost Town, a former gold-mining outpost that was once home to 10,000 souls and is now beautifully desolate. Mount Whitney and Death Valley—the highest and lowest points in the lower 48 states (14,5050 feet above and 282 feet below sea level, respectively)—are nearby and just 65 miles apart.

The town of Mammoth Lakes itself is a world-renowned hub for winter adventure, with world-class skiing and boarding on Mammoth Mountain. The greater area, however, makes it a year-round destination offering unforgettable geographic diversity—from salt flats to soaring granite cliffs.

Palm Springs, CA

Lake Tahoe, CA

PALM SPRINGS
We’re on the move, heading southwest through the Mojave Desert toward Palm Springs. We stop to take in the petroglyphs of the Valley of Fire before moving on to the blackjack tables and slot machines of Vegas. Eventually, we come to the Coachella Valley in the northern Sonoran Desert—a gorgeous land populated with bighorn sheep, yucca plants, kit foxes and Gila monsters.

It’s also the home of Palm Springs, a living monument to mid-century modern architecture. In the 1930s, the town became something of a playground for the well-heeled of Los Angeles, complete with nightclubs and casinos such as The Dunes, The 139 Club, and the Chi Chi.
In the post-war years Hollywood stars arrived and commissioned homes with open designs, vast windows—and swimming pools. The aesthetic came to be known as “Desert Modern,” as it incorporated the look and vibe of the area where the sun shines 300 days out of the year.

Today the art scene thrives with the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in nearby Indio, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and Modernism Week, celebrating the
area’s architecture.

TAHOE
Let’s begin with a few fun facts. Lake Tahoe is two-million years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in the world. It’s also the second deepest in the United States at 1,665 feet, and its waters are some of the purest in the world (99.994% pure). The water never freezes, so visitors can ski or snowboard at any of the eleven area resorts in the morning and have dinner at a restaurant that evening with breath-taking views of the lake.

The area’s rich mining history dates back to the days of the California Gold Rush. Prospectors still come here hoping to strike it rich, panning for gold in the surrounding mountains. But the main attraction is the alpine beauty and the year-round adventure it offers, including alpine and backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Of course, there are also a few casinos on the Nevada side of the lake.

Big Sky, MT

Sun Valley, ID

BIG SKY
They say you’ll come for the winter and stay for the summer. And why not? This is Norman MacLean country, a storied landscape where wild things are free to roam. Epic trout streams present extraordinary fly-fishing opportunities. Iconic wildlife that defines the American West call this realm home—from grizzly bear to bison, elk and moose.

The Gallatin River runs fast during spring runoff, providing the perfect venue for a spirited whitewater rafting adventure. There is dog sledding, snowshoeing, and of course skiing and boarding, along with endless miles of hiking trails—many of which are accessible directly from homes offered by Natural Retreats.

In the summer months, trade the sleigh ride dinners for a chuckwagon barbeque. In recent years, Big Sky has developed into a luxury mountain destination with endless miles of wilderness right out your backdoor. As such, it serves as the perfect base camp to explore the geological wonders of Yellowstone National Park, which is a 45-minute drive away.

SUN VALLEY
Being off the beaten path has its perks. Last season (2020–2021), Sun Valley Ski Resort was ranked the number one ski resort in the West by SKI Magazine. What makes it so attractive? It’s remarkably uncrowded and gorgeous terrain, along with a lift capacity that allows skiers and boarders plenty of space to shred. And the skiable acres have only grown with the recent ribbon-cutting expansion of 380 additional acres. The fly-fishing is extraordinary, as is the outdoor ice skating. The 400 miles of single-track and 30 miles of paved trails make it a paradise for hiking, biking and horseback riding. As they say, you’ll exhaust yourself before you exhaust your options.

Over a century ago, nearby Ketchum gained fame for its healing hot springs. The Guyer Hot Springs Resort was popular for its mineral waters, croquet and tennis, while the town itself offered 13 saloons.

Later, the area became a celebrity favorite. Ernest Hemingway fell in love with Sun Valley and eventually made it his home, while Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman came to the
winter wonderland to play.

Visit our destinations pages for homes across the country to make part of your road trip plans or contact our Reservations Team for more information.