7 Surprising Nature Getaways

For travelers craving island trips that are well within reach, see which of these destinations have the most appeal. This list and the text below came to ISLANDS courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which highlights some beautiful spots literally close to home as well as surprises from Alaska to Puerto Rico.

Alaska Islands The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge is the most remote unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It encompasses more than 2,500 islands, islets, spires, rocks, reefs, waters and headlands extend from Forrester Island, to the north of Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands deep in the southeast tongue of the state, to the westernmost tip of the Aleutians (and of America!), and north to Cape Lisburne on the Arctic Ocean. Clouds of seabirds, rare birds from Asia, species found nowhere else, velvety green tundra ablaze with flowers, World War II battlefields, dramatic coastlines, sand beaches of every color, and steaming volcanoes are just some of the delights awaiting visitors to the Alaska Maritime Refuge. The most popular way to access the refuge is on one of the numerous day-tour boats that leave Seward bound for the refuge's Chiswell Islands. Visitors can see puffins, sea otters, sea lions, whales and swarming seabirds around the aptly named Beehive Islands.

Anaho Island, Nevada Pyramid Lake stands out against its desert backdrop in western Nevada. About a quarter mile from the eastern shore stands this island refuge, a nesting ground for more than 8,000 American white pelicans. Anaho Island is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation owns the lake and island. Pyramid Lake, a natural lake at the end of the Truckee River, is open for day use, subject to a visitor's fee. Anaho Island is closed to public access, but easily visible from the lake's eastern shore and by boat.

Egmont Key, Florida Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge is a strategic spot to fish, hike, loll on the beach, or explore remnants of the fort here. The island is a 10-minute ferry ride from St. Petersburg. Hikers can walk the island's centuries old brick carriage road or go down a nature trail. Gun batteries and a lighthouse dating back to the 1850s still stand. About 60 acres of seagrass grow in the shallow waters east of the island, providing critical feeding grounds for manatee and habitat for a variety of fish. Snorkelers and scuba divers can enjoy exploring underwater ruins from the 17th century fort. Two bird sanctuaries protect nesting brown pelicans, royal, sandwich, and least terns, laughing gulls, black skimmers and shore- birds such as oystercatchers. Thirty to sixty loggerhead sea turtles nest on Egmont Key each year.

Monomoy Island, Massachusetts Off the elbow of Cape Cod, the shifting eight-mile barrier islands of North Monomoy and South Monomoy host numerous birds and seals throughout the year. More than 10 species of seabirds, shorebirds, and waterbirds nest on the islands, including the federally threatened piping plover and endangered roseate tern. From 5,000 to 6,000 grey seals gather and pup on the islands in summer; around 8,000 harbor seals in the winter. In the summer, ferries depart from Morris Island, which is accessible by road, to Monomoy islands.

Ohio River Islands This wildlife refuge stretches along 362 miles of the upper Ohio River, from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, with 22 scattered islands. While most of the islands are accessible only by boat, Middle Island, has a bridge with road access. This is the most commonly visited island in the refuge, and the largest at 235 acres. The refuge, created in 1990, aims to "protect the Wild Ohio" by conserving habitat for migratory birds, freshwater mussels and other wildlife along the river.

Oregon Islands The refuge includes 1,854 rocks, reefs and islands and two headland areas spanning 320 miles. The majority of Oregon's estimated 1.2 million seabirds, including 13 different species, breed on the refuge. Seals and sea lions also use the rocks as "haulout" sites for resting and pupping. Simpson Reef near Charleston frequently hosts 6,000 seals and sea lions. Visitors get phenomenal views of the refuge and its wildlife from many state parks and other open spaces along the mainland, including Coquille Point. Also open to visitors is Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, the best known island of Oregon Islands Refuge, which juts 235-foot out into the ocean. At low tide, visitors can nearly walk up to it and explore nearby tidepools while tufted puffins fly overhead. Spotting scopes are available so visitors can get close-up views of the puffins.

Vieques, Puerto Rico At Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico, white sand beaches meet the crystal clear Caribbean. While there are dozens of beaches on Vieques Refuge, two are by far the most popular: Playa Caracas and Playa la Chiva, stunning beaches near coral reefs that snorkelers can explore. Hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles nest on opposite sides of the refuge, at different times of the year. Off the southwestern side of the island, expanses of sea grass provide feeding grounds for manatees. It is not unusual for boaters, snorkelers and scuba divers to catch sight of them. The refuge's wet and dry subtropical forests provide habitat to native species such as seven varieties of bats, and a variety of frogs and lizards.