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(ARA) - Instead of vacationing at the same old beach, or spending a fortune at the latest and greatest spa, there are hundreds of places just waiting to be discovered by vacationers all across the United States. The three areas below are among the most beautiful in the country, and are truly diamonds in the resort rough.

Western Finds

For vacationers with a western destination in mind, Sunriver, located just outside of Bend, Ore., is the perfect spot for those who prefer an all-in-one locale. This resort community has something for everyone, from golf to horseback riding. But most notable of all, the small community is surrounded by the splendor of the Cascade Mountains and lies in the shadow of the popular ski resort, Mt. Bachelor.

Along with the beautiful mountain scenery, the area is perfect for travelers looking to escape the stillness of life of the surrounding rivers. One of the most popular is the Des Chutes River, regarded by many as the best white water rafting river in Oregon. This scenic river offers novice rafters and experts alike a unique view of the area from the raging rapids.

For those not yet ready to brave the rapids, Benham Falls -- one of the closest attractions to the Sunriver resort community -- offers a view of the rapids from solid ground. More than 6,000 years ago, volcanic activity pushed in on the river, forming the majestic falls that exist today.

This volcanic activity is visible at Lava Lands, a National Volcanic Monument consisting of more than 50,000 acres of lakes, lava flows and other phenomenal geologic features. While taking a tour of the lands, see Lava Butte, a cinder cone formed more than 6,000 years ago producing nine square miles of lava. The lava-hardened park offers one of the most spectacular views of the Cascade Mountains.

For more information on the Sunriver community, visit www.sunriver-resort.com.

A Midwest Quest

Although lacking any lava lands, the Midwest offers vacationers a wealth of beauty and activities all its own. One of these Midwestern gems, Petoskey, Mich., is located on Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan. Visitors hail from all over the country to soak up the marina atmosphere and way of life that has sustained residents for hundreds of years. The rich history of the area is evident in the charming Victorian architecture that permeates the community. A walking tour is the perfect way to view the more than 500 Victorian-era buildings.

While making the rounds in Petoskey, shoppers will be drawn to the Marina District shopping area -- more than 45,000 square feet of shopping heaven. From maritime and nautical art galleries showcasing the beauty of the area, to delicious restaurants that will satify the appetite of even the fiercest shopper, Petoskey's downtown is one location to add to your vacation agenda.

But visitors to Bay Harbor and Petoskey come to do more than stroll the streets in search of a good bargain. This marina resort area caters to shoppers and golfers alike. Michigan is home to more public golf courses than any other state, with the Petoskey/Boyne City area harboring many of these great links. The northwestern area of Michigan has been ranked second in the country by Golf Magazine, and Golf Digest rated the six championship courses at Boyne USA Resorts among the best in the country. One of the area's newest courses is adding to the popularity of this once hidden golf mecca.

Nestled around 160 feet of Lake Michigan bluffs, forest and natural sand dunes, Bay Harbor Golf Course has come to be known as the "Pebble Beach" of the Midwest. With the longest freshwater shoreline of any course, this picturesque course provides golfers with a stunning view of the Great Lake on 19 of its 27 holes.

When visitors have had their fill of golfing, shopping and lake activities, they can head to one of the most popular destinations in the area: Victories Casino. The area's only sports-themed casino provides dining, drinking, and of course, a variety of casino games. The casino's rooms, saturated with sports paraphernalia, hold hundreds of slot machines and table games, and throughout the summer, offer guests a number of opportunities to win prizes, such as new set of Ping Golf Clubs.

After vacationers try their hand at the many unique and enjoyable games like "Jeopardy" and "I Dream of Genie," Players Sports Grille, located in the casino, is the place to refuel. The restaurant offers specials including an all-you-can-eat crab leg and prime rib buffet, and Chef Brian Carver, a member of the Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians, appeases hungry guests with his award-winning buffalo chili -- a feast many visitors don't soon forget.

To find out more about Victories Casino and great group packages, call (877)-4 GAMING. For more information on the Petoskey/Bay Harbor area, visit www.petoskey.com.

The Soothing South

A shift from freshwater to saltwater finds this final resort area on the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Georgia. St. Simon's Island, the largest of the three Golden Isles of coastal Georgia and located just off the mainland near Brunswick, Ga., offers visitors not only miles of pristine beaches, but also one of the top bird watching and nature areas in the South, as well as a historical view into life on the barrier island centuries ago. All of these attractions carry with them the unique heritage of the South, revolving around luxury and hospitality.

One of the most popular sites is Ft. Frederica, built by the English General James Edward Ogelthorpe in 1736. This national monument is a reminder of the struggle between Spain and England for domination of the new world. It offers visitors a rare glimpse into the somewhat forgotten history of the United States.

But history isn't the only reason vacationers hop a boat to St. Simon's Island. The ecology of the barrier sea island is one of the most fascinating in the world. Alligators, blue crab and white shrimp are among the wildlife that thrive on its shores. Many sightseers take advantage of St. Simon's dolphin tours that follow the friendly animals as they frolic with vacationers. One of the best places to catch a glimpse of the wide variety of bird life in the area is to take a short trip from St. Simon's Island to Little St. Simon's Island. Here, nature-lovers can take in the beauty of many species of passerines, also known as songbirds, as several neotropical migrant species nest on the island during the spring and summer months.

For more information on St. Simon's Island, visit the Web site www.coastalgeorgia.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content, www.aracontent.com, e-mail: info@aracontent.com


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