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Adventure Travel Cities Outdoors

The 7 Most Beautiful Places on Earth

Need a little inspiration for your next vacation, either real or imagined? SmarterTravel’s editors have crisscrossed the planet, visiting dozens of countries on every continent—and these are the spots they’ve declared the most beautiful places in the world.

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

“Antarctica feels otherworldly. It’s devoid of human life, with an almost eerie emptiness in places—no manmade buildings, no power lines, no planes flying overhead, and no lights. Simultaneously, it teems with natural life, from penguins calling for their mates in a cacophony of sounds to fur seals lurking below the surface waiting to pounce on their next meal. All that against a backdrop of towering mountains, brilliantly blue glaciers, and an unpolluted sky—I’ve yet to find anywhere else on earth that can compare.” — Caroline Morse Teel, Principal Editor

Granada, Spain

sunset over the alhambra in Granada, SPain

“Like all the towns in Andalucia, Granada is something special. The architecture, the food, and the people all make for a memorable trip. But the real gem in Granada is the Alhambra. Climb up the steep, skinny streets of the Albayzin neighborhood to the Mirador de San Nicolás and watch the sun set over the Alhambra. It’s been (accurately) called ‘the most beautiful sunset in the world’ and is one of those magical experiences that will stay with you forever.” — Noemi de la Torre, Senior Photo Editor

South Island, New Zealand

landscape south island new zealand.

“My then-partner (now husband) and I were reduced almost to speechlessness during a road trip around New Zealand’s spectacular South Island. ‘Wow,’ I said as we rounded a curve and a crystalline lake spread out before us. ‘Wow,’ he echoed a few minutes later as the late-day sun cast a rosy glow across hulking mountains capped with snow. Glaciers, fjords, beaches—the South Island has it all, and it’s all stunning.” — Sarah Schlichter, Deputy Executive Editor

Krka National Park, Croatia

Krka National Park was supposed to be a small pit stop on my guided trip to Split, but it ended up being the highlight of the week. Rivers and streams crisscross the ground beneath you as you navigate the forest on elevated wooden pathways. The entire journey has a deep stillness to it, with only your own footsteps and the sounds of water and bird calls to interrupt. Finally, at the end of the walk, you’re greeted by a picnic ground surrounded by tiers of beautiful waterfalls. The views were stunning and, on the way out, I got to visit a family of wild kittens—so it was probably the best day ever.”  — Carol McPherson, Video Editor/Creator

Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada

great bear rainforest section

“The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia haunts my dreams in the best possible way. I only spent two days there, but even that short amount of time earns it a spot at the top of my list. This picture was taken after a short flight from Vancouver Island to the tiny wilderness lodge of Nimmo Bay. It was an intoxicating blur of dense temperate rainforest hikes, paddling bays so still that my kayak seemed to skim above the clouds, and rushing waterfalls that exhaled the rainforest into the sea.” — Christine Sarkis, Executive Editor

Haputale Tea Country, Sri Lanka

Haputale tea country Sri Lanka.

“The most beautiful places are always the ones that photos inevitably can’t do justice. And for me, that paradox always brings to mind Sri Lankan tea country. I took a rickety train ride to Haputale in monsoon-season rains, snaking through verdant slopes and misty gorges made even more dream-like by the drizzle. As if the postcard-esque viaducts and Nine Arch Bridge along the way weren’t enough, meeting Haputale’s local tea pickers in a cloud forest precariously perched at 7,000 feet above sea level certainly was. From the foothills of Agarapatana Plantation I was gobsmacked by the views, which only grew more dream-like as we ascended to the peak to enjoy many fresh cups of tea, served with roti and sweets, overlooking the cloud cover that would occasionally break to reveal miles of rolling greenery below. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to walking into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book and staying a while.” — Shannon McMahon, Editor of News and Features

Tayrona National Park, Colombia 

tayrona national park.

“Many of the world’s most beautiful places come with crowds of tourists and lines that you have to wait in; it’s rare to find that true sense of unspoiled beauty. And when you do, it’s often far, far away from the beaten path. But you’ll usually find that it’s the search that makes the final destination worth it, and that’s exactly the case with Tayrona National Park in Colombia. A trip here makes you feel like you’re on your own journey of youthful exploration in Lord of the Flies. Hours from the vibrant city of Cartagena sit miles and miles of coastline where the Sierra Nevada foothills kiss the Caribbean coast. Find relaxation in the secluded coves and lagoons, or trek in the rainforest to ancient Taryonan ruins. To get here, find the beach city of Santa Marta and then make your way via bus to the forest. There are plenty of hidden retreats and treehouses to stay at, where inviting hammocks swing in the wind waiting for you. There’s nothing quite like following a winding path in the rainforest that suddenly ends with golden sand and open ocean.” —Ashley Rossi, Senior Editor

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The Safest Places in Central America for Travelers

Editor’s note: This story was researched and written before the current COVID-19 pandemic. While we look forward to traveling again soon, we recognize that the most important thing we can all do right now is to stay home. For the most current information about COVID-19, check the CDC website.

With active volcanoes, Maya ruins, and extensive coastlines in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, Central America is an idyllic destination that is often overlooked by travelers. Given the region’s history of political instability, many foreigners are wary of visiting, wondering if Central America is safe, and end up missing out on the cultural, historical, and culinary richness of the seven countries that comprise it.

But while these fears are justified in some cases, you shouldn’t judge an entire region by its news cover. Not every country in the area is experiencing conflict, and while caution is always advised no matter where you travel, you certainly won’t be stepping into the war zone Central America is often made out to be.

To help you have an amazing—and safe— trip, we have compiled a list of the four safest countries to visit in Central America.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica wins over the heart of every visitor with its “Pura vida” philosophy. The entire nation exudes a relaxed vibe that calls you to breathe in and enjoy life—something that’s not too difficult to do here. During your time in this mesmerizing country, you can watch sea turtles hatch on quiet beaches, climb the Arenal Volcano, or see monkeys and jaguars at the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Often considered a pioneer of eco-tourism, Costa Rica takes great pride in its natural resources and its status as a megadiverse country. In fact, 98 percent of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, and 26 percent of its territory is made up of protected natural lands. Because of this natural richness, the country attracts intrepid adventure travelers who come to surf tall waves, zipline through canopies, rappel down waterfalls, and white-water raft down swift rivers.

As for safety, foreigners usually don’t have much to worry about. The Global Peace Index ranks Costa Rica as the 33rd most peaceful country in the world. For comparison, the U.S. is ranked at 218. The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives it a level 1 warning, making it safer than Spain and Italy in the eyes of the U.S. Basically, you should exercise common sense precautions like avoiding dark streets at night and hiding your valuables.

Costa Rica takes such pride in its commitment to peace that it doesn’t even have an army. As if that weren’t enough, it is considered one of the best countries in Latin America for LGBTQIA travelers, given locals’ open-minded attitudes towards sexual diversity and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Ready to book your tickets yet?

Panama

panama city skyline at sunset panama.

If you judge Panama by its rankings on the Global Peace Index and the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory, you’ll soon be at ease. The former ranks Panama at 47th, and the latter suggests a level 1 advisory. Do keep in mind that certain areas should be avoided, including the Mosquito Coast, and the Darien region along the border with Colombia. Again, normal safety measures are recommended to avoid being pickpocketed or mugged, particularly in urban centers.

Now that you know Panama is much safer than most people believe, you should also know that it is much more interesting than most people imagine. In fact, many people simply know Panama for its famous canal, which continues to be a tourist attraction but which is not by any means the only thing the country has to offer.

Sure, take a scenic flight over the canal to see it for yourself, but also allow some space in your itinerary to swim with whale sharks in astonishing Bocas del Toro, or to soak up the metropolitan glitz of Panama City. Adventure travelers will also find plenty of thrilling activities, like hiking through cloud forests, watching the migration of humpback whales in the Pacific, and climbing the country’s highest point, Baru Volcano.

The best part about Panama? It seems like tourists have yet to wise up about it, so you can enjoy small village beaches and forest treks without hordes of Instagram-hungry tourists.

Belize

boat on great blue hole belize.

Yet another wonderful but often overlooked country in Central America, Belize is impressively diverse for its tiny size. The English-speaking country boasts jungles riddled with Mayan ruins, the second largest reefs in the world, and idyllic islands scattered along its coast.

Divers absolutely love Belize because of the diversity of its reef, but also because of its famous Great Blue Hole. This underground sinkhole is the largest of its kind, and is equally impressive from above and from underneath the water’s surface. In fact, the great conservationist, explorer, and diver Jacques Cousteau included the “hole” as one of his favorite diving spots on the planet.

Even if you’re not a big fan of diving in a dark, seemingly unending ocean abyss, the Belize coastline offers plenty of opportunities for swimming in warm waters, paddle boarding, and kayaking through mangroves. One of the best things to do is to simply lay in a hammock with a bottle of cool beer in your hand and enjoy the sun kissing your skin.

The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory gives Belize a level 2 warning, which is the same level as countries like France and the U.K. That said, increased precaution is recommended, since its proximity to Mexico inevitably makes it part of Central America’s drug route. The south—where many of the country’s Mayan ruins lay hidden by the jungle—is of particular concern, so we recommend researching before planning a trip, or going with a trusted tour company.

LGBTQIA travelers might want to rethink a trip to Belize, as locals tend to have a more conservative mentality and may even be hostile to non-heterosexual couples.

Guatemala

santa catalina arch in antigua guatemala

Like Belize, Guatemala has a level 2 warning from the Department of State. Certain areas present an increased level of risk, specifically the areas along the drug trade route. It is recommended that travelers do research before deciding their itineraries, particularly if they plan to go to remote regions that are not as frequented. Again, visitors looking to explore natural or rural areas might want to consider using a trusted tour company with local guides.

Once you have taken the necessary precautions, don’t even consider missing out on picturesque Antigua. The former capital of Guatemala, this well-preserved colonial town is one of the most beautiful towns in Latin America. Cobblestoned streets and colorful balconies are perfectly complemented by the volcanoes that surround the town, providing breathtaking views from almost any street.

Another must-see destination in Guatemala is Lake Atitlan, one of the most important in the region. If you want a simple thrill, you can hike around the lake and enjoy the invariably impressive views it provides. Those with a harder adrenaline addiction can opt for more extreme activities, like paragliding over or scuba diving.

No history or Indiana Jones lover can afford to skip out on the mighty Tikal National Park, the former capital of the Maya Empire. Surrounded by the jungle that once hid it, Tikal boasts the tallest existing pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, and is considered one of the most important archaeological treasures of the continent.

If this doesn’t seem like enough, you can also ride through the canyons of Rio Dulce, learn about Afro-Guatemalan culture at Livingston, explore the caves of Verpaces, and delight your taste buds with the country’s rich culinary tradition.

More from SmarterTravel:

10 Natural Wonders to See Before They’re Gone
The 13 Safest Places in Mexico for Travelers
The Best Caribbean Destinations for Gay and Lesbian Travelers

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Adventure Travel

The 5 Best National Park Live Webcams We’re Watching

Missing the great outdoors? Us too. While we’re spending more time planning our next national park vacation than we are being outside, we’re making the most of quarantine with these live cams of national parks. 

Did we miss any that you’ve been watching? Share them with us on Facebook! 

Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park

Watch the upper part of Yosemite Falls in real-time with the park’s live stream of the 2,425-foot falls. Peak flow time is early summer, so lucky for us, the timing is perfect for optimal viewing. 

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

Old faithful inn geyser

Want to watch Yellowstone’s famous geyser erupt? Check out this live stream from the park, which features (not always up-to-date) predictions about when it will next go off. 

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park

Click into Lake McDonald’s webcam for your daily moment of zen. Positioned at the foot of the lake, the camera shows off one of the most iconic views in Glacier.

The North Atlantic Coastline, Acadia National Park

Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park

Pretend like you’re on Maine’s rocky coastline with Acadia National Park’s webcam. This solar-powered camera is perched next to the ocean and offers beautiful views of the water, especially at sunrise. 

Sunrise and Sunset at Zion Canyon, Zion National Park

Follow Zion National Park on Facebook and Instagram to see when they’re live broadcasting the sunrise and sunset at the national park. The live cams are set up at the bottom of the canyon so the views of the canyon wall’s shadows are particularly rare and interesting. 

Listen to our audio tour through Zion National Park:

Don’t have Spotify? Find Virtual Vacations on your preferred listening platform here.

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10 Best Workout Clothes and Tools for Travel and Home

Finding the motivation to work out while on vacation is no easy feat. I try and stick to my normal exercise routine as much as I can while I travel, and this list of the 10 best workout clothes and tools helps me stay in shape on the road—and at home between trips.

Vi Headphones and Fitness Tracker

Say goodbye to tangled headphones, wearing a Fitbit, and paying for expensive fitness-tracking apps—the Vi headphones and corresponding app are the ultimate travel workout companion. With a variety of earbud sizes and clips, these wireless headphones are comfortable and won’t fall out once you get the right size.

If you run outdoors at home and on the road, the Vi Fitness app is a great way to track your runs and mileage. Hikers and cyclers can also benefit from the activity tracker. Dubbed a “personal trainer,” the activity monitor tracks things like speed, heart rate, and distance. It also adapts to your fitness level and personalizes workouts. Plus, the app links to your favorite music streaming service.

Takeya Water Bottle

A reusable water bottle is an essential workout item for travelers, and I especially love Takeya’s insulated stainless water bottles. The handle is great for travel, since you can hook it onto the outside of any bag, and it’s easy to carry around the gym. The double-wall vacuum insulation keeps water cold for hours, and the narrow mouth is great for grabbing a quick sip mid-workout.

Zella Live In High Waisted Leggings

Built from moisture-wicking fabric and fitted with a no-slip waistband, these stretchy, figure-sculpting leggings keep you cool as your workout warms up. They’re comfy enough to wear in other situations as well, including on the plane or while working from home.

Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Wipes

Don’t forget one of the most important things to do after working out, even on vacation: taking care of your skin. I am obsessed with these facial cleansing wipes from Burt’s Bees for a post-workout refresh. Whether you don’t have time to hit the shower or you need some immediate rejuvenation, these wipes, made from white tea extract, cucumber, and aloe, are a must. I even use them over my whole body sometimes if I need to skip a shower.

Adidas by Stella McCartney Sports Bra

This mesh-backed sports bra is one of the best workout clothes you can travel with because it doubles as a bathing suit top. The full coverage bra is quick-drying and moisture-wicking, so it won’t stink or stay wet for long after sweating or swimming.

 

Nike Dri Fit Head Tie

Nike makes a great moisture-wicking headband that fits any head size. I typically find myself shifting any sort of headband during a workout because it sits too far forward or back—but you won’t have that problem with this one because it ties.

L.L.Bean Coolmax Nano Glide Multisport Socks

I swear by L.L.Bean socks (with styles for both men and women) for working out. The quick-drying, breathable fabric and thoughtful cushioning on these moisture-wicking socks will keep your feet cool and dry during any activity. These socks are also designed to reduce friction inside your shoe to prevent blisters.

Hoka Bondi 6 Running Shoes

I always travel with my Hoka Bondi 6’s, because I can wear them to the airport with a travel outfit or put them into my carry-on, where they don’t take up too much room. These shoes (available for men and women) are extremely flexible and comfortable for workouts and provide incredible sole support; that’s actually part of Hoka’s mission as a shoe company.

Salomon Agile 250 Running Belt Pack

I cannot say enough how much I love this running belt pack from Salomon. It miraculously fits a phone, keys, and some cash or cards. It doesn’t move while running, and I’ve worn it for stationary workouts as well to hold my phone. It takes up zero room in your suitcase and helps make your workouts annoying armband-free.

[st_related]25 Things to Make Working Out on Vacation More Fun[/st_related]

Lululemon Break a Trail Jacket

This Trail Jacket from Lululemon is an ideal choice for hikers and others who love to exercise outdoors. The fabric is both water-repellent and wind-resistant, so the jacket will hold up in any climate. The hood is designed not to bounce when you move, and there are vents in the fabric so you don’t overheat. There’s even a hidden pocket for your phone.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Codey Albers contributed to this story.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

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8 Hard-to-Plan Dream Trips to Research at Home While You Have the Time

In stressful times like this global pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in fear, confusion, and the never-ending news cycle. But perhaps the best way to escape it all is to mentally dive into a good vacation. Researching your dream trip of choice is a helpful reminder that the world will go back to normal again—and when it does, you’ll have a decisive plan of action for a trip you’re excited to take. Whether it’s a new type of travel for you (sailing, hiking, train itineraries, or road tripping) or a destination you’re unfamiliar with, now’s the time to tackle all your wildest travel ambitions.

Here are the dream trips we’re researching while we’re stuck at home, and where to look for the most reliable and up-to-date information on each.

Island Hopping Greece’s Far-Flung Islands

aerial view agios sosts zakynthos greece

While Greece’s main hot spots get a break from the overtourism they’ve faced for years, explore the country’s thousands of islands online to find out which groupings are best for your travel style.

There are the easily accessible Ionian Islands of the north (think Corfu and Zakynthos), more remote North Aegean options near Turkey, and, of course, the famous Cyclades: hard-partying Mykonos and picturesque Santorini included. But you also won’t want to miss their smaller siblings either: Folegandros, Milos, Amorgos, and more are among the lesser-known Cycladic gems. There’s simply not enough time to see them all, so why not choose now which ones you want to see later?

Where to look: Visit Greece’s guide to the Greek Islands is the perfect place to start. Here you can download brochures, guides, and maps, and sign up for their newsletter.

An Off-the-Beaten-Path African Safari

zebras botswana okavango delta khwai.

Go beyond the standard South African romp by extending your dream trip into even more untouched areas like Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where you can safari via canoe, or Zambia’s Liuwa Plain, one of the oldest nature reserves on the continent.

Where to look: African Parks is a 16-park nonprofit organization that advises travelers on up-to-date travel information, including travel advisories and which parks are leading in balancing conservation and tourism. You can find information about visiting each park here, and sign up for their good-news newsletter here.

Hiking Jordan Top-to-Bottom

camels Wadi Rum desert Jordan.

Petra is far from the only site to see in Jordan, which recently opened its new 400-mile Jordan Trail to hikers’ delight. If you’re not aiming to tackle the entire route, you can opt instead for mapping out the sections you would like to conquer, like the southernmost part of the route from Petra to the Red Sea’s world-renowned snorkeling and scuba sites.

Where to look: You can virtually explore the Jordan Trail and monitor when its sites will reopen here.

Meeting Penguins on Antarctica

chinstrap penguin antarctica.

Watching nature documentaries at home can certainly make your travel bug act up. And there’s perhaps no wilder adventure than heading to the southernmost continent for untouched beauty and penguins.

Where to look: Read about one SmarterTravel editor’s Antarctic adventures at sea, and bookmark our 12 Amazing Ways to Explore Antarctica for when tour companies heading to the icy continent reopen.

A Grand Wildlife Tour of the Galapagos

darwin's finch galapagos islands.

A warmer wildlife adventure than setting out for the South Pole, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are an adventure of a lifetime that you’ll need to plan to a tee considering environmental regulations limit access to government-trained tour guides. Species unique to the islands include Galapagos penguins, tortoises, sea lions, rare birds like waved albatross and blue-footed boobies, and more.

Where to look: The Galapagos Conservancy offers travel information like its sustainability restrictions/park rules, where to plan a dream trip, and corporate travel partners that enforce policies in line with the islands’ standards. You can sign up for their newsletter here for updates on all of those topics.

Seeing Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Bullet Train

cherry blossom japan bullet train.

With Japan’s cherry blossom festivals canceled this year, many travelers vying for this dream trip during peak season start planning up to a year in advance to ensure they’ll get their ideal hotel during what’s usually the busiest time of year for the country’s tourism. The fast and affordable bullet trains, which were recently updated to accommodate the now-postponed Olympics, are the best way to get around the mainland.

Where to look: The Japan Rail Pass website is perhaps the best way to familiarize yourself with Japan’s regions and transportation options, and it provides cherry-blossom-season information here, including information about the typical timing of peak blooms for different regions and major cities.

The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip

Road Lake Wakatipu Queenstown New Zealand.

Not familiar with New Zealand’s North Island and South Island geography? Most people aren’t aware you can drive both in their entirety if you plan out an appropriate route and spend at least two weeks. That’s a lot of pit stops, hikes, and hotel stays to plan: Check out SmarterTravel’s best places in New Zealand and How to Do New Zealand’s North and South Islands in Two Weeks.

Where else to look: Pure New Zealand provides detailed itineraries and background information on road tripping around the country’s otherworldly landscapes.

The Towers of Pain: Patagonia via Buenos Aires

Patagonia Torres del Paine Three Giant.

Patagonia’s Torres del Paine (or Towers of Paine) National Park is a bucket-list item for hikers, skiers, and just about any outdoor enthusiast. The best way to conquer a trek in 800,000-square-kilometer Patagonia is with a seasoned tour company that can show you the way, but you’ll still need to figure out which season you want to see this spectacular scenery in, how to get there, and if you want to tack on some time in romantic Buenos Aires since most air routes will include a stop there. See our story on planning a trip to Patagonia and check out one SmarterTravel editor’s experience of conquering the challenging paths in winter.

Where to look: The South America Tourism Office has lots of background information and recommended tour providers specific to Patagonia.

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Share Your Virtual Vacation or Travel Inspiration With Us:

Are you itching to travel? So are we … that’s why we started the #GoLater campaign on social media. We want to see which destinations YOU are dreaming of. Head over to our Instagram channel (@smartertravel) to learn more. 

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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7 Great Water Bottles for Travel

Whether you’re going through security, hiking up a mountain, or exploring a new city, there’s one essential item you should take everywhere: a good water bottle. Anyone who has ever paid too much for bottled water at the airport knows how convenient and cheap it is to bring your own water bottle and fill it up after passing security. But not all water bottles are created equal. Some leak, others are too bulky, and some are just plain ugly. Below are some of the best water bottles to keep you happy and hydrated on your travels.

Kor Nava

The Kor Nava is a stylish bottle that filters water through a built-in straw and replaceable filter. With a sleek design and a comfortable handle that makes it easy to carry, this water bottle is great for walking around a big city or waiting it out at the airport. The click-open cap ensures that the bottle won’t leak in your bag and protects the straw from outside contaminants.

Vapur Element Anti-Bottle

If you’re tight on space, the Element Anti-Bottle from Vapur is a convenient solution. When empty, it’s totally flat and easy to roll up into a very small package. And because it’s so flexible, it’s easy to pack even when it’s full of water. The spout is covered by a cap that will keep your water free from dirt. Despite its appearance, the bottle is extremely durable, dishwasher-friendly, and BPA-free.

LARQ Bottle

LARQ

If you’re worried about the drinking water in your destination, you can save money on bottled water with the self-cleaning LARQ Bottle. LARQ uses UV-C LED technology to sanitize water as you go, killing bacteria with a powerful ultraviolet light. Simply fill up the bottle, press the button on the cap, and give it a shake. At $95, the LARQ is on the pricier side for a water bottle, but having safe water to drink is worth the investment for frequent travelers.

S’well

S’well makes fashionable bottles that promise to keep your cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot for up to 12. The bottles come in a multitude of designs, perfect for every personality, and though they’re on the pricier side, some of the proceeds go to charity.

CamelBak Chute Mag Water Bottle

The Chute Mag Water Bottle comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes, and has a magnetic cap that prevents leaks when you’re not using the bottle. The plastic is lightweight, durable, and BPA-free.

Klean Kanteen

If you’re going to be spending time outdoors, this metal canteen is durable enough to survive the most rugged adventures. Its slim design will fit easily into your backpack, and insulated siding helps keep drinks cold or hot. Made of steel, this is a tough bottle that’s sure to last.

ValourGo Collapsible Bottle

This collapsible water bottle is made of a durable silicone material, which makes it leak-proof but also very flexible. For easy storage, roll it up and secure with the rubber strap. The sleek bottle also comes at a fair price.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.

South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?

The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.

Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.

The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.

Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.

When to Visit the Grand Canyon

planning a trip to the grand canyon

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.

The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.

Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.

Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.

One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.

Grand Canyon Lodging

The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.

The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.

If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.

The North Rim has just two places to stay inside the park: the Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers motel rooms and cabins, and the North Rim Campground. If these are booked, consider the Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles away, or head farther afield to Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona.

The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.

If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.

Grand Canyon Hikes

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.

The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.

If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.

The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.

The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.

For information on all the trails listed above, see the day hiking information page on NPS.gov.

The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.

Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.

Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.

One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.

Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)

From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See GrandCanyonLodges.com.) From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See CanyonRides.com.) Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit GrandCanyonWest.com.

Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.

General Grand Canyon Travel Tips

As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.

The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.

The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.

The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Outdoors

11 Hidden Natural Wonders in the United States

They don’t call it America the Beautiful for nothing. The most beautiful places in America include some little-known yet bucket-list-worthy natural wonders across the U.S. and its territories. These 11 lesser-known spots include lush forests, tropical islands, and towering mountains—and are sure to inspire your travels.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

hikers on great sand dune national park.

You probably already know about otherwordly American national park landscapes like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone’s geysers, but what about sand mountains akin to the ones on Mars? The giant desert peaks of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve include Star Dune, which stands 750 feet tall. Located in Colorado, Great Sand Dune is a hiking or horseback-riding challenge that’s also home to kid-friendly offerings like sand boarding and Medano Creek’s swimming hole.

Vieques, Puerto Rico

vieques beach puerto rico.

Tropical American beauty in the Caribbean is on full display in Vieques, a small island in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Accessible via plane from San Juan on the mainland, Vieques is a well-preserved island with few waterfront hotels where you can hike to hidden beaches like Vieques National Wildlife Refuge’s Pata Prieta. The island is also home to friendly wild horses that roam protected areas and sometimes wander into more tourist-frequented spots. Vieques also has one of the world’s few bioluminescent bays, Mosquito Bay.

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Bar Harbor, Maine

bass harbor lighthouse maine.

Whether you’re more at home in the 47,000-acre Acadia National Park or its cozy coastal town of Bar Harbor, Acadia’s signature New England beauty combines evergreen-capped mountains with sandy beaches and rocky coastlines. Its peaks include the highest on the East Coast, Cadillac Mountain. If you’re more of a beachgoer than a hiker, though, there’s plenty to choose from as well, including Jordan Pond and Sand Beach Park.

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Devil’s Bridge Trailhead, Arizona

devils bridge angle arizona

Arizona’s Grand Canyon aside, one of the most beautiful places in America is the adrenaline-spiking hike in Sedona that includes the natural wonder of Devil’s Bridge. SmarterTravel’s Ashley Rossi says of the precarious spot and its accompanying hike: “Devil’s Bridge is a scenic, intermediate loop with an optional but daring bridge cross. You can also combine it with the Chuck Wagon Trail for a slightly longer hike.”

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Napali Coast, Kauai

napali coast kauai.

Hawaii is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in America thanks to its unique topography and isolation in the Pacific. But one stretch of island in particular stands out: Kauai’s Napali Coast.

“Unlike some other Hawaiian islands, you can’t circumnavigate Kauai by car. You’ll run out of road in the northwestern corner of the island, where steep, jagged green cliffs plunge precipitously into the sea,” SmarterTravel’s Sarah Schlichter says. “This is the famed Napali Coast (na pali means ‘high cliffs’ in Hawaiian). You can catch a glimpse of the cliffs from viewpoints in Kokee State Park, or take the strenuous, 11-mile Kalalau Trail into the heart of the wilderness park, with incredible views of beaches, waterfalls, and fluted cliffs.”

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Lost River Cave, Kentucky

lost river cave entrance kentucky.

You’ve probably heard of Mammoth Cave National Park, the largest underground cave system in the world, but what about Lost River Cave, also in Kentucky? An underground river in Bowling Green, the Lost River Caves are a natural wonder with intriguing history: The cave is where fugitive Jesse James hid out on his run from the law, and are believed to have also functioned as shelter to Native American tribes.

“You’ve got the choice to explore the cave by boat tour, kayak, or—if you’re willing to get down and dirty— a cave crawl, but above ground there’s still plenty to see in the 60-acre park filled with walking trails, campgrounds, and nature-focused activities for the kids,” says SmarterTravel’s Jamie Ditaranto. “No trip to Bowling Green can be considered complete without a trip to this remarkable place, which is not only a natural wonder, but a cornerstone of the community and a monument to its history.”

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The Florida Barrier Reef

woman snorkeling in keys coral reef florida

The only living coral barrier reef in the Continental United States is Florida’s, which stretches from the Florida Keys to the Marquesa Keys, making it the third-largest coral barrier reef system in the world. But it’s a natural wonder in danger: Florida Keys officials recently banned non-biodegradable sunscreens in an effort to save the reef from damage caused by both climate change and toxic chemicals in our oceans.

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming

jackson hole valley tetons.

Yellowstone-adjacent Jackson Hole, known for its cowboy landscapes and snowy peaks, is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. The forest-nestled valley is marked by Grand Teton National Park’s mountains, massive elk herds of the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge, and rushing whitewater rapids on the Snake River that are perfect for rafting. In winter, Jackson Hole is also a favorite for skiing dramatic peaks like Corbet’s Couloir, one of the world’s most famous (and dangerous) ski runs.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

multnomah falls bridge oregon

A list of the most beautiful places in America has to include the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area’s Multnomah Falls. Tourists flock to the forest-nestled Benson Footbridge halfway up the misty falls to get close to the rushing water. Heading to the gorge early and in the rain is best, because it means you’ll get the perpetually crowded Multnomah Falls almost entirely to yourself. Pedal Bike Tours Portland offers easy morning and early-afternoon scenic tour options from downtown Portland.

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Denali National Park, Alaska

caribou denali national park alaska

A favorite among National Parks Service rangers, Denali National Park is home to North America’s tallest peak. Its six million acres of Alaskan wilderness include tundra, forest, and glaciers. The park is as visited for its sprawling vistas as it is for its abundant Alaskan wildlife, from moose and grizzly bears to sheep, caribou, and 165 species of birds.

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National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa

pink cauliflower coral national marine foundation american samoa

Don’t forget Samoa, a Pacific U.S. territory that’s home to a wealth of natural wonders ranging from volcanic peaks to aqua-blue swimming holes. American Samoa is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in America, and stretches over five islands and two atolls, which are accessible without a passport if you fly direct to the capital of Pago Pago. Surround yourself with natural beauty on rainforest hikes, humpback whale watching cruises, and coral reef snorkeling at the National Marine Sanctuary via Fagatele Bay.

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What to Wear on Your Next Adventure

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Adventure Travel Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Luxury Travel Outdoors

Tips for Planning an African Safari

An African safari is a true adventure—imagine thousands of zebras migrating across emerald grasslands, flocks of florescent flamingos creating a field of color across a shining lake, and lions feasting on a hard-earned kill.

With 54 different countries more than 11 million square miles between them, Africa is a very large and very diverse place. The types of safaris are endless. And while there’s no right way to go on safari (it all comes down to personal preferences), there is a lot to consider when it comes to picking out your perfect experience. Here’s how to make the right choice.

Many travelers trek to Africa in search of the “Big Five”: buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinoceroses. The chance to get close to these animals in their natural habitats is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but your trip to Africa is anything but a trip to the zoo. Safaris can be physically taxing and strenuous, and you may not see all the animals you expected. Since most safari destinations are in developing sub-Saharan nations, travelers must take certain safety and health precautions. If you’re planning a safari (or just dreaming about it), be as prepared as possible. Get some good guidebooks, talk to friends who’ve been to Africa and research, research, research. We’ve outlined some important African safari tips, from choosing a destination to getting vaccinated, to help you start planning a successful adventure.

Types of Safaris

For the most part, safaris are a costly kind of vacation. But as with any other type of travel, you can tailor your safari to suit your personal budget. The length of your safari will affect its cost—although you may want to cut your trip short to save cash, the longer you stay, the less you will probably pay on a per-night basis. If you’re looking for luxury digs (think private butler or plunge pool) on your safari (or even just hot water and a comfy bed), prepare to pay more. Budget-minded adventurers should seek self-drive or overland safaris (see below) as opposed to all-inclusive package tours—but be prepared to camp in tents or navigate a 4×4 through the African bush. If you’re traveling alone, you’ll probably have to pay a single supplement, as most package pricing is based on double occupancy.

Also don’t be afraid to extend your vacation in Africa to include an island vacation in Zanzibar, a chance to see the thundering Victoria Falls, or discover ancient history in Egypt—many tour operators will offer extension programs to their safari offerings.

Luxury Safaris

A luxury safari offered by a well-known tour operator typically costs thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of dollars per person, per week, with all-inclusive prices covering tours, food, drinks, and excursions. Fully catered luxury packages offer travelers the comforts of home in the wilderness. Accommodations range from air-conditioned suites to stylish tents (you’ll feel almost like you’re camping—aside from the hot running water, rich linens, and first-rate service). Ultra-luxurious safari lodges can cost more than $1,000 a night.

Belmond Safaris offers luxury safaris packages in Botswana. Orient-Express offers three safari camps, each with its own distinct character: Khwai River Lodge, Eagle Island Camp, and Savute Elephant Camp.

Book a tour with Abercrombie and Kent if you’re looking for a wider range of destinations, including Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa, and more. This company has been operating upscale African safari tours since 1962.

African Travel, Inc. works in 17 destinations in Africa, the majority of which you can find the Big Five, as well as endangered species. For an affordable luxury safari trip, look towards Lion World Travel; at a $5,000 price point, you can enjoy luxurious lodges and incredible wildlife experiences.

Overland or Mobile Safaris

Overland (also known as mobile) safaris are generally the cheapest type of organized tour safari. An overland safari will involve campsite accommodations, and you will most likely travel in a group with other travelers. Overland safaris are usually participatory—you may be expected to pitch in with chores such as cooking meals or setting up camp.

Intrepid Travel sells a number of participatory camping safaris, including the Kenya Wildlife Safari with trips to tiny Tanzanian villages, the Masai Mara National Reserve, Lake Nakuru, and more. Tours range from seven to 27 days and can include game drives in Botswana, sliding down sand dunes in Namibia, a visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, among other stops. G Adventures offers similar trips, including coasting along South Africa and trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Acacia Africa is a reputable overland safari provider that offers a variety of affordable packages for different budgets and travel styles.

River Cruise Safaris

A river cruise might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re considering a safari, but spotting wildlife along the river banks is an amazing sight to see. The Chobe and Zambezi Rivers in Southern Africa are teeming with wildlife and are home to the largest elephant population on the continent. There are plenty of companies that sail on these rivers, but CroisiEurope’s African Dream boat and Amawaterway’s Zambezi Queen stand out as two of the most luxurious river cruise options in Southern Africa.

Self-Drive

Are you the adventurous sort? Pick a public game park, rent a car and tour the African bush on your own. Since self-drive safaris are only possible in public parks that usually have paved roads and signs, you need not worry about getting lost in the plains of Africa or becoming food for a hungry lion. For the cheapest possible safari, self-drive is your best bet. You can pay for a la carte for meals, tours, and accommodations, enabling you to opt for the most inexpensive lodging you can find or tour the bush on your own instead of hiring a guide.

One potential drawback of a self-drive safari is that without a knowledgeable local guide, you may miss some wildlife. To remedy this problem, read guidebooks on spotting wildlife in your destination, bring a field guide or stop and ask other travelers where they’ve seen the best game (this is easier to do in the popular public parks).

National Parks vs. Game Reserves

Whether you’re selecting a tour guide or planning the trip yourself, you’ll need to get more specific about the type of environment you want for your safari. You can’t just vaguely drive into the wild, so it’s important to know the difference between a national park and a private game reserve.

A national park is landmass protected by the government and can be quite large, like South Africa’s Kruger National Park (which is the size of Israel and has six different ecosystems). With a place like this, there’s no way you’ll be able to see it all on a short trip, so you’ll have to do your research to make sure you’ll be visiting the regions of the park that you want to see. The benefit of visiting a landmass of this size is the potential to see large herds of animals in their migration, like the Great Wildebeest Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

On a private game reserve, the fenced-in land is much smaller than the national parks (though it should still be large enough for the animals to happily roam) and the population is mostly controlled by the owners. For example, the Karongwe Reserve offers 21,000 acres of land. Your game drives are included in the price of your lodging, and because the reserve works as one operation, the safari guides communicate with one another about the animals’ whereabouts, ensuring that you’ll see as many animals as possible. Private reserves also do not operate under the same rules as national parks, which means an opportunity to safari in an uncovered vehicle and even stay out past sundown.

Where to Go

Each country in Africa is different. We acknowledge that it is impossible to capture the spirit and culture of an entire country in one paragraph, but below is a brief overview of some popular African safari destinations to get you started. The best and most popular areas in Africa for safaris are East and Southern Africa, which offer vast plains and roaming packs of extraordinary wildlife. We talked to specialists from Lion World Travel, African Travel, Inc., and smarTours for their recommendations and tips.

Kendra Guild, Director of Operations & Product at smarTours breaks down where to go based on what wildlife you want to see: For elephants, head to Chobe National Park in Botswana; for gorillas visit Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda; for lions go to Serengeti in Tanzania; for rhinos go to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi and Kruger National Park in South Africa; and for rare birds, Kruger National Park has the largest and most diverse collection of birds in South Africa.

East Africa

Kenya: Kenya’s most abundant wildlife can be found in the Masai Mara National Reserve (a part of the vast Greater Serengeti), where massive herds of animals make an annual migration across the plains. But beyond Masai Mara and the Serengeti lie plenty of other quality parks with abundances of wildlife, including the soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Bogoria, where thousands of colorful flamingos reside. You can also find the “Samburu Special Six” in northern-central Kenya which are Grevy’s zebra, the Somali ostrich, reticulated giraffe, the long-necked gerenuk, Guenther’s dik-dik, and the beisa oryx. Though Kenya is one of the more popular safari destinations, be sure to check State Department advisories before planning a trip to Kenya or any other developing country.

Tanzania: Like Kenya, Tanzania houses part of the Serengeti National Park—the best park in which to see great herds of wildlife in Africa. Other noteworthy sites include Mount Kilimanjaro; marine parks off the coast; and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, site of the Ngorongoro Crater and Oldupai Gorge (also known as the Cradle of Mankind). The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest volcanic craters on earth. Over 30,000 animals live in the crater; it has the densest lion population in the world.

Uganda: The most famous safari destinations in Uganda are the country’s many primate reserves. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Ngamba Island offer visitors the unforgettable opportunity to get a close look at gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates in their natural habitats. Travelers can also see crocodiles, hippos and exotic birds, and witness the thundering water of Murchison Falls at Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile River.

Rwanda: Most people safari in Rwanda for the country’s outstanding gorilla trekking as well as for the over 600 bird species. “There’s also the incredible comeback Rwanda has made after the genocide 25 years ago—that in itself, is reason to visit,” says Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, Inc.

Southern Africa

Botswana: Probably the most expensive destination in Africa due to the government’s push for high-end tourism, Botswana has smaller crowds than most other safari destinations, and is a common locale for luxury packages. See wildlife in game reserves such as Chobe National Park, famous for an abundance of elephants, or Moremi Wildlife Reserve, which offers plenty of the famous “big five.” You can also visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana—look for crocodiles, buffalo, zebras, hippos and many other animals in the delta’s tangled waterways and islands.

Lucille Sive, president of Lion World Travel says her ultimate safari trip would be to Botswana, “it’s a bit rawer than South Africa or Kenya and Tanzania. Special experiences there include gliding along in a mokoro in the Okavango Delta, or hanging out with meerkats at Jack’s Camp, or staying at the ultra-luxurious Xigera Lodge. Probably the ultimate ‘second safari’ trip for anyone who has already been to Africa!”

Namibia: Namibia is under the radar for many safari travelers—expect less upscale game parks—and is dotted with incredible natural wonders from the Fish River Canyon to the Namib Desert. You’ll find more than 100 species of mammals in Etosha National Park, including endangered animals like the black rhinoceros, as well as the largest cheetah population on the continent. Desert elephants and zebra roam the arid landscapes of Skeleton Coast National Park in Nambia—the driest place in Africa.

South Africa: This is a particularly popular destination for safari travelers, so you can expect a well-organized and modern tourist infrastructure—as well as plenty of other travelers in the high season. Sive recommends South Africa as an ideal family destination since the game drives are shorter and there are malaria-free lodges and game parks. The best-known park is Kruger National Park, which is home to an impressive variety of African animals and is situated in the largest conservation area in the world. Go to a private game lodge if you want a less-traveled safari, but prepare to pay—these pricey digs can run well over $500 per night. Other parks outside of Kruger include Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve and the Shamwari Private Game Reserve (located in the Eastern Cape).

When to Go

Africa is an immense continent with safari opportunities available across thousands of miles, so the best time to travel to Africa depends on your specific destination. Overall, it’s best (but most expensive) to travel in the dry season, which corresponds with the region’s winter. Since safari destinations are in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons run opposite of North America. Winter is from June to September, and summer is from December to March. You’ll also want to consider the migration patterns of animals, such as the Great Migration through Tanzania and Kenya. Annual patterns of animal migration often vary, so it’s a good idea to research animal migration predictions for the season during which you plan to travel.

Some insider tips from Sive: “If you love baby animals and don’t mind hot weather—go to Cape Town, South Africa from December to February. But if you don’t mind the rain—go to Kruger National Park to experience its lush, wet season—balmy but perfect conditions for spotting migratory birds and newborn wildlife. Africa’s winter (June through August) brings just the opposite for both places.” And for those looking to go on a safari on a budget, Guild recommends traveling during the shoulder or low season, which for South Africa is in May and October. 

If you’re a bird-lover, it will be best to visit during wet-season (December to March), which is when birds make their nests and are more likely to be seen at home.

But if nothing could make you happier than seeing the adorable babies of the animals you’ve traveled so far to see, it’s best to time your trip accordingly. Most babies are born in November, so peak baby-watching season is December to February.

Also, ask about the “green season” for good value when you’re safari planning. This varies by each reason but “for East Africa, it’s the low season and a great time to avoid the crowds and the value of the dollar is higher so overall you can stay longer,” advises Banda. “Also, not all the animals are migratory so you will see wildlife and spend more time with your guide viewing animals. While there can be rain, it is scattered and that is why you work with a safari outfitter like us to tailor other experiences like high tea or spa treatments.” African Travel, Inc. even waives solo traveler supplements during the low season on certain trips, like this journey to Botswana and Zambia.

Visas and Vaccines

Of course, you’ll need a passport to travel to Africa. But for some other countries, like Kenya or Tanzania, you will need a visa too. Visit the State Department website for more information on visa requirements. Apply for a visa at least two months before your departure date.

Find a doctor who specializes in travel health care and tell him or her about your African travel plans, or visit a travel clinic. You’ll need to get certain immunizations before heading to Africa. Malaria is common there, but there is no vaccine for the disease. You can protect yourself from malaria by taking an anti-malaria treatment or avoiding mosquitoes; use a mosquito-repellent spray and mosquito nets. You will need a yellow fever vaccination for travel to East and Southern Africa. Other vaccinations you may need include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid. Visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website for destination-specific health information. Keep in mind that many vaccinations take several weeks to provide full protection, so don’t put off your shots until the last minute.

Staying Safe on Safari

You may imagine that hungry crocodiles or packs of ravenous lions are the biggest dangers of a safari. The truth is that humans rarely get attacked by wild animals (just watch out for baboons if you have open food), but they routinely fall victim to safari scams, dehydration, illness, or crime while traveling to Africa.

Safari Scams

When selecting a package, beware of safari scams. Research your prospective safari package provider; ask them for references and if they belong to professional organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents or the United States Tour Operator Association. Also, look for user reviews on sites like TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) before you book. And keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true (like a $50-per-night safari in luxury bungalows), it’s likely a scam. Finally, always be aware of your package provider’s cancellation policy (or lack thereof).

Staying Healthy on Safari

Safaris can be physically strenuous and mentally taxing with early morning wake-ups to see active wildlife and unpredictable weather. Travelers to Africa are at risk for dehydration while on safari; your body may not be accustomed to the hot sun and dry air of the bush and you may not even realize that you’re becoming dehydrated. Drink lots of water, protect yourself from the sun, get the proper vaccines, and wear bug spray. For more on staying fit and healthy on your travels, read our guide to health care abroad.

Sive recommends a rain jacket, a safari hat with neck cover or flaps, and to wear neutral colors, like khaki, brown, or safari green, to blend in with your surroundings.

Politics and Crime

Political unrest is an unfortunate fact of life for many African nations. Crime and violence plague many cities, so be aware of your surroundings when staying in major cities on either end of your safari trip. When traveling to populated areas, familiarize yourself with local customs and take measures to keep your money and valuables safe. And always check State Department advisories before planning a trip to another country. Also, be sure to ask about the company’s emergency assistance program so you’re aware in case of any emergency situations and register with STEP.

Insurance

Since you will be in a remote location and will probably be spending a significant amount of money on a safari, travel insurance is a necessity on an African safari. (Many safari tour operators actually require customers to purchase travel insurance in order to reserve a package.) Be sure to look for emergency medical coverage and financial protection when booking your policy. For more information, read our guide to travel insurance.

What to Pack for a Safari

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Quotes have been edited for clarity. Jamie Ditaranto and Ashley Rossi also contributed to this story.

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The Best Travel Destinations for Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type

Editor’s note: Travel to some countries mentioned in this story have been affected by COVID-19. Check the websites of the CDC and the U.S. State Department before your trip for current recommendations about the safety of travel to your intended destination.

Spin a globe, point your finger, and see where it lands—if only planning a trip were that easy. For those who prefer to take a more rational approach when arranging travel, look to your Myers-Briggs personality type.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a behavioral assessment that calculates how people perceive the world and make decisions. Based on the theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the test determines your four-letter personality archetype based on the following main factors:

  • Extroversion (E) vs. Introversion (I): Do you draw energy from your surroundings (outgoing) or from within (reserved)?
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): Do you process new information through concrete facts or by reading between the lines?
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): When making decisions, are you more likely to prioritize logic and objective criteria or personal values and others’ feelings?
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P): Do you approach life in a systematic, schedule-oriented way or prefer more flexibility and open-endedness?

Not sure of your Myers-Briggs personality type? You can read about the various types here.

For each of the 16 total Myers-Briggs types, we’ve recommended destinations around the world that best complement your personality and comfort zone. Find out in which direction your internal compass points you for your next trip below.

ENFJ: Sao Miguel Island, Azores

hydrangeas coastal path Sao Miguel, Azores Islands.

Go on vacation with an ENFJ, and they’ll frantically ensure that you’re happy and living your best life. These people pleasers strive to cultivate a sense of community wherever they go, which is why the Azores’ largest and most lively island is the perfect spot for their next getaway. With diverse attractions and easy accessibility (you can drive from one end of the island to the other in less than two hours), the ENFJ will be in their element, organizing activities galore.

Where to stay: Because planning can be exhausting, we suggest seeking respite in the wellness-inspired Furnas Boutique Hotel.

ISTP: Rwanda

Solo travel can be food for any type’s soul, but perhaps no one “owns” that style quite like the ISTP. Often described as an adventurous loner, this type gravitates toward the road less traveled, and the Central African country of Rwanda is a perfect example. Any visit to Rwanda’s dense forests will reward the ISTP with a renewed sense of peace, while local interactions will leave them feeling humbled and with an enriched perspective on the world, something they’re always seeking.

Where to stay: The journey continues at the Bisate Lodge, where the ISTP can become one with nature in an environmentally friendly hut nestled in the mountains.

ISFJ: Santa Fe, New Mexico

“The City Different” is an ideal trip for these unique social introverts who can adapt to their surroundings arguably more than any other type. With its communal atmosphere and colorful melding of Mexican, Native American, and Spanish cultures, the oldest capital city in North America will satiate ISFJs’ love of history and tradition while fostering personal connections along the way.

Where to stay: Bunk up at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, a traditionally designed hotel only steps from Santa Fe’s historic Plaza.

ENFP: Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Routines don’t sit well with the ENFP, a type with an aching desire for anything out of the ordinary. Behold: the Republic of Georgia. Nestled at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the underrated city of Tbilisi is a hub of food, wine, history, and adventure. These amiable free spirits will have plenty of options to bounce around, based on whatever feels right in the moment, and they’re sure to make friends along the way.

Where to stay: ENFPs will swoon over the Stamba Hotel, a former printing house with a storied past and a hip, social vibe that will quench the ENFP’s thirst for creativity and personal connections.

INTP: Hydra, Greece

Channeling one of history’s great INTPs, Socrates, this philosophical type was born to explore the deeper meaning of life. The small, slow-paced Greek island of Hydra offers a welcome invitation for INTPs to unravel details of some of humanity’s earliest civilizations and see the world in a new way, while savoring all the alone time they need.

Where to stay: The historic Bratsera Hotel is more than a place for INTPs to rest their heads; with a fascinating history, this converted sponge factory is an experience all its own.

ESFJ: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap continues to rise in the ranks as a top travel destination, with any mention usually complemented by a glossy image of the famed ancient temple of Angkor Wat. While ESFJs will be highly attuned to the country’s history, these altruistic social butterflies also will love the city’s trendy downtown peppered with colorful boutiques and culturally rich restaurants.

Where to stay: Plan early so you can snag one of three rooms at Hotel Be Angkor, each of which features the work of a local artist.

ISFP: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Living in the moment is an ISFP’s mantra. Pair that with their emotionally driven spirit, and we can’t think of a better place to go with the flow than Mostar. This small city is an inspiring representation of the country’s perseverance—a story that will pull at the ISFP’s heartstrings as they stroll through its intimate cobblestone streets. When the need to recharge strikes, retreat to the banks of the Neretva River and marvel at Mostar’s iconic Stari Most bridge.

Where to stay: The cozy, traditionally designed Hotel-Restaurant Kriva Cuprija offers picturesque views.

ESTJ: Bhutan

When it comes to planning a trip, ESTJs are more likely to save up for one big, bucket-list adventure than take a few spontaneous vacations throughout the year. This logical approach is bound to lead them to places of which people only dream—and next year or the following (because we know this year is already planned), we set the ESTJ’s sights on Bhutan. Tucked away in the Himalayas, the small kingdom will invigorate this high-energy type with its friendly locals, vibrant culture, and breathtaking mountain landscapes.

Where to stay: The Dhensa Boutique Resort’s prominent location near several hiking trails means the ESTJ will never get bored.

INFP: Tunisia

Daydreaming is the INFP’s pastime, but when traveling, this empathetic type prefers places with which they can emotionally connect while simultaneously feeding their curiosity. Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis and its suburbs are a conglomerate of cultures, historic landmarks, and streets made for getting lost. Soak up the sights and sounds of the Medina, revel in the white and blue buildings of Sidi Bou Said, and discover centuries past at the ancient ruins of Carthage.

Where to stay: All the areas listed above are within proximity of Tunis, so we suggest using the city center as a starting point, with the Dar El Jeld Hotel and Spa as your home base.

ESFP: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where there’s a spotlight, there’s an ESFP. Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets lined with pastel-colored, Spanish colonial buildings set the stage for these natural entertainers, who enjoy surrounding themselves with people in fun-filled environments. That’s exactly what you’ll find in Puerto Rico’s capital: bustling locales and musical block parties that beckon everyone to have a good time—all within few steps of fresh local cuisine.

Where to stay: To balance out the party scene, stay at the Gallery Inn, where 300-year-old buildings and sea breezes make for a relaxing escape in the heart of downtown.

INTJ: Telluride, Colorado

Unlike ESFPs on the opposite end of the spectrum, INTJs make it a point to avoid the spotlight. Their ideal vacation involves a lot of time dedicated to introspection, and Colorado’s postcard-perfect town of Telluride—isolated by its surrounding cliffs and forested mountains—affords ample opportunities to do so. Hike amid alpine lakes and wildflowers in the summer, bike through fall foliage in September and October, or take advantage of world-class skiing without the crowds and over-commercialization during the long winters.

Where to stay: Downtown Telluride’s charming Hotel Columbia is only steps from the gondola, the United States’ first and only free public transportation service of its kind.

ESTP: Tasmania, Australia

From hiking seemingly untouched mountains to whitewater rafting in the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Franklin River, Tasmania’s diverse terrain affords myriad thrills for this risk-taking type. When you’re not relishing the rugged, protected lands that comprise most of the island, embark on an urban adventure through Tasmania’s quaint capital city of Hobart.

Where to stay: Pamper yourself in between treks at Hobart’s historic Islington Hotel.

ISTJ: Kyoto, Japan

If anyone lives by the book, it’s the ISTJ—which is why they thrive in the peaceful, orderly environment of Kyoto, Japan. The ancient city is replete with temples, museums, and shrines that pique the ISTJ’s intellectual senses as they pace through their spreadsheet of activities.

Where to stay: At Villa Sanjo Muromachi Kyoto, a local, Kyoto-based publisher offers highly organized concierge services with “travel solutions” geared toward individual interests.

ENTP: Guyana

Driven by a desire to challenge the standard, ENTPs continuously seek new experiences, using logic over their emotions to make decisions, including when it comes to travel. A logical reason for the ENTP to visit Guyana now is that its natural beauty remains unspoiled, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a chain store in any of its cities or towns. In South America’s only English-speaking country, you can trek to Kaieteur Falls, the largest single-drop waterfall in the world, and taste your way through history during a rum distillery tour.

Where to stay: Find your home away from home at the Cara Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in the capital city of Georgetown.

INFJ: Alacati, Turkey

To an outsider, the INFJ might appear quiet and reserved; in reality, they love connecting with others and sharing their advice and wisdom, as long as the setting is right. This setting conjures up visions of Alacati, a Turkish fishing village where alfresco cafes on bougainvillea-canopied cobblestone streets inspire deep conversation, and quiet moments allow you to hear the breeze roll off the Aegean Sea, carrying with it the scents of lemon, thyme, and other herbs.

Where to stay: Alacati’s intimacy continues at Alavya, where lovingly restored stone buildings are surrounded by private gardens and courtyards.

ENTJ: Jerusalem, Israel

Every group of travelers needs an ENTJ—someone to take charge and put activities into motion. When it comes to vacation planning, these natural-born leaders set the bar higher than any other type. Jerusalem’s historically significant archeological sites could fill a week-long itinerary, so a trip to this city requires strategic organization; this way, you get to enjoy a little bit of everything.

Where to stay: Plant yourself at the Alegra Boutique Hotel, and explore hidden gems in the heart of Jerusalem’s tranquil Ein Karem neighborhood.

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10 Thrilling National Park Trails

National parks aren’t theme parks. There are no safety belts or security guards, no sanitized lazy rivers or glove-waving costumed creatures. But there is excitement aplenty in our nation’s wild protected parkland. Death-defying clifftop switchbacks, fuming volcanoes, and frothy waterfalls will make the most scream-inducing thrill rides seem like cherry pie. So summon your courage and head to one of these 10 pulse-quickening national park trails, where perilous paths lead to daredevil, once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

half dome yosemite hikers with cables.

Half Dome is a curved rock that ascends almost 5,000 feet into the air, tempting fearless hikers to reach its teetering apex. You need a permit to tackle the roughly 16-mile trail, which takes about 10 to 12 hours to complete. At the end of the hike, you’ll hoist yourself up 400 feet of near-vertical rock face using metal cables in lieu of rock-climbing equipment. Once at the top, a sweet scene rewards the courageous: sweeping views of waterfalls and lush Yosemite Valley.

But hikers beware: According to the National Park Service (NPS), “Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables. However, injuries are not uncommon for those acting irresponsibly.”

Nankoweap Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

nankoweap trail grand canyon.

Dizzying heights and scorching temperatures are the primary hazards on the Grand Canyon’s well-trafficked trails. And the Nankoweap Trail, which the NPS classifies as one of the most difficult in the park, is no exception. The views along the way—panoramas of kaleidoscopic canyons—are unparalleled, but so are the dangers.

The Nankoweap Trail has the largest rim-to-river drop in Grand Canyon National Park, more than 5,000 feet above the Colorado River. According to the NPS, it’s the most difficult named trail in the park, and it’s “not recommended for people with a fear of heights.”

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

blue ridge parkway in fall.

Travelers exploring national parks by car can find just as many thrills as those on foot. Just ask the millions who each year drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most visited locations in the National Park system. This scenic drive through forested mountains in the Appalachian Highlands offers opportunities for bird watching, hiking, leaf peeping in autumn, and other outdoor pursuits with or without a vehicle. But watch out for dangerous spiraling curves if traveling by car or bike. Guard rails provide only limited protection as the road twists and bends around steep mountainside drops.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

angels landing hiker zion national park.

Picture yourself on top of a rock with steep drops of more than 1,000 feet to your right and left. The only thing keeping you from tumbling to either side is your tenacious grip on a skinny chain. This description fits Scout Lookout at Angels Landing, a precipitous four-hour hike in Zion National Park. After ascending a series of challenging switchbacks, gutsy hikers scale Scout Lookout, where chains guide them up narrow clifftops to the trail summit. Not sure if you can handle the heights? Take a virtual tour of the trail from the comfort of your couch on the NPS website.

Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

old rag mountain hikers shenandoah national park.

The NPS dubs Shenandoah’s Old Rag Mountain the “most popular and most dangerous hike” in the park. The nine-mile trek, which takes roughly seven or eight hours, involves a good amount of rock scrambling. In other words, trekkers must maneuver through narrow human-sized cracks in a rock face—for a mile and a half. After a lengthy shimmy through granite, hikers then approach the summit of Old Rag, where a 360-degree view of Shenandoah’s 200,000 acres awaits.

Abrams Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

abrams falls great smokey mountains national park.

Unlike many of the trails featured here, Abrams Falls is fine for the acrophobic—but not so much for the aquaphobic. The falls themselves are just 20 feet high, and the five-mile hike there and back is only moderately strenuous. However, the falls’ powerful currents and great volume of fast-moving water are beautiful but deadly. According to the NPS, “Over the years, several people have fallen to their deaths and many others have suffered serious injuries from climbing on rocks near waterfalls or along the riverbanks.” Your best course of defense? Stay far away from the foam and check out this guide to water safety on the NPS website.

Napau Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

hawaii volcanoes national park lava flow.

“Although Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō stopped erupting in 2018, volcanic eruptions are possible at any time. … Earth cracks, thin crusts, and lava tubes are numerous,” says the NPS of the Napau Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The 14-mile trail is a journey over an otherworldly lava landscape, through rainforests, past steaming vents, and around the rim of a volcanic crater. Some of the park’s perilous features include uneven lava flows and, naturally, unpredictable volcanic activity. Since it passes by Mauna Ulu, an active volcano, the Napau Trail is not always safe for trekking. But local scientists monitor Mauna Ulu for signs of eruption and park officials close the trail whenever conditions are dangerous.

Seven Mile Hole Trail, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

yellowstone grand canyon.

Seven Mile Hole Trail cuts across Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, winding along the rim and through a pine forest where wild grizzlies roam. Arguably, the most difficult part of the trek is a steep one-and-a-half-mile stretch that drops 1,400 feet. (But the switchbacks aren’t exactly a picnic either.) During your hike, keep an eye out for steam vents and active hot springs. Look but don’t touch: In the past, many visitors have suffered serious burns after getting too close to the park’s piping-hot geothermic features.

Backcountry Trails, Denali National Park, Alaska

denali national park pond and hiker.

One of the most exhilarating ways to experience a national park is to go exploring in the backcountry. Travelers often need a permit to access this more isolated, trailless terrain in national parks. And in vast Denali, which is roughly the size of Massachusetts, the backcountry is about as wild and challenging as it gets. The six-million-acre park has less than 30 miles of marked trails—the rest is unadulterated wilderness.

Here, experienced mountaineers can attempt to reach the top of Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, the tallest peak on the North American continent; hikers can trek to massive glaciers; and paddlers can packraft over rough rapids and placid rivers. With little light pollution in the area, campers spending the night can glimpse a glittery star-speckled sky after the sun goes down.

Upper Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

yosemite falls with rainbow.

The Yosemite Falls Trail has all the hallmarks of a thrilling trail: switchbacks, rushing water, heights. It’s also historical; the trail, established in the late 19th century, is one of the oldest in Yosemite, dating back to the 1870s. The seven-mile path leads trekkers to the top of the iconic Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. (It takes about a day to complete.) During winter, the hike can become difficult or even impossible due to snow and ice, so it’s best to take on the trail in warmer months. Or you can explore the place from home by watching the Yosemite Falls webcam.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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The Best Places to Experience Sunset and Sunrise at Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is best observed over the course of a day; it’s the perfect way to enjoy the subtle ways the changing light illuminates the layered red rocks of the canyon. But the best times of day to enjoy the beauty are the sunrise and sunset. Here are tips for making the most of sunrise and sunset at Grand Canyon National Park.

The Best Place for Photos at Sunrise and Sunset

There’s no true “best” place to station yourself if you want to capture the perfect sunrise or sunset picture of the Grand Canyon. The canyon’s North and South Rims stretch for hundreds of miles and leave plenty of opportunities for picture-perfect views. The National Park Service recommends finding viewpoints that offer views both to the east and the west. Hopi Point is a popular sunset spot, though it can get clogged with people and tour buses in summer. Mohave, Pima, and Lipan Points are also notably good places to watch the sunrise or sunset, while Mather and Yaki Points are recommended for sunrise.

Note that weather matters when it comes to sunrises and sunsets; the National Park Service advises that “air quality, clouds, time of the day, and season will all contribute to your view” of the canyon. Calm, clear nights and days generally contribute to a more spectacular sunrise and sunset.

What You Should Expect to See at Sunrise

To truly appreciate the sunrise, you’re going to have to get to your viewing point before the sun peeks above the horizon. Aim to arrive at least a half hour before the day’s sunrise time (check here for sunrise and sunset times). It’s an incredible sight (and well worth the early wake-up) to see the sun flood over the top of the canyon and gradually travel down into the canyon. Pre-dawn temperatures are often cold (even in summer), so be sure to dress warmly.

What You Should Expect to See at Sunset

Seeing the sun set over the Grand Canyon is also a moving experience. Watch the shadows creep up the canyon walls and see the deep orange glow of the setting sun against these walls. Marvel as the formations take on different colors and shapes with the angles of the sun. Again, as with sunrise, be sure to arrive about 30 minutes prior to sunset so you can see it all unfold.

If you’re after the perfect pic, get your gear in order before you go, and learn how to use it. For tips, check out Travel Photography Tips from a Pro.

Warning: The perfect photo is never worth your safety. Stay away from the canyon’s edges. Every year, people fall into the canyon while taking photos; many are injured, some fatally.

Heading to the Grand Canyon? Don’t forget to pack your hiking gear:

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10 Mythical Places That Really Exist

They say there’s a grain of truth in every tale, so we went looking for it. As it turns out, there could have been a Camelot with Round Table knights. A lost city of gold. A Trojan War among Greek gods.

We’re taking you to 10 of the world’s must-see mythical places, some of which are actual archaeological sites, so you can experience the intrigue and see why scholars haven’t ruled out the possibility of their existence.

The Odyssey’s Cyclops Riviera, Sicily, Italy

Cyclops Rocks in Calabria Italy mythical places.

The Myth: An ancient Greek poem attributed to Homer, The Odyssey traces Odysseus (or Ulysses, in the Roman version of the myth) and his epic journey home after the Trojan War. A fantastic chain of events has the homesick hero battling a fierce one-eyed monster Cyclops and a six-headed sea monster, Scylla.

The Place: Along the real-life Cyclops Riviera (who knew?) that stretches from Catania to Acireale along Sicily’s gorgeous eastern coast, you’ll find seaside towns, citrus orchards, and looming Mount Etna, home of Cyclops and Vulcan, the god of fire. Scilla, the nearby Calabria fishing village, is named after the sea monster that devoured Odysseus’ companions.

Why Go: To see Cyclops Rocks, the volcanic cliffs offshore that, as legend has it, Cyclops threw at Odysseus. Ride a cable car to the top of Mount Etna, then take a special terrain vehicle to the crater area at this active volcano. Sicily is also home to the Valley of Temples, ruins of temples built for Zeus, Hercules, and other gods.

Site of the Trojan War, Troy, Turkey

Turkey trojan horse mythical places.

The Myth: Homer’s other epic Greek poem, The Iliad, recounts the brutal 10-year Trojan War between the city of Troy and the Achaeans (ancient Greeks) that sparked when the prince of Troy kidnapped Helen, the daughter of Zeus. Thanks to Odysseus’ plan to use the fabled wooden Trojan horse, he and the Achaeans penetrated the massive walls of Troy and besieged the city.

The Place: For centuries, scholars were convinced the Trojan War was entirely a Greek myth. But in the late 1800s, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann uncovered what historians believe are the remnants of Troy near Turkey’s northwest coast. Today the 4,000-year-old ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Why Go: To wander the temples and ruins once ravaged by slaughter and widespread fire. There’s also a reconstruction of the Trojan horse at the archeological site. If you want to see the prop horse from the 2004 film Troy that starred a buff Brad Pitt, visit the boardwalk in nearby Canakkale.

Shangri-La, Himalayan Mountains, Tibet

Shangri La Himilayas mythical places.

The Myth: The name “Shangri-La” first appeared in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon as a fictional utopia high in the Tibetan Himalayas, where life is enlightened and days are lived in peace and wonder. So influential was the myth that the term now appears in the dictionary as a synonym for a remote paradise.

The Place: Several communities deep within the snow-capped Himalayas have since claimed to be the novel’s inspiration, and the China-Tibet border town of Zhondian even renamed itself Shangri-La in 2001. But any definite location of any actual Shangri-La, as with Buddhism’s enlightened Himalayan kingdom of Shambhala, is pure speculation.

Why Go: To marvel at the peace and wonder you’ll find in early morning hours at Zhondian’s Songzanlin Monastery. In the village are teahouses and Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the high-altitude breeze. Area hiking trails will lead you through paradise’s Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La Canyon.

King Arthur’s Camelot, Cornwall, England

Tintagel, England's King Arthur Court and Merlin's Cave mythical places.

The Myth: As the legend goes, King Arthur was a British leader who led his Knights of the Round Table against Saxon invaders in the 5th or 6th century CE. He took the throne at Camelot by pulling a magical sword, Excalibur, from a stone, a feat only the true king of Britain could accomplish.

The Place: British Library manuscripts suggest Arthur is based on an actual person who lived in Shropshire. That county’s Wroxeter archaeological dig site, with remains of an ancient city and castle, is believed to be King Arthur’s Camelot.

Why Go: To check out the dig site and its museum, which displays artifacts from the excavation. Explore possible Sword in the Stone evidence at Mitchell’s Fold stone circle. You can visit Arthur’s reputed birthplace in Tintagel near clifftop castle ruins and Merlin’s cave. Mecca for mystics, the town of Glastonbury now sits on what is considered the king’s final resting place, the Isle of Avalon.

Loch Ness, Highlands, Scotland

The Myth: In Scotland’s most famous modern-day myth, the Loch Ness Monster is said to inhabit the 23-mile-long and 600-foot-deep Loch Ness. A London doctor first captured “Nessie” on film in 1934. Dozens of reported sightings and hoaxes have cropped up ever since, and the mystery remains unsolved.

The Place: At this glacier-carved lake, the peaty-brown water never freezes, and in calm, warm conditions some say it’s prone to mirage. Several monster-related attractions and souvenir shops satisfy the droves of tourists that visit each year.

Why Go: For a chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive Nessie. Take a boat cruise tour with a guide who will recount stories of sightings and take you past Urquhart Castle, a medieval fortress. In Drumnadrochit, the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition presents research and eyewitness accounts of the monster. See an impressive series of canal locks at the south end of Loch Ness.

Pele’s Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii

Pele's Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii

The Myth: Not just a cute legend told in grass skirts at luaus, Pele, the goddess of the volcano, is a very real part of the beliefs held by Hawaiian natives. Every fiery eruption here is said to be her molten body moving across the land. According to legend, anyone who removes a piece of rock from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park suffers Pele’s wrath with streaks of bad luck, often prompting the offender to abandon the rock or return it.

The Place: Locals say Pele’s home is Halema’uma’u Crater at the national park’s summit caldera of Kilauea. In this sacred place, Hawaiians still practice the ancient tradition of giving Pele offerings—chants, dances, or leis made of native materials.

Why Go: To see the caldera, walk through a lava tube, or watch glowing lava spew and ooze after dark. Along the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, the Jaggar Museum overlook offers the best and closest view of Halema’uma’u when it erupts.

El Dorado, Bogota, Colombia

Guatavita Bogota Lake mythical places.

The Myth: The mention of El Dorado conjures up images of a fabled city rich in treasures somewhere in the thick South American jungle. But the myth is actually linked to sunken treasure in a Colombian lake. It is said that a Muisca tribal chief, in worshipping the goddess of water, would cover himself in gold dust, load a raft with his priests and the village’s gold treasures, then dive into the lake with the offerings.

The Place: On an ecological reserve outside of Bogota, the green-hued Lake Guatavita is the sacred El Dorado ceremonial site. Since the days of the Spaniards, several expeditions have attempted to loot the gold, turning up small amounts of everything from jewelry to ornaments and armor.

Why Go: To hike the trails around the lake and imagine what still lies at the muddy bottom. At the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogota, check out the golden Muisca raft, a piece that dates to somewhere between 1200 and 1500 BCE.

Xanadu, Inner Mongolia

Xanadu Mongolia mythical places.

The Myth: Some of us hear “Xanadu” and immediately flash back to the ’80s musical with Olivia Newton-John on roller skates. Roller discos aside, the definition of Xanadu is an idyllic place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment. And that’s what English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes when he references Xanadu in his famous poem “Kubla Khan.”

The Place: As Coleridge’s poem notes, Xanadu (or Shangdu) was the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty after 1264. It was located in what is now Inner Mongolia, some 220 miles north of Beijing, but was abandoned in 1430. Xanadu was recently added to the list of World Heritage sites and features the remains of the city’s temples, palaces, and tombs, and a canal.

Why Go: To experience an idyllic place set among mountains and a river and planned according to traditional Chinese feng shui. At the Xanadu archaeological site, you can see how the city was laid out to accommodate Mongolian tribal meetings and hunting.

Mount Olympus, Greece

Mount Olympus Greece, mythical places.

The Myth: The setting for numerous Greek myths, Mount Olympus is known as the home of the 12 ancient gods (Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, and other big names). According to Homer, the gods live in the mountain’s mysterious folds. Pantheon (now called Mytikas) is their meeting place, where Zeus hears heated discussions and unleashes his thunderous wrath.

The Place: From ancient days, fog and frequent storms have enshrouded this mountain in mystery, inspiring the awe and admiration of onlookers at its base. Now a protected national park, Olympus is an important sanctuary for birds and rare plants and animals.

Why Go: To experience the wrath of Zeus as you watch a tempestuous storm roll in. Well-marked trails traverse Mount Olympus, and they’re relatively easy to climb. You can follow one of several mountaineering clubs, stopping at refuges along the way.

Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England

nottingham castle Robin Hood mythical places.

The Myth: More than 600 years’ worth of ballads, plays, novels, and movies have spun the tale of this fearless, noble outlaw. Accounts vary, but most modern versions peg Robin Hood as a highly skilled archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, leading a merry gang against the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The Place: Once a royal hunting forest, Sherwood Forest is now a 450-acre national nature reserve with visitor-center exhibits and trails leading past some of Europe’s oldest trees. See what’s believed to be Robin Hood’s hideout: the hollow trunk of Major Oak, a giant twisted tree with a girth of 36 feet that’s estimated at 800 years old.

Why Go: For the Robin Hood Festival in July, where you’ll find characters in medieval costume as well as archery and jousting demonstrations. In Nottingham you can take a guided walking tour to learn about key sites, including Robin’s grave.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Arts & Culture

Which Country Matches Your Zodiac Sign?

Gazing skyward can be like traveling. The heavens are mysterious, expansive, and full of wonder. For astrologers, the sky is filled with signposts, and it’s all thanks to the zodiac.

Most of us know our sun signs—that’s which zodiac constellation the sun was in when we were born. That’s why we read horoscopes, a personal forecast based on cosmic movements. But what about our travel horoscope? Can we determine the best destinations and timing for travel based on the zodiac signs?

Why yes, we can. According to Astrologer Kyle Thomas, the planets, sun, and moon can all factor into travel horoscopes. And 2020 promises to be an excellent year for travel. Thomas explains that with Jupiter in Capricorn throughout 2020, we can expect a bit of luck and maybe even miracles as we explore natural landscapes (like a goat, the symbol of Capricorn). Better still, international explorations are calling through early 2020 with Mars, the planet of energy, in Sagittarius. By year’s end, “Mars will be in Aries, which will definitely make very hot destinations the most desirable,” says Thomas.

Here’s more zodiac travel insight for each specific sun sign.

Aries (March 21 to April 19), Spain

The country where Flamenco began is a dreamy destination for Aries. “Spain is filled with vibrant colors and experiences,” says Thomas. “Aries possesses a great deal of energy and enthusiasm, and craves festivities.” While Barcelona and Madrid are fine cities for culture and gastronomy, find even more flavor in sunny Seville. At the city’s Flamenco Dance Museum, Aries can revel in emotive music, costumes, and dance performances, and even join and dance or music classes. 

Taurus (April 20 to May 20), France

“As a zodiac sign that favors the senses and pleasure, Taurus will feel most alive in France,” says Thomas, adding that the beauty and romance in Paris will invite bulls to feel right at home. Reserve time for romantic strolls and leisurely dining at charming brasseries where you can sit for hours sipping drinks and discussing art. Seek out accommodations in charming Montmartre, perhaps at Maison Souquet, where each suite is lushly designed with silky textiles and other boudoir-appropriate touches.

Gemini (May 21 to June 21), Brazil

Gemini is among the more adventurous zodiac signs. So, Thomas points Gemini travelers to Brazil, a destination filled with hidden wonders that can keep the astrological twins’ minds abuzz. “Gemini is a zodiac sign always craving spontaneity and is curious about the world.” Rio de Janeiro is a vibrant choice for its culinary temptations and Carnival spirit. But a Gemini will be inspired by the colors and quirks of the Santa Teresa hilltop district, where artists lend their talents to enrich the local flair.

Cancer (June 21 to July 22), New Zealand

“As a water sign, Cancers love to be near the ocean or lakes,” says Thomas. “With so much natural beauty in New Zealand, Cancers will remember this vacation for the rest of their lives.” Indeed, with 9,300 miles of coastline, this Pacific nation is perfect for beach bums. Best destinations for Cancers are on the North Island, where a home base in Auckland allows for day-tripping to Coromandel Forest Park (about a two-hour drive). The park fills out a peninsula home to Hahei Beach with reefs made for diving and snorkeling, and Hot Water Beach where you can dig your own heated mineral pool in the sand.

Leo (July 23 to August 22), Greece

The fire in every Leo leads to serious travel love. “Leos crave expression, inspiration, and creativity, and Greece holds plenty of passion,” says Thomas, alluding to the country’s cultural and social legacy. History fans can’t go wrong with Athens, one of the world’s great cities, or any of its enchanted Aegean islands. But further south on the Peloponnese coast is Monemvasia, where an ancient castle and cobblestone streets echo the town’s medieval roots, and where poets and artists find solace in the Greek sun.

Virgo (August 23 to September 22), California

“As an Earth sign, Virgos love to embrace nature and enjoy a planned-out journey,” Thomas says. “California offers an opportunity to travel along the coast or within the state to keep them always moving to the next location.” Road-tripping through the Golden State is a no-brainer since travelers can roll from mountains to the ocean, or from desert to metropolis all in a day. One of the best journeys is a day trip across Sonoma County, starting in the historic town of Sonoma, then traveling westward through wine country for a walk at the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, and winding down with a Pacific sunset at Bodega Bay.

Libra (September 23 to October 22), Quebec, Canada

Travel astrology points Libras toward a location that promises “steady fun and recreation.” This air sign loves to socialize and enjoy the nightlife, and Montreal, Quebec, is a culturally rich city filled with stimuli. Libras can balance out their scales with outdoor recreation in Mount Royal or the Botanical Garden. Indoor time is well spent catching Canada’s premier drag stars at the famous Cabaret Mado, or dining at a great Montreal restaurant like Candide, with changing monthly prix-fixe dining menus.

Scorpio (October 23 to November 21), Egypt

“As a zodiac sign that’s most connected to mystery and magic, Egypt’s ancient history will bewitch a Scorpio and ignite their fascination with the supernatural,” Thomas reports. Naturally, Scorpions will find fascination in the magnificent pyramids of Giza. About an hour south of Cairo and Giza, however, curious minds can ponder the lesser-known (and less-visited) pyramids known as Bent, Black, and Stepped. At the Red (or North) pyramid in Dahshur, inquisitive Scorpios can even slip inside its passageways to absorb the mystique of its inner chambers.

Sagittarius (November 22 to December 21), South Africa

“Sagittarius is known for their wanderlust and need to explore—so South Africa will light up their hearts,” says Thomas. It’s true, South Africa has so many wonderful travel options, from short or extended safaris to beautiful beaches to unforgettable wine-country excursions. And while a Cape Town visit is essential, Johannesburg has emerged lately as one of the world’s most exciting cities. There, fiery Sag globetrotters may leap at the chance to try bungee jumping from a catwalk 100 meters high at the twin cooling towers–turned–adventure park known as Soweto Towers.

Capricorn (December 22 to January 19), Iceland

Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, the planet of ice—fitting for a zodiac sign aligned with the start of winter. So nomadic goats will do well in Iceland, where nature reigns. Capricorns can explore the nation’s waterfalls, glaciers, hot springs, and sea cliffs all while viewing wildlife from whales and seals to puffins and Arctic foxes. Most tours launch from Reykjavik, so choose a reliable company like Pink Iceland, Intrepid Travel, or G Adventures, to show you the best of Iceland’s extraordinary landscapes.

Aquarius (January 20 to February 18), Japan

“Aquarius is the most forward-thinking zodiac sign, and is always about the next technological advancement,” Thomas reports. So, it’s no surprise that he says, “Japan will captivate every Aquarius.” Few cities seem so futuristic as Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis. There, progressive-minded Aquarian adventurers can dive deep into the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation that is Miraikan. Parked on the man-made island of Odaiba, it’s the place to discover feats of human engineering, the future of robots, and the essence of the universe.

Pisces (February 19 to March 20), Puerto Rico

The Caribbean offers all travelers a bit of breezy pleasure, but according to Thomas, “As a water sign, Pisces are one with the sea.” The best city for Pisces is someplace with plenty of open air and swimming beaches, complemented by music and pockets of romance—and San Juan, Puerto Rico is just the spot. In Condado Beach just east of Old San Juan, the fish sign can linger under palm trees and catch gorgeous waves all day long.

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Kyle Thomas is a globally recognized popular-culture astrologer who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Elite Daily, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, YahooNews, MSN, and more. Learn more about his readings at KyleThomasAstrology.com, and find him on Instagram @MrKyleThomas.

Categories
Adventure Travel Outdoors

Banff and Beyond: The Best Way to Experience Alberta

You’ll find a Dark Sky Preserve, five national parks, two major cosmopolitan cities, world-class ski mountains, and maybe the most-Instagrammed lake in the world all in Canada’s province of Alberta, and that’s just the start. The Northern Lights, long table dinners, Nordic spas, a Scandinavian-designed library, and one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaurs (which you can also sleep at) also await in this western Canadian province.

The Best Way to Experience Alberta and the Canadian Rockies

Drive a few miles outside of Calgary and you’ll see it. Out of nowhere, giant, towering, sharp granite spikes start to surround you. And that moment where the prairie meets the peaks is in fact magical.

The landscapes in Alberta range from dry prairies to the towering Canadian Rockies. Here’s why you should plan your next trip to Alberta, when to go, and what to do when you get there.

Major Cities in Alberta

Alberta’s two major cities are worthy destinations to visit in their own right, and both urban centers are close to national parks and other Alberta tourism attractions. So, when planning your trip to Alberta, it’s easy to bookend your nature-focused adventure with a night or two in either city.

Edmonton

The province’s capital is home to the largest museum in Western Canada, the Royal Alberta Museum, as well as a brand-new modern library, the Stanley Milner Library (opening in spring 2020). The city is in the process of developing a new mixed-use sports and entertainment district downtown, dubbed ICE. In summer, visit for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and when the weather cools down, don’t miss the revitalized Flying Canoe Volant Festival—no canoes are actually flying, it’s a winter-time festival with music, food, art, and lights—and warm up at the new Edmonton Nordic Spa, slated to open in late 2020.

Edmonton is accessible via direct flights from major U.S. cities like Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Orlando, Las Vegas, Seattle, and more.

Calgary

About a three-hour drive south from Edmonton is Alberta’s other major city, Calgary. It’s the gateway to Banff National Park, and it’s worth spending a few nights here, too. On a recent trip to Alberta, I was blown away by Calgary’s coolness and livability. From the newly opened modern library—it looks something like Noah’s ark in the middle of the city—to the city’s 135 breweries, there’s no shortage of culture here. Well-known for its famed festival, the Calgary Stampede held every July, the city has taken hold of its musical roots and transformed the urban center into a cosmopolitan destination. Don’t miss a visit to the Studio Bell, Home of the National Music Centre and explore the art and food scene in the nearby East Village.

Calgary is accessible via nonstop flights from major U.S. cities like Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Chicago, Houston, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, and more.

The National Parks in Alberta

Canada’s western province is home to five national parks, which range in landscapes from a Dark Sky Preserve to emerald-colored lakes and activities from skiing to scuba diving (yes, you read that right).

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is Canada’s first national park and it’s full of unique features—like its two alpine towns, Banff and Lake Louise, as well as the only distillery in a national park in Canada.

While Banff National Park is a popular tourist attraction in Alberta, visiting in the off- or shoulder-season can bring fewer crowds and just as many outdoor experiences. Stay at least one night in the town of Banff itself and then drive the 35 miles or so to some of the most famous lakes, like Lake Louise and Lake Moraine, in the Rockies.

In the town of Banff, soak at Banff Upper Hot Springs, experience the mountains at eye level with a trip up the Banff Gondola, immerse yourself in a form of therapy known as forest bathing, shop and eat on Banff Avenue, and pay a visit to the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity.

Another highlight in the national park is the famed Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. The property directly abuts the popular lake, but by staying overnight you can experience all the lake has to offer without the day crowds. You’ll find a variety of hiking trails around the lake, which offers different experiences in winter and summer. But don’t try and go swimming; the lake is filled by glacier water, meaning it’s too cold to swim in (although some locals occasionally jump in).

Other activities in Banff National Park include ice walking, skiing at any of the three mountains (Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, and Mount Norquay), canoeing, visiting a glacier, and more.

In order to gain entry inside the national park, even the towns, you’ll need a Parks Canada Pass. You can purchase either a Day Pass or annual Discover Pass, here.

Jasper National Park

About three hours away from the town of Lake Louise and four hours away from Edmonton is one of the more accessible places in Canada to view the Northern Lights (your best shot at seeing them is between September and May). Every October, the national park is home to a Dark Sky Festival, with special programming around star gazing and nighttime activities.

Climb frozen waterfalls, gaze at the starts, hike the backcountry, and more at the largest park in the Rocky Mountains, Jasper National Park. Popular natural tourist attractions in Jasper include the Maligne Canyon area, Columbia Icefield, Athabasca Falls and Glacier, and Pyramid Mountain and Lake. Jasper itself is an alpine town with a SkyTram, galleries, relaxing day spas, and more. The national park is also home to a golf course and ski mountain.

Elk Island National Park

For wildlife lovers, Elk Island National Park should be your first stop in Alberta. Visitors have the chance to see bison, elk, moose, white-tailed deer, mule deer, and even Alberta lynx. The closest town is 25 minutes away in Fort Saskatchewan, which is home to a heritage center and two golf courses. Accommodations here are more basic, and camping (and glamping) is a popular choice. Edmonton is only 35 minutes away, so a visit here makes for a convenient day trip.

Waterton Lakes National Park

Located at the most southwestern point of the province is this small but substantial national park. It even borders Montana’s Glacier National Park. But what it lacks in size it makes up for with its UNESCO World Heritage site, international peace park, and Biosphere Reserve designations.

This park is ideal for day hikers and those looking to pack a lot in on one trip. The park is home to countless lakes (hence the name) as well as thundering falls and even Red Rock Canyon. Check out the tourism board’s website for more information on hiking in Waterton National Park.

Wood Buffalo National Park

Alberta is home to the largest national park in all of Canada (and the second-largest in the world), one that’s even larger than the country of Switzerland. Wood Buffalo National Park crosses over into the Northwest Territories, and while it’s not often visited due to its remoteness, the park is open year-round. It’s home to rare wildlife, like whooping cranes, as well as natural attractions like Pine Lake and the Peace-Athabasca Delta. The park is accessible by two gateway communities: Fort Smith (located in the Northwest Territories) and Fort Chipewyan (located in Alberta).

Lesser-Known Places in Alberta

While Alberta is a large province, many people only concentrate their time in the town of Banff and the Lake Louise area. But there are so many other natural wonders in the Canadian Rockies to explore. Here are a few tips on visiting Alberta, Canada with fewer crowds.

Kananaskis Country

About an hour from Calgary is a recreational area right at the foothills of the Rockies that rivals the landscapes of the national parks. Whether you visit in winter for dog sledding, skiing, or snowshoeing; or in the summer for hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking, you’ll have plenty to do and see. In the fall shoulder season, many of the area’s resorts and lodges host wellness retreats, and the area even has Alberta’s first Nordic spa, an increasingly popular attraction in Canada.

Canmore

The town of Canmore is another area that’s popular among locals. It’s about an hour’s drive outside of Calgary and is close to the entrance of Banff National Park. The town has its own Nordic center for winter sports as well as mountain summits and turquoise blue lakes. You can even explore underground with a cave tour. Don’t miss out on the quaint downtown either: it’s a quintessential Main Street with Rocky Mountain views.

Visiting Alberta in Shoulder Season

Like many beautiful places in the world, certain parts of Alberta are crowded with tourists during peak season, which for Banff National Park is the summer season. Consider visiting Banff outside of this time period, like the late fall, winter, or early spring for fewer crowds.

Getting Around Alberta

The best way to get around the province is by rental car. However, there is a reliable public bus system that runs year-round throughout the Bow Valley region. Check out Roam’s website for up-to-date fare information and scheduled routes. Many hotels and resorts also have their own shuttles and there are plenty of private car hire companies to choose from (see Viator for more information).

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Ashley Rossi visited Alberta, Canada as a guest of Travel Alberta. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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