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Adventure Travel Health & Wellness

Be Safe and Prepared Anywhere: VSSL First Aid Kit Review

The VSSL First Aid Kit contains everything you might need in an emergency, and it’s small and lightweight enough that you can always have it on you.

VSSL First Aid Kit Review

Price and Where to Buy: At the time of writing, the VSSL First Aid Kit was on sale for $94 on VSSL’s website.

How the VSSL First Aid Kit Rates

  • Usefulness: 10/10. The VSSL First Aid Kit is thoughtfully stocked with everything you might need in an emergency, including an LED flashlight, a compass, bandages, a whistle, a thermometer, and more.
  • Durability: 10/10. The VSSL is made out of military-grade aluminum, so it’s tough and waterproof. It’s also backed by a lifetime warranty.
  • Portability: 10/10. The emergency supplies are packed inside the flashlight, and the whole kit weighs less than a pound. It’s less than 2 inches in diameter and is easy to keep in your glove box or backpack.
  • Style: 10/10. The unique VSSL design is perfect. It’s shaped like a flashlight, with the flashlight at the top, the compass on the bottom, and all the supplies inside. The bright red color makes it easy to spot when you need it.

Final Verdict: Hikers, travelers, and drivers should keep the VSSL First Aid kit nearby at all times.

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Caroline Morse Teel is always on the hunt for the newest and best travel gear. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

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At Home Entertainment Health & Wellness Outdoors

Forest Bathing Audio Experience

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

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

Let’s head into nature for a guided virtual forest bathing experience. Traditional forest bathing strengthens your relationship to nature by connecting you via your five senses.

We’ve created these audio tours to transport you to inspiring destinations around the world, even when you can’t be there in person. So settle in and let’s imagine a peaceful walk through a beautiful forest. Along the way, we’ll practice some traditional forest-bathing techniques to help you relax and connect with the outdoors.

Note that each virtual vacation begins with a short breathing exercise to help you come into the moment and make the most of your virtual vacation.

Discover more Virtual Vacations.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Fashion & Beauty Health & Wellness Outdoors Packing Travel Technology Travel Trends Women's Travel

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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Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel

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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Active Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors

Some National Parks Are Free Right Now—But Should You Visit?

Editor’s note: Since this story was published, an increasing number of state and national parks have closed to the public. Be sure to check the individual park’s website for the most up-to-date information before you visit.

A visit to a national park seems like a great idea right about now. Getting out of your house, fresh air, and plenty of room to social distance—what could be bad about that?

After Interior Secretary David Bernhardt waived fees for national parks visitors earlier this week, many people may be wondering: Is it okay to visit national parks during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Unfortunately, like much about this pandemic, the answer isn’t simple. Yes, the majority of national parks are remaining open (for now), but many things will be modified.

Essential services (such as visitor centers, restrooms, campground, and shuttles) will be closed as a health precaution. If you do visit a park, you’ll need to be prepared to be totally self-reliant—so come ready with maps, plenty of food and drink, and emergency supplies.

Other parks are experiencing a flood of visitors right now that makes it impossible to follow social distancing guidelines, and that’s sparking concern in residents over an influx of people increasing the risk of contagion. The Mayor of Moab, Emily Niehaus, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community. This is an urgent message to people considering travel to Moab.”

It’s also important to consider if you would be putting park rangers in danger by visiting a park. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks released a statement saying, “National parks welcome visitors from around the world. Many National Park Service (NPS) employees interact with members of the public daily. These employees should not be exempt from recommendations made by the CDC. Further, to suggest to the public that gathering at national park sites is acceptable when gathering at restaurants, theaters, libraries, and other public spaces is no longer safe is irresponsible to the visiting public and employees.”

If you are considering a trip to a national park, think about whether or not you can do it responsibly.

Before departing, ask yourself: Will you have to travel a long distance to get there, resulting in stops at rest areas, restaurants, and hotels? Or can you travel there and back in your car, from your home, without much public exposure?

Are you visiting a crowded trailhead, where it may be tough to stay six feet away from other groups of hikers, or can you park your car and hike without interacting with anyone else?

If you do decide to go, The NPS is urging park visitors to follow all current CDC guidelines, especially washing hands frequently and most importantly—staying home if you feel sick.

Be sure to check the individual park’s NPS page before visiting, as some parks (especially those in urban environments, such as the National Mall) have closed.

The same advice applies for visiting state parks, some of which may be waiving fees at this time. Check the website for the state park you wish to visit before you go, to confirm it is open and to see what restrictions apply to visitors.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor for SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline for travel photos and advice.

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Adventure Travel Airport Packing Travel Technology

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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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Road Trip Sustainable Travel

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.

More from SmarterTravel:

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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Packing

10 Best Travel Day Packs (2020 Edition)

Never underestimate the power of a good travel day pack on a trip. These versatile day packs are perfect for any active vacation or even for a city getaway if a backpack is more your style than a purse. Plus, if you run out of space in your bag on the way home, they make for a great spare carry-on.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote Pack 27L

patagonia ultralight black hole tote bag.

This hybrid tote/backpack is one of the best day packs for travel because of its dual functionality and lightweight material. Though it’s not heavy, it’s well made and resistant to both tears and wet weather.

The main compartment is zippered, and there are two mesh water bottle side pockets, as well as a large zippered front pocket, so it can hold all of your carry-on essentials. The 27-liter size makes it roomy enough for an overnight stay, but it folds into itself for easy storage.

Gonex Packable Daypack

gonex packable daypack.

Gonex makes a great streamlined pack that stuffs into its own small pouch. The material is a lightweight but strong nylon that’s resistant to rain and tears. It has one main compartment as well as a few smaller ones, making it one of the best travel day packs to keep you organized without adding a lot of weight.

Public Rec Pro Pack Plus

This offering from Public Rec is a sturdy option for those looking to do some hiking or other outdoor activities. Even though the bag is made of strong polyester, it’s still lightweight and waterproof. It has a padded sleeve for a 15-inch laptop, stretch-woven side pockets, a padded shoulder harness, and a zippered top pocket for essentials.

Matador Freerain24 Backpack

The Matador Freerain is the latest style in Matador’s compact packs range. This ultra-light style is watertight with waterproof rolltop construction, making it super durable for any type of outdoor activity. It has a 24-liter main compartment, dual side pockets, and a front vertical pocket for easy access to essential items. 

Osprey Daylite Backpack 13L

osprey daylite pack.

Whether you’re taking a city tour or a summit excursion, the Osprey Daylite is the perfect travel day pack. For hikers, it has a slot for a hydration bladder and is designed to be attached/removed from larger Osprey bags. For the urban traveler, it has a large main compartment, front pocket, and side mesh pockets. At 13 liters, it’s on the smaller side, but it still fits everything you would need for a day.

Sherpani Camden Pack

sherpani camden bag.

This is a great travel day pack for urban travel due to its zipper locks, RFID-protected pocket, laptop sleeve, and flexible straps: It can be carried as a tote, worn as a backpack, or worn crossbody. There’s also a zippered luggage pass-through sleeve so you can put it over the handle of your carry-on at the airport.

Herschel Supply Co. Nova Mid Volume Backpack

nova mid volume backpack.

This stylish travel day pack option holds a 13-inch laptop in the padded sleeve compartment and has internal and external pockets to hold your essentials. The main compartment zips shut, and the shoulder straps are padded.

Fjallraven Kanken Classic

I’ve been flying with my Kanken as my personal item for more than a year now and I love its size, durability, and shape. The Classic style makes for the perfect travel day bag as well, with a roomy main compartment and front pocket for your essentials. The simple design is stylish, and you can fit a surprising amount of clothing and gear inside.

REI Co-op Flash 18 Pack

REI’s Flash Pack is a travel day pack with dual functionality. Simply turn it inside out and the backpack doubles as a stuff sack for packing. This day pack is super comfortable to wear with a lightly padded back panel—which also slips out to double as a seating pad—as well as padded shoulder straps and a detachable hip belt and sternum strap. The sternum-strap buckle can also be used as a safety whistle. And at 18 liters, it’s the perfect size for day trips. What can’t this day pack do? 

Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Packable Daypack

Cotopaxi makes a great lightweight travel day pack, perfect for hiking. The 18-liter pack has a large main compartment with an internal hydration sleeve, mesh shoulder straps, a front zippered pocket, buckled strap support, and a top drawstring closure.

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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.

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

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Island Luxury Travel

Wish for Rain: The Elemental Splendor of Tofino

“I hope it rains every day you’re there.”

My friend says this as I’m leaving for Tofino, and I laugh. I’m not sure what to make of this unlikely send-off.

By the time I arrive in Tofino, this hope has manifested into dense rain that falls from a matte gray sky. I step off the plane and look up, curious about this wished-for rain, wondering what makes it the sort of guest you invite on vacation. Cold drops pummel my face, challenging the elasticity of my skin; if I were made of sand, the rain would already be carving channels down my cheeks. I shudder involuntarily as a trail of water slides past my ear and settles on the nape of my neck, sending a snaking sensation up my spine. I nestle back into my hood and wipe my face with my already-wet jacket sleeve.

The rain is steady but not dramatic—there are no thunderclaps, no lightning bolts. The impenetrable rainforest surrounding the small air strip signals that this storm is just another day of the usual water cycle commute, southbound.

I’ve packed strategically, and think I’m prepared for the weather. But I’m not. On the tarmac trudge from the plane to the one-room airport, my water-resistant jacket reaches maximum saturation. Soon, my toes are swimming inside my shoes. 

If the West, itself a frontier, has a frontier, this is it. This stretch of Vancouver Island the wildest, wettest, West—where thick forests invent new shades of green with each flicker of sunlight and you’re never far from the roar of waves that have been building strength for 4,500 miles of open Pacific before crashing into Tofino’s rocky shores. On this far left edge of North America, people rush out to meet the rain. In Tofino, home of storm-watching, cold-water surfing, and temperate rainforests, rain is the reason—it’s why people come, and why they stay. 

Tofino’s Alchemy of Rain

Tofino is the end of the road, and no one comes here accidentally. I am no exception—I’ve been dreaming of this place for years. At home in California, I live within sight of the Pacific, yet my daily glimpse is of an ocean tamed by straits and bays into tentative whitecaps or, at most, assertive lapping. In Tofino, however, the Pacific gets a true running start, and I’m ready to see this wild ocean unleashed.

In most places, storms clear a beach. But this is a place that comes alive with each deluge. Here, there’s an alchemy of rain and big waves. Roiling currents, torrential downpours, and surfers claiming every wave—this is Tofino life. Even non-surfers get in on the action; there’s no surer sight than storm-swept shorelines dotted with beachcombers suited up like New England fishing crews, savoring every minute of big weather.

Storm-Watching from the Inside …

Around here, there’s nowhere more famous for pairing wild and welcoming than the Wickanninish Inn, the hotel that invented storm season. I slosh to the hotel, leaving puddles in my wake, unsure about this adventure as I drip my way through the lobby and up to my room. But after a change of clothes and a warm drink beside a hot fire, I begin to understand the wisdom of my friend’s parting wish.

The Wick, as it’s known locally, sits deep in a forest on the edge of the continent; cradled by trees and holding tight to an outcropping that extends out over the Pacific. Inside, hand-carved wooden columns and windows angled for perfect sea views keep nature close. 

Settled inside the warm hotel, I get down to the serious business of storm-watching. I stretch out by the fire and watch surfers take on the storm. I stake out the lobby, which feels more like a living room lined with soft leather chairs and dotted with driftwood tables. I divide my time between watching the waves break around the point and casually inspecting guests—young families, Italian backpackers, retirees, urban sophisticates, honeymooners. I settle onto my sheltered balcony, watching the waves crash into the outcropping just below my room. Not a view goes uninspected, not an overstuffed chair untested.

And yet, the more I watch the rain, the waves, and the dark skies, the more the storm beckons. So instead of putting back on my still-damp jacket—total rookie-wear—I suit up in one of the hotel’s Tofino-grade rubber suits and knee-high galoshes, and set off to discover that the real place to be is not watching the storm, it’s out in the middle of it. 

… And Out

Some beaches are backdrop. Tofino’s take center stage. 

Clusters of rocks frame the long stretch of beach, guarding its edges like continental bastions. As soon as I step onto the sand, this place owns my every sense. The wind catches the ocean’s spray and anoints my forehead, my lips, my nose. My cheeks tighten and flush, awake to the tingle of warm and cold pressing in from opposite sides of my skin. The briny tang rushes in on the stiff breeze; I recognize scents that have relied on the same recipe of salt water, seaweed, and sand for millions of years. There is no horizon from here, just towering whitecaps riding a heaving gray sea. 

I walk for a while and then realize staying still is the only way to take all this in. I stop, crouch down next to a tangle of brown and orange seaweed knitted slickly together, and watch the ocean. The alternating crash of the waves and the waterfall rush of the retreating water creates a rhythm that slows my thoughts and softens my breathing. 

I’ve entirely lost track of time when something, some shift in the breeze, compels me to turn around. I catch sight of the trees at the sand’s border—the trees seem to inhale me, pull me toward it. I walk closer. Here, the tangled branching torrent of the temperate rainforest tumbles down to the edge of the sand.

Standing in this in-between place, I’m struck by the sound of the sea and the rain, these two instruments of Tofino. The symphonic deluge plays the densely forested land-—droplets making each leaf sing a slightly different note—and the crashing waves maintain the baseline for an audience of anyone willing to stop and listen.

I inhale again, and smell the trees as they swap volatile organics for fresh water, flooding the air with Sitka spruce, western hemlock, cedar, and fir. This is a place to feel the earth breathing. I follow a narrow path into the forest, finding my way around the ferns that carpet the forest floor. If I stand still for just a moment too long, I suspect the forest would start to grow up around me, claiming me back.

Hiking the Rainforest

Walking through the temperate rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park in the driving rain, shrouded in waterproof gear, I rediscover something I hadn’t realized was lost: the joy of rain.

I remember playing in the rain as a child and wondering why the adults didn’t join the fun. For a while, they’d hunker under an umbrella and watch us splash and jump, stomp and spin. And then, they’d grow impatient to get back inside, and that would be it. Fun over.

It seemed so strange to me at the time, to act like rain was a hassle instead of the sky inviting you to play. And then it happened: year by year, the delight faded. The thrill of tilting my face up to the rain, arms open to embrace every drop, was replaced by the power of forethought, of being able to imagine the stickiness of a wet jacket, the claustrophobia of soggy socks. Adulthood seemed to leave no room for the ancient pleasure of rain.

And yet, here in the forest, I discover a new form of playing in the rain. The falling drops tickle my face, but the rest of me remains responsibly dry, sheltered within this oversized fisherman’s suit. I wade through pond-caliber puddles and feel the weight of the water pushing up against my boots. I don’t go full Singing in the Rain, but I do stomp, sending out concentric waves and then watching as the water ricochets off the edges of the puddle and bounces back to meet me.

I clear the puddle and walk deeper into the woods. The rain continues, threading its way through the maze of the forest canopy. Drops shatter on leaves around me. 

Another puddle. A stream. A waterfall. The rain and the distant percussion of the ocean. I’ve stumbled onto a family reunion, water greeting the earth after a long trip. Feeding the churn of the seas, the green of the trees; creating congregations in creeks and channels—the land transforms the water, and the water transforms the land. And the water, it will continue to transform, through millions of years of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation. But for a moment, it’s home. I realize I’m holding my breath, and I don’t know why. Then I understand, I’m caught up in a wish. I’m wishing for rain. 

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis experienced a version of the Ultimate B.C. package as a guest of the participating hotels and Visit Canada. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Categories
Active Travel Outdoors Trip Ideas

9 Incredible Lakeside Retreats

Whether their waters are glass-like or rippling towards the shore, lakes have a calming effect and make for an ideal vacation base. So launch your canoe or settle into an Adirondack chair and get ready to take in the glistening views. From rustic luxury in the woods of Maine to down-low waterside cabins in Washington, these nine lakeside retreats are sure to mellow you out.

Lake Quinault, Washington

lake quinault washington.

Great for: Cabin living
What’s Relaxing: Solitude in the woods

Surrounded by the temperate Quinault Rain Forest, Lake Quinault straddles Olympic National Park to the north and Olympic National Forest to the south. With so much natural beauty, it’s tempting to quit your day job, head in, and hide away for life. But even if you can only visit for a few days, Lochaerie Resort on the lake’s north shore has the perfect solution: private rustic cabins. While part of the one-, two-, and three-bedroom structures’ charm is the Depression-era architecture, each cabin is tastefully decorated and comes well equipped with a fireplace, a kitchen, and stunning lake views.

Things to Do: Drive the 31-mile rainforest loop around the lake to scout for wildlife and see some of the biggest trees in the world. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard on the lake, or go hiking or bird watching on land. You’ll never run out of things to do outdoors, but don’t forget to savor the opportunity to stay in the moment.

Cayuga Lake, New York

eb morgan house.

Great for: Oenophiles
What’s Relaxing: Sipping wine while enjoying lake views

What could be more relaxing than porch sitting by a calm lake? Porch sitting and drinking a glass of fine wine, of course. And you can do just that at the Inns of Aurora, which include the Aurora Inn and the E.B. Morgan House, set on Cayuga Lake in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Amenities are ready-made for a perfect weekend getaway and come in the form of in-room dining, massages, fireplaces, and broad lakeside porches. Plus, wine tastings and cooking classes that feature local bounty from area farms and vineyards are available.

Things to Do: While the Finger Lakes region encompasses over 9,000 square miles and boasts more than 100 vineyards, Cayuga Lake has its own wine trail. Visitors can learn to make wine at Heart & Hands Wine Company or explore the historical village of Aurora.

Table Rock Lake, Missouri

table rock lake fall foliage.

Great for: Outdoor adventure
What’s Relaxing: Campfire time after active play

Tucked away from Branson, Missouri’s bustling music scene, Table Rock Lake is a hidden treasure that snakes and twists through the Ozark Mountains like a Chinese dragon. While the lake is technically a reservoir (made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), it delivers big in the nature and outdoors departments. Near Branson, Bavarian Village Resort offers affordable multi-bedroom duplexes, cottages, and cabins. Further out in Shell Knob, Stonewater Cove Resort and Club combines seclusion and rugged adventure with a bit of luxury in the heart of Mark Twain National Forest.

Things to Do: Table Rock Lake has all the components of a classic summer lake retreat. Plunge into the waters for a swim or glide along in kayaks. Or spend the most active part of the day boating, zip-lining, and biking before chilling out at night by gazing at gorgeous sunsets or into the mesmerizing flames of a campfire.

Lake Champlain, Vermont

lake champlain sunset.

Great for: Families
What’s Relaxing: A complete vacation with a break from the kids

Does a relaxing vacation with the kids sound like an oxymoron? At Tyler Place Family Resort on the shores of Lake Champlain in northern Vermont, it’s anything but. While children of all ages get the benefits of a summer camp, their parents can laze in lakeside Adirondack chairs, play tennis, take yoga classes, or rekindle romance over candlelit dinners and dancing. Accommodations range from private cottages to multi-room suites, all with living rooms, screened-in porches, and separate bedrooms for parents and children.

Things to Do: Whether the adults spend their mornings hiking, taking sailing lessons, or doing nothing at all, the kids won’t even notice, since they’ll be off having fun on counselor-led kids programs and activities like playing soccer and jumping on trampolines. However, a little family QT on the lake—paddleboarding, anyone?—is always an option.

Twin Lakes, California

mountain biker twin lakes california.

Great for: Mountain living
What’s Relaxing: Motor-free water play

In Mammoth Lakes Basin, Twin Lakes delivers an authentic mountain escape in California’s Eastern Sierra. Consider a stay at Tamarack Lodge, a rustic woodland resort with varied accommodations including restored cabins originally built in 1924, historical lodge rooms, and a newer LEED-certified cabin with three bedrooms.

Things to Do: Most of the Jet Skiers and motor boaters go to other, larger lakes in the area, so you’ll usually enjoy peaceful fishing, paddleboarding, and swimming at Twin Lakes. You can go horseback riding or hiking in the bordering Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness, or take scenic drives to Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes or further out to Yosemite. Whether your day is rugged or serene, you can come back for a relaxing evening spent indulging on French-inspired cuisine at Tamarack’s acclaimed Lakefront Restaurant.

Lake Huron (Mackinac Island), Michigan

mackinac island waterfront.

Great for: Island seclusion
What’s Relaxing: The simple pleasures of a bygone era

Forget cars. Forget your worries. And forget the present. Staying true to its Victorian roots, Michigan’s Mackinac Island in Lake Huron will surely transport you to a slower pace of life. While many inns and resorts capture the island’s turn-of-the-century essence, two stand out for their tranquil lakeside settings away from the bustle of town. Hotel Iroquois, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, is best known for its views and waterfront dining. Individually decorated rooms come with king or queen beds. Built in 1904, the Tudor-style Inn at Stonecliffe sits high on the island’s west bluff and offers bed-and-breakfast-style rooms and more modern suites, in addition to classic lawn games like bocce and croquet for guests.

Things to Do: Because no cars are allowed on the island, you have to get around by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. No matter how you explore the island, head to the Mackinac Island Butterfly House, admiring blooming lilacs or lady slippers along the way, or shop for handmade fudge in town in between strolling through the many shops lining Main Street.

Lake Austin, Texas

yoga class at lake austin spa resort.

Great for: Wellness
What’s Relaxing: Meditative lake activities

One of seven reservoirs on the Colorado River, Lake Austin in Austin, Texas, is popular for paddlewheeling and pampering. Touted as one of the top spas in the country, Lake Austin Spa Resort will help you de-stress while attending to your health and well-being, all within a tranquil lake setting.

Things to Do: Lake activities range from kayaking and hydrobiking (which allows you to literally bike on water) to a relaxing boat cruise along the shore in an authentic stern-wheel riverboat. Exercise junkies can take part in cardio or dance programs, while meditation, Pilates, and yoga will help you stretch and balance both mind and body. Completely decompress with the resort’s vast menu of spa treatments and recharge with healthy organic dishes made from the on-site garden.

Moosehead Lake, Maine

lodge at moosehead lake maine adirondack chairs.

Great for: Luxury
What’s Relaxing?: Lakeside moose viewing

Only in Maine can you pair a moose safari with rustic elegance. At The Lodge at Moosehead Lake in Greenville, you get the very best the state has to offer, from lodge-style accommodations and local cuisine to mountain views and forays into the wilderness. Rooms don’t skimp on luxurious trimmings and are outfitted with amenities like fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, pillow-top mattresses, and private decks.

Things to Do: Activities at Moosehead Lake are all about taking it slow. Paddle around the lake in a canoe or kayak, or take a guided pontoon boating excursion. The North Woods offers plenty of opportunities for bird watching and backwoods exploration, like viewing the pristine lake after a hike to the 800-foot summit of Mt. Kineo. And don’t miss the moose-sighting tours.

Lake Superior, Minnesota

grand marais lake superior.

Great for: Groups
What’s Relaxing: Listening to the waves from the warmth of your suite

Grand Marais in northern Minnesota makes for the perfect cool getaway. Not only does the town nearly reach the borders of Canada, but it’s set on Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, with average temperatures of 40 degrees (though harbor waters can warm up enough for summer swimming). But when the chill strikes, there are plenty of ways to warm up, such as by a fireplace or in a hot tub at one of the area’s hotels. In town, East Bay Suites offers anything from studios to three bedrooms and can accommodate various guest arrangements. A bit farther down the lake on a beach, Lutsen Resort‘s luxury condos, historical lodge, seaside villas, and log cabins have something for everyone.

Things to Do: Kayak the shoreline along the Lake Superior Water Trail, or get in the car and tour the wilds of the Gunflint Trail, a National Scenic Byway that starts in Grand Marais and ends at Saganaga Lake on the U.S.-Canadian border. Or stay local and hike to Artists’ Point, a half-mile walk through a small boreal forest that leads to a breakwall with views of the East Bay.

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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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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Outdoors

The 15 Best National Parks in Australia

From densely forested mountains and otherworldly rock formations to hidden waterfalls and pristine beaches, many of Australia’s most spectacular landscapes are preserved within its national parks. The term “Australia national parks” is a little confusing, as most of them are actually managed by states and territories rather than the federal government—but regardless of who’s in charge, the best national parks in Australia are a must-visit for any traveler who loves hiking, scenic drives, or outdoor adventure.

Below are a few of the most beautiful national parks in Australia, including both well-known spots and hidden gems.

Whitsunday Islands National Park, Queensland

whitehaven beach whitsunday islands.

With its pure white sand and azure waters, Whitehaven Beach is the jewel in the crown of Whitsunday Islands National Park. The park is a mecca for snorkeling and scuba diving (the Great Barrier Reef isn’t far away), and there are several walking tracks with stunning coastal viewpoints. Not up for all that activity? Plant yourself on the beach to soak up the sunshine and sea breezes.

Karijini National Park, Western Australia

karijini national park gorge.

Rivers have carved dramatic gorges into Karijini National Park‘s ancient red rocks, which date back more than 2.5 billion years. Visitors can hike along the rims of the gorges or down into them, then cool off with a swim in one of the park’s natural pools.

Great Otway National Park, Victoria

rainforest stream great otway national park.

Encompassing part of Victoria’s famous Great Ocean Road, Great Otway National Park offers not only stunning coastal scenery but also lush forests verdant with ferns, moss, and eucalyptus trees. Hike the Great Ocean Walk to the 12 Apostles (located in neighboring Port Campbell National Park) to experience the coast up close, or take shorter walks through the forest to discover the park’s numerous waterfalls.

Nambung National Park, Western Australia

pinnacles desert nambung national park.

No visitor to Nambung National Park should miss the Pinnacles, where powerful winds have sculpted limestone into rock formations up to 11 feet high, jutting up into the surrounding desert like jagged teeth. But other parts of the park offer very different landscapes, including beaches and heathland full of wildflowers.

Maria Island National Park, Tasmania

kangaroo on maria island tasmania.

Maria Island is one of the best national parks in Australia not only because of its stunning natural landscapes—don’t miss the dramatic Painted Cliffs—but also because of its human heritage and unique wildlife. You can still see the remains of the convict community that once existed on this island; now its only residents are kangaroos, wombats, Cape Barren geese, wallabies, and the rare Tasmanian devil—many of whom were brought to this remote island to give them a safe habitat.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory

walkers uluru-kata tjuta national park.

Uluru gets all the attention as one of Australia’s most recognizable icons, with its massive red bulk rising out of the desert, but many travelers don’t know that there’s another striking geological formation just 30 miles away: the domes of Kata Tjuta. Both are sacred to the local Aboriginal people, and together they give Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park its name. Take time to walk around the base of the formations and admire the way the sunrise or sunset casts a glow over the red rock.

Royal National Park, New South Wales

hikers royal national park.

One of the world’s oldest national parks, Royal National Park was established in 1879. Though it’s an easy day trip from Sydney, the park’s diverse landscapes are worth a little more time. Visitors can explore beaches, sandstone cliffs, eucalyptus rainforests, waterfalls, and Aboriginal sites as they drive or hike around the park.

Naracoorte Caves National Park, South Australia

naracoorte caves national park.

Four of the 28 caves at Naracoorte Caves National Park are open to the public, each with a unique focus. Victoria Fossil Cave features the remains of thousands of animals; Alexandra Cave has impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations; Blanche Cave is home to a large bat population; and Stick-Tomato Cave has two chambers open to self-guided public touring. Specialty tours focused on photography and adventure are also available.

Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

kakadu national park swimming hole.

Stretching across more than 7,500 square miles, Kakadu National Park is the largest national park in Australia and takes at least a few days to explore. Highlights include swimming in the plunge pools around Gunlom Falls, seeing Aboriginal rock art along the path to the Ubirr lookout, and scanning for birdlife on a cruise through Yellow Water Billabong. 

Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales

three sisters blue mountains national park.

Blanketed in seemingly endless eucalyptus forest, Blue Mountains National Park is a popular day trip or weekend escape from Sydney. Many visitors base themselves in Katoomba, where you can view the famous Three Sisters rock formation and ride in a cable car nearly 900 feet above the forest at Scenic World—but the whole park is full of hiking trails and scenic drives to explore.

Springbrook National Park, Queensland

natural bridge waterfall springbrook national park.

Waterfalls, streams, and creeks carve their way through verdant rainforest at Springbrook National Park, part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Don’t miss the short hike to the Natural Bridge (a unique rock arch over a waterfall); consider coming back after dark to see the glow worms that live in the area. Numerous other walking trails are available in the Springbrook plateau section of the park.

Purnululu National Park, Western Australia

bungle bungles punululu national park.

The Bungle Bungle Range is the main draw at Purnululu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s part of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley region. These otherworldly banded sandstone domes are shaped like giant beehives and believed to be hundreds of millions of years old, sculpted by streams and rivers eroding the delicate rock. You can walk among the Bungle Bungles or take a scenic flightseeing ride to appreciate them from a whole new angle.

Grampians National Park, Victoria

hiker grampians national park.

One of the most beloved Australia national parks, Grampians is famous for waterfalls, Aboriginal rock art paintings, and sweeping mountain views. Popular hikes include the routes up to the Pinnacle lookout, the climb down to the base of MacKenzie Falls, and the multi-day Grampians Peak Trail, which lets you sample the myriad views the park has to offer.

Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park, Tasmania

dove lake cradle mountain national park.

One of Tasmania’s most popular spots for hiking and natural beauty, Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park protects craggy mountains, pristine lakes, and mossy rainforests. As its name suggests, the park consists of two separate areas: Cradle Mountain in the north and Lake St. Clair in the south—and they’re both worth a visit. Don’t miss the Dove Lake circuit trail for views of iconic Cradle Mountain itself.

Coffin Bay National Park, South Australia

beach coffin bay national park.

Want to get away from it all? Head to the windswept shores of Coffin Bay National Park, where certain areas are only accessible via four-wheel-drive vehicle. Popular activities include relaxing or fishing on Almonta Beach, hiking or kayaking around Yangie Bay, and surfing off of Mullalong Beach.

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

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Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Cities Island Outdoors

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:

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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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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