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The 7 Most Beautiful Places on Earth

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

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

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

Granada, Spain

sunset over the alhambra in Granada, SPain

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

South Island, New Zealand

landscape south island new zealand.

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

Krka National Park, Croatia

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

Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada

great bear rainforest section

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

Haputale Tea Country, Sri Lanka

Haputale tea country Sri Lanka.

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

Tayrona National Park, Colombia 

tayrona national park.

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

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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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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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Alaska Passport Requirements: Do I Need a Passport to Go to Alaska?

Alaska passport requirements often cause confusion for U.S. travelers. You might assume that a passport isn’t required to enter Alaska since it is considered domestic travel within the U.S., but that’s not always true. While Alaska passport requirements state that a passport isn’t required for arrival by plane, a passport is generally necessary when visiting via car, and you may also need one when visiting by cruise ship.

Alaska Passport Requirements

There is a difference in which documents are needed for Alaska passport requirements based on the type of travel to the state. For instance, when arriving by plane, you generally do not need to have a valid passport. There’s one exception: Starting on October 1, 2020, everyone will need a REAL ID for air travel, and not all states currently issue driver’s licenses that comply with these requirements. If yours doesn’t, you may need to carry a passport instead. For more information, see Everything Travelers Need to Know About the REAL ID Act.

If you are traveling by car, and therefore have to cross into Canada to reach Alaska, you’ll need a valid passport book, a passport card, or an enhanced driver’s license to get through border security.

Do you need a passport for an Alaska cruise? The answer is maybe. If you’re taking a closed-loop cruise that departs from and returns to the same U.S. port (such as Seattle), you do not need a passport, even if your itinerary includes calls in Canada; instead, an enhanced driver’s license or a birth certificate and regular driver’s license will suffice. If your cruise departs from and ends in two different cities, then you’ll need a passport.

Keep in mind that you might want to bring a passport even on a closed-loop Alaska cruise in case an emergency strikes and you need to fly home from a Canadian city; driver’s licenses and birth certificates are not accepted for international air travel.

How to Get a Passport for Travel to Alaska

Apply for a passport as soon as your travel is confirmed. The cost will be greater if applying for a passport within two weeks of travel time (in which case you will need an expedited application). You can learn more about passport requirements and documents needed to obtain a U.S. passport here.

Other Alaska Travel Requirements

Visa: No

Vaccinations: No

So, Do I Need a Passport to Visit Alaska?

In summary: It depends on how you get there. Alaska passport requirements state that you don’t need a passport when traveling from the mainland to Alaska by air since it is considered domestic travel (unless you don’t have a REAL ID driver’s license), but a passport may be required when arriving by car or cruise ship.

Protect Your Passport

We recommend investing in a passport cover or wallet to protect your pages from bends, tears and spills. It’s important to keep your passport in good condition for easy inspection. 

On travel days, only take your passport out during inspection. Otherwise, keep it stowed away in a dedicated section of your bag (if you keep it in the same place every time, you won’t ever scramble to locate it). Once you arrive at your destination, find a way to stow it securely. In-room safes or safe deposit boxes at the hotel front desk are generally good options, but if neither is available, you’ll need to decide how to keep your passport secure. You might consider keeping it in an under-clothing money belt that you wear, or leaving it in the hotel or vacation rental but locking it in your suitcase with a TSA-approved lock.

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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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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Cities Experiential Travel Island

10 Best Places to Go in New Zealand


For many travelers, New Zealand is both a dream destination and a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit. If you’re planning your first trip to New Zealand, or if you’re planning a return trip to see more of this beautiful and wild country, you may want to know which places in New Zealand are at the top of the must-see list. Here are our picks for the 10 best places to go in New Zealand.

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Bay of Islands

Bay of islands new zealand

The Bay of Islands is one of the best places to go in New Zealand for fishing, sailing, and other watersports. The Bay of Islands is about three hours by car from Auckland. This gorgeous region is made up of 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula.

What’s there to do in the Bay of Islands? Get on or in the water! Try scuba diving with Paihia Dive‘s intro-to-diving course. You will be ferried far out into the bay to explore a whole new underwater world.

[st_content_ad]Or get up close and personal with the marine life in the Bay of Islands on a Fullers GreatSights Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise. On a good day, you’ll see both whales and dolphins on this cruise.

The cruise will take you to one of the Bay of Islands’ most famous sights, the Hole in the Rock. You can sail through this unique opening in a rock formation when the tide is right.

Where to stay: Spend a night at the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which has the distinction of holding the oldest pub license in New Zealand and is located on a peninsula that sticks straight out into the middle of the bay.

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Fiordland

Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the “eighth wonder of the world,” and if you visit this region of New Zealand, you’ll see why. Formed by glaciers during the Ice Age, the landscape around Milford Sound still bears evidence of its creation in the form of epic scenery: Cliffs rise from fjords crowned by mountains and waterfalls.

The best way to see Milford Sound is via boat. Take a sightseeing cruise on the fjord to see waterfalls and wildlife such as dolphins and penguins. Or navigate the waters under your own steam on a kayaking tour.

Once you’ve experienced the water from the surface, go underneath with a visit to the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory. This is the only floating, underwater observatory in New Zealand, and visitors can go more than 30 feet deep (while staying dry) and get 360 degrees of the underwater environment.

Where to stay: There are not a lot of places to stay close to the Sound, but if you’d rather not drive the three and a half hours from Queenstown, consider The Milford Sound Lodge. The lodge offers several packages for hiking and boat tours, and there really is no beating this spot in terms of access to the Sound.

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Auckland, New Zealand

As both the largest city in New Zealand and its international air travel hub, Auckland is one of the best places to go in New Zealand. Many international flights arrive in New Zealand through Auckland Airport, which makes it an ideal city from which to start your exploration of New Zealand.

Spend at least a day or two in Auckland to get over your long flight and explore the vibrant metropolis before venturing farther afield in New Zealand. Here are our suggestions for what to see and do in Auckland:

  • Get some culture by visiting one of the many museums in Auckland, such as the Auckland Art Gallery. This is the largest art institution in New Zealand, featuring more than 15,000 works of historic, modern, and contemporary art.
  • If the weather is nice, take a stroll through the 185-acre Auckland Domain park. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, include a stop at the nearby Parnell Farmers’ Market, which sells fresh produce in the morning.
  • Auckland is also home to a host of multicultural bars and restaurants serving up all types of cuisine, so be sure to dine in downtown Auckland (and go out for a cocktail or two to check out the nightlife).
  • If you’re looking for adventure activities in Auckland, consider the Auckland Bridge Climb. And if you’re really brave, try the Auckland Bridge bungee jump.
  • If you’re looking for guided trips in Auckland, book an Auckland City Tour or an America’s Cup sailing experience on Waitemata Harbour.

Where to stay: No matter where you stay in Auckland, you will be close to something interesting. Try the accommodations at CityLife Auckland, which is within walking distance of several Auckland highlights like the harbor, both North and Princes Wharf, and the SkyTower.

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Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Just a little more than 30 minutes by boat from downtown Auckland is Waiheke Island, one of the best places to go in New Zealand for wine lovers. For a small island in the middle of Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island sure is home to a lot of vineyards. To sample as many of them as you can on your visit to Waiheke Island, you’ll want to find someone else to drive. Our pick is Waiheke Island Wine Tours, whose expert local guides will shuttle you around to three vineyards to sample 14 different wines.

All that wine from the vineyards of Waiheke Island will make you hungry. When it’s time to eat, book your lunch or dinner at the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant, a gorgeous eatery with sprawling views of the vineyard and the sea. For a really special meal, book the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant’s tasting menu, a seven-course event with wine pairings.

Of course, there’s more to do on Waiheke Island than just drink wine! Waiheke Island is also famous for its vibrant art community, beaches, forests, and olive groves. We recommend booking a culture tour, scenic flight, or hiking trip while you’re there to really see why Waiheke Island is one of the best places to go in New Zealand.

Where to stay: It’s definitely worth staying overnight on Waiheke Island, too. Choose the Delamore Lodge, one of the best-reviewed Waiheke Island hotels on Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company). The hotel also offers some great packages featuring everything from wine and food to spa treatments for couples.

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Christchurch, New Zealand

Aerial view of the christchurch gondola and lyttelton port from hills in new zealand

Despite being rocked by four large earthquakes between September 2010 and December 2011, Christchurch has made a true comeback. Visitors to Christchurch will see evidence of the city’s rebirth everywhere, including new buildings made out of old shipping containers and other unique materials like the Cardboard Cathedral.

Of course, many of Christchurch’s original attractions are still standing. One of the best places to visit is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, a sprawling network of conservatories, walking tracks, and horticultural displays. The gardens also feature some of the largest, tallest, and oldest trees in New Zealand.

Take in the new and the old of Christchurch from above with a journey on the Christchurch Gondola. This cable car lifts you on a scenic ride to the top of Mt. Cavendish.

Where to stay: Pick Heritage Christchurch for its central location and status as a World Luxury Hotel. It might cost a little extra, but it will be worth it.

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Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown from the skyline luge at sunrise

Located on the southwest side of the South Island, Queenstown has a well-deserved reputation as the adventure capital of New Zealand. During the winter and spring months (June to October), Queenstown is known for world-class skiing. Of course, there’s plenty to do in Queenstown year-round. Adventure activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and river rafting will let you experience the region from dizzying heights and at breathtaking speeds.

Queenstown is also home to the world’s highest cliff jump, the Shotover Canyon Swing, where you can hurl yourself off a cliff in a number of different ways—including backward or tied to a chair.

If you haven’t lost your appetite (or your lunch) on these adrenaline-pumping activities, enjoy the dining scene in Queenstown—it’s one of the best in New Zealand. As locals and tour guides alike will tell you, one of the best places to eat in Queenstown is Fergburger, which CNN says “may be the best burger joint on the planet.”

Where to stay: Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel is located on the edge of town, giving easy access to the restaurants and other shops but also letting you sleep in relative peace away from the hub of activity.

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Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, New Zealand

Whakarewarewa geyser at te pui thermal park in geothermal valley of rotorua

No list of the best places to go in New Zealand would be complete without mentioning Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located in Rotorua’s Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. At this Maori heritage center, you can get an authentic “steambox” meal prepared using ancient geothermal cooking techniques. You’ll also experience a Maori welcome ceremony and traditional song and dance performance.

The Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is also home to a number of active geysers, including Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Mud pools are another natural attraction in the geothermal valley: These boiling pools reach temperatures of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where to stay: The Aura Accommodation in nearby Rotorua is located on the coast of Lake Rotorua. The entire facility is powered by geothermal heat to give you a better appreciation for the valley.

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Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Waitomo glowworm caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, naturally illuminated by thousands of glowworms, are among the most unique places to go in New Zealand—and a visit to the caves is one experience you’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate anywhere else. You can take a boat ride through the caves to learn about the history and science behind the phenomenon.

Or, if you really want a unique adventure, try black-water rafting with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company, which will float you on an inner tube down a subterranean stream. It will be pitch-dark (except for the glowworms), and you’ll get to do everything from jumping off waterfalls to rappelling down cave walls. Choose your own adventure when you book the tour.

There are other (non-glowworm) caves in Waitomo, too. Aranui Cave features ancient cave decorations; Ruakuri Cave has an awesome spiral entrance and unique limestone formations—and, okay, more glowworms, but in this cave, you can do a walking tour rather than a water-based excursion.

Where to stay: The Waitomo Caves Hotel is minutes from the famous glowworm caves. It offers a spa as well as cave tour reservations through its website.

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Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Franz josef glacier

You can hike an actual glacier in New Zealand. The Franz Josef Glacier plays host to both guided walks and jaw-dropping helicopter tours. Tours offer everything from ice climbing to a more relaxed hike on the 6.8-mile-long glacier.

Won’t you be freezing on top of a giant glacier? Nope! The Franz Josef Glacier receives a lot of sunlight, and temperatures on the ice are usually only a few degrees colder than in the nearby town.

Cap off a day touring the Franz Josef Glacier with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools. The pools are fed by the waters from the Franz Josef Glacier, and you can use one of the three warm pools or get a private pool.

Where to stay: Franz Josef is a small enough town that precise location won’t make too much of a difference (you’ll be close to everything no matter where you are). Consider the Aspen Court Franz Josef, which has received some of the best ratings in the area.

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Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

mount cook new zealand.

See New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking here, no matter what your skill level. For experienced climbers, there are 23 peaks over 9,800 feet. For those looking for something a little more low-key, there are lots of walks along paved trails or boardwalks that still offer spectacular views.

Make sure you stay past sunset for a visit to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, where light pollution is strictly controlled for amazing stargazing opportunities.

Where to stay: Located inside the national park, The Hermitage Hotel will put you close to everything you want to see and do. Splurge on a room with a view of Mt. Cook—it’s worth it.

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What to Pack on Your Trip

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

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Outdoors

The 10 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

National parks are for more than just summer hiking. Break out of your cold-weather hibernation and check out these 10 national parks that are at their best winter.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big bend national park

Big Bend National Park serves as a border between the United States and Mexico, and offers a unique way to cross between the two countries—by rowboat. Visitors can pay $5 to be ferried across the Rio Grande on a small boat, or you can walk across for free (at your own risk, and only at a designated area when the water levels are low).

Winter is one of the best times to visit Big Bend National Park, as the temperatures average around 60-70 degrees during the day, whereas in the summer it can get dangerously hot (over 100 degrees).

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic national park

Olympic is one of only three national parks with a full ski area in the winter. (To find out the other two, keep reading.) The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area has one lift and two rope tows, and operates from mid-December through March depending on conditions. Ski here, and you’ll be able to brag “I skied in the Olympics” without technically lying. The Elwha Ranch Bed and Bath overlooks Olympic National Park and the Glacier Mountains.

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Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands

british virgin islands boats and beach.

Not embracing the cold? Hit the beach at Virgin Islands National Park, where daily high temps hover in the 80s throughout winter. Covering half of the island of St. John, the park is a lush undeveloped landscape of dense forests and beaches fringed with coconut palms. Dive into the warm, clear Caribbean waters of Trunk Bay, with its 225-yard snorkeling trail that includes underwater signs to help you identify the coral and 30 species of fish that could be swimming around you. In winter, whale-watching excursions spot humpback whales on their migration routes through the Virgin Islands.

Death Valley National Park, California

Death valley national park

Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America, and has set the world record for the highest air temperature (134 degrees). Unsurprisingly, it’s not a place you want to visit in the summer. In the winter, you’ll get mild temperatures that rarely drop below freezing, plus smaller crowds—the weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas are the least busy time of the year, according to the NPS. The Ranch at Death Valley is located next to the NPS Visitor Center, offering easy access to the park. The 224-room hotel has restaurants, a general store, and even a saloon to keep you entertained.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades national park

Winter is the best time of year to visit Everglades National Park, as December through April is the dry season. You’ll usually have temperatures in the upper 70s with low humidity, the biting insects that can be prevalent in summer are gone, and lower water levels make it easier to spot wildlife. There are no hotels inside the park (although there are two campgrounds), but Everglades City is just next to the park and has plenty of overnight options. Everglades City Motel is affordable and a five-minute drive from the park.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mount rainier national park

Embrace winter at Mount Rainier National Park, which has a designated “snow play area” where you can go sledding or tubing. Ranger-guided snowshoe walks are also available, as are plenty of trails for cross-country skiing. The National Park Inn is the only hotel within Mount Rainier National Park that is open year-round. This quaint property has 25 guest rooms, a dining room, and a general store, so you don’t have to leave the park once you’ve checked in.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite national park

Enjoy a side of history with your skiing at Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, California’s oldest downhill skiing area. Located off of the park’s Glacier Point Road, lifts here serve 10 runs, and there are also more than 90 miles of marked trails for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. For an unforgettable winter experience, you can even cross-country ski a 10.5-mile trail to Glacier Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.

Built in the 1920s, The Ahwahnee (formerly called The Majestic Yosemite) has been painstakingly renovated to preserve its heritage. This AAA Four-Diamond property is located within the park and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand canyon national park

Approximately five million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, but only about 10 percent of visitors come in the winter. Although the North Rim is closed in the winter, the South Rim is completely open year-round. Certain roads that are closed to personal vehicles in the summer reopen for the winter (weather-dependent), allowing you to explore at your own pace. Temperatures on the South Rim are generally cold, but if you venture to the canyon’s floor, the weather is much warmer, reaching up to 60 degrees during a winter day. To learn more about the park, see Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon. You can find great winter deals at the normally expensive El Tovar Hotel, a historic lodge located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

bryce canyon in the snow.

When winter falls on Utah’s Bryce Canyon, deep snow blankets the plateau and settles in layers on red-rock hoodoos like striped candy spires. Set against a huge blue sky, the colors are absolutely striking. When you look out across the Grand Staircase, it feels like a Dr. Seuss-inspired planet, one you get all to yourself. On a clear day, you can see nearly 200 miles to the Black Mesas in Arizona. At night, this vast sky becomes one of the darkest in North America. Winter’s cold, clear, dry air gives naked-eye stargazers a chance to see 7,500 stars, more than three times what you typically see in the country’s rural areas.

Join rangers every Saturday night for the winter astronomy program’s multimedia show, complete with stargazing through telescopes. The park’s “Dark Rangers” also lead one- to two-hour nocturnal hikes under the full moon, on which you’ll see snow-dusted hoodoos illuminated by moonlight. Snowshoe rentals are free throughout winter.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

hiker in rocky mountain national park.

A low-key alternative to Colorado’s nearby big ski resorts, Rocky Mountain National Park is a backcountry paradise in winter. You can easily reach remote areas on snowshoes or skis, while hiking boots will suffice for winter treks in the lower elevations of the 250,000-acre wilderness area. Watch for moose along the Colorado River on the park’s west side and bighorn sheep along Highway 34 on its east side. Don’t miss the frost-encrusted trees along Bear Lake under a full moon. For a more extreme adventure, hire one of Colorado Mountain School’s certified guides to take you rock climbing, ice climbing, or winter mountaineering on Longs Peak.

Rangers lead free snowshoe and cross-country skiing programs. In Hidden Valley, on the bunny hill of a former ski area, sledding is a family tradition. The warming hut opens on weekends. This is one of the few national parks to offer backcountry camping in winter.

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Caroline Morse Teel wants to visit all these best national parks in winter. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for more national park photos.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Jamie Moore contributed to this story.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel

The 12 Best National Parks in Europe


The United States may seem like the obvious choice for a national park vacation, especially for American travelers, but Europe has an abundance of national parks worth exploring as well. Whether your thing is hiking fjords in Norway, exploring castle ruins in Portugal, or sampling local cheese in Slovenia, the national parks of Europe appeal to a wide range of interests.

Ready to get inspired? Here are 12 of the best national parks in Europe.

Jotunheimen National Park, Norway

About 100 kilometers southwest of the Norway’s oldest national park, you’ll find Jotunheimen National Park, home to Norway’s highest mountain, Galdhopiggen.

It’s got all the water features you’d want for an outdoor adventure: waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. It’s also known for its spectacular day hikes and hut-to-hut treks, including the famous Besseggen Ridge. People come here to ski, river raft, and glacier walk, too.

While you’re in the (relative) area, pay a visit to the largest glacier in continental Europe.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park (Germany)/Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Czech Republic)

Don’t let the name throw you off: Saxon Switzerland National Park borders the Czech Republic and is nowhere near Switzerland. The park continues into the Czech Republic where it is called Bohemian Switzerland National Park (there’s even a border crossing for hikers, though with more than 150 square miles of trails, including some for cyclists, you may not need to leave the country).

Rock climbers can choose from among 700-plus sandstone summits, carved by the Elbe River for millions of years. You don’t have to dangle from a rope, however, to appreciate the flower-filled valleys, chalky cliffs, mesas, and surrounding castles and fortresses. In fact, one of the best ways to take in the rocky terrain is from the source that created it: the Elbe. Entrance to the park is free.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Lakes make up only one percent of Plitvice Lakes National Park‘s surface area (the northwest part of the park is a beech-fir forest), but they’re one of its biggest draws. There are 12 in the Upper Lakes area and four in the Lower Lakes group.

Boardwalk-style hiking trails lead around many of them, allowing you to get up close without disturbing the delicate ecosystem. The steep canyons make for dramatic waterfalls, including Great Waterfall, the highest in the country. And because limestone is prone to weathering, sinkholes and caves like Supljara Cave have formed in the park. Admission prices vary with the seasons, but include boat rides on Lake Kozjak and panoramic train rides.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its geological and ecological value. The karst topography, defined by its limestone and dolomite rocks, retains water in the lakes thanks to tufa formations that act as a natural barrier.

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Vatnajokul, Iceland

The largest national park in Iceland, Vatnajokull covers 13 percent of the country and encompasses the Vatnajokull glacier, as well as the area that once made up Skaftafell and Jokulsarglijufur national parks. This is where fire meets ice in the form of glaciers and volcanoes.

For those looking to climb the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur, Skaftafell is a good place to start. Another popular hiking route takes visitors along a canyon from Asbyrgi to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

The park’s lowland areas are the most easily accessible, with highland areas being only accessible by 4×4 vehicle for a few months at the height of summer and beginning of autumn. In the winter, ice caves formed by water or the geothermal activity are a popular draw. And though outside the park, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is also worth a stop if only to glimpse the icebergs floating on the lake’s waters.

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North York Moors National Park, England

North York Moors National Park is part forest, part moorland, with a mix of heathland, bog, and coastal cliffs thrown in. Wandering through villages on the rocky coastline between bays and beaches will give you an entirely different sense of the park than wandering through the higher ground covered in heather, turning the moors into a purple magic carpet in summer.

Explore the coast on the cliff path, part of the Cleveland Way National Trail, but otherwise don’t worry too much about sticking to trails; most of the park is open access, so you can wander at will through wooded valleys and past grazing sheep.

Beyond the natural features of the park, this chunk of earth has witnessed a considerable amount of history, with remains in the area dating to the end of the last Ice Age (tools and camps from the first hunters) on through the Cold War (concrete bunkers). Roman fortifications, ancient crosses, and medieval castles and abbeys are seemingly (and fortunately) unavoidable.

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Triglav National Park, Slovenia

It may be Slovenia’s only national park, but Triglav National Park preserves three percent of the country’s land, including much of the Julian Alps, the park’s namesake mountain, and the country’s highest peak, Triglav. Several mountaineering routes lead adventurous climbers to the top.

Elsewhere in Triglav National Park, deep gorges carved by the park’s rivers contrast with the high peaks, while caves have formed in the limestone mountainsides. It’s no surprise that hiking trails offer one of the best ways to appreciate the varied park features.

There are 25 settlements within Triglav, and many of the inhabitants make their living from agriculture (try the local hard and soft cheeses made from cow’s or sheep’s milks). Just outside the park’s eastern edge, picturesque Lake Bled is a good base for exploring the park’s attractions like Vintgar Gorge.

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Bialowieza National Park, Poland

On the border with Belarus, Bialowieza National Park is a rare area of undisturbed nature. It’s Poland’s oldest national park, covering the central part of Bialowieza Forest, considered the last original bit of European lowland forest. Because of its extensive old-growth forest and the role it plays in conserving the area’s biodiversity, Bialowieza National Park was named UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s also is also home to the largest population of European bison, with breeding reserves located within the park. The oldest (and most protected) sections of the park are only accessible with a guide, but there are areas for hiking and biking that do not require supervision. Admission fees to the park are minimal.

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Cevennes National Park, France

The appeal of Cevennes National Park (website in French) is varied. For some, the park is at its best in summer thanks to canoeing, kayaking, climbing, caving, and fishing. For others, it’s winter with snowshoeing, tobogganing, and Nordic skiing. But whether you hang out in the woods, moors, and meadows or the valleys, mountains, and gorges, you’ll likely see traces of human settlements past and present. People have inhabited the lands here since at least 400,000 B.C.E., and much remains: ancient megaliths from the Neolithic era, Roman ruins, medieval churches and monasteries, mills once famous for producing silk, and remnants of silver, coal, and iron mines, including water towers and railway tracks.

Eight national hiking trails cross through Cevennes National Park, which has hundreds of miles of marked trails, including mountain bike and equestrian routes. Around 300 footpaths with the average length of about five miles make for easy day hikes, though the park is equally great for scenic drives. Forage for mushrooms and chestnuts, among other edibles, but make sure you’re not picking them from private property.

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Gargano National Park, Italy

Forgo the most well-known national park in the country, Cinque Terre, and skip the also-packed Amalfi Coast for even more gorgeous cliff-side villages, hikes, and Mediterranean views in the less-traveled Gargano National Park. Located in Puglia in the “spur” of Italy’s boot, the rocky coastline of white limestone cliffs abutting turquoise blue waters of the Adriatic is a major draw. But Gargano National Park also encompasses wetlands, valleys dotted with wild orchids, and woodlands in the Foresta Umbra.

Millions of years ago, this section of land was disconnected from mainland Italy, which helps explain the dramatic geography dotted with almond, orange, and olive trees. The Tremiti islands also form a section of the park with the most developed, San Domino, also being the only isle in the archipelago with a sand beach. And there are enough coves, caves, and sea stacks to fill a photo album.

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Sarek National Park, Sweden

Sweden has a ton of national parks worth exploring, including Tyresta National Park (an easy day trip from Stockholm) and Fulufjallet, home to the country’s tallest waterfall and one of world’s oldest trees (more than 9,500 years old and counting). But Sarek is otherworldly.
The inaccessibility of the park (you have to hike or ski in and will probably end up wading through water since there are few bridges) only adds to its allure. This is the real wild, with no marked trails. Reading a map and compass aren’t just nice to know—they’re essential. The park contains nearly 100 glaciers and almost half of Sweden’s tallest peaks, including Barddetjahkka, the country’s most easily ascended 2,000-meter summit with views of its largest glacier.

[st_related]What to Pack for Hiking: 38 Essentials[/st_related]

Peneda Geres, Portugal

Abutting the border with Spain, Portugal’s only national park is notable for its castles, culture, and ponies—Peneda Geres is full of wild Garrano ponies that have been in the region since the first millennium B.C.E. Today, you can find domesticated ponies that will take you across the park’s countryside. Granite cliffs, forests, and bogs keep the terrain interesting.

Castles like Laboreiro and monasteries like Santa Maria dos Pitoes are popular spots within the park for those interested in history. Beyond castles, remnants from earlier eras like megalithic tombs and a Roman road that you can still cross via bike are evidence of the area’s long history.

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Archipelago National Park, Finland

You might expect to find Archipelago National Park, with more islands than any other archipelago in world, in someplace like the Maldives. But this park and UNESCO Biosphere reserve is in the Baltic Sea off the southwest coast of Finland. The fairly remote location is reached by ferry, taxi boat, rented motor or sailboat, or kayak.

The larger islands have villages where cattle and sheep still graze, while some of the smaller ones are rocky islets. Oro Fortress Island, a former military area, was only recently reopened to visitors. Because it was closed for so long, it has protected threatened species and habitats. All the islands are good for birding, and you may also spot moose and seals. Two underwater nature trails off Stora Hasto Island give snorkelers and divers a different perspective on the landscape. Off Dalskar Island are statues on the seabed.

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What to Pack

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Fashion & Beauty Outdoors Packing

What to Pack for Patagonia: 36 Essentials


Soaring craggy peaks, jaw-dropping glaciers, and pristine forests await you in Patagonia. I spent two weeks trekking the classic “W” route in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, and hiking around Mt. Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina, sleeping in tiny refugios and campsites along the way. Here’s what made it onto my Patagonia packing list … and what I wish did.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Backpack

I’m a chronic overpacker, so I forced myself to stick to the 50-liter limit of my trusty Osprey Aura AG backpack. The lightweight frame makes it easy to carry for hours, and plenty of pockets, zippers, and compartments keep me organized.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Day Pack

A day pack gives you flexibility in your itinerary. Drop your backpack at camp, make a quick switcheroo, and move on up to the summit for the day. This water-repellent backpack from Sea to Summit gets the job done.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Sleeping Bag

Refugios and campsites offer linens and sleeping bags at an additional cost, so you can probably get away with not bringing one. I’m a cold sleeper though, so I don’t regret bringing my lightweight sleeping bag, especially when temperatures dipped below 30 degrees one night at camp.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Flight and Bus Ride Essentials

  • Headphones: There’s not much space for traditional over-the-ear headphones, so I brought my tiny Bose SoundSport Wireless ones and an adapter for the charger.
  • Scarf: The Lululemon Vinyasa Scarf doubles as a blanket or a pillow in a pinch, which is why I never leave home without it.
  • Motion sickness medication: It takes more than 10 hours of travel to get from Torres del Paine to El Chalten on winding mountain roads, so you’ll want your motion sickness remedy of choice.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Shoes

  • Sturdy hiking boots or shoes: Make sure you’ve broken them in before you leave. Even a small blister or slightly ill-fitting shoe can mean misery for multi-day hikes, no matter how beautiful the trails are.
  • Waterproof camp shoes: These can do double duty as shower shoes and for relaxing at night.

What to Pack for Patagonia: The Jacket(s)

Since you can experience bright sunshine, torrential downpours, snowfall, and high winds all in the span of 15 minutes in Patagonia, layers are essential.

  • Insulated vest: The Patagonia Nano-Puff Vest is my go-to for any kind of hiking or running. It keeps me super warm but is so light I barely notice wearing it. (It’s also available for men.)
  • Mid-weight windbreaker: Layer the vest with a midweight windbreaker (like this one for women or this one for men) when you’re hiking or the sun is out.
  • Warm coat: Keep a really warm puffy coat close by for the summits, around camp, and when the weather turns particularly nasty. Bonus: My L.L.Bean one is packable. (See a similar option for men here.)

What to Pack for Patagonia: Rain Gear

It will rain for some or all of your trip, so be prepared. The trails are well maintained, and with the proper gear, you can still have a great day.

  • Raincoat: The Patagonia Torrentshell 3L Jacket fit perfectly over my puffy coat and kept me warm and dry. (Check out a similar option for men here.)
  • Backpack cover: If your pack doesn’t have one, you’ll want to make sure you bring a cover. It’s best to find one that fits perfectly so it stays secure in the wind and rain—this Osprey Ultralight Raincover matches mine.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Clothing

  • Convertible hiking pants: They may be nerdy, but they’re also necessary in a region with so many weather changes.
  • Long-sleeve shirts: You won’t need short-sleeve shirts unless you’re warm in 40-degree weather. Stick with technical long-sleeve shirts—I brought one base layer and two lighter hiking shirts.
  • Tights or leggings: I brought two pairs of tights since that’s what I prefer to hike in—one at mid-calf and one long pair.
  • Cozy lounge wear: I saved one pair of joggers and one fleece pullover for relaxing around camp.
  • Socks: Get yourself several pairs of wool socks for hiking, and at least one for relaxing.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Toiletries

  • Sunscreen: It’s a must since you can burn even when it’s cloudy.
  • Multi-purpose soap: One of the best perks of hiking the “W” is that you can shower at almost every campsite and refugio. I love Bronner’s since it’s multi-purpose—shampoo, body wash, and clothing wash all in one (plus, it’s environmentally friendly).
  • Face wipes: On days without showers, these will get the grime and dirt off your skin.
  • Moisturizer: With so much wind, don’t leave it behind.
  • Over-the-counter medications: No matter where you travel, always bring some over-the-counter medication with you, especially remedies for upset stomach and pain, as well as an antihistamine in case of an allergic reaction.
  • Bandages: Taking care of blisters can make a big difference in your comfort level when you’re walking in hiking boots all day.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Gadgets

  • Headlamp: These are handy to help you get around camp and the refugios once the electricity goes out at night.
  • High-quality camera: Photos won’t do Patagonia justice, but it’s worth a shot (pun intended).
  • Universal adapter: Chile and Argentina use different plug setups and voltages.
  • Portable phone charger: Because you won’t always have electricity.

What to Pack for Patagonia: Accessories

  • Hat: I mostly used my baseball cap, though mornings at camp definitely warranted a warm hat.
  • Multi-purpose buff: I love hiking with one of these because they’re suitable for just about every type of weather.
  • Micro-towel: I follow the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy philosophy and always travel with a towel.
  • Large water bottle: You can drink the water right out of the streams and rivers on the trails in Patagonia. Pack a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
  • Sunglasses: Glaciers throw off glare, so when the sun does come out, you’ll want some shades.

What to Pack for Patagonia (That I Didn’t)

  • Collapsible trekking poles: These would have been handy on some hikes. Note that airlines require you to bring them in a checked bag, or you can rent a pair in either Puerto Natales or El Chalten.
  • Rain pants, rain pants, rain pants: They will make your life less miserable than mine was, and significantly drier, too.
  • Poncho: I’m glad I stuffed an extra trash bag into my pack at the last minute, but next time I’d bring a poncho. Did I mention it rains a lot in Patagonia?

What Not to Pack for Patagonia

Unless you’re going off the beaten path, you won’t need traditional backpacking gear like a tent, sleeping pad, pots and pans, mess kit, or a stove on your Patagonia packing list. You can rent these items from almost any refugio or gear store in town if you feel like you need them once you’re there.

Chileans and Argentineans are very casual, so you won’t need anything dressy (even jeans) unless you’re planning on going to one of the major cities before the hiking portion of your trip. Otherwise, save that space for an extra layer or two.

Overall, when packing for Patagonia, keep in mind that less is more when you’re carrying everything on your back. While it may be tempting to bring lots of clothes or accessories, just remember that every ounce counts—and you wouldn’t want anything to distract you from the incredible scenery.

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Always in search of adventure, Kayla Voigt hails from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, the start of the Boston Marathon. You can usually find her at the summit of a mountain or digging into a big bowl of pasta. Say hi on Instagram @klvoigt.

Categories
Active Travel Outdoors

A Snowcat Taco Truck and 8 Other Amazing Ski Resort Amenities


A roving taco truck that brings food to you, a gondola that serves up fondue, and a stair-replacing slide—is this a ski fever dream? These amazing ski resort amenities (and more) are reality at mountains around the world.

Taco Beast, Steamboat, Colorado

Steamboat ski resort tacos

You’re skiing at Steamboat when you start to get hungry, but the powder’s good and you don’t want to stop to eat. Then, like magic, through a flurry of snow, a tricked-out snowcat appears in front of you and it’s bearing tacos. No, it’s not some kind of mountain mirage; it’s the Taco Beast, and it’s real. This snowcat turned food truck roams Steamboat’s slopes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Thursday through Monday, serving up four different kinds of tacos, a salsa bar, esquites, and drinks. To track down the truck, follow @TacoBeastSBT on Twitter.

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A Slide to the Bathroom, Meribel, France

A Slide to the Bathroom, Meribel, France

Why are bathrooms at ski resorts always downstairs? Having to clomp down flights of stairs in your ski boots is the worst, especially on tired legs. The famous apres-ski bar Rond Point Meribel at Meribel ski resort has a genius solution to this problem: a slide that goes down to the bathroom, eliminating the need for stairs. The only flaw in this beautiful plan—there’s no gravity-reversing slide to take you back up, so you’ll have to tackle the climb.

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[st_related]10 of the Warmest Winter Hats[/st_related]

Ski-in, Ski-Out Distillery, Park City Mountain, Utah

High West Distillery

Need to warm up from the inside? Ski right into High West Distillery, the world’s first ski-in, ski-out gastropub distillery. Here, you can grab a glass of house-made whiskey (with plenty of varieties including a double rye) that will leave you feeling nice and toasty before you head back out onto the slopes. Just don’t have too many, lest you fall off the chairlift.

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Heli-Fondue, Panorama, Canada

heliskiing followed bu heli-fondue

You may have had fondue before, and you may have even had it atop a snow-covered mountain (where it tastes at least 50 percent better). But have you taken a helicopter to have fondue on top of an empty mountain after hours? Sign up for Panorama’s Heli-Fondue to experience it. If you have nine friends that are up for the adventure, the price is shockingly cheap—just around $45 per person. The total cost is $1,200 CAD (approximately $906 USD at the time of writing) and includes a helicopter ride for up to 10 people, cheese fondue, and chocolate fondue for dessert.

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[st_related]The Worst Winter Travel Gear (and What to Pack Instead)[/st_related]

Ice Bar, Crested Butte, Colorado

Uley’s Cabin Lunch and Outdoor Bar at Crested Butte

You came here for the snow, so why leave it to go inside for a cocktail? Uley’s Cabin Lunch and Outdoor Bar at Crested Butte is located at the bottom of a run, so you can ski right up, down your drink, and keep on going. The outdoor bar is made of ice, so you won’t run the risk of having your drink get cold.

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Gondola Fondue, Vaujany, France

Gondola Fondue, Vaujany, France

How amazing would it be if, at the end of a long lift line, you stepped into a gondola and were offered hot, gooey fondue? At Vaujany in France, this dream almost comes true—sadly, the gondola fondue isn’t available during ski hours, but you can reserve this after-hours experience throughout the winter season. The gondolas get kitted out with tables and stocked with fondue, Champagne, and green Chartreuse for riders to enjoy while the gondola traverses the mountain.

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[st_related]America’s 10 Best Small Ski Resorts[/st_related]

Heated Gondola Seats, Vail, Colorado

gondola in vail colorado

Vail’s luxury gondola might be nicer than your hotel room, but unfortunately, you’re not allowed to sleep there. Inside, heated seats warm you up in between runs, and free Wi-Fi means you can look up a trail map or post a smug Instagram about your 7.5-minute ride.

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J.E. Henry Railroad, Loon, New Hampshire

J.E. Henry Railroad, Loon, New Hampshire

Sure, you could ski or walk between the Octagon Lodge and the Governor Adams Lodge at Loon Mountain, or you could take a train. This wood-fired, steam-powered engine runs 600 feet back and forth each winter, shuttling skiers in a unique fashion.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

10 Best Hidden Hot Springs in North America


Nothing beats a warm soak outside on a crisp day. You’ll have to ramble down dirt roads, hike into canyons, and cross suspension bridges to get to these hidden hot springs. But the effort will make the “ahhh” even sweeter when you finally slip into a steamy bath set in the middle of thick forest or beneath the glittery Milky Way. Here are 10 of our favorite hot springs in the U.S. and Canada.

Chena Hot Springs, Near Fairbanks, Alaska

At McCredie Hot Springs, a little string of hot pools lines the edge of Salt Creek, where you can sit and enjoy a warm soak with the sound of a river rushing by. Here, in the middle of the Willamette National Forest, bathers shift rocks to create just the right mix of warm and cool water in the pools, which can range from 98 to 114 degrees (temperatures can be dangerously hot, so proceed with caution when enjoying the hot springs). In winter, this area, at an elevation of 2,000 feet, is often blanketed in snow, so you can have a roll in the white stuff and then watch it melt off your skin in the hot springs. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon after hitting the slopes in Willamette Pass or snowshoeing at Salt Creek Falls, one of Oregon’s highest waterfalls.

Getting There: From Eugene, follow Highway 58 east for 46 miles. McCredie is between mileposts 46 and 47, just east of Oakridge and near Blue Pool Campground in Willamette National Forest. The springs are about 200 yards from the roadside parking lot. Note that the campgrounds are closed in the winter and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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What to Pack

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Weekend Getaways

Killington and Pico: Two Mountains, One Weekend


The forecast called for a complete washout—record-breaking warm temperatures in January and non-stop rain all weekend. Reservations were already made, so we hopped in the car anyway and headed north to Vermont on Friday night.

The destination? Killington and Pico, Vermont’s second and fifth tallest ski mountains. The plan? Ski both in just one weekend.

We checked into The Killington Grand Hotel, which is an easy walk from the slopes at Killington. This sprawling hotel has firepits, hot tubs, a heated pool, a spa, and everything you need to relax after a day on the mountain—plus a complimentary shuttle to take you to the nearby access road, which is lined with lively bars and restaurants.

You don’t need to leave the hotel to find great food—Preston’s, The Killington Grand Hotel’s on-site restaurant, is a member of the Vermont Farm to Plate network and utilizes local ingredients in its cuisine.

After dinner, we headed up to our room and watched the groomers on the mountain from our balcony, sending up our best snow dance (or at least anti-rain dance) to Mother Nature.

Against all the forecasts, Saturday morning dawned dry and warm. Thanks to the tireless work of the snowmakers earlier in the week, there was still plenty of snow on the slopes, even as the temperatures crept above 50 degrees. Killington is nicknamed “The Beast of the East”, and it’s easy to see why—this massive mountain has the highest vertical drop in New England (just over 3,000) and some of the most trails around (155), almost all of which were open that Saturday.

[st_related]The 8 Best Ski Gear Items for This Winter[/st_related]

The Saturday felt like a mid-week ski day—the forecast had scared away the crowds, and we skied right onto every single lift without having to wait in line, something that’s unheard of for a Saturday in January. The trails were empty, so we took our time on each descent, reveling in the quiet open spaces.

 

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Skiing in New England, I’m used to having to take frequent breaks inside to warm up in between runs and lift rides; but on this magical weekend, we only felt compelled to stop when we were too hungry to keep going. We skied down Needle’s Eye Run and right up to the Jerk Jamaican Mountain Grill, where we sat outside with our food and enjoyed the sunshine before getting right back on the lift—a definite treat in January.

After lunch, we headed back out to the slopes and kept going until last chair, after which we watched the sunset over drinks outside at the Umbrella Bar at the base of the mountain.

One quick and free shuttle ride down the street, and we were at the famous Wobbly Barn, a local steakhouse with a legendary nightlife. A great live music scene here will get you on your feet, no matter how tired your legs are from skiing.

The next morning made the forecasters look even more foolish, as it was another dry start to the day. We packed up the car for a quick 10-minute drive down the street to check out Pico Mountain. If you have a Killington lift ticket, you can ski at Pico for free.

Pico Mountain is more old-school and family-friendly than Killington. All of the trails lead down to the same single base area, so you’ll never get lost and find yourself on the opposite side of the mountain.

There are fewer trails (57) here than at Killington, but also smaller crowds, as this mountain is more of a secret than “the Beast,” but there’s enough terrain here to satisfy beginners and experts alike.

After a solid half day of skiing, the anticipated rain finally came, and we took refuge in the old-fashioned lodge by the real wood-burning fireplace.

If you’re planning a Vermont ski weekend this winter, combining a trip to Killington and Pico will let you experience both sides of New England skiing—from the big, flashy, and new Killington to the quiet, laid-back, and traditional Pico.

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Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by Killington. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from the mountain. 

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Beach Budget Travel Experiential Travel Island Outdoors

10 Affordable Dream Vacations You Can Take in 2020


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The problem with a dream trip is that it can easily stall out in the dreaming phase. The new year is here to help though, with travel prices that put incredible dream destinations within reach of more travelers.[st_content_ad]

The Best Affordable Dream Vacations to Book in 2020

Think barge cruising French canals, basking on a private island in Belize, or taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Laos. Make 2020 your best travel year yet with these affordable-and-amazing vacations.

Be the First of Your Friends to Visit Up-and-Coming Montenegro

Perast at Bay of Kotor in Montenegron.

If you haven’t heard of Montenegro before, you’re not alone; but this is not a destination that will remain unknown for long. Between five jaw-droppingly gorgeous national parks and its more than 120 beaches, this tiny Balkan country has some of Europe’s most exceptional scenery. Explore glacial lakes, medieval villages, and all those picture-perfect beaches—the coastal area is better known among tourists, while the Northern and Central mountain regions offer a more off-the-beaten-path experience.

While on the ground-costs are low (Montenegro also uses the Euro), it can be a bit tricky to get here, since there have historically been few air routes to the country. Recently though, more routes have opened up, connecting the former Yugoslav Republics via Brussels, Frankfurt, and Zurich, according to Scott’s Cheap Flights. Plus, Montenegro is only a three-hour drive from Dubrovnik, Croatia, which has a nonstop flight to/from Philadelphia.

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Sunbathe on the Beaches of the Portuguese Riviera

estirol beach umbrellas portugal.

You’ve been hearing about Portugal as a hot destination for years (mainly because of its affordability), and that trend continues in 2020. Between plenty of (and constantly expanding) nonstop air routes from the East Coast and affordable room rates in its popular tourist destinations and a favorable Euro-currency, Portugal truly is an accessible and inexpensive dream destination.

Travel to the Portuguese Riviera, which consists of the regions west of Lisbon, Cascais, Estoril, and Sintra. The area is accessible via car or train from Lisbon, so combine this dreamy vacation with a stop in the capital city, or continue up along the coastline.

Or opt for Contiki’s nine-day Portugal City & Surf tour, which combines the best elements of a vacation to Portugal with stops in Lisbon, Porto, Santa Cruz, and Lagos. Prices start at $1,619 ($180 per day), with most activities included.

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Barge Cruise Along France’s Canals

river cruise seine paris france at sunset.

2020 is France’s year for affordability and events. Between new budget airline routes and a favorable exchange rate with the Euro, there’s no reason to hold off on an affordable trip to France any longer.

In addition to the constant fare deals popping up for flights between the U.S. and France, there’s new service on the horizon. Starting in June, Boston and Newark will have budget flight options from LEVEL and French Bee, respectively. There are also nonstop flights to Nice from New York City (JFK and Newark), so you can check the French Riviera off your bucket list without a layover.

To avoid summer crowds and prices, travel in the spring (April to June) or fall (September to November). This spring, visit for the much-anticipated contemporary museum opening of the Bourse de Commerce – Collection Pinault.

And, if you’ve already been to Paris, consider exploring magical (and uncrowded) villages or taking a dreamy barge cruise. River cruise company, CroisiEurope, offers plenty of options in France, with all-inclusive prices starting at $2,669 for a seven-day trip ($381 per day).

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Chill Out Like a Celeb in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

Sunrise at Pacific beach, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico.

Mexico is always a go-to spot for a cheap tropical vacation, but many of the beach destinations are over-touristed and can be pricey. Not Riviera Nayarit, the coastal region just north of Puerto Vallarta. With Puerto Vallarta as an access point, travelers can find direct and inexpensive flights from major U.S. hubs (track prices here with Airfarewatchdog).

[st_related]Why Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit Is the New Cancun[/st_related]

It’s hard to find a room rate over $150 in the charming surf town of Sayulita. If you want something even more remote, look towards neighboring San Pancho. And if you’re looking for all-inclusives, you’ll find plenty of options along the beaches in Nuevo Vallarta, many with competitive rates.

Celebrities love the relaxed and understated vibe of the region, especially in the luxe Punta de Mita area. But 2020 might be the last year that the area is both affordable and low-key, with seven new properties set to open between now and 2022.

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Explore the Culture of Laos

Wat Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos.

Thinking of an affordable dream trip to Southeast Asia? Sure, Thailand and Vietnam get most of the spotlight, but neighboring Laos is another dreamy and cheap exotic destination waiting to be explored.

On the ground costs are extremely affordable, as with most Southeast Asian destinations. Head to the capital of Vientiane, which Price of Travel notes is cheaper than Bangkok, or to the popular tourist area of Luang Prabang, for noteworthy savings.

According to Kayak, the cheapest fares from the U.S. to Laos are from Chicago. And while it may include a 30-hour travel day to get there, it’s possible to find fares under $500 from the U.S.

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Trek Patagonia and Sip Malbec in Argentina

trekker at Fitz Roy, Patagonia Argentina.

The South American hotspot has frequently appeared on our affordability lists over the past year, and we’ve added it again for a good reason. While low-fare carrier Norwegian Air’s expansion to the country proved to be a rocky business move, the airline recently sold its subsidiary to JetSMART. The budget airline is expected to uphold the current flights to/from the U.S. and Buenos Aires. Time will tell if prices decrease even more though.

And what caused problems for Norwegian Air (the depreciation of the Argentine peso against the U.S. dollar) is helpful for travelers when it comes to on-the-ground costs. Current exchange rates show that the peso is trending towards a five-year low compared to the U.S. dollar. According to the Price of Travel, a budget dinner is priced at just $4 U.S. dollars.

Make the most of a trip to Argentina and explore the wine region of Mendoza or trek among the granite peaks in Patagonia. Tour operator G Adventures is offering competitive prices on the following tours: 9-Days Mendoza and Bariloche Multisport starting at $1,784, 9-Days Patagonia Hiking starting at $2,294, and 8-Days Wellness Patagonia starting at $1,827.

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Get Outdoors in Greater Zion, Utah

virgin river in zion national park utah.

For those looking to discover some of the best state parks in the U.S., the Greater Zion area is the best way to experience nature affordably. While Zion National Park is undoubtedly worth a visit, the area is also home to four state parks with landscapes that rival the famed national park: Sand Hollow, Snow Canyon (which only has a $10 day entrance fee), Quail Creek, and Gunlock.

If you’re looking to experience Zion National Park, look into purchasing a national park pass, which costs $80 annually and covers the full per vehicle charge at any park. Also consider exploring Kolob Terrace, which is a lesser-visited area of the popular park.

Find freedom (and affordability) in mountain biking or hiking along the area’s seemingly endless trails. Save on accommodations by camping or staying at budget hotel brands like Holiday Inn or La Quinta in the areas of St. George, Hurricane, and Springdale. To get around, renting a car is the best option, which also gives you some flexibility on what airport you can fly into, with Las Vegas being the closest major airport hub.

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Relax on a Private Island in Belize

Turneffe Island Resort villa.

Dream vacations don’t get much better than chilling out on your own private island. And at Turneffe Island Resort, you can do just that for a lot less than you might think. The island is located just 30 miles off of the coast of Belize City, with a maximum guest occupancy of under 50. Prices for the all-inclusive resort start at $1,490 for a three-night package and if you’re an avid scuba diver, you can book a special package that’s $1,790 for three nights and includes five single-tank dives. For airfare, check websites like Airfarewatchdog (our sister site) to monitor flight deals to Belize City.

Fun fact: The island even operates on its own time zone, so you can vacation affordably on literal island time.

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Cruise the Seven Seas

cruise ship in the Mediterranean.

Cruising is one of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck on a vacation, and with so many of the world’s dreamiest destinations located on coastlines, you can explore places like the Caribbean South Pacific, and Mediterranean via a cruise.

In terms of affordability, the U.S. News & World Report lists Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line as the best cruises for your money in 2020.

Pro travel tip: Check out last-minute itineraries for even more savings if you have some flexibility in planning your dream vacation.

Visit European Christmas Markets Along the Danube

Christmas market stalls at night in Rathausplatz, Vienna, Austria.

There really is nothing more festive than a European Christmas market. And in 2020, a dream trip to this holiday wonderland might be cheaper than you think. There are plenty of river cruise companies that offer affordable dream vacations along the Danube, like Viking River Cruises’ Danube Waltz (at $312 per day) and U River Cruise’s Dashing through the Danube itinerary (priced at $350 per day). Prices include accommodations, meals, and most offshore excursions (though, fair warning, shopping is not included).

What to Pack

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For more ideas, see The Top Travel Destinations for 2020.

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Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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SmarterTravel Spotlight: Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise


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You’ve probably seen the jaw-dropping pictures of Lake Louise’s emerald waters on Instagram, and yes, it’s really worth visiting in person too. Between the lake itself, its national park location, and surrounding peaks and glacier, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Canadian Rockies deserve a spot on your bucket list.

Here’s why staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the best way to visit Lake Louise and what time of year is the best time to go if you want to avoid the crowds.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: The Location

You can’t get any closer to Lake Louise in Banff National Park than with a stay at the Fairmont Chateau. The hotel was first built as an attraction along the Canadian Pacific Railway for tourists to visit in the summer. Since its beginnings in the late 1800s, the property has welcomed royalty, celebrities, artists, filmmakers, world-famous skiers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

As part of the Canadian Pacific Hotels division, the property became a Fairmont in 1999. The property has a rich mountaineering history that’s seen through the design, service, and activity offerings at the hotel.

The Fairmont grounds directly abut the UNESCO World Heritage site, which means hotel guests don’t have the property to themselves. Busloads of tourists visit the lake every day, but that shouldn’t stop you from staying here. Tourists are allowed in parts of the hotel, but priority is given to hotel guests at the onsite dining options and the new spa.

In fact, staying at the hotel will give you time in the morning and evenings to enjoy the lake in a rare moment of solitude. Plus, not many tourists stay long enough to enjoy the dozens of hiking trails surrounding the lake and hotel. I recommend the Plain of Six Glaciers and Big Beehive hikes for intermediate hikers. You can also participate in outdoor actives via the Mountain Adventure Program.

Shoulder season (early spring and throughout the fall and early winter) are ideal times to visit for less expensive room rates and fewer crowds. I stayed at the property in mid-October and was able to enjoy the property without crowds for the better part of the day. Plus, you get to see the surrounding mountains with a dusting of snow contrasting the jagged granite peaks. It really is the best of both worlds.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise: The Rooms

The rooms are updated, spacious, and decorated in traditional Fairmont style. I stayed in a suite room with views facing the lake. The suite was spacious, even by suite standards, and has plenty of space for a family. Since you visit for the view, I recommend spending extra on a lake view room. In total, there are 539 rooms at the chateau.

Fairmont Gold members receive an exclusive experience, with signature suite rooms on the seventh floor reserved only for Gold member guests. Other perks include arranging dinner reservations, transportation, and access to the private lounge. Gold members can head to the Fairmont Gold Lounge for a complimentary breakfast buffet and access to books, games, coffee, and tea, as well as an honor bar and complimentary cocktail canapes from 5 to 7 p.m. 

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Dining

The Fairmont Chateau has many dining options ranging from a gastropub and a breakfast buffet to fine dining overlooking the lake. Guests can also enjoy a 24-hour deli-style counter for quick meals and snacks. Restaurants include the Fairview (fine dining), Lakeview Lounge (lounge area serving tapas and cocktails), The Wallister Stube (European alpine inspired restaurant and wine bar), The Chateau Deli, Poppy Brasserie (breakfast style buffet restaurant), the Alpine Social (gastropub), and the seasonal Italian cuisine kitchen Lago (usually opened regularly during summer).

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Extras

Guests have access to all of the surrounding trails and equipment (for a fee; crampons are free for guests). There is also an adventure center, where guests can book guided hiking tours on trails around the lake. The entire staff is  friendly and helpful with activity recommendations. You also aren’t far from the small town of Lake Louise, but you really don’t need to leave the property to explore all the Canadian Rockies have to offer. Winter activities include ice skating, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Summer activities include canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, and biking.

For skiers, some of the best Canadian Rockies skiing is only three miles away at The Lake Louise Ski Resort. The mountain is home to the Lake Louise World Cup every November and gives the area international fame in the skiing world. Free ski storage is also available at the hotel.

There is also a newly renovated spa and fitness center featuring a heated indoor pool, steam room, and complimentary fitness classes. The hotel is also well known for its all-inclusive wellness retreats offered in the shoulder season.

I recommend continuing on to Jasper National Park and staying at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, as well as a night at the Fairmont Springs Banff to complete your Canadian Rockies vacation. All three hotels are unique in that they’re located in national parks and each property works closely with the Canadian Park Services to uphold standards in nature preservation, sustainability, and respectful tourism.

For reference, Lake Louise is located about two hours from the Calgary International Airport, a 40-minute drive from the town of Banff, and about one hour from the entrance of Banff National Park. From the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise to the Fairmont Jasper is about a three-hour drive.

Price and How to Book: Nightly rates start at $275 and can be booked on TripAdvisor or Fairmont’s website.

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Ashley Rossi stayed as a guest on behalf of the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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8 Best Mancations for Every Type of Guy


No offense guys, but many of you are tough to please when it comes to travel. While plenty of you are avid travelers, for the most part, women dominate travel decisions and planning. Whether you’re looking for a guy’s trip, bachelor party, solo getaway, or a father-son vacation, here are eight destinations where you can truly have a stress-free vacation.

San Diego, California

three men surfing in san diego california

Relax and unwind in California while avoiding the hassle of Los Angeles. San Diego makes for a great solo trip or bachelor party destination—with activities suiting both types of trips. La Jolla is a great surfing destination, while downtown San Diego is home to great nightlife. Go to a Padres game, play a round at world-famous Torrey Pines, take a craft brewery tour, enjoy rooftop bars in the Gaslamp Quarter—the activities are endless with year-round mild weather and fewer crowds than other popular California destinations.

Where to Stay: If you want to golf, stay at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines for a guaranteed tee time at the legendary course every day. Or opt to stay closer to downtown at Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter for a more urban experience.

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Rome, Italy

Outdoor view of the colosseum or coliseum, also known as flavian amphitheatre

For an incomparable European experience, look no further than Rome. From the ruins of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus to the lively nightlife, Rome is the perfect guys trip. You can also golf at the championship course, Parco di Roma Golf Club, with the St. Peter’s dome as your backdrop.

Where to Stay: The Rome Cavalieri offers pools, access to Parco di Roma Golf Club, gladiator training in the hotel’s private park, a central location, an Italian Super Car “experience day”, a private visit to the Vatican Gardens and Sistine Chapel, and its own art collection for the ultimate Roman experience.

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Phoenix, Arizona

Man holds a bike in the air phoenix arizona

Enjoy the desert heat in Phoenix poolside or on the golf course at any of the area’s 185 courses. Depending on the time of year, you can also catch a football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium or a baseball game at Chase Field. Take an ATV tour in the desert, river raft and fish outside of Scottsdale, or rent a boat on Tempe Town Lake (all within driving distance of Phoenix).

Where to Stay: The Arizona Biltmore boasts eight pools, private cabanas, bike rentals, desert jeep tours, Grand Canyon tours, and a championship golf course. You’ll have it all at this resort.

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Bali, Indonesia

tourists walk through the gate of a hindu temple in bali

If you’re willing to make the journey, Bali is the best Southeast Asian destination for a guys trip. You can surf at some of the world’s best beaches, relax at countless infinity pools, visit Hindu temples, and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the rice paddies and volcanoes. Once you’re there, everything is pretty inexpensive and the food, nightlife, and culture are well worth the flight.

Where to Stay: Conrad Bali is located on the coast of Nusa Dua at Tanjung Benoa and offers activity planning, golf, a beach coastline, a wellness studio, three restaurants, and multiple pools.

Maine

man hiking in the woods of main

If you’re looking to go off-the-grid, the Maine Huts & Trails is the perfect adventure trip. The hut-and-trail system is located in western Maine along trails marked by mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There are four hut stops—Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls, and Poplar—connected by paths accessible via foot or bike. From hiking and biking to fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and swimming, the options are endless. And if you’re looking for a winter trip, you can ski and snowshoe.

Where to Stay: Book your trip through Maine Huts & Trails, with rates at $90 per night, including three daily meals.

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Louisville, Kentucky

a bourbon flight in louisville kentucky

Take on the bourbon trail with your group of guy friends (and SmarterTravel’s handy five-day guide). From the bourbon to the food, Louisville makes for a great weekend or long-weekend destination. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center for some non-bourbon activities.

 Where to Stay: 21c Museum Hotel Louisville also doubles as a contemporary art museum, fulfilling your childhood dream of sleeping in a museum. They offer free tours, and a great view of downtown Louisville, all within a few blocks of 4th Street’s nightlife.

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Killarney, Ireland

view of canoes on lake in killarney ireland

You can have any type of vacation in Killarney. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry circuit, the start and endpoint for the Kerry Way walking trail, and home to the castles, lakes, and mountains found in Killarney National Park. It also offers access to renowned golf courses and a great culinary and pub scene.

Where to Stay: The Ross is located in the heart of the town center, close to the national park. They also offer an “Off the Beaten Track” guide and cater to whatever activity you decide to do: if you’re golfing, they will store your golf equipment and offer early breakfast, or if you’re hiking, they will reserve guides, pack a lunch, and give route recommendations.

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Lake Louise, Canada

man paddles on lake louise in canada

Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers a variety of activities for your guys-only trip in Canada’s “Diamond in the Wilderness.” Come summertime, the area offers hiking, ATV excursions, canoeing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting. And in the winter, the lake is home to some of the best downhill skiing areas anywhere. Year-round, you can opt for a helicopter tour, glacier walk, wildlife safari, skydiving, paragliding, cave tours, or grizzly bear tour. Make sure to also check out the town of Banff, about a 40-minute drive away for even more activities, bars, and fine dining.

Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will plan your entire trip through their concierge service so you can enjoy your vacation stress-free. Choose from their seasonal guides and make sure to take one of their GoPros with you to capture your adventures.

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

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