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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.

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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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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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11 Underrated Africa Tours for Your Bucket List

If you’ve landed on this page you’ve either seen the Big Five already in South Africa, or you’re after a trip to Africa that’s more “off the beaten path.” But Africa is a vast continent, and finding the right trip here can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve narrowed down 11 tours to less-traveled African destinations that are worthy of your bucket-list.[st_content_ad]

The Best Africa Tours to Lesser-Known Destinations

Tourism to Africa is rapidly increasing, with over 2,800 hotel rooms added since late 2019 and another 6,600 new rooms coming in the next few years. Plus, new air routes from Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Kenya Airways, and Turkish Airlines are opening up the continent to more overseas travelers. These 11 tours and destinations are now more accessible for travelers and will be sure to gain popularity over the next few years.

Get a Taste of Food, Culture, and Coffee in Nairobi

nnairobi kenya food market

Sure, a trip to Kenya and the Masai Mara are already known to most well-versed travelers, but many skip out on the country’s lively capital, Nairobi. It’s one of the most modern cities in Africa, and its stories can be told through food and culture. One of the most underrated things to do here is to take an urban city tour. Airbnb offers a walking tour called Nai Nami, or Our Streets – Our Stories. Travelers have the chance to explore the city via a walking tour led by underprivileged youths. Other off-the-beaten-path tours in Nairobi include food tours, like this authentic Kenyan food tour (from Viator, SmarterTravel’s sister site) or a coffee farm and tasting tour (also on Viator).

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Explore Lesser-Known Senegal and the Gambia

beach in Serrekunda, Gambia.

Most travelers don’t think to visit Western Africa, but the countries of Senegal and the Gambia are building up their infrastructure to be more tourist-friendly. Traveling with a group tour operator to these countries is a reliable way to experience their deep-rooted history, coastal landscapes, and local village life. We recommend G Adventures’ 10-day Classic Senegal & the Gambia tour, as it covers a lot of the region’s highlights with a good balance of guided tours and free time.

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Safari in Tanzania with the Family

REI tanzania tour africa.

The gorgeous landscapes of Tanzania offer just as much, if not more, as the surroundings in South Africa. Plan your next epic family vacation to Tanzania with REI Adventures’ Tanzania Family Adventure & Safari. The nine-day trip takes you through multiple wildlife reserves, cycling on a forest canopy walkway, hiking with Maasai in a local village, and more.

Find Out Why Everyone Is Going to Ethiopia

woman tossing corn gondar ethiopia.

Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing destinations in Africa, and for good reason. The country offers unparalleled landscapes, delicious food, and unique history. Intrepid Travel’s 13-day Incredible Ethiopia tour covers all this and more. Spend a day in the capital city before heading out to the lakeshore towns of Bahir Dar and Gondar, continuing on to the Simien Mountains, and ending in the town of Lalibela, home to some of the region’s most significant religious sites.

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Go Gorilla Trekking in the Congo

gorilla trekking in congo

Travel to the heart of Africa on this all-inclusive safari and gorilla trekking trip with Deeper Africa. You’ll spend most of your time in Odzala-Kokoua National Park across three different safari camps. Activities include a kayak safari, a boat cruise, forest walks, gorilla trekking, and night walks with the chance to see western lowland gorillas, the guereza colobus mustached monkey, forest buffaloes, and forest elephants.

See Three National Parks on a Luxury Safari in Rwanda

silverback gorilla rainforest.

African Travel’s Discover Rwanda tour explores three national parks over the course of 11 days: Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, and Volcanoes National Park with stays at luxurious accommodations like a One&Only resort. No stone is left unturned with this itinerary, which includes game drives, canopy walks, chimpanzee trekking, hiking, gorilla trekking, and more. Rwanda is home to dozens of animals such as lions, black rhinos, shoebills, buffalo, leopards, elephants, giraffes, spotted hyenas, zebras, elands, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

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Relax with a Beach Escape to Zanzibar

stone town zanzibar.

Looking to chill out on one of the most pristine coastlines in the world? Head to the Tanzanian archipelago of Zanzibar for a few days of pure relaxation. Contiki’s six-day Zanzibar Beach Escape includes five nights on the main island, Ungujain, in a beachfront hotel with plenty of free time to explore. Snorkel, dive, and enjoy watersports for a few days, and then explore the capital, Stone Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also attend full moon parties, eat at the Rock Restaurant, and take a day trip to Prison Island.

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Discover Africa by Train on the Rovos Rail

train on journey in south africa

While there aren’t too many ways to explore Africa by rail—yet—Vacations By Rail’s Rovos Rail journey is truly an off-the-beaten-path way to experience multiple countries on the continent. Spend six nights aboard a luxury train, as well as a night in a game lodge in Etosha National Park in Namibia and a night at Soussusvlei Lodge. Along the way you’ll see dramatic landscapes like Big Hole, Fish River Canyon, the Kalahari Desert, the Namib Desert, Walvis Bay, and Etosha National Park. Other stops include the Diamond Mine Museum, Windhoek (Namibia’s capital), and Upington in South Africa.

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Take a Safari-Cruise in Southern Africa

croisieurope boat african dream deck.

CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa Safari-Cruise tour is truly a bucket-list experience in a relatively less crowded region of Africa. The highlights of this tour include the comfortable boat, the African Dream, built by the river cruise company, as well as game drives in Chobe National Park (home to a quarter of the continent’s elephant population). Plus, unadvertised experiences, like seeing the Milky Way every night while sleeping on the largest manmade lake in the world, can’t be beat.

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Experience Madagascar a la Jane Goodall

eastern lesser bamboo lemur madagascar.

The 14-day Highlights of Madagascar tour by G Adventures is endorsed by primatologist Jane Goodall, which means the trip not only has a low impact on the environment but also contributes to the protection of wildlife and supports local communities. You’re guaranteed to see amazing animals and landscapes on this itinerary, including lemurs, baobab trees, natural swimming pools, beaches, and rice paddies.

This tour also includes a stay at a local community guesthouse as well as visits to an artisan workshop and a traditional healer.

Spend a Week Sleeping on the Nile River

temple of karnak cairo egypt.

Most travelers visit Egypt for the epic Pyramids and don’t spend much time exploring the rest of the country’s offerings. (Did you know, for instance, that the Aswan High Dam’s reservoir capacity is five times the size of the Hoover Dam?) The 12-day Splendors of Egypt & the Nile tour by Uniworld gives you ample time both in the rising capital city of Cairo and on the famed river. Sailings are set to start in the fall of 2020 and include a full week aboard a brand-new ship, the S.S. Sphinx. Included excursions span from lesser-visited temple visits to bird-watching boat rides, and, yes, visits to the Ancient Memphis sites.

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What to Pack

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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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Kaleidoscopes in Motion: Visiting Mexico’s Monarch Sanctuary

The monarch butterflies have no set flight pattern. Some dive-bomb from trees, others flutter down like fall leaves. Against the clear sky, whole colonies swish back and forth, orange marbles sent skittering across a tile floor. We think these things, but we do not say them aloud. We’ve been asked to stay quiet. It’s one of the conservation rules at Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.

My husband, David, and I have come to do some major monarch-spotting. Twenty to 30 million butterflies migrate to this sanctuary between November and March each year. They’ve flown south to escape the North American winter in Mexico’s highlands, some traveling as far as 3,000 miles.

 

Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.
Only the Sanctuary’s guides are allowed to touch any of the monarch butterflies.

Our path to the monarchs isn’t short either. The summit is an hour’s hike, or 45 minutes on horseback. “Steep” and “strenuous” are words that autofill when you Google the park, so we opt for horseback, knowing we’ll still have to dismount and walk the last 10 minutes to the peak.

Through the Hotel Rodavento, we arrange a lift to the sanctuary and an escort, Alejandro. On arrival, David and I tumble out of the van and chase butterflies to a grassy divot. They lay in a sunbeam, occasionally taking a bobbing lap around our heads as we snap photos. Alejandro laughs, clearly thinking, This is just the parking lot! Wait until the forest. He arranges for our park guide, Gustavo, and three petite horses.

“Not to worry,” Alejandro jokes. “These are automatic horses.”

He’s not wrong. Riding skills are not required. The short mares can be mounted as easily as a porch swing, and the reins are handled by a señor who walks beside us.

Before we set off, we tour the spotless base camp, with its bathrooms, food stands, and tchotchkes like hats embroidered with plastic monarchs. But I’m eager for the real thing. We saddle up.

“Andale!” I shout.

 

The trail starts out paved and fenced, but reverts to a dirt path as we climb. Much of it is shaded by oyamel fir trees, the monarchs’ favorite hideout. Occasionally, a lemon wedge of sunlight breaks through the forest canopy and the butterflies cluster there. Gustavo, who leads our equine parade on foot, takes off his sombrero, fanning them off the path.

“We are custodians for these butterflies,” Gustavo explains in Spanish. “Imagine if we trampled over them!”

As the monarchs get shooed away, I’m struck by their fragility—they’re flimsy as two-ply Kleenex. How have they traveled the distance of a high-powered jet plane?

Our troop continues its ascent. Behind me, Alejandro calls a booming “buenos dias” to the people we pass—young sweethearts hiking, fathers and sons on horseback, and one executive-type taking a cellphone call mid-trot. Despite our differences, we’re all seeking this one wild marvel.

After 40 minutes, we arrive at what Alejandro calls our “horse parking lot.” We dismount and climb with Gustavo the rest of the way. It’s slow going, twisty and—as Google warned—steep. But the butterflies, just a trickle at the bottom of the park, flow freely around us.

Here Gustavo announces the final rule: We must whisper. No more booming buenos dias.

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Piedra Herrada Butterfly Sanctuary in Valle de Bravo, three hours outside of Mexico City.

As we reach the top, the canopy of trees cracks open and daylight floods in, heating the powdery earth and infusing the air with a pine-needle scent. The flip-book sound of a thousand beating wings surrounds us. Monarchs are everywhere now, spilling from trees—swooping, falling, shimmering. Waves of them pinwheel through the sky, climbing up into blue infinity, before falling back down to earth in a whoosh. The four of us stand in silence, faces tipped to the sky. I feel the same awe I’ve had in grand cathedrals.

Alejandro reads my thoughts. He leans over to whisper, “You sense God is in this place.”

On our descent to base camp, Gustavo grows somber. “We’ve seen fewer and fewer butterflies,” he says, echoing what scientists have discovered: Monarchs have suffered an 80 percent decline since 2000. Global warming, as well as the loss of milkweed (the monarch caterpillars’ only food), are to blame.

“We can’t control climate change, so we try to control the little we can,” Gustavo says.

 

 

He tells me that because the butterflies arrive in November, during the Day of the Dead celebration, many believe them to be souls of loved ones returning. I can’t ignore the subtext: If these butterflies disappear, part of this country’s soul will be lost, too.

Back at base camp, we return our horses to their hitching posts, then head back. For the first mile, the butterflies surf the jet-stream peeling off our van.

At home months later, I spot a flattened monarch on the pavement and stop to wonder what else was stamped out.

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If You Go

Our writer’s tour was arranged through the Hotel Rodavento. Tours can also be booked through Viator, starting at $60, or on arrival directly with park guides. Fees for guides and horses are 250 pesos per person (approximately $13 USD). Note that park guides tend to speak limited English, and package tours have translators. The entrance/parking fee is 70 pesos ($3.50 USD), which is included in pre-booked tours. Clean bathrooms are on site with paid access of 5 pesos ($0.25 USD). Gift shops and food vendors are also on the grounds. Sturdy walking or hiking shoes are recommended.

[viator_tour destination=”5424″ type=”3-mod” tours=”9483P155,9483P141,3467P8″]

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SmarterTravel Spotlight: Nimmo Bay Resort, British Columbia

The wilderness lodge Nimmo Bay Resort offers all-inclusive stays of three, four, or seven nights throughout its May-through-October season. The rate includes accommodations, local and lodge-based activities, all meals, and access to resort amenities like its waterfall-adjacent hot tubs and daily yoga classes. Nimmo Bay Resort is a luxury resort, but it manages to create an environment in which luxury feels less like garden-variety exclusivity and more like the privilege of deep connection.

The Location

Nimmo Bay Resort kayaking

Nimmo Bay Resort offers some of the world’s most pristine natural beauty. Located deep in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia—the world’s largest unspoiled temperate rainforest—the resort is accessible only by seaplane, boat, or helicopter. The peaceful cluster of cottages along the water’s edge on a small, sheltered bay offers the feeling of having a national park all to yourself. Because you pretty much do, though you’ll share all this nature with an exciting variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, bears, dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, and sea lions.

The Rooms

Nimmo Bay Resort cabins interior

The small resort has nine two-bedroom, one-bathroom cabins with living rooms and outdoor seating. The six intertidal cabins sit along the water’s edge, while the three forest cabins are tucked back into the trees next to the resort’s cascading waterfall. All cabins have ultra-comfortable pillow-top mattresses with Stonewashed linen cotton bedding, a constantly refreshing supply of house-made cookies, plus complimentary wines (mostly local British Columbia reds and whites), juice, beer, tea, and coffee. The cabins offer a beautiful and peaceful place to soak up the scenery.

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Dining

Nimmo Bay Resort culinary experience and dinner on beach

When you’re at Nimmo Bay Resort, there’s nowhere else to go, but the resort rises to the challenge by offering creative, hyperlocal, and sustainable meals that change each day. Often, on the first night, there will be an a la carte menu, followed by a tasting menu on the second night, and a family-style meal on the third. In addition to meals in the dining room, there are also picnics and other al fresco meals. Cocktail hour brings drinks made with tinctures from local plants and flowers and intriguing appetizers—think nootka-rose tinctures, cedar-infused rye, local halibut beignets, and duck rillette tempura.

Activities

Nimmo Bay Resort massage outdoors

During your stay, you’ll meet each morning and evening with your guest experience optimizer, who will ask you a series of questions meant to gauge your mood, energy level, and interests. The optimizer will then create a day for you that might include wildlife sightings, beach picnics, hiking, kayaking, forest bathing, whale watching, fishing, massage, or other activities. Adventure here is tailored to each guest on a daily basis. It creates a sense of expectation and mystery, but also a feeling that each day brings exactly what it should.

Price and How to Book: Per-person nightly rates at Nimmo Bay Resort start at about $1,500 CAD. To book, call 800-837-4354 or book online.

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Christine Sarkis visited Nimmo Bay Resort as a guest of the resort. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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12 Gorgeous Photos of America’s National Parks

Summer may be winding down, but it’s not too late to plan a trip to visit a national park. The National Park Service in the U.S. protects 61 located throughout the country. To help inspire that future trip, we’ve rounded up 12 gorgeous photos from some of our favorite national parks.

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Arches National Park, Utah

First light on turret arch framed by north window

There are more than 2,000 stone arches in Arches National Park, guaranteeing there will be at least one free from tourists for your photos. One of the most famous, Delicate Arch, offers a three-mile trail hike and is the perfect spot for watching the sunset.

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Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia vs man. giant sequoias forest and the tourist with backpack looking up

California’s Sequoia National Park is best known for its enormous sequoia trees that can live 3,000 years. The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world by volume and is a must-see on your tour through the forest.

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The grand prismatic spring, located in midway geyser basin

Yellowstone was the first national park, designated by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. A visit to Yellowstone should include the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring; it’s the largest hot spring in the U.S. and an unforgettable sight. The bands of color around the hot spring are caused by microbes that thrive in the hot water.

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Zion National Park, Utah

Morning fog on the towers of virgin zion national park

The Towers of the Virgin at sunrise is one of Zion National Park‘s most iconic scenes. For a less-crowded hike, take the moderate three-mile Watchman Trail and catch stunning views of Towers of the Virgin, West Temple, and the Altar of Sacrifice.

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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Thors hammer bryce canyon national park

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is famous for its hoodoos—tall, thin rock formations shaped by weather and erosion. Tourists flock to Thor’s Hammer, one of the best-known hoodoos for its precarious shape.

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Great Basin National Park, Nevada

summit of wheeler peak, to the sage-covered foothills, great basin national park

Some of the oldest trees in the world are in Great Basin National Park. Walk among these bristlecone pines, some of which are 4,000 years old (or even older).  Explore the Wheeler Peak grove to see some of these ancient trees.

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Denali National Park, Alaska

A long exposure lets the camera capture movement of ribbons aurora in denali

The aurora borealis (Northern Lights) are spectacular in Denali National Park, and best seen from September to April. Several tour companies offer nighttime tours into the wilderness for Northern Lights viewing.

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Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

Sea of clouds with the bright sun on haleakala national park

Haleakala means “house of the sun.” Local myth tells how Maui the demigod imprisoned the sun at Haleakala to make the day longer. At Haleakala National Park, don’t miss Kalahaku Lookout for Instagram-worthy views of Haleakala’s crater floor.

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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Rock layers ice cream rocks petrified forest

About two hours east of Flagstaff, Petrified Forest National Park is named after its large petrified wood formations. These fossilized logs and stumps have turned to quartz and appear like crystals and brightly colored gems. Not to be missed are the sandstone hoodoos known as Ice Cream Rocks.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Couple hiking a dune ridge great sand dunes national park and preserve

For something different than most national parks, visit the massive sand dunes of Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Some of the dunes sprawl across 30 square miles. Star Dune is the highest sand dune in North America and provides gorgeous views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

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Olympic National Park, Washington

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Olympic National Park offers mountains, beaches, glaciers, and even rain forests. Spend a morning walking through the trails in Hoh and Quinault rain forests, and take in the beauty of moss-covered trees and bright green plants.

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Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah national park, virginia

Hop in the car and take a scenic drive on Skyline Drive; the only road in Shenandoah National Park is 105 miles long and full of incredible vistas. Along the route, stop at some of the 70 overlooks to take in the spectacular view.

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What to Wear on Your Trip

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

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Fall Scenic Drives for Each U.S. Region

Fall is perhaps the best season to pack up the car and head out on a scenic drive to enjoy the season’s colors and flavors. Here are the best fall road trips, one for each U.S. quadrant. Be sure to peruse the listing at the story’s end for resources on finding peak-season foliage throughout the nation.

Northeast: Cape Cod, Massachusetts

cape-cod-bridge-fall

New England is a foliage seeker’s paradise, and a drive down any local roadway from late September through early November is a sight to behold. Focus on specific parts of the Northeast, and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best fall road trips, with a broad range of leaf colors.

The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism’s fall page lists nine seasonal drives, each chosen for its historic significance and natural beauty. The  Cape Cod route from Bourne to Brewster is an easy drive filled with working cranberry bogs, the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum—dedicated to the 35th president’s life in the Cape—and a stop at Scargo Hill Observation Tower (located on the Cape’s “inner elbow”) for sweeping panoramas of the area’s foliage scenery with views as far as Provincetown, the Cape’s “fist.”

Before your next weekend getaway, get a peek at what awaits you up the road with this live foliage map.

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Midwest: Southwest Michigan

red-lighthouse-holland-michigan

The state of Michigan has put together a comprehensive list of driving tours perfect for the road trip aficionado. Choose from various themes, including food, wine, heritage, fall, and others.

The one-tank trip around Michigan’s southwest region starts at Battle Creek, winds through wine country in Paw Paw, continues past roller coasters in St. Joseph, and offers side trips to South Haven and New Buffalo.

Make time for various unique experiences along Michigan Great Lakes roadways: seasonal swills at the state’s oldest microbrewery at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo; a car-friendly flick at Capri Drive-In Theater; and Dutch heritage a la Americana at the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory in Holland (Michigan, that is), with its very own authentic windmill, brought here from the Netherlands and reassembled bit by bit. End the voyage at the artsy area of Saugutauk-Douglas, a town awarded the 2016 Best Small Town Weekend Escape by USA Today.

The people behind the Michigan Tourism Offices make organizing a road trip through their state a breeze with the ever-useful interactive trip-planning map. Leaf peepers will appreciate the site’s Fall Colors Tours page, dedicated to roadways that best highlight the season’s vibrant foliage offerings.

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South: Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

blue-ridge-parkway

Known for striking vistas as far as the eye can see, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches out over 469 miles between the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, zigzagging along the Appalachian Highlands. With a maximum speed capped at a a leisurely 45 miles per hour, cruising along the road is encouraged.

Along the way, make a point to stop at Humpback Rocks at milepost 5.8 in the Shenandoah Valley for gravity-defying rock formations, plus a small museum highlighting Appalachian life within the visitor center. Take a break from the manmade roadway to feel the force of Mother Nature at Linville Falls, located at mile marker 316. This is a popular stop along the Parkway, but you can skip the crowds by visiting the falls during the week. Fun fact: The Linville Gorge was the nation’s first designated wilderness area. For those who wish to break up their drive with a trail walk, there are some 370 hiking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of which is the revered Appalachian Trail.

Driving the parkway is always free of charge, but check for Blue Ridge Parkway road closures (mostly due to inclement weather) before packing up the car.

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West: Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park, California

yosemite-half-dome-fall

You can’t go wrong with any fall scenic drives through Yosemite National Park, and perhaps the most spectacular is Tioga Road.

It’s easy to see why Tioga Road is so attractive, too. Not only is it in the Sierra Nevadas, but it’s California’s highest roadway. And at a brief 47 miles, it cuts across the heart of Yosemite for one of the most picturesque drives imaginable. (It’s sure to yield the most double-clicks on your Instagram account. #travelenvy, anyone?)

Head to the lesser-known, yet just as amazing Tuoloumne Grove off Tioga Road for one of the best fall road trips in the West. As with most other trees, these giant sequoias put on quite the colorful show in autumn. On Tioga Road you’ll have access to Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, plus a close-up view of Clouds Rest, and beyond that, Half Dome. Hikers rejoice, as this is the roadway connected to the most hiking trails.

You’ll have to time this voyage carefully because Tioga Road closes when the snow starts in October or November. See the Yosemite National Park road conditions page before heading off for this adventure.

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Fall Foliage Forecast Resources

blue-ridge-parkway-fall

What to Wear on Your Scenic Drive

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Patricia Magaña looks forward to eating her weight in apple cider donuts this fall. Follow her on Instagram @PatiTravels.

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

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Cities Island Outdoors

The 24 Most Beautiful Places in Canada

[st_content_ad]The Great White North is blessed with endless beauty. It comes in many varieties, from unspoiled wilderness to urban splendor. But the following 24 places take the prize for being the most beautiful places in Canada, with at least one stunning destination in each province and territory.

Alberta

Banff National Park

 

lake louise banff national park.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start when discussing the most beautiful places in Canada is Banff National Park and its magnificent Lake Louise. Take the gondola up Sulphur Mountain for an incredible view of some of the world’s most dramatic mountain scenery, then explore the park’s stunning waterfalls, forests, and glacier lakes, including vibrant Lake Louise, an unlike-anywhere-else oasis in the Canadian Rockies.

Where to stay: Elegant Mount Royal Hotel has a Banff-themed library, rooftop hot tubs, a lobby museum, and modern decor that echoes the destination.

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Jasper National Park

glacier skywalk jasper national park.

Jasper is the Canadian Rockies’ biggest national park, and it’s packed with snow-covered peaks, translucent lakes, roaring waterfalls, inspiring highways, and large populations of wildlife including moose, caribou, wolves, and grizzlies. Step out onto the kilometer-long, 918-foot-high, glass-floored Columbia Icefield Skywalk—if you dare.

Where to stay: Airy Glacier View Lodge opened in summer 2019 and offers tours of the Athabasca Glacier, tall windows with views of icefields and steep mountains, gourmet dinners, and live musical performances every evening.

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Abraham Lake

Abraham lake clearwater county alberta canada.

When considering beautiful places to visit in Canada, don’t overlook Abraham Lake, on the Kootenay Plains’ North Saskatchewan River. Peer into its crystalline surface to see eerie methane bubble formations trapped in frozen bright blue water. These underwater oval towers of gas turn the manmade reservoir into a bucket-list destination for any Instagrammer worth his or her salt.

Where to stay: It may be about 80 miles from Abraham Lake, but the epic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is worth the drive. This gilded resort showcases one of the prettiest places in Canada by way of lovely accommodations right on Lake Louise. Guests get to borrow bikes and canoes for free.

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British Columbia

Victoria

butchart gardens victoria in spring.

Victoria is British Columbia’s fairy tale-like capital—easily one of the most beautiful cities in Canada—and Butchart Gardens is the jewel in its flowery crown. Besides touring these enchanting gardens, things to do in Victoria include visiting the expansive Royal BC Museum, strolling salty Fisherman’s Wharf, and exploring idyllic Beacon Hill Park.

Where to stay: Victoria’s stately Fairmont Empress is famous for many things, its classic afternoon tea chief among them. Service and accommodations are as regal as you’d expect.

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Vancouver Seawall

Vancouver seawall in fall british columbia canada

The 17-mile Vancouver Seawall allows for one of the most exhilarating bike rides you’ll ever take. Ride (or walk) the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path for wide, glittering views of the Pacific and plenty of entry points into dynamic Stanley Park. Stop to enjoy the beaches and other fun surprises along the way. While in Vancouver, you may as well visit a couple more of the prettiest places in Canada: the immersive Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and 4,100-foot-high Grouse Mountain.

Where to stay: At the impressive Fairmont Waterfront, service is so bespoke that even your shampoo bottle is personalized with your name on it.

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Whistler

whistler in winter.

If you’re aiming to see the most beautiful places in Canada, you could do far worse than Whistler in winter. It’s got sheer white mountain peaks, world-class skiing and snowboarding, an inviting apres-ski village, zip-lines through snow-covered trees, and fantastic places to eat and sleep.

Where to stay: For magical views, book Nita Lake Lodge, which has luxurious guest rooms, a spa, three restaurants, and a shuttle that takes you to the base of Whistler Mountain.

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Glacier National Park

glacier national park canada.

Amid the massive Canadian Rockies is Canada’s own Glacier National Park and its jaw-dropping beauty. The namesake geographical features take the form of icefields, waterfalls, and brightly hued lakes, making for some of the most resplendent natural scenery on Earth.

Where to stay: In the park, you can camp, use an RV, or book a hut or cabin. There are no hotels in Canada’s Glacier National Park, although the town of Revelstoke is nearby, and its Poppi’s Guesthouse hostel gets high marks for coziness, friendliness, and affordability.

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Great Bear Rainforest

black bear in great rainforest canada

Into wildlife adventures? The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the best places in Canada to see grizzly bears catching salmon in wild rivers, whales breaching, eagles soaring, and wolves roaming. In Klemtu on the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, you’ll find mossy forests, untamed fjords, and natural hot springs. As the name implies, ursines frolic everywhere, including the rare white “spirit bear.”

Where to stay: The indigenous-owned Spirit Bear Lodge offers exclusive access to wildlife-viewing areas and cultural sites within the Kitasoo Xai’xais territory. Accommodations are homey and dinners communal.

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Yoho National Park

yoho national park british columbia canada

The Kootenay Rockies’ Yoho National Park is named for the Cree word meaning “awe,” and it’s easy to see why—its imagery seems out of a movie. You’ll see intense blues and greens, dramatic peaks, the immense Takakkaw Falls, and gem-colored Emerald Lake, making this park one of the most beautiful places in Canada. Hiking trails and scenic drives let you take in the full force of this stunning wilderness. Don’t miss Yoho’s Burgess Shale, a paleontological jackpot containing 500-million-year-old fossils of more than 120 types of marine animals.

Where to stay: The historic, cabin-style Emerald Lake Lodge has balconies and wood-burning fireplaces right on the shores of the famous lake, amid towering mountains.

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Manitoba

Cape Churchill

polar bears in churchill manitoba canada.

Cape Churchill, Manitoba, is the polar bear capital of the world. If your idea of impressive scenery involves endless stretches of ice and dozens of polar bears striding across it, head up to the Arctic to experience one of the most beautiful places in Canada. In October and November, Hudson Bay freezes over and thousands of polar bears migrate to its ice, although climate change is already taking effect. Local tour guides in tundra rovers get you up close to see the endangered white creatures.

Where to stay: At Churchill’s Lazy Bear Lodge, accommodations are simple but comfortable. It’s a rustic log cabin with a huge stone fireplace and a location that’s walking distance from town. The lodge’s beluga whale tour is highly recommended.

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New Brunswick

Fundy National Park

waterfall in fundy national park.

Fundy National Park, on the Bay of Fundy, has the world’s highest and lowest tides. This means that you can walk out onto the ocean floor during low tide, then kayak alongside landforms like the must-see Hopewell Rocks when the Atlantic refloods the bay. Elsewhere in the park, hike through the Acadian Forest to see dozens of lovely waterfalls, explore sea caves, attend festivals and outdoor concerts, or drive Fundy Trail Parkway to see some of the prettiest places in Canada.

Where to stay: Fundy National Park has three hip campgrounds, as well as Fundy Highlands Motel, which offers simple, comfortable, dog-friendly chalets right on the bay.

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Newfoundland and Labrador

Gros Morne National Park

gros morne national park newfoundland labrador canada.

The iconic image of Gros Morne National Park is Western Brook Pond, whose name makes it sound small. It’s actually a massive freshwater fjord around which dramatic cliffs plunge into a glacier-formed gorge. Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is also home to the Tablelands, a geological rarity where earthquakes have forced the earth’s mantle up for all to see. There’s also Green Point—sheer cliffs full of ancient sea fossils—as well as waterfalls, dwarf forests, moose and caribou, and Gros Morne Mountain, which is among the planet’s oldest peaks.

Where to stay: Neddies Harbour Inn, a boutique property in the national park, provides unbeatable views over the Bonne Bay fjord, as well as a peaceful atmosphere and an excellent restaurant.

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Nova Scotia

Cabot Trail

cape breton drive canada.

Nova Scotia’s 185-mile Cabot Trail loops around Cape Breton Island, making for one of North America’s most memorable drives. In addition to providing gorgeous coastal views, the highway takes you to small fishing villages, the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site, golf courses, museums, galleries, and artisan boutiques. It also passes through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where moose, bears, and eagles roam, and where autumn’s vivid colors secure Cabot Trail’s spot among the prettiest places in Canada.

Where to stay: Keltic Lodge is a historic, well-appointed resort right on the Atlantic in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Amenities include in-room fireplaces, verandahs, a golf course, a heated swimming pool, and a satisfying restaurant.

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Ontario

Niagara Falls

horseshoe bay niagara falls canada.

Niagara Falls isn’t just one of the most beautiful places in Canada—it’s one of the most beautiful places in the whole world. And though Americans tend to think of it as a U.S. attraction (of course), the Canadian view of the famous falls is actually even better. Come in summer to be treated to nightly fireworks over the mist.

Where to stay: The city around Niagara Falls is pretty touristy, so it’s worth the effort to drive about 13 miles north to a charming little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake and its elegant Charles Hotel, where guest rooms have fireplaces, private verandahs gaze over Lake Ontario, gardens bloom with flowers, and service is superlative.

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CN Tower

CN tower ontario canada.

Those in search of Canadian urban wonders can look no further than the CN Tower, the defining feature of Toronto‘s skyline, punctuating postcards all over Ontario. The tower’s observation deck has glass floors, its 360 Restaurant rotates, and its heart-pounding EdgeWalk lets you strap in and hang off a five-foot-wide ledge more than 1,000 feet high. This iconic structure is prettiest when it illuminates after dark.

Where to stay: The Shangri-La Hotel, set in in a 66-floor glass-encased skyscraper, epitomizes modern luxury with its artistic decor, high-tech amenities, and hammam-inspired spa. And it’s within easy distance of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada.

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Prince Edward County

winery prince edward county canada.

Prince Edward County, a detached peninsula on Lake Ontario’s north shore, is ideal for both beach lovers and oenophiles. The region’s limestone bedrock makes for great wine grapes, which is why there are more than 40 vineyards here. There are also expansive fields of sunflowers and lavender, more than a dozen breweries, some 450 farms, and plenty of talented chefs who put all this local bounty to good use. PEC was relatively unknown until recently, when it gained something of a buzz among urbanites, artists, gourmands, and hipsters.

Where to stay: The colorful Drake Motor Inn opened in spring 2019, full of whimsy and modernized nostalgia. Its 12 rooms are all retro-chic, and the entire property pays playful tribute to the bygone days of road travel.

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Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island National Park

winter waves prince edward island canada

Prince Edward Island National Park is easily one of the most beautiful places in Canada, especially its windswept Greenwich section. Visitors can explore red sand beaches, wavy dunes, mystical forests, boardwalk trails, and the idyllic places that formed the setting for L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Where to stay: Dalvay by the Sea, a national historic site on the north shore, was built in 1895 in Queen Anne Revival style. Its 25 rooms—each one unique—remain furnished in antiques from that ornate era.

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Victoria-by-the-Sea

victoria by the sea lighthouse prince edward island canada.

Victoria-by-the-Sea is a storybook village full of small-town seaside charm, including a photogenic lighthouse, red sand beaches, and artisan shops and galleries. Historically known for its fishermen, it’s now more populated by artists and creatives who leave an inspired mark on their lovely municipality.

Where to stay: The historic Orient Hotel is an inviting bed and breakfast that provides wonderful views of the water from almost every guest room.

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Quebec

Old Montreal

old montreal city street quebec canada.

Montreal is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada—and one of the most interesting, too, what with its amalgam of European and North American culture and engaging attractions like Olympic Park’s Biodome and Botanical Garden. The prettiest part of the city, however, is Old Montreal, founded as a French colony in 1642, with intricate architecture to match. If you ever feel like going to Europe without crossing the Atlantic, visit Old Montreal’s resplendent Notre-Dame Basilica, browse its stately Bonsecours Market, gawk at its colonial-era mansions, and watch the St. Lawrence River’s dynamic Old Port at work.

Where to stay: The newish Four Seasons Montreal puts forth its brand’s usual level of service and comfort—which is to say, it’s an excellent place to stay. Adding to the appeal is its central location in the Golden Square Mile, its fine cuisine, and its proximity to high-end shopping at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy.

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Quebec City

quebec city sunset quebec canada

Ask Canadians which is the most beautiful city in Canada, and most will respond the same way: Quebec City. It’s hard to overstate how magical this French-speaking town is—its fairy-tale charm pervades every cobblestone street. Quebec City, the only fortified city north of Mexico, is also blessed with colonial-era architecture, the bustling St. Lawrence River, and a rich, palpable history. It boasts four distinct seasons, each more beautiful than the next. Just outside of town, Montmorency Falls is almost 100 feet taller than any of Niagara’s three falls, making for a truly underrated natural wonder.

Where to stay: The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is the world’s most photographed hotel for good reason: Its legendary castle-on-a-hill look makes it an icon of Old Quebec. The elegance continues inside, in terms of both decor and hospitality par excellence.

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Saskatchewan

Grasslands National Park

grasslands national park saskatchewan canada

Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Canada, but in a bit of an unexpected sense: The grandness here isn’t so much village charm or even distinctive nature attractions. It’s more the vast golden prairies, the open country, the huge skies, and the roaming herds of bison that provide their own type of wild gorgeousness. One great way to take it all in is via a brand-new scenic road called the Badlands Parkway. Perk up your Instagram feed with photos of the park’s iconic red Adirondack chairs, or scour the hoodoo spires for dinosaur fossils.

Where to stay: Sky Story Bed & Breakfast in nearby Val Marie earns high marks for its warm hospitality, delicious breakfasts, and friendly cats.

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Northwest Territories

Great Slave Lake

aurora borealis great slave lake canada

If seeing the northern lights is on your bucket list, plan to visit Yellowknife and Great Slave Lake, in the Northwest Territories. In winter, this remote Arctic region transforms into one of the most beautiful places in Canada, thanks to its position north of the 60th parallel, placing it firmly inside the aurora oval. This, plus a flat landscape far from the ocean, makes Yellowknife one of the world’s best places to see nature’s most spectacular light show. Prepare to see deep, glowing greens and purples dominating the skies over North America’s deepest lake.

Where to stay: Blachford Lake Lodge is an eco-conscious wilderness resort where you can see the auroras from your bed, the hot tub, or the dining room. You can also take igloo-building workshops.

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Nunavut

Baffin Island

mount thor auyuittuq national park aunavut baffin island.

Baffin Island, above the Arctic Circle, is Canada’s largest island—it’s bigger than Great Britain. But it’s among the prettiest places in Canada because of Auyuittuq National Park, where icy fjords and glaciers dominate the landscape with their intense blues and bright whites. This surreal expanse of tundra is home to wildlife like you’ve never seen: narwhal, ringed seals, snow geese, Arctic foxes, caribou, and, yes, polar bears.

Where to stay: The Discovery Hotel is a boutique property with modern rooms and refined Arctic cuisine.

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Yukon

Whitehorse Region

white pass yukon route railroad.

The Yukon is full of beautiful places to visit in Canada, and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is a thrilling way to take them in. This scenic narrow-gauge railway was built in the late 1800s for the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, it still connects Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city. The memorable ride takes passengers, many of them on shore excursions from Alaska cruises, into wide expanses of rugged scenery, over and through impossible bridges and tunnels, and past wildflower-packed meadows, waterfalls, and glaciers at a speed that allows appreciation for the sheer magnitude of it all.

Where to stay: Northern Lights Resort & Spa, true to its name, is well positioned to see the winter aurora borealis. Book a glass chalet or a log cabin and enjoy this much-loved B&B’s saunas, warm hospitality, and highly personalized service.

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What to Wear on Your Canadian Adventure

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Abraham Lake was 50 miles from Lake Louise, rather than 80 miles. It has been corrected.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Fashion & Beauty Outdoors Packing

I Let the Pros Pack For Me: Hiking Edition

On a recent hiking trip to Yosemite, I did something I’d never done before: I let the pros pack for me.

I take packing very seriously (probably too seriously, the effect of having written packing tips for 15 years), so it was a pretty big leap of faith to turn my suitcase over to JAM Collective, which represents companies that have been making beloved outdoor gear for decades.

What I Would Have Packed (left to my own devices): I have a few key pieces of what I think of as my outdoor adventure wardrobe: Title Nine Clamber pants, my trusty Tilley hat, and an old leather pair of Vasque hiking boots that just keep on keepin’ on. But beyond that, my spring and summer hiking go-tos look a lot like my casual-weekend staples: cotton T-shirts and shorts, sports socks, and the like. I’ve long accepted that this approach yields imperfect results: cotton T-shirts, for instance, don’t wick sweat, stay damp for longer—and in the worst case scenarios, are dangerous. But I didn’t think there would be that much of a difference, so I hadn’t invested in additional key pieces of hiking clothing.

The Pro Gear: I received Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX hiking shoes, Prana Halle Straight leg pants, SmartWool Everyday Exploration T-shirt, Prana Eileen Long Sleeve Sun Shirt, SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew, SmartWool Merino Sport Ultra Light Hoodie.

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The Testing Ground: My big hike on a recent trip to Yosemite was the round-trip Nevada Falls hike, which covers 2,000 feet of elevation change over 6.5 miles of gorgeous, rugged terrain. The trek includes the famous Mist Trail, an enchanting but treacherous stretch of 600 steep and slippery granite steps that’s constantly showered by the heavy mist flowing off the adjacent Vernal Falls. It also includes a four-mile stretch on the famous John Muir Trail, a 211-mile trail that takes hikers through some of California’s wildest and most beautiful lands. (Note: If you’re visiting Yosemite and are in reasonably good shape, you should do this hike. Especially if you can do it in late spring when the waterfalls are raging.)

The Results: It turns out wearing the right gear for the job makes a huge difference. Not only did having the right layers mean I could adapt easily and comfortably for temperature changes, but it allowed me to dry within minutes after reaching the top of Vernal Falls soaking wet after finishing the more-like-a-firehose-than-mist Mist Trail. And having lightweight, sun-protective layers kept me comfortably cool and sunburn-free throughout the long day. A few years ago, while traveling the wild western coast of Sweden, a wise grandmother told me there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. After traveling with the exact right clothing for the situation, I finally understand.

[st_related]The Best Travel Swimsuits[/st_related]

The Details:

Vasque breeze lt low gtx hiking shoes

Vasque Breeze LT Low GTX Hiking Shoes (also available for men; and comes as a hiking boot for women and men): My first pair of Vasques has lasted me 25 years and counting. In that quarter century, however, Vasque has been busy making hiking shoes and boots lighter and more supportive. These shoes required very little breaking in—I wore mine around town three or four times before hitting the trail, which was a good but not totally necessary move—and were comfortable from the get-go. Their grip—aided by custom Vibram outsoles—was exceptional; I felt surefooted even on wet granite. They stayed comfortable all day, and supported my feet and ankles on uneven trails.

Halle straight

Prana Halle Straight leg pants: These hiking pants are durable but stretchy—a winning combo on hiking trips that include scrambling up rocks and snack breaks on boulders. The back pockets (which button) were wide and deep enough to hold a phone in a case, and the roll-up legs made it easy to shift gears for hot afternoons and stream wading. After getting completely soaked on the Mist Trail, these pants remained comfortable and dried quickly.

SmartWool everyday exploration t-shirt

SmartWool Everyday Exploration T-shirt: When I first tried this on, I appreciated the well-styled touches like the split hem bottom and the flattering fit. But wearing it on a hike that included a cold morning, hot afternoon, and thorough waterfall-induced soaking gave me a new level of appreciation for the wicking power and temperature regulation of this 50 percent Merino wool, 50 percent polyester shirt.

woman wearing prana eileen shirt

Prana Eileen Long Sleeve Sun Shirt: Having relied on always-too-hot cotton long-sleeves shirts as a sun layer for years, I was surprised at the impressive functionality of an actual sun shirt. Wearing this ultralightweight top that’s rated UPF 50+ was an aha moment that made me embrace the right-gear-for-the-job mentality. Even as the day heated up and I sweated my way up the granite switchbacks, I stayed comfortable and sun protected thanks to the lightweight, wicking fabric. Bonus: the contrast stitching gives this practical shirt a bit of style, and a zippered pocket makes it easy to stash an item or two and travel light.

 

Women's merino 250 base layer crew

SmartWool Merino 250 Base Layer Crew:  Warmth without bulk; that’s the magic of this best-selling baselayer. It’s comfortable, it’s cozy, and when you don’t need it anymore, it takes up almost no room in a day bag. Because it’s such an effective base layer, it allowed me to rely on thinner, lighter outer layers—which freed up space in my day pack.

Glerups

Glerups: When I first saw Glerups, I wasn’t quite sure how to use them. They look not unlike slippers with rubber (or leather) soles, but they’re more rugged and hip in a confident Scandinavian way. It wasn’t until someone explained to me that these Danish mainstays are the perfect recovery shoe—the ones you keep in your car and slip into after you return from a day of hiking—that I experienced the life-changing power of socially acceptable outdoor slipper wearing. After hiking all day, these ultra-comfortable felted wool shoes (that come in boot, shoe, and slipper styles) offered sweet relief. And since they’re made to be worn both out- and indoors, I wore them for the rest of the day—right through to the s’mores and whiskey campfire end of the evening.

Hiking with the right gear—as opposed to with approximations of the right layers—was a vastly more comfortable experience than I’m used to. Since I wasn’t bouncing between being too hot and too cold, I could concentrate on the hike—which yielded Yosemite Valley views, two bear sightings, and waterfall dousings. I used to think that performance-wear was really only worth it for people who were hiking all the time. But now I see the feedback loop: outdoor performance-wear makes hiking more comfortable and pleasant. We’re all more likely to repeat activities that are comfortable and pleasant. The Swedish grandmother was right: outfit yourself well, and you’ll always be ready for the outdoors no matter what the weather.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis visited Yosemite as a guest of Jam Collective. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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

 

 

Categories
Beach Cities Family Travel Historical Travel Outdoors Road Trip

The One Thing You Should Do in Every U.S. State

If you could only choose one attraction to visit in each U.S. state, what would it be? I rounded up the top-rated cities, towns, and iconic sights in all 50 states (plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.) and asked you to decide. Here’s what you told us.

(Click to enlarge)

50 states one thing to do

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

Categories
Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Family Travel Food & Drink Historical Travel Outdoors Road Trip Weekend Getaways

Cheap Weekend Getaways from 9 Major U.S. Cities

[st_content_ad]Need a vacation, but don’t have much time or money? Cheap weekend getaways are the answer. Spending two or three nights away from home can provide much-needed rejuvenation and help you scratch the itch to explore a new place at times when you can’t take a longer vacation.

Below are suggested weekend getaways from nine major metro areas around the U.S. Each getaway destination is within easy driving distance of the originating city, so you don’t need to shell out for airfare or baggage fees. Each also has well-rated, affordable hotel options.

Scroll down to see all the ideas, or click on your city below to jump straight to cheap weekend getaways from that metro area.

Featured Weekend Getaways

Cheap Weekend Getaways from Atlanta

Chattanooga, Tennessee

chattanooga tennessee aerial view

The former industrial town of Chattanooga is now an ideal spot for a weekend getaway that’s just a two-hour drive from Atlanta across the Tennessee border. Great spots for strolling include the Bluff View Art District and the scenic Riverwalk. The most popular attractions include the Tennessee Aquarium (beloved by kids and adults alike) and the Hunter Museum of American Art, housed in an early-20th-century mansion. The area is also rich in Civil War history; Chickamauga Battlefield is just a 20-minute drive outside the city.

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Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville north carolina at sunset.

About three and a half hours from Atlanta is the mountain community of Asheville, known for its artsy, outdoorsy vibe. Its most famous tourist attraction is the grand Biltmore mansion, though admission is pricey; fortunately, there are plenty of other fun things to do. Chat with artists in the River Arts District, stop to smell the flowers in the North Carolina Arboretum, or join the locals for an energetic Friday evening drum circle. The nearby Blue Ridge Mountains offer countless opportunities for hiking and scenic drives.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Boston

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Provincetown, massachusetts beachfront

Located at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is best known as a summer destination, but it makes for an appealing weekend getaway year-round. Look beyond the beaches and you’ll find the vibrant shops and eateries of Commercial Street as well as the Province Lands Bike Trail, which loops for more than five miles through bogs, pine forests, and sand dunes. And don’t overlook Provincetown’s art scene, which includes galleries and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. You can reach Provincetown via car or ferry from Boston.

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Providence, Rhode Island

Providence, rhode island riverfront.

Rhode Island’s capital city, just a quick drive or train ride from Boston, is the perfect size for exploring in a few days. One major draw is the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, which features everything from French Impressionists to a 12th-century Japanese Buddha. Not far away is the campus of Brown University, which hosts a variety of events and is a pleasant place for a stroll. Save time to wander neighborhoods like the historic downtown district and Federal Hill, also known as Little Italy.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Chicago

Galena, Illinois

Galena illinois street

This quaint historic town in the northwest corner of Illinois is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Its well-preserved 19th-century buildings include the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant and a fascinating historical society and museum. It’s easy to spend a day wandering in and out of the boutiques and galleries on Main Street, where you can pick up everything from secondhand clothes to locally made jams. Enjoy breakfast or lunch at Otto’s Place, a local favorite.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Houston

San Antonio, Texas

san antonio, texas riverfront

Just a three-hour drive west of Houston is San Antonio, known for its vibrant history and culture. It all starts downtown, where you’ll find the city’s most famous landmark, the Alamo, and the 15-mile urban waterway known as the River Walk, lined with restaurants and shops. There are four other historical missions here, too, comprising San Antonio Missions National Historical Park—a UNESCO World Heritage site. Families will love the DoSeum, designed for kids 10 and under, and the small but fun San Antonio Zoo.

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Lake Charles, Louisiana

Lake charles, louisiana city hall
Two hours in the opposite direction is a weekend getaway destination with an entirely different flavor: Lake Charles, Louisiana. During the day you can play a round of golf, tour a Cold War-era battleship, visit the colorful Mardi Gras Museum, or drive the Creole Nature Trail in search of alligators and birds. Then top off each day with a Cajun seafood dinner and an evening at one of the area’s four casinos.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Los Angeles

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua tree national park, california sunset.

The starkly beautiful desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park offer a peaceful (and cheap) weekend getaway from the traffic and smog of Los Angeles. Looking to hike? The park has challenging trails, easy nature walks, and everything in between. You can also bike on backcountry roads, drive along the Geology Tour Road (a 4 x 4 vehicle is recommended), or stay late for a night of stargazing. Campgrounds and affordable motels offer cheap lodging inside and near the park.

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San Diego, California

San diego, california boats in the harbor.

If you’re looking for a less remote weekend getaway, drive a few hours down the coast to San Diego. This laid-back city is a favorite with families, who flock to the San Diego Zoo, kid-friendly museums like the Fleet Science Center, and nearby LEGOLAND California. (For more ideas, see San Diego with Kids.) But San Diego is also popular for adults-only getaways, with plenty of craft breweries, cultural institutions, and neighborhoods to explore; try the Gaslamp Quarter for dining and nightlife.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from New York City

Dutchess County, New York

Hudson valley, new york bridge

Part of the Hudson Valley region that stretches some 150 miles north of New York City, Dutchess County offers both scenic landscapes and appealing attractions year-round. History buffs can tour the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home as well as his Presidential Library and Museum, while fans of the arts should make a beeline to spots like Dia:Beacon, a modern art center housed in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. Hikers can hop onto a section of the Appalachian Trail or enjoy the views from the top of the fire tower at Ferncliff Forest.

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Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton, new jersey dusk.

Stroll among the ivy-shrouded stone halls of Princeton University, located just 50 miles from New York City. Attractions on campus include an art museum and chapel, while the town of Princeton offers plenty of shops and restaurants along Nassau Street, the main drag. Top off your cheap weekend getaway with affordable eats at restaurants like Jammin’ Crepes and Olives Deli and Bakery.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from San Francisco

Sacramento, California

Sacramento, california bridge at night.

California’s capital, located 90 minutes from San Francisco, makes a particularly fun weekend getaway for families thanks to attractions like the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, which features play areas for little ones based on the stories of Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella, and many more. The riverfront historic district, Old Sacramento, is a must-visit for travelers of any age, with its Gold Rush-era buildings and old-timey shops. There’s also plenty of fresh farm-to-table cuisine to savor around town at a variety of price points.

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Mendocino County, California

Mendocino county coast.

A little farther afield are the fertile vineyards, picturesque seaside villages, and jaw-dropping redwood forests of Mendocino County, about three hours north of San Francisco. Don’t miss the rugged coastal views at Mendocino Headlands State Park or the vibrantly colored blooms at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Visit Montgomery Woods State Reserve for a hike through the redwoods, or craft your own wine-tasting tour along Highway 128.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Seattle

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, washington water

In Bellingham, a small city located about 90 minutes north of Seattle, weekend visitors can enjoy a mix of urban and natural attractions. Start with a stroll through the Fairhaven historic district, where restored Victorian-era brick buildings house art galleries, restaurants, and the beloved Village Books. Art lovers can marvel at the sculpture collections at Western Washington University and Big Rock Garden, while hikers have plenty of options, including Whatcom Falls Park and Stimpson Family Nature Preserve.

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Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey island coast

Accessible by car and ferry, Whidbey Island is just a short distance from Seattle, but it feels like a true escape. Outdoor attractions reign supreme, from the stunning hiking trails of Deception Pass State Park to the fragrant fields at Lavender Wind Farm (come in summertime to see them in full bloom). You can paddle through Puget Sound with Whidbey Island Kayaking, go on the hunt for sculptures along the Oak Harbor Art Trail, or taste your way through the island’s many distilleries and wineries.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Washington, D.C.

Frederick, Maryland

Frederick maryland street scene

This small city 45 miles northwest of D.C. makes for a laid-back weekend getaway. Stroll the historic downtown area, keeping an eye out for murals, sculptures, and other public art installations scattered around town. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Monocacy National Battlefield are must-sees for travelers with interest in the Civil War, while Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park offer dozens of wooded hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t miss the city’s many breweries and distilleries, including Flying Dog, the largest craft brewery in Maryland.

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Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis maryland sunset.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Annapolis, with its walkable cobblestone streets and sailboats bobbing gently in the harbor. The main draw here is the historic district, with buildings dating back as far as the colonial era. The city is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy, which offers guided tours of its major landmarks as well as stories about what it’s like to be a midshipman. On a sunny day, visit the beach at Sandy Point State Park, complete with a view of the Bay Bridge.

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

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors Solo Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends Women's Travel

REI Launches New Under-35 Millennial Trips

It’s no secret that millennial travel is a huge trend, with many group tour operators offering special budget-conscious trips, or ones with age limits. REI is the latest to join game, with nine new tour offerings across four different geographical areas.

For now, REI is focusing on a few bucket-list-worthy adventure trips. From Colombia off-the-beaten-path (think Medellin, not Cartagena) to camping in the Sonoran Desert, the trips are focused on “prioritizing experiences over things.” All of the options have an emphasis on local and active travel.

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Each trip is crafted with the millennial mindset. “Our team has taken great care to design highly active itineraries with the right balance of downtime, and most importantly that facilitate a community for younger travelers to travel deeply and responsibly with their peers,” said Justin Wood, senior manager of adventure travel at REI, in a press release.

Budget and value are front of mind, with trips offering modest accommodations, cheap meals, and no hidden fees. Prices start at $850 for REI members. And if saving money is on your mind, REI is expanding its used gear and rental programs, so you can save more by renting your active gear through the company’s retail locations.

For fun, I asked some of my SmarterTravel millennial-aged colleagues their thoughts on the matter: Nevin Spearman, who hasn’t been on an organized group tour before says he’d consider an REI trip and, “I like the active offerings, and some in the U.S. mean cheaper airfare.” His top pick is the Great Smoky Mountains – Hops, Hikes & Rapids itinerary.

Cara Sweeney, who has been on an organized group tour with her family about 10 years ago says she’d consider an REI trip and, “[the options] seem really unique and awesome. I would likely want to encourage a friend or two to attend the same trip as me.” Her trip of choice is also the Great Smoky Mountains – Hops, Hikes & Rapids itinerary.

Why the 35 age limit? According to the press release, 20 percent of REI members are in the 21 to 35 age range, but REI’s website says, “we won’t card you.” So if you have the mindset of millennial and these trips are attractive to you, you’ll probably fit right in.

two men white water rafting

Find more information on REI’s Under-35 adventures here, and below.

REI Under 35 Trips:

Latin America

  • Colombia Explorer – Medellin, Lost City Trek, Tayrona Beaches | Under 35
  • Peru Multisport – Machu Picchu to Rainbow Mountain | Under 35

North America

  • Sonoran Desert Stars – Hike, Camp, MTB, Repeat | Under 35
  • Backpacking Joshua Tree | Under 35
  • Great Smoky Mountains – Hops, Hikes & Rapids | Under 35
  • Wild Whistler Backpacking | Under 35

Europe

  • Amalfi Coast & Sicily – Hike, Eat, Summit | Under 35
  • Greek Islands Wanderer – Hike, Feast, Explore | Under 35

Asia

  • Vietnam Multisport – Spectacular Spelunking | Under 35

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Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Experiential Travel Island Luxury Travel Outdoors Romantic Travel

10 Gorgeous Beaches You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

[st_content_ad]South Beach, Bondi, Myrtle, Copacabana: World-famous beaches that have become a household name are revered for good reason—but they’re sure to pack in the crowds, too.

The Best Hidden Beaches You’ve Never Heard Of

If you want a jaw-dropping shoreline without the sunburned tourists and splashing masses, head for one of these lesser-known gems that are just as dazzling—even if you’ve never heard of them.

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Playa Negra: Vieques, Puerto Rico

Palm trees black sand beach vieques puerto rico

The idyllic beaches of San Juan are enough of a getaway for most people, but the more remote beaches on the smaller islands off Puerto Rico are well worth the trip. Vieques, known for calm snorkeling coves and the enchanting wild horses that roam the island, is also home to a hidden black sand beach, Playa Negra. The soft, dark sand makes this beach as nice a spot for horseback riding as it is for lounging in the sun.

Where to Stay: El Blok Hotel is one of Vieques’ few waterfront hotels, and just a five-minute taxi ride from Playa Negra.

Navagio Beach: Zakynthos, Greece

Navagio beach zakynthos greece

You’ve probably seen this little-known but much-photographed beach before, but might not know its name. With its turquoise water, sweeping white cliffs, and a rusted-over shipwreck plopped on the sand, Navagio (meaning shipwreck) Beach is a popular spot for visitors to the Greek Isles. But, it’s difficult to reach: A lookout point above it is more accessible than the cove itself, which you’ll need to sail into if you want to swim or peer into the shipwreck.

Where to Stay: Since you’ll need to sail there in order to reach it, Navagio Beach is isolated from most Zakynthos hotels. But Zakynthos Town, where most visitors arrive, has plenty to choose from, including the affordable Hotel Strada Marina, for waterfront views and a central location.

Shell Beach: Denham, Western Australia

Shell beach denha western australia

Sandy beaches sound ideal until you’ve seen one that’s covered entirely in tiny white shells. Bring your flip flops to Denham, Australia’s famed Shell Beach, for a unique beach walk on the western coast’s Shark Bay. The sparkling cockles that cover this area can be as much as 29 feet deep in some places, and at low tide the flat beach is a vast expanse of white shoreline and shallow tide pools.

Where to Stay: The RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort offers comfortable digs on sprawling surroundings where you can spot wildlife like dolphins and emus.

Cox Bay Beach: Vancouver Island, Canada

Cox bay beach vancouver island canada

Flanked by the wild natural scenery of Pacific Rim National Park, Cox Bay Beach’s position on the west coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island makes for ideal surfing conditions year-round (hence its other name, Surf Beach). Take a forest path to one of the beach’s narrow cliff paths for access to the flat, wide Tofino coastline, and keep an eye out for giant drift logs and sand dollars.

Where to Stay: The Meares Vista Inn lives up the name with sweeping mountain and water views.

Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka

Boats on a tropical beach mirissa south sri lanka

For a tropical beach getaway that’s as scenic as Thailand without the overwhelming crowds, Sri Lanka’s beaches will make you feel like you dove into a postcard. Mirissa Beach on the tear-drop-shaped island’s south coast faces the expansive Indian Ocean for surf-worthy waves and uninterrupted sunset views. Post up with an umbrella or in a palm-tree hammock by day for warm sun and sand. At night, head to the beach’s many open-air, tiki-style bars to watch the tide roll in.

Where to Stay: The boutique Triple O Six Hotel’s rooms offer floor-to-ceiling windows, and you can go luxe for less thanks to Sri Lanka’s favorable exchange rate.

Camilo Beach: Lagos, Portugal

Camilo beach lagos portugal

Some of Europe’s best beaches are in Portugal’s Algarve Region, where white-sand beaches, rocky cliffs, and brightly colored fishing towns echo Italy’s Amalfi Coast. In the beach town of Lagos, descend the wooden steps to Camilo Beach (or Praia Camilo) for a day of lounging on soft sand and exploring stone arches in the sea cliffs. Switch into adventure mode by booking a boat tour of the bay that can bring you into the nearby grottoes and sea caves that drain at low tide.

Where to Stay: The Carvi Beach Hotel Algarve is a short walk from Praia Camilo and overlooks Praia Dona Ana, a rocky cove worth exploring by boat.

Nungwi Beach: Zanzibar, Tanzania

Nungwi beach zanzibar tanzania

Beach getaways don’t get much more exotic than Zanzibar, the archipelago of Tanzania, home to famously idyllic beaches and the cultural trading hub of Stone Town. Spend an afternoon at Nungwi Beach on Zanzibar Island’s northern point for tidepool starfish, fisherman watching, waterfront dining options, and to spot the occasional farm cow wandering by. Most importantly, don’t miss the pink-hued beach sunset.

Where to Stay: The DoubleTree by Hilton Resort Zanzibar is situated on Nungwi Beach, so you’ll never have to part with the view of this idyllic secret beach.

Dry Tortugas National Park: Florida

Fort at dry tortugas national park florida

A bucket list spot you’ll want to see before it disappears, Dry Tortugas National Park sits 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, and is a piece of military history floating in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico’s rising sea waters—but 19th-century Fort Jefferson’s brick interior can still be toured today. The white sand beaches of Dry Tortugas are a popular spot for snorkeling, camping, and scuba diving. You can also walk the seawalls of the fort, which will put you right over the shallow turquoise waters.

Where to Stay: Dry Tortugas is remote, but a good choice among Key West hotels is the stylish Havana Cuba at Key West for its massive pools, outdoor hammocks, and colorful decor.

Tulum National Park: Quintana Roo, Mexico

Tulum el castillo quintana roo mexico

Don’t want to settle for views from a cabana? Head to this national park on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Outside of tourist-addled Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo’s Tulum National Park boasts beachfront fun, protected sea turtles, and Mayan ruins at an archaeological site you can explore. That is if the sea cliffs and white sand aren’t enough.

Where to Stay: One of the closest hotels to Tulum’s archaeological site is the beach-nestled Diamante K, which has open-air villas, authentic Mexican food, and luxe amenities, all on a private stretch of shoreline.

Anse Source d’Argent: La Digue, Seychelles

sunset anse source d'argent la digue seychelles

On one of the world’s most remote island chains lies one of the world’s most photographed beaches. Anse Source d’Argent’s smooth rock formations, turquoise waters, and colorful fish make it feel a world away—which, at the center of the Indian Ocean, it is for many travelers.

Where to Stay: Closest to Anse Source d’Argent is Le Repaire Boutique Hotel’s central, cozy beachfront digs–complete with free breakfast.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel and is always looking for a new secret beach to visit. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

 

Categories
Outdoors

Journeying Through America’s National Parks: A Travel Diary

My two weeks on the open road travelling through America’s National Parks and historic Wild West is an experience that will stay with me forever. Rolling canyon panoramas, thundering herds of bison and a beguiling history that catapults you back in time, America’s National Parks have everything an inquisitive traveller could hope for.

Touching down in Las Vegas, our journey began at Zion National Park, before heading north to Jackson and then snaking our way clockwise around the Midwestern states, looping back to Vegas.

Greeted by Zion National Park’s unmistakable cliffs, we spent the afternoon hiking around its many trails, spotting calm water pools and spectacular rock arches along the way. Onto Bryce Canyon, with its rows of jagged, russet coloured hoodoos that punctuate the sky like a forest made of stone. There are no words to describe our feelings as we basked in their immense size!

Heading north from Utah to Idaho, we followed in the footsteps of the pioneers crossing the Oregon Trail. On our approach to Jackson, Grand Teton’s barbed peaks appeared majestically on the horizon. That night we stayed at a traditional lodge in Jackson Hole, and ate our dinner outside by the fire. Being city-dwellers, we were amazed by the sheer number of stars – a remarkable backdrop to our meal.

Onwards to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, a wild and wonderful wilderness that made an indelible mark on my soul. I’d wanted to visit since I was a child. From the dazzling yellow and green hues of the Morning Glory Pool and bubbling Old Faithful geyser, to the stampede of woolly bison dashing across the plains, our day was spent soaking up the power of nature.

Next up, our journey took us east to Mount Rushmore. Nothing can prepare you for the scale of our former presidents’ granite faces proudly surveying their kingdom. The surrounding Black Hills are rich with Native American history and beg to be explored. We spent an afternoon paying our respects to Sioux warrior Crazy Horse at his memorial, a vast granite sculpture carved into the cliff-face that dwarfs Mount Rushmore in comparison! Later, we had dinner with Stephen Yellowhawk of the Lakota tribe, who shared his heritage and history through an emotive song and dance.

Rolling over the vast expanses of Wyoming grassland down to Denver, my wife and I spotted rather cute prairie dogs burrowing away. After an overnight stay, we continued west to the colourful stone curves of Arches National Park. Having only seem them on screen and print, in real life they took my breath away. The complex layers of contours were mesmerising as we hiked through the rock formations, the red colour of the stone glowing in the sun.

The ancient Puebloan houses at Mesa Verde National Park were an incredible window into the past. An archaeological maze of sandstone dwellings built in and around the cliffs, we were surprised at how immaculately preserved they were, given they were built as early as AD 600. We spent the afternoon at Monument Valley. Driving amid those iconic stone buttes (sun-baked to a vivid scarlet) in an open-top car introduced us to the lands of the Navajo.

From here there was just time to squeeze in one more park on our way back to Las Vegas, and what a park it was: the Grand Canyon. Those undulating silhouettes of ochre and red seemingly go on forever, with the mighty Colorado River carving its way through them. We explored a billion years’ of geology and saw how the river’s twists and turns shaped the landscape. A magnificent end to the journey of a lifetime.

You can witness the beautiful terrain of America’s National Parks on Trafalgar’s Scenic Parks Explorer trip. Experience the wonder of Yellowstone and the magnificent Canyonlands, staying in luxurious lodges along the way.

Editor’s note: This sponsored article originally appeared on Trafalgar’s website under the headline, Journeying Through America’s National Parks: A Travel Diary.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

The Best National Parks in the U.S., as Recommended by Park Rangers

Wondering which of America’s 60 national parks you should visit next? For this first installment of SmarterTravel’s new series on national parks, I interviewed park rangers and specialists to find out the lesser-known tips for visiting the best national parks, including stops that most tourists miss, the best times to visit, and which ones are their favorites.

Here’s what these experts dub “the best national parks.” (Spoiler: Most are in Alaska.) They might inspire your next vacation to be one that takes advantage of “America’s Best Idea.”

Meet the National Park Experts:

Black Hills & Badlands, South Dakota

Badlands national park canyon valley views

Rhonda Schier of Gateway Arch National Park recommends the Black Hills area, where she grew up. “We call it the fly-drive. You can fly into the local airport or Denver and then drive to an assortment of parks within a week: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Crazy Horse, Minuteman Missile, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and more.”

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Kenai fjords national park - male walking along glacier

Sally Hurlbert of Shenandoah National Park recommends Alaskan for the best national parks: “I used to live in Alaska, so my favorite national parks up there are Kenai Fjords and Denali.”

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

lottery

Denali is also a favorite for Christie Anastasia of Acadia National Park. She used to work in Denali and lists it among her top choices to visit.

Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska

Katami national park bears crossing river hunting salmon

Gary Bremen, a Biscayne National Park ranger and guest blogger on National Park Patch Lady, has been to 243 of the 417 national designated areas (including monuments and other culturally significant sites). He says, “Katmai National Park recently stepped to the top of my personal podium as my favorite park. I don’t think it will be unseated any time soon. Documentarian Ken Burns summed it up beautifully though: sometimes, it is less about the place than who’s holding your hand while you’re there.”

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Gates of the arctic national park treelined river

Pete Christain, who’s worked as a park ranger at various Alaska national parks for 25 years says “Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is a secret gem. Situated entirely above the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic is one of America’s least visited national parks. Here, you can experience primeval wilderness, as it was when it was created, without any detectable trace of the human world.”

[st_related]12 Gorgeous Photos of America’s National Parks[/st_related]

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska

wrangell-st. elias national park

“I find that ‘favorite park’ for me equates with ‘surprising park,'” says Bremen. “I love when I don’t expect much and am blown away by a story that changes how I look at the world. That happened most recently at the largest national park, Wrangell-St.Elias. I thought I understood the concept of glaciers, but after hiking on Root Glacier for six hours, all I really knew was that I knew so little about glaciers.”

Flagstaff Area National Monuments, Arizona

Walnut canyon flagstaff area national monuments

“There are so many lesser-known parks along the way that get overshadowed, such as the Flagstaff Area National Monuments, a personal favorite,” says Molly Schroer of Mammoth Caves National Park just outside Bowling Green Kentucky.

The “Big Ones”

Popular national parks are popular for a reason, and even park rangers recommend experiencing them for yourself. Bremen says, “[the] Grand Canyon is where I came to terms with who I am, so it will always be special. Acadia, White Sands, Yellowstone, and Zion would all rank high among the big parks.” Anastasia echoes Acadia as a top recommendation. Schroer says, ” I find that the big ones such as Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite are always the top of my recommendation list.”

Honorable Mentions of Other National Parks:

More from SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: Some quotes are edited for clarity.