Horseback Riding in the U.S: 10 Best Trails

Grab your lasso because it’s time to head out on the trail, American cowboy style. From the giant canyons of Arizona and Utah to the rolling hills and meadows of Vermont and Northern California, witness the diverse countryside and mountain ranges of the US on 10 of the most popular horseback riding trails. As day turns to evening on the horizon, saddle up and ride out into the sunset like an old-fashioned cowboy from the Wild West.

10. Arizona

Like John Wayne and Burt Lancaster, the heroes of your favorite Westerns, saddle up and head out into the sunset on a sturdy, reliable quarter horse for a gallop into the Wild West. With expert horse handlers as your guide, get ready for an unforgettable ride into the Canyon de Chelly of Arizona, the largest sandstone canyon in the US. Crossing over bubbling streams and past small forests and olive trees along the trail, you’ll reach Spider Rock, an 800-foot sandstone spire that will make you feel like a dwarf. Riders of all levels can gear up at Totsonii Ranch, a Navajo-themed horseback-riding outfit headed by top Western-style horse experts. With decades of experience in horse handling and knowledge of the canyon trails, you’ll be in good hands while you explore the dramatic canyons of Arizona.

9. Vermont

At the Icelandic Horse Farm in Waitsfield, Vermont, you’ll get the chance to ride an Icelandic Horse, a breed known for its sturdiness, stable footing, and pleasant temperament. That way, even the novice rider can relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Mad River Valley, an ideal spot for countryside gallops. A popular spot for winter sports and mountain trekking, the valley is as peaceful or thrilling as you want it. On horseback, you can gallop through the grassy meadow or walk through the picturesque landscape of the Green Mountains. The horse farm is open year-round, so you have the option of experiencing the fresh greenery of springtime, the warm lazy days of summer, or the brilliant foliage and crisp air of autumn. After a day of trail riding, head to their Mad River Inn, an 1860s era Victorian estate situated at the horse farm.

8. Utah

Head to Utah for an exploration of the jagged rock spires and otherworldly rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park, a favorite spot for cross-country horseback riding adventures. Follow expert cowboy guides as they take you through canyons that have evolved over thousands of years. In this rugged terrain, let the sure-footed, hardworking quarter horse do all the work while you discover the fascinating natural wonders of Utah. Using Bryce Canyon Lodge as your base, the trail starts at Sunrise Point and leads into the vast canyon on a 2-hour ride. While a cowboy leads the way, you’ll get the lowdown on the history and geology of this magnificent canyon. Once you reach the floor of the canyon, the trail loops around to take you back up the rim for unforgettable views of Bristle Cone Pines Trees and the haunting Wall of Windows.

7. Alaska

For even more rugged and exotic trail rides, head to Seward, Alaska, where local guides from Bardy’s Trail Rides will take you on treks through forests and rivers surrounded by snow-capped peaks that fill the horizon. You’ll even get the chance to gallop along a rocky deserted Alaskan beach. Considered to be one of Alaska’s wild frontiers, get lost in a world of pristine fresh air, the cleanest water in the country, and a variety of wildlife like nesting bald eagles and migrating whale sightings. You’ll also discover the old town of Seward that took quite a beating in the great earthquake of 1964. Then, the trail leads to the shore of the bay lined with wildflowers, a lovely setting for a seaside stroll on horseback. Because of the rough terrain, this region of Alaska is only accessible by horseback, making Seward a perfect spot for an afternoon trail ride.

6. North Carolina

With 80 miles of equestrian trails that wind through ancient woodlands of the Appalachians, Asheville, North Carolina is a horseback-riding wonderland filled with afternoon trail rides through some of the country’s most breathtaking landscapes. Along the way, trail guides will take you on a tour of the Biltmore’s magnificent 250-room French Renaissance-style chateau, a rare architectural marvel situated in the heart of the Appalachian countryside. Even better, splurge on one of their luxury suites at the Biltmore Estate, a grand, swanky base camp for rest and relaxation in between glorious days of cross-country mountain trail rides. For the more serious equestrian, head to the nearby Equestrian Center for a special riding excursion to the West Range, a section of the Appalachians known for its mountain vistas, waterfalls, and beautiful rivers.

5. Colorado

Saddle up on a reliable, smooth-gaited horse and head out into the mountains of the San Juan National Forest just outside of the Old West town of Durango, Colorado. A favorite trail ride in the region gives riders a chance to explore the sub-alpine forest that winds through mountain paths carpeted with wildflowers. Then, the trail leads to a spot high above the timberline where you can witness the vast horizon all the way to New Mexico. For the more experienced rider, a five-hour trek to the Hermosa Cliffs is a spectacular trail that leads to elevated parks, old-growth Alpine forests, and incredible vistas of nearby Needles, La Plata mountain range, and Electra Lake. The ride starts at Elbert Creek and ascends 1,000 feet in elevation, making you feel on top of the world.

4. California

Follow in the tradition of 19th century Native Americans and pioneering ranchers who lived in the fertile countryside of Napa Valley, California. Saddle up at Triple Creek Horse Outfit and let experienced trail guides take you through the lovely golden meadows and past lush vineyards of Northern California wine country. One of the most thrilling trails is the one leading to the summit of Bald Mountain where on a clear day, you can see San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in a breathtaking panorama. The area also has horse riding trails throughout Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma’s famed Valley of the Moon. With some of the finest riding trails in the world, brace yourself for an incredible ride through massive redwoods, oak woodlands, and the rolling hills of vast vineyards.

3. Kentucky

With its world-famous Kentucky Derby and long tradition of horse breeding and training, Kentucky is a great place to discover the Bluegrass Region near Lexington. At Big Red Stables in Harrodsburg, Derby fans and serious equestrians can saddle up on a revered Tennessee walking horse, a breed known for its unique four-beat running walk, one of the smoothest gaits, as well as its calm disposition and elegant appearance. At this family farm, a one hour drive from Lexington, get ready to explore the trails passing through verdant, expansive grasslands, surrounding forests, and fertile horse country dotted with old-fashioned red barns and stables. There are also excellent riding trails in Kentucky’s Appalachians, including the Mary Ingle Trail system in Yatesville Lake State Park, which surrounds a 2,300-acre mountain reservoir and contains 20 miles of scenic trails.

2. Arkansas

Surrounded by three lakes, two rivers, and old-growth pine forests, Buffalo River National Park in Eureka Springs, Arkansas is full of scenic trails perfect for an afternoon ride through the countryside. Before heading out on the trail, saddle up with horse ranchers at Rockin Z Ranch, a horse stable and inn nestled in the heart of the Northwest Ozark Mountains. The ranch offers visitors comfortable accommodations and warm hospitality at their large log cabins plus guided trail rides through 780-acres of wooded hills. They also have ranch-raised horses, which are ideal for beginners because of their obedient and calm demeanor. Also close by is Withrow Springs State Park, also in the Ozarks, an incredible place to explore the great natural wonders of Arkansas on horseback. And if you really want to up the ante on childhood fantasies, sleep in a tree house floating atop tree canopies at Treehouse Cottages.

1. Hawaii

From the Big Island of Hawaii, head to Na’alapa Stables for a horseback riding adventure through the lush, verdant landscape of Kahua Ranch, a working cattle and sheep ranch with 12,000 acres perfect for open-range riding against the breathtaking backdrop of North Kohala. The nearby Waipi’o Valley also has excellent trails through lush tropical rainforests, pristine freshwater streams, and magnificent waterfalls. The stables also provide riders with well-trained and sturdy-footed Waipi’o breed Hawaiin horses, so riders of any level can enjoy the spectacular scenery with ease and comfort. Meaning “land of curving water,” Waipi’o Valley is an enchanting emerald landscape that rivals the paradise of Eden. In Hawaii, horse lovers have the chance of a lifetime to combine their love of riding with amazing natural wonders of the Big Island.

12 American College Sports Venues to See Before You Die

It is a curious, almost inexplicable sociological phenomenon, uniquely American. The fanatical devotion and big business of college and university sport is unmatched elsewhere in the world. College teams often outdraw professional NFL franchises, minus the huge payroll. College sports fanatics (in the true sense of the word) exhibit behavior usually associated with religious fervor or membership in a cult. One Stadium features a Touchdown Jesus and nobody complained about blasphemy. A British sociologist named Desmond Morris has a theory that loyalty to a team is the modern incarnation of our Paleolithic tribal origins. The player/heroes touchdowns, baskets or goals are perceived by our caveman neurons the same way as the hunter’s, whose ‘kills’ ensured the survival of the ‘tribe’ (even if today’s version of the tribe looks like 100,000 plus screaming, slightly inebriated fans). It is rare that technically amateur sport arouses such passion. The venues in which these athletic ceremonies occur have become sports temples where fans gather to worship the brave and noble warriors who ensure not only the tribe survives, but becomes the number one ranked tribe in the nation with the divine status, glory and TV contracts that ensue. Here are the 12 college sport venues who provide the most unforgettable of sports experiences:

12. Cameron Indoor Stadium -Duke University

Home team: Blue Devils
Opened: 1940
Capacity: 9,314

The Duke University Blue Devils is one of the elite programs in all of college sport whose supporters’ fanaticism is up there too. How 9,314 people can make that much noise is a scientific mystery, but much of it comes from the legendary student section, affectionately known as the Cameron Crazies. The program dates all the way back to 1906 but the Cameron’s 75 year history is rich enough with the team’s five national championships.

Photo by: James DiBianco
Photo by: James DiBianco

11. Notre Dame Stadium -Notre Dame University

Home team: The Fighting Irish
Capacity: 80,795

Any place that has a Touchdown Jesus beneficently looking down on the stadium calls for a visit. The brand might have faded in recent years but the illustrious Fighting Irish remains one of the most legendary athletic institutions in the world. It was they who won one for the Gipper, where Knute Rockne reigned and where the great Grantland Rice (after whom the renowned website is named) wrote the most famous lead in sports writing history of the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Unconvinced? Find a copy of the 1993 movie “Rudy” and get back to us.

Notre Dame Stadium

10. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall -University of Indiana

Home team: Indiana University Hoosiers
Opened: 1972
Capacity: 17,456

Home of the Hoosiers, Assembly Hall has been called the Carnegie Hall of Basketball. Three of the teams five national titles were won here. For 30 years it was home to basketball’s most famous tyrant Bobby Knight ruled with the proverbial iron fist running up an incredible record of 902 wins against just 371 losses. The intensity remains. The Hoosiers do occasionally lose but they never disappoint.

Photo by: Scout.com
Photo by: Scout.com

9. Bryant-Denny Stadium -University of Alabama

Home team: Alabama Crimson Tide
Opened: 1929
Capacity: 101,821

AKA Tuscaloosa’s Treasure. Home to the iconic perennial powerhouse Crimson Tide who spend most autumn Sundays grinding out-matched teams into dust. Originally with just 12,000 seats, its capacity is up to 101,000 and counting. The stadium is co-named after a former University President and one of the game’s great legends Paul (Bear) Bryant who strolled the sidelines for 25 years racking up 323 wins and found a young quarterback named Joe Namath. As the Bleacher Report says “In Alabama, football is life.” The 2015 Homecoming theme was Forever Crimson: Faithful, Loyal, Firm and True.”

Bryant-Denny Stadium

8. Rose Bowl -University of California Los Angeles

Home team: UCLA Bruins
Opened: 1922
Capacity: 92,542

The venerable American institution is home to the UCLA Bruins and has seen an Olympics and World Cup. But its fame stems from traditional bowl game that bears its name. First played in 1902, it was college football’s premier event on New Year’s Day for decades. Too many legends have trod the sod to count, but included are: 17 Heisman Trophy Winners, 29 national champions, 199 consensus All-Americans and 107 college football legends inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. It remains a mecca of college football and an afternoon watching elite teams play as the sun sets on the San Gabriel Mountains is not a memory that will soon fade.

Rose Bowl

7. Mariucci Arena -University of Minnesota

Team: Golden Gophers
Opened: 1993
Capacity: 10,000

Named for John Mariucci, the Hall of Fame coach from the 1950’s and 60’s, this is hallowed ground for American hockey. It is a hockey factory for U.S. born players whose alumni include Miracle on Ice coach Herb Brooks. The Golden Gophers 21 Frozen Four appearances are third in the nation. It is considered the premier arena to watch top-tier college hockey for two reasons. Fifteen of the team’s 2015 players were drafted by the NHL. The arena bears a striking quotation from Coach Mariucci: “Through these gates walk the greatest fans in college hockey”.

By Shipguy9 - I took the picture on my phone., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
By Shipguy9 – CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

6. Tiger Stadium -Louisiana State University

Home team: LSU Tigers
Opened: 1924
Capacity: 102,321

It stands to reason that, starting with the tailgating, the atmosphere of Saturday night football in Cajun Country is like no other. Just the thought of more than 100,000 Ragin’ Cajuns is unsettling. The rabidly hostile AND LOUD fans that religiously pack the stadium for home games has earned the Stadium the charming nickname of Death Valley. A sea of energy in the royal colors of purple and gold makes for a long night on the field for opponents and a memorable experience for the connoisseur of college sport.

Tiger Stadium

5. Rupp Arena -University of Kentucky

Home team: Wildcats
Opened: 1976
Capacity: 23,000

Kentucky is another perennial powerhouse and the Rupp (named after one of the greatest coaches ever) packs an unusually large crowd of 24,000 up into its rafters. It is the winningest college team in history since it came into being in 1903. Some of the all-time greats have played here but as testament to its continuing success, the current crop of Wildcats in the NBA number 4 potential future Hall of Famers; John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. With its size and noise level and consistently elite teams, Rupp Arena is easily one of the most intimidating venues in sport anywhere.

Rupp Arena

4. Michie Stadium -United States Military Academy

Home Team: Army Black Knights
Opened: 1924
Capacity: 38,128

The football isn’t what it used to be. They have lost 13 straight in the iconic Army Navy series, but there are things that make this worth considering. The legions of cadets in the stands is a truly unique setting. The 1912 team featured a young player named Dwight D Eisenhower. The team mascot remains a live mule which was a tribute to a valuable military mode of transport when the football program began in 1890. From 1944 to 1950, their record was 57-3 with 3 national championships behind football legend Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, memorably nicknamed respectively Mr. Inside and outside. With three national championships. Vince Lombardy and Bill Parcells got their start here. It is like a true Field of Dreams, with ghosts of greatness still gracing the field on the banks of the Hudson.

Michie Stadium

3. The Palestra -University of Pennsylvania

Opened: 1927
Home Teams: UPenn, Villanova, La Salle, Temple, St. Joseph’s
Capacity: 8,772

AKA the Cathedral of College Basketball. Unique in college sport, The Palestra as a kind of sport co-op has played host to more games than any other college arena in history. It is the home of the Big Five Philly based college teams. Named at the suggestion of a Classics professor for its Ancient Greek counterpart, it is a classic venue.

Palestra

2. Allen Fieldhouse -University of Kansas

Opened: 1955
Capacity: 16,300

Since the Allen opened in 1955, the home team Jayhawks have had a record of 666-107. Since the program began in 1898 their record is 2153-831.tradition. The court is named after basketball’s Canadian-born inventor James Naismith, who was the first coach of the Jayhawks. Going to any Big 12 game is worth the drive/flight to Lawrence Kansas to see the blue and crimson at The Phog as it’s also known, the nickname of F.C. Allen the hugely successful early 20th century coach who was also a seminal figure in the development of basketball in the United States. But to take in the atmosphere of over a century of athletic excellence from Naismith to Wilt Chamberlain to NBA Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, is more than just a game.

By Original uploader - Originally uploaded by Jonnybsay to Wikimedia Commons., Public Domain, Link
By Original uploader – Originally uploaded by Jonnybsay to Wikimedia Commons., Public Domain, Link

1. Michigan Stadium -Michigan State University

Home Team: The Wolverines
Opened: 1927
Capacity: 109,901

It isn’t called The Big House for nothing. It is among the top five largest stadiums in the world. Maybe the only one who can claim to be home to more people on game day than Ann Arbor the town in which it sits. The National Hockey League staged a regular season game there between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings that drew over 105,000 people on a wintry day. A great venue with one of the most powerful tribes in college sport.

Michigan Stadium

America’s 20 Favorite Buildings

Consider it The People’s Choice awards for architecture. The American Institute of Architects commissioned a public poll on the most popular architectural works in the country. There are a number of well-known superstars including The Empire State Building and Faneuil Hall in Boston, but there is also the obscure and surprising; Seattle’s Safeco Field at #135, Denver International Airport at #57. The top of the list is decidedly skewed towards the northeast, especially New York and Washington D.C. who claim between them 16 of the top 20. Overall New York has 32 entries, while D.C. claims 17 and Chicago a respectable 16. Three of the favorites no longer exist #143 Pennsylvania Station, the original Yankee Stadium of 1923 at #84, and the World Trade Center at #19. Among the architects making more than one appearance are Frank Lloyd Wright with 7 works; Eero Saarinen with 3 and one Thomas Jefferson with 2. Here are the Top 20 American structures that still stand and attract millions of sightseers and pilgrims from around the world:

20. Philadelphia City Hall (Philadelphia, PA)

Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / Shutterstock

A truly magnificent building, it’s widely considered to be the best piece of French Second Empire architecture in the country. It is a massive exercise in granite, sandstone, and marble with muscular columns, some 250 pieces of sculpture including a massive 27 ton bronze of William Penn (as in Pennsylvania) on the clock tower. The 24 foot thick walls hold 4 acres of space with 700 rooms. It took 30 years to build, as only a government building can. Money was no object in a futile attempt to regain the city’s pre-eminence over the upstarts in New York and Washington, it was for a brief time, the tallest building in the world. Demolition was considered in the 1950s and thank goodness rescinded.

19. Brooklyn Bridge (New York City, NY)

Through the Lens / Getty Images

It was a huge deal when it opened in 1883. A sitting President, Charles Arthur, and a future one; New York Governor Grover Cleveland attended. The towers are built of limestone, cement, and Maine granite delivered by schooner. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world for 20 years and like other New York landmarks, it captured the artistic and popular culture’s imagination from Georgia O’Keefe through Jack Kerouac to Wycliffe Jean. Poet Marianne Moore wrote, “way out; way in; romantic passageway first seen by the eye of the mind, then by the eye. O steel! O stone! Climactic ornament, a double rainbow.” Beginning life on the 100th anniversary of the end of the Revolutionary War, the Bridge captures the enormous optimism of the economic boom of the Second Industrial Revolution. On ArchDaily, Cristopher Henry says the Bridge transformed not only bridge-building but the city of New York itself. The Gothic Revival style span lit up at night framed by the Manhattan skyline, does seem like a road to a promised land.

18. Hotel Del Coronado (San Diego, CA)

EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER / Getty Images

What could be more striking, or make less sense, than a perfect example of 19th-century British architecture on the California Pacific coast? A California beach house in downtown London perhaps? Though it may seem to an architectural fish out of the water, it has been a magnet for celebrities, royalty, and U.S. Presidents since it opened in 1888 at the peak influence of the Queen Anne building style. But such was its renown that its guest list includes from the Prince of Wales to Charlie Chaplin to Barack Obama. Queen Anne’s design is ornate and precious and violates every law of the American School which holds that buildings should be organic as if the art of the site on which it’s built. But then architect James Reid apparently never studied law. The jumble of turrets and excess celebrates the Golden Age of decadence. Jay Gatsby would have been a frequent visitor had he actually existed. Gilded Age exuberance.

17. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City, NY)

Daniel Chui / Getty Images

The Met, as it’s affectionately known, has been evolving as an idea and entity since 1866. It has added and subtracted whole sections over the decades and has become imposing if the not terribly harmonious mix of International, Modern, and Contemporary architecture, yet it somehow fits in the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Its vast interior holds collections among the best in the world, with a net worth of approximately the Gross National Product of Iceland. Of course, everyone would think of fit fondly. It’s a list of the Faves, not the Bests.

16. St. Regis Hotel (New York City, NY)

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It was meant to be the lap of luxury, by and for New York’s insanely wealthy aristocracy. A monument to conspicuous consumption built by the Astor family. In his book ‘Built to Last’ the renowned hotel historian Stanley Turkel described the interior like this: “marble floors and hallways from the quarries of Caen, Louis XV furniture from France, Waterford crystal chandeliers, antique tapestries, and oriental rugs, a library full of 3,000 leather-bound, gold-tooled books… beautiful burnished bronze entrance doors, rare wood paneling, great marble fireplaces, ornamental ceilings and a telephone in every room”, a rare luxury at the time. In fact the New York Times reported that St. Regis offered luxury “on a scale of sumptuosity quite without precedent.” The great Russian writer Maxim Gorky visited and remarked, “Neither the Grand Dukes nor even the Czar, have anything like this.” It remains a Beaux-Arts gem in limestone.

15. Supreme Court of the United States (Washington, DC)

Photo by Mike Kline (notkalvin) / Getty Images

The Supreme Court was 146 years old before it got its own building that opened in 1935. Its austere steel-framed marble-faced exterior on classic Roma temple lines with its thick Corinthian columns gives way to a more ornate interior with brass friezes, extensive statuary of mythical figures, and oak carvings that suggest a place of worship rather than one of sober deliberation. It’s a surprise that makes it is perhaps the last D.C. project to come in UNDER budget. The website says it combines classical grandeur and quiet dignity. The courtroom alone contains 24 columns of Italian marble from the same area Michelangelo sourced him; the walls and friezes of Spanish Ivory Vein marble floor borders incorporate African marble.

14. The Gateway Arch (St. Louis, MO)

joe daniel price / Getty Images

2015 marked the 50th anniversary of the date the final piece was put into place completing the majestic span across the Mississippi and putting the iconic Arch up there with other quintessential American sites like Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. It is a memorial to the settlers who passed through the Gateway City of St. Louis. It also is a tribute to Thomas Jefferson who as President “championed the Louisiana Purchase and sent Lewis and Clark on their expedition westward. Technically it is a weighted catenary curve of over 17,000 tons of perfectly symmetrical concrete and steel. It is 630 feet high and 630 wide. The Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen is now considered one of the masters of American 20th-century architecture and furniture design. He won the design competition for the Arch in 1948 but sadly didn’t live to see construction begin in 1963 let alone to see it finished.

13. Grand Central Station (New York City, NY)

Domingo Leiva / Getty Images

A grand European palace masquerading as a New York train station. It looks like a transit point exclusively for the well-to-do but in fact shepherds 750,000 people on their way, merrier for having passed through a great work of art on their way to work and home. On the outside are 50 foot high statues of Roman gods; Minerva Goddess of Wisdom, Mercury; God of financial gain, travelers, luck, trickery, and thieves, eminently qualified to be the patron site of Manhattan not to mention Hercules. Within the classic Beaux-Arts exterior lies a vast interior, larger than Notre Dame in Paris featuring too many masterpieces to list, bronze and stone carvings, Tennessee marble floors, frescoes of zodiac constellations. All illuminated by ten lavish chandeliers of nickel and gold, now containing energy-efficient bulbs. The New York Tribune wrote, “Here is a space like the nave of an Old World cathedral. It compels to silence.”

12. Washington Monument (Washington, DC)

Sarah8000 / Getty Images

It’s interesting that plans for a monument to George Washington were first discussed in 1783, construction began in 1848, and completion came in 1884 and the public got in in 1888. His followers wanted to build one as huge as their respect and devotion and many were rejected for being too grandiose for the new Republic. The elevator that was added in 1889 is still what visitors ride to the observation decks and their tremendous views of the capital. Technically, it is a classic Greek-inspired obelisk of 555 ft. in marble, granite, and bluestone gneiss. It also contains some 193 memorial stones donated for inclusion. The donors ranged from the Sae of Utah, the Welsh people of New York to the Ottoman Empire.

11. St. Patrick’s Cathedral (New York City, NY)

WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

The neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. Patrick is the largest Catholic Church in the United States and certainly among the most beautiful. Its marble-clad brick facade must be a powerful, imposing site when it opened in 1879. Its 330ft twin neo-Gothic towers soared above the neighborhood and were said to be visible for twenty miles since dwarfed by sprouting skyscrapers.
Inside it has the traditional shape of the Latin cross. Its altars were designed by a Borgia, a Medici, and Tiffany &co. Its renowned stained glass was crafted in England but the rose window, in the Gothic tradition was crafted by Charles Connick, a master of stained glass who the New York Times described as “the world’s greatest contemporary craftsman in stained glass.” A Pieta, three times larger than Michelangelo’s in the Vatican was added in 1906. Five million people go every year to worship and just experience this architectural wonder.

10. Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (Washington, DC)

Brandon Bourdages / Shutterstock

No doubt full of intangible meaning for Americans, the memorial is a profoundly moving experience wherever you’re from. Simplicity can engender an eloquence the grandest design may not. The façade of the 600-foot straight black wall of Indian granite lists the names of the 58,175 names Americans who died in the war. Its effect is intensified by the decision to build down rather than up, as if to mirror the descent into the depths of the carnage on the descent into the and eventually, after the last name to emerge a touched and changed person, back into the land of the living. Maya Lin, a Chinese American from Ohio was just 21 years old when she won the commission. There are 57,939 names on the original. At last count, that has grown to 58,286. In a
1983 interview published in the AIA Journal, Lin explained her inspiration, “I thought about what death is, what a loss is. A sharp pain that lessens with time, but can never quite heal over. A scar. The idea occurred to me there on the site. Take a knife and cut open the earth, and with time the grass would heal it.”

9. Chrysler Building (New York City, NY)

Stephan Rudolph / Getty Images

Like many masterpieces, the Chrysler Building opened to bad reviews. It was dismissed as a publicity stunt by Chrysler to beat the Manhattan Bank to completion and dethrone the Eiffel Tower as the world’s tallest building at the time. Its architect William van Alen was also dismissed as a “Dr. of Altitude.” But its Art Deco style has grown in stature since its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. It came to be regarded as over the top kitsch but went to become its own school of furniture, poster art, and telephones. The Chrysler is one of the last of its kind, the Art Deco skyscraper. A counterpoint to the somber Vietnam memorial the Chrysler emits the brash, confident futuristic exuberance of Art Deco at its best. If it had an observation deck, it may well have eclipsed the Empire State building in popularity. Its interior is yet more stunning. Lonely Planet guides suggest the best views are from the corner of 3rd and 44th. Or ironically from the observation deck of the Empire State. Where else could you see gargoyles in the image of Chrysler car parts?

8. Biltmore Estate (Asheville, NC)

Mark Gibson / Getty Images

The British writer and Oscar Wilde once said that “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” He might have had George W. Vanderbilt, one member of the wealthiest and influential American families in history, whose contemporary descendants include CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. George W. fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains and bought 125,000 acres of it to build his summer estate. Only the best for a Vanderbilt, he hired Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer, and architect-in-chief of Central Park. The French Renaissance ‘summer home’ has a copper roof monogrammed with the owner’s initials. Just the interior floor covers 4 acres. There are 34 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces and at a time when indoor plumbing was rare, 43 bathrooms. Despite its excess, it is a beautiful piece of work, intended to rival the old estate manors of Europe. The largest private home in America is a Historic Site and open to the public for tours.

7. Lincoln Memorial (Washington, DC)

Richard Sharrocks / Getty Images

It is by no means a late Italian Renaissance piece or the ages but the Lincoln Memorial is a fascinating and compelling structure. Its grand exterior is a stunning Greek temple with 36 sturdy Doric columns, one for each state in the Union in 1865. The expectation that something of this classic magnitude would be a memorial or tomb of a great champion or god even. And there is inside a sculpture of the Great Emancipator himself but if you didn’t know his history you’d wonder if he won or lost the battle. The great American sculptor Daniel Chester French presents not a triumphant demi-God but a man, seated rumpled and not just tired but so weary from having seen too much grief. This was partly aesthetic genius partly astute politics. Construction of the Monument began in 1914, less than 50 years after the Civil War ended and any celebratory construct would have been deeply offensive to the South. The Southern Wall contains an elegant rendition of the Gettysburg Address while the north wall holds his second Inaugural Address which ends with the famous words… “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

6. U.S. Capitol (Washington, DC)

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The U.S. Capitol’s design was selected by President Washington in 1793. Construction quickly began but they had to start over after the British burned it in the War of 1812. Like so many buildings in DC, it is classic Greek and Roman, the neoclassical style favored by Thomas Jefferson as befitting a modern empire. In fact, he wanted the Capitol to be patterned after the Roman Pantheon. It has what might be called an intimidating charm of imposing size, symbolism, and history. Expanded many times to its present 4 acres and 600 rooms, its most famous addition was the cast-iron dome in 1858 weighing almost 9,000,000 pounds. Inside is of course the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the home of the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government. Lesser known is the impressive collection of art accumulated and donated over the years. The Hall of Statuary is breathtaking as is the fresco in the Rotunda painted by Italian Constantino Brumidi in the Di sotto in sù (seen from below) style depicting the Apotheosis of Washington entering heaven with an escort of Roman gods representing among others War, Science and Agriculture.

5. Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, CA)

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One of the greatest engineering and design accomplishments of the 20th century, a rarely surpassed combination of strength and beauty. They said it would be impossible to build a bridge across the Golden Gate Strait. It took four years and the equivalent of $600 million but at its completion in 1937, it was the longest and tallest suspension bridge in the world at almost 2 miles long. The two famous towers are 820 feet tall. The distinctive red Art Deco profile framed by the Pacific Ocean has made it known around the world a masterpiece in steel and concrete.

4. Thomas Jefferson Memorial (Washington, DC)

Photo by Mike Kline (notkalvin) / Getty Images

Jefferson didn’t get his wish for The Capitol to be built after the Pantheon in Rome but his memorial in Washington D.C. certainly is. It was inaugurated by President Franklin Roosevelt on the bicentenary of Jefferson’s birth in 1743. FDR proclaimed “Today in the midst of a great war for freedom, we dedicate a shrine to freedom.” Jefferson’s intellect and influence towered above any of the founders, save for Washington himself. So it is more than fitting that the grand bronze statue of him inside the classic Roman architecture that he loved should tower over the interior showing him at the peak of his powers, with what is believed to be the Declaration of Independence in his hand.

3. Washington National Cathedral (Washington, DC)

Michael Duva / Getty Images

A majestic Gothic Revival work in Indiana limestone, its construction was launched with a speech from President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 and was completed only in 1990. A hallowed place of ecumenical worship the church is also deeply reflective of American history. It was the last pulpit from which the Reverend Martin Luther King preached before his assassination in 1968. The funerals of Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower were held there. Woodrow Wilson is buried there. There is stained glass devoted to the Apollo moon landing with a piece of moon rock. Recently, the church stewards decided to remove two stained glass panels honoring Confederate Generals Robert TE Lee and Stonewall Jackson containing the Confederate flag. The top of the lofty Gloria in Excelsis vault is the highest point in the capital. It tries to be user-friendly, incorporating a young person’s design of a Darth Vader gargoyle on the roof. Still, really more popular than the Golden Gate?

2. The White House (Washington, DC)

Rudy Sulgan / Getty Images

Construction of the original Presidential residence began in 1702. It was nothing like the current version, especially being not white but a grayish Georgia mansion. Its first tenants were the second President, John Adams, and wife Abigail. The British torched it in 1812 and Hoban rebuilt it but it wasn’t until a major renovation in 1824 that the portico and pillars turned the modest Georgian home into a neoclassical white building. The West Wing burned in 1929 and with its rebuilding, it became what we know today. The whitewashed sandstone walls are the originals. Inside it contains 132 rooms, 28 fireplaces, and 32 bathrooms, Interesting trivia: running water was not installed until 1835.

1. Empire State Building (New York City, NY)

Neil Emmerson / Getty Images

Honestly, if you were making King Kong in 1933 and deciding on which building in the entire world on which the huge protagonist to meet his dramatic demise, what other choices could you make but the Empire State, the tallest most glamorous building in the world? It has appeared in 250 movies from the sublime (An Affair to Remember) to the ridiculous (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas). The 86th-floor observation deck has had over 100 million visitors, among the most popular in the world. While there are superstar architects with multiple entries in the list (Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen), the New York firm that built the Empire State has just one. At the very top. It’s not just the view or the gorgeous Art Deco façade. It is the architectural version of swagger, the iconic image that says you are in the home of the Leader of the Free World. When Canadian Far Wray, the actress who played King Kong’s love interest, died in 2004, the Empire State went dark for 15 minutes in silent, eloquent tribute.

EscapeHere’s Top 12 ‘Parkitecture’ Masterpieces

The accomplished American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns has called the U.S. National Parks system “America’s Best Idea.” Some of the most divine natural real estate in the world has been protected by statute from the onslaught of development. American icons like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone remain as pristine as can be in the modern world. But less celebrated and equally less well-known are the hotels, inns and lodges that have, over the last century, been built to allow nature lovers to not just visit the parks but actually stay in them. The most historic and traditional have earned the nomenclature of “Parkitecture” -notable architectural buildings within the confines of the National Park Service. None are lavish but they present a stark contrast to the contemporary tourist love affair with all-inclusive destinations in hot-spots like the Caribbean. They are largely exercises in “Rustic Chic” and echo an era of travel at the speed of trains when simply escaping the heat and grime of the city was bliss for those who could afford to. They remain a remarkable bargain in the vacation marketplace. Several media publications have published their favorites in the past few years so we thought it was high time that we weighed in on the subject as well. Here is Escape Here’s 12 best National Park-architectural wonders.

12. Chateau Lake Louise -Banff National Park, Alberta

What better way to begin a list than with a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Banff National Park boasts the Victoria Glacier and the famous emerald green waters of the lake named after Queen Victoria’s daughter who married a Canadian Governor General. It is 350 miles due north of Spokane or 110 west of Calgary depending on your national point of view. It began as a simple wood chalet in 1890, expanded and burned to the ground. Much of the current structure dates from 1925. The activities are year-round but the skiing is truly world-class. The train station might look familiar if you’ve seen the movie Dr. Zhivago, but for a more current reference, The Bachelor also shot an episode at the hotel. The luxury extra 7th floor is called a hotel within a hotel with furnishings like you’ve never seen before.

Chateau Lake Louise

11. Prince of Wales Hotel -Waterton National Park, Alberta

One of Canada’s iconic railway hotels right on the Montana border, the Prince of Wales Hotel was actually built not by Canadian Pacific but by an American railroad company for well-heeled visitors traveling to Glacier National Park (see below) by horseback. The trip cost $1000 then, over $13,000 today. A gorgeous design like an over-sized alpine chalet jutting out into the lake, it has unfettered views of some of the best scenery in the history of scenery. Built in 1927 in the teeth of a hurricane-force blizzard, it is now a Canadian National Historic Site.
Mingle with wild elk herds that also like to stroll on the town’s streets. At current exchange rates this hotel will run about US $162 per night.

Prince of Wales Hotel

10. Chisos Mountains Lodge -Big Bend National Park, Texas

Situated remotely on the Texas-Mexico border, 300 miles southeast of El Paso and 5,000 feet in elevation, Big Bend National Park is named in honor of the meander of the Rio Grande. The natural beauty is gob smacking and the Lodge is ultra-convenient for hiking trails and prime bird-watching points. It’s also nicely isolated and at least until the publication of this article, away from the maddening crowds of the National Park superstars. The Lodge itself is no architectural gem but there are more handsome stone and adobe cottages that can be booked up as much as four months in advance.

Chisos Mountains Lodge

9. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel -Yosemite National Park, California

Likely the finest work of art in the system, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel is a uniquely imaginative amalgam of Art Deco, Native American and even a dash of Middle Eastern and it has been welcoming park lovers since 1927. It also has the virtue of being in the middle of nowhere in the Sierra Nevada; 93 miles east of Fresno, which is the very definition of the middle of nowhere. Luxuriously appointed rooms have ridiculous views of Yosemite legends like Glacier Point, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Inside, a dining room with a soaring ceiling and the Great Lounge are memorable sights to call home even for eyes spoiled by the Park’s natural beauty.

EarthScape ImageGraphy / Shutterstock.com
EarthScape ImageGraphy / Shutterstock.com

8. Paradise Inn -Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Completed in 1916, this classically rustic Inn built in Mount Rainier National Park is both on the National Register of Historic Places and even better, on the small side with 117 guest rooms. Interestingly the interior was built with timber from Alaskan cedars that died from a fire and roasted to a silver color. The handiwork including furniture, giant clock and piano (which Harry Truman liked to play) is all original from a German artisan in 1919. The lodge provides spectacular views of majestic Mount Rainier, though it might be asked if there are any views of Mt. Rainier which are not. Massive beams and fireplaces adorn the lobby. The Inn’s website calls it a mountain paradise with “spectacular views of massive glaciers, meadows lush with wildflowers and breathtaking waterfalls.” Perhaps best of all, there are rooms from $117, the same price as breakfast at a luxury hotel in the city.

Paradise Inn Mount Rainier National Park

7. Old Faithful Inn -Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Imagine looking out your hotel room window in Yellowstone National Park and seeing Old Faithful the geyser spouting about a 3-iron shot away. It seems almost impossible to top that but the lobby takes a decent shot. A lovely composition in handcrafted stone and wooden beams that support the fantastic vaulted ceiling which is almost 80 feet high. The first part was finished in 1903 and the survey results note it has hosted “six Presidents and all Three Stooges.” One review says rooms are straightforward and furniture ordinary, as if a sane person would go to Yellowstone for the décor. The Inn’s website also repeats over and over “Televisions, radios, and air conditioning are not available in park lodging.” Now that is the 21st century version of Paradise. Or for millennials, Hell on Earth.

Old Faithful Inn

6. Crater Lake Lodge -Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Locals claim that Crater Lake to be the most beautiful lake in America. While that may be debatable, two things are not; it is certified as the deepest and it’s ungodly beautiful, the thought occurs that when that vastly superior intelligence from another solar system decides to drop by it will most definitely be here. More seriously and importantly, it is an important part of Native creation belief systems and it radiates an intensely spiritual feeling. Dating from 1915, the Lodge itself actually underwhelms from the outside but a 1995 renovation marries Northwest rustic with the Jazz Age opulence, though the Lodge is adopting a modern mantra of sustainability and the dining room stresses locavore values and dishes. Oregon Valley grass fed beef, Oregon mussels and of course in a state that worships the University of Oregon football team, they dare not print a menu without duck.

Wollertz / Shutterstock.com
Wollertz / Shutterstock.com

5. Lake Crescent Lodge -Olympic National Park, Washington

This historic main lodge in Olympic National Park (built in 1916) is not lavish by any stretch but it fits the surroundings as rustically handsome with stands of evergreen and second floor views of the lake. Speaking of which, if you go to the website and see the view of moon-rise on the lake with peaks in the distance you will truly understand how it got to be our number five choice. There are adorable little cottages and even an excellent impersonation of a motel. If it weren’t in jaw dropping countryside, sitting in the Adirondack chairs by the lodge reading or doing Sudoku would be idyllic. Better used as a base camp for sightseeing or something more strenuous, it still retains the charm of the resort of long ago.

Photo by: Olympic National Park
Photo by: Olympic National Park

4. El Tovar -Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Perfectly perched on the rim of the Grand Canyon, El Tovar opened for business in 1905 before the Canyon was a National Park. At the time it was so remote, drinking water had to be brought in by train. It was designed by Charles Whittlesey, then the Chief Architect for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad so some may say El Tovar has an architectural pedigree. Whittlesey was from the then design capital of the U.S. -Chicago, and despite location, he wanted to cater to the Europhile taste of the American masses at the time. For the longest time it was considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi and has been a Historic Landmark since 1987. Morning coffee or evening cocktails overlooking the South Rim after a day taking in the natural wonders is a sublime experience. Eminent guests include Albert Einstein, Bill Clinton, Sir Paul McCartney and Teddy Roosevelt. Winter rates start from US$89?? This must be a typo on the website.

OLOS / Shutterstock.com
OLOS / Shutterstock.com

3. Jackson Lake Lodge -Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

This large lodge is more resort-like than most of the others in our list with and things like a heated outdoor swimming pool, golf and boat rentals. There are excellent hikes of varying degrees of difficulty to be found that can bring you face to face with the 4 massive peaks in the Grand Teton range. Only some of the 400 rooms have prime views but the huge lobby with floor to ceiling windows lets everyone get the postcard-worthy view of the mountains and nearby lake as the elk, bison and even moose wander not far off.
At only 22 miles away from Yellowstone, whichever place you stay, there’s an unequaled double-your-National-Park-fun option.

Photo by: Tripadvisor
Photo by: Tripadvisor

2. Many Glacier Hotel -Glacier National Park, Montana

Built by the Great Northern Railway at the onset of the First World War, Many Glacier Hotel is set on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake surrounded by the Rockies in Glacier National Park. It is like a giant Swiss chalet and like others has a lobby that is the centerpiece of the building, three stories high with wooden beams, interior balconies and a cone shaped fireplace actually suspended from the ceiling. The website says rooms are rustic yet comfortable and are “old-world style in keeping with the era in which the hotel was built,” which primarily means no TV or AC. Take an evening glacier tour, try some fly-fishing (it’s renowned) hey, it’s the Rockies after-all; there is lots to do and see. It isn’t our number two pick for nothing.

OLOS / Shutterstock.com
OLOS / Shutterstock.com

1. Pisgah Inn -Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville North Carolina

Bible experts know the name Pisgah from the Book of Deuteronomy as the mountain from which Moses first saw the Promised Land, and honestly no other spot in all the New World is more aptly named. Words cannot express the beauty on view from The Inn on this 5,000 foot high peak that looks out over the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Highlands. The National Park Service says “The Parkway was the most visited unit of the National Park Service every year from 1946-2012.” The 51 rooms are comfy but plain, though they come with everything from Adirondack rocking chairs to LED lighting, solar panels, satellite TV and WiFi. The area is rich with natural, cultural and historic sites to visit. For the more active, the hiking in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, a hundred miles to the west is ranked in the Top Ten in the entire National Park Service. then at the end of the day, the renowned kitchen’s specialty, walnut-crusted fresh mountain trout with blueberry butter attracts many out-of-staters. Spring to fall rooms start from US $138. Seriously.

Photo by: National Park Planner
Photo by: National Park Planner

America’s 10 Best Towns to Visit During the Holidays

It’s that time of year again, sleigh bells are ringing, Christmas lights are strung from rooftops and around trees, carols are playing over the radio and there is a feeling of holiday cheer in the air. Some towns in America take the holidays extra serious, with festive decorations, tree lighting ceremonies, parades, contests and more. From traditional Victorian Christmas Festivals to those that feature over 5 million lights, here are America’s best towns to visit during the holidays.

10. Woodstock, Vermont

The air smells like pine needles, the ground lightly dusted with snow and the twinkling of lights shine down on this town during the holiday season. For the past 25 years this town has hosted Wassail Weekend, a pre-Christmas festival that is rooted in 19th century Norse culture and traditions. Wassail is a hot beverage, something like cider that is associated with Christmastime. The festival brings a parade of over 50 horses and riders that are in holiday costumes and period dresses, as well as wagon and sleigh rides. Don’t forget about the feast and the tours of the most notable historic buildings as well. Add in local shops that decorate their windows and stay open late for shoppers during the festival, friendly locals and an old-world charm, and this may be the perfect town to visit this holiday season.

Photo by: Scenic VT PHotos
Photo by: Scenic VT PHotos

9. McAdenville, North Carolina

This small town just 20 minutes outside of Charlotte has actually renamed itself “Christmas Town USA” during the month of December each year. This small town draws an average of 600,000 people each year who come to gaze at the 500,000 lights that decorate this town. This town kicks off its holiday cheer with a tree lighting ceremony on December 1st where the big switch is turned on to reveal the 500,000 red, white and green lights. It takes about 375 trees to house all these lights and they light a route that is perfect for a winter stroll through the downtown. Along with these lights are homes that are lit up by owners, who all love to take part in this holiday celebration. Enjoy hot chocolate and kettle corn as you stroll through the downtown and down to the nearby lake which features 33 trees liming the perimeter and a 75 foot water fountain that is lit with vibrant colors. It’s truly Christmas here all December long.

McAdenville, North Carolina

8. Ogden, Utah

Located in Northern Utah, this great railway hub of a town welcomes in the holiday season each year with their downtown Christmas Village. From the Saturday after Thanksgiving through January 1st the downtown area is aglow with magnificent displays and holiday lights. Every year thousands of tourists come to view the Christmas lights and replica cottages that are modeled after Santa’s Village at the North Pole. To open the Christmas Village an Electric Light Parade fills the streets, loaded with elaborate floats, themes and performers. Santa also happens to arrive this day and flips the switch to turn on the lights and illuminate the village. Each of the 59 cottages have their own theme, including The Elf Workshop, The Grinch and of course, Santa’s Castle. Ride on the Polar Express Train, shop at Santa’s store and marvel at the millions of lights that light this village up.

Photo by: Our Beck Treks
Photo by: Our Beck Treks

7. Vail, Colorado

This town turns into a true Winter Wonderland when the holiday season hits. December brings the festivities of Snowdaze to the town, when fresh snow is celebrated with live concerts each night. The village is filled with sponsors and après parties and former performers include the Barenaked Ladies, Wilco and O.A.R. Vail also plays host to Holidaz, a celebration that includes the tree lighting ceremony, a New Year’s Eve torchlight parade and some incredible fireworks. Enjoy outdoor skating, hot coffee from local producers and equally warming cocktails. This incredible winter destination has more than 5,2000 acres of ski and snowboard terrain and things only get better during the holiday season. Get here and discover why this is one of America’s most loved towns, especially in December.

Photo by: Panoramio/Ash Cook
Photo by: Panoramio/Ash Cook

6. Nantucket, Massachusetts

The festivities in this town really started in the 1970’s, as too many locals left town to shop in Cape Cod, and there needed to be a solution. This island town quickly came up with an annual Christmas Stroll, in which stores stayed open late and shop owners entertained shoppers with wine, hot chocolate, cider and Christmas cookies while they browsed. Nowadays this Christmas Stroll lasts for the whole first weekend of December and visitors can take part in walking amid dozens of seven foot Christmas trees that are illuminated at night and the 20-foot tree that talks to all visitors who visit it. Carolers sing at various downtown locations, live entertainment takes place, craft shows happen and Santa and Mrs. Claus always make an appearance.

Nantucket, Massachusetts Christmas

5. Ogunquit, Maine

It used to be an artist’s colony but has transformed into a summer getaway, not the first place one would think of when it comes to the Holiday season. But visiting here during the holidays means lower prices, a laid-back feeling and enough festivities to keep you going. Christmas by the Sea Festival features a town tree lighting ceremony with caroling and warm drinks, concerts, a meet and greet with Santa, beer and wine tasting, nightly bonfires, Christmas craft making workshops and more. There are plenty of local shops for those last minute gifts and plenty of friendly locals, and great deals on accommodations and dining here.

Photo by: Discover New England/Paul LaCedra
Photo by: Discover New England/Paul LaCedra

4. Naples, Florida

If you want to avoid the snowy weather but still want to enjoy that festive feeling, there is no better place than Naples to head to. This snowbird-style winter wonderland lures visitors with its festive ambiance, luxury stores, fantastic dining and warm weather. The headquarters for the official Christmas tree is Third Street South where twinkling lights and red and silver decorations adorn the streets. It is here where Santa comes to visit, snow falls out of the lampposts and shows take place throughout the month. On Fifth Avenue South is where the Christmas Parade takes place, along with awesome shopping for the Holidays event, which features live music, dancing and dining. Those who still want holiday cheer but want to avoid the snow, this is the town for you.

Naples Florida Christmas

3. Nevada City, California

Nevada City is located about an hour northwest of Sacramento, population of just over 3,000 and it happens to take great pride in its annual Victorian Christmas Festival. Already picturesque all year round with its historic buildings and mountain surroundings, this town transforms into a beautiful picture perfect Christmas Card during the holiday season. The town brings in authentic gas lamps, twinkling white lights and carolers that dress up in Victorian apparel. The smell of roasted chestnuts and holiday food will fill the air as you wander through the streets that over-flow with Christmas treasures. Make sure to check out the famous walking Christmas tree and the living nativity scene, as well as take a ride in a horse drawn carriage. Visitors are also encouraged to dress up in period attire, complete with feathers, scarves and top hats.

Photo by: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce
Photo by: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce

2. Branson, Missouri

It is known as the Ozark Mountain Christmas here in this town, as Branson transforms into a winter wonderland complete with twinkling lights, live shows and plenty of shopping. Here in this town they don’t even wait until thanksgiving has passed to start their holiday cheer, celebrations run from the beginning of November through New Year’s Day. Branson is the live music capital of the world and visitors should plan on attending one of the famous events that incorporate traditional Christmas music. Visiting the Silver Dollar City’s an Old Time Christmas Festival is a must when you are here, where 5 million lights, two live chows, 1,000 decorated Christmas trees and the awesome light parade all take place. Many of the hotels and resorts in this town pull out all stops for the holidays and expect visits with Santa, special activities for kids and lots of yummy treats.

Photo by: Branson Ticket Travel
Photo by: Branson Ticket Travel

1. Historic Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

It is Washington D.C.’s oldest neighborhood, beautiful already with its historic buildings that line the streets, but it really comes alive during the holiday season. With over 450 stores, restaurants and galleries, the streets come alive with Yuletide decorations. The Holiday Window Competition that takes place each year means visitors are privy to the gorgeous and innovative displays that shop keepers come up with. Think roasted chestnuts, horse-drawn sleigh rides, appearances by St. Nicholas, carolers in Victorian costumes, dancers and other entertainment.

Photo by: Hotel Junkie
Photo by: Hotel Junkie

America’s 12 Most Beautiful College Campuses

America is loaded with beautiful college and university campuses that not only drive students to attend these schools but visitors from all over the world. From a University that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to campuses that look more like resorts than schools to breathtaking surrounding landscapes, it’s hard to believe the students here can actually concentrate on their studies. Between the stunning architecture, elaborate fountains, mountain landscapes, and amazing students; here are our choices for the 12 most beautiful campuses across America.

12. Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio)

Whether you are a student here, a visitor to the campus, or happen to be a resident in the tiny town of Gambier; you have one thing in common, you are surrounded by the stunning Kenyon College campus. Placed on the hilltop in the tiny town, the campus features one of the most incredible walkways in America, the famous 10 foot wide Middle Path. The Middle Path spans the entire length of the campus and right into town, surrounded by humungous overhanging trees on both sides. Fall is absolutely the most beautiful time as the leave change to brilliant shades of red and orange, and it is truly like something out of a painting. The rest of the campus isn’t so shabby either, think castle-like halls, stunning columns, surrounding rock walls, and beautiful churches. This campus is so pretty and serene; you will have a hard time leaving once you are here.

11. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia)

This university is the only university in the USA to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was designed by the one and only Thomas Jefferson. Since that time the university’s layout has been copied but none have come close to this incredible campus. Jefferson not only planned the layout of the property but also hired the initial faculty and created the curriculum, a feat he was so proud of it ended up as one of his three proudest moments on his gravestone. The shining star of this campus is the neoclassical domed Rotunda which was created to replicate the Pantheon in Rome. An interesting fact about this building is that it actually burnt down in 1895 so what you see today is a replica. The Small Special Collections Library hosts early printing of the Declaration of Independence and for any history buff, this campus is truly breathtaking.

10. Stanford University (Palo Alto, California)

Sunny blue skies and warm temperatures help push this campus onto the list of the most beautiful campuses across America, but there are many other factors to consider as well. Even though this university continually goes through expansive growth, they have managed to maintain their cohesiveness and safeguard their beauty. Entering the university through its dramatic entrance via Palm Drive is a one of a kind experience, with its romantic Spanish red-tile roofs and myriad patches of green. Throughout the campus students and visitors will find timeless buildings from the early California Mission Revival architecture combined with tasteful and modern new additions such as the Science and Engineering Quad. While the academics may be rigorous, the campus sends out a feeling of tranquility and with students and staff interacting all over the grounds, you certainly will feel welcome here.

9. Furman University (Greenville, South Carolina)

The lush South Carolina landscape at this campus includes Asia-inspired gardens, a sparkling blue lake, and a collection of diverse buildings. The campus is spread over 750 acres of wooded grounds and circles the beautiful lake and the landmark Bell Tower, offering miles of walking trails and even an 18-hole golf course. From a former Buddhist Temple to an environmentally sustainable show home to the beautiful Georgian architecture; the landscape here certainly isn’t mediocre. The Bell Tower that stretches out into the lake looks best during fall when the trees leading up to it turns into splashes of red and orange as the leave change with the season. The fountains strategically placed throughout, the rose gardens and the breathtaking sunsets help make this one of the most beautiful campuses across the country.

8. University of Washington (Seattle, Washington)

If you are looking for a campus with a view, go no further than the University of Washington, which boasts views of both the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Rainer and the shimmering waters of Lake Washington. Springtime is the best time of year here though as the Quad features 31 Yoshino Cherry trees that bloom beautiful, delicate pink pedals, which enthrall visitors in both March and April. One of the favorite buildings on campus here is the Suzzallo Library, featuring 35-foot high stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings that soar up to 65 feet in the air. The glass-fronted Paccar Hall puts a modern twist on the campus with its unique levels and abundance of light it lets in and out. Students can be found here at the newly renovated Neptune Theatre taking in some musical acts or hanging out by the Drumheller Fountain.

7. Lewis & Clark College (Portland, Oregon)

First things first, although the spelling is different, who wouldn’t want to attend a school that is called “Lewis and Clark”? Secondly this college campus is downright breathtaking, partly because of the surrounding scenery and partly because of its pristine location. Located on top of Palatine Hill in the Collins View neighborhood of Portland, Oregon this campus offers students towering trees and trillium-lined creeks. The architecture here has won numerous awards for its environmentally sustainable buildings while other buildings have significant history attached to them. 600 acres of wooded trails, an outdoor swimming pool, and a reflection pool with views of Mt. Hood only add to the prettiness of this campus. This college is also known for having really attractive students, just adding to the prettiness of the campus.

6. Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire)

Not only is the campus here beautiful but the people as well, as this university boasts some of the happiest students across the country. This could be due to the magnificent surroundings that they live in, the fresh mountain air, and the sense of community that is felt here. It also happens to be the ninth oldest college in the country. There are huge elms trees here that provide the perfect shady study spots for students as well as beautiful red brick buildings that tower high into the sky. The surrounding pastel mountains and picturesque Connecticut River on the west side of the campus only make this University even more inviting. Placid forests, the smell of fresh air, and students who are always smiling; it doesn’t get much better than this.

5. Elon University (Elon, North Carolina)

It is often described as the campus with the best grass, and as strange as it may sound it truly looks like each blade of grass has been individually cut with a sharp pair of scissors. In fact, everywhere you look on this campus is a picture perfect moment. From the classic collegiate architecture of the South to the wide variety of trees to the picture-perfect blue skies that always seem to hang overhead, this campus is the epitome of beauty. The fountains throughout the campus must not be forgotten though, the famous KOBC fountain sparkles and sprays in the sunlight, the fountains in the lake shine, and everywhere you turn, keep an eye out for these awesome features. The new admissions building stands strong and proud, a beautiful architectural piece of work that provides the perfect entrance to the perfect campus.

4. Berry College (Mount Berry, Georgia)

It holds the title of being one of the largest campuses in the world, spread out over 27,000 acres. Each acre is teeming with fields, forests, mountains, and/or lakes that provide an absolutely breathtaking setting. This school was founded in 1902, specifically for enterprising rural boys and it wasn’t long before a girl’s school was added in 1909. Some of the best features about this campus include the numerous fountains and reflection pools located around the buildings which offer a serene and relaxing environment. Breathtaking gardens can be found throughout the entire campus, as are trails for bikers, hikers, and even horseback riders. The English Gothic-inspired buildings only add more beauty and character to this campus. Make sure to check out the Ford Dining Hall and Ford Auditorium to see some of the prettiest buildings here.

3. University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (Honolulu, Hawaii)

It is unsure how any students can possibly concentrate on studying at this beautiful campus located in Honolulu Hawaii. Surrounded by lush green tropical foliage, bright beautiful flowers, and wide walking paths throughout the campus, it is easy to understand why most students study outdoors. Dramatic hills and cliffs frame the background as this campus is located in the Manoa Valley. Graduate students especially enjoy it here as they are encouraged to study coral reef at the marine biology lab, built on a coral reef. This campus combines natural beauty with world-class research facilities along with a highly competitive sports program, which draws students from all over the world. In addition, and one of the favorite natural occurrences here is the abundance of rainbows that are always filling the skies.

2. Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)

Set in the Finger Lakes region, the planners that built this campus were both ambitious and geniuses. With beauty in mind, they placed the campus on twenty-three hundred acres of land which includes lakes, gardens, waterfalls, and more. The main quad was placed over the dramatic Cayuga Lake, the longest in the region, and was done so to invoke the thoughts of putting education on a high platform and the views are simply stunning. The mix of buildings from historic to modern and dramatic creates the perfect landscape of learning. One of the most impressive features of this campus though is Cascadilla Gorge, where eight waterfalls drop 400 feet from the campus into downtown, along with an array of beautiful gardens and a 150-acre arboretum. Students here love to head off the campus as well to the vibrant city of Ithaca, recently voted as one of the top 100 places to live in the world.

1. Rollins College (Winter Park, Florida)

It is Florida’s oldest post-secondary institution and the most beautiful campus in America, as ranked by the Princeton Review for 2015. The location itself is enough to warrant some attention as it is directly located on Lake Virginia, which leads to some pretty incredible views. Add in lush gardens, the greenhouse oasis, overhanging trees, rose gardens, and pedestrian pathways that run through the scenery and you have a pretty incredible place to study. Students love the outdoor classroom spaces, the three-story atrium in the Bush Science Center, and the Olin Library that offers a view of both the lake and the campus. The green grass, the palm trees, and the modern buildings make this campus look more like a resort you want to spend a week at rather than a campus. At night when the moon rises and shimmers off the lake, it turns the colors into deep blues, and combined with the twinkling lights of the buildings, it is a perfect setting.

The Top 12 Hiking Trails of the US National Parks

No disrespect intended to state and provincial parks, but the designation of National Park means the crème de la crème of the USA’s natural real estate. The resourceful experts at Backpacker.com have cleverly compiled a list of the Best Hikes in the country’s venerable National Park Service. Clever in the sense that they have isolated stretches of much longer trails that are accessible and achievable for those who are not Ironman alumni. Consider them as a hiking espresso to the Grande cup at Starbucks. There are logistic challenges to getting to the abbreviated versions but the best thing about this list is that it inspires a desire to experience these wonderful venues in some way, shape, or form. A few are Park superstars, like Yosemite and The Grand Canyon, but most are not that well known yet and could very well become the most unforgettable sight of a lifetime. Just touring them online is a breathtaking experience that will have you shopping for new hiking gear.

12. Goat Trail to Skolai Pass (Wrangell-St. Elias NP, Alaska)

Alan Majchrowicz / Getty Images

As for the degree of difficulty, just consider the name and how hikers need to impersonate one to progress comfortably along this trail which is often more of a track worn by Dall sheep. It is the epitome of Northern Exotic. All one needs to get there is take a bush plane, hike for miles through the wilderness, forge a river or two, and voila! You’re ready. Piece of cake.  It follows along the Chitistone River across the pass, where the view erupts in brilliantly colored flowers, redundantly including forget- me- not because this sight will certainly not ever be. The huge Russell Glacier, snaking for 20 miles down from a towering peak of 16, 421-foot Mt. Bona.  Timing and luck may produce sightings of caribou, wolf, and bear as you navigate Skolai Pass down to the lake where you have arranged for your bush plane ride to pick you up. Like we said, piece of cake.

11. Teton Crest Trail (Grand Teton NP, Wyoming)

Jeff R Clow / Getty Images

Backpacker calls it “9 miles of mountain madness”, but honestly could there be anything more Wild West-erly perfect than to say it runs from Paintbrush Divide to Hurricane Pass? The full hiking Monty runs 40 miles. The Divide comes at almost 11,000 feet and still leaves hikers looking up at the 13,700 Grand Teton Mountain. Be assured a place is not called Paintbrush Canyon because it’s homely’ but prepare, if you can, to be blown away by in-your-face views of the Fantastic Four; Grand Teton, the Grand, Teewinot, and Mount Owen, the latter three all pushing 13,000 feet. Lake Solitude shows up eventually ensconced in summer wildflowers. Despite the altitude, there is little mention of altitude sickness. Astonishingly the park retains the name given by 18th-century French explorers and that such little mention is made of the translation which is essentially “Large Breasts”. 

10. Shi Shi Beach to Cape Alava, North Coast Route (Olympic NP, Washington)

Diana Robinson Photography / Getty Images

It’s not a household name but this stretch of northwestern coastline that’s part of Olympic National Park can hold its own with any piece of scenery you can imagine. It could almost be another planet with its isolation and rocks sculpted into other-worldly shapes by time and the relentless power of the Pacific Ocean. After a couple of miles of dense Pacific forest, a controlled 50-foot rock slide releases you onto the magical beach at Shi Shi (as in ‘shy), pristine white sand littered with cold water crustaceans washed ashore when the mighty Pacific swallows up the whole beach at high tide. The point of return at Point of the Arches, like prehistoric rock, has been shaped to mimic the architectural sites of the ruins of ancient Rome. For this trail the old cliché is apt: it must be seen to be believed.

9. Cathedral Lakes to Happy Isles via Clouds Rest (Yosemite NP, California)

Nirian / Getty Images

Whoever said “the journey is the destination” never saw the 360-degree panorama of Yosemite at Clouds Rest, 9926 feet up in the legendary Sierra Nevada. As one review at yosemitehikes.com put it, “This hike is all about the destination”. There is no shortage of spectacular views in the National Park System. Maybe it’s the thundering waterfalls, maybe the majestic stands of sequoia or perhaps the other iconic peaks but there’s something about an unobstructed view of the Grande Dame of Parks that leaves one feeling, if not on top of the world, then at least on top of America’s National Parks.

8. Cardenas Camp to Hance Rapid, Escalante Route (Grand Canyon NP, Arizona)

Francisco Blanco / Shutterstock

Well, the Grand Canyon had to be in here somewhere. The Backpacker says these nine miles convey the essence of the Canyon, an intense experience of the first order. Above and beyond getting up close with the canyon’s signature sunset-colored stone and the Colorado River, this nine-mile hike has many lesser-known but astonishing scenes. The Vishnu Complex named appropriately after the Hindu God also known as The Preserver, visible along the Canyon’s 277-mile length, formed by the massive collision of tectonic plates 1.7 billion years ago. Seventy-five Mile Creek is a towering, wafer-thin slot canyon. At the endpoint, Hance Rapids is one of the park’s premier stretches of white water. Along the way, some real hiking, climbing up on hand and toe grips, and a 30-foot descent by rope.

7. Andrews Bald to Jonas Creek Junction (Great Smoky Mountains NP, North Carolina)

Ali Majdfar / Getty Images

Perhaps the most thoughtful of the hikes on the list is located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the most popular parks in the system, it is designated an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so you know you’re going to see a show. Its hiking claim to fame is how it transcends climate zones. It has long been said that Smoky Park hikers can begin in the southern climate of North Carolina and end up in a northeastern climate like Maine, with similar changes in flora. This boiled-down version serves up the same experience in 8 miles with a 4,000-foot elevation change from Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the state with boreal forests of fir trees to Appalachian hardwoods and finally to lush creek valleys and humid forest with a 40-foot waterfall at the bottom. Fabulous views of the old Smokies are especially frequent at upper levels. The entire trip is 16 to 18 miles return. Oh, and by the way, a ‘Bald’ is an elevated field of native grasses and thick shrubs.

6. “Wall Street,” Zion Narrows (Zion NP, Utah)

Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

This sliver of a hike in Zion National Park is really part of a much more strenuous 16-mile trek much of it waist-deep in water. One of the classic slot canyons (as in coin or mail slot) in the world, narrow gaps formed by the erosion of rushing water on rock, they are always significantly higher than they are wide. “Wall Street” as the Zion Narrows is affectionately called has the sheer cliffs rising straight up along a narrow stream and has been likened to being in an Indiana Jones movie, the various layers the stream has cut through the rock face over the last 18 million years, a staggering sight and more staggering thought. There are warnings of flash flooding if you do go, but it’s worth it as they come any more magical or memorable than this one.

5. Boulder Pass Trail (Glacier NP, Montana)

Arlene Waller / Shutterstock

Google Boulder Pass Trail.  Hit enter. Sit back. Say “Wow!” That’s how the hike begins. The 6.3-mile trail tracks the north shore of beautiful Kintla Lake with its crystal blue-green water with stands of timber standing sentinel.  It’s a lot of flats punctuated with a few hills to make you feel like you’ve worked. The trailhead is at the Kintla Lake Campground in Glacier National Park, where overnight is optional in warmer weather.  The grand finale is Kinnerly Peak, a majestic matterhorn of snow-capped rock that appears to rise straight out of the lake shallows to its 9,940-foot peak just three miles from the Canadian border.

4. Scoville Point Loop (Isle Royale NP, Michigan)

Posnov / Getty Images

It’s four miles in and four miles out along the rugged breathtaking Great Lakes coastline. Isle Royale National Park, designated as National since 1931 is a little-known archipelago jutting out into Lake Michigan. This loop is ideal hiking terrain, flat, remote, starkly beautiful in granite, pine, and imposing views of the vast inland sea that is Lake Superior. Backpacker describes the sublime add-ons as “serene forests, rocky bluffs, the soundtrack of howling wolves and lilting loons.” Not the most physically challenging, it can be done with little more than worn-in tennis shoes and water. But certainly among the most aesthetically pleasing.

3. Wonderland Trail (Mt. Rainier NP, Washington)

JeffGoulden / Getty Images

With the distant snowy peaks and wild alpine flowers, it looks like the sequel of The Sound of Music could be filmed here. The entire Wonderland Trail is 93 miles long and reveals every facet of Mount Rainier National Park’s considerable beauty. Backpacker compares this nine-mile stretch to going straight for dessert. Four miles in puts you at a meadow called Summerland memorably decked out in summer blooms. Panhandle Gap is the high point in elevation at 6,800 feet and in the scenery of the huge Fryingpan Glacier. A dozen waterfalls lie between there and the trail’s flowery end at Indian Bar.

2. South Rim Trail (Big Bend NP, Texas)

Mark C Stevens / Getty Images

The views along the South Rim are famous. On a clear day, you can see Mexico from a hundred miles off from the heights of the Chisos Mountains. This trail in Big Bend National Park gains 2,000 feet in elevation over 14 miles thereby offering birds’ eye views of the Chihuahuan Desert floor as well as the classic rock formations of the American southwest, mesas, and  arroyos, (also known as small plateaus and dried gulches,  for you Northerners.)  Native Texan flora is plentiful and picturesque and there is abundant wildlife including, mountain lions, Mexican black bears, and javelin, which sound like graceful gazelle but are in fact ungainly wild pigs. Parts of the trail are closed during the nesting season of the peregrine falcon.

1. The Emerald Mile (Redwood NP, California)

Kevin Thrash / Getty Images

It’s just a mile technically, but what a mile. Dense stands of giant redwoods soaring 300 feet up, the tallest trees, and in fact largest living things on Earth, an indelible lifelong memory gazing up at the natural majesty. But venture a little further and find a wonderland of thick old-growth redwoods and Douglas Fir, a pristine primeval forest like the kind that overwhelmed European explorers centuries ago. Three hundred and twenty-five miles north of San Francisco but millennia back in time, Redwood National Park is worth the visit.

15 of America’s Prettiest Beach Campgrounds

If you are having trouble deciding between a beach vacation or roughing it at a camping getaway, why not combine both in the ultimate beach camping vacation. All across the United States are breathtaking campgrounds that are located directly on the beach, high on top of beach bluffs or just a stone’s throw away from the ocean. Although many beaches forbid overnight camping, and you have to be extremely careful of tides, these 15 campsites are sure to keep you safe and sound, as you fall asleep to the sounds of the crashing waves. Without further ado, here are 15 of America’s prettiest beach campgrounds.

15. Ocracoke Campground – Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

This barrier island in the Outer Banks is home to a few fabulous campgrounds, only accessible by boat or plane. Ocracoke Campground is the only campground right on the beach, only a short walk over the dunes to reach the water. The campground offers campers flush toilets, cold showers, drinking water, and nice soft sandy soil to pitch your tent on. The beach is constantly quiet, with just handfuls of shore birds that run back and forth from the water. If you happen to take a flashlight out at night you may be lucky enough to see the crabs scampering by. There is no shade at the campground and the mosquitoes can be common, but if you bring plenty of insect repellant and a couple sun umbrellas, you will be just fine. Enjoy visiting the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the country and the oldest in North Carolina on this amazing island.

Photo by: National Park Planner
Photo by: National Park Planner

14. Bahia Honda State Park – Bahia Honda Key, Florida

The remote island of Bahia Honda Key is home to beautiful sunsets, snorkeling and incredible white powdery beaches. With over 72 RV and tent sites available, there are so many choices. Many of the sites are wooded which is a great relief in the hot Florida sun. Amenities include a marina, concession stand, electric hookups and lots of patrols to make sure everyone is safe. The snorkeling here is one of the highlights of the State Park and sea life includes stingrays, sharks, barracudas and tons of colorful fish. The sites that are located right on the ocean are perhaps the best of the best, with an ocean beach and turquoise waters literally at your front door. Rates are a little high for a campground and start around $38 a night, but the blue waters, white sand and the abundance of activities are totally worth the extra cash.

Bahia Honda State Park

13. Anastasia State Park, Florida

Visitors to Anastasia State Park certainly won’t be bored with over 1,600 acres of diverse wildlife and rich ecosystems to explore. It is described as stepping back into time when campers arrive here, with ancient sand dunes and a tidal marsh teeming with plants and wildlife. The campground itself has 139 campsites, ranging from tent only sites to ones capable of fitting RV’s. There are a plethora of amenities here not limited to but including hot showers, grills, sheltered dining areas, campfire programs, interpretive programs and electric hook ups. Kids will never be bored here either renting a canoe, taking a nature hike, surfing in the waves or stargazing at night. Heading to the dunes at sunset is a popular activity for everyone here as you can get a 360-degree panorama of both sea and sand, with a 19th century lighthouse in the foreground.

Photo by: theobine via Flickr
Photo by: theobine via Flickr

12. Kalaloch Campground – Olympic National Park, Washington

This campground is only one of two campgrounds to pitch a tent on the southern coast of Olympic National Park. Open year round with 175 campsites these sites fill up quickly especially in the summer so if you want experience this coastline make sure to book early. This campground is actually perched on a bluff high above the Pacific Coast and is known for its abundance of nearby wildlife and outstanding views. Visitors should count on seeing bald eagles overhead and whales spouting just offshore. There are plenty of hiking opportunities in the area and seven different trails lead down to the beaches just off highway 101. Olympic National Park actually covers a total of 65 miles of rugged coastline and camping here offers an array of awesome experiences. Campsites typically range from $14-$36 a night and the Kalaloch Campground is truly beautiful no matter what time of year!

Photo by: Hip Camp
Photo by: Hip Camp

11. Wright’s Beach – Sonoma Coast State Park, California

Plan on spending the night falling asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing at this awesome campground located in Sonoma Coast State Park. Visitors here spend most of their time searching the beach for shells, discovering the tidal pools and rolling down the sand dunes. Expect the campground here to be quiet, peaceful and open to having your four legged furry friends join you. Campsites 1-9 are the most private and located directly on the beach, where you can expect to see plenty of dolphins and whales playing in the ocean. The bathrooms here are exceptionally clean, the rangers friendly and efficient and although this campsite remains a quiet secret; it may not for long. It is important to note that there is a dangerous undertow and swimming in the water is not recommended. Also there are no showers available here but some located just up the road.

Sonoma Coast State Park

10. Malaquite Campground – Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

This oasis on the Gulf of Mexico offers 48 campsites and starts at just a mere $8 a night. The campground is tucked in the dunes just a short half mile away from the visitor’s center. Tent campers are welcome to set up on the sites or on the beach and campers are accommodated on a first-come first-serve basis. Amenities include cold showers, flush toilets and paved parking. In contrast to the neighboring spring break Mecca, Malaquite Campground is actually located on the longest undeveloped stretch of Barrier Island in the world. If you are lucky enough to visit in the summertime plan on seeing plenty of sea turtles hatching and making their way to sea. These sandy white beaches are a haven for these majestic creatures.

Photo by: Terry Ross via Flickr
Photo by: Terry Ross via Flickr

9. Horseneck Beach State Reservation, Massachusetts

Starting at just $22 a night, visitors can pitch their tent at this beautiful beach park where a breeze provides respite from the intense heat, all year round. Located on the Western end of Buzzard’s Bay, just West of Martha’s vineyards, campers flock to one of the 100 campsites. Pounding surf along this two-mile beach provides excellent windsurfing conditions and plenty of waves for the little ones to splash in. The scenery here is enough to amaze any visitors as wild flowers bloom, sand dunes are in the background and migratory shorebirds are all over the place. The campground offers such amenities as clean shower facilities, accessible restrooms and dump stations. Popular activities include swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, sailing and boating.

Photo by: Tim Pierce via Flickr
Photo by: Tim Pierce via Flickr

8. Ninilchik View Campground – Ninilchik State Recreation Area, Alaska

On top of a bluff over Ninilchik Beach sits 13 awesome campsites. Two 10,000 snow-capped volcanoes frame the horizon and tidal fluctuations constantly change the awesome scenery. The stairway down the bluff leads visitors to vast sandy beaches at low tide, perfect for relaxing or beachcombing. There is tons of wildlife, calling this place home, like magpies, bald eagles and squirrels. Visitors enjoy nearby fishing, clamming and hiking. The campground has a host on site, a dump site nearby and costs as little as just $1 a night to stay there. It is important to note that clamming and fishing are sometimes banned during certain seasons. Watch as the wave’s crash against the cliffs, bald eagles circle overhead and enjoy the peace and solitude of this secret campground.

Photo by: wagnertravelnotes
Photo by: wagnertravelnotes

7. Assateague State Park – Assateague Island, Maryland

This campground is Maryland’s only ocean campground and is located on the barrier island, sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay. Campers will look forward to two miles of ocean beaches that are popular for swimming, surfing, fishing, sunbathing and beachcombing. The camping sites are pretty basic here, with a pad, fire ring, picnic table and a couple of spots with electrical hookups. The bathhouse is stocked with flushed toilets and showers though. All of the campsites are just a short walk to the beach or bay where there are a plethora of activities. Canoeing and kayaking in the bay through secluded coves and marsh areas gives visitors the opportunities to get up close and personal to awesome wildlife.

Photo by: theobine via Flickr
Photo by: theobine via Flickr

6. Sea Camp Campground – Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

This remote barrier island is a labyrinth of gnarled live oak branches, picture perfect wide flat beaches and an awesome campground with 16 individual campsites as well as two group sites. With rates at $4 per person per night, you can’t go wrong pitching a tent here. This remote island campground is only accessible by boat and visitors should expect restroom facilities with cold showers, picnic tables and firepits at each site. There is a small amphitheatre for ranger programs as well as a boardwalk that takes visitors out to the beach. The beach ranges over 18 miles long and a favorite pastime of many includes searching for shells and shark teeth. Keep your eyes peeled for manatees, sea turtles and over 300 species of birds that call this island home. Swim, bike or kayak around the area and just remember that camping is limited to a maximum of seven nights at one time.

Photo by: Jason and Kris Carter via Flickr
Photo by: Jason and Kris Carter via Flickr

5. Oceanside Campground – Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

If you happen to love wild ponies, Oceanside Campground located between Chincoteague Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is the perfect place to pitch your tent and watch as a herd of wild ponies roam around; after all they have called this place home for over 300 years. There are a total of 104 waterfront campsites to choose from, all offering superior seaside sunset views. The amenities here aren’t quite as grand as others on this list but that is all part of the charm. Expect adequate restrooms with cold water showers, picnic tables and fire rings. Most of the days here will be spent either surfing or playing in the waves, digging up clams and fishing for crabs. It is important to note that this location is extremely windy and make sure you have extra long tent poles to make sure your tent doesn’t fly away in the middle of the day. It is also recommended to take a flashlight with you on a beach walk at night to see the ghost crabs running all about.

Photo by: Jim Pennucci via Flickr
Photo by: Jim Pennucci via Flickr

4. Jalama Beach County Park – Santa Barbara, California

This Santa Barbara country park maintains just over 100 campsites, all of them overlooking the ocean or beachfront. Each site includes a BBQ pit, picnic table and 31 of them offer electrical hook up. Full restrooms including hot showers are located nearby. Beachfront sites start at $45 a night and do fill up fast so it is recommended you book early in order to snag one of these. Campers here engage in a variety of activities including surfing, whale watching, fishing and bird watching. High winds and rough surf can make the water hazardous for weak swimmers and thankfully there are lifeguards present in the summer months. If you feel like passing on cooking over the campfire the infamous Jalama Beach Grill is just a short walk away. Here visitors can indulge in one of the famous burgers, topped with tons of veggies and an extra special sauce.

Photo by: John Murphy via Flickr
Photo by: John Murphy via Flickr

3. Cape Perpetua Campground – Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon

This rugged section of the Oregon coastline is teeming with sea life, blowholes and an abundance of wildlife. The campground is located between the old-growth forest and the beach, with access to impressive hiking trails and incredible beach views. Steep cliffs, rolling hills, sand dunes and lush forests are all part of the scenery here. There are a total of 40 campsites here; in this one of two national forests that borders the Pacific. Visitors here love to explore the many tidal pools, hiking the 23-mile trail system or simply relaxing on the beach. The campsites are each equipped with a picnic table and fire ring and flush toilets and drinking water is provided. The visitors center provides a breathtaking view of the ocean and show numerous short films in the theater. Rates start at just $22 a night and the view alone is worth it.

Photo by: Prisma Bildagentur AG / Alamy via Travel + Leisure
Photo by: Prisma Bildagentur AG / Alamy via Travel + Leisure

2. Westport-Union Landing State Beach – Westport, California

This campground is located atop a cliff top, making it one of the most dramatic campgrounds when it comes to epic scenery. With 86 sites this campground is first come first serve but don’t let that scare you away. Visitors who get lucky enough to stay here will enjoy the soundtrack of crashing waves, all day and night. This beach covers over three miles of rugged coastline, tree-covered mountains and awesome sunsets making it the perfect place for the budding photographer to pitch a tent. Restrooms and drinking water is available here but that is pretty much it in terms of campground amenities, this is truly primitive camping at its best. Prepare yourself for unpredictable weather, activities such as geocaching, fishing and swimming and enjoy nature at its finest at this beautiful state beach in California.

Photo by: Agathe B via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Agathe B via Wikimedia Commons

1. Wai’anapanapa State Park – Maui, Hawaii

Black volcanic sand, the bright blue sparkling sea and lush green vegetation make this one of America’s prettiest beach campsites. At Wai’anapanapa State Park visitors will be privy to a wild, low-cliff volcanic landscape that offers peace and solitude, a respite from the urban cities. Shore fishing and hiking through the incredible trails are among the most popular activities to do here, although many people love to bask in the hot sun on the small black sand beach. Offering 60 campsites starting at just $12 a night, this campground is located near a ton of natural wonders including the native hala forest, legendary caves and blowholes. Located near the end of the renowned Road to Hana, it is here where campers can pitch a tent and discover the beauty of the quieter side of the island of Maui.

Wai’anapanapa State Park

The Best Scenic Train Trips in North America

In the past decade more and more people have taken to the skies, leaving train trips a thing of the past, but let us be the first to tell you, they shouldn’t be. Exploring a continent by whisking along the rails not only takes us back to the first pioneers of the areas but allows us to rewind, dine and take in amazing scenery. From towering mountains to beautiful seascapes to the changing colors of the leaves; these 10 train trips in North America will change the way you think about travel forever.

10. Coast Starlight -Seattle to Los Angeles

It can be argued that this is one of the most scenic train rides in all of North America and runs all the way along the west coast from Seattle to Los Angeles. It takes about 35 hours and covers over 1,300 miles and is one of the last remaining full-service sleeper trains. What exactly does that mean though? It means a dining car, an observation car with floor-to ceiling windows, a movie theater, and a slew of entertainment options, including complimentary wine tastings and free champagne. The train passes through the rugged Pacific Northwest, the mountains and forests of Northern California and the beautiful central coast. Along with all of this scenery, this train takes passengers through Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Jose. Whether this is just a scenery trip for you, or a full blown railway experience, you will not be disappointed.

Photo by: There From Here
Photo by: There From Here

9. Ethan Allen Express -New York City to Rutland, Vermont

In just five hours and thirty minutes you can leave the hustle and bustle of New York behind and escape to the wilderness of Vermont. This Amtrak train travels 241 miles through the Catskills in New York to the Green Mountains in Vermont. Riders can choose to ride in the economy class or for a bit of extra room upgrade their ticket to business class. Depending what time of year you choose to travel depends on what you will see on this train journey. During the fall and early winter, riders are privy to the changing colors of the leaves, while summer brings fields of wildflowers growing on the roadside. There are many stops along the way that offer numerous activities and towns to explore if you don’t feel like riding the entire journey. Insiders tip: Make sure to sit on the left side of the train facing the front for the best scenic views!

Photo by: Subway Nut
Photo by: Subway Nut

8. Cass Scenic Railroad -Cass, WV to Bald Knob

Step back into a time where steam-driven locomotives were an everyday part of life at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. The town of Cass remains relatively unchanged from over 100 years ago and is the starting point of your historic train ride. The Shay locomotives complete with passenger cars that were once old logging flat cars are the same locomotives that were used back in the early 1900’s. Passengers can choose from a variety of routes but we suggest take the four and a half hour ride to Bald Knob, the third highest point in West Virginia. The steam locomotive will billow black smoke as it pulls you up two switchbacks and offers spectacular views. Make sure to dress warm if you are heading up to Bald Knob as the temperature does drop and check out the landscape at the top, which resembles Canadian wilderness in a lot of way.

Cass Scenic Railroad

7. Rocky Mountaineer -Vancouver, BC to Calgary, AB

For 25 years the Rocky Mountaineer has been providing breathtaking train trips through British Columbia and Alberta. It would be hard to narrow down one particular route as being better than the rest as they each offer spectacular scenery, the same levels of exceptional service and first-class dining. There are different classes of passenger’s cars here but we do suggest splurging for the Gold Leaf package which offers riders 360-degree view of glacier and peaks from domed, double-decked carriages. These train only travel throughout the day and if you are on a multi-day trip, overnights are at hotels. Besides breathtaking mountain views, lakes, streams and waterfalls; riders will want to keep their eyes open for bald eagles and other wildlife that is in abundance. It has been called the ride of a lifetime and it will certainly pay to take this train ride at least once in your life.

Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com
Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

6. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad -Bryson City, NC to Nantahala Gorge

This scenic railway journey takes riders over 44 miles through the remote corner of North Carolina, over four and a half hours. Riders will travel with Bluegrass musicians and an occasional Appalachian story while traveling along the Tennessee and Nantahala River. The historic trellis bridge Fontana Trestle takes you across Fontana Lake and into the beautiful Nantahala Gorge. Riders will arrive at the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a one-hour layover where many choose to relax by the river. You have to time this excursion right as this journey only operates March through October. With a choice of first class cabins, family first class, open air gondola, crown class and many others; it is easy to ride this train well within your budget.

Photo by: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Photo by: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

5. Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad -Durango to Silverton, Colorado

This train trip is solely meant for sightseeing and tourism and the 3.5 journey will take riders 45 miles from Durango to Silverton, an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. Riders will feel as they have taken a journey back in history when they chug along at a mere 18 miles an hour in the 1880-era passenger cars being pulled by a 1920’s steam locomotive. The narrow-gauge railway with tracks just three feet apart is not for the faint of heart but the views are absolutely worth it. Colorado’s snow-capped peaks steal the show here in this breathtaking landscape. Choose from four different seating classes or get adventurous and ride up in the open-air gondola. With historic narration from characters, high bridges to cross and a step back in history; this train ride is truly unforgettable.

Photo by: Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Photo by: Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

4. Coastal Classic -Anchorage to Seward, Alaska

The Alaska railroad system covers over 500 miles of unforgettable landscape but the 114 miles between Anchorage and Seward are the absolute best. To start the journey the route hugs the coast of the Turnagain Arm and the heads into areas unreachable by car, away from the Seward Highway. Riders should expect to travel through five tunnels, over a river gorge and past an impressive blue glacier. The rugged coastal mountains, forests and glaciers are home to some of the best wildlife that can be seen from a train. Riders will want to keep their eyes peeled for moose, bears, Beluga whales, Dell sheep and bald eagles. This 4 ½ hour journey can be stretched into a few days by staying overnight in Girdwood or Seward and taking advantage of the day trips from those towns. Make sure not to miss out on the sunset over Cook Islet on the way home though.

Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com
Cvandyke / Shutterstock.com

3. California Zephyr -Chicago to Emeryville, California

This epic train ride takes riders through seven states, mimicking a journey that was taken by the pioneers to settle the American West. The stunning Rocky Mountains are just the beginning of what you will see along the route. Other notable scenery includes the Sierra Nevada’s, Moffat Tunnel, Truckee River, Donner Lake, San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Strait. This 3,000 mile four day trek is also a steal of a deal, costing riders just a mere $250 or so. The cars on this route include the observation car, lounge, dining and sleeping cars. We suggest splurging on the sleeper cars and having all your meals included in your price. Although it is not fine dining aboard this track, these down home meals sure hit the spot. This journey has many stops along the way, to get out and stretch your legs, perhaps the most important thing on a journey that can take 4 days.

"Amtrak California Zephyr Green River - Floy, Utah" by Kabelleger / David Gubler (https://www.bahnbilder.ch) - Own work: https://www.bahnbilder.ch/picture/6533. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Amtrak California Zephyr Green River – Floy, Utah” by Kabelleger / David Gubler (https://www.bahnbilder.ch) – Own work: https://www.bahnbilder.ch/picture/6533. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

2. Amtrak Cascades -Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, BC

If you are looking for a train ride that offers the most variety of scenery that is downright beautiful, look no further than the ride from Oregon to Vancouver on the Amtrak Cascades. This journey takes riders along the coast to discover seascapes, through the mountains with views of Mt. Rainer and Mt. Baker and through rainforests, farms and cloud forests. This is one train ride you will want to pack a pair of binoculars as you can see whales breaching, seals playing, bald eagles flying and an abundance of other wildlife. Free WiFi, plenty of food options, big windows and exceptional service makes this one of the best train rides in all of North America. With a ride time of 11.5 hours, there is no shortage of time to take in all of the beauty that will surround you.

Photo by: Amtrak Cascades
Photo by: Amtrak Cascades

1. Grand Canyon Railway -Williams to Grand Canyon, Arizona

This train ride has been operating on and off since 1901 and takes passengers to the South Rim of the famous Grand Canyon. There are five different classes to choose from when riding this train and as each one get more expensive, the views get better and the luxury services better as well. The trip to the South Rim takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes each way and guests of this ride have the opportunity to spend a good 4 hours at the Canyon exploring before getting back on board. Some of the amenities offered on-board include Western entertainers, snacks, refreshments and big windows. We suggest booking one of the glass observation dome car that offers the best views.

Grand Canyon Railway

Outside Magazine’s Travel Awards 2015

In March, Outside magazine minted the winners of their 2015 travel awards, passing out awards from best island to best Airbnb, hoping to inspire readers’ summer travel plans. Even with summer now drawing to a close in the northern hemisphere, it’s not too late to get outside and enjoy some of the best outdoor adventures, whether in some far-flung corner of the earth or in your own backyard. We’ve selected 15 of the best adventures you could still squeeze in to get the most out of your summer—or start planning for next year.

15. Montana’s Wild West Adventure

The 21st century has been the century of environmental concern. At first glance, enjoying America’s West like a 19th-century traveler seems far-removed from that concern, but it’s thanks to conservation efforts that you can enjoy a Wild West-style camping trip in northeast Montana. The area is home to a 305,000-acre reserve which conservationists are hoping to turn into an American “Serengeti,” where the deer and the buffalo do roam. Buffalo Camp has 11 campsites available for just $10 per night. If you’re looking for a little more luxury, Kestrel Camp offers travelers the option to rent 1 of 5 yurts, each equipped with air conditioning and a hot shower. Either way, you’ll sleep soundly after spending the day paddling the river or mountain biking by abandoned farms.

Montana

14. Roadtripping in India

The roadtrip is a classic way to spend an American summer; for many, it’s a rite of passage. But why stick to domestic shores when you could use your roadtrip to explore some of the world’s most stunning mountain views? Book a 10-day trip with Mercury Himalayan Explorations and see a new side of India, far away from throngs of people in busy urban markets and gawping tourist crowds. Your trip will take you through the foothills of the majestic Himalayans, replete with narrow, dangerous mountain roads and stunning views. Not up for mountains? The company also offers a trip through the sand dunes of Rajasthan. Don’t worry, though—a mechanic will be right behind you.

Photo by: Mercury Himalayan Explorations
Photo by: Mercury Himalayan Explorations

13. Conquer the San Juan Mountains

You needn’t go as far as India to encounter mountains, of course. The American West is full of soaring peaks, courtesy of the Rocky Mountains. To fully appreciate dazzling new heights, trek through the San Juan mountains on your bike. Start your trip in Durango, Colorado, and make your way some 200-plus miles to Moab, Utah. The trip isn’t for the faint of heart; the elevation rises to 25,000 feet between start and finish. The going is not easy, but for those who want a challenge, this is a rewarding one—the top of the mountains provides an excellent perch to get a new perspective on life. Once you’ve completed the trek, there’s no doubt you’ll agree that the stunning vistas are well-worth the effort.

San Juan Mountains Colorado

12. A New Spin on the Classic Safari

Much like the roadtrip epitomizes American summer, the safari is a classic way to explore Africa’s wilderness. The oft-maligned trip has been given new life in Kenya, thanks to Sandy and Chip Cunningham. The 11-day Ultimate Conservation Safari takes you to Campi Ya Kanzi, a 300,000-acre stretch of wilderness in the shadows of Kilimanjaro. You’re hosted by local Masai in a campsite that uses solar for its power needs. The trip also takes you to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s elephant orphanage, which reminds us of the harmful effects of poaching and the importance of protecting earth’s amazing creatures. This safari is all about learning all we can about amazing world around us in an eco-friendly and sustainable way.

Photo by: Ultimate Conservation Safari
Photo by: Ultimate Conservation Safari

11. Road Trip the Golden State—on a Bike

If you can’t get away to far-flung locales like India or Africa, you can take yet another spin on the classic American roadtrip. This one is eco-friendly, much like the Kenyan safari experience, and it will take you through all the Golden State has to offer, from the edges of the Pacific to dizzying heights in the mountains in the Sierra Nevada. California’s environment can be biked almost year-round, which means you don’t need to wait for summer to roll around (unless you want to do the annual Death Ride through the mountains). This can be an economical trip too—route maps are available free from organizations like the California Bicycle Coalition.

biking san francisco

10. Dive Deep in Cuba

Maybe you’re not the type who likes to climb tall mountains or drive (or ride) through the landscape. In fact, maybe you’re not interested in the terrestial landscape, and the depths of the ocean intrigue you. If so, then you’ll want to pay a visit to Cuba’s Gardens of the Queen National Park, a no-take fishing zone and marine protected area. Located 60 miles off Cuba’s coast, the park contains some 250 coral and mangrove islands. Only 1,000 divers per year are admitted to the area, where you can encounter some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs and swim alongside sea turtles, goliath groupers, whale sharks and sperm whales.

Giant Grouper

9. Cruise Doubtful Sound

Maybe you don’t like going under the water. Or maybe you’re hoping to hit up a more exotic locale. New Zealand’s Doubtful Sound is the place for you, with a 70-person cruise on a 3-masted sailboat. Book a tour with Real Journeys and you’ll cruise into the sound and experience its surreal landscapes: lush forests overhanging sheer cliffs with towering waterfalls pouring over the edge, pods of dolphins playing in the water below. You might even spot a Fiordland penguin. You’ll want to bring your camera for sure, although pictures may not be able to do the place justice. The more adventuresome might join other passengers in leaping into the water off the rear deck of the boat—but be warned, the waters can be cold!

Doubtful Sound

8. Paddle through Fiji

For many, Fiji defines tropical paradise. The island is rich in environmental treasures, not the least of which is the 18-mile-long Upper Navua River Gorge, 10 miles of which has been protected as a conservation area since 2000. Paddle along the palm-lined river and take in the sheer cliffs and the cascading waterfalls. The area is maintained by Rivers Fiji in conjunction with landowners, villagers, the Native Land Trust Board and a timber company. You can continue on to the Middle Navua by kayak, which will take a couple of days to complete. You’ll arrive in Beqa Lagoon, where opportunities for sea-kayaking and snorkeling abound. White sand beaches and coral reefs also beckon to travelers who want to balance adventure with relaxation.

Kayak Fiji

7. A Safari in Greenland

Greenland is probably one of the last places anyone would think of to go on safari, but the trek offered by Natural Habitat Adventures takes a page straight out of the safari handbook and offers guests hot showers and gourmet meals prepared by a chef. The company’s eco-base camp is located on the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet on Sermilik Fjord, where 5,000-foot peaks plunge into the sea. On offer are opportunities to kayak alongside humpback whales, hike through 10 miles of tundra with a guide and visit Inuit villagers and experience their centuries-old traditions. Even though the temperatures in polar bear country remain low throughout the year, travelers will be awed by the beauty of the Arctic.

Photo by: Natural Habitat Adventures
Photo by: Natural Habitat Adventures

6. Experience Paddleboarding in Belize

Belize has long been a haven for snorkelers and divers, thanks to the country’s 180-mile-long barrier reef. Now Belize is also home to the world’s first lodge-to-lodge paddleboarding adventure. The trek, offered by Island Expeditions, takes you through the 118,000-acre Southwater Caye Marine Reserve. On the 6-day excursion, you’ll paddle 4 to 8 miles per day, making stops to snorkel with spotted eagle rays and barracuda and even snorkel at night to see coral in bloom after dark. Other stops along the way include a Garifuna fishing camp, Tobacco Caye and the private Southwater Caye with its 12 acres of white sand beaches against the backdrop of the calm, turquoise waters and the barrier reef.

Photo by: Island Expeditions
Photo by: Island Expeditions

5. Apres-Ski in New Mexico

You might not think of skiing when someone mentions New Mexico, but the state’s famous West Basin chutes, near Kachina Peak in Taos, have a bit of Old World charm. It might not be the Alps, but it’s about as close as you get in the southern Rockies; you can even stop at the Bavarian Lodge, a ski-in, ski-out chalet, to grab some authentic German fare before hitting the slopes or for apres-ski. Visiting before ski season is in swing? Not to worry; trails to Williams Lake and the 13,159-foot Wheeler Mountain, New Mexico’s highest peak, offer plenty of opportunity for some outdoor adventure.

Photo by: Bavarian Lodge
Photo by: Bavarian Lodge

4. Domestic Adventure in North Carolina

North Carolina is underrated when it comes to getting outside in the U.S. It has beaches and mountains much like California, minus the throngs of tourists and the elitism that pervades some parts of the Golden State. The Croatan National Forest offers paddleboarders 160,000 acres to explore, while the beaches offer up some of the East Coast’s best surf spots. Singletrack and road riding attracts world-class talent to the Blue Ridge mountains, where some train for races like the Tour de France, and the 13-mile Big Avery Loop offers mountain bikers a serious challenge. For hikers, 96 miles of the Appalachian Trail crosses through the state, and the Nantahala Outdoor Center offers up access to some of America’s best white-water adventures.

Photo by: Nantahala Outdoor Center/ Charlie Williams Photography
Photo by: Nantahala Outdoor Center/ Charlie Williams Photography

3. International Adventure in Chile

If North Carolina sounds a little too pedestrian for your adventure, you can always seek out international adventure. One of the best places to find an outdoor excursion is in Chile, which is 80% Andes mountains. The country is home to some wild spaces, like the 650,000-acre Patagonia National Park in the extreme southern sub-arctic clime, or the 370,000-acre Yendegaia National Park, a former cattle ranch. Or check out the Atacama Desert, where you can ride through the almost-alien landscape on horseback and take in some of the clearest skies on Earth. Another option is the Vina Vik, a retreat and wine spa in Millahue Valley. There are 65 miles of vineyard roads to be explored in this 11,000-acre Andean retreat.

Patagonia National Park

2. Bicycle Adventures for Families

Maybe you want to take the family on the adventure of a lifetime and some of the trips mentioned just aren’t kid-friendly or are too costly if you need to foot the bill for multiple people. Bicycle Adventures is one of the best outfitters to turn to if you need a domestic trip for kids of all ages. Infants and toddlers can ride along in provided trailers, while younger riders’ bikes can be hitched to adult bikes. About 10% of their trips are geared specifically toward families with preteens. New multi-day rides through Oregon, Idaho and South Dakota follow car-free bike paths and take you near attractions like Mount Rushmore and the Trail of the Hiawatha. Kids will appreciate stops for ice cream, rafting and swimming.

Photo by: Bicycle Adventures
Photo by: Bicycle Adventures

1. Wilderness Travel’s Outfitted Trips

If you want to do something no one else has ever done, you’ll want to team up with Wilderness Travel. The team, based in Berkeley, California, has been pioneering trips that other outfitters later copy for some 37 years. Think kayaking trips through Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America and organizing the world’s highest trek, through Tibet at 23,000 feet. All of the outfitter’s trips are designed to support locals and minimize the trip’s environmental impact as well. New trips available from Wilderness Travel include visiting little-known pyramids in Sudan, sea-kayaking and camping in Palau and tracking lions in Namibia with guide Flip Stander, who has spent decades living with the big cats.

Photo by: Wildreness Travel
Photo by: Wildreness Travel