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.

The Top Things to See and Do in Park City, Utah

Nestled in the eastern Wasatch Mountains, Park City is one of Utah’s prime tourism destinations. While it is primarily known as a winter recreation hotspot, Park City also attracts a healthy stream of visitors during the warm-weather months, when its natural attractions and resorts double as great places to hike and explore the outdoors. Park City is a relatively small town, with a permanent population of about 8,000 people. Yet, it is easily reachable from just about anywhere in the world, as Salt Lake City International Airport is located about 35 miles away.

The town offers visitors a plethora of fantastic activities, and here are 10 suggestions to help get your trip-planning started:

10. Mingle with the Stars at the Sundance Film Festival

Every year in January, the world-famous Sundance Film Festival takes over Park City for a couple of weeks. This festival launched the careers of many famous filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino, whose 1992 hit Reservoir Dogs first began to make waves after a Sundance screening.

If you’re a movie buff, or if you want to spend some time celeb-watching, check out the schedule for the upcoming Sundance Film Festival and plan your visit accordingly. It usually starts in mid-January, and extends into the first days of February.

Photo by: Sundance Film Festival Facebook

9. Opt for Some Indoor Entertainment

Because Park City is primarily a winter destination and so many of its popular attractions are outdoor-focused, visitors often like to take a break with some indoor recreation. The city is filled with tons of  indoor options if you’re looking for a respite from the cold.

Bowling, escape rooms, libraries, immersive art exhibitions, bars, restaurants, wineries…there’s something for everyone in Park City. You can even go ice skating in Park City’s indoor arena if you want to keep your activity level up without being outside in the cold.

8. Enjoy Nearby State Parks

If you’d like to expand your outdoor recreation options beyond the immediate vicinity of Park City, there are a pair of State Parks in the nearby area that are well worth a look. Head northeast to Peoa, which is less than 15 miles from Park City, to experience the beauty of Rockport State Park. Alternately, you can head south down Highway 189 to Midway, where the stunning vistas of Wasatch Mountain State Park await you.

7. Shop Till You Drop

Like any town that caters to tourists, Park City has plenty of shopping for visitors to enjoy. For the best and most authentic experience, spend some time exploring the unique boutiques owned and operated by independent local vendors. There is a dense concentration of such shops in the historic city center, and many familiar chain retailers also maintain locations in and around the downtown area.

Park City is extra-fun if you’re a fan of the Old West. The city is home to numerous cowboy-themed shops, where you can buy authentic cowboy boots, hats, gear, and memorabilia.

6. Ski into the High West Distillery & Saloon

The High West Distillery & Saloon is a unique Park City treasure, and it lays claim to being the lone ski-in gastro saloon in the world. Here, you can enjoy a tempting combination of western-influenced restaurant fare, which puts a distinctive spin on classic American dishes. Then, you can cap off your meal with a sampling of the venue’s craft spirits, which are sourced from the location’s companion distillery just outside the town limits. There literally isn’t another place like it on the planet!

Photo by: High West Distillery Facebook

5. Go for a Scenic Drive

Locals and travel pundits often say that Utah’s most scenic drives and bike rides can be enjoyed within a few miles of Park City. There are four in particular that stand out: Nearby Guardsman Pass makes for an leisurely, enjoyable, and lovely drive. Provo Canyon has its own officially designated scenic driving route, which begins just 20 miles outside of Park City. The Alpine Scenic Loop covers 27 miles through Utah’s stunning Wasatch Mountains. It’s widely considered the most beautiful drive in the state, and is particularly pleasant during the autumn months. Lastly, head 16 miles east of Park City to the SR-150 Scenic Byway, which is where you’ll find Mirror Lake Highway. Breathtaking lakes, alpine scenery, and mystical forests are waiting to greet you, but be sure your car is gassed up and you have all the supplies you need before you hit the road, as there aren’t any retail services along the way.

Photo by: Utah.com

4. Check out the Kimball Art Center

Park City has a thriving arts and culture scene, and the Kimball Art Center is one of its main hubs. Situated just a few blocks away from Main Street, the center houses an interesting and eclectic collection of artworks by both local and internationally renowned creators. Art aficionados can also sign up for a wide selection of classes, as the Kimball Art Center offers over 300 instructional opportunities in media including photography, painting, drawing, pottery, and stained glass arts, among others.

Photo by: Kimball Art Center Facebook

3. Amble Into the Past in the Park City Main Historic District

Before it became an elite ski destination, Park City was a boom-and-bust silver mining town. It has a long and interesting history, which is on full display in the city’s main historic district. For a crash course, head to the Park City Museum on Main Street for an overview of Park City’s unique history, and to learn more about major events in its past like the devastating 19th century fire that leveled a large section of the town.

Johnny Adolphson / Shutterstock.com

2. Visit Utah Olympic Park

Utah’s largest urban area, Salt Lake City, played host to the Winter Olympics in 2002. Several events were held in Park City, and the town’s Utah Olympic Park served as a training facility for athletes during the Games. Today, it is still used to help America’s Olympic hopefuls push their limits in preparation for the world’s most intense winter athletics competitions.

The park itself, and many of its most popular attractions, can be enjoyed free of charge. This is a fantastic place to spend the day with your family, as there are many sports-themed rides and games for kids of all ages to enjoy.

Photo by: Utah Olympic Park Facebook

1. Hit the Slopes

Park City enjoys a reputation as one of the very best winter outdoor recreation destinations in the entire United States. The city and the surrounding area boast some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the country, with Deer Valley Resort leading the way for skiing. The readers of SKI Magazine recently ranked Deer Valley Resort as the top ski resort in North America for five straight years.

There are also plenty of other options, with crowds and lineups that aren’t as thick. Remember, too, that Deer Valley Resort is a ski-only venue, so if you’re into snowboarding, you may want to check out an alternative like Park City Mountain, the largest ski resort in the U.S., which has hundreds of trails and a great collection of natural and artificial half-pipes.

Photo by: Deer Valley Resort Facebook

The Best Hotel Hot Tubs In The World

Hotels are often praised for their outstanding accommodations and incredible dining, but what about the extra amenities that can make your vacation go from good to outstanding. Hotel hot tubs can play an important role in making your experience unforgettable. Forget the dingy hot tubs located beside the hotel pool and get ready to experience some of the best tubs in the world. From outdoor hot tubs that give views of mountains, valleys and wildlife to hot tubs that are built right into your room; these 15 hotel hot tubs will make you want to book your vacation today!

15. Amangiri, Canyon Point, UT

Set on 600 acres in Canyon Point and built right into the landscape, this luxury resort offers views over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, perfect for travelers who love the desert. Along with a massive size swimming pool and incredible terrace, there is a beautiful hot tub located at the base of the rock wall.

King-sized daybeds and sun loungers provide the ultimate place to relax while not in the water. Whether you choose to visit in winter or summer, the hot tub is the perfect place to gaze up into the open sky and watch for stars at night. Guests here will also enjoy the water activities on nearby Lake Powell, exploring the national parks and experiencing the spa treatments.

Via Pinterest

14. Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort & Spa, Beaver Creek, CO

This luxury resort doesn’t just offer one hot tub but five, each with their own selling points, which make this resort one of the best to visit if you are looking to spend some time soaking. If you are looking for some adult only time make sure to wander over to one of the two adults-only hot tubs, if it is a view you are after, make sure to check out the one with a jaw-dropping view of the Vail Valley.

Our favorite hot tub here though is the one with the cascading hot waterfall, straight off the natural rock formation that surrounds the tub. If you are looking to get slope-side service, make sure to head over to the tub that comes complete with cocktails, a personal waitress, plush robes, hot towels and truffle popcorn. If you feel more like swimming and less like relaxing make sure to check out the year-round heated outdoor pool.

Via InTomorrow

13. Twin Farms, Barnard, VT

This all-inclusive Vermont resort is home to ten freestanding cottages that feel more like luxurious homes than rustic cottages. Most of these ten cottages also happen to feature incredible hot tubs. Located both inside and out, guests have their choice of accommodation when booking and whether you are looking for a sunken indoor hot tub next to a fireplace or an outdoor tub in a private screened porch, you are in luck.

Each cabin has been designed by professionals and it is no surprise that guests here come back year after year. Our favorite hot tub of all though is the one located inside the Aviary cottage. Guests who stay here will have the opportunity to soak in a tub that has been sunken in granite rock, with views of the New England forest from the huge window. A towering stone fireplace sits a stone’s throw away and you can assure you will never be cold here.

Via Andrew Harper

12. Regent Palms, Turks and Caicos Islands

Part infinity pool and part hot tub make up this incredible multi-million dollar paradise. Overlooking the North Atlantic and situated on the impressive Grace Bay Beach is a ten-person hot tub located inside the infinity pool on its own island. Wooden decking, sun pods, stylish loungers, chilled towels, fresh fruit and complimentary Wi-Fi set the stage for this incredible soaking experience.

The resort itself boasts 72 suites and is just steps away from white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Other amenities include a 25,000 square foot spa, floodlit tennis courts and an abundance of water sports including sailing, kayaking, and snorkeling. It’s easy to spend the entire vacation here poolside though, and whether you are relaxing in the hot tub or plunging into the warm pool, it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Via wowamazing.com

11. Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown, New Zealand

On the edge of Lake Wakatipu is an alpine cedar and stone lodge that offer incredibly beautiful suites, rooms, and guest cottages. It is here where guests will find an incredible hot tub overlooking The Remarkables mountains. The hot tub is surrounded by floor to ceiling glass doors which open to expose it to all the elements and with lit candles surrounding it; this is the perfect romantic destination.

An additional hot tub is located outside the spa, along with a sauna and heated swimming pool. If you are traveling with a family or group of friends, make sure to book the owners cottage where you will have access to your own private hot tub located on the balcony overlooking the beautiful surroundings.

Via Andrew Harper

10. Blancaneaux Lodge, San Ignacio, Belize

It is no surprise that this hot tub makes this list as it was actually designed by Oscar-winning production designer Dean Tavoularis. The lodge actually has a hydroelectric plant that heats the 11,000-gallon tub with the excess electricity it produces, and unlike a typical hot tub that has many bubbles, this one is just straight hot water. Housed in a tropical jungle, soaking in this tub is like escaping reality, even just for a short time.

What makes this hot tub so unique is the fact that it was constructed by local stone craftsmen with thousands of pieces of local granite. Guests here can enjoy drinks served to you by the bar; just make sure to let the bartender know you are heading down there in order to get the best service.

Via thewaywardpost.com

9. The Ski Dream Home, Park City, Utah

This opulent ski-in, ski-out home is located 8,000 feet above sea level atop Deer Valley Resort’s Little Baldy Peak and offers an incredible 12-person stone hot tub. Guests here won’t have to worry about being cold in the frosty weather with the outdoor fireplaces, heated wrap around decks and a heated outdoor pool. From the hot tub, guests will be privy to watching the sun turn the Wasatch Mountain Range into brilliant shades of purple while sipping on a cocktail from one of two bars located inside the house.

Other amenities in this luxurious house include six bedrooms, ten bathrooms, DJ booth, a home theatre, pool table and a full swing golf simulator. After spending days hitting the slopes via a privately heated ski bridge, make sure to relax in this ultra swanky, breathtakingly beautiful outdoor stone hot tub.

Via Luxatic

8. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, Maldives

It is one of the most romantic hot tubs on this list, located at the ultra-luxurious Conrad Maldives Rangali Island hotel. The hot tub is situated outside the beautiful over-water spa and is meant for just two people, giving guests the utmost privacy. Overlooking the clear Indian Ocean, surrounded by vibrant coral reef and heated to 104 degrees; guests will have no reason to ever want to leave this hot tub.

You won’t have to worry about getting out anytime soon as hotel staff will provide you with fresh fruit juices and cool aromatic towels while you are soaking. Other awesome amenities at this resort include an underwater restaurant, an underground wine cellar featuring over 20,000 bottles of wine, holistic treatments from the beautiful spa and unique experiences such as swimming with whale sharks.

Via Simply Maldives Holidays

7. Doe Bay, San Juan Islands, WA

This rustic resort is tucked away on beautiful Orcas Island and the focus here is on reconnecting with nature. Three clothing-optional outdoor hot tubs are at the heart of the resort, overlooking the Salish Sea and out to the other islands of the San Juan Archipelago. The tubs can seat up to eight people and can be used by guests of the hotels as well as drop-in guests, for a fee.

Guests of this resort can choose from campsites, cabins or yurts as their accommodations and there are plenty of activities to experience on the island. Relax and renew your spirit with yoga or massages, before heading over to the sauna and soaking tubs which remain at a lovely temperature of 104 degrees all year around.

Via Everyone’s Travel Club

6. Nimmo Bay Resort, British Columbia, Canada

Guests of the Nimmo Bay Resort in British Columbia can soak their cares away in one of two red cedar hot tubs that are tempted at a lovely 104 degrees all year around. The setting itself is absolutely stunning and the views from one of the eight-person hot tubs are equally impressive; cascading waterfalls, lush green vegetation and the feeling of being tucked in the middle of nowhere.

Many guests here dare to take a plunge in the cold pool before hopping into the hot tubs for the ultimate cold-hot experience that is meant to invigorate your body and senses. The tubs are actually filled with the clear waters that fall from the top of Mount Stephens. Other activities at this all-inclusive upscale resort include heli-fishing, whale watching, paddle boarding, hiking, and kayaking.

Via mananatravel.com

5. The Hotel on Rivington, New York City

This hotel located on the lower east side is a secretive hot spot for anyone looking for incredible views, a great party, and an incredible rooftop hot tub experience. This 10 seat coveted cedar hot tub is the perfect place to enjoy some cocktails while taking in the view. The round cedar hot tub looks more like a bucket and only adds to this ultra-hip penthouse.

Surrounding this sleek hot tub is incredible extras such as an outdoor shower to cool off in the summer, an outdoor fireplace to warm your toes in the winter and some incredible themed party nights. This hotel boasts luxurious and sleek guestrooms, celebrity parties and a full-size pool table in the lobby.

Via blog.kitchentrotter.com

4. Banyan Tree Lijiang Resort & Spa, Lijiang, China

Guests of this incredible resort won’t have to share a hot tub with anyone else, as each garden villa comes complete with its own two-person private hot tub. Hot tubs look out onto the famous Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and are heated to a comfortable 100.4 degrees. With world-class dining, an incredible spa and luxurious accommodations; this resort offers something for everyone to enjoy.

While soaking in the tub make sure to request some local plum wine or traditional Chinese tea. Other amenities at the resort include Yoga, outdoor tennis courts, a state-of-the-art fitness center and an abundance of tours and treks to experience.

Via karmatrendz.wordpress.com

3. The Molori Safari Lodge, South Africa’s North West Province

This five-suite lodge boasts one of the most impressive hotel hot tubs in the world. This in-ground tub can seat up to six people and visitors should prepare themselves for awesome wildlife viewing. From the hot tub, guests can watch as elephants, zebras, wild dogs and even lions graze nearby. The Molori Safari Lodge is located deep inside the Madikwe Game Reserve, a 185,329-acre reserve that is teeming with wildlife, and is malaria free!

Guests can not only enjoy this epic hot tub but are also treated to a personal butler who serves them traditional drinks and snacks while they are soaking. As an added bonus this beautiful hot tub is surrounded by an equally stunning infinity pool, gorgeous wood furnishings and comfortable chairs and couches.

Via XO Private

2. Hotel Villa Honegg, Lucerne, Switzerland

This outdoor hot tub is one of the largest on this list, being more like a steaming swimming pool than a regular hot tub. On the back lawn of this 1905 mansion is where this incredible hot tub is located, overlooking the pristine Lake Lucerne. In the winter time, the dramatic landscape includes snow-covered peaks while the summertime green grassy hills roll on as far as the eye can see.

This ultra-modern tub is sleek in design, with stainless steel railings and crisp cut corners, contrasting brilliantly with the surrounding stone. Other amenities at this beautiful hotel include a 20-seat cinema, e-bike rentals, salon and fireplace room, a nearby golf course and an excellent restaurant.

Via AWOL – Junkee

1. Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff, Canada

Known for looking more like a castle straight out of a fairytale rather than a hotel, Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel offers incredible luxury, beautiful surroundings, and one epic hot tub. This enchanted landscape is home to blue skies, towering mountains, huge pine trees and snow-capped peaks. In the middle of all of this sits an outdoor hot tub that begs to be soaked in. Whether you choose to visit in the summer or winter, guest will enjoy soaking in the healing waters while they breathe in the alpine air.

Also located on this magnificent property is the equally impressive Willow Stream Spa, offering its own indoor and outdoor hot tubs, along with numerous treatment rooms and mineral pools. There may not be anything more magical than soaking in the warm waters while taking in the views of this breathtaking landscape that surrounds you on all sides.

Via photos.banfflakelouise.com

The Best Things to do in Zion National Park

Zion National Park is Utah’s oldest and most popular national park, due to its desert waterfalls, emerald pools, incredible hiking trails and awesome red cliff formations. It is somehow equally beautiful and improbable. Perhaps that it why it draws more than three million visitors a year, who come here to hike Angel’s Landing- a knife-edge tiptoe along a serrated mountain ridge, or who come here to explore the canyon floor or the Emerald Pools. Whether you have one day here or a week, we suggest checking out these 7 best things to do in Zion National Park.

7. Take a Horseback Tour

There is nothing like exploring Zion National Park and all that it has to offer by horseback. Choose from a one-hour ride that will follow the Virgin River for about a mile to the Court of the Patriarchs or for a more adventurous day, book the ½ day tour. The ½ day tour will take you around the Sandbench Trail, gradually ascending 500 feet and giving you a spectacular view of the southern end of Zion National Park.

Families can enjoy this gentle horseback ride providing children are over the age of 7 for the 1-hour ride and over the age of 10 for the ½ day ride. No experience is necessary on these rides, making it a unique way for anyone to explore the canyon.

6. Kolob Canyon Trails

It is easy to drive by the Kolob Canyon exit but it is well worth pulling off and not just to use the washrooms at the visitor’s center, but also to go half a mile up the road and explore. It is recommended you visit here during sunset, as the colors are absolutely stunning. There are a few trails here to choose from, ranging from a one-mile round trip hike to one that’s almost 6 miles.

The Taylor Creek Trail is one of the favorite hikes as it is a solid 5 miles that have little ups and downs, making it relatively easy. Hikers will reach the Double Arch Alcove, pass two cabins that are great for photo ops and cross the crystal clear creek several times. If you only have an hour or so here take the Timber Creek trail that is a 100-foot ascent following a ridge to a small peak that looks out onto Timber Creek and the Pine Valley Mountains.

5. Hike the Zion Narrows

It is the most famous backcountry route, a 16-mile journey into skinny canyons along the Virgin River’s north fork, only accessible from June to October. At least half of your hike will be in the river and depending on water levels, the water could be waist height. In saying that, this is no easy catwalk. The total trip takes about 12 hours and is best done over two days, staying in one of the 12 designated campsites deep in the canyon.

Expect lush hanging gardens that spring from the walls, turquoise colored water, dark corners and towering canyon walls. It is important to have the proper equipment when hiking this trail and many outfitters near the park rent it at a fair price. This once in a lifetime trails awaits you at Zion National Park.

4. Visit the Zion Human History Museum

Located just one mile north of the park south entrance, this museum is open to visitors daily from March to November. Here visitors will find permanent exhibits that display the rich human history of Zion National Park. Focusing on American Indian Culture and the historic pioneer settlement, the museum also illustrates the enormous effects of water in Zion.

After all, water is why people have traveled through and settled in Zion and is the creator and destroyer of the scenery that makes Zion so famous. There is a free 22-minute movie that is shown every half hour that provides an excellent overview of the park and a ranger is there to answer any questions. A small bookstore is a perfect place to pick up souvenirs such as maps, posters or books.  Make sure to head to the back patio area of the museum for an incredible view of Towers of the Virgin.

3. Hike Emerald Pools

It is one of Zion’s sweetest signature trails, generously loaded with breathtaking scenery. It is one of the most family-friendly hikes in the park that leads to waterfalls, pools and a dazzling display of monoliths. There are a total of four pools, the lower, middle and upper pools, all which take different trails to reach. The Lower Emerald Pool trail is paved and the easiest of them all, ranging just half a mile long until you reach the lush alcove of the lower pool, where ferns and moss sprout from the mountainside.

The trail actually ducks behind twin waterfalls that spill from the middle pool. There are actually two middle pools, which boast impressive views of Red Arch Mountain, Cathedral Mountain, and Mount Majestic. The trail leading up to the Upper Emerald Pool is more rugged and steep, but worth every step as you get to the secluded oasis of the pool, which is framed by colossal cliffs on three sides.

2. Hike Angels Landing

This strenuous 5-mile round-trip hike provides some of the Zion’s best overall views but you best be in good shape if you want to attempt it. The trail climbs 2.5 miles with sheer 1,500 ft. drops surrounding the very narrow trail; it is actually considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the USA. It is important to note that the hike is often extremely crowded and in some parts, it is so narrow that only one-way traffic is allowed through.

You will want to start this hike early in the morning and give yourself about 3-4 hours to complete it. Expect awe-inspiring views of the park from the top, that is if you are brave enough to complete the last half-mile where the trail becomes even more dangerous and steep. We think it’s worth it, and you will too as you stand on top of the world and revel in its beauty.

1. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

If there is one thing to do in Zion National Park it is the scenic drive. This drive offers the best overview of the park and can be completed even if you just have one day here. We recommend beginning the drive in the east, making your way through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel and descending into the Zion Canyon.

It is here where you will be met with a stunning landscape of majestic monoliths, mesas, and other fascinating formations. There are a total of six switchbacks, two tunnels and many pull-offs where you can stop and take pictures. At the Canyon overlook you can get out of your car and walk the one mile round trip trail to view the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin.

Top 12 Mountain Biking Trails in North America

If you have ever thought about taking up the sport of mountain biking, there is no better time like the present, as thousands of incredible trails are awaiting you across the country. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced rider, these trails are packed with incredible scenery, technical descents, and grueling uphills. From narrow trails along the edge of cliff tops to trails winding through 300 year old forests, we have gathered our favorite 12 mountain biking trails in America. So what are you waiting for, grab your gear and hit the trails!

12. Bangtail Divide Trail, Bozeman, Montana

The Bangtail Divide Trail is regarded as Bozeman’s most notorious mountain biking trail, and not because it is difficult in nature. No, the Bangtail Divide Trail is known for its breathtaking scenery and smooth single-track trails. The views here will include several mountain ranges and endless fields of wildflowers. Riders can do the whole loop, which runs about 31 miles and starts off with a big climb, utilizing twenty some off switchbacks.

It’s around 18 miles that you will reach the best part of the trail, a five-mile ride downhill through a pine forest that is nice and smooth. It’s so good, it’s almost enough that you want to go up and do the whole thing over again.  Rounding out the trail is a final downhill that features some tricky switchbacks. All in all, the ride is smooth, moderately easy and full of epic scenery.

Via southwestmontanamba.org

11. Poison Spider Messa down Portal Trail, Moab, Utah

You will either love or hate this trail and it will definitely make you cry, however old and in shape, you may think you are. Technically, physically and mentally this trail will rip you to shreds and that is what makes it all worth it. Words that have been used to describe it are deadly, dangerous, scenic and stunning. Riders can choose to ride the loop which is about 13 miles or as an out-and-back trail, but it starts off the same way, a relentless climb over deep sand, technical bedrock and slippery stones.

After you reach the viewpoint looking over Moab, you will join the Portal Trail that edges closer to the cliff walls than you have ever imagined. It is imperative to know your abilities before attempting this trail and in some places, you must dismount and walk your bike as you are literally on the edge. After riders have cleared the cliffs the trail gets even gnarlier with ledge drops, loose rocks, narrow squeezes and crazy turns.

Via Moab Utah

10.  Top of the World Trail, Whistler, British Columbia

This trail is only a few years old and is already a favorite among riders. To start, head up to the very top of Whistler Mountain via the lift, and make sure you get your ticket early as they only sell 150 of them a day. The trail starts at a whopping 7160 feet with incredible views of the shimmering lakes, Black Tusk, and the coastal mountains. There are two ways to go, as indicated by signs stating “this way is hard” and “this way is harder”.

It’s a 5km descent to the bottom, through creeks, around tight corners, and through rocky sections. The trail itself is a mix of alpine single-track and double-wide ski-runs with views of alpine trees, brilliant blue lakes and the backcountry of Whistler. With no uphill pedaling required, riders should be sure to have the proper gear including bike to ensure they make it the way down on this jumpy, fun, awesome new trail.

9. Mountainside Loop, Kingdom Trails, Vermont

This is the perfect trail to hop on if you are staying at the Burke Mountain Campground as it starts and ends here, but even if you aren’t camping, we suggest trying this trail out. Riders will start off pedaling the 15.5 mile trail by making their way up some switchbacks in this wooded incline but prepared to immediately switch gears as you break into a quick descent.

The downhill is loaded with roots, bumps, a few jumps and some narrow bridges sans railings to navigate. Another ascent/descent awaits riders, although less challenging than the first. The final leg of this trail is an uphill climb to end at the campground where you will surely be ready for a cold beer. This route is technical and for riders that have experience with true dirt trails loaded with bumps, objects to navigate and other riders to contend with.

8. Deep Steep Trail, South Carolina

This single-track 4.6 mile track certainly doesn’t sound that daunting but locals that ride here have a love/hate relationship with Deep Steep Trail. This trail actually has more climbing than any other in the Forks Area Trails and as much fun as it is to go down, one must go back up. It has also been described as one of the most fun trails in the area and riders can choose to ride it either way, with both offering tons of uphill’s and downhills.

The ride is perfect for beginners and advanced riders as beginners can practice their stability and control on the descents whereas advanced riders can let loose. The trail is non-technical and littered with whoops, berms and gentle turns and promises that you won’t want to ride it just once.

Via The Mountain Hiker

7. Downieville Downhill, Downieville, California

What awaits riders coming to this trail is a whopping 17 miles of the sheer vertical downhill drop and is recommended for the intermediate or advanced riders only. The town of Downieville is located a couple hours into the mountain and is a true mountain biker’s destination. To get to the top of this trail, either take a shuttle up or have someone drop you off. From there it is all downhill, taking over an hour to reach the bottom.

Riders have the privilege of having this single-track trail to themselves for 85% of the way down and expect a steep technical ride on top as you battle your way through rock gardens, creeks, and long suspension bridges. Don’t be fooled thinking you won’t have any uphill battles though, as although this trail descends 17 miles, you will still have to pedal a few uphills.

Via vitalmtb.com

6. Munds Wagon Trail, Sedona, Arizona

The most difficult part of this trail is actually staying focused on riding, rather than admiring the beautiful scenery, although many will argue that this trail is both physically and mentally demanding as well. The trail is a tough 21.55 miles, single-track and is in excellent condition. Riders will be faced with a literal uphill battle though as they climb through stunning scenery.

The views only get better the higher you go and the reward at the top is simply surreal. Riders should prepare to contend with a few hikers that are often on the trail as well as a 5-6 hour ride, make sure to pack plenty of fluids and sunscreen. Think lots of speed, lots of technical spots and lots of pictures to be taken.

Via singletracks.com

5. Rock Lake Epic, CAMBA Trails, Cable, Wisconsin

The Rock Lake Epic is, just like the name says, an epic 27 mile trail that is located in the hilly woods of Cable, Wisconsin. It is part of the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA) Trails, which host a seemingly endless network of single tracks in the summer. The Epic loop takes riders through a web of tracks that winds its way through maple and oak forest through four of the best trails in the network: Rock Lake, Glacier, Patsy Lake, and Namakagon.

This dense terrain features plenty of rock ledges, plank bridges, step-ups and beautiful wilderness lakes.  This trail is not for beginners even though no climb is more than 100 feet, what gets riders through it’s the constant rollers, downed logs, rock features and plenty of mud.

Via McKinney Realty

4. Paradise Royale Trail, California

Although much of California’s land is off-limits due to preservation efforts, the Paradise Royale Trail was built specifically for mountain biking. Located deep in the King Range Mountains off the northern coast, this 14 mile loop thrills riders with its brief descend and then steady climb. Riders are advised to ride clockwise to take advantage of the long flowy descent on the east side.

Expect 19 gritty switchbacks which have been nicknamed “The Prince of Pain” along with steep side slopes, a skinny trail, and exciting flowy descents. Riders will take in incredible views of the Pacific Ocean as well as having the choice of optional jumps and drops on the way down. Once you get through that tough climb on the get go, it’s nothing but laughs and fun on the way down, as long as you know what you are doing.

Via MTB Project

3. 401 Trail Crested Butte, Colorado

It is one of the best rides in the area as voted by riders and is a mix of road and single-track trail, which has you climbing and dropping for miles. This loop begins with a long but easy climb up Gothic Rd to Schofield Pass where you will catch the single-track trail and this is where the scenery begins to get epic with an incredible view of Emerald Lake.

Around 6.5 miles in is where the climb pays off as riders can take in unparalleled views of the Elk mountains and as you descend expect to see fields of colorful flowers. The downhill is generally fast and flowy with a few skinny sections to watch out for. Expect two more climbs after the downhill which are a little more technical than the first, or take the exit at Rustler’s Gulch back to Gothic Road to end of one awesome ride.

Via Mountain Bike Bill

2. McKenzie River Trail, Oregon

This trail on the west side of the Cascade Mountains will take riders through lush green forests and lava fields on a single-track that is meant for both beginners and advanced riders. It is recommended that riders shuttle to the top and then ride down to the bottom, zipping past crystal blue pools, towering waterfalls, and hot springs. The total distance of the trail is 26 miles and riders will do plenty of bobbing, ducking and weaving as they make their way through one of America’s top trails.

Riders won’t find any painful climbs here but will find challenging lava rock sections along with an abundance of logs, roots, and rocks. Don’t expect to be going downhill the whole ride though, this trail drop 1800ft and goes back up 1000ft with lots of pedaling. Prepare to want to stop every few minutes to gaze at the waterfalls, 300 year old forest, mountain river and other spectacular scenery.

Via Greg Vaughn Photography

1. Porcupine Rim Trail, Moab, Utah

This world-famous ride should definitely be on your bucket list of trails, only if you are an advanced rider though. It can either be one-way with a shuttle car or a grueling 34 mile loop, for those truly hardcore riders. An incredible climb at the beginning takes riders up to the rim for breathtaking views of Castle Valley. From the top, the trail descends quickly through slick rock sections and some long smooth bits.

It is when you reach the single-track where the downhill gets extremely technical. The trail gets fast, the rocks start sloping sideways and the trail stays narrow. The views start to get incredible and riders should make sure to stay focused as the trail twists and turns. Expect to reach the bottom brimming with relief and excitement, knowing you just completed one of the best mountain biking trails in the country.

Via Doug in Idaho

9 Awesome Canyons That are Just as “Grand”

What’s in a name? When we’re talking about canyons, one name will always come to mind before any other: the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. The name sure seems like a successful marketing ploy—not only is the Grand Canyon the first name that comes to mind, it’s often the only one. That’s despite the fact there are plenty of other canyons out there, scattered around the world, some of them larger, wider or deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here are just 9 examples of canyons that are just as “grand” as their American counterpart.

9. Katherine Gorge (Australia)

Bordering on the better-known Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia is home to a series of gorges on the Katherine River and Edith Falls. The Katherine Gorge is the central attraction of the park, which was formerly called Katherine Gorge National Park. The Katherine Gorge is actually a series of 13 gorges cut deep into the sandstone by the Katherine River. The gorges are home to a series of rapids and falls, as the Katherine River moves through the area. In the dry season, the gorges are disconnected from each other as the water dries up. Cruises will take you up to the 5th gorge, but you can also strike out and explore on your own via canoe or flat-bottomed boat. There are also 2 campgrounds and a number of trails throughout the park.

Katherine Gorge

8. Copper Canyon (Mexico)

Move over, Grand Canyon; Mexico’s Copper Canyon system should probably be your top North American canyon destination. This group of 6 distinct canyons, located in the southwestern part of Chihuahua state, is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. They’re also breathtaking, thanks to the large deposits of copper in their formation: the canyon walls are eye-catching copper and green hues. Copper Canyon has been the site of tourist development for the Mexican state, although there has been some resistance from local peoples and there are concerns about developing a tourist industry that protects and respects this sensitive ecosystem. Popular ways of exploring the canyons include hiking, biking and horseback riding. The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, and the train travels through Canyon Urique, the main canyon in the system.

Copper Canyon

7. Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

Don’t let the name fool you—Nine Mile Canyon in Utah is actually more like 40 miles (60 kilometers) long. While it’s not necessarily the longest, deepest or widest canyon in the U.S.—and certainly not in the world—it has earned itself a reputation as the world’s “longest art gallery,” thanks to its extensive collection of rock art by the Fremont and Ute peoples. Ruins from these cultures also make the area an archaeological hotspot. There may be 10,000 or more individual pieces of rock art in the canyon, including the famous Cottonwood Panel, making it North America’s largest concentration of rock art. Many sites in the canyon have been added to the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, and there are plans to add more in the coming years as efforts to preserve the rich heritage of Nine Mile Canyon continue.

Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

6. Rugova Canyon (Kosovo)

The Rugova Canyon, also known as the Rugova Gorge, is approximately 16 miles (25 kilometers) long and up to 1,000 meters deep in some places, making it one of Europe’s longest and deepest canyons. The canyon was carved out over years as the glacier near modern-day Pec melted and eroded through the Prokletije Mountains, near the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. The Pec Bistrica river cuts through the canyon, dividing it in 2. Waterfalls, colossal rocks and caves dot the landscape. The Gryka e Madhe (Great Canyon Cave) is one of the better-known caves in the area, although only about 11 kilometers of the cave system have been explored to date. Obviously, the area is popular for spelunkers, but it is also popular for rock-climbers, reflected in the recent addition of a via ferrata (iron road) for climbers.

Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons

5. Itaimbezinho Canyon (Brazil)

About 170 kilometers from Porto Alegre, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, is the Itaimbezinho Canyon. The canyon is located within the Aparados da Serra National Park, which was created in 1959 specifically to protect the canyon. One of Brazil’s first parks, Aparados da Serra is relatively small and has a daily cap on the number of visitors in order to better protect sensitive environments. The canyon is approximately 6,000 meters (6 miles) long and has a maximum width of 2,000 meters at some points, with a depth of about 1 mile, making it the largest canyon in Brazil. Waterfalls dot the landscape as the Rio do Boi wends its way through the canyon. The park offers hiking tours through the area. The Cotovelo Trail is a popular option, as it winds around the edge of the canyon.

Itaimbezinho Canyon

4. Fish River Canyon (Namibia)

Namibia is home to plenty of natural wonders, including the Namibian desert’s infamous red sands, but this African country is also home to Fish River Canyon—not only the largest canyon in the country, but the largest canyon on the whole African continent. The canyon is approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) in length, with gaps up to 27 kilometers wide and depths of nearly 550 meters in some areas. The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail follows the canyon for about 88 kilometers, from Hobas to the hot spring resort Ai Ais. There are a number of footpaths and some shortcuts, which means that the hike will be largely up to the hikers. While hiking the trail can take 5 days, trail running is a popular and faster way of taking in the canyon—the current record for trail running is just under 7 hours.

Fish River Canyon

3. Colca Canyon (Peru)

The Colca Canyon, located on the Colca River in Peru, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. That’s fitting, considering that the canyon is one of the deepest in the world, with a depth of 3,270 meters (10,725 feet). More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it is only the second-deepest gorge in Peru, ranking behind the Cotahuasi Canyon. The Colca Valley area surrounding the canyon is popular with tourists for other reasons as well: the area is rich with pre-Inca cultures, including the Collagua and Cabana peoples who still inhabit the area, as well as Spanish colonial towns. The Canyon is also noted for bird-watching, as it is home to the Andean condor and tourists flock to see them flying at close range near the Cruz del Condor. Ruins, rock art and local festivals are also popular attractions.

Colca Canyon

2. Tiger Leaping Gorge (China)

Part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan World Heritage Site, the Tiger Leaping Gorge lies on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze River. The river passes between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain in a series of rapids, down cliffs 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) high, creating one of the world’s deepest and most spectacular river canyons. The name comes from a legend, in which a tiger leaped across the gorge at its narrowest point to escape a hunter. Even then, the tiger was still leaping across 82 feet (25 meters)! The area is popular with hikers and backpackers from other areas of China and abroad. The high-road hiking path is well-maintained and takes hikers through a variety of micro-ecosystems along the gorge’s length. Although the gorge is only 15 kilometers long, the high road is approximately 22 kilometers (14 miles).

Tiger Leaping Gorge

l. Indus River Gorge (Pakistan)

The Indus River passes through the Himalayas, rising in Tibet and flowing through India and Pakistan, before emptying into the Arabian Sea. In the northern territories of Pakistan, the river must pass through the Nanga Parbat region, home of the world’s ninth-highest peak, the infamous Nanga Parbat. As the Indus winds through this mountainous region, it flows through enormous gorges, some of them 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) deep. Near Dasu Patan in Kohistan, the gorge plunges to a maximum depth of 6,500 meters—making it one of the deepest, if not the deepest, canyon in the world. Some dispute about the depth of the gorge and other contenders continues today. Nanga Parbat is likely the better-known tourist attraction in the area, but the Deosai Plains and the Karakorum Highway are also popular with visitors.

Indus River Gorge

Best Snowshoe Destinations for Families

When you are looking for the perfect destination for a winter family getaway (that includes plenty of snowshoeing) there are so many options to consider. We have looked at hundreds of destinations and compiled a list of what we believe to be the best 10 snowshoe destinations for families. We examined factors such as location, ease of access to superior snowshoe trails, amenities for kids and parents and opportunity for guided and non-guided snowshoe treks. From luxury hotels to themed resorts there is a destination here to suit every families needs.

10. Ski Portillo, Chile

The first of two all-inclusive options on this list–Chile’s Ski Portillo resort; this once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination is the perfect spot for families to relax, bond and snowshoe. Overlooking a pristine lake and situated in the Aconcagua Valley in the heart of the Andes, the scenery is enough to make you want to hop on a plane right now. But this destination offers so much more than just magnificent views and a ski hill. Portillo offers two excellent lodging choices for families. They offer two access trails to the mountain, along with numerous opportunities to trek around the base of Mt. Aconcagua. This all-inclusive resort includes meals, lift tickets for your entire stay (we suggest trying your hand at some skiing), accommodations, airport transfers and all amenities on site. From the dedicated tubing hills and outdoor heated pool for the kids to the outdoor hot tub and nightly live music for the adults, this gem should not go undiscovered.

Photo by: Ski Portillo Chile via Facebook
Photo by: Ski Portillo Chile via Facebook

9. Adventure Suites – New Hampshire, USA

Our next destination is truly a kid’s paradise. If you are looking for a relaxing, unwinding vacation, this may not be the one for you. But if you are looking for something totally unique that will have your kids begging to come back, Adventure Suites is the place. Named one of the top 10 theme hotels in the world, this hotel offers more than just really awesome rooms. We first need to talk about the suites they offer. From a prehistoric cave suite that features a five-person hot tub in the suite to a jungle themed suite that offers an upstairs for the kids complete with a flat screen TV and PlayStation…it may be hard to want to leave your room. Adventure Suites offer guided snowshoe treks as an add-on to any stay and offers free trail passes if you stay two or more nights. If you are looking to get on your own, Glen Trails Outdoor Center and Purity Spring Resort offer extensive trails to explore.

Snowshoes

8. Hoshino Resort Tomamu, Japan

A huge resort featuring more than 800 rooms in two magnificent towers, an indoor wave pool, an ice village in the center of the resort (January-March) and unparalleled views of the mountain from your room makes Hoshino Resort Tomamu number eight on our list. Tunnels connect the towers to the restaurants and food court, which allow for warm ease of access during a cold night. Snowshoeing has become quite a popular sport in Japan and visiting the Polar Village Activity Center is where you will find all your snowshoe needs. Equipment rentals as well as maps of the area are provided. Members of the resort’s staff are happy to help and if you tell them what kind of difficulty or length of trek you are looking for they will point you in the right direction. With fresh powder, breathtaking scenery and an experience you won’t get in North America, Hoshino Resort is a fantastic choice for a family getaway.

Photo by: Hoshino Resorts Tomamu via Facebook
Photo by: Hoshino Resorts Tomamu via Facebook

7. Douglas Fir Resort and Chalets – Alberta, Canada

If you are looking for the finest family accommodation in Banff, look no further as Douglas Fir Resort and Chalet is where you want to be. Located a four-minute drive from downtown Banff in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the views from your patio will take your breath away. All rooms include complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs, plug-and-play panels for personal gaming systems and a fireplace. What makes this resort even more family friendly is the indoor two-story playground, the indoor water park featuring two giant water slides and a “quiet time” for adults only, and an outdoor hot tub with views of the awe-inspiring mountains. There are unlimited snowshoe opportunities in Banff ranging from beginner to experienced. We highly recommend trekking around Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park and the Sundance Trail to Sundance Canyon. Parks Canada offers up suggestions here or check out a tour company for a guided experience.

Photo by: Douglas Fir Resort & Chalet via Facebook
Photo by: Douglas Fir Resort & Chalet via Facebook

6. Firelight Lodge – British Columbia, Canada

The Firelight Lodge, located in the Silver Star Mountain Village, is one of the newest properties to the village; Firelight is located right next to the skating pond and tube park. With access to 16 km of snowshoe exclusive forested trails, Silver Star Mountain is your perfect destinations. Firelight Lodge offers up your choice of rooms that can include anything from a personal outdoor hot tub to a gas fireplace and patio BBQ. An in-resort shuttle runs through the Firelight and Village areas of the resort making it easy to access all amenities and restaurants. Snowshoe rentals and trail passes/maps are available at Ski Dazzle Rentals or the Village Ski shop. The kids will go nuts for the tube park and mini snowmobiles, or perhaps they will try their hand at the indoor climbing wall or ski-in ski-out bowling alley. Parents can relax in the outdoor hot tub, visit one of the pubs or unwind at the Yoga classes offered next door to the lodge.

shutterstock_123342973

5. Crystal Mountain – Michigan, USA

Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan is a compact resort that offers older kids a chance for independence as condos, restaurants and amenities are within a five-minute walk. For the wee ones with the tired legs, there is a complimentary shuttle to take you where you want to go. With more than 250 rooms ranging from the standard hotel room to bungalows to full houses, the accommodations at Crystal Mountain are superior. Snowshoeing is permitted on the entire Crystal Mountain property, except for the downhill runs and the cross-country ski trails. Equipment rental and trail maps are provided on-site as well as guided tours. For something a little different take a trek Michigan Legacy Art Park where ice sculptures line the way. Moonlight snowshoe tours are a popular activity at Crystal Mountain and a fun way to explore nature in the dark.

Photo by: Crystal Mountain
Photo by: Crystal Mountain

4. The Lodge at Sugar Bowl – California, USA

The Lodge at Sugar Bowl is not your typical family resort. Here you won’t find huge flat screen TVs, gaming systems or world-class children’s programs. Here you will find the country’s only snowbound lodging experience, where you park your car in a garage and whisk up to the lodge in a gondola with your luggage. There are many different room options ranging from standard Mountain View rooms to family suites and adjoining rooms. The lodge also boasts a dining room, bar and new athletic center. But what you are really coming here for is the miles upon miles on snowshoe trails at Royal Gorge. Located right outside your front door you have access to North America’s largest cross-country resort that features an array of exclusive snowshoe trails. Rentals and trail passes are available at the Summit Station Lodge where you can also rent a sled to pull the little ones along the trails with you.

Photo by: Sugar Bowl Resort via Facebook
Photo by: Sugar Bowl Resort via Facebook

3. Waldorf Astoria Park City – Utah, USA

If you are looking for a luxury family getaway, Waldorf Astoria Park City in Utah is where you will want to head. With more than 4,000 acres of varied terrain in the backyard, this resort was meant to be explored. Dedicated shuttles will take you to local dining, skiing, shopping and entertainment. We do recommend this destination for kids 10 and up. Ranging from standard guest rooms to three bedroom suites with full kitchens, this resort offers such pleasures as upscale bathrooms with hot tubs and TVs, a free gondola up to Canyons Resort and free kids s’mores at night. Guided snowshoe tours are provided at Canyons Resort (a free shuttle ride away) where equipment can be rented. You can also go off on your own around the Canyons Resort and follow the marked trails. If you are looking to explore other areas, we recommend checking out Snowshoe Utah where you will find a variety of trail maps.

Photo by: Waldorf Astoria Park City via Facebook
Photo by: Waldorf Astoria Park City via Facebook

2. C Lazy U Ranch – Colorado, USA

If you are looking for a vacation that combines the love of the outdoors, breathtaking scenery and a chance for the kids and you to learn something new, C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado is the perfect destination. From horseback riding to sledding to ice skating to snowshoeing, this dude ranch is the perfect all-inclusive winter wonderland. Choose from cabins that include refrigerators, stone fireplaces or separate bedrooms for the older kids. Enjoy the personal touches such as daily housekeeping service, bed turn down, coffee and tea, plush robes and a fruit basket that is replenished each day. Now let’s talk about the snowshoeing. A popular winter activity at this resort, all equipment is offered for no extra charge and a trail map is provided on request. From beginner to expert, there are trails to suit any level of experience. Other activities include skating, sleigh rides, sledding, snowmobiling, skiing and so much more.

Photo by: C Lazy U Ranch via Facebook
Photo by: C Lazy U Ranch via Facebook

1. Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Vermont, USA

Rated as the granddaddy of all family resorts, it is no surprise that Smugglers’ Notch Resort ranks No. 1 on our top 10 list. From the huge fun zone offering an arcade, slides and after-dark teen programs to the heated indoor pool to the massages for mom and dad, Smugglers’ has gone above and beyond what one expects from a resort. Upon booking your vacation you will have the choice of condominium style lodgings. Each are either within walking distance or an on-demand resort shuttle is available to take you to all the village amenities. The Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Adventure Center is where you want to head for all your snowshoe needs. Here you will find 24 km of dedicated snowshoe trails to explore off the beaten path. If lessons are what you are looking for, they offer both group and private lessons with equipment rental on-site. For a memorable snowshoe experience try the snowshoe adventure dinner; a dining experience atop Sterling Mountain with a 40-minute snowshoe after dinner back to the base lodge.

Photo by: Smugglers' Notch Vermont
Photo by: Smugglers’ Notch Vermont

The 10 Best Stargazing Spots in the Northern Hemisphere

We’ve told you where to find the best views of the heavens in the southern half of the world; the southern hemisphere’s positioning makes it a particularly good location for aspiring astronomers to get a glimpse of our galaxy. But that doesn’t mean that those of us in the northern hemisphere have to miss out on awe-inspiring starscapes. There are dozens of dark-sky reserves and parks and prime viewing spots in more northerly climes. You’ll want to pack your telescope if you plan to travel to any of these 10 locations.

10. Brecon Beacons National Park, United Kingdom

Head to south Wales and you’ll quickly find that sheep outnumber people in this part of the world. Brecon Beacons National Park is a prime stargazing location because of its seclusion. The ruins of the Llanthony Priory provide a stunning backdrop for the night sky. The area near the park is home to 33,000 people and within easy access for nearly 1 million, which means that residents have worked hard to ensure that lighting within the communities near the park are dark sky-friendly. Most of the park is open grass moorland, which makes for plenty of open viewing of the night sky. The park was originally designated in 1957, and in 2013, it became an official International Dark Sky Association Dark Sky Reserve. Once you’ve done some stargazing, be sure to step into the Priory to grab some authentic Welsh ale—the ruins have been converted into a pub.

Llanthony Priory

9. Westhavelland, Germany

The Westhavelland Nature Park, in the state of Brandenburg, Germany, was established in June 1998. With an area of 1,315 square kilometers, the park is the largest protected area in Brandenburg and is home to the largest contiguous wetland in all of Europe. It has also become renowned for its dark skies, despite being just 70 kilometers west of Berlin, Germany’s most populous city. Its location also means easy access for the nearly 6 million people living in the region—and tourists to Berlin. The Dark Sky Reserve, which was certified by the IDA in 2014, is approximately 750 square kilometers within the park. The park offers an extensive education program, including the annual WestHavellander AstroTreff Party and an interpretive program. The Milky Way shines in full splendor over Germany’s first and foremost “star park”!

Brandenburg Milky Way

8. Mauna Kea, United States

Although there are several locations in the Hawaiian islands that are prime stargazing spots, Mauna Kea has to claim the top spot. Located on the Big Island, Mauna Kea Observatory sits 13,756 feet (4,205 meters) above sea level, on the slopes of the mountain, high above the town of Hilo. Here you’ll be able to see northern hemisphere favorites, including the Milky Way, Ursa Major, the bands of Jupiter and Orion, with perfect clarity. Although the largest optical telescope in the world will be off-limits after nightfall, you can still peer through telescopes offered at the visitors’ center, located at 9,200 feet. Free lectures and Q&A sessions at the observatory are complemented by tour packages offered by adventure companies, some of which include dinner. Although Mauna Kea isn’t an IDA-certified site, it remains a popular location for stargazers from around the world.

Mauna Kea night sky

7. Tenerife, Spain

You can probably pick any of Spain’s Canary Islands to get a good view of the stars. In fact, the island of La Palma is a protected area, although it’s not officially a park or reserve. For the best views, however, hop over to Tenerife, the largest island in the chain. Tenerife has passed a law controlling flight paths, specifically with the quality of stargazing in mind. From April through December, you can take a tour of the Teide Observatory. Visitors can also enjoy a cable car ride up to the top of the volcanic Mount Teide to really get a good gander at the stars. Cap off an evening by enjoying dinner at the mountain-top restaurant, with the stars as the romantic backdrop. The semi-annual Starmus Festival is also a popular attraction, celebrating science, music and the arts.

Tenerife Night sky

6. Kiruna, Sweden

The northernmost settlement in Sweden, the town of Kiruna lies about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle, which means that between December 11 and January 1, there is a period of continuous night. While some of us may not be enthused by the idea of constant darkness, it does make for an amazing opportunity to view some of the spectacular skies. Given the remote location, the skies are truly dark, creating the perfect canvas for the aurora borealis. Visitors can book a stay at the world-famous Icehotel, just 11 miles from Kiruna in Jukkasjarvi. Nighttime “picnics” are offered on northern lights tours. Other activities include ice-sculpting and wintertime sports like skiing. You can also tour the Esrange Space Center, which developers hope to turn into a spaceport in the near future.

Sweden aurora borealis

5. Cherry Springs State Park, United States

There may not seem to be a lot of reason to visit Pennsylvania, but stargazers are drawn to the 82-hectare Cherry Springs State Park. This highly regarded site provides one of the best glimpses into the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way. The park sits atop a 2,300-foot (701 meter) peak, which allows you to leave civilization (and light pollution) down on the ground. The park offers various programs throughout the year, including its annual Black Forest Star Party in early September, a popular event for amateur astronomers. In 2014, stargazers were lucky enough to spot the aurora borealis not once, but 4 times in Cherry Springs. First designated a dark sky park by the state in 2000, Cherry Springs was proclaimed an International Dark Sky Park by the IDA in June 2007.

Photo by: karenfoleyphotography/Alamy via Travel and Lesiure
Photo by: karenfoleyphotography/Alamy via Travel and Lesiure

4. Kerry Dark Sky Reserve, Ireland

The County Kerry in Ireland is considered one of the most picturesque areas in the country. Situated between the Kerry Mountains and the vast Atlantic Ocean, the Iveragh Peninsula is home to the Ring of Kerry, with numerous scenic attractions along its length. In 2011, the Kerry Dark Sky Reserve became the only gold-tier reserve in the northern hemisphere, and it was officially designated in January 2014. The night sky has long been important to the inhabitants of the region; Neolithic stone formations dating to 6,000 years ago were used to observe astronomical events and track the sun and moon. The area, which is approximately 700 square kilometers, incorporates territory along the Wild Atlantic Way. It is naturally protected from light pollution, although the inhabitants are working to create dark sky-compliant lighting systems to improve the quality of the night skies even more.

ring of kerry

3. Jasper National Park, Canada

Jasper, located in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, is probably one of Canada’s most famous national parks. Not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was also declared a dark-sky preservation area in March 2011. Although Jasper is not certified by the IDA, sites in Canada must adhere to the strict guidelines set out by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. The guidelines were developed to protect wildlife that is sensitive to light pollution. Every October, Jasper holds a Dark Sky Festival, which includes daytime solar viewings and rocket launches to entertain the kids. There are approximately 100 year-round campsites scattered throughout the park, meaning that you don’t need to visit in the fall to get some spectacular views of the night sky over the Canadian Rockies.

Jasper at night

2. Zselic Landscape Protection Area, Hungary

In the past, the starry skies were essential for Hungarian shepherds guiding their flocks back to fold. Today, Hungary is home to some of the best dark skies in the world; in August 2015, Wanderlust named it the third-best stargazing spot in the world. Zselic Starry Sky Park is located within the National Landscape Protection Area, which was originally established in 1976 to protect the natural assets of the North Zselic region. The Triangulum Galaxy is visible to the naked eye here, and in the spring, you can spot Orion and the Orion Nebula, along with the zodiacal light. The Lighting Society of Hungary and 17 surrounding municipalities have worked with the park to minimize the impact of lighting both within and outside the 9,042 hectares of parkland.

Photo by: RAFAEL SCHMALL / SCHMALL RAFAEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo by: RAFAEL SCHMALL / SCHMALL RAFAEL PHOTOGRAPHY

1. Natural Bridges National Monument, United States

This Utah national park was the first IDA-designated International Dark Sky Park, declared in 2007. The park is renowned for its 3 natural bridge formations (hence its name), one of which is the second-largest in the world. The area was first designated a park in 1908. In the summer, the park provides astronomy ranger programs to help share its gorgeous nighttime skies with some of the 95,000 people that visit each year. The Milky Way is very clearly visible and the desert conditions of the area make for many nights of clear viewing throughout the year. During an assessment by the NPS Night Sky Team, the park registered as a Class 2 on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, making it one of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states.

Utah stars

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

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.