For now, we can be armchair travelers. We can dream, imagine and plan. Here are five places where beautiful scenery, wide open spaces and compelling adventures await.
One of the least populated countries in the world, Namibia begs to be explored. From the capital city of Windhoek to the stark Skeleton Coast, you'll find a timeless landscape where desert-adapted wildlife - elephants, lions and the rare, black rhino - share the vast landscape with birds, antelopes, cape foxes and brown hyenas. Drive through barren moonscapes and search for small herds of Hartmann's zebras or find pink flamingos and other migratory birds in a coastal wetland. Hike up Namibia's highest ochre-colored sand dune and watch the sunset before slip-sliding down. Few people and sparse development translate into a magnificent display of stars. Don't forget to look up.
Contact: www.NamibiaTourism.com; www.AndBeyond.com.
This Pacific archipelago, made up of 500 islands, is one of the richest ecosystems on the planet, and home to more than 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral. During your visit to this aquatic wonderland you can paddle and snorkel amid the multicolored brain coral of the Rock Islands, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Hike to waterfalls, dive amid sharks, giant manta rays, turtles and bright blue starfish, and kayak in caves, through mangroves and to hidden lagoons. History lovers will find the WWII heritage compelling.
Our sparsely populated and endlessly captivating 49th state lures those who yearn for epic scenery, spouting whales and glaciers the size of small countries. Experience family travel in rugged Alaska by road and rail, via boutique yachts and expedition ships that set sail for adventure beginning each Spring. Aboard smaller vessels you'll have meaningful cultural experiences, find your way to natural nooks and crannies, opt for hiking and kayaking and discover rarely visited wilderness areas, increasing the chance for up-close wildlife viewing. Those who venture to America's last frontier will be rewarded with Mother Nature in all her glory. In the short term, visit the state's inspirational website to order your free travel planning guide.
Contact: www.Uncruise.com; www.WindstarCruises.com
Just a stone's throw from Yellowstone National Park's northwest border, in the shadow of Lone Peak, you'll find a cluster of hand-built cabins. Authentic and luxurious, the historic accommodations, tucked creekside, in the pine trees or in meadows, help visitors conjure the days when the property was a working cattle ranch, operating in untamed country. Then, like now, the region is home to stunning vistas, and abundant wildlife including grizzlies, black bears, bison and wolves. In the company of guides or on your own, adventurers have the chance to fish Blue Ribbon trout streams and explore the last best place via horseback, Nordic and downhill skis, snowshoes and on the many hiking trails in the area.
Located on the shores of Lake Superior, this friendly, harborside village blends an artistic, creative vibe with an adventurous spirit. Home to nationally renowned artist schools and galleries, Grand Marais also serves as the gateway to the Gunflint Trail National Scenic Byway and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Hike Pincushion Mountain, set sail on Superior or bike along the shoreline. Plan a side trip down the 57-mile, historic Gunflint Trail, from which you'll have the option to paddle across glacier-carved lakes, hike through ancient forests, fish for Walleye and sample Northwoods hospitality.
Contact: www.Gunflint.com; VisitCookCounty.com; www.Onlyin MN.com
(Lynn O'Rourke Hayes (www.LOHayes.com) is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via FamilyTravel.com)
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