Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

California

 

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To Do: Containing both the highest point in the Lower 48 (Mt. Whitney, at 14,500 towering feet tall) as well as the trees that give the park its name, Sequoia National Park is all about its famous giants. See the General Sherman tree and other wonders of the Giant Forest. Explore acres of dense, ancient forests where trees are routinely hundreds of years old. Spy the foxes, black bears and bobcats that call this national park home. Or discover the Sierra Nevada foothills town of Three Rivers, where the art galleries are abundant with nature photography and local crafts and restaurants serve up hearty, hiker-approved meals.

Must-See Wonder: General Sherman and the Giant Forest, which boasts five of the ten largest trees on Earth.

To Stay: A log house perched in the trees high above Three Rivers, the aptly named Log House Lodge is filled with rustic decor and fascinating antiques, including an old-fashioned gramophone and spinning wheel. It’s just a ten-minute walk to Sequoia National Park, meaning the cozy rooms are exceptionally close after a long day, and the cast-iron wood-burning stove warms up chilly nights.

Rates from $225 per night.

 

 


 

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park

New York

 

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To Do: Water from four of the five Great Lakes comes together in a thundering, crashing miracle that spans the United States and Canada. View the falls — actually three separate waterfalls — from the Observation Tower, where you might also see a soaring bald eagle or peregrine falcon. Or climb aboard the iconic Maid of the Mist and feel the falls’ spray firsthand, as guests have been doing since 1846. While the area is admittedly a tad touristy, the powerful lure of the falls can’t be overstated — and many locals recommend hopping over to the Canadian side for better views, if you remember to pack your passport.

Must-See Wonder: The Cave of the Winds’ wooden walkway to experience tropical-storm-like conditions of Bridal Veil Falls.

To Stay: You can’t beat this B&B’s location. The Red Coach Inn is just 500 yards from the falls, overlooking the swirling Upper Rapids. In fact, the owners swear it’s close enough to hear the waterfalls’ roar. Most guest rooms and suites also have Niagara views, plus you can make your own waterside fun in the en-suite jetted Jacuzzi tubs found in every room type. The on-site restaurant and wine bar are top-rated, with even more panoramic views of the majestic falls, just in case you can’t get enough.

Rates from $159 per night.

 

 


 

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

Kentucky

 

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To Do: In the hilly, river-threaded country of south-central Kentucky, you’ll find Mammoth Cave. At 400-some mapped miles, it’s the world’s longest cave system, a grand and sometimes eerie space of dark caverns and serpentine tunnels. The best way to explore the surreal cave is on a ranger-led tour, though advance reservations are strongly recommended, as tours fills fast. Most tours are moderately strenuous, but avid cavers can embark on a true spelunking exhibition, scrambling up rocky slopes and squeezing through tight holes if they so desire. Before or after your subterranean exploration, hike the Green River Bluffs or canoe the 25-mile river itself, bordered by sheer cliffs on either side.

Must-See Wonder: Gothic Avenue, a stretch of cave with a ceiling covered in visitors’ signatures from the 19th century.

To Stay: Just a mile from the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park is the country-cute Serenity Hill Bed and Breakfast. Rooms are bright with crisp white bed linens and antique furnishings, including gorgeous four-poster beds. Expect freshly made cookies in your guest room each day, and enjoy the beautiful valley view from the wide front porch in this secluded, peaceful retreat.

Rates from $85 per night.

 

 


 

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Utah

 

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To Do: One of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks, Zion is famed for its massive sandstone cliffs, striated in shades of ochre and cream and blush, that seem to brush the blue sky above. Follow the footsteps of early Native American tribes and westward-bound pioneers as you explore the supersized canyons, basin and shrub-covered desert. Challenging trails loop throughout the park, including vertigo-inducing Angels Landing and the far easier, family-friendly Narrows, during which you’ll wade and ford the Virgin River. Not into hiking? A horseback ride is a great alternative way to see the wildlife in all its natural wonder. As its name implies, there’s something heavenly about this national park.

Must-See Wonder: The “hanging gardens” of wildflowers to see bright red Indian paintbrush and sago lilies, Utah’s state flower.

To Stay: The Iron Gate Inn and Winery, located in a pretty powder-blue Victorian, is the area’s oldest B&B, surrounded by gardens and stunning views since the late 1800s. Rooms are furnished in elegantly traditional style, with bright floral duvets that bring the romantic garden feel indoors. With eco-minded practices and vegan toiletries, the Iron Gate is appropriately earth-friendly. Breakfasts are well-known for their liberal use of local produce, jams and honey. Here, you can stargaze southern Utah’s skies from the gardenside Jacuzzi and patio fire pit.

Rates from $119 per night.

 

 


 

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Acadia National Park

Maine

 

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To Do: Spotted by Champlain as he sailed down the New England coast, Acadia’s pine forests, its crowning Cadillac Mountain and its tiny coastal islands are sights to behold, stretching over tens of thousands of acres along the Atlantic. Follow the carriage trails and granite bridges laid by gentleman naturalist John D. Rockefeller. Hike to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and prettily situated on Mt. Desert Island, once home to the Rockefellers themselves as well as a slew of Vanderbilts, Carnegies and Astors. It’s just a 4-hour drive from Boston to this outdoorsy paradise. Pro tip: While summer is high season for hikers, fall is a special time to visit Arcadia, when the mountainsides bloom in autumnal glory, blanketed in red and gold.

Must-See Wonder: Catching sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. In fall, it boasts the earliest sunrise in the United States (and the prettiest one at that).

To Stay: While many tourists flock to spendy Bar Harbor, you may more enjoy the peaceful seclusion of Acadia’s Oceanside Meadows Inn, located in a whitewashed 1860s sea captain’s home. Guests awaken to sunrise over the private sandy beach, gulls squawking in the near distance, and of course a four-course gourmet breakfast.

Rates from $149 per night.

 

 


 

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Great Florida Reef

Florida

 

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To Do: If you thought snorkeling and diving were best reserved for Caribbean islands and Australian beaches, you may be missing out on amazing undersea adventures in your own backyard. Off the coasts of the Florida Keys lies the Great Florida Reef. Some 1,400 species of marine life — including fish, mammals, plants and corals — are found here, the diverse array attracting the snorkelers and swimmers who ply its waters. Especially around Key Largo, visitors find the densest, most colorful corals and swarming schools of parrot fish, turtles, eagle rays and occasionally a nurse shark or two. These reefs, lying in warm and shallow waters, are well suited for beginners learning to dive.

Must-See Wonder: The Christ of the Abyss statue may be manmade, but not so for the brain corals and famous barracuda, Smoky, who call the artwork home.

To Stay: There are B&Bs aplenty in the popular Keys, but we love The Mermaid & Alligator. Nine rooms mix island-style luxury and Victorian elegance. Think gabled roofs and spacious verandahs, spa-style bathrooms and four-poster beds. A complimentary breakfast is served beside the plunge pool and tropical gardens outside.

Rates from $178 per night.

 

 


 

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Denali National Park

Alaska

 

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To Do: Denali comprises a mind-boggling six million acres of Alaskan backcountry: alpine forest, mossy tundra and, at its highest elevations, ancient glaciers. With snowcapped Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) at its center, this national park is a feast for the eyes — and a getaway for thrill seekers. Denali is one of the most isolated peaks in the world, and the national park surrounding it is made for pure adventure. Dog sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are all worth a try for mere mortals, while mountaineers can summit Denali itself over a two- to three-week climb. This year is the perfect time to visit — in 2017, Denali marks its 100th anniversary as a national park.

Must-See Wonder: On a bus tour, photograph (from afar) the resident wolves, grizzly bears, caribou, moose and bald eagles.

To Stay: The private log cabins in Talkeetna’s Meandering Moose Lodging make for a cozy base before and after Denali adventures. Acres of birch trees surround the homelike, handcrafted cabins, which have kitchenettes and extra-comfy beds, plus access to an outdoor campfire. Owners Mike and Kathy Stoltz are happy to assist with planning and recommendations, including the best local fishing spots.

Rates from $90 per night.

 

 

 

—by Dara Continenza