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The World's Coolest Places to Explore


Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Kanab, Utah

The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals. The former ranch is located on 20,000 acres of land in the canyons of southern Utah. On any given day, it’s home to some 1,600 homeless animals. Many of them are adoptable. The sanctuary also welcomes human visitors. Volunteers can let a dog stretch its legs by taking it on a nature hike. Or they can give a cat some fresh air by pushing it around the property in a buggy. They can chat with the birds of Parrot Garden, watch rabbits hop around the Bunny House, and visit the residents of Horse Haven. Volunteers often form a special bond with an animal. In that case, they’re able to take the creature away overnight, to see if it’s a good fit for adoption. —Shay Maunz


Boulders Beach

Simon’s Town, South Africa

Boulders Beach, just outside of Cape Town, is no ordinary stretch of sand. In the early 1980s, a colony of African penguins settled there. Since then, the penguin population has grown to between 2,000 and 3,000. Each year, they’re joined by some 60,000 humans who visit the beach to hang out with the well-dressed birds. Three wheelchair-friendly boardwalks at nearby Foxy Beach provide spots where visitors can view the penguins from afar. For an especially great photo op, try going in the morning or late afternoon. That’s when the colony is most active. —Rebecca Mordechai


Cherry Springs State Park

Coudersport, Pennsylvania

Can’t see the stars where you live? Try Cherry Springs State Park. It has been designated one of the best places for stargazing in the eastern U.S. by the International Dark-Sky Association. The 82-acre park is surrounded by a sparsely populated forest. Hilltops block light pollution emitted by urban centers in nearby valleys. This lack of light pollution is what makes the park’s exceptionally dark skies possible. What celestial sights might you see in Cherry Springs? Meteor showers, asteroids, and the glow of the Milky Way, to name a few. —Rebecca Mordechai


Children’s Eternal Rainforest

Monteverde, Costa Rica

The Children’s Eternal Rainforest, or Bosque Eterno de los Niños, is a 55,000-acre private nature reserve in Costa Rica. In 1987, a group of Swedish schoolchildren learned about the rain forest. They were inspired to help preserve it. Together, they raised enough money to purchase 15 acres of land. The group soon organized a worldwide fundraising campaign. Children donated a total of $2 million to buy even more land. Now visitors can enjoy the nature reserve by going on a hiking tour. Along the way, they may spot rain-forest animals such as toucans and white-faced monkeys. —Constance Gibbs


Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde, Colorado

Go back in time at Mesa Verde National Park. The park protects nearly 5,000 archaeological sites, preserving the heritage of the ancestral Pueblo people. The Pueblo settled in the region about 1,400 years ago and built cliff dwellings using sandstone and wooden beams. Mesa Verde is home to the Cliff Palace. It’s the largest such dwelling in North America. The Cliff Palace has 150 rooms and was once home to more than 100 people. Today, visitors can join a park ranger for a guided tour of the structure. —Rebecca Mordechai


Denali Star


The Denali Star leaves Anchorage, Alaska, every summer morning. It makes three stops as it travels north for 356 miles, or 12 hours, until it reaches Fairbanks. It passes wetlands, forests, mountains, canyons, and glaciers. On a clear day, passengers can spot the peak of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. The route covers territory that isn’t easily accessible any other way. “You’re off the beaten track, seeing a lot of things that people just don’t get to see from the road,” says Tim Sullivan Jr. of Alaska Railroad. Plus, for much of the trip, there’s no cell-phone service, forcing passengers to unplug and enjoy the ride. —Shay Maunz


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Mosca, Colorado

Want to hit the slopes during the summer? Try Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. These 750-foot dunes—the tallest in the U.S.—are the perfect place for sandboarding and sand sledding. When the afternoon sand heats up, head down to Medano Creek, where mountain snowmelt creates a natural beach for swimming and building sandcastles. Plan to be in the park at night, too. The air is so clear that you can see the Milky Way light up the sky. “This place is tailor-made for kids,” park ranger Patrick Myers says. “There really is a unique sense of uninhibited freedom here.” —Brian S. McGrath



Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

At Icehotel, guests chill out in rooms made completely from ice and snow. “It’s like walking into a world of your dreams,” says Icehotel press and media manager Josefin Lindberg. “It’s like you’re in a fairy tale.” Artists from around the world come together each year to recreate the magical dwelling. To get the job done, they use more than 3,000 tons of ice from the nearby Torne River. The majority of the hotel melts each year when the weather grows warm. But Icehotel 365, which launched in 2016, lets visitors experience the wonderland all year long, at 23°F. In warmer months, it’s chilled using refrigeration that’s powered by solar panels. —Rebecca Katzman


Neuschwanstein Castle

Hohenschwangau, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle is a fairy-tale destination for history lovers. If it looks like the castles in classic Disney parks and stories, that might be because Walt Disney visited Neuschwanstein before he built his amusement center in California. The German castle was constructed by order of King Ludwig II. But he didn’t get to live in his creation—he died before its 1892 completion. Outside, there are tall towers. Inside, there are beautiful paintings and murals. The throne hall holds a 13-foot chandelier (but never had a throne). Neuschwanstein means “new swan stone,” which explains the swan artwork throughout the castle. —Constance Gibbs


Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls, New York

Niagara Falls is famous for its raging waterfalls. But since it opened in 1885, the state park has also been a place of quiet contemplation. Visitors wander nature trails and enjoy family picnics. With the completion of a $70 million renovation that includes new walkways, America’s oldest state park is more accessible than ever. “A family with a child with a disability can enjoy this park to the utmost,” says park ambassador Marc Touma. He adds that free entry and a $3 all-day trolley pass make the park affordable, too: “You could be here for very few dollars and have a great family day.” —Brian S. McGrath


The Grand Canyon


The Grand Canyon stretches across 277 miles of northern Arizona. In some places, it is more than a mile deep. That’s about three times the height of New York City’s tallest building, One World Trade Center. “It is so massive, you cannot see all of it,” says park ranger Kari Cobb. “That’s what makes this place so intriguing.” In 2019, Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its centennial. That marks 100 years since the canyon was granted national-park status. Today, the Grand Canyon attracts some 6 million visitors each year. Skywalk, a glass-floored walkway jutting over a cliff’s edge, is a big draw for many of them. There, visitors can catch a glimpse of the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon, flowing as it has for about 6 million years. —Brian S. McGrath


The Lion King Adventure


The Safari Collection, a group of wildlife lodges across Kenya, has created a Lion King–themed adventure to celebrate the 2019 remake of the classic kids’ movie. The trip is led by Robert Carr-Hartley. He served as an adviser on the original 1994 film. He led a similar safari for that movie’s animators. Carr-Hartley played an important role in the story’s creation: He recommended that the screenplay include Simba’s warthog sidekick, Pumbaa. And he helped out with the Kenyan sayings, too—most importantly, for the song “Hakuna Matata.” This new safari is a tour of Kenya that highlights several real-world inspirations for the film. In Laikipia, you’ll be able to climb the actual Pride Rock. At Giraffe Manor, a hotel in Nairobi, you can meet Pumbaa’s warthog friends and a local herd of Rothschild’s giraffes. And in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where wildlife thrives, you’ll spend the night in a tent. You just might wake up to hear a pride of lions roaring in the distance. —Constance Gibbs


The Vessel at Hudson Yards

New York, New York

New York City has a new landmark. It’s called the Vessel, and it’s located at Hudson Yards. That’s a development of shops, residences, office buildings, and green spaces on the west side of Manhattan. The Vessel, which opened to the public in March 2019, is the centerpiece of it all. The honeycomb-like structure has 154 interconnecting flights of stairs and nearly 2,500 steps. As visitors climb the many staircases, they are rewarded with a series of unique city views from different angles and heights. —Rebecca Mordechai


Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Waitomo, New Zealand

The ancient caves in the village of Waitomo were first explored more than a century ago, by a Maori chief and a surveyor. Today, visitors can take a boat tour of the caverns’ lower level. Many of the tour guides are descendants of the chief who discovered the caves. As your boat floats through the grotto, look up at the magical sparkling lights. But look closely—these aren’t just any lights. They’re glowworms! Glowworms are the larvae of a type of gnat called Arachnocampa luminosa. The insect lives in New Zealand and, at this young stage, can grow as large as a matchstick. Its glow comes from its bioluminescent tail. —Karena Phan


Whispering Woods Braille Trail

Buford, Georgia

Evan Barnard believes that all people should have access to nature. At age 14, he set out to create Whispering Woods, a Braille nature trail. The trail uses Braille signs and guide ropes. They help people who are blind or visually impaired explore nature without assistance. Visitors can enjoy a safe sensory experience by feeling the scratchy bark of a tree, hearing a bird’s song, or smelling the earthy odor of the woods. “It’s a transformative experience for many,” Barnard, now 21, says. —Rebecca Mordechai


Wyoming Dinosaur Center & Dig Sites

Thermopolis, Wyoming

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center sits on the Morrison Formation, a huge deposit of rocks rich with prehistoric fossils. In fact, more than 10,000 bones have been found at the museum’s main dig site. Visitors can really get in on the excavation action. Kids can visit the dig sites, where they work with paleontologists to find dinosaur bones and other ancient discoveries. “We give kids the opportunity to work alongside us, to be a part of the science,” says education director Jessica Lippincott. Back inside the museum, they can join the staff to clean and examine their fossil finds. —Ellen Nam