16 Awe-Inspiring Destinations Around the World for Every Nature-Lover’s Bucket List
The month of October will always be back-to-school season: Even once school has been replaced by work, this is the time of year we can't help but feel a bit of a yearning to escape it all. Jay-Z may have professed his love for the concrete jungle, but sometimes nothing can replace the natural version (especially if it happens to be in Belize). From sea to shining sea and jagged Tetons to snow-capped Himalayas, here are the 16 destinations that every lover of the great outdoors should try to visit once in their lifetime. Read on for your travel guide to the most breathtakingly beautiful vistas around the world.
San Juan Islands, WA: The capital of the great outdoors, the Pacific Northwest heads our list as a nature-lover’s dream getaway. From the snow-capped Mount Rainier to the Hoh Rainforest to Olympic National Park, there’s no shortage of outdoors adventure for the intrepid traveler — but our top recommendation is visiting the San Juan Islands. Hop on the San Juan Clipper from Seattle, and prepare to meet orcas along the way. For the ultimate in rustic chic, bookend your trip with a stay at the W Bellevue, where the décor is a playful take on a classic lake house.
Tohoku Region, Japan: Every season is the right season to visit Tohoku, the northeast region of the Japanese island of Honshu. Check out the moss-covered stones in the Oirase Valley, or head out on the water at Matsushima Bay, where the vista from Otakamori is one of the Three Views of Japan treasured for their beauty since the 17th century. We’re partial to visiting in winter, however. Who wouldn’t love to be on that train through a snowy wonderland?
Milford Sound, New Zealand: Though New Zealand was an obvious choice for our list, it was nearly impossible to pick just one destination on the islands. Nevertheless, Milford Sound in Te Waipounamu (South Island) is the winner for its rainforests, waterfalls, and famous Miter Peak. Try to have as much fun as Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling had while filming A Wrinkle in Time.
Jackson Hole, WY: When it comes to the mountain ranges of the American West, the Grand Tetons simply can't be beat. Luckily, they're just as beautiful in the off-season as they are in wintertime. So, what are you waiting for? Book your flight to Jackson Hole as soon as humanly possible, and prepare to feel humbled by all of its beauty.
Maasai Mara, Kenya: An absolute no-brainer for this list, the fauna in Kenya is a must-see for anyone who wants to feel #intothewild. Visit Amboseli National Park (pictured above) to commune with zebras, or you can head for Nairobi National Park, conveniently located just outside the capital city. Kenya Airways is launching its first-ever nonstop flight between Nairobi and New York City at the end of October, so the time to visit is now.
Scottish Highlands: One visit to the Scottish Highlands will have you believing in all the folklore and myths of the region. Take for example the Isle of Skye, pictured above. From the tempestuous gray-blue of the North Sea to the whimsical enchantments of the fairy pools, this is a destination you will want to visit again and again. There's always more to explore in this surreally beautiful Scottish landscape.
Engadin Valley, Switzerland: Simply breathtaking, the Engadin Valley boasts lakes, mountains, and more wildflowers than you can possibly imagine. Take the Muottas Muragl funicular railway to the top, and hike up to Chamanna Segantini for some well-deserved tea and sympathy. Speaking of which, the afternoon tea at the Grand Hotel Kronenhof in Pontresina is not to be missed, if only for the hotel's breathtaking view of the Alps (the most picturesque in the region).
San Pedro, Belize: While Belize must be near the top of every traveler’s bucket list, there’s no shortage of natural wonder in the region. Whether you’re heading to Belize’s "Wild West" of the pristine rivers and jungles near San Ignacio or the famous Great Blue Hole, you’re sure to be blown away. We recommend staying in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, for the most picturesque home away from home.
Blue Ridge Mountains, VA: In the mood for purple mountains majesty? Book a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains and explore Shenandoah Valley, another iconic American destination. We'll warn you, though: It might be a little hard to look away from the rolling river while camping out in Shenandoah National Park. After a few days of roughing it, round out your trip at the historic Blackburn Inn in Staunton, Virginia, for a taste of some good old-fashioned Southern charm.
St. John, US Virgin Islands: Of all the Virgin Islands, St. John is the one must suited for lovers of the outdoors: Over two-thirds of the island is preserved by the Virgin Islands National Park. When on the island, you won't have to journey far to appreciate why the USVI is referred to as "America's Paradise" — just check out Trunk Bay (pictured above).
Sierra Nevada Mountains, CA and NV: This mountain range in California and Nevada may look familiar, even if you've never visited before. The Lone Pine peak has long been the default backdrop for Mac OSX High Sierra. If you want the most memorable experience in the Sierra Nevadas, visit Reno in September for the Great Reno Balloon Race: The desert and mountains look even more beautiful with hot air balloons floating colorfully through the sky.
Yucatan, Mexico: We've already written about how there are plenty of beautiful destinations in Mexico aside from Tulum. Many happen to be quite nearby in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the cenotes, or underground rivers, are a nature-lover's dream. Jump into the crisp waters of Cenote Ik-Kil to marvel at this lush secret world just beneath the surface.
Lake Tahoe, NV and CA: This iconic lake, with shoreline along Nevada and California, is the ultimate in freshwater adventure. Go parasailing with Action Water Sports of Incline Village, and then reward yourself with a Baked Tahoe at Lone Eagle Grille. If you're on the California side, be sure not to miss the sunrise (if you're an early bird) or sunset (if you're a night owl) on Emerald Bay, pictured above.
Rainbow Montain, Peru: Endlessly Instagram-worthy and just as awe-inspiring in real life, Vinicunca AKA Rainbow Mountain in the Andes is a must-see spot before you die. The multi-hued stripes on the mountaintop look painted on, and it's astounding the phenomenon is natural. At 17,060 ft, you should beware of altitude sickness, but trust us: It's worth it.
Kauai, HI: Hawaii's "Garden Isle" is so spectacularly lush that it may remind you of the Irish countryside with its endless shades of green. Except, of course, it also boasts vibrant blues, pinks, and purples in the water and flowers: The colors of Kauai are simply spectacular. Best of all is the Na Pali Coast, also known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," with its dramatic peaks.
Himalayas, Nepal: The ultimate global destination for every traveler who worships the outdoors (and mountains in particular), the Himalayas in Nepal are said to be simply unforgettable — not to mention magnificent. Whether you're trekking in the Himalayas or merely observing the mountain range from afar, this is one spot that must be seen to be believed. (Even all the climbing documentaries don't really do it justice.)
What are your favorite places to experience nature? Tag us in your go-to spots on Instagram.
(Photos via Getty)