A dream trip in the great outdoors! Sounds fantastic but perhaps slightly intimidating, especially if you don't have three months to boot camp your way to optimum fitness before your vacation. Of course, not all outdoor experiences mean roughing it. Call us cushy, but here are five of our favorite ways to combine natural wonders without denying yourself creature comforts.
Rocky Mountains, Canada
This one is practically cheating: a two-day tour through the magnificent Canadian Rockies by train – all done in daylight – where you can see every dazzling canyon, each inspiring river and all its verdant valleys and glittering glacial lakes. It’s North America’s greatest train journey, easily rivaling Switzerland’s Glacier Express for sheer beauty accessed from a smooth-going train window. Departing from coastal Vancouver, press your face up to the glass to watch British Columbian mountains pass, then see the essence of the Rockies unfold as you pass Jasper and Banff. Check out www.rockymountaineer.com for more.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The American west offers plenty of exhilarating outdoor sights to choose from - unreal settings of towering redwoods, Mars-like deserts and canyons - but one often-overlooked dream is just an hour-and-a-half east of Las Vegas. This compact state park - actually where Captain Kirk dies in Star Trek Generations – looks like a landscape of red fudge bursting out of the desert floor. It’s stunning, with fun walks that reach canyon views of complete silence, a wonderful place to sit and wonder how a place like Las Vegas got made in such a landscape.
As of May 2012, it’ll be possible to walk the length of Wales’ coastline on the new All Wales Coast Path (AWCP), enabling more visitors to realize what a gift Wales gives in its nooks, crannies, rugged cliffs, sandy bays and seaside castles. The path - nearly 1000 miles in length - can be taken in parts. The show-stealing portion is Pembrokeshire’s craggy edges, with Barafundle Bay and St David particular highlights. When the walking day is done, warm your weary feet by the fire with a stay in a historic home - or perhaps a castle!
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
It’s hard not to believe that the high altitude is playing some kind of visual trick on you in this peculiar landscape, 3656m above sea level in the Altiplano of southwestern Bolivia. Blindingly white and dizzyingly high, this vast salt flat near the crest of the Andes could be mistaken for a Salvador Dalí painting. Eerie and otherworldly, Salar de Uyuni holds intensely blue skies, red and green lagoons, pink flamingos, extinct volcanoes, giant cacti, hot springs and spitting geysers. Harsh, desolate and swept by potent winds, it’s a big expanse of salt: 10 billion tonnes in all. And you can sleep in the salt. Some salt hotels out here are a bit, ahem, crusty, but you can opt up a bit. The Tayka Hoteles chain manages a few upscale ‘salt hotels’ with solar-powered hot water and fluffy feather duvets.
Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, Australia
Just because it’s outdoors - way out - doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable. Lonely Planet’s #1 ‘glamping’ spot for 2012 lets you soak up the ‘wild bush’ in Western Australia’s Cape Range National Park. Outside Sal Salis’ luxury tents, red kangaroos graze among the dunes as humpback whales breach offshore. You can swim with whale sharks and manta rays, trek multicoloured gorges in search of black-footed wallabies, ride camels on white-sand dunes or lie on the beach at night and watch the Milky Way.
After this five-stop dream trip you'll have seen sand, salt, sea and mountains in their most dazzling forms - and come home well-rested to boot!
This article was updated in June 2012.