Staying safe at home has its pleasures, and one of them is having the time to dream about and plan a wonderful vacation. Maybe you’ve never thought about North America in terms of its natural wonders, but they abound in Canada and the United States. From sky-scraping mountains to the deepest canyon, and even way below the surface of the earth, there are dozens of destinations where you can experience the marvels of the natural world as it is now and as it was in millennia past.
Here’s just a sampling of the most extraordinary ones to visit:
Created as water flowed into the Niagara River from the North American Great Lakes 12,000 years ago, and forming a natural border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York, these three spectacular waterfalls form the hub of a sightseeing and recreational area with enough exhilarating outdoor activities to fill the days and action-packed casinos to light up the nights. There’s a Niagara Falls hotel to match any requirement, as well as kayaking, rafting, hiking, cycling, golfing, dozens of nearby wineries, and duty-free shopping.
Bay of Fundy
Between the eastern Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia – and halfway between the equator and the north pole — the Bay of Fundy boasts the highest tides on earth in a setting of breathtaking cliffs, sea caves, and rock formations. It also is home to the rarest whales in the world as well as Triassic-age dinosaur fossils. The bay’s unique shape gives rise to tides as high as a 5-story building which recede at low tide six hours later to expose as much as 3 miles (5 km) of ocean floor. The area offers a variety of hiking trails, sea kayaking tours, boat tours, and tidal rafting expeditions on the tidal rivers, and has a variety of hotels and historic inns.
The Grand Canyon
In the U.S. southwest, nearly two billion years of geologic history are exposed in the walls of this immense canyon in the Arizona desert. The largest canyon in the world, it’s 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, and a mile (1.6 km) deep. The South Rim of the canyon is usually open all year, offering rental lodging and RV parks as well as campgrounds. The less-accessible North Rim is typically open from mid-May 15 to mid-October. In addition to sightseeing, there’s hiking, bicycling, trekking down the canyon by mule, and half-day to multi-week rafting through the canyon on the Colorado River. Activities that require reservations are often booked over a year in advance.
Four hundred miles west of the Grand Canyon is Death Valley, in the desert straddling the border between California and Nevada. At 282 feet (.08 km) below sea level, it is the point of lowest elevation in North America, as well as one of the hottest places in the world, with summertime highs often exceeding those of Middle Eastern deserts. You’re advised to visit during cooler winter months when you can hike or can drive or bike the paved and dirt roads through the valley’s 3.4 million acres of sand dunes and dramatic scenery.
Denali National Park
From the lowest to the highest point on the continent, we come to the Alaskan peak of Denali with a summit elevation of 20,308 feet (6.19 km) above sea level. As the third most prominent and isolated mountain on earth, it’s surpassed only by Mt. Everest in the Himalayas and Aconcagua in the Argentinean Andes. Grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves and foxes roam, and Golden Eagles and Trumpeter Swans are among the over 160 varieties of migratory birds that make their summer homes in the park. The park is closed to visitors and climbers for the balance of 2020, but the main season is usually June through August, with campgrounds for tent and RV stays, and several privately owned lodges as well.
The world’s longest known cave, Mammoth has 390 miles (630 km) of passageways, with new discoveries and connections adding to that figure every year. There are lighted tours ranging from one to six hours in length, as well as tours venturing away from developed parts of the cave into muddy crawls and dusty tunnels. Located in the southeastern state of Kentucky, the area also offers surface hikes, canoeing, horseback riding, bicycling, camping, and more, including great barbecue and toe-tapping Kentucky Bluegrass music.