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Travel Experts Tell Us Their Favorite National Park Stays Worldwide

The day we’re able to pack up our cars or *gasp* jump on a plane and go somewhere for fun without fear of catching COVID-19 is approaching. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not rapidly approaching. But we’re still beyond psyched to even start thinking of far-flung adventures again.

When that day does finally come, we’ll definitely be doing things differently. Traveling smarter, more sustainably, and with a heightened sense of mindfulness about the magic that is wandering the globe. That includes a deeper appreciation for wild spaces, BLM land, and national parks — both here and abroad.

To help us get excited for a full-on return to the great wide open, we reached out to some of our favorite professional travelers for suggestions on which national parks worldwide are worth the trek and where to stay once you’re there. Check each pick below and get ready to beef up that post-pandemic travel wish list!

Lake Bohinj, Triglavski National Park, Slovenia — Zach Johnston

Why This Place:

Slovenia is well-known to European travelers for its jaw-dropping Julian Alps. To the average U.S. traveler, it’s more of an enigma. The heart of the small country lies in those Alps and Triglavski National Park. It’s one of those places that feels straight out of a postcard where the mountains jut into the sky, the lakes and rivers are ethereal in their clarity, and the culture is a charming mix of Germanic, Slavic, and Italian. That last bit makes for an amazing culinary tradition married to a true wild food culture.

But it’s really the untouched nature that draws so many to this part of Europe. The best play is to either camp out or rent a stand-alone cabin on the shores of Lake Bohinj, in the heart of the park. You can spend your days breathing in mountain fresh air, swimming in an impossibly beautiful Alpine lake, hiking or skiing those mountains, or just lounging in a wildflower field and watching the cows munch on grass.

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

A great way to get an introduction to the park is to hike up to the Savica Waterfall. It’s about a 20-minute hike up a well-trodden path. But it’s 100 percent worth it for a view of a gorgeous waterfall.

Likewise, you can take longer hikes higher into the mountains to the grazing meadows of the high country. There are small huts where a handful of herders and cheesemakers still live in the summer with their herds. You’ll get a nice plate of cheese and cured meats, a beer or two, and a view of the mountains that’ll take your breath away (if the hike up hasn’t done that already).

Where To Stay:

The best play is to rent a stand-alone Alpine cabin at the far end of Lake Bohinj. This will give you plenty of space, the ability to cook for yourself, and the best access to the quieter end of the lake, where you can fish!

You can walk out your door and have your line in a river or the lake in less than five minutes. There’s a big fly fishing community in the area. So finding gear and licenses are very easy. If you get lucky, you can take your catch back to your Alpine cabin for a great dinner washed down with some equally great Slovenian wine.

Best Time Of Year To Go:

This really is a year-round sort of place. It thrives especially in the ski season and the summer season. Though it is high enough that fishing will be out of the question in the winter. No worries — you’ll be too busy skiing and then apres skiing to notice.

Whichever season you choose, you’ll be in for a delightful time in a truly unique corner of the Alps.

Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Nathan Fluellen

Why This Place:

Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and has the most biologically diverse protected area on the continent. Located inside the park is the Nyiragongo volcano, which has the world’s largest lava lake. There are only five lava lakes in the world.

I filmed an episode here for my TV show, World Wide Nate: African Adventures and fell in love.

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

I started at 6,510 feet elevation and, during a five-hour hike, summited to 11,385 feet, which is almost five miles straight up. I had dinner at the top and watched the chunks of lava crash into each other while creating fiery explosions. I spent the night in the permanent tents, had breakfast, and returned to the base in the morning.

One Special Thing To Do Nearby:

You can visit Senkwekwe, the world’s only mountain gorillas orphanage. They care for gorillas who lost their parents in the Congo wars.

Best Time Of Year To Go:

The best time to visit is between June to October and December, considered the dry months. However, during my hike in September, three hours into the five-hour hike, I was caught in a downpour, and the only option was to keep moving until I reached my tent at the top of the volcano.

Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir), Iceland — Kinga Philipps

Why This Place:

A UNESCO World Heritage site, an incredible geological wonder, and, for those who are into that sort of thing, a Game of Thrones filming location (yay).

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

Dive Silfra.

Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive between two tectonic plates…the North American and Eurasian. It’s reputed to be the clearest water in the world with visibility up to 100 meters (over 300 feet!), and it’s so pure you can drink it. The only downside…it’s about 37 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

You can snorkel, scuba, or free dive — truly one of the most unique dives I’ve ever done.

Where To Stay:

Iceland is very expensive and lodging and food are two of the biggest culprits for making it less than affordable on a budget. We rented a camper van and spent nine days traveling the country. Designated camping locations are abundant and the vans come with a stove so you can grocery shop and make your own meals. It’s also a pretty wonderful way to experience the country.

There are two campgrounds in Thingvellir.

Best Time Of Year To Go:

April. It’s just after the thaw but before the crowds. You still get icebergs and dustings of snow but with spring starting to peek through and off-season prices combined with significantly fewer tourists. We felt like we had the park to ourselves.

Tikal National Park, Guatemala — Jamie Ditaranto

Why This Place:

In the jungles that sprawl across Central America, you won’t find a Mayan city bigger than Tikal. Although it’s been thousands of years since its heyday, you can still walk among the ruins and climb the steps of its six towering temples.

One of the easiest ways to visit Tikal is to start your journey in Belize. The town of San Ignacio, Belize is just a two-hour drive away on the other side of the border and the San Ignacio Resort Hotel is a fabulous locally-owned hotel with its own iguana sanctuary.

One Special Thing To Do Nearby:

You may spot the resort’s resident iguana sunbathing in a palm tree above the pool, but if not you can take a walk to the on-site iguana sanctuary. Here you can learn about the project’s efforts to rehabilitate the iguanas, while you strike a pose with these lovable lizards.

Best Time Of Year To Go:

Tikal is in the jungle so it will be hot and sticky no matter what time of year you go, however, if you want to avoid the crowds, you should plan your trip towards the end of the year. It is typically less busy between September and December.

Banff National Park / Fairmont Château Lake Louise — Andrew Gunadie

Why This Place:

You might not expect to find a luxury getaway in a national park, but Fairmont Château Lake Louise in Banff National Park offers you a premium experience at a beautiful historic property with everything you’d need to celebrate a special occasion. It looks right out onto Lake Louise, one of Canada’s most stunning natural landmarks, thanks to its brilliant shades of turquoise-blue water.

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

The Banff Gondola is a scenic 8-minute journey up to the top of Sulphur Mountain, 2,292 feet up! You’ll find restaurants, observation decks, interpretive boardwalks, and hiking trails — all offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding park and mountains.

One Special Thing To Do Nearby:

Take a half-day hike from the hotel up to the Lake Agnes Tea House, a family-run business that offers a variety of tea and snacks. Or if you aren’t into hiking, you can enjoy afternoon tea at the hotel with prime views of Lake Louise and the Victoria Glacier.

Best Time Of Year To Go And Why:

Visit in late September during larch season when the trees turn a stunning shade of yellow. It’s a popular time for hikes especially around Lake Louise & nearby Moraine Lake, so make sure to plan accordingly!

Turpin Meadow Ranch, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming (Jackson Hole) — Benjamin Liong Setiawan

Why This Place:

I love Turpin Meadow Ranch because it’s a dude ranch, but a luxe version of one. Plus the private cabins remind me of tiny houses and I’m mildly obsessed with tiny houses. Turpin has a relaxed vibe different from the champagne yurt you’ll find at the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (which I don’t mind either).

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

There are tons of cross country trails for Nordic skiing. The setting is gorgeous because you have amazing views of the Tetons all around.

One Special Thing To Do Nearby:

After a day in the snow, it’s nice to take a breather at the bar for a cocktail or two while you warm up by the fireplace. While the ranch is casual, be prepared for gourmet meals. I never worry about what I’m eating at Turpin because I know we’ll always be well fed.

Best Time Of Year To Go And Why:

I prefer the winter because I’ve started to appreciate mixing cross country skiing into my winter repertoire. And the ranch is so cozy and magical that time of the year.

Stein Eriksen Residences, Wasatch Range Utah (Deer Valley) — Benjamin Liong Setiawan

Why This Place:

If you’re going to Deer Valley to ski the Wasatch Range, sometimes you want more space than what a hotel can provide. Whether it’s a pod of friends or a family trip, Stein Eriksen Residences has great ski-in/ski-out options for larger groups without sacrificing the amenities and services of a luxury hotel.

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

I will admit that typically I ride a snowboard during the winter months, but I will temporarily put on skis to enjoy Deer Valley. There are only three resorts in the U.S. that only allow skiing. The skiing at Deer Valley is so pleasant that I don’t mind giving my board a break.

One Special Thing To Do At The Place/resort/camp:

I have a thing for infinity pools especially when they have a great view. The infinity pool at Stein Eriksen Residences did not disappoint. Also a good soak in the hot tub does wonders for tired or sore muscles after a day on the slopes.

Best Time Of Year To Go And Why:

I love going to Stein Eriksen Residences in the winter to take advantage of the snow at Deer Valley. For those wanting more, you can also book a snowcat to do some backcountry skiing and riding with Park City Powder Cats.

Spicers Sangoma Retreat (Blue Mountains, Australia) — Steve Bramucci

Jake Anderson

Why This Place:

It’s funny… I think it’s a lot harder to appreciate luxury in the city. If you’re splurging on someplace special, you want to be able to really savor the joys of being catered to. Bask in it. Without feeling like you’re swapping remoteness for amenities.

Spicers does a great job of building retreats that hit this slow-travel-meets-luxe sweet spot. Their property in the Blue Mountains, Spicers Sangoma, is literally swallowed by endless ecalyptus trees, while remaining sleek and cool (a little like the place in the movie Ex Machina). The views are astounding, the food is both local and organic, the bathtubs are extra deep, and the beds are custom made.

The result? Sangoma makes the perfect place to balance serious adventure with plenty of quiet time to decompress. Bring a lover and a good book.

One Special Thing To Do In The Park:

I’ve written about Claustral Canyon before. It is, quite simply, one of the wildest places I’ve ever seen — where ferns the size of small cars cling to the mossy canyon walls and crystalline water plunges down cascading falls. Magical and only 30 minutes from Spicers.

It’s also a serious adventure — accessed through multiple rappells down to the canyon floor. You have to really be up for it to enjoy the experience. (Most Blue Mountain canyoning outfitters will take you to Claustral — made famous on the cover of National Geographic — but be warned: You may have to convince them that you’ve got the salt to make it through.)

One Special Thing To Do At The Property:

You’re going to feel fully battered after coming out the other side of Clasutral Canyon. At which point, you’ll want to race back to Spicers and dive in that tub while watching the sunset across the Blue Mountains. Or better yet, hit the spa for a massage while the sounds of the bushland engulf you.

Best Time Of Year To Go And Why:

I love spring in New South Wales — October-November — but the Claustral experience is so special that it’s wise to fully plan around that. By winter, the Blue Mountains is too cold for canyoning, so keep that in mind.

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