Category Archives: Travel

How to get the best experience out of Yellowstone National Park

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Yellowstone can be a difficult park to enjoy, to say the least. With nearly five million visitors a year, most of them in July and August, there are often just so many people that the popular and famous attractions are impossible to enjoy during daylight hours.

This raises the much-discussed question of how it is best to go about visiting the park. Some claim that winter is the best option, as tourism is at its lowest and many roadside attractions, such as Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs, become infinitely more enjoyable. While stories that claim that you will have the whole park to yourself are a little far-fetched and unlikely, there are for sure much fewer people for sure.

An unavoidable downside is that most of the park–generally around 95%–is very literally closed off and inaccessible by car or by foot. Rangers simply don’t have the resources to devote time and effort into cleaning up the roads and trails from snow enough to be used, and instead simply close them off for the winter. That means that while the famous attractions will be more accessible, everything else will be blocked off and you will be trapped on the roadside locations, unable to see the wilder side of the park. That is not to mention the temperature and the snow gear required for even the shortest of hikes, which only add to the problems with that solution.

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Another common idea is to explore at dusk and dawn, thus avoiding the majority of tourism. However, this is not advisable practice for a number of reasons: first off, when would you sleep? And second, what do you intend to do during the day? The obvious solution is to sleep a few hours during the day and the night and be awake for a few at dusk and dawn, but that’s extremely problematic, as you would have much less time in each “day” or iteration, and your sleep cycle would be so disrupted by this unorthodox schedule, combined with possible jetlag, that you would very likely end up too exhausted to function within the first 48 hours. Unless you are okay with doing nothing for most of the day, that’s hardly going to work out.

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There is another possibility though, and while it might sound unappealing at first, it can be the most rewarding option. The idea is to make the sacrifice of skipping popular places like Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs, and instead go out farther into the wilder areas of the park, avoiding the masses and exploring places you won’t find in travel guides or road maps.

Typically, in Yellowstone if a place can be driven through or there are short boardwalk loops, it’s full of people. However, hiking trails over a mile long are generally much more solitary, as a surprisingly low percentage of people take the time to actually go on a longer hike. Often, the most rewarding hikes aren’t on maps or even recommended online. Small, random trails on the side of the road typically lead to something interesting, and they can be much more enjoyable than well-used trails in popular regions of the park.

Yellowstone is littered with geothermal features and wildlife hotspots, and the well-known ones are only a small sample. Arguably the best way to experience Yellowstone is to take chances and visit the more reclusive areas, driving headfirst into wilderness directly away from the masses. It takes some luck to find the best places, but it’s unlikely that the search will be fruitless. What very few people seem to grasp is that Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic are not what makes Yellowstone such a spectacular park–it’s the thousands of rarely explored places that offer the unexpected, be it a colorful geothermal pool or a face-to-face encounter with a pissed of moose, that make up the experience.

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Check out my Yellowstone Travel Guide for more tips, suggestions, and recommendations.

Yellowstone Travel Guide

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Yellowstone is a very complicated place to enjoy. In some ways it’s a can’t-miss, and in other ways, it’s just not for everyone. You might go there for the bears or bison, but you will be encountering a very different and much more dangerous breed of animal a lot more often: humans, and a damn lot of them.

Thankfully, there are ways to get around the crowds, but it does take some skill and risk. If you do choose to visit, here are a few things you should know.

What to expect

Wildlife is one of the main reasons so many people flock to the park, and you’re almost guaranteed to have some encounters. There is a lot of wildlife, which sounds good. It comes with its responsibilities though–animals might be so used to people they act fearless, but it’s still not a good idea to get in their face.

You’ll surely see bison, moose, elk, deer, and the occasional eagle. Wolves are extremely shy of people and you would have to get very lucky to actually see them, although their howls are not a rare occurrence at night.

As far as dangerous animals go, wolves rarely get close to people and bears are shy as well. Moose are very often underappreciated and underestimated, as are bison. While unprovoked attacks are extremely rare from any animal, bear spray (and the ability to use it) is necessary for hiking the wilder areas of the park. However, the large animals are not the most dangerous. Snakes can be venomous and hard to spot, although staying on trails can solve that problem. Bug spray comes in handy and in some places can save you from hundreds of bites in one hike from mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, and many other varieties of bloodsuckers.

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Weather can be unpredictable. Precipitation is spread surprisingly evenly in the year, so rain is not unusual even in the hottest months. It gets pretty cold too–sub-zeros in the winter and often down to the 40s even in the hottest months. Be prepared for any weather, and make sure an unexpected rainstorm won’t mess with your plans.

You might be surprised to learn that if you intend to stay inside the park at one of the 9 lodges, you’ll have to book at least a year in advance, preferably more. They are always full, and you would have to be very lucky to catch a cancellation. However, there are hotels outside the park that are somewhat less busy, if you don’t mind a few hours’ drive every day.

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Speaking of driving, getting around in the park takes longer than you probably plan, due to traffic, narrow roads, viewpoints that are certain to make you stop along the way, and wildlife-induced traffic stops. Also keep in mind that there is very little cell and no internet in the park, so don’t plan to rely on your GPS–download a map instead and make sure to keep track of where you are.

There are a lot of roads in the park, but the two main routes are the Upper Loop, which passes Mammoth Hot Springs, Lower and Upper Falls, and Norris Geyser Basin, and the Lower Loop, which passes Old Faithful, Upper Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, Gibbon River, Yellowstone River, and West Thumb Basin. The South entrance offers a scenic way of entering the park.

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When to visit

Most roads are closed in the winter and open in May, which presents a problem: there’s hardly a manageable offseason. If you are able to, it’s always smart to avoid the most crowded months, regardless of where you are going. For Yellowstone though, that’s close impossible, since 95% of the park is literally closed off in the offseason–and even if that doesn’t bother you, there’s still a lot of snow to manage.

This limits your reasonable options to either May, right as the roads open, or late August and September, as the season is ending. Either way, there’s always the risk that the snow will take longer than usual to melt or start falling earlier than expected, cutting into some or all of your trip. It’s a risk to consider.

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Visiting in the winter is possible, though it can be difficult. Although your options may be limited, there are significantly fewer people during the winter, so your experience may even be better than the other option. It’s a very different experience, and it can be much more enjoyable. However, be ready for road closures, snowstorms, and temperatures well below freezing that may interfere with plans, or even keep you out of the park entirely. It’s risky but possible.

Whatever you do, avoid July and August. The weather and insects can be extreme, and  it’s by far the worst in terms of crowds, so much of the park is impossible to enjoy without the other few million people there.

For more extensive tips on when and how to ditch the masses, check out my in-depth article on the topic.

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Places to avoid (sometimes…)

There are of course a lot of great places to go, but many of the most obvious ones aren’t on that list. There is one reason for that, and that is the crowds. With over 4 million people visiting the park every year, you will get tired of driving at 2 mph staring at the next car’s stupid vanity plate, only to finally get out and have all the other tourists engulf you in a cloud of sweat-smell, push at you and shove elbows in your ribs to get a better view and stop to pose for selfies every two steps.

Old Faithful:

While it’s certainly famous, consider skipping it. It only erupts every 36-120 mins and the sheer amount of people standing and sitting around block the view. Unless you go at dawn, there is no chance you will be left alone. In the winter though, it’s a lot easier to enjoy.

Grand Prismatic Spring:

It’s one of the most photographed places in the park, and for a good reason. However striking it may be though, the crowds confined to the narrow, boardwalk can ruin the experience in minutes. Once again, winter is an entirely different experience.

Hayden Valley:

This is mostly a drive-through attraction, so the traffic can clog up very easily. Often you will find yourself at an indefinitely long dead halt, as somewhere ahead of you someone spotted wildlife and stopped to stare. However, there really is a lot of wildlife, and since you’ll have some guaranteed elbow room in your car, it’s not a terrible option if you’re okay with incomprehensibly hopeless traffic jams.

Mammoth Hot Springs:

While the hot terraces, springs, mud pots, and other limestone features are certainly interesting, the limited boardwalks and seemingly unlimited amounts of people can very easily ruin the experience. Unless you visit in the winter, when not much else in the park is open, it will be difficult to enjoy, much like Grand Prismatic Spring.

Places to see

Despite the ridiculous crowds in some sections of the park, there are areas that the general masses typically don’t get to, but are just as interesting to see.

West Thumb Geyser Basin:

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West Thumb is a relatively small basin compared to others in the park, and it’s generally not a common tourist destination, so it won’t be too crowded. It’s certainly worth seeing though; among its abundant geothermal features are geysers (Lake Shore Geyser, Twin Geysers), hot springs (Blue Funnel Spring, Surging Spring), and geothermal pools (Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Bluebell Pool, Seismograph Pool) with stunning colors, situated conveniently right on the shores of Yellowstone Lake, which is also worth checking out.

Artist Point and Point Sublime: 

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While it’s often listed as a hike, Artist Point is 0.2 miles from the road with a 16 ft elevation gain, so it’s more of a viewpoint from the highway. Point Sublime is 1.5 miles from the road and offers similar views with fewer people. They are certainly worth a stop, as they offer sweeping views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Little Gibbon Falls

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This “hidden” hike gets so little traffic most people don’t even know about it due to it’s discreet location marked only by one sign reading “Wolf Lake” and it’s absence on most road maps–which is exactly why it’s worthwhile. In addition to the falls, Ice Lake is also in the area, and if you hike an extra few miles, Wolf Lake isn’t much of a stretch either.

Two Ocean Plateau:

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Two Ocean Plateau received its odd name–given that its hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean–because all the water to the West of it drains into the Pacific, and all the water on the East drains into the Atlantic. While that’s not noticeable when you’re there, the picturesque marsh and views of Yellowstone Lake are the opposite.

Lone Star Geyser:

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Given that it’s situated almost 3 miles from the parking lot, there are refreshingly few people at this geyser. The hike is mostly flat and partially paved, following the Firehole River. The geyser erupts only every three hours, but there are plenty of other unnamed geysers and hot springs in the area to explore while waiting. There’s a log book at the parking lot where hikers write down the time of the previous eruption so you’ll know roughly what to expect.

A note on human stupidity

In broad daylight in peak season, Yellowstone is extremely crowded. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get around the crowds, but the park’s permanent residents have little choice. Both animals and tourists are sometimes so unafraid of each other that people will get out of their cars and approach animals as if neither poses a threat to the other. If the animal doesn’t like that, it’s not the tourists who get shot by the rangers, sadly.

It’s not just on the roads where stupid people can cause damage; things like getting off the trail or boardwalk in areas where there are signs explicitly saying not to can permanently damage the environments–or the people, in the case of the guy who boiled to death in a hot spring a few years ago after leaving the boardwalk.

Tourists who think they’re in a zoo or amusement park do stupid and selfish things. It happens all the time and there is little to do about it, but that doesn’t make it any better. If you want to avoid it, stay away at tourist season. If you want to change it, sue away. But whatever you do don’t be one of them.

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7 Popular Attractions that Aren’t Worth the Hype, and Better Alternatives

The world is full of amazing places to discover. Many are in plain sight: no doubt Yellowstone, Yosemite, or Denali are great to visit. There are also countless hidden getaways waiting to be found and explored. But there are also places that might be famous, but really don’t deserve a place on your bucket list. Regarding the latter type of places, if you’ve been everywhere you’ve ever wanted to go and have no better ideas, knock yourself out. But if that’s not the case, don’t bother.

Not Worth It: Mount Rushmore.

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This iconic monument might sound like a must-see, but in reality it’s anything but inspiring. First off, it’s way farther away than you would expect; there’s no good way to get closer than the observation deck picture shows. It’s really small, too, compared to what seeing it online can lead you to believe. It’s also crowded by the hundreds of tourists waiting to take selfies from the front row. Historical significance aside, it’s just some faces in a big boring rock.

Solution: Badlands National Park.

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Only a 90-minute drive from Rushmore is this striking and rugged park that, despite its unappealing name, is certainly worth a drive through. It’s layered and colorful exposed rock and unusual rock formations make it unique among other places in the area. In addition to the scenery, Badlands is home to black-footed ferrets, prairie dogs, jackrabbits, bighorn sheep, and bison, which can be seen frequently to highlight the drive.

Not Worth It: The Great Wall of China.

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The Great Wall is an architectural wonder of the ancient world, stretching over 13,000 miles across western Asia. However, you might be disappointed to find that you won’t see much of it due to…the panic-inducing monstrosity you see in the picture. No, it’s not a fake; that’s actually what it’s like in peak season. Tourists are only allowed on a relatively short section of the wall, so there isn’t really anywhere to escape the stampede either.

Solution: The Altai Mountains, Mongolia

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This extensive mountain range is found on the border of China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Russia. From trekking to climbing to skiing, the area has endless possibilities–and much fewer people. Temperatures in the winter can get a little extreme, but that doesn’t deter everyone. In the spring, there is a lot dense of vegetation, like wildflowers, which make the landscape even more interesting, but in the fall there is much less water and the gorges are more accessible. It’s a huge place so everyone will find something to do.

Not Worth It: The Empire State Building.

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Notice anything missing?

The Empire State Building is one of the most famous landmarks in the US and one of the most well-known skyscrapers in the world, and no wallpaper of downtown Manhatten is complete without it. That’s exactly why you should not waste your money on it: you will notice any photos you manage to take through the dirty glass and chainlink and over the shoulders of all the other impatient and disappointed tourists will be missing something important — that would be because you are standing right on top of it.

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Solution: Top of the Rock. Getting to the top of this skyscraper is no less expensive, but typically less crowded and overall a more rewarding experience. The sweeping views of midtown Manhatten are infinitely better, and the Empire State Building will actually be in your pictures (or Central Park, which there is also a much better view of), which is another big plus.

Not Worth It: The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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The picture is all you need to talk yourself out of this one. The tower itself isn’t a big deal — many of the buildings around it are actually much more impressive. You won’t get a clear view of it either anytime soon due to hundreds of other people trying to get the cliched “holding up/knocking over the tower” picture. So if you want one of those pics, you’re better off using photoshop.

Solution: Rome

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Only a four-hour drive from Pisa is the ancient city of Rome, with its renown ancient architecture and rich history. While you’re there, step back a couple of millennia and check out the Pantheon, the Colosseum, St Peter’s Basilica, and whatever else you can find. Just steer clear of the Trevi Fountain–it’s a little crowded over there (see the Piazza Navona instead).

Not Worth It: Stonehenge.

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Stonehenge is an outstanding ancient work, the purpose of which we are at loss to understand. The complex patterns it forms with the sun and stars, as well as the amount of coordinated effort that went into building it is sure to light up your imagination. But as fascinating as it is, don’t waste your money and time on it. As you can see, you are unlikely to be alone for your trip. And if the crowds don’t faze you, consider what you get out of it: sure, it’s a cool place, but there isn’t much to do besides stare straight ahead and think, which you might as well be doing from wherever you are now.

Solution: Callanish Stones.

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Stonehenge is not the only ancient monolith in the world. This one, found in Scotland, is just as incredible and a lot more peaceful. Sure, you can get away from the crowds, but you can also you can get up close to these, unlike Stonehenge.

Not Worth It: Times Square.

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Tourists travel here from all over the world. It’s the heart of New York City, after all. It’s also loud, crowded, dirty, and unbelievably expensive. What you see in pictures is colorful billboards and skyscrapers, but what you see in person is more like the dirty sidewalk, shops where a sandwich costs more than your retirement, and an endless sea of loud, angry, impatient people who want to either take a selfie, pick your pockets literally or figuratively, or get the hell out of there.

Solution: Central Park.

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Central Park is one of the three most popular attractions in NYC–the others being the Empire State Building and Times Square. That means it gets a lot of visitors, but it’s a little different from the other two in that, instead of one cramped square or an even more cramped observation deck, it encompasses over 1.3 square miles. It’s huge, given the size and density of the surrounding city–it’s big enough to get lost in, and it would take years to explore everything. Yes, there are areas you should avoid at night, but it’s still a much better place than the city.

Not Worth It: The Great Pyramids.

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The Great Pyramids of Cairo, Egypt are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It’s incredible to think of how much work went into arranging those multi-ton boulders without only human hands in one pharaoh’s lifetime. However, once again it’s best to think from a distance. To begin, you won’t be allowed inside the pyramids, so forget exploring them (legally, anyway). The pyramids are also smaller than you probably expected; still huge but not THAT big. And you won’t enjoy the crowds either: tourists can be annoying, but so are all the locals desperately trying to sell you their things.

Solution: Aswan.

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This peaceful Egyptian city is found only a day’s drive from Giza and Cairo, and it’s a lot more enjoyable than the latter. The city is home to many attractions, from cruises on the Nile to exquisite ancient temples to camel trips in the dunes. While you’re there, you might want to check out the nearby Abu Simbel temple, and the White Desert, with its standing chalk formations.

Alaska Travel Guide

Alaskans joke that if Texans won’t quit saying they’re the biggest state, they’ll split Alaska in two and make the cowboys third biggest. While a lot of Alaska is frozen solid year-round, it’s still a big state to explore. Because of its size, it’s not easy choosing which part to visit. It’s way too big to road-trip in a week or two so sacrifices will have to be made.

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Regardless of which part you decide to see, there are a wide variety of reasons to go. Wildlife is one of the most obvious reasons people want to see the state. Alaska is home to many types of wildlife, including deer, elk, reindeer, moose, musk oxen, wood bison, red and gray foxes, marmots, porcupines, beavers, coyotes, wolverines, lynx, black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, and tundra wolves. Birds include puffins, osprey, bald eagles, and ten different owl species. Sealife includes harbor seals, dolphins, belugas, orcas, and humpback whales.

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Denali is a good area to see almost any type of Alaskan wildlife. In salmon season (May through September), you can find car-accessible bear-watching spots in Hidden Creek. For a less wild experience, see the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see much of Alaska’s elusive wildlife in huge but safe habitats. While you’re at it, check out the Alaska Sealife Center too.

If you’re interested in cruises off the coast, Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier are some of the best. However, sealife and glacier tours are offered off the coast of many small towns and parks as well, so if you’re near the coast, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one.

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There is no one perfect place to stay to see everything you want to see, so you could consider staying in several places for a few days at a time. But if that’s off your budget, here are some of the most popular places:

  • Anchorage is a popular place to stay due to it being a big city, but being surrounded almost entirely by wilderness.
  • Seward, a few hours’ drive south from Anchorage, is close to many popular destinations, most notably Kenai Fjords. It’s also a hotspot for boat tours off the cost.
  • Juneau, down in the “panhandle,” is a completely separate part of the state, which is worth a whole separate trip.
  • Fairbanks, up north, is also a good place to stay if you don’t mind the snow and cold. It’s close to Denali, which draws in the most visitors, and it’s a good place for dog sledding. If you want to see the Northern Lights, Fairbanks is the way to go.

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When it comes down to individual locations, it’s not an easy choice. There are way too many to choose from. However, since it’s unlikely you’ll get a chance to see them all, here are some of the most popular, most interesting, and most scenic, and best rated places in the state:

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#11: Mendenhall Glacier. This one is located only a few miles from Juneau, which makes it one of the most popular glaciers in Alaska. It’s also one of the most easily accessible, since trails from the visitor center go right down to it.

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#10: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. In this park and the small town near it, you will find museums dedicated to the history of Klondike, gold rush-era log cabins, and the largest gold nugget ever found.

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#9: Hubbard Glacier. The Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, and one of the fastest. Because of it’s (relatively) fast movement, it’s common for large chunks of ice to break off into the ocean, which is why boats can rarely get closer than a half-mile from the face.

#8: Sitka National Historical Park. While it’s known chiefly for its totem poles, there is a lot more to discover. It’s located on the site of a battle between the Russians and the Tlingits in 1804, and as a result, the park has an odd combination of Tlingit and Russian culture. But along with the artifacts and buildings, there is also a lush rainforest and a scenic coastline that make Sitka a good park for hiking and camping.

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#7: Fairbanks. The town of Fairbanks in central Alaska is popular mostly because of how common it is to see the northern lights. It’s also a good place for dogsledding. However, know that temperatures go well below freezing day and night, and the snow can be heavy enough to keep people stranded at home.

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#6: Seward. It’s proximity that makes this town a must-see. In addition to the town itself, it’s close to Kenai Fjords, Resurrection Bay, the Alaska Sealife Center, and many more popular destinations.

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#5: Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway a scenic route that runs all the way from British Columbia to Fairbanks. It’s a good route to take if you intend to drive to Alaska, and the views are worth seeing. The towns along the road offer places to stay, and there are plenty of attractions along the way.

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#4: Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve. Glacier Bay is known for its whale-watching tours, but it’s also a good kayaking/camping spot, with over 700 miles of shoreline to explore. Sealife is the main attraction, which is plentiful and includes harbor seals and humpback whales. Tour boats and cruise ships are the easiest way to enter, since there is only one road.

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#3: Tracy Arm Fjord. This is bigger and better version of the Mendenhall Glacier. The waterway is often no wider than a half mile, but the 3000-foot cliffs, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife, make it a spectacular natural wonder that’s a can’t-miss if you’re in the Juneau area.

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#2: Kenai Fjords National Park. This park is located just a few miles from Seward, or a two-hour drive from Anchorage. Hiking, whale-watching, climbing, and visiting active glaciers are just a few of the activities found there. The Exit Glacier is one of the major attractions.

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# 1: Denali National Park. Denali is simply a can’t-miss. It’s a big place, like everything in Alaska, so even within the park you will have to choose what to see and what to miss. In the spring, you will find endless fields of wildflowers in the pristine, untouched wilderness. Moose, elk, bison, reindeer, lynx, bears, and tundra wolves are no stranger to the park, though some of the above mentioned are elusive and hard to spot.

Iceland Travel Guide

Iceland is full of many different types of scenery. Despite being a relatively small country, a one or two-week visit will hardly scratch the surface of the scenery to be found.

If you’re looking for waterfalls, take a look at Gulfoss, Dettifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Goðafoss, Hraunfossar, and Glymur. Check out Eyjafjallajökull, Keilir, Hekla, Landmannalaugar, Hvannadalshnúkur, and Kirkjufell if climbing mountains are closer to your style. If geothermal lakes interest you more, check out the Blue Lagoon, Lake Myvatn, Viti, Grjótagjá, and lakes in Landmannalaugar.

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The Golden Circle route (which can be driven around, but tours are offered too) is one of the most popular areas to visit. It begins in Reykjavik and takes as long as you want it to, from six hours to a full week. It includes Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geyser Geothermal Area, but detours can be made to include the crater lake Kerid, Langjokkul Glacier, the Thjorsardalur Valley, and the historic town of Skalholt.

There are reasons to visit other than the scenery, too. Aurora Borealis, or the Northern lights, is visible most clear nights between September and April. In the summer, milder temperatures of up to 70° F (22° C) draw in visitors wanting to explore the island without heavy winter gear. Icelandic seafood is known to be excellent any time of year (although some traditional Icelandic food is not usually appreciated by tourists).

Reykjavik is a popular place to stay due to the abundance of tours that start there, but there are hotels available in central Iceland, which provide more proximity to day-trip destinations. Check out Sandhotel and Fosshotel in Reykjavik, Hotel Ranga and Hotel Vík in the South, Ion Adventure Hotel (pictured) in the Southwest, and Fosshotel Myvatn in the Northeast. Exotic and unusual hotels are also available in Iceland, from log cabins and igloos to the famous Bubble Hotel that’s actually more comfortable than it looks.

There are a lot of great places to go–too many to choose from if you have limited time there. These are the 12 best must-see places to visit in Iceland:

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#12: Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and its an essential part of any trip to the South of the island. It’s a part of the Golden Circle route, so a lot of tours include it.

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#11: Kerlingarfjöll. This mountain range is one of Iceland’s most interesting, despite being basically the middle of nowhere. Huts are available to rent, but camping is more common.

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#10: Reynisfjara Beach. Found near the village of Vik in southern Iceland, Reyisfjara is known around the world for its black sand and unusual rock formations. It’s only a few hour’s drive from Reykjavik.

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#9: Asbyrgi Canyon. Asbyrgi translates to “shelter of the gods” in Icelandic, and the place has an interesting legend behind it. In addition to a great view, there are many hiking trails around the area.

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#8: Thingvellir National Park. In this park, the most famous part of the Golden Circle tour, you will find the Oxara waterfall and the Nikulasargja Gorge (aka Money Gorge), along with other photo-worthy destinations.

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#7: Lake Myvatn. While its pretty far North from Reykjavik, it’s worth the drive if you have the time. There are plenty of geothermal lakes that offer a cheaper and less crowded alternative to the famous Blue Lagoon, as well as geothermal caves and underground lakes to swim through.

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#6: Landmannalaugar. The most scenic parts difficult to access and there are not many services to be found, so you need to pack your own food, gasoline, and camping equipment. But once you’re there the lava fields, colorful hills, and striking peaks make up for the inconvenience.

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#5: Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Located in the Northwest tip of Iceland, the Hornstrandir Reserve is an extensive nature reserve that is open for hiking and camping, though a guide is recommended.

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#4: Skaftafell National Park. There are many things to do in Skaftafell. The Crystal Cave is a popular ice cave worth seeing if being under several dozen feet of shimmering blue ice doesn’t give you claustrophobia. Tours of the glacier are also available, with the right equipment. The Svartifoss with its oddly regular columns and the Hundafoss are the two most famous waterfalls in the area.

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#3: Blue Lagoon. The geothermal spa Blue Lagoon is one of the most iconic experiences in Iceland. It’s easily accessible and close to Reykjavik, which makes it a popular tourist destination. However, be warned: it’s a little expensive.

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2#: Kirkjufell Mountain. This is basically the Matterhorn of Iceland. Along with Kirkjufellfoss, the waterfall, it is one of the most visited natural locations in Iceland. It’s pretty remote, but the good news is it’s only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, so it’s a good day-trip from there.

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#1: Reykjavik: The picturesque town of Reykjavik is Iceland’s biggest city, as well as its capital. It’s the most popular place to stay, and the start of the Golden Circle route. It’s a must-see not because of the scenery, but the convenience and proximity.

Additional resources for planning a trip: Iceland Travel, Guide to IcelandIceland 24afar.com’s and Oyster.com’s hotel lists.