About two hours east of Los Angeles awaits a landscape so starkly foreign, it’s like landing on another planet. The 3000-square-kilometre Joshua Tree National Park sits at the meeting of two deserts, the Colorado to the east and the Mojave to the west, and those two ecosystems are home to a wide array of curious animals and unusual plants.

Tarantulas and spiny cacti aside, it’s likely the park’s giant rocks that will take your breath away first. Ponderously large boulders crop up from the arid landscape and ask to be explored, climbed, and picnicked beneath by visitors of all ages. Winding paved roads take visitors past these rock piles, the result of long-ago volcanic activity that pushed molten monzogranite up through the earth’s layers. A process of cooling, cracking, chemical weathering, and soil erosion produced the awe-inspiring formations seen today.

Top Park Sites

The beauty of a national park like Joshua Tree is in the unfettered exploration, so pull over and scout wherever the landscape strikes as long as it’s safe to park. You’ll encounter the namesake Joshua trees on the western half, and the craggy-limbed yucca with its spikey evergreen leaves makes for poignant photo-ops.

Keys view, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Apart from the trees, there are several park highlights, including Keys View at an elevation of over 1500 metres. To reach the summit, take a 20-minute drive from Park Boulevard to be rewarded with a 365-degree view that includes the Salton Sea, Santa Rosa Mountains, San Andreas Fault, and Coachella Valley.

Of all the park’s rock formations, Skull Rock is the crowd-pleaser for its towering granite rock that has eroded to resemble a human skull. On temperate weekends, the warren of rocks, crevices, and tiny trails around the formation will be crawling with park visitors trying to get a leg up on nature.

For an easy but interesting hike for all ages, take the two-kilometre Barker Dam trail, which was built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and mining. Due to the drought, there’s not much water, but the hike still offers ample time for lizard and bird spotting (be on the lookout for hummingbirds and the cactus wren).

Joshua Tree National Park, USA

For yet another otherworldly experience, head to the Cholla Cactus Garden nestled between the two deserts. The short, spikey, furry-looking cacti (nicknamed “teddy bear” cholla) spread as far as the eye can see, and there’s a quarter-mile trail that loops you through them.

Where to eat and drink

Most of the best places to eat and drink in Joshua Tree are clustered on Twentynine Palms Highway near Sunset Road. For a casual sit-down meal, the charmingly eclectic Crossroads Café is the epitome of a small-town café. It’s open seven days a week for breakfast (until 2pm), lunch, and dinner and is as friendly to carnivores (try the corned beef hash or the BLT) as it is to vegans (soy-rizo hash, seitan tacos).

Across the street is Pie for the People, a counter-service pizza joint with tables inside and out on a shaded back patio. While you can get your pie plain, it’s best to get into the shop’s funky spirit and order something like the David Bowie, a pizza topped with mozzarella, bacon, roasted pineapple, jalapeños, and caramelized onions that’s surprisingly good. Connected to the patio is the Joshua Tree Coffee Company, which roasts its own beans, and sells them alongside cold-brew and pour-over coffee and espresso drinks.

sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Where to Stay

For those who want to experience the magic of Joshua Tree by moonlight, camping is the answer. There are nine campgrounds at the park. Only two have water and flushing toilets (Black Rock and Cottonwood), and none have showers. Reservations up to six months in advance are available at Black Rock and Indian Cove, October through May, while the rest are first-come, first-served. Visitors without reservations arriving on Friday or Saturday will likely not find an open spot.

The towns of Joshua Tree and 29 Palms are dotted with local motels and national chain hotels. The Best Western Gardens Hotel at Joshua Tree National Park has suites available with a separate bedroom and kitchenettes, as well as a pool. 29 Palms Inn on 70 acres next to the park books up fast, and room options include a 1930s adobe bungalow and a 1920s wood frame cabin. There’s an on-site pool and a restaurant that makes take-away picnic lunches.

Park Blvd in Joshua Tree National Park 6, USA, California, Joshua Tree National Park, motorcyclists passing the Cholla Garden

Explore the surrounding area

Squeeze in a Hollywood sideshow at Pioneertown, a 30-minute drive from the town of Joshua Tree. The replica 1880s Old West town was built in 1946 as a place to film Westerns, among them The Cisco Kid and Annie Oakley. Don’t be surprised if you run into Wild West reenactments on Mane Street on weekend afternoons. For entertainment in Pioneertown, head to Pappy & Harriet’s, a famous all-ages honky-tonk with live music, pool tables, and a steakhouse-style menu.

To experience the quirkier side of the area, make a reservation in nearby Landers for a private or group sound bath at the Integratron, a self-described “resonant tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert.” And don’t let the sun set without checking out the World Famous Crochet Museum, created by artist Shari Elf. The lime-green ode to everything crochet is behind the Art Queen sign on Twentynine Palms Highway in Joshua Tree.

Need to know
The harsh landscape mimics the weather, which can be brutally hot June through September, while dipping into the 30s (Fahrenheit) at night December through February. Bringing plenty of water, dressing in layers, and liberally applying sunscreen are all musts. As well, be sure to stop by one of the park’s three visitor centers – Joshua Tree Visitor Center and Oasis Visitor Center on the north side and Cottonwood Visitor Center on the south – to check out exhibits, attend ranger-guided programs, and get park maps. Kids can grab a Junior Ranger booklet; upon completion, youngsters get sworn in as rangers and receive a badge. Admission for non-commercial vehicles is $15 for a 7-day pass or $30 for an annual pass.

Explore more of the USA with the Rough Guide to the USA.  Compare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Emerging above the rolling tumbleweed of prairies or hidden below modern cities, hundreds of eerily desolate former towns are scattered across the United States. Many of the USA’s ghost towns were once thriving settlements: they grew quickly, but disappeared just as fast in the boom and bust Gold Rush years, while others have a more shadowy past. From the cursed bricks of Bodie to the everlasting fire still burning in Centralia, read on for the spookiest places to visit in America, if you dare…

Bodie, California

In its heyday, Bodie was known as one of the most dangerous and lawless towns in the west. Maintained in a state of “arrested decay” (a phrase coined by the State of California), Bodie is now one of the best-preserved ghost towns in America, with buildings furnished as they were left and shopfronts stocked with familiar brands. A true Wild West ghost town, it was once home to 65 saloons where regular brawls and shootouts made it a perilous place to live. It is said that the violent characters of its past protect the town with the “Bodie Curse”, so refrain from stealing anything, even a piece of rubble, or you may find yourself struck down with bad luck.

Bodie State National Park, California, Eastern Sierra, USA

Texola, Oklahoma

Previously named Texokla and Texoma, Texola straddles the Oklahoma and Texas borders and switched between both states during its brief life as a popular railroad stop in the early 20th century. This identity crisis did not bode well for its future and the cotton town soon disbanded after its rapid expansion in the 1920s, aided by the arrival of Route 66. Walking through the town today, don’t miss the large painted letters on the side of a building that read, ‘There’s no place like Texola’; although the empty streets and crumbling buildings are surely not what the proud residents had in mind when painting the sign.

Texola – Flickr Creative CommonsTexola, TX via photopin (license)

Centralia, Pennsylvania

The smoky clouds billowing out of the cracked tarmac of Centralia, a former mining town, belie a phantom presence. If it weren’t for the unstable ground and carbon monoxide fumes, the area would likely be a filmmaker’s dream. The unearthly clouds are actually caused by a slow burning gas fire; the town caught alight in 1962 and hasn’t stopped burning since. Although the buildings have been condemned and the entrance to the town is surrounded by warning signs, you can view the eerie wasteland from Pennsylvania Route 61.

Centralia, Pennsylvania, USA – Flickr Creative Commonsrocbolt via Compfight cc

North Brother Island, New York

Situated within crowded New York City, North Brother Island is an unlikely abandoned settlement with a sinister history. Originally an isolated hospital for infectious small pox victims, the island is most famous for quarantining Mary Mallon, or ‘Typhoid Mary’ for over twenty years. In the 1950s, the hospital became a treatment centre for drug addicts before its closure just a decade later. Today the area is a bird sanctuary. While it’s off-limits to the public, this doesn’t stop plenty of urban explorers wandering around the haunting hospital buildings.

North Brother Island, NYC, USA - Flickr Creative CommonsIMG_4826 via photopin (license)

Seattle Underground, Washington

Seattle Underground is a city beneath a city. In 1889, the Great Seattle Fire destroyed many of the city’s buildings. In its wake, authorities decided to rebuild the city two storeys higher to avoid past flooding problems. At first, many of the underground stores remained open, with people climbing up and down ladders to reach the shops below. However, in 1907, the underground city was condemned, although it continued to be used for dodgy dealings and some unseemly business. Find out about the city’s frontier past by taking a guided tour around the partly-restored passages.

Seattle Underground, Washington, USA - Flickr Creative Commonsseattle underground via photopin (license)

Rhyolite, Nevada

Founded in 1904, Rhyolite grew quickly in the Gold Rush years but disbanded just as fast in the financial crisis of 1907. Stop by the abandoned town on your way from Vegas to Death Valley and find yourself transported back to the Gold Rush era. The best-preserved building in the town is The Bottle House, made from thousands of discarded beer and liquor bottles, a reminder of the fifty saloons the town once boasted. Once resplendent with marble staircases and stained glass windows, the remains of the three storey bank are a pertinent reminder of the short-lived highs the town enjoyed. Located in the midst of desert plains, the Rhyolite wasteland makes an eerie day trip.

Rhyolite, Nevada - Flickr Creative Commons2009-01-22 death valley_0202 via photopin (license)

Glenrio, New Mexico and Texas

Claiming to be the first and last town to straddle two states at once, Glenrio was once a popular stop for travellers on the Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and later for motorists on the old Route 66. When the new interstate was laid in 1973, it bypassed Glenrio and forced the quiet town to be silenced altogether. Come off Interstate 40 and take Route 66 and imagine yourself as an early twentieth century motorist experiencing the long open road for the first time. Arriving from the west, a crumbling sign greets you with the words ‘Motel, First in Texas’, and driving from the east the town bids its farewell with ‘Motel, Last in Texas’.

Glenrio, New Mexico, USA - Flickr Creative CommonsGlenrio, Texas via photopin (license)

Christmas, Arizona

Not the commercialised holiday town you might imagine, although that may have fared better, Christmas is a derelict mining community (its name derived from the date of the mine’s reopening in 1902). Once a thriving settlement, the town’s post office was busiest in December, when people would send cards and presents from across the USA to be redirected with the Christmas postmark. It continued to receive Christmas post for twenty years after its closure, and letters with the Christmas postmark have now become collectors items. You certainly won’t get the festive holiday feeling, but climb the steep, mile-long road to Christmas and you can walk around the few derelict buildings still standing and discarded mining equipment abandoned in the 1930s.

Explore more of the USA with the Rough Guide to the USACompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

New Orleans might hog the limelight, but there’s no end of things to do in Louisiana. Here, Rough Guides author Charles Hodgkins takes us on a tour of the state’s beguiling south.

While it’s easy to understand why New Orleans dominates most discussions of southern Louisiana, there’s much more to the lower areas of the Pelican State than the Big Easy. It’s a storied region that exists apart from the rest of the United States, a heady mix of cultures – most notably Cajun, but also a bit of Creole – happily sequestered on its own terms in a waterlogged place south of the actual South.

Whether you’re cruising the swamps of Acadiana in a crawfish skiff, standing reflectively on the porch of a slave cabin on a 200-year-old sugarcane plantation, or driving over countless bridges to a sandy barrier island at the end of the highway, there’s nowhere else quite like southern Louisiana.

Culture and crawfish in Cajun Country

At the heart of Louisiana’s Francophone Cajun country lies Lafayette, the state’s fourth-most populous city and one of its greatest cultural hubs. It’s the all-but-official capital of the state’s Acadiana region. Although English is the dominant language in and around Lafayette, it’s hardly uncommon to overhear Acadian French – especially each Wednesday night at Lafayette’s Blue Moon Saloon’s weekly Cajun jam.

Crawfish in Cajun Country, Louisiana

Within about 15 miles of Lafayette are a day’s worth (at least) of historically significant literary locations, worthwhile museums, nature excursions and small-town Acadiana charms.

St Martinville, a 25-minute drive southeast of Lafayette, is home not only to the Evangeline Oak, immortalised in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline” and still standing sentinel on the west bank of Bayou Teche, but also a waterside complex housing the African American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. Each museum relates moving tales from involuntary migrations of the eighteenth century that forever impacted this region: the former interprets stories gathered from over 300 years of African–American history in southern Louisiana, while the latter describes the deportation of the Acadians from eastern Canada and their eventual resettlement in present-day Acadiana.

Another small Cajun town worthy of a few hours’ lingering is Breaux Bridge, the self-anointed “Crawfish Capital of the World”, where a handful of excellent restaurants vie for visitors’ palates. Try airy and pleasant Café des Amis, known equally for its delectable gumbo and Saturday zydeco breakfasts.

Lafayette swamp tour, Louisiana, USA

Naturally, no visit to southern Louisiana is complete without embarking on a swamp tour, and with wildlife-rich Lake Martin a mere ten-minute drive from Breaux Bridge, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason (poor weather notwithstading) to not enjoy an outing on the lake’s murky waters. The area’s top guiding outfit is Cajun Country Swamp Tours, operated by father-and-son duo Butch and Shawn Guchereau, extra-knowledgeable locals who interpret the lake’s signature botany and teeming birdlife (cormorants, ibis, egrets, herons) in velvety Cajun drawls. Odds are strong you’ll also spot an alligator or two throughout the two-hour tour.

History and politics in Baton Rouge

Abutting the east bank of the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge is Louisiana’s state government centre, a major shipping port and home to the state’s largest university, Louisiana State. The city’s odd name, which translates to “Red Stick” in English, stems from an early French explorer who, upon arrival, spotted a wooden pole draped with bloody carcasses that marked a boundary between tribal hunting grounds. Intervening centuries have seen the city under French, British, and Spanish rule, as well as the Confederacy during the US Civil War.

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It’s no surprise, then, that Baton Rouge’s colourful political past makes for its most uniquely compelling attraction. Louisiana’s Museum of Political History, housed in the Old State Capitol – dubbed “that monstrosity on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain – takes a refreshingly no-holds-barred approach to the state’s notorious history of corruption. Check out the extensive permanent exhibition on infamous Governor/Senator Huey “the Kingfish” Long, who ruled Louisiana politics with an iron fist from the late 1920s until his 1935 death at the hands of an assailant.

Ten minutes away by foot from the Old State Capitol, Long’s highest-profile construction project (and the site of his assassination), the current State Capitol, is free to visit and also worth an extended look. The 1932 building and tower (at 450 feet, the tallest capitol in the US) is a lovely piece of Art Deco showmanship, flanked by 30 acres of landscaped gardens. Ascend to the 27th floor observation deck for commanding views of the ever-growing city, the muddy Mississippi and beyond.

Along River Road

Twisting out of metropolitan Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River southeasterly toward New Orleans, the so-called River Road penetrates Creole-influenced areas of southern Louisiana, winding its way through a peculiar medley of inviting historic plantations and eyesore petrochemical plants. The small town of Donaldsonville is a good stop-off for wandering among huge live oaks that stretch over quiet backstreets like spindly arms; Charles Street boasts a particularly lovely canopy of these trees.

The best of the area’s plantation tours is offered at Laura Plantation on the edge of Vacherie, an hour’s-plus drive from Baton Rouge. Here, longtime-local guides relate tales of the sugarcane plantation’s heyday, when it was one of the few woman-run sugarcane operations in the nineteenth century. Hour-long tours lead through the recently restored “Big House”, adjacent gardens, and, soberingly, into an austere slave cabin.

Laura PlantationLaura Plantation-8485 via photopin (license)

Off the beaten track in Grand Isle

Ambitious road-trippers will want to continue their southern Louisiana adventure by trekking out to the end-of-the-road community of Grand Isle, a pancake-flat, storm-prone place set on a wafer-thin barrier island bang against the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly every structure in sight here is built one storey above ground.

With a year-round population of just over 1000 (although tens of thousands of seasonal visitors can descend on the town during summer), Grand Isle is an assuredly sleepy place more often than not; it’s best-known as a main embarkation point for deep-sea fishing trips. Be sure to drive toward the far eastern end of the island to remote Grand Isle State Park, where nature trails invite quiet exploration and a lengthy pier extends over Gulf waters for excellent bird-watching, as well as fishing for tarpon, speckled trout and redfish.

Explore more of Louisiana with the Rough Guide to the USACompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Iceland might not be the first place that springs to mind when you’re planning a weekend away. The obvious cities like Paris, Berlin or Budapest would probably occur to you well before Reykjavík becomes an option. But after a four-night jaunt across some of Iceland’s impressive landscapes, including the Golden Circle and Reykjanes Peninsula, Lottie Gross discovers why Iceland’s capital is the perfect weekend break destination.

Why go for just a weekend?

Because it’s cheap to get there, and expensive to stay. Iceland is a notoriously expensive destination due to its small population and dependency on imports. It’s hard to stay in the country for a long time without breaking the bank, so a short trip is the most economical option for most travellers.

There are two different sides to Iceland – the capital and the countryside. Staying in Reykjavík makes it possible to enjoy the highlights of both the city and scenery in a short amount of time by taking day trips with tour companies to your chosen areas of interest. Reykjavík has charm and nightlife to rival cities even twice its size, while the surrounding countryside is too ethereal to miss.

Flights with WOW Air run from London Gatwick ten times a week and can set you back as little as £49 each way. Plus, new flights launching between London and the US (Washington DC and Boston) via Reykjavík this year, make Iceland the perfect place for a small adventure before reaching your final destination.

Reykjavik and the mountains, IcelandImage © Lottie Gross 2015

What should I see in Reykjavík?

On first impression Reykjavík – the country’s largest city with a population of just 120,000 people – is like a life-size model village. There are no skyscrapers, but instead a network of small, tin can-style houses with multicoloured corrugated iron walls and roofs. Thanks to this, the whole city has a somewhat temporary feel to it, as if each building could be taken down and reassembled as something else entirely next week – although in reality, the corrugated iron really protects against the relentless year-round winds.

Because of its small scale, Reykjavík can be explored on foot in a single day. A walk along the seafront past Jón Gunnar Árnason’s Sun Voyager sculpture gives breathtaking views to the mountains on the tiny island of Viðey across the bay; a stroll along the main street, Laugavegur, introduces you to an independent shopping heaven; and a wander up Lækjargata past the pond, where locals feed ducks, swans and geese, takes you to Hallgrímskirkja – the famously sci-fi-looking church with a towering concrete steeple that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

For history you can visit the National Museum or the Saga Museum, while for an understanding of the country’s landscape – before you get out there yourself – see the huge relief map in City Hall. Finally, Perhaps for a bit of irreverent fun, have a giggle in the Reykjavík Phallological Museum where over 200 penises from a variety of animals (including humans) are preserved in jars.

Sólfar, the Sun Voyager sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason

What should I eat?

With an economy that depends heavily on the fishing industry – fish is Iceland’s biggest export – it comes as no surprise that seafood in Iceland is sublime. Head to Icelandic Fish & Chips on Tryggvagata for a deliciously fresh, healthy dinner, or to the weekend flea market by the harbour where you can buy a variety of fish almost straight from the boats.

For those with a sweet tooth in pursuit of authentic Icelandic treats, Café Loki, sitting on a corner opposite Hallgrímskirkja, is perfect for a spot of afternoon tea. Try the ‘bow’, a knot of donut dough, deep-fried and served with cream, and the skyr cake, a cheesecake-style sweet layered with yoghurt, rhubarb sauce and a sweet biscuit base.

Kex Hostel, Reykjavik, IcelandKex Hostel, Reykjavík

Where’s the party?

Reykjavík by night is a very different place. It’s famous for its Friday rúntur, or ‘round tour’, when hundreds of young Icelanders tank themselves up on vodka at home before hitting the streets around midnight to embark on an almost orgiastic pub crawl.

Start your evening in style at The Ten Drops, a tiny, basement-level speakeasy that feels like someone’s living room rather than a pub. There’s live acoustic guitar and a good selection of Icelandic beers (Einstok is the most popular choice, but the Myrkvi Porter is a great winter warmer if it’s cold out) to get you going before moving onto the more serious party at Reykjavík institution, Kaffibarrin. For up-to-date listings on what’s on in town, see the Reykjavík Grapevine.

Any budget-friendly accommodation?

Yes. Kex Hostel, set in an old biscuit factory on the seafront in downtown Reykjavík, has dorm rooms from £30 or private rooms from £40 per person per night. There’s a kitchen for self-caterers and a rather dark but very cool (read: hipster) gastropub serving everything from rich, juicy beef burgers to braised reindeer shank in batter.

How do I get into the wild?

A number of day-tours (pick-up from your hotel) on offer from Reykjavík Excursions take in the highlights of the surrounding countryside and dramatic coastline – the most popular of which is the Golden Circle. This takes you through the beautiful Þingvellir National Park and across the Assembly Plains (where the country’s first parliament, the oldest in the world, was founded in 930 AD). From here you reach the Geysir geothermal area, where the spectacular geyser that gave its name to all others thrusts hot water from underground up to 30 metres in the air every few minutes. The visitor centre’s free exhibition shows just how temperamental Iceland’s environment can be, detailing the science behind these geothermal surges, the frequent volcanic eruptions and showing, with a simulator, what it feels like to experience an earthquake.

Before heading back to Reykjavík, the tour visits Gullfoss (Golden Falls): an enormous waterfall viewed from above, which plummets thunderously into a 32 metre-deep rift created by the Hvítá river. A number of tours can be combined with a visit to the Blue Lagoon – the man-made geothermal pool and spa that attracts thousands of visitors a year.

Explore more of Iceland’s natural beauty with the Rough Guide to Iceland. Compare flightsbook hostels, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Katmai Crater Lake, Alaska

Formed in 1912 after the eruption of the Novarupta Volcano, when the top of Mount Katmai caved in, Katmai Crater Lake is breathtakingly stunning. Sitting at around 4220 feet, and surrounded by impenetrable caldera peaks, the best – and only – way to see the lake’s otherworldly beauty is by plane.

Katmai Crater Lake, Alaska

Island Lake, Colorado

You have to put a bit of legwork in to get to the alpine Island Lake, scenically set at around 12,400ft in San Juan National Park. Surrounded by dramatic peaks, the lake’s sparkling blue waters are best seen in the summer months, when the surrounding landscape is carpeted in wildflowers.

Island Lake, Colorado

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Straddling the California/Nevada state line, Lake Tahoe’s deep, cold waters do nothing to deter the flocks of visitors who come here to make the most of its natural attractions – from stand-up paddling and rafting to sunbathing on its beautiful beaches – during the warmer months. In winter, the forested peaks that surround are the big draw, offering excellent skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, or even dog sledding.

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming

North America’s largest mountain lake that sits above 7000ft, staggeringly beautiful Yellowstone Lake is frozen for close to half the year – and the ice can be up to three feet thick. The southwest of the lake – which is set among the forests of Yellowstone National Park – is a geothermal area, where you’ll find geysers, fumaroles and hot springs.

Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming

Caddo Lake, Texas/Louisiana

There are few lakes as eerily atmospheric than Caddo Lake, which almost looks like something out of a gothic horror novel. A tangle of lush vegetation and cypress groves, in some places it more closely resembles a typical Louisiana swamp than a lake, twisting through the pine forests of Texas. The best way to experience the lake is undoubtedly in a canoe: paddling through the calm waters is the ultimate way to feel the dream-like, slow pace of life here.

Caddo Lake, Texas/Louisiana

Diablo Lake, Washington State

The most immediately striking thing about Diablo Lake is its colour – a turquoise of such intensity that it almost doesn’t look real – created by glacier sediment. Set within the wild and dramatic North Cascades National Park, the lake was created by the building of Diablo Dam in the first half of the twentieth century, and exploring by kayak remains one of the most popular ways to soak up its immense beauty.

Diablo Lake, Washington State

Lake Chelan, Washington State

This long, skinny lake sits in the north of Washington State, scenically set near vineyards, mountains and quaint little towns, which combine to make this a great escape. The southern end of the lake sits amid a surprisingly arid, desert-like landscape – in summer, visitors and locals alike crowd the lovely, if small, beaches here.

Lake Chelan, Washington State

Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona

Don’t be fooled by its name – Lake Powell, straddling the Utah/Arizona border, is in fact a man-made reservoir. Extraordinary as it appears, it’s easy to see that this – with its turquoise waters contrasting against the red of the surrounding rocks – is not an entirely natural landscape. The lake is something of a tourist’s playground, and the best way to experience it is from the water itself, whether snorkelling, cruising or staying in a houseboat.

Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona

Lake Superior, Michigan/Wisconsin/Minnesota

More than 300 miles from east to west, Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes, stretching from Michigan and Wisconsin in the south to Minnesota in the west and north, and the Canadian province of Ontario in the east – in fact, it’s so large that at times you can’t actually see the other side. The lake, though beautiful throughout the year, is particularly resplendent during the autumn, when the surrounding trees burst into colour.

Lake Superior, Michigan/Wisconsin/Minnesota

Skilak Lake, Alaska

It’s not hard to see why the area surrounding Skilak Lake is often referred to as “Alaska in miniature” – this glacial-clear lake is towered over by snow-capped mountains, and sits within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to black and brown bears, moose and wolves, among many other animals. A number of trails – some day-hikes, others longer – provide a great way to explore this fascinating section of Alaskan wilderness.

Skilak Lake, Alaska

Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota

Set within Voyageurs National Park, along the Canadian border, Kabetogama was used in the eighteenth century by French-Canadian fur traders who transported their goods along the border lakes. These days, the lake is a great place to come for bird-watching, boasting osprey, pelicans and bald eagles among its residents, and the wide, open waters are perfect for leisurely exploration by kayak.

Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota

Echo Lake, New Hampshire

Nestled deep within lush green forest, Echo Lake is a particularly popular choice with families who come here to swim and picnic on the sandy beaches. Towering over the lake is sheer Cathedral Ledge, from where stunning views across the lake, as well as over the White Mountains and the Saco River Valley, can be enjoyed – the more adventurous can abseil down its steep face.

Echo Lake, New Hampshire

Todd Lake, Oregon

Originally boasting the much more exciting name of “Lost Lake” – reflecting the difficulty that people had in finding it – Todd Lake is these days named after one of the area’s earliest settlers. Situated in central Oregon, this peaceful expanse of water is watched over by brooding Mount Bachelor and surrounded by dense forest; in winter, the walking trails are great for cross-country skiing.

Todd Lake, Oregon

Hanging Lake, Colorado

You have to earn the breathtaking vista that is Hanging Lake, which can only be reached on foot. Though the hiking trail is only just over a mile long, its steepness can make it challenging at times, but there’s no doubt that this makes the appearance of the waterfall-fed lake, with its sparkling turquoise waters, all the more worthwhile.

Hanging Lake, Colorado

Flathead Lake, Montana

The mountains of Glacier National Park loom over Flathead Lake, known for the cleanness and clarity of its waters. Named for the Native Americans tribe that live in the area, the lake is a particularly popular fishing destination, home to bull, cutthroat and lake trout, and bald eagles and osprey are prominent nesters nearby.

Flathead Lake, Montana

Mono Lake, California

Looking like something out of a science fiction film, the most striking thing about Mono Lake is the rather bizarre tufa formations that poke out of the water. These calcium-carbonate towers help to protect the lake, making it – and the surrounding area – a safe, natural habitat for the up to two million birds that rest and feed here, despite its position within a desert landscape.

Mono Lake, California

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

The thing that strikes you immediately about Lake Santeetlah is just how quiet it is – much of its shoreline is protected national forest, set in the shadow of mountains, making this an incredibly peaceful setting. Soak up the silence by camping by the lakeside, before exploring the pristine waters by canoe or kayak.

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Lake Michigan, Michigan

The only one of the Great Lakes that exists entirely in the US, Lake Michigan is particularly known for its beautiful beaches, including the city beaches of Chicago and the impressive, sheer-sided sands of Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the lake’s northeast. The 900-mile long Circle Tour is a fantastic driving route, following the lake in its entirety.

Lake Michigan, Michigan

Crater Lake, Oregon

Sheer surrounding cliffs lead down to Crater Lake’s irresistible, deep blue waters, the result of the region’s volatile volcanic past. The best way to see the lake is to hike through the eponymous national park that it sits in, which will allow you astounding views over the water and the appealing islands that sit in it.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Hidden Lake, Montana

What makes Hidden Lake particularly striking is its position, with dramatic, often snow-covered, Bearhat Mountain looming over it. The lake is reached by an easy – and thus very popular – hike through alpine meadows, which are likely to either be covered in wildflowers or a snowfield, depending on the season; the best vantage point is just over a mile from the lake itself, allowing you to take in not just Bearhat but also Gunshot Mountain and Sperry Glacier.

Hidden Lake, Montana

With a little courage, a lot of leg-power and some encouragement from an exuberant Italian guide, Greg Dickinson discovers some of Europe’s best mountain biking in the Dolomites, Italy

“Do you suffer from vertigo?” Paolo is straight faced, but it’s hard to take him seriously in his patchwork yellow and pink sunhat. I tell him I’m alright with heights, and can’t resist asking why. He hops on his mountain bike and pedals ahead, leaving it a few seconds before calling back “It’s a surprise!” 

I met up with mountain expert Paolo in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a couple of hours north of Venice by coach. During the winter months skiers and snowboarders descend on this glamorous resort town – put on the map as the setting of Roger Moore’s epic Bond ski chase in For Your Eyes Only (or for hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics, depending on who you’re talking to). For the rest of the year it’s an increasingly popular base for mountain and road biking in the UNESCO-protected Dolomites, with a number of “bike hotels” in town offering storage, maintenance and massage therapy for cyclists.

My two-day adventure started with some news: many of the area’s cable cars and chairlifts – used by cyclists over the summer – had closed a week earlier than scheduled after an uncharacteristically rainy season in the region. Paolo revealed this with a good-humoured shrug, his concentration fixed on a map as he figured out a revised route. It was an overcast morning, but occasionally the clouds parted to unveil a splintering mountaintop, hundreds of metres higher than expected, and I wondered what on earth I’d got myself into.

Cortina, Dolomites, Italy

On my bike, the early, knee-straining hours along forest roads are tough, but as we gain altitude I find Paolo’s carefree attitude to be as uplifting as the regular espresso breaks we take. And I’m not the only one enamoured by the man. Just about every driver that passes us honks their horn and yells “Ciao, Paolino!”, he’s on backslapping terms with the owners of all of the mountain rifugios (mountain refuges), and even receives a clean high five from one passing jogger.

I soon reap the benefits of his popularity myself when a moustachioed gent named Fausto beckons us off our bikes and into his falconry headquarters. We’ve caught him between his 11am and 3pm displays, and I’m thankful to rest my legs for twenty minutes as we sit and watch him fling birds of prey into the deep pine valley behind him.

We’re soon back on the road, and after ascending over a thousand metres the mountain biking finally begins. For the first single track run I’m sat down, with all four fingers clutching the brakes as I dodge football-sized boulders and very nearly hurtle over the handlebars when I forget that the front and back brakes are on the opposite sides here.

Mountain biking in Cortina, Dolomites, Italy

Paolo clocks my abysmal technique and gives me a crash course on how to avoid doing just that: stand, arms outstretched when going downhill; pedals level; only one finger on the brakes; manoeuvre the saddle with thighs for extra control; and, most importantly of all, stop being such a wimp.

The results are immediate. I can’t possibly descend at the speed of Paolo, who lets out a high-pitched “WOOP!” as he flies down the path with zero regard for his own mortality, but I quickly build confidence and speed, and find the experience to be far closer to skiing over moguls than riding a bike.

After a couple of muscle-rattling hours the light begins to draw in and we call it a day, hopping on a chairlift up to Rifugio Scoiattoli. The kitchen here cooks up a divine three-course meal, including the local specialty casunziei ampezzani (beetroot ravioli with butter, parmesan and poppy seeds). Exhausted, I knock back a few home-brewed grappas before retreating to my dorm, still wondering what Paolo’s promised vertigo surprise will involve.

The Dolomites near Cortina d'Ampezzo, Veneto, Italy, Europe

I wake up at 5am, restless with the disorientation that comes from sleeping at altitude, and stumble outside the refuge to find a dozen people wrapped in scarves and woolly hats, tripods at the ready. Behind the nearby Cinque Torri – a series of finger-like dolomia towers – the sun emerges, spray-painting a warm pink onto the peaks that loom above us, and exposing a blanket of cloud hundreds of metres below. Marmots, ubiquitous to the Dolomites, shriek from their unseen caves as they awaken while I head inside to get my cycling kit on.

Without the burden of gaining height, I’m treated to a series of fast downhill trails and some more “off-piste” experiences. Paolo’s knowledge of these mountains is indisputable, but there’s plenty of improvisation involved in his guidance; he leads us across knolly fields, over fast-flowing streams and down squelching mud tracks. At one point we meet an almighty ravine, caused by a landslide thirty years ago, and carry our 13-kilogram bikes on our shoulders as we scramble down and up onto the other side.

After a few hours of more conventional riding we prop up our bikes and walk towards the edge of a cliff, where I see a thin pathway wrapping around to the left – no wider than a metre at points. With just a wire rope to protect walkers from a 100m plummet, I realise this must be the vertiginous challenge I’ve been waiting for.

We start along the path, Paolo far cooler than me as he casually runs a finger along the rope that I’m gripping with two white fists (he later tells me that you’re not technically supposed to walk this path without a carabiner and safety harness). A steady rumble emerges from around the corner and I grin as I know what’s coming. The rope becomes slippery and a cloud of water bursts into my face.

We shimmy behind the glorious hidden waterfall that Paolo had kept a surprise, the water droplets enveloping my overheated body. And as I look out through the cascade, my view impeded like a half-tuned television, I tell myself that it’s two days of high-octane mountain biking, not vertigo, that’s causing my legs to tremble.

Bike rental from Due e Due Cortina costs from €26 per day for adults and €12 for kids. Dorm bed and half board at Rifugio Scoiattoli costs from €55 per night in half board. The Cortina Bike Pass grants access to ski lifts with your bike, costing from €60 for a 3-day pass. Single journeys can also be purchased at the lift stations. 

View Sydney from the Harbour Bridge, Australia

The ‘coat hanger’, as it’s affectionately dubbed by locals, was the longest single span bridge in the world at the time of its construction. Those with a head for heights can climb the bridge’s 503-metre-long, 134-metre-high framework, scaling the steel arch to the summit – an excursion that’s rewarded with 360-degree views of the city, from the glittering harbour to the iconic white-fins of the Sydney Opera House.

View Sydney from the Harbour Bridge, Australia

Hot air balloon over the Maasai Mara, Kenya

No amount of documentary watching can prepare you for the view of the famous Maasai Mara at dawn. As you float up in a hot air balloon and the sun slowly rises, the savannah awakens below you: wildebeests, zebras and impalas graze on the undulating grasslands, impossibly graceful giraffes stride across the open plains and lions and cheetahs stalk their pray.

Hot air balloon over the Maasai Mara, Kenya

Get a birds eye view of Machu Picchu, Peru

Think of Machu Picchu and one image springs to mind: crumbling ruins poised atop a vivid-green terraced mountainside, with Huayna Picchu’s horn-shaped looming peak in the background. But there is another, equally impressive, yet far-less famous viewpoint: the one from Huayna Picchu itself. The trek up the mountain is hard but the view over the ruins below, the densely-forested mountains and the meandering Urubamba River are worth it.

Get a birds eye view of Machu Picchu, Peru

See Fez’s Tanneries Chouwara, Morocco

Follow the stench of dye, leather and pigeon dung to one of the many shops that double up as vantage points over the ancient tanneries Chouwara. Brave the smell and the views are worth it. Below you, among the city’s rooftops, stretched out leathers bake in the sun and myriad dye-filled pits awash with colour make a striking mosaic of mustard-yellow, ochre, deep purple, indigo and teal.

See Fez’s Tanneries Chouwara, Morocco

Gaze down over the Grand Canyon, USA

You have to see the Grand Canyon from above. Yet even swotting up on the statistics (more than a mile deep and in places 18 miles wide) cannot prepare you for the experience of staring down into this vast abyss. How you decide to get your dose of vertigo is up to you: hike to a viewpoint, fly over it, or try the Skywalk, a glass-bottomed platform lets you glimpse the canyon between your feet – if you’re brave enough.

Gaze down over the Grand Canyon, USA

Trekking in Bac Son valley, Vietnam

Hike through the paddy fields of the Bac Son valley in northern Vietnam and you’ll see some of the country’s most stunning vistas. But the best views are from the mountains themselves. From here you can see the river lazily twist through a patchwork quilt of acid-yellow, bright-green and ochre fields, dotted with stilt houses and flanked by imposing mountains.

Trekking in Bac Son valley, Vietnam

Sky dive over Dubai Islands, UAE

For the most extreme view of one of the world’s most extreme cities, you’ll need to fling yourself out of a plane. As the adrenalin rush hits you, prepare to be transfixed by the view: 13,000ft below you futuristic Dubai displays its wonders, soaring skyscrapers, harsh desert and the sandy-edged fronds of the Palm Jumeirah stretching out into the turquoise ocean.

Sky dive over Dubai Islands, UAE

Take in the view from The Peak, Hong Kong

There’s no shortage of places to get high in Hong Kong; in a city of soaring skyscrapers lofty views are a given. Yet one of the best has to be the view from The Peak, Hong Kong’s highest mountain. A circular walk around the wooded mountain offers the best views of the skyscraper-packed cityscape, as well as vistas of the bustling harbour and Outlying Islands.

Take in the view from The Peak, Hong Kong

Walk above the Amazon, Peru

In Peru, the vast selva covers over half the country. Walking the jungle floor is a must, but seeing the biggest rainforest in the world from above is also rather special. At over 35m above ground, and stretching for 50m, the Amazon Explorama Field Station is the jungle’s longest canopy walkway. Look out for jaguars prowling the undergrowth, monkeys swinging between the treetops and pink river dolphins playing in the Amazon.

Walk above the Amazon, Peru

Paraglide through Wengen, Switzerland

Ditch the skis for an exhilarating paragliding trip over Wengen, a mountainside village in Switzerland famed for its celestial views. This is picture-perfect alpine scenery: charming chocolate-box houses and frozen, glacial mountain tops. In summer the lush slopes contrast with the ice-capped tips of the Jungfrau massif; winter vistas are even more breathtaking, revealing an impossibly photogenic snow-dusted landscape.

Paraglide through Wengen, Switzerland

See the Great Barrier Reef by helicopter, Australia

The only living thing on earth visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 2900 individual reefs, 900 islands and countless sandy cays. Seeing it from space may be out of reach for most but helicopter flights give equally as impressive views of this natural wonder. Hop on a flight in Cairns, from where you’ll glide over the endless indigo-stained ocean and the Whitsunday’s dreamy swirls of golden sands.

See the Great Barrier Reef by helicopter, Australia

Hiking rice terraces in Longji, China

In a country full of beautiful rice terraces, the Longji mountain range, or ‘Dragon’s Spine’ is perhaps the best example. Trekking here will take you to heights of around 880m, from where you can gaze down over the intricate terraces. Etched into the earth in ribbon-like layers of rice, soil and water, they mark the landscape like contours on a map.

Hiking rice terraces in Longji, China

Look down on London from the Shard, England

Dramatically piercing the sky, the 1017ft Shard is London’s latest landmark and Western Europe’s tallest building. With viewing platforms at a lofty 800ft above the capital, the Shard easily trumps other vantage points in the city – in fact it’s almost twice as high as any other. And with dizzying heights come forty miles of jaw-dropping views – a panoramic sweep of London that ticks off its biggest sights, from Tower Bridge to the London Eye.

Look down on London from the Shard, England

Admire Bagan from a hot air balloon, Myanmar

It is only from the air that you can truly grasp the sheer scale of this place; the ancient capital, now a copper-coloured, 26-mile-long stretch of dusty plain studded with 4000 temples. The dawn views from a hot air balloon – when the honey-coloured, ornately-sculpted stupas slowly shake off a low slung mist in the morning sun – are unforgettable.

Admire Bagan from a hot air balloon, Myanmar

Paraglide over Ölüdeniz, Turkey

Unsurprisingly sun-worshippers flock to the Turquoise Coast – but this area has more to offer than blissful beaches. The resort of Ölüdeniz has been consistently ranked as one of the top spots in the world for paragliding, with paragliders regularly launching from the 1960-metre-high Babadag (Father Mountain), swooping slowly down to the golden arc of sand that curves around the resort’s famous azure lagoon.

Paraglide over Ölüdeniz, Turkey

Climb across a stone forest, Madagascar

Remote and otherworldly, Tsingy de Bemaraha national park, the largest stone forest in the world, lies a five day journey from Madagascar’s capital. It’s worth it: a bizarre labyrinth of razor-sharp spires, narrow ravines and hidden caves await. This seemingly inhospitable landscape teems with wildlife, too: lemurs, parrots and lizards can be spotted amid the serrated rock towers.

Climb across a stone forest, Madagascar

Take a helicopter over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

If you’re feeling flush, take to the skies for one of the world’s most famous views: Rio de Janiero from the air. As well as admiring the concrete jungle squeezed between the mountains and Atlantic ocean, there’s plenty to look out for: the golden swathes of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the rounded hump of Sugar Loaf mountain, and possibly most famous of all, the glorious statue of Christ the Redeemer with arms outstretched over the city.

Take a helicopter over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Fly over Angel Falls, Venezuela

Nineteen times the height of Niagara Falls, the 979m-high Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world. The cascade plunges from Auyán-tepui, one of the tepui (table top mountains) that dominate the jungle landscape here, and the best way to see it is undoubtedly from the air. Watching the Churun River surge over the mountain edge, its easy to see why locals call it the ‘falls from the deepest place’.

Fly over Angel Falls, Venezuela

Fly over the Blue Hole, Belize

The world’s largest sinkhole lures many divers into its inky depths; this indigo abyss plunges to over 100m. However, it is from above that the Blue Hole really comes into its own. Flying over this natural phenomenon in a glass bottomed helicopter allows you to truly grasp the magnificence of the collapsed cavern.

Fly over the Blue Hole, Belize

Fly in a microlight over Victoria Falls, Zambia

An awe-inspiring tower of cascading water, the ‘Smoke That Thunders’ (as Victoria Falls is locally known) can be seen from 30 miles away. On the ground it can be hard to grasp its sheer size – a true giant at 1.7km wide and 110m deep – yet from above, soaring in a microlight, its true magnificence is unveiled. Below your dangling feet, torrents of water plunge over the precipice and iridescent rainbows form in the billowing spray.

Fly in a microlight over Victoria Falls, Zambia

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal

Trim out the religious and/or mystical connotations and Buddhism boils down to something quite simple – brain training. Emptying your mind of white noise in the Buddhist manner – and thereby opening it up to richer focus and awareness – has never been easy. But the digital age is making it even harder, with an ever-billowing storm of information clamouring for our attention. So, retreat – a Tibetan Buddhist monastery might just be the perfect balm to your perpetually flicking and scrolling mind.

Find peace at Buddhist monastery, Nepal

Get isolated at Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Travel to Three Camel Lodge in Mongolia, a country whose name is a byword for notions of the faraway, and you’ve already made a significant mental leap. You’re certainly not in Kansas anymore here – the nearest wifi is hundreds of miles away in the capital, Ulan Bator. The lodge lets you sample the nomadic lifestyle, except with all the hard bits removed and felt slippers thrown in. Expect snow leopards, bears and wild camels – who needs David Attenborough documentaries?

Get isolated at Three Camel Lodge, Mongolia

Stay with the Huaoranis in the Amazon, Ecuador

The Amazon river and its tributaries form one of the greatest natural networks of connectivity on the planet. Digitally speaking, however, it’s a total void. Arrange a stay with the Huaoranis of Ecuador for insights into their culture, from tracking in the rainforest to lessons in their language, which is said to be unrelated to any other on Earth.

Stay with the Huaoranis in the Amazon, Ecuador

Go wild camping in Sweden and Norway

Wifi is not such a rare amenity on campsites these days. But if you’re engaged in ‘wild camping’ – pitching your tent off-piste – then technology begins and ends at a rickety gas stove and a pack of AA batteries. In Norway and Sweden, wild camping is part of the national identity – and with landscapes ranging from the Arctic Circle to island-sprinkled archipelagos, there are myriad reasons to leave the glampsites behind.

Go wild camping in Sweden and Norway

Rub elbows with elephants at Jongomero camp, Tanzania

You’re enjoying a precious moment with a spindly dik dik in Ruaha National Park when all of a sudden: “BEEP BEEP, BEEP BEEP” goes your phone, the precious animal does a runner and your fellow safari guests make a mental note to blog about your appalling behaviour once reunited with their devices. Because they, unlike you, have respected this remote, luxurious southern Tanzanian camp’s requests that digital equipment be kept under lock and key for the duration of your visit.

Rub elbows with elephants at Jongomero camp, Tanzania

Get deserted in the Cook Islands

That these fifteen South Pacific islands are named after legendary eighteenth-century explorer James Cook is a bit of a giveaway – they’re seriously remote. Rarotonga, the main island, is not overburdened with hi-tech distractions – one popular activity is “jetblasting” whereby you hang out near the airport’s runway and, well, get blasted by the displaced air from descending planes. Better, perhaps, to focus on enjoying the islands’ natural underwater beauty, from black pearl fields to coral lagoons.

Get deserted in the Cook Islands

Back to basics in a bothy, Northern Ireland

Cast yourself away – or rather, paddle yourself – to this restored stone cottage near Lisnaskea in County Fermanagh, part of the Lough Erne Canoe Trail. The bothy is neat but basic as can be, its list of mod cons beginning and ending at cold running water, a wood-burning stove and south-facing skylights. With life stripped back to the bare essentials, you’re left with the mental space to enjoy Upper Lough Erne’s tranquil bays and sprinkling of lush green islands.

Back to basics in a bothy, Northern Ireland

Meet your ancestors at an archaeological dig

Get your hands dirty, cleanse your mind – that’s the basic idea here. A number of operators offer holidays based around archaeological digs, from Ethiopia to Uzbekistan – although you could always purchase the tools of the trade and go it alone. Beware, though: a metal detector’s seductive blipping might be hard to handle for those in technological cold turkey.

Meet your ancestors at an archaeological dig

Delve into the Krubera Cave, Georgia

The status of the Marianas Trench as the planet’s deepest point is standard pub quiz fodder. But the earthbound equivalent is less well-known. The true vastness of Georgia’s Krubera Cave has only been fully realised since the turn of the twenty-first century, and it took a team of Ukrainian speleologists two weeks to reach the cave’s 2200m deepest point. Down here, you’re guaranteed friend requests from nothing but spiders, beetles and other creepy crawlies.

Delve into the Krubera Cave, Georgia

Cut off in Havana, Cuba

With patched-up old Buicks and Cadillacs stalking its capital’s streets like mechanical ghouls, the idea of Cuba as a time capsule is a familiar notion. What lies under the hood of those US classics is about as sophisticated as technology gets in Cuba – the country has the lowest rate of web access in the West, and what’s permitted is subject to heavy government regulation. Time to disengage the brain from all things digital and enjoy the city’s steamy charms.

Cut off in Havana, Cuba

Spend a week in Amish country, USA

In populated areas of the US it isn’t easy to escape the digital dimension. But the Amish – whose Mennonite ancestors came over to Pennsylvania from Europe at the turn of the eighteenth century – have long done a very efficient job of escaping the clutches of the modern world. In Lancaster County you can immerse yourself in their simple, rural way of life, where houses are not connected to the grid and travel is by horse-drawn buggy.

Spend a week in Amish country, USA

Get grounded in Bolivia’s salt flats

In one respect the Bolivian salt flats are money-spinningly hi-tech – beneath the white expanses lie the world’s largest reserves of lithium, used in battery manufacture. But that’s where links to the modern world end. Tours of the mind-bending salar are a Bolivian must-do and whichever accommodation you wind up in – freezing shack, luxury “salt palace” or Airstream caravan – the landscape utterly overwhelms and grounds you in the present moment.

Get grounded in Bolivia's salt flats

Digital detox at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, Canada

The internet has expanded at a terrifying rate since its inception, sure, but the Big Bang did it way bigger and way better. There’s nothing like getting out into the light pollution-free wilds and gazing up at giddying bucket-loads of stars to put you in your place. This ranch in British Columbia’s Cariboo region offers crystal-clear star-gazing allied to a digital detox programme – being reminded of your own puny insignificance never felt so good.

Digital detox at Echo Valley Ranch and Spa, Canada

Surrender yourself in Chicago, USA

The “windy” of Chicago’s nickname actually refers to a certain loquaciousness associated with the city. But even here you can mute the world with the Monaco hotel’s “blackout” option, which encourages guests to hand in their devices on check-in. Be aware, however, that they also offer free wi-fi, so you can polish that halo even harder should you manage not to succumb.

Surrender yourself in Chicago, USA

Stay secluded in Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Somewhere along Turkey’s tourism-saturated Turquoise Coast, where holidaymakers are assured every home comfort, from full English breakfasts to free wi-fi, there’s an enclave of unplugged hippy-dom. Take a water taxi from Oludeniz (the “Blue Lagoon” in English, setting the evocatively back-to-nature tone) to the steep-sided, beach-fronted valley. You might still be able to data-roam, but listening to the crackle of evening bonfires or the strumming of acoustic guitars is far superior to the hum of social media.

Stay secluded in Butterfly Valley, Turkey

Take a survival challenge on a Belize island

“I couldn’t survive without my phone.” If you’re this digitally dependent, then perhaps it’s time you addressed your conception of the word “survive” – and that’s where getting shipwrecked on a desert island comes in. You’ll shell out for the privilege, of course, but before being left to your own devices on a Belize caye, the team will train you up and ensure you’re a budding Ray Mears. Fish gutting and fire building ahoy!

Take a survival challenge on a Belize island

Stay in Skiary Lodge, Scotland

If you have ants in your social media pants, make for the unflappable stillness of Lough Hourn and let its tranquility wash over you. The most distracting thing you’re likely to encounter hereabouts is the otherworldly light – though climbing, swimming, seal-watching and star-gazing are all possibilities. This phone-, electrics- and internet-free lodge – two hours by car from Fort William, followed by a hike or a boat ride – is the only survivor from an abandoned fishing hamlet.

Stay in Skiary Lodge, Scotland

Explore Antarctica

Time is running out for Antarctica. And not (for now) in the way that you might think: rather it’s the region’s status as a communications black hole that’s most pressingly threatened. The urgency of the data being gathered in the region is forcing change, expediting improvements in Antarctica’s links to the wider world: “Antarctica Broadband” is on the horizon, promising “fast internet from the bottom of the earth”. At least it’ll look impressive when you check in on Foursquare.

Explore Antarctica

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

An ancient term denoting hazily understood lands in the far north, “Ultima Thule” harks back to the early, “here be dragons” days of navigation. And while it’s certainly rugged out here, there’s no chance of it all going a bit Into the Wild, for this is Alaska deluxe – after being flown in, it’s chunky wood cabins, bearskin rugs and saunas all the way. And after an afternoon watching bears catch salmon, Candy Crush will seem a very sorry thing indeed.

Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

Autumn (or Fall) in New England is a breathtaking and beautiful season: the billions of leaves change from green to a rainbow of browns, reds, oranges and yellows across the fields and forests of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. At this time of year the air is cool and crisp, making it perfect for walking or cycling; the wildlife is abundant, with thousands of birds and wild moose to spot; and you can find top lobster in Maine to accompany the wine trail in Connecticut.

Here are 20 stunning pictures of New England fall foliage that showcase the region in all its colourful autumnal glory.

Smuggler’s Notch Waterfall, Vermont

Smugglers Notch Waterfall Vermont, New England

 Wheeler Mountain, Vermont

Wheeler Mountain, Vermont in fall, New England

 Downtown Boston, Massachusetts

Public Gardens, Downtown Boston, fall

 Stratton Mountain, Vermont

Vermont foliage, fall

Picture courtesy of Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing and Discover New England

 Whiting Church, Vermont

Whiting Church, Vermont, fall, New England

Picture courtesy of Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing and Discover New England

Deerfield River Valley, Massachusetts

Deerfield river valley, Massachusetts in the fall, New England

 Rocky Gorge, White Mountains, New Hampshire

Rocky Gorge, white mountains, New England

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Development and Discover New England, by Ellen Edersheim

Sandy Stream Pond, Baxter State Park, Maine

Sandy Stream Pond, Bxster State Park, Maine

Newport, Vermont

Newport, Vermont in the fall, New England

Photo courtesy of Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing and Discover New England, by Dennis Curran 

The Presidential Range, New Hampshire

New Hampshire in the fall, New England

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Development and Discover New England

Montpelier, Vermont

Montpelier, Vermont, New England in the fall

 New Hampshire

Lake Fall Foliage New Hampshire, New England

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism and Discover New England

Mount Katadin, Maine

Mount Katadin, Maine, New England in the fall

 Rockport, Maine

Rockport foliage, Maine, New England in the fall

 Photo courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism and Discover New England

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

Image courtesy of Discover New England

 Cranberry harvest, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Cranberry harvest, Plymouth MA, New England

 Image courtesy of Discover Plymouth and Discover New England

French King Bridge, Massachusetts

French King Bridge, Massachusetts in the fall, New England

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Fanconia Notch State Park in the fall, New Hampshire, New England

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire State Parks and Discover New England

Camden Harbour, Maine

Camden Harbor, Fall, New England

 Photo courtesy of Discover New England

Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

Litchfield hills, Connecticut, New England in the fall

 Photo courtesy of Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and Discover New England

Discover the best places to stay, eat and drink in New England with the Rough Guide to the USA. Book hostels in New England here, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Rough Guides editor Rachel Mills road tested a car-free weekend escape in the gently sloping chalk downlands and pretty patchwork fields of the South Downs National Park, just an hour south of London by train.

Get up close and personal with nature

It is possible for city folk to escape to the countryside without foregoing creature comforts. A glut of new luxury camping sites means that you can roll up to a pre-erected tipi, yurt or hut with none of the hassle of hammering in pegs – or arguing about who packed the kettle. I stayed at off-grid Adhurst Yurts, which is set in 100 acres of ancient woodland bang in the middle of the National Park. Perfect for cool autumn nights, the four cosy yurts have proper double beds with duvets (pull out camp beds are provided for children), rugs on the wooden floors, wood burners and solar powered fairy lights that twinkle into the night. Kids will love foraging in the surrounding woodland, the zip line, the open air hot shower and, of course, toasting marshmallows over a proper campfire. And for adults, there’s a couple of great pubs in nearby Sheet, including the family-friendly Queen’s Head, which from next year you’ll be able to reach via a short road-free ramble through the woods.

Yurt at Adhurt Yurts, South Downs, England, UK, EuropeImage by Rachel Mills

Within walking or cycling distance from Adhurst, you can pick your own fruit and veg at Durleighmarsh until the end of the season in October. The varieties are clearly mapped and labelled and when we visited there were loads of raspberries, blackberries, courgettes and marrows, as well as some gorgeous PYO flowers. The farm shop supports a small range of local producers and sells a range of meat, game, pies, jams and chutneys, and the tea barn, looking out over the tractors working the fields, is a nice spot for tea and cake. There’s also a pretty boating lake in the nearby market town of Petersfield, with a lakeside adventure playground and café, where we whiled away a lovely lazy afternoon. For bigger kids, the lowland heath surrounding the lake is dotted with Bronze Age burial mounds to explore.

Get active on the South Downs Way

If you want to get a bit further afield, the 160-kilometre-long South Downs Way stretches the entire length of the national park from the ancient city of Winchester to the white cliffs of Beachy Head and the seaside resort of Eastbourne. From Petersfield you can bike around four miles south along a section of a new cycle route from Bentley (near Farnham) to Portsmouth, called the Shipwrights Way – named so because it was the route for transporting oak to the dockyard for shipbuilding. You’ll join the South Downs Way at Queen Elizabeth Country Park, although there is a large hill (Buriton Hanger) to climb along the way, so you’ll need a lot of pedal power.

The South Downs Way, South Downs, England, EuropeImage by Rachel Mills

To tackle the entire route by bike takes at least three or four days and I’d say start out from Winchester and head east to take advantage of the prevailing wind. Rob Stanley runs Walk and Cycle, which organises short breaks with as much or as little hands-on support as you need. They know the area inside out and can take care of accommodation booking, bike hire, guiding and itineraries, luggage transfers, transport and roadside repair. With just a basic road bike you can explore quiet country lanes passing chocolate box villages such as Amberley and Alfriston, and National Trust Properties including the wonderful Petworth House and Park. If you choose a more serious mountain bike to go off-road on smaller trails, remember these can get pretty muddy in wet weather. Tailored itineraries include the Downs Explorer and Hills and Coast, but if you, like I was, will be cycling with young children, the best (flattest) places to bike the route are found in East Hampshire and West Sussex; the Downs Link or the Hayling Billy Line are a couple of gorgeous options.

On this trip, I stuck to cycling the lanes around the pretty East Hampshire villages of Sheet and Steep. Biking with my lively very-nearly-three-year-old niece in a child seat on the back certainly added a bit of fear factor; she really wasn’t very pleased with me when we careered into a ditch. The terrain is surprisingly varied (I guess the clue is in the name “downs”), but as we meandered past village greens and churches and waved to locals’ walking their dogs, I felt a million miles away from the chaotic and congested London streets.

Need to know

Trains from London Waterloo to Petersfield (every 30min; 1hr) are £32.50 return. Call Petersfield Taxis on 01730 303030 for transport from the train station. Adhurst Yurts are from £125 per night based on 2 sharing.

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