Trying to find a fantastic, unspoiled place to visit is tougher than you might think.
A flight over just about any part of the country by plane makes it clear that there are lots of beautiful, wild places. But the trick is finding one that you can reach — that is, just “spoiled” enough to provide you with a road, dock or landing strip to get in and out of the place.
To formulate our short list of recommendations — based on ease of access to a destination, typical cost to get there and its natural diversity, uniqueness and beauty — we chose from the 203 natural wonders included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites. Our top picks start with places in the United States and Canada and then turns to amazing destinations further afield:
1. Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona
Since 1893, when it was first designated a Forest Reserve, this vast and largely unspoiled canyon carved by the Colorado River has been preserved.
Getting there: Probably the most cost-effective way to get to the Grand Canyon is, ironically, by flying into one of the most “spoiled” places in the country — Las Vegas. Due to its status as an international gambling and entertainment destination, flights to Las Vegas are pretty cheap. A mid-April search for flights from Seattle to Las Vegas, for example, turned up round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines for as little as $250 on FlyFar. From Las Vegas, you can take a bus tour, rent a car or even take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon itself.
Caveat: The Grand Canyon, while unspoiled, is an extremely popular destination. If you want to leave the crowds behind, you may want to plan a hiking trip down into the canyon or rafting trip through it on the Colorado River. If you’re planning to stick to points accessible by road, check out what the main sites offer on GrandCanyon.com. The North Rim of the park is the least heavily trafficked.
2. Dinosaur Provincial Park — Alberta, Canada
While you won’t actually find any dinosaurs roaming this provincial park about two and a half hours from Calgary, there has been a wealth of dinosaur fossils uncovered in this area over the decades. With its other-worldly landscape in the midst of Alberta’s “badlands,” it is a unique North American treasure.
According to UNESCO, Dinosaur Provincial Park is “unmatched in terms of the number and variety of high quality specimens which, to date, represent more than 44 species, 34 genera and 10 families of dinosaurs, dating back 75-77 million years.”
Getting there: Your best bet is to fly to Calgary first and then rent a car and make the drive. To give you an idea of flight prices, in mid-April, Alaska Airlines was offering round-trip tickets to Calgary from Dallas for as low as $574, when using the Flyfar website.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the “Big Island” of Hawaii is not only unspoiled, but it’s also one of those few places where you can still see one of the primordial forces of nature at work. Two of the “world’s most active and accessible volcanoes” are in this park, UNESCO notes.
And the fact that it is a national park also means that there’s infrastructure for taking in the views, including an observation deck at the Jaggar Museum where you can watch the lava lake activity at Halema‘uma‘u Crater.
Getting there: A flight to Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, is probably the best place to start — and you can get an “island hopper” plane from there to the Big Island. Round-trip tickets from Los Angeles to Honolulu were on offer starting at $725 on Hawaiian Airlines in mid-April.
4. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park — Alberta/Montana
Aside from being gorgeous and unspoiled, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park is also noteworthy as a UNESCO World Heritage site that spans two countries, with parts of it in Alberta, Canada, and the rest in the United States in northern Montana.
By jointly maintaining an ecosystem that crosses the border, the U.S. and Canada have helped retain the diversity of species in the area, UNESCO says, by serving “to ensure the genetic viability and long-term survival of many species, including top carnivores such as grizzly bear, cougar, gray wolf and wolverine, which may roam great distances.”
Getting there: You can either fly or drive to Calgary and then go south from there to enter the park just north of Waterton in Alberta, or fly into Missoula, Montana, rent a car and drive north from there. Round-trip flights from Portland, Oregon, to Missoula with Alaska Airlines were being offered on FlyFar in mid-April for $246 each.
5. Redwood National and State Parks — California
Everyone knows about the ancient, giant redwood trees in California’s Redwood National and State Parks, but what you may not know is that the only reason there are so many of these impressive forests left is that California acted early to preserve them. The National Park Service (NPS) credits the pioneering efforts of the Save the Redwoods League in the 1920s with preventing major logging of these giants.
The park has also worked to help support the revitalization of key California birds and animals. Earlier this year, the NPS, Yurok Tribe and other partners unveiled plans to reintroduce the California condor — the largest land bird in North America — to the park.
Getting there: You can drive from either Sacramento or San Francisco to get to Redwood National and State Parks. Sacramento (or Medford, Oregon, for that matter) is closer, but flights in and out of San Francisco are generally cheaper. In mid-April, you could get a round-trip ticket from New York to San Francisco for as little as $327 when booked on Alaska Airlines via Flyfar.
6. Giant’s Causeway — Antrim, Northern Ireland
The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast is instantly recognizable by its unique basalt cliffs that resemble an alien fortress — or lair for a James Bond villain — on the coast of Northern Ireland. According to UNESCO, the 40,000 or so massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea gave rise to “legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland.”
So whether you want to see the inspiration for Celtic legends or just want to indulge your inner geologist, this unspoiled and impressive site should meet your needs.
Getting there: You can get to the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast in about 90 minutes from Belfast by car. The best price we found for a round-trip ticket from Boston to Belfast in mid-April was $1,032 on British Airways when booking via the Hop2 website.
7. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch — Switzerland
Switzerland’s Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region makes the UNESCO world heritage list in part because it is the most glaciated part of the European Alps. As home to Europe’s largest glacier it offers a unique glimpse of the forces that shaped these spectacular peaks.
The area features alpine hiking trails, incredible views of waterfalls, lakes, cliffs and valleys. It is also home to the 13,000-foot Mount Eiger. The north face of the peak is known among climbers as one of the most dangerous and challenging ascents. It was first conquered by an Austrian-German expedition in 1938 — but dozens of climbers have died making the attempt.
Getting there: The best place to start this trip is from Bern (about three to three and a half hours north and west of the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region). The most economical way to get to Bern is by flying to London, then flying from London to Lyon, France (a trip that was on offer in mid-April for $190.60 for a round-trip ticket via BravoFly) — and then taking a train from Lyon to Bern (which will cost a minimum of 47 Euros, or about $50, each way). The best price we saw for a trip from New York to London in mid-April was $724 on Iberia booked via ExploreTrip.
8. Galápagos Islands — Ecuador
The Galápagos Islands are a place of great historical significance, as they provided the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species.”
UNESCO describes the 19 islands that make up the Galápagos Islands — and the marine reserve around it — as a “living museum and showcase of evolution.” They remain home to a tremendously diverse array of creatures, including the Galápagos tortoise.
Getting there: The Galápagos Islands take some effort to visit, which is probably a good thing for such a unique and valuable ecosystem. Any trip to the Galápagos requires you first to get to Quito, Ecuador. One of the best prices we found for that flight was from Los Angeles at $514 round-trip on American Airlines. The best airfare we found on offer from Quito to the Baltra, Galápagos Islands airport was $394 on LATAM airlines.
9. Lagoons of New Caledonia — Territory of France in the Pacific
The Lagoons of New Caledonia make up one of the three most extensive coral reef systems in the world, according to UNESCO. The organization describes it as “the world’s most diverse concentration of reef structures, with an exceptional diversity of coral and fish species and a continuum of habitats from mangroves to seagrasses and a wide range of reef forms.”
New Caledonia, a chain of islands still a possession of France, lies in the southwest Pacific Ocean about 750 miles east of Australia.
Getting there: Your best bet for getting to New Caledonia is a flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, Australia. Anyway you cut it, this is going to be an expensive trip. The best price we could find on just the Sydney-to-New Caledonia round-trip flight was $1,063 on Bravofly. Still, worth putting on the bucket list.
10. Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park — Madagascar
Madagascar is home to one of the most diverse and unique ecosystems in the world.
Its Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park is also referred to as a “Strict Nature Reserve,” which refers to the highest degree of protection under the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It offers not only landscapes and limestone uplands of the mineral forest with distinct “tsingy” peaks and limestone needles, but also deciduous forests, lakes and mangrove swamps that are home to rare and endangered lemurs and birds.
Getting there: This is also one that you’ll want to save for — and prepare for a whole lot of flying. The best price we found for a round-trip flight from New York to Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, was $1,635 (via Johannesburg) on South African Airways and Air France. Details for making the cross-country trek from Antananarivo to Tsingy de Bemaraha on Madagascar’s west coast can be found at the TravelMadagascar.org website.
What’s your favorite unspoiled place? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.
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