The 10 Best National Parks in the World

The 10 Best National Parks in the World

A visit to a world-famous natural reserve is a good way to remind yourself of the spectacular beauty and diversity of planet Earth. In the United States, national parks cover 84.6 million acres; in the UK, there are a total of 15 breathtaking protected natural areas, while Italy counts twenty-four. On the Asian continent, Thailand offers remarkable treasures, boasting over 130 awe-inspiring parks. In short, if you’re after an unforgettable adventure that involves plenty of natural surroundings and wildlife, you’ve got a wealth of options to choose from. Read on for what we consider to be the 10 best national parks in the world: selected for their sheer wild beauty, biodiversity and potential to make your jaw drop.

 

1. Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Extending across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, established by the U.S. Congress in 1872. The park spans an area of almost 9,000 km, which comprehends breathtaking canyons, clear rivers, mountain ranges and one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America, Yellowstone Lake. This magnificent area has been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 11,000 years, and it’s still home to hundreds of species of birds, fish and mammals. The park offers an impressing variety of exciting activities, including ranger programs, camping, hiking, boating, fishing and much more.

 

2. Zambezi National Park & Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls National Park

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is a precious wildlife refuge that’s home to a stunning array of wildlife and some of the globe’s most jaw-dropping natural scenery. From the mist and rainbow-filled wonders of Victoria Falls, with its thunderous falls and green surroundings, to the Zambezi river and surrounding plains where you can embark on a safari to see everything from elephants and leopards to crocodiles and hippos, this is the place to head if you want to get a sense of what the Earth might look like with fewer humans– and more animals.

3. Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Italy’s first National Park was established in 1999, and it’s probably one of the most spectacular places on the whole peninsula. This park comprehends the territory of five gorgeous towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare – “cinque terre” literally means “five territories” – as well as the communes of Levanto and La Spezia. This means that when traveling to Cinque Terre, you can enjoy open-air activities such as hiking and camping, and visit some evocative cliff-side villages which are famous around the world.

 

4. Jasper National Park, Canada

A lake and forest at Jasper National park, Canada

Jasper is the largest and wildest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain parks, encompassing over 11,000 square kilometres. While summer is peak visitor season, we strongly recommend visiting the park during the winter, when the abundant snow creates a truly magical tableau.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Spots for Leaf-Peeping and Fall Foliage

The park is also famous for its “dark sky”: this is a perfect location for stargazing, as the second dark sky preserve in the world. In October, Jasper National Park hosts the Annual Dark Sky Festival, celebrating the astonishing beauty of the night sky with special activities and talks by scientists, experts, night sky photographers and astronauts.

 

5. Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

Los Roques Archipelago, Venezuela

By Tucanrecords [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1972, this National Park consists of an archipelago of nearly 350 islands and cays situated in the Caribbean Sea. These small, white-sanded islands are almost uninhabited; surrounded by crystal-blue water and coral reefs, they harbour some of the best diving and snorkel spots in the world. In fact, Los Roques’ biodiversity is incredible: the park harbors over 60 species of corals, 200 species of crustaceans, 140 species of mollusks, 45 species of echinoderms and 280 species of fish – a real paradise for scuba-divers and sailing lovers!

 

6. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitivice Lakes National Park, Croatia

This Croatian park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Located halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in the mountainous northwestern region of Croatia, it represents the country’s most popular attraction. Over one million visitors throng on the park each year, with peak numbers in the late spring and summer.  Immersed in deep and wild forest vegetation, sixteen bigger lakes and several smaller ones are interconnected by a series of breathtaking waterfalls. Seven different routes are available to tour the stunning lake system, as well as four hiking trails.

 

7. Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

Guilin and Lijiang River National Park, China

By Dariusz Jemielniak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This protected area situated in southeastern China is rightfully famous for its lush, deep forests, limestone cones, cylinders and solitary hills, which are also printed on the country’s paper currency. Among the rocks of Guilin flows the Lijiang River and its tributaries, producing spectacular scenery which has long inspired various Chinese poets.

Read related: What to do in Seoul, South Korea

In order to best appreciate the treasures of this National Park, we particularly recommend taking the 30-mile long boat trip along the Lijiang River, from Guilin to Yangzhou, or embarking along the parallel hiking route on the riverside. Both Guilin and Yangzhou, picturesque cities surrounded by the natural splendors of the National Park, are equally worth a visit.

 

8. Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Jostedalsbreen National Park, Norway

Are you a true snow and mountain lover who would like to experience glacier river rafting or snowshoe hiking? If this is the case, Jostedalsbreen park is the ideal destination for your next trip. Jostedalsbreen glacier covers half of the National Park, and it’s the largest in mainland Europe. The park is also famous for its amazing variety of natural environments all clustered within a small area, and it hosts different activities year-round. During the winter months, make sure to visit the famous blue ice caves hidden beneath the Nigardsbreen glacier. When accompanied by a guide, groups of tourists are allowed to hike on skis or snowshoes up to the front of the glacier and to explore the fascinating blue caves.

 

9. Kui Buri National Park, Thailand

Kuri Buri National Park, Thailand

By: Tontan Travel via Flickr

Not far from the Burmese border, Kui Buri National Park is a stunning site for wildlife viewing. The park is well-known for the presence of herds of elephants, which can be seen pretty much everywhere in the protected area. Tourists are allowed to drive their own cars around the park, but must take a guided tour to visit the protected sections of the natural preserve. For a real up-close-and-personal experience of the wildlife here, it is also possible to rent tents and bungalows to stay overnight.

(Read related: Top 8 Travel Photography Tips)

 

10. Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK

Snowdonia National Park, Wales

The name of this beautiful National Park comes from Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, while the Welsh name for this area is Eryi: legends state that this name derived from a word meaning “the land of eagles”. The park is best known for its wonderful hiking opportunities, but it offers much more than that: come here for splendid waterfalls, lakes and mountain biking paths. In particular, we recommend that you hop on one of the vintage steam trains that climb up to the highest peak in Wales. Taking the old-world train will allow you to experience the area just as a traveler would have back in 1896, and you will see for yourself how gorgeous and mythical this mountainous area is, journeying through the clouds to Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her work, stories and pics. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

Low on Travel Inspiration? 7 Ways to Kick-start Your Trip Planning

Low on Travel Inspiration? 7 Ways to Kick-start Your Trip Planning

Trip planning can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when you feel low on inspiration and not especially motivated to start a new adventure. It’s tempting to avoid all the stress of finding the right destination and the perfect hotel, or of booking your flight and packing just the right amount of clothes. However, traveling makes us feel alive and healthy, and we encourage you to cultivate the habit of discovering new places and experiencing different cultures. If you can’t quite muster the energy and excitement to get started, we’ve got you covered. Here are 7 ways to help you to find your travel inspiration again– and to get started with planning your next adventure.

 

1. Start your own travel journal.

Travel journal styles and ideas

If you feel less than motivated to start planning your next getaway, a simple way to put you in the right mindset is to start your own travel journal. This is essentially a diary where you can write down trips and tricks you’ve learned during your travels, describe the best places you’ve visited and why you’ve loved them. You can take notes about the activities that inspired you the most in your past travels and write about the food you’ve tasted.

Read related: Travel Journal Styles & Techniques to Suit Your Personality 

There are notebooks especially designed to be travel journals, which you can buy in any stationary shop, or on Amazon, but it’s much more satisfying to create your own, using a diary you already had at home and personalizing it as you wish. You can also make a travel journal out of a photo album, inserting pictures, plane tickets and postcards into its pages. The best travel journals tend to combine photos and writing, and are an effective way to remind yourself of the excitement of your past travels, to reflect on the beautiful places you’ve seen, and to motivate you to start plotting your next adventure.

 

2. Plan your trip around activities that inspire and motivate you.

When you don’t know where to start with planning your trip, let your passion guide the way. Think about your favorite activities, hobbies and sports, foods you’d like to try or places that have always tugged at your heartstrings– and make a list. You can then choose one or more of the items you’ve listed and plan your trip around them. For example, let’s say you really enjoy eating pizza: you could plan a trip to four major cities in Italy and choose cities reputed for making some of the best (Naples, anyone?)

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Best Food Markets 

Or maybe you’re interested in the history of Buddhism and Buddhist art: you could plan a trip to Southeast Asia or Japan, choosing places in the region that harbor breathtaking Buddhist temples and art museums. Choosing an inspiring theme or two for your trip makes the hard work of planning your adventure much easier. It can also help you find the perfect destination or destinations.

 

3. Follow inspiring & colorful social media accounts with a travel focus.

Social media is an amazing source of inspiration for travel lovers. There are literally hundreds (or even thousands) of interesting accounts to follow and blogs to read, which can help you plan your trip when you don’t feel like it. YouTube is an excellent place to find different kinds of travel videos and documentaries. Travel vlogs are blogs that primarily use video to tell stories or offer tips, and are often inspiring and fun to watch. They’re a good way to get you started, when you feel low on ideas.

There are many different kinds of travel vlogs: some focus on the best activities to do in a particular destination, some on the best airline to get there, others still on typical foods from a given country or region. There’s plenty of choice and you can decide which topic interests you the most.

Instagram can also be a very good source of inspiration. Many travel writers and journalists have their own Instagram account, where they post pictures about their trips and where they offer tips and recommendations. Use the hashtag search function on Instagram to find topics that interest you and follow inspiring travel accounts.

The Loftus Guides on Instagram: Follow Us

 

(Hint: You can follow our own Instagram page here.)

 

4. Think about seasonal activities to plan the perfect trip.

The splendor of autumn at Niagara Falls

Look again at the list of hobbies, activities and sports you love: which are best enjoyed during a winter trip? Which are ideal for hot weather or fall getaways? For example, if you enjoy taking in natural scenery during the fall, why not plan an autumn leef-peeping trip in Canada, Europe or even New Zealand?

How about a winter adventure? If you’d love to try snowboarding, you could start your trip planning with some research about the best places to go snowboarding during the winter holiday season. You could look for the best Christmas markets in Europe, and plan a trip to the cities that inspire you the most. Alternatively, if you don’t like the snow, plan a winter trip where the weather is hot in December and you can swim in the sea, enjoy the sun and go snorkeling. Greece, Southern Europe or even Central America might be just the ticket.

5. Look for your dream self-catered house or other accommodations.

Look for a dream holiday home online

Here at The Loftus Guides, we frequently recommend that you choose self-catered accommodations, because they allow you to experience your destination like a local. You can shop from local markets, learn to cook some local specialities, and even meet a neighbor or too.

The advantage of starting your trip planning process this way?  No one said you have to choose your dates and destination first. Instead, you could look online for your dream accommodations, then build your trip around them. Most vacation home websites are extremely easy to use these days, and you can refine your search according to country, city, price and other criteria.

If you’re interested in unusual experiences, why not stay in a lighthouse? How about a houseboat? There are so many interesting ways to feel at home away from home, these days.

Why not stay in a lighthouse?

Visit this page for some great tips on how to book a self-catered house or apartment online, including advice on the most trustworthy websites to book with. While Air b N B has become very popular, it’s not always reliable, depending on your destination, and in some countries it has run into complicated legal problems. We recommend you book with other self-catering companies if possible.

 

6. Visit the travel section of your favorite library or bookshop.

Reading books and travel guides is an effective and time-honored way to get you inspired for your next trip. A whirl through your favorite bookshop is often the best way to start planning your next journey. If you don’t have the time to read a whole book, simply look through the titles of the travel section. This could spark your interest in a country or a city you’ve never thought about visiting before. Take some time to go through the books that capture your attention. Photography books and travel essays can also be inspiring, giving you plenty of ideas and expanding your sense of what’s out there.

7. Ask yourself what was missing in your last trip.

Why Traveling Is Good for You

Starting your own travel journal (see tip # 1) can also help you to think about what was missing in your last trip, providing you with some crucial inspiration for what to do differently next time. Go through all your memories, pictures, notes and tickets and then ask yourself a simple question: what was missing?

Maybe you would have liked to spend more time in the great outdoors. Perhaps you’re an art lover who didn’t see as many museums and galleries as you would have liked to. Or you didn’t sample the local delicacies you hoped to because you were staying at an all-inclusive resort where meals were all covered. This time, you’d like to experience your destination in a more authentic and local way.

Read related: Which Vacation Style is Right For You? 

Taking this sort of inventory is a good way to feel inspired again, and to start planning your trip around something you’ve never tried before. You may find out you’d like to try a new water sport, or a different kind of food, or even to explore a museum you didn’t have the chance to visit.

We hope these tips have been helpful– and that inspiration comes knocking again soon! 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

 

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

At The Loftus Guides we seek to inspire you with suggested destinations that are unique and off-the-beaten-track: places that many travelers overlook, but shouldn’t. While we do aim to provide you with plenty of inspiring lists to peruse, we also want to bring you some local flavor, showcasing places around the world that deserve a closer look. This week, we train a spotlight on the charming town of Beaucaire, France. 

Beaucaire is nestled in the department of Gard right beside the Rhone River, which forms a natural boundary between Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. The massive floodgates at the water’s edge are proof that flooding has at times been a real threat to this low-lying part of the region. The surrounding landscapes are lush and green, and the town is bathed in that extraordinary Southern French light that so many of us know and love. 

The Light of Beaucaire, southern France

An Easy Trip From Nîmes, Arles or Avignon

Beaucaire lies at the centre of a triangle formed by the important Southern cities of Nimes, Arles and Avignon. Only 30 to 40 minutes away by train or car, it makes an easy and lovely trip from all of these places. It also lies in close reach of the ancient Roman town of Orange, the village of Uzès, the UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, and numerous other iconic destinations in the South of France. 

Read related: A Visit to France’s Lascaux Caves and Their Paleolithic Wonders

Starting to understand just how well-situated this little town is? Now let’s take a look at why it’s special in its own right.

Top Things to See & Do in Beaucaire

Although it’s not especially touristy, Beaucaire has so much to offer, from picturesque strolls to canal-side cafes, restaurants serving delicious local gastronomy and quaint little shops. Do turn down the town’s many small alleys and streets: you never know what you’ll find!

Take a Walk by the Canal

Port and boats in Beaucaire

The canal adds much to the charm of this little town, with its lush waterside trees, decorated houseboats and opportunities for boat tours. Visiting around Christmas-time? The boats are all decked out with lights, and there’s a festive Christmas market to explore as well. 

Visit a Local Market

Beaucaire is very much a market town. There’s a colorful food market that springs up each Thursday and Sunday morning on the Place Georges Clemenceau. Here, you’ll find everything from delicious local cheeses and produce to fresh bread, olives and flowers. 

For clothing, household items and textiles, take a whirl at the Cours Gambetta market along the canal, held on Thursday and Sunday morning.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Most Enticing Food Markets

During the summer, don’t miss the Beaux Quais de Vendredi, an evening market held along the banks of the Canal in Beaucaire each Friday night through July and August. Arts and craft stands, live musical performances and other festivities take over the canal strip, adding plenty of summery ambience.

Market Day in Tarascon

A lively market in nearby Tarascon. Image: Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

For a bonus, follow the bridge over the river to the adjacent town of Tarascon which has its own share of treasures to discover, including a vibrant, large open-air market and numerous cafes. 

Visit Two Castles (Overlooking One River)

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire and Tarascon each have an impressive castle and ramparts facing one another on their respective sides of the Rhone river. The walk and climb up the hill to Beaucaire’s medieval castle is a treat, with the view becoming more and more impressive as you climb. Free to visit, this impressive site gives you a glimpse of its past grandeur.

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

The Tarascon castle across the river is extremely well-preserved and is considered one of the grandest examples of a medieval fortress in France. It was built starting in the 15th century by the Dukes of Anjou.  

The Chateau often hosts events such as concerts and performances; ask at the tourist office for current details.

Enjoy Music & Dancing on a Hidden Square

Dancing at Place de la Republique, Beaucaire

Dancing at Place de la Republique/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Find the Place de la République, which the locals call la vieille place (the old square). This is a term which might come up frequently when you’re asking for directions, so don’t be confused by it!

The charming square is surrounded by restaurants and café terraces. On certain evenings there’s free entertainment by local musicians, offering the perfect opportunity for an evening of free dancing.

Taste Locally Made Olives and Olive Oil

Olives and olive oil are a local delicacy, and we recommend you spend some time tasting some of these gourmet specialties. You can notably visit a local olive oil mill at Huiles Robert. Take a tour of the facility and taste the delicious oils! The shop here has many options for gifts to bring back home.

Read related: Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

Address: 105 Allée Sergius Respectus, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)4 66 74 40 46

See the Abbaye Saint-Roman

Saint-Roman Abbey Beaucaire View

Situated right on the edge of town, this Abbey is a truly exceptional site. Carved into the caves and hillside by hermit monks from as early as the 5th century, it’s absolutely worth the uphill walk. The views alone are spectacular.

Address: Abbaye de Saint-Roman, 4294, route de Saint-Gilles, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)7 81 56 44 51

Visit the Pont du Gard Aqueduct 

Pont du Gard Aqueduct, France

The famous Pont du Gard aqueduct is nearby, so if time allows we recommend you see it firsthand. Enjoy this tour de force of Roman architecture and its mythical setting, as well as the onsite museum. For a fabulous evening outing, witness the spectacular son et lumière (a light and music show) that brings the site to life in the summertime.

 

See an Exhibit or Light Show at an Old Quarry

Chateau des Baumes and View

 Also just under half an hour from Beaucaire, take in the superb exhibits and light shows at the old quarry known as the Carrières des lumières. Then enjoy breathtaking views from the Chateau des Baux, a vast ruined castle situated high in the hills at the village of Les-Baux-de-Provence and billed as one of the finest sites in historic France.
Click here to see a full events calendar for the Carrière des lumières.

Accommodations We Recommend in Beaucaire 

Our general recommendation at TLG is almost always to book local holiday rentals and lodgings. Rent a flat, a house, a studio or even a furnished houseboat: in today’s world, this is possible just about anywhere you might choose to travel. 

What better way to experience a destination locally? You’ll be able to bring home local fare from the market, eat on your own schedule, pack a picnic for a day-long outing– all the while treating yourself to a morning or afternoon pause café, to use the French term. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to eat out at every meal. 

Visit one of our favourite sites to find the perfect place to stay in Beaucaire. You can also find accommodation reviews and recommendations at sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor.

If you do choose to stay in a hotel, be aware that in Beaucaire and in Tarascon most of these offer basic comforts (remember that French 3-star hotels are about equivalent to 2-star counterparts in North America). You can expect good service, but grand luxury isn’t usually on offer here. This may be another good reason to consider self-catering accommodations, at the end of the day!

Where To Eat in Beaucaire?

Restaurant Menu Beaucaire

Beaucaire, like most towns in France, boasts plenty of restaurants serving high-quality fare. We recommend that you simply take a canal-side stroll to make your choice. Daily menus are displayed on traditional chalkboards outside of each establishment.  You can ask the servers to help you translate if you don’t quite understand the options.

In addition to the typically-offered menu— consisting of three and sometimes more courses– there is usually also a daily ‘set menu’ that is more affordable. You can also order a la carte, of course. 

For specific restaurant reviews and suggestions in and around Beaucaire, we recommend that you visit this page. 

 

For More Info: Visit the Tourist Office

In our opinion, the local tourist office should always be one of your first stops– no matter your destination. There’s no better way to find out about local events and activities such as market days, art tours, current exhibitions, concerts and performances, to name just a few.

Interested in a canal cruise with lunch? They’ll have a recommendation. Want to visit an olive oil mill? They’ll set you on the right course.

Getting There: The Beaucaire Tourist Office is located at 8, rue Victor Hugo. You can also visit the official website here for more information ahead of your trip. 

Please leave your comments below if you have any questions about your plans to visit Beaucaire: we’re here to help. Especially since some of the above resources are available in French, you can feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have about your trip.

You can also use our contact form and connect with us on Facebook.

Bon voyage! 

 

 

The 8 Most Beautiful Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the World

The 8 Most Beautiful Leaf-Peeping Destinations in the World

Nature Puts On Her Fall Coat

As we sail into the fall season, one of the things many of us look forward to the most is the opportunity for leaf peeping. As temperatures begin to dip and deciduous trees change from summery green hues to fiery shades of yellow, orange and red, the splendor of autumn announces itself in a colorful show.

Haven’t we all experienced moments of joy on a quiet walk in a forest, perhaps with a loved one or even alone? There’s something about trees: they seem to act as a balm for body, mind and soul. Now, healing therapies are bearing this out. 

Did you know that Japanese people (and specifically many Tokyo residents) have been indulging in a practice called “forest bathing” for decades? Called Shinrin-yoku and developed in Japan as a healing therapy in the 1980’s, forest bathing is a nurturing experience for the senses: a way to calm body, mind and spirit by spending time in wooded areas. It’s been scientifically proven to boost your sense of wellbeing, and even lowers blood pressure and stress hormone levels. In the autumn, of course, the colorful sights can enhance the soothing effects even more.

Forest bathing amid yellow fall foliage

Destinations abound for viewing this autumnal tour de force from Mother Nature. When you think of magnificent fall leaves, what’s the first place that pops into your mind? England or New England? Canada or Australia? Depending on where you happen to live, you will no doubt have your own favorites. The truth is that there are many worthy destinations for an awe-inspiring autumnal experience, on almost every continent.

Read on for 8 of the world’s most stunning destinations for leaf-peeping. Take a drive, boat or train to any of these splendid places- and once there, make sure you have time to indulge in your own version of “forest-bathing”! Let us know if you have a personal favorite among them by leaving a comment below. 

1. Agawa Canyon Park, Algoma Highlands, Ontario, Canada

Agawa Canyon, Ontario: the train tour in autumn is absolutely stunning for leaf peeping and fall foliage.

This favorite fall destination in North America is best reached by train!  Hop on the famous Train Tour through the spectacular Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, Canada, which begins and ends at Sault Ste. Marie. There’s an hour-and-a-half stop along the way, allowing you to enjoy the surrounding wilderness trails and scenic viewpoints in all their glory.

Travelling to just over 100 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie and back via a breathtaking ride through the Canyon, this is definitely one for the bucket list. Of course, you can enjoy the vast pristine wilderness and its numerous provincial parks by car as well. The Train Tour simply adds a “truly extraordinary” element while you sit back and enjoy the unparalleled views of fall foliage. 

When does it run?

The train runs from late June through mid-October. The last two weeks of September and the first two weeks of October are the recommended times for leaf peeping. This time-frame varies with each year as it is dependant on seasonal conditions: in years when cooler temperatures arrive earlier, so do changing colors. 

Be sure to reserve well ahead, as this tour definitely sells out. Click here for inclusive packages for the Train Tour, Accommodations and a Pass Book.

Visit this page to view the map and trails in the Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park.

2. Japan

Gorgeous fall leaves in Japan

More famous for its cherry blossom season and its population’s general love for trees, nature and gardens, Japan is in fact equally spectacular in the fall season. Home to millions of maples and other deciduous trees, Japan puts on an autumnal spectacle that is among the world’s most extraordinary– and we highly recommend that you travel by train to take it all in. As for the inimitable style and diverse fauna found in Japanese parks and gardens, they can’t be beaten. You will revel in the seasonal enjoyment of neatly and precisely planned natural settings, some of which contain thousands of trees. 

Read related: Top 7 Tips for Exploring Seoul, South Korea 

When to See Fall Leaves in Japan?

As temperature differences between mountainous and lowland areas vary and can greatly affect the best viewing times, possibilities for leaf-peeping in the country come as early as mid-September and as late as early December. The earliest times begin in the northernmost region and the latest are in and near Tokyo.

A beautiful autumn scene in Akiyama Township Valley, Japan

Use this resource to find out when and where to visit. Scroll down the page for a map and list by region with the full forecast for all of Japan.

In the Kansai region, a unique Train Tour allows visitors to enjoy the autumn display of color (also recommended earlier in the year to gawk at breathtaking cherry blossoms). This is the Sagano Scenic Railway, also known as Kyoto’s “romantic train”, and viewing times for leaf peeping are from November into December. This is a one-way ticket– with the option of returning via a river cruise on the Hozugawa River to your point of departure at Arashiyama, a short distance from Kyoto. (Of course you can return by train, but you’ll need another ticket.)

Note: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, this will get you to and from Arashiyama, but the Sagano Scenic Railway is not included in the pass. Tickets for the Sagano Railway can be purchased on arrival at the Saga-Arashiyama Station or at any Japan Rail ticket office in the Kansai region. Pre-purchasing is recommended at peak times, as is checking available days for the Train Tour.

Travel Tip: For nature lovers, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove near Kyoto is also not to be missed.

3. Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Love mountain landscapes? Add a crystal-clear glacial lake, and you have an idyllic autumn setting at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada.

This video speaks for itself and is likely to prompt you to put this part of the world on your bucket list!

Alongside Kootenay Lake and its pristine views, you can also bask in surrounding provincial parks, activities, artisan studios, cultural events and more. Even better: Plan to be there during the salmon-spawning season which runs from August through October. This is an incredible experience in and of itself.  See this page for more details.

For accommodation resources, click here to see a selection of different accommodation types–from hotels to Bed & Breakfasts– in the Nelson and Kootenay region. Prefer something self-catered? Take a look here using “Kootenay Lake British Columbia” to create your search. Yes, there are log cabins on this list!

How to get to this part of the B.C. interior? Click here to learn more.

4. New England, United States

Autumn Leaves in New England

The problem with including New England on our autumn leaf-peeping bucket list? There are simply too many marvelous destinations in this part of the United States to properly account for. Places like Maine, Connecticut, Vermont and other New England states offer opportunities for viewing fall foliage at its most glorious.  

With their winding country roads, billboard-free drives, sinuous rivers and picturesque small towns all accumulating in idyllic pastoral scenes, these are destinations sought out by hordes of tourists every year. Visit this page for a spectacular selection and a fully comprehensive list of leaf-peeping destinations from Town And Country Mag. 

Experiencing New England Fall Foliage by Train

What is it about trains? They’re both charming and relaxing, eliminating all need to worry about the road ahead. Sit back and enjoy, take some travel pictures you’ll treasure forever, and wend your way through some truly gorgeous landscapes.

The Essex Steamboat and River Company offers some truly unique excursions that allow you to take in breathtaking fall foliage as you cruise through the Connecticut River Valley.

5. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

The splendor of autumn at Niagara Falls

Let’s face it: a spectacular autumn visit to Niagara Falls would be incomplete without some serious leaf peeping involved. Southern Ontario is yet another place to see the gorgeous colors of autumn burst into full expression. The protected Niagara Escarpment is wooded as far as the eye can see, and an uncountable number of maple trees, birch trees and other deciduous varieties offer up a feast for the eyes as you make your way to the world-famous Falls.

Further, surrounding vineyards provide a spectacular autumn vista, since the vines also change in hue as cooler temperatures set in. Better yet, it’s harvest time for the grapes– although this is closely monitored for each varietal and by each winery. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and get to observe as the grapes arrive ‘in the back’ to be crushed. This is yet another fall experience that’s both festive and fun.

Best Places to Leaf-Peep in Niagara?

For a superb vista of the Niagara River as it makes its way northward to Lake Ontario through a densely-wooded landscape, check out the Lookout Point just below Queenston Heights Park, about ten minutes north of Niagara Falls along the Niagara ParkwayThe Niagara Parkway itself is a stunningly beautiful drive that takes you north to Niagara-on-the-Lake, billed as the prettiest town in Canada with its quaint shops, wineries and B&Bs. We think it’s true! This beautiful, tree-dense drive will not disappoint, as you take in rolling vineyards and a fall display unlike any other. 

(Read our full guide to beautiful fall foliage in Niagara Falls, Ontario)

The area just near Niagara Falls has many parks and gardens, all of which afford opportunities for lovely strolls and something to see outside the Falls themselves. Free to visit, the Niagara Botanical Gardens— a 99-acre year-round marvel that is vastly appealing in the fall– is well worth adding to your list.

For those visiting from Toronto with a wine tour in mind, there are certain tours that will drive you there and back for a day-long outing. The drive takes you along part of the magnificent Niagara Escarpment: all you need is the right time of year and, ideally, a sunny day. Fall foliage colors truly come alive against the backdrop of a bright blue sky.

Colorful leaves and grapevines in autumn

Toronto’s iYellow Wine Club offers an annual Niagara Harvest Tour that will take you to three wineries as you are driven through the beautiful landscape of this viniculture region. Check their page for dates and information on how to book. 

If you’re already in the Niagara Region and want to take a wine tour, with leaf peeping as an added bonus, there are several companies to choose from. Click here for a number of options from Niagara Vintage Wine Tours, including a half-day wine and cheese tour, an evening wine tour with dinner, design your own private tour and others.

Last but not least and for something truly out-of-the-ordinary, consider this: fly down from Toronto’s downtown airport to Niagara and be whisked away in a private car to one of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s premium winery estates, the Two Sisters vineyard. Take in the escarpment’s gorgeous fall colors from the air, then enjoy a VIP tour and luncheon in their famed Kitchen76 restaurant, or on the patio for the very finest Italian fare. Romantic, much? We think so! Click here for all the details and to book your tickets.

Note: The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival generally runs for most of the month of September, a time to enjoy Niagara at its most colorful.  The Discovery Pass offers multiple wine-tasting opportunities, events and more. 

For tons of authentic features and travel tips on visiting Niagara, see our dedicated Secrets of Niagara site. 

6. Paris (With a Stopover in The Loire Valley)

Paris Park in Autumn

Famous for its many elegant parks, Paris is a city that’s glorious in the fall. if you’ve already planned your trip there for around the end of September or early October you’re in for a treat, as its many trees transform to show glorious autumnal hues. Whether it’s the Jardins des Tuileries and Luxembourg, the vast Bois de Boulogne or simply a window-shopping wander along the Champs-Elysées you’re after, cooler temperatures and perhaps fewer tourists are all added bonuses. 

Read related: These Are the World’s 10 Most Romantic Honeymoon Destinations 

If you’re planning on a day trip or weekend whirl through the Loire Valley and its iconic châteaux, you’ll be equally amazed by the fall splendor of vast, sprawling parks and ancient trees that abound there. Vineyards bursting with autumn colors only adds to the overall charm. The autumn season really is one of the best times to visit– we highly recommend it!

7. Patagonia, Argentina

An increasingly popular tourist destination, Patagonia has an autumn season running from March through May, due to its location in the far southern hemisphere. Here’s a leaf-peeping opportunity for the more adventurous and intrepid among you: this remote location has an incredible array of its own distinct flora, as the world’s most southerly forest of the “subantarctic” variety.

A travel photographer’s dream, Patagonia offers rugged mountains and dramatic plains bursting with autumn foliage. This part of the world is beyond compare, and an ideal destination for anyone wishing to get off the beaten path. See this page for a great list of reasons to consider an autumn visit.

To visit here, you will need to join a tour and don your best hiking boots. Visit this resource for some options and to learn more about the Torres del Paine National Park— described by so many as an “otherworldly” experience.

8. New Zealand

Last but certainly not least, New Zealand is another intrepid destination for the ambitious autumn traveler. Here’s the consensus on the best time to visit: mid-April. Offering more yellow hues than fiery reds because of the varieties of trees most commonly found here, the contrast provided by pristine landscapes and waterscapes makes it all worthwhile. The best recommendation we can find is for Lake Tekapo on the South Island with its turquoise blue glacial water and yellow-hued leaves. There are a number of reasons many choose to visit Lake Tekapo, as outlined here, including the striking blue color of the lake, a whimsical statue of a dog gracing the shore and the opportunity to stargaze into the light-pollution-free night sky.

Click here to learn more about this incredible stargazing opportunity, complete with hot springs from which to observe the stars. We’re pretty sure there aren’t too many places on the planet where this is possible- what an experience!

Looking for a place to stay in the area? Visit this page for a list of good Lake Tekapo accommodations.

Our List Is Just the Beginning…

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course- but represents some of our favorites, and will go a long way in giving you a bit of inspiration for your next autumn adventure. Do you have other leaf-peeping spots you love and recommend? Feel free to tell us about them and share them with others by leaving a comment below!

 

 

How to Take Top-Rate Smartphone Pictures: 12 Tips From an Expert

How to Take Top-Rate Smartphone Pictures: 12 Tips From an Expert

by Max Therry

You don’t need a state-of-the art DSLR camera to take good shots, and you don’t need the most modern and expensive device to take top-rate smartphone pictures, either. These tips are aimed at helping you to get the best out of your mobile phone photography, from setting up the shot to taking the photo through to editing it.

1. Download a Camera App For Your Phone

Your built-in smartphone camera is fine, and you don’t have to have the latest model, but the mobile phone’s built-in camera does have some limitations. If your phone will support it, think about downloading a dedicated mobile camera app. Adobe Lightroom mobile is a great choice, but there are others like the totally free Open Camera app, or Camera ZOOM FX Premium. Find one that suits you and your skill level.

Download a smartphone photo app to take better pictures

These apps allow you much more control over how you shoot your photos. You can manually adjust shutter speed, ISO, white balance and other settings when you take photos using these apps.

Read related: Essential Travel Photography Gear to Buy Before Your Next Trip 

 

2. Back up Your Images

To keep your memory free, get into the habit of downloading your photos to another device, to your cloud storage, or both. Backing up your precious images to at least two different storage formats means that if something happens to one lot, the other will still be safe.

 

3. Learn About Different Smartphone Camera Modes and What They Do

There are several dedicated modes for different types of photography available on smartphones, and these are the most common ones to familiarise yourself with:

  • HDR Mode: This mode basically takes multiple images of the subject at different exposures in quick succession. It then merges them using the software, and will produce a final image that has detail in both shadow and highlight areas, as well as brighter color and contrast. This mode is great for shooting skies in daylight, landscapes, architecture, or in the case that there is minimal light in the subject’s foreground. For example, compare those two photos, and look closely at the sky to spot the difference:

How to use HDR setting on a smartphone

How to change exposure on your smartphone camera

  • Panorama Mode:This mode allows you to capture much more in a single shot. To use it, you need to move the smartphone horizontally along a predefined line to take your shot. The camera takes multiple shots and stitches these images together to create one wide, panoramic image.

How to use the Panorama mode on your smartphone camera

  • Portrait Mode: This mode adds an artistic effect to your portraits by keeping your subject sharp, and blurring the background to add depth of field. This mode is great for shooting people from up close.
  • Burst Mode: This mode takes a burst of shots in rapid succession, and it’s great for capturing action or sports scenes, as you won’t miss a thing! The only issue with this mode is that it will quickly fill up all your memory storage, so delete the images you don’t need soon after taking them.

 

4. Use a Tripod in Low Light

You can get specialized tripods for your phone to keep the camera steady while you shoot. If you’re shooting in low-light situations, hand-holding your phone will result in blurry photos, and you don’t want that unless that’s the effect you’re going for.

Why to use a tripod in low light for your smartphone camera

If you don’t want to use a tripod in low light, you’ll have to use the flash or go somewhere where light conditions are better. I personally don’t ever use the flash on my phone, as I have never seen a good shot taken with direct flash on either a phone or a DSLR camera. You end up with harsh, dark shadows around your subjects, and it makes their skin look washed out. That’s just my opinion, though – if you want to use flash, go for it!

 

5. Don’t Neglect Exposure and Lighting

Exposure is controlled by three things: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. On a smartphone, you have no control over the aperture, as the lens isn’t adjustable. You can adjust ISO, which relates to how sensitive your sensor is to the light coming in, and shutter speed, which relates to how long your camera shutter stays open.

Read related: Top 7 Tips For Taking Amazing Travel Photography

 

The longer your shutter stays open, the more light it lets in, and the higher your ISO, the more sensitive your camera is to the available light. On a bright day, you may need the lowest ISO, and a high shutter speed to get good exposure, while in low light, you may need the ISO up high, and the shutter speed under 1/30th second to get correct exposure. For lower shutter speeds, you’ll need a tripod or you will get blurry images. Modern smartphones let you control the exposure by simply tapping on the screen. However, if you learn how to use the manual camera mode, you’ll have much more control over your images.

For example, trying to photograph  sunrise in the desert, the camera focused on the wrong area,  and the photo (especially the sky) came out too bright and over-exposed:

How to avoid overexposure in smartphone photos

But tapping on the white part can help you correct the exposure, bring out more colors and produce an overall better photo:

How to control exposure on your smartphone camera

As for lighting, natural light is better for smartphone photography, but not direct sunlight. If you can, take images in shaded areas, or while the sky is overcast. Another good time is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset, while the sun is low in the sky, as it gives a beautiful, soft light. You don’t need to stay in the shade if you are shooting at these times.

 

6. Learn How to Focus

Different smartphone brands will offer different ways of fixing the focus, but often it’s just a case of tapping on the screen where you want the camera to focus. For instance, if you’re taking a portrait, tap the eyes on the screen, and the focus should be fixed there.

For example, focusing on the plane window:

How to use focus on your smartphone camera

And focusing on the wing:

How to adjust focus in your smartphone photos

For some phones, you can manually lock the focus by tapping on the screen and holding it down for a few seconds until the focusing square or circle changes color;  this tells you that the focus is now locked. You can then re-compose your shot, and the focus will remain the same because you have locked it. Read your phone’s manual to find out if you can do this with your phone camera.

 

7. Try to Shoot in RAW Format

Many camera apps have the capability to shoot in Raw file format. Although this is the best format for photography in general, it does have one drawback on a phone camera.

Pro photographers shoot in Raw format because it is totally uncompressed, and contains all the information from a photo. JPEG format is compressed, and is called a ‘lossy’ format because the camera discards some of the image information to enable the compression. This is the reason why JPEG file sizes are much smaller than RAW files.

How to shoot in RAW format on your smartphone

For example, increasing brightness on Jpeg (on the left) and Raw (on the right) photo

That brings me to the main drawback of shooting Raw files on a phone – memory, or lack thereof. Raw files take up a vast amount of your phone’s memory, so before you start shooting, make sure you have enough space. The same applies to shooting video on your phone, as that is another feature that eats massive amounts of memory.

If your phone doesn’t support Raw format or you don’t want to use up your memory, don’t despair. Go into the camera settings and select the highest resolution Jpeg settings it has. The larger the Jpeg, the higher the image quality.

If you do shoot in RAW, you’ll need a Raw file converter to work on the photos after you’ve taken them. Lightroom mobile will let you do that on your phone, but it’s often better to upload your Raw images to a computer.

You can get totally free Raw converters like GIMP, or you can install inexpensive editing software such as ON1 or Luminar. The latter allow you to work directly on your Raw files to make adjustments before saving your finalized image as a JPEG.

 

8. Choose Your Background

Before you start taking photos, look for objects behind your subject and in the frame of your phone camera. Is there a tree branch or lamppost directly behind your subject? Move them away, or it will look like they’re growing out of your subject’s head.

If you’re taking food photos, a plain background is best, as it lets the food be the star. Check that there are no dirty dishes or other unwanted objects in the background. Either remove them, move your food, or change the angle of your shot so that they are not in the photo.

 

9. Try Different Angles

Try to get creative with your shots. Most people will only take a photo from directly above or from straight ahead at eye level. When you get a different angle on your subjects, the image stands out from the norm. Why not try shooting from the sides, from up above, or getting down and shooting at ground level for a different perspective?

A related tip: Take lots of shots. If you have plenty of images, it makes it easier to find the really good ones when you come to edit them.

Learn how to use different angles and perspectives for your smartphone pictures

10. Check Your Composition

How your image looks has a lot to do with composition: It should be balanced, with all the elements in the shot working to create a harmonious photo.

Your phone camera probably has a ‘rule of thirds’ grid that you can overlay your shot with to help improve your composition.

A quick explanation of the rule of thirds grid in photography is this: The camera screen is split up into nine squares, with three lines running vertically, and three lines running horizontally. Where those lines intersect, along one of the lines or just above one of the horizontal lines, is where you want to place the items of interest in your photo for the most pleasing composition.

Look at your favorite photos for inspiration. What makes them good? Why is the composition visually appealing? Can you use some of these ideas in your own photos?

 

11. Don’t Zoom – Get Closer if You Can

If you use your phone’s zoom function to get in close and fill the frame, you’ll end up with very poor image quality when you look at it closely: It will look pixelated and strange, especially if you’re viewing it on a larger screen.

Try to get in closer to your subject if you can instead. You can crop unwanted objects out later in post-processing to keep your image quality and resolution high.

 

12. Learn Some Good Post-Processing Techniques

Your phone will probably have a built-in editing suite, or you can use an app to help crop and adjust a given pic. You may be wondering if editing your images is really necessary, but even the best shots will be enhanced by some careful adjustments for color, contrast, sharpness etc.

If you have the time and access to a computer with editing software, I’d suggest uploading your images to it and editing them on the larger screen. It makes a world of difference to be able to see the good and bad points of your image on a big screen.

The main rule of photo-editing? Don’t overdo. You want your photo to be bright and attractive, but still real (unless you want to achieve some artistic effect –  in that case, don’t hesitate to express your creativity!)

Final Thoughts

These days, anyone with a phone camera is a photographer, and that’s no bad thing. There are so many smartphone pictures out there that just blend into the masses, or don’t reach their full potential, and that’s a shame. If you follow my tips above, you’ll be well on your way to creating images that stand out from the crowd– for all the right reasons!

About the Author

Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Visit his website and feel free to reach him by email.

Visit Max’s Website

Contactphotogeekymax@gmail.com