14 Scary Places You Should Definitely Visit
Don't get us wrong: You should most definitely visit each and every one of these one-of-a-kind vacation spots. After all, they include some of America's most beautiful national parks, beaches, and mountains. But be aware that your risk of being bitten by a shark, swept out to sea, mauled by a bear, or blown off a winding ridge trail are just a little bit greater here than it is back home.
1. CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK, UT
Canyonlands is in the incredibly beautiful but treacherous area where Aron Ralston famously amputated his own right arm when it got pinned under a boulder. Ralston, the subject of the James Franco film 127 Hours, had the right idea: Searches and rescues in this remote desert region—where visitors routinely fall off ledges or are overcome by heat and dehydration—can take days.
2. HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, HI
On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to Kilauea, which still spews hot ash and lava into the sea. Follow the advice of rangers and signage and you’ll get a scary-but-safe peek at this hothead in action.
3. VOLUSIA COUNTY, FL
This coastal community has more recorded shark attacks than anywhere else on earth. Yep. Sounds crazy, no? But this stretch of beach is shark central. The good news: If you do get bitten here, it almost certainly won’t be fatal—no previous shark attack here has ever killed a swimmer.
4. THE MAROON BELLS, CO
In the beautiful Elk Mountains, the Maroon Bells have earned the nickname the “deadly bells,” but even expert climbers are slow to perceive the danger here. Deceptively easy climbing can lead people into tight spots and weak rocks that break away unexpectedly.
5. DENALI NATIONAL PARKS, AK
Listen up: If you keep your distance from the grizzlies, you’ll be fine. But Denali National Park is crawling with massive bears and you’ve got to keep your food packed up, never hike alone, and stay away from the mama bears and cubs. A fatal mauling in recent years got lots of press because the victim photographed the bear that attacked him. Don’t do that.
6. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA
Yosemite offers some super-safe tour experiences and also some super-risky adventures. Iconic Half Dome is a popular, and relatively easy, climb—but unfortunately that has led to crowding, carelessness, and visitors falling to their deaths.
7. ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, CO
Like Yosemite and other popular climbing destinations, it’s perfectly safe to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, but those who venture up Long’s Peak—with its narrow paths, rock slides, and risk of lightning strikes—risk becoming the annual visitor (on average) who does not descend alive.
8. KALALAU, KAUAI, HAWAII
Kalalau, on Kauai in Hawaii, poses multiple dangers, including narrow paths at dizzying heights and beaches so treacherous that more than 100 people have drowned here to date.
9. GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ
Even if you don’t get lost like the Brady kids or swept off a whitewater rafting excursion, the spectacular Grand Canyon’s Bright Angel Trail may lure you in. It appears deceptively easy, but temperatures climb to 110 degrees and getting back can be tricky for those who don’t pace themselves and carry water.
10. MOUNT WASHINGTON, NH
Mount Washington is a surprisingly hideous experience for those who don shorts and a T-shirt for a quiet stroll. The highest wind speed ever recorded on earth was here: 231 miles per hour. Temperatures at the summit have never been warmer than 72 degrees, and you run risk like getting blown off the ridges, hypothermia, and, yikes, avalanches.
11. HANAKAPIAI, KAUAI, HAWAII
Hanakapiai, on Kauai’s Napali Coast, Hawaii, is a gorgeous beach that’s not only famous for lovely photographs of the breakers but also for pix of a hand-carved wooden sign that reads: DO NOT GO NEAR THE WATER. UNSEEN CURRENTS HAVE KILLED VISITORS.
12. OAHU HAWAII
Oahu boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world—and it's a safe and beautiful place to visit! But Oahu's scenic waves and rocks make some beaches treacherous places to take a dip. Stick to lifeguarded, well-populated areas (Waikiki is the most obvious, and popular).
13. MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, WA
Mount Rainier is home to an active volcano that last erupted only a little over a century ago. The park poses risks of mud flows and “glacial outburst floods,” which can damage roads, campgrounds, and, um, hikers. As with any national park, arm yourself with ranger know-how and obey the signage and you should be fine.
14. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WY & MT
Don’t worry: If the “supervolcano” under Yellowstone blows its top, the disturbance to hiking trails, campgrounds, and roads may seem minor compared with the fact that the eruptions could cover most of the United States in thick ash. Scientists peg the risk at about 1 in 10,000. We don’t mind those odds.
Want to escape to Alaska without leaving home? We've been having a blast checking out the live BearCam at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska. THE COOLEST WEBCAM IN THE NPS? Each fall, Katmai's live web camera sends streaming video of Alaska brown bears (gigantic relatives of the grizzly) as they visit Brooks Falls to catch salmon. An ever-growing body of fans are apparently as ravenous for up-close views of the bears as the bears themselves are for the fresh fish they catch at the falls. OTHER GREAT NPS WEBCAMS We heartily recommend that you check out the BearCam at Explore.org, but we also want to pass on some links to webcams at other national parks that we've come to love. More than any reading material, the images available from these national parks may make you want to fill a backpack and hit the trails. Here's a starter kit for anyone interested in diving into as many parks in the shortest possible amount of time.Glacier National Park provides views of Apgar Lookout, an overview from Apgar Mountain of the North Fork area of the park; Apgar Village, with its visitor center, shops, and restaurants; and Lake McDonald, allowing you to stand at the pebbled shore and look out at the park's highest peaks, which are sometimes reflected in the lake and sometimes shrouded in clouds. (nps.gov/glac)Yellowstone National Park links to a collection of webcams offering a view of Old Faithful Geyser from the spectacular visitor education center, which opened in 2010; a view of the Upper Geyser Basin, including the geyser itself; and Mount Washburn, a view that is used to track fires (this camera is typically turned to a default view at the end of fire season). (nps.gov/yell)Yosemite National Park provides images of a number of the park's most popular sites, including Yosemite Falls, which is actually a combination of three falls (Upper Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall); Half Dome, including a view of the Yosemite Valley from nearby Yosemite Village; and Half Dome from 8,000 feet, taking in the High Sierra as well. (nps.gov/yose)Grand Canyon National Park links to just one webcam of the park, which is currently undergoing maintenance, but it's worth checking back for the amazing view when the camera is back online. The camera is meant to provide weather and air quality information, but also serves to whet the appetite of future visitors and to remind former visitors of what makes this place like no other on earth. In addition, the site provides links to live webcams of the San Francisco Peaks and other vistas in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona. (nps.gov/grca)Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides images of iconic spots in this popular park, including a view from Purchase Knob to the northeast; and Look Rock, at the western edge of the park. (nps.gov/grsm)
Confessions of a Former White-Water Rafting Guide
PJ Stevenson, white-water rafting guide turned director of marketing for West Virginia's Adventures on the Gorge, has spent nearly a quarter-century in the industry, and she's seen it all, from bachelor-party hijinx to aquaphobic guests to nonagenarian regulars. Here, she unpacks the best, worst, and most bizarre things she's seen on the job. How did you discover you were destined for this line of work? I came to West Virginia with my mom to go rafting when I was 14. And that was kind of it. I told her when we were leaving to go home that I needed to be a guide when I was old enough. Not that I wanted to, but needed to. When I was 18, I applied for guide training and was accepted. That was 24 years ago, and I’ve never questioned that this was where I was meant to be. Destiny is a funny thing. I had no intention of working in marketing for a river company. However, there was one fateful day on the river when I hit a rock and broke my leg, which led to light duty work in the office. The following year, I continued to guide but also took on some office responsibilities. After a company merger, I landed in the marketing department, where I’m now the director of marketing. It’s really cool to be able to do this job and still be able to go rafting if I want to! What do you love about guiding? River people (and outdoor folks, in general) are really amazing. There’s a very strong bond among our staff and the community, unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. That, combined with having the river gorge as your office and a stream of vacationers with one goal in mind—fun—makes guiding and being a part of this business very fulfilling. Being there for guests while they experience the crazy adventures we offer here for the first time brings back memories of my first river trip. It makes me appreciate the path I’ve chosen. My niece will tell you that my job is as a convincer, and that I go to work every day to convince people to come have fun in the Big Nature, as she likes to call it. If that were really an official job description, I’d chose it every time. And I get to wear flip flops to work every day. What’s not to love? What's the biggest surprise you've experienced? I’ve been in the outdoor industry for 25 years, so it’s safe to say not much surprises me anymore! One foggy morning, I get to the dam (where the Upper Gauley begins) to meet my crew for the day. We had a single guest who was afraid of water and decided that he was going to go rafting to cure his fear. He chose to do the toughest section of whitewater we have, not once, but twice in the same day and paid extra for the smallest raft that we have. It was just me and him in the boat, which makes it more challenging. In the middle of Pillow Rock Rapid, a Class V, he fell out and went deep. His life jacket popped him back up and he looked for me with great big eyes and a smile and said, “I think I’m cured!” (I don’t recommend this as a cure, but it sure was fun that day.) What's the strangest thing you've experienced? What's the funniest? Adventures on the Gorge, by its very nature, draws out the fun (and sometimes weird!). Guests come for all kinds of reasons and to celebrate just about anything. It’s not uncommon to see men dressed in embarrassing outfits for bachelor parties or a group of ladies in beaver pelt vests and bikini tops. We used to have a group who would pick a theme for the weekend and dress the part—pirates, Vikings, ninjas, whatever struck their fancy. Each year, it got a little crazier. One of these guys had a prosthetic leg and actually wore different ones that matched the theme. What's the scariest, or the most intimidating? Funny that after 15 years of guiding Class IV-V whitewater, my first tourism grant presentation to a panel of 12 people was one of the most intimidating experiences I’ve had in my career. I was also one of the first women to R1 the Upper Gauley (meaning navigating a small raft by myself). At the put-in, or starting point, I attempted to start my trip three times before finally pushing off. At the end of each rapid, commercial boats were there hanging out to watch and see what happened next. After each of the big Class V rapids, the crowd grew larger. At the end of the trip was a 14-foot waterfall, with a large calm area where people were gathering to relax. It felt like I was dropping into the Coliseum. I could hear people chanting my name right before the drop, a collective gasp, and then cheers as I sailed right through it. Who is the most memorable guest you've had? We have had a lot of really amazing guests—people who come from all over the world and from all walks of life. As a part of my job, I get to host cocktail parties on Saturday nights for our loyal guests, and each has unique stories and memories about their time spent at Adventures on the Gorge. A few of the folks I most look forward to seeing each year are Alex, a blackjack dealer about to complete his 100th rafting trip; Frank, a 90-plus-year-old gentleman who rafts the Upper Gauley River with his adult kids; and Shawn, who has three tattoos based on our company logo. It’s so much fun to hear what the past year held for them and to meet the new folks that they are bringing into the fold. What's the most challenging thing about being on the water? Guiding has been the least challenging part of my time in the industry. The most challenging part of my job is getting more people to see West Virginia the way I do. It’s an amazing place filled with the friendliest people who are open to sharing their little piece of heaven with anyone who is interested. West Virginia is often a mystery to people, but there are wild and wonderful things you can see and do here.
How to See a Rocket Launch in Cape Canaveral, FL
There’s a lot of excitement these days about the next frontier - space travel. So far, in 2018, SpaceX launched a car into space with it’s Falcon Heavy rocket - the powerful and reusable rocket that will take us to Mars. The James Webb Space telescope is the long-awaited follow-up to Hubble that will allow us to see the beginning of time itself will launch from French Guiana in 2019. Soon, the first commercial flights to space will launch, giving anyone the chance to be an astronaut (if you have a lot of money to spend, that is). We don’t have any budget tips for taking a spaceflight (yet), but here’s how you can see a rocket launch without breaking the bank. CAPE CANAVERAL, FL The area around Cape Canaveral, known more broadly as the “Space Coast” (how cool is that!) has seen a boom in activity thanks to the increase in space activity, so the area around is worth planning a mini-vacation for. Notably, the beaches are some of the most pristine beaches in the country. In fact, the Space Coast offers such a unique experience that it was named to Lonely Planet’s Best in US list for 2018. Orlando is only about a 45-minute drive west, and the Spanish colonial town of St. Augustine, Fla., is only about two hours north. Reasonable flights into Orlando can be found roundtrip from most major airports. Hotel rooms can be found nearby for under $100/night. You’ll need to rent a car, which you can do for as little as $23 out of the Orlando airport. PICK A THREE-DAY LAUNCH WINDOW There are frequent launches from Cape Canaveral through the summer seasons. You can find the schedule for space-flights around the world is published at spaceflightnow.com. If you choose to go for the launch of a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy, then you’ll also get to witness the landing of these reusable rockets. Keep in mind that rocket launches are highly dependent on weather, so there is a possibility that the launch you want to see has to be rescheduled. Plan to be around Cape Canaveral, Fla., for at least two days—the scheduled day and the day after. (We suggest you arrive a day ahead of the launch date so that you can take a tour and snap photos up close of the rocket on the launch pad.) WATCHING THE LAUNCH Rocket launches are open to public viewing, so there are many ways to watch launches without paying admission, even from a nearby beach! You can find a list of launch locations at the Space Coast information page. Listen for launch details on the radio on AM stations 1240 and 1350, and plan to deal with a lot of car traffic on launch days. You don’t want to pick the wrong place and be downwind of the smoke! The Kennedy Space Center offers several options for viewing shuttle launches, and tickets can be purchased at kennedyspacecenter.com or by phone at 321/449-4444 about six weeks before a launch. Launch viewing is included in the price of a ticket to the Center, but upgrades for better visibility can be added for an additional $20-$49. The Kennedy Space Center is also an interactive museum, great for families and space nerds alike. Daily admission is $50 for adults 12+ and $40 for children under 12. The price of admission includes access all of the Center’s exhibits like “Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted,” as well as entry to the IMAX theater to see incredible space documentaries play out on huge screens. A WORD OF CAUTION If your launch is rescheduled up to the day before, your tickets will be valid for the rescheduled launch date. But if you enter the Center and the launch is rescheduled to another date, your launch viewing tickets are considered “used” and you'll have to buy a new ticket for the new launch date. And if a launch is canceled (or "scrubbed," in NASA lingo), you don't get a refund.
Travel 101: The Best of Florida
Florida is a big, beautiful place with something for every style of traveler. Here, we've narrowed the list a bit, with options that will please everyone in your family. THE SPACE COAST Just about an hour’s drive from Orlando, the Cape Canaveral area is one of Florida’s jewels. Cruising the “Space Coast” between Titusville and Melbourne is a thrilling way to delve into America’s past (this was, after all, the center of the national space program in the 1960s) and enjoy some of the state’s finest natural wonders, too. The Kennedy Space Center is the must-see here for its great displays devoted to the space program. But you may find yourself just as drawn to beaches and wildlife refuges, and that’s just fine. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to egrets, herons, manatees, and even feral hogs. Canaveral National Seashore is a cool place to see loggerhead turtles in their natural habitat. Cocoa Beach is a surfer's paradise—where else can you shop 24/7 at Ron Jon's Surf Shop? You can also pick up the perfect Cuban sandwich in Cocoa. In Melbourne, you can sign up for open-water scuba lessons if you’re feeling adventurous, or just relax at a local eatery with a plate of fried chicken atop buttermilk pancakes. ORLANDO’S FOOD SCENE Sure, we all know that Miami is a mecca for foodies. But Orlando has its own food scene that even some of its biggest fans are surprised to learn about. Devotees of the “big three” theme parks (Universal, Disney, and SeaWorld) may know that the fish & chips at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter are magical, and that Walt Disney World and Epcot offer fine dining choices, but when it comes to culinary arts, Orlando is not such a small world after all. The Rusty Spoon has garnered much praise for its creative use of fresh local ingredients sourced from Florida farmers, including butter-poached wild clams and slow-braised Jamison farm lamb collar. International Drive has an array of choices like Ethiopian, Indian, and Japanese fare, and a new Shake Shack (the chain that started as a NYC hot dog cart) has arrived, too. And we enjoy partaking of food trucks like Arepas El Cacao. THE WILD SIDE You’ve no doubt heard that Everglades National Park is a famous Florida park, with miles of fascinating and beautiful waterways and wildlife like alligators. But Florida is also home to lesser known parks and preserves such as Honeymoon Island, a state park with four miles of white beaches and two miles of nature trails where you may spot osprey, bald eagles, and terns. Once known as Hog Island, the decidedly romantic park got a lift when beach cottages were built in the 1930s and the name was changed to more accurately describe its allure. The cottages are gone, but more than a million visitors enjoy the day trip to swim, surf, kayak, and search for seashells along the shore. (You can stay in the nearby towns of Dunedin and Clearwater Beach.) THE KEYS Sunset Celebration at Key West’s Mallory Square is one of those bucket-list items every visitor must experience, preferably with a margarita from one of the nearby stands in hand. Key West is known for its party scene, but just around the corner from raucous Duval Street you’ll find the quieter Bahama Village neighborhood. Tour the “Little White House,” where Harry Truman stayed on vacation when he was president, and the Hemingway Home and Museum and check out the many cats said to have descended directly from Papa’s semi-famous six-toed cat. Just up Route 1, you’ll marvel at Seven Mile Bridge, which runs between mile markers 40 and 47, and Key Largo, where you can rent a bungalow and enjoy a slice of, what else, key lime pie. THE GULF COAST Though Florida is justly renowned for its Atlantic beaches, the western shores of the state are beautiful in their own right and are home to one of North America’s finest seafood scenes, deserving equal footing with Maine’s lobsters, Maryland’s crabs, and Baja’s fish tacos. The marina in the village of Dunedin, for instance, offers locally caught cobia and mangrove snapper that are prepared and turned into tasty fish tacos. In Clearwater Beach, you can watch fishermen on the Pier (and try it yourself) and grab yourself some smoked mullet, salmon, mahi mahi, and mackerel at Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in nearby South Pasadena. Just across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (which looks like a giant sailboat), check out Skyway Fishing Pier State Park, the world’s longest fishing pier, where the pelicans will entertain you with their antics. A BEACH FOR EVERY PERSONALITY It’s no secret that we’re fans of Siesta Key, just off the coast of Sarasota. The white sands of Crescent Beach are dazzlingly bright, composed of pure quartz that has made its way from the Appalachian Mountains down Florida’s rivers to settle here along the coast. (The Guinness Book of World Records says Hyams Beach in Australia has whiter sand, but we’re not entirely convinced.) Say “Florida” to most travelers and not only Siesta Key but an array of other white-sand beaches spring to mind. We’ve sometimes wondered if the state has a beach for every type of beachgoer. Turns out we were onto something: VISIT FLORIDA has published a Beach Finder app that allows you to adjust your interests and preferences to find the perfect Florida beach for you! ALL THAT HISTORY Along with beaches, fun in the sun, seafood, and America’s space program, Florida also boasts heaps of history. The city of St. Augustine, for instance, celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2015. (Yes, the city was founded more than 50 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock.) A trip to St. Augustine lets you travel back to the days of the Colonial Quarter and scenic Castillo de San Marcos, get your pirate on at Pat Croce’s St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, and take a “Frightseeing” ghost tour of America’s oldest city. Discover Florida. With 825 miles of beaches and the world’s best theme parks, there are endless ways find fun every day in Florida. Starting planning your vacation today at VISITFLORIDA.com.