Travel of any kind is starting to feel like a distant memory. The closest thing we have to venturing outdoors is walking around our backyards, local parks (and even those are starting to shut down). Big names like Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Great Smoky Mountains have also had to close because of COVID-19. In response to social distancing, the Internet in particular has had to get a bit more creative with platforms such as Google Arts and Culture offering online tours, including a curated selection of five national parks to explore virtually.
They recently introduced a “deeper, more immersive” virtual viewing experience called The Hidden Worlds of National Parks. Their newest self-guided platform allows users to explore five lifelike landscapes such as Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Hawaii Volcanoes, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Florida’s Dry Tortugas.
Meant to be equal parts educational and enjoyable, users can follow rangers along a series of journeys and activities like trekking through ancient caves, riding on horseback through canyons, repelling down a glacier crevasse, flying over an active volcano and swimming amongst coral reefs. We imagine kids would get a kick out of this unique learning tool, as well as us adults who are looking for a bit of escapism. Here are the five national parks to explore virtually on Hidden Worlds.
1. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Glaciers, fjords, icebergs and more await exploration in the Alaskan wilderness at the edge of the Kenai Peninsula. Inside this national park, you can follow your guide down an icy crevasse, kayak past huge fields of ice and watch a towering glacier melt before your eyes.
2. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Few of us will ever experience seeing a volcano in person in our lifetime. Through this virtual tour, you can go inside the Nahuku Lava Tube, view the awe-inspiring cliffs along the coastline, fly over an active volcano and learn about the effects it’s had on the island.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
The desert has never been closer than Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico. Here, there are more than 119 caves in all sizes, along with a number of impressive rock formations to uncover. This tour lets users explore the wonders below the Earth’s surface and those who inhabit them, including bats who call the caves home.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
For all the outdoorsmen out there, you can still get up close and personal with Utah’s Bryce Canyon. Get ready to trek the red and orange sandstone cliffs on horseback, even though in actuality it’s more like from the comfort of your couch. Your park ranger will take you through a day-to-night journey, including an otherworldly starry night sky at Sunset Point.
5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Even though you’ll have to imagine the sunshine on your face and warm breeze in your hair, it’s easier than ever to visit Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. Typically this remote park, which lies 70 miles west of Key West, is only accessible via seaplane or boat. It’s most famously known for being the home of Fort Jefferson but the crystal blue surrounding waters, active marine life and coral reefs make for an epic dive site. One that users will get to swim through themselves in this tour. (Virtually, of course.)
In addition to the Google Arts & Culture Hidden Worlds project, Google Earth has mapped out 31 U.S. national parks to explore virtually as well, which you can view here.
Main image by utah.com