Best Spring Trips 2017
Emerge from your winter burrows and bask in the radiance of spring.
Get out the world map and mark off these destinations that are not to miss this season. From the east coast of America to the mountains of Nepal—and everything inbetween—we've got a list to appeal to every wanderer of the world.
Cape-to-Cape in South Africa
This road trip will break your Instagram.
South Africa’s southern N2 highway from Cape Town (Western Cape) to Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape) was designed for detours. Instead of driving straight through (about 460 miles), pull off frequently—particularly on the spectacularly scenic Garden Route section—to explore lagoons, lakes, forests, mountains, beaches, and bays. Sleep cheap at backpacker hostels like Tube ‘n Axe in Storms River. Hike in Garden Route National Park and catch a wave at world-class surf spot, Jeffreys Bay. At Mossel Bay (the halfway point on the drive) try sandboarding on 557-foot high Dragon Dune. Where the Western and Eastern Cape meet, walk out on—or, if you dare, bungee jump from—the arch of 709-foot-high Bloukrans Bridge with Face Adrenalin.
Eastern Europe by Balkan Flexipass
The scenery on this trip is just as stunning as Switzerland's for half the price.
For first-class vistas on a bare-bones budget, ride mainly by rail (partly by bus) from Serbia to the Adriatic coast. The original train route—completed in 1976 and undergoing its first major upgrade—dramatically winds through mountains and briefly passes through Bosnia and Herzegovina on its way from Belgrade, Serbia, to Bar, Montenegro. Due to construction, the first leg of the 10-hour (one-way) trip currently is by bus. To add more train travel, buy a Rail Europe Balkan Flexipass (starting at $108) for three, five, seven, 10, or 15 days of unlimited rides on national rail networks in Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey.
New York City's Central Park
Surprises abound in one of the world's most filmed and famed destinations.
Bite into the Big Apple’s 843-acre green core on a weekend filled with walking tours. Start with the Central Park Conservancy's Iconic Views tour ($15). The guided, 90-minute walk includes an insider’s look at places, such as the Sheep Meadow, Bow Bridge, and The Mall—a quarter-mile walkway open only to foot traffic (and the park’s only planned straight line). To see park locations featured in Sex in the City, Serendipity, and other New York-centric films and shows, embark on the self-guided Free Tours By Foot Central Park Movie and TV Tour. At The Loeb Boathouse, have lunch (Monday to Friday, reservations recommended) à la Sally and Marie (Meg Ryan and the late Carrie Fisher) in the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.
Hit a travel high in the beauty of this Himalayan city.
Soaring over the Pokhara Valley delivers adrenaline-junkie Himalaya views without the hiking. Pokhara, a gateway to Nepal’s Annapurna region, is considered one of the world’s top spots for paragliding due, in part, to jaw-dropping views of glaciers, lakes, and snow-covered peaks. No experience is required to ride with an instructor on a Sunrise Paragliding tandem flight. Options include the relatively tame Cloud Buster (20- to 30-minute) scenic flight, a longer (45- to 60-minute) Cross-Country tour, and the spinning-and-spiraling Acrobatic Flight. Before launching from Sarangkot (2,000 feet above the Pokhara Valley), snap a pic of Pokhara’s majestic mountain triple crown—26,795-foot Dhaulagiri, 26,040-foot Annapurna II, and 26,781-foot Manaslu.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Commune with nature on a forest-to-coast spring fling.
Go chasing waterfalls, spot migratory gray whales, and see pink Pacific rhododendrons and other early bloomers in wet-and-wild Olympic National Park. Since the Olympic Peninsula got blasted with snow this year, the spring melt-off should create roaring rivers and cascades. One downside of the sizeable snowpack—muddy or closed trails. Check the Washington Trails Association trip reports before hiking. Best bets for spring treks include lowland routes like North Fork Skokomish River and Flapjack Lakes. The 15-mile (round-trip) hike through lush, old-growth forest leads to a pair of subalpine lakes. For whale watching, visit Kalaloch, Rialto, and Shi Shi beaches and other Whale Trail sites on the park’s rugged Pacific coast.
The fashion of springtime is all in the silk.
Blaze your own Silk Road trail around Suzhou, China’s “Silk City.” Located less than 30 minutes west of Shanghai by bullet train, the centuries-old silk production hub is the place to buy high-quality silk bedding and clothing. Before hitting the silk shops on and around Guanqian Street, learn about the cocoon-to-silk thread process at the Suzhou Silk Museum and at No. 1 Silk Factory (where the tour ends in a huge retail store). Next, watch needlework artists hand-stitch intricate Su Embroidery silk paintings at the Suzhou Embroidery Art Museum. Even if you’re not in the market for formal wear, visit Suzhou’s bustling bridal garment district, home to hundreds of wedding shops.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Cruise coolly and cheaply to the largest living structure on Earth.
Australia’s sprawling Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site (GBR) is visible from space, but it's the up-close, underwater views that are out-of-this-world amazing. To explore the GBR without busting your budget, stay in Airlie Beach on Queensland’s Whitsunday Coast. From there, take a CruiseWhitsundays’ Great Barrier Reef Adventures day trip to the Reefworld pontoon on Hardy Reef. Getting out to the reef takes about three hours. The rest of the day is reserved for swimming, snorkeling (gear and guided tours included), and diving (extra fee). Or, stay dry and view the vibrant marine life below from a glassed-in underwater observatory or a semi-submersible.
Balloon Rally in Wisconsin
America's Dairyland takes to the skies.
An influx of hot air is forecast on June 16 and 17 for bucolic Green County, Wisconsin, host of the Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival. Weather permitting, an estimated 15 giant balloons will float through crystal-clear blue skies. Arrive before the crowds (6:30 a.m.) to watch the daily balloon launches. Stay after-dark for the dazzling Fairgrounds Balloon Glow and live blues performances. No balloon rides are offered onsite, but you can book a pre- or post-festival flight with a Wisconsin Balloon Group operator. Monroe also claims the title of “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” While you’re in town, tour the Emmi Roth cheese factory, and buy regional favorite cheese curds in the adjacent Alp and Dell store.
The City of Brotherly Love knows how to chow down.
It’s easy to fill up in Philly, which boasts some 956 food establishments in the Center City District alone. Sample signature concoctions—such as cheesesteaks, tomato pie, and soft pretzels—on Chew Philly’s Authentic Philly Food Tour (select April and May dates). Follow the locals to South Philly’s Cosmi’s Deli or Reading Terminal Market’s DiNic’s Roast Pork for the hometown favorite roast pork sandwich made with sharp provolone cheese and garlicky broccoli rabe. While at Reading Terminal, pick up a chocolate chip cannoli at Termini Brothers Bakery. New in 2017, Rooster Soup Company serves good karma with every purchase by donating 100 percent of profits to help—and feed—Philadelphians in need.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
El Chaltén, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
Learn the phrase "these colors are amazing" in Spanish, because that's all you'll be able to say.
April is the hiking sweet spot in El Chaltén, Argentina’s self-proclaimed “trekking capital.” The busy Patagonia summer hiking season ends in March and winter arrives in May, so there’s lighter foot traffic in April on popular routes like the easy Laguna Capri and the more challenging Laguna de los Tres. Bonus: The surrounding valleys typically are awash in a blaze of red, orange, and yellow fall foliage. El Chaltén’s location in the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park also affords epic views (on clear days) of jagged peaks, including 11,073-foot Mount Fitz Roy and 10,278-foot Cerro Torre.
Aogashima Island, Japan
This place takes island life to another level.
If your goal is getting away from it all, get to Aogashima. The volcanic island has a village built inside the walls of the crater. Visitors are welcome, yet infrequent, since travelling to Aogashima from Tokyo (200 miles to the north) is a multi-stop plane and helicopter (or boat) adventure. Those who do make the trip can camp for free (after registering at the Aogashima Village Hall), hike, and soak in the public geothermal spa—all inside an active volcano. Almost no one on the island speaks English, so learn some basic Japanese phrases before you go.
Bubble Lodges in France
We don't want to pop your bubble, on the contrary...
Clear plastic bubble rooms aren’t big on privacy, but you can’t beat the nature and night-sky views. Inflatable, igloo-shaped rooms are popping up across France at hotels, campgrounds, and in dedicated bubble resorts. Attrap'Rêves has five all-bubble locations, including Attrap'Rêves Montagnac-Montpezat—a bubble haven set amid the pine woods and lakes of Verdon Regional Natural Park. At Caribou Aventures in Noisy-sur-École (about 40 miles south of Paris), 10 bubbles “float” in the trees. Some Caribou bubbles are on wooden platforms, easily accessible by a ladder or stairs. Craving more height? Choose an Into the Sky bubble suspended in the branches, 39 to 66 feet off the ground.
Maryellen Kennedy Duckett is a Tennessee-based freelance writer who lives, works, and plays in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Follow her on Instagram, and Twitter.