Bucket List

The Best Places to Visit in the U.S. — Nature Lover Edition

by Team Popupla
Traditional Traditional lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore. Photo courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore.

There's a new calendar year around the corner — time to plan your next adventure. Here are eight places for the nature junkies to cross off of their bucket lists.

Mustang Monument: Wild Horse Eco-Resort
Wild west silhouette. Photo courtesy of .

Activist/philanthropist Madeline Pickens rescued 650 mustangs heading to the slaughterhouse. They now run like the wind at Mustang Monument, her wild horse sanctuary in Wells, a few hours west of Salt Lake City, where guest accommodations include ten beautifully appointed and hand-painted teepees (!) as well as a lavish ten-room cabin and a cozy saloon. Resident Native Americans share their history and stories in the evenings, a lovely end to adrenaline-fueled days spent riding, four-wheeling, and dining under the stars. It gets even better: 100 percent of the profits benefit Saving America's Mustangs.

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A breath of fresh air. Photo courtesy of .

Take a trip to "The Niagara of the West." At 212 feet, it's higher than Niagara Falls and is fully equipped with playgrounds, hiking trails, picnic areas, a boat ramp, a swimming area, and a scenic overlook.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
No words necessary. Photo courtesy of / Flickr.

What looks like a scene from Arabian Knights are actually the tallest sand dunes in North America. Sand boarding options and a creek flowing at its base make this the closest Colorado will ever get to having a beach.

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Photo by Rob Corso.

There is magic in the Badlands. Words cannot do this place justice. Camp here. See every inch of it that you can. You can't truly describe the rugged beauty of the place, and what it feels like to stand on the edge of the gorges as the sun rises, changing the color of the rock every minute. It's a place you have to experience to understand.

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Hot-tubbing revolutionized. Photo by / Flickr

A one-of-a-kind hot-tubbing oasis deep in Mt. Hood National Forest. Naturalists, flower children, and people looking to explore their wild side are all welcome for a soak at the clothing optional, 24-hour paradise.

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Let's camp like it is the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Camp Wandawega / Instagram.

Staying in this camp is like going back to the 1920s. The owner, Teresa, achieved this magical feeling by combing flea markets like a hoarder, collecting curiosities (taxidermy, religious art), necessities (blankets, silverware), and décor (antlers, vintage posters). Today, the place looks straight out of a Food & Wine photoshoot. It’s disarmingly perfect. Cabins, tents, lodge, hotel, treehouse, bonfire pit, and archery range — are available to rent for quick getaways or big events. We suggest gathering a few good friends, a book or two, and leaving your shoes at home.

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Photo by / Flickr.

You don't have to be a hardcore hiker to appreciate Maroon Lake Scenic Trail. Located ten miles southwest of Aspen in the White River National Forest, its two 14,000-foot peaks are among the most photographed spots in the United States. Bring your four-legged friend for the trail around the lake; approximate round-trip hiking time is just over two hours.

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Tomales Point Trail.
Sunset at Tomales Point Trail. Photo courtesy of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Venture to the historic lighthouse (and see whales migrating around the point!) or head north to the . Driving out to the beginning of the trail, you pass a bunch of family-run dairy farms that have been around for more than 150 years. Once you arrive, it's an easy but long walk to the point along a route lined with wildflowers and dramatic overlooks onto the beach and crashing waves below. The trail runs through the , where, if you are lucky, you can spot multiple herds of elk grazing in the morning fog. (Winter traveler warning: The reserve is closed through January 2016 for renovation.)

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