Park rangers and tour guides are luring would-be adventurers back to the great outdoors, even if it means staying indoors. With just a computer or smart phone, anyone can take a virtual hike up jungle trails in the U.S. Virgin Islands or sled through the wild, frozen terrain of Alaska. There’s even an online dive with hammerhead sharks—bonus points if you watch it from your bathtub.
Western River Expeditions
The Grand Canyon
The camera captures the soaking tumult of rafting down monster rapids on the Colorado River, or gives you 360-degree virtual videos for riverbank explorations. “This works with VR goggles,” says Brandon Lake of Western River Expeditions. “It really captures the feel of the rapids coming at you.”
Camino de Santiago
People plan years in advance to hike the famed Camino de Santiago pilgrimage routes, often by way of Madrid, Spain. “We were heartbroken for clients who had to cancel,” says Laurie Duperier, co-owner of Duperier’s Authentic Journeys. She created the Virtual Camino—a multi-faceted Facebook experience with trail videos, weekly lectures and “Pilgrim Table” Zoom meetings.
Andes Mountains, Peru
Eleven 360-degree virtual videos let you take in Machu Picchu’s famous sights, from the Temple of the Sun to the breathtaking citadel views (you can also visit the ruin’s cutest residents—the alpacas). Machu Picchu is just shy of 8,000 feet in elevation, but with this tour, there’s no threat of altitude sickness.
Google Arts & Culture has dozens of national park virtual tours, but the most “active” is Hawaii’s volcanoes. Beneath a jungle canopy, a ranger gives a short history lesson before you venture down into the Nāhuku Lava Tube. Then, fly over an active lava vent before going back in time with footage of the 1959 eruption of Kīlauea Iki.
The Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Built as a tropical escape by wealthy industrialist James Deering from 1914 to 1922, this lavish Mediterranean revival mansion-turned-museum delights with enchanting cultivated landscapes and views of Biscayne Bay. Virtual tours highlight the property, including the ornate gardens designed by landscape architect Diego Suarez, as well as a 360-degree digital journey through the limestone and shell swimming pool grotto. For $10, access a “Secret Door” tour of the grounds and the house, led by the museum’s deputy director.
360-degree Hammerhead Shark Experience
You drop in off a boat with a crew of National Geographic divers and videographers, only to be greeted by a frenzy of sharks in the turquoise waters off Bimini island in the Bahamas, roughly 50 miles from Miami. This is an underwater adventure hair-raising enough to still be exhilarating from the comfort of your couch. You can toggle the camera angle around 360 degrees, and when the screen flashes the words “Turn Around,” don’t say we didn’t warn you— a quick pan reveals a very toothy hammerhead shark smashing into the lens.
Reef Bay Trail
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
This trail is the perfect way to work off all those conch fritters and late-night Tiki drinks on your next visit to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. In real life, the trek is strenuous, with backcountry sections that require scrambling, but also rewarding, with stops at a 40-foot waterfall. For now, you can explore the highlights of Reef Bay Trail—which peaks at 900 feet in elevation—in the comfort of your pajamas. Google Earth offers 360-degree views of these natural landmarks as well as petroglyph carvings left behind by Taino Indians. You can also make a stop at the ruins of a colonial-era Danish sugar plantation.
Digital Dog Sled
Explore Fairbanks has brought its sought-after itineraries online, allowing you to float down the Chena River in a canoe and stretch out beneath the northern lights on your computer or phone screen (and with your thermostat set at 75 degrees). The dog sled digital experience puts you right in the basket, following a team of sled dogs running along a narrow trail through the norther forest. Make sure to spin the camera around to get the full experience.
Night Tour of Bryce Canyon National Park
The night sky is darker in Bryce Canyon than almost anywhere else in America. But before you go stargazing at the dark sky-certified national park, you’ll begin the 360-degree virtual tour in daylight. A birds-eye view of towering hoodoos—the park’s ochre-hued rock formations—is buoyed by Kevin Poe, a park ranger who provides an informative history on the surreal landscape. When darkness falls, the Milky Way emerges. You can click each star cluster for an astronomy lesson, making this an ideal activity if you’re entertaining (and attempting to educate) youngsters at home.