Explore Hidden Worlds of the National Parks from Home

I wrote early this week that, due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, if you don’t have to go somewhere, my sincere and heartfelt recommendation to you is to stay put or go back home.

That’s hard to write when travel is such a big part of our lives. 

So what can you do? One option is to explore the U.S. National Parks – specifically, some of the lesser-traveled destinations – through the use of your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Sure, it’s not exactly the same thing as being there, but it might help during these trying times. 

It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks,” and it’s framed as a Google Arts & Culture exhibit and interactive documentary. (Story continues below image.)

In short, the exhibit allows users to take 360-degree tours of some of the most remote and beautiful U.S. National Parks – all from the safety and comfort of home.

Don’t expect much-documented vistas like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, though.

That’s because the exhibit focuses on a selection of parks you may not have traveled to yet (or may never see), such as the Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Hawaiian volcanoes, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns, Utah’s Bryce Canyon, and Florida’s Dry Tortugas.

In the video experience, a local ranger guides you through each park, allowing you to do things like fly over the active volcanoes in Hawaii, snorkel the coral reefs in the Dry Tortugas, or kayak through Alaska’s fjords, among other things. 

Click on the Bryce Canyon, for example, and you can not only get great views of the park’s hoodoos (the stunning rock formations), but also explore the park’s night sky, complete with constellations highlighted with information about each. (By the way, Bryce Canyon made our list of Top 10 Favorite National Parks of the West. Click here to see where it finished.)

The virtual tours are available both online, in the Google Arts & Culture App on iOS and Android. (Be sure to plug in your headphones or earbuds so you don’t miss the informational audio excerpts.)

Another similar option is the Google Expeditions app, though it is designed more for students.

Expeditions is Google’s virtual reality teaching tool that lets students travel the world with their teacher acting as the guide. The app offers 360 degree and 3D imagery of more than 200 places around the world, and allows for a VR experience when used with the Google Cardboard viewer.

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