Nature places in North America
© Sarah Hishan
The spectacular aurora borealis is a natural phenomenon best viewed in the dead of winter and far away from city lights. Not surprising, as Churchill's tundra provides both requirements, its one of the best places in the world to view nature's own theatre unfold. With little pollution, clear night skies and comfortable accommodation, you won't have to stress or freeze to see the lights. Plexiglass 'aurora domes' keep you relatively warm while you wait for the show to start, but if you want to be surrounded by the dancing sky and hear the crackling of the lights overhead, contact one of the local operators to take you to their cabins by snowmobile. They often provide the necessary clothing, and layered with as much... animal as possible, you're sure to stay warm in the 40 below zero temperature while the hot cocoa will keep you satiated. The best time to view the lights are in winter from November to March. 2012-2013 is apparently the prime period to view them so get cracking and book your flight from Winnipeg, Manitoba's capital.
If googling the words "suspension bridge" and "Vancouver", you'll most certainly come up with the über-touristy Capilano Suspension Bridge. The thing is, no local would be caught dead visiting the place. It's just for bus loads of conventioneers and cruise-ship day-trippers. Locals, instead, head to the much more serene (and frankly better) Lynn Canyon suspension bridge. Perhaps not quite as high or quite as long, the bridge in Lynn Canyon park however is much cooler. The added bonus of it being FREE can't hurt either. Beyond the bridge, some excellent, easy access hiking trails (namely the Baden-Powell trail) offer opportunities to further explore wonderful rainforest in what is essentially downtown Vancouver.
Hawai'i is known as one of the best places to watch humpback whales. During summer the North Pacific humpback whales feed on krill in the cold waters of Alaska, but migrates to the warm waters of Hawai'i to breed and give birth during winter. You can see whales breaching (jumping out of the water) and diving tall up from the shore, but to get up close to you need to join a whale watching tour. The best chances are probably from Maui (particularly Lahaina), where some operators give garanties for whale sighting during peak season (January to March).
© Johnny Haglund
Sequoia National Park has some of the largest trees on earth. Most people travel here to see the famous General Sherman, which is the largest tree on the planet. However, a walk in the so called Giant Forest, is equally impressive, because you'll come up close to some of the fallen giants. They are hundreds of years old, and to just look at the roots and walk along the massive trunks, makes you realise the enormous size of these trees.
If you do the walk in the early morning, you'll be able to enjoy the scenery alone, but look out for black bears. They are very used to humans and not afraid of you. But if you walk slowly away, after taking a photo of course, they'll leave you alone.
© Jacob Løvschall Johansen
Crystal River at Kings Bay is one of the only places in the US where you can go snorkeling with manatees. During the winter months hundreds of manatees congregate here in the shallow water near Crystal River due to the warm water (it's constant 22 degree Celsius) caused by the many springs in the bay. As the manatees are protected you have to comply with the rules of not disturbing them and only snorkeling in designated areas. You can also see the manatees from above the water, either from one of the many boardwalks or from a boat or kayak, but the best way to get up close with these curious and gentle creatures is of course by snorkeling.
Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places in the continental United States. But the surrounding area has the same beauty, but a remoteness and quietness to it that makes it the perfect place to go. The mountains are dotted with beautiful mountain lakes, dramatic views, and great wildlife. The area has a big population of bald eagles, black bears, and coyotes. The best thing about camping in the Sierras is that you can camp for a month and not run in to another person.