Expand your horizons during 2018. Here are five places to consider in the year ahead.
1. Death Valley, Calif.
Prepare to be amazed by our largest national park outside of Alaska. California's Death Valley spreads over 5,000 square miles of spare desert and occasionally snow-tinged mountains. It's a landscape of striking contrasts, where springs flow from an otherwise dusty desert floor, the occasional downpour brings forth a sea of wildflowers and the dark sky offers stargazers a glittering treasure trove. Craft a perfect stay, filled with history and adventure, as you play golf below sea level, explore salt flats, ancient geological formations, chiseled canyons, and the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere — Badwater Basin. Contact: www.VisitCalifornia.com; https://www.nps.gov/deva/index.htm; www.Xanterra.com.
The Mile-High metropolis, known for its bounty of sunny days, a strong cultural vibe, artsy neighborhoods and a flourishing foodie scene, continues to up the ante on Rocky Mountain good times. Denver's historic Beaux Arts Union Station, reinvented as a social gathering place, also houses bike, taxi, rail and bus lines connecting the city center to outlying areas. Stay onsite, in one of the Crawford Hotel's rail-themed guest rooms and choose from an array of tempting dining options and shops, including the Tattered Cover, a popular indie bookstore. The station's Grand Hall is a vibrant spot where families play shuffleboard, enjoy a snack, onversation and the parade of people passing through.
Contact: www.Denver.org; http://unionstationindenver.com
3. The Caribbean
Choose an island. Board a cruise ship. Or, volunteer your time. Comprised of 32 countries and more than 700 islands, islets, reefs and cays, venture to this sun-drenched region where adventure, discovery and culture have long delighted enthusiastic travelers. While Hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc on many island resorts, hotels and marinas, nearly 70 percent emerged from the storms unscathed. Visit areas that were spared or be among the first to return to those islands that suffered the most. Either way, your tourism dollars and smiling faces will be welcome. Contact: www.Cruising.org; www.CaribbeanTravel.com
The largest and our most sparsely populated state, Alaska is known for its diverse terrain, beckoning adventuresome hikers, bikers, kayakers and skiers. Expect wondrous sheets of topaz ice, narrow fjords, brown bears fishing for salmon and humpback whales breeching in the distance. Find your way to Russian cathedrals, Tsimshian villages, quirky small towns and eight national parks including Denali. Explore via scenic byways, by boat, rail or on foot for a greater understanding of why they call Alaska the Great Land. www.TravelAlaska.com; www.NPS.gov
5. Whistler, British Columbia
Two hours north of Vancouver, nestled within the Coast Mountains, Whistler is a year-round favorite for active families. Skiers and boarders will be attracted by the side-by-side mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, served by one of the world's largest networks of high-speed chairlifts and a snow season long enough to encourage repeat visits. As a result of their recent acquisition, Whistler Blackcomb is now accessible with Vail Resort's popular Epic Pass. Beyond the slopes you'll find an energy-rich base village where restaurants, shopping and apres enthusiasm beckon. During the warmer months, golf, hiking, biking and spa time are on the menu. Contact: www.Whistler.com.
Lynn O'Rourke Hayes (www.LOHayes.com) is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via FamilyTravel.com.