Top Travel Stories from 2020

Year in Review

It’s no secret that 2020 was one of the toughest years in history for the travel industry. But despite the lockdowns, never ending election night, confirmation of UFOs and overabundance of empty stadiums, the year had a few good surprises in store. The biggest takeaway for travel was a return to nature: 2020’s top travel trend was the outdoors. While COVID-19 is the most defining feature of the past year, the great outdoors provided solace and a safe escape.

Out of our top 10 most read stories, nine were outdoors focused and one was about digital trips. Five of our top stories were about national or state parks, monuments or preserves and one of the top 10 featured road trips. Popular destinations were all over the map, but destinations in the Pacific, west and southwestern regions of the U.S. were the most read. Interestingly, the most popular page on our site was our Road Trips page, beating out our Parks page and even our homepage.

Read on for our most popular stories of 2020.


Hiking The Wave — One of the Most Astounding Places You’ll Ever See

The Wave.
Photo credit: @wilson_k

Our article on The Wave formation in Arizona was the most-read article in 2020 on Places.Travel. Only 20 people per day are allowed to hike to this fragile ecosystem and for those who apply for a permit, there is only about a 4.3% chance of securing one, making it a highly sought after experience for outdoor enthusiasts.

The author of this piece is actually one of the lucky few who has hiked to The Wave. Her first-hand experience sums up the incredible journey while outlining some tips for anyone who is fortunate enough to visit.

“Sculpted over the course of millennia by rushing waters and swift winds, the undulating sandstone terrain of The Wave presents itself in wide-open bowls and narrow walled-in passages. With its rolling striated surfaces and vivid red, pink and golden hues, The Wave’s other-worldly formations evoke the textures and tones of pulled taffy and strips of bacon. And the tadpoles swimming in its glistening water pockets will make you wonder how on earth they got there, 5,225 feet above sea level.”

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10 of Colorado’s Best-Kept Secrets

Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Colorado has been a tourism hotspot for hiking, mountain climbing, camping, skiing and just about anything else you can do in the outdoors. Before the pandemic, the state was actually dealing with over tourism in some of its most well-known – and fragile – outdoor destinations. 

While locations like the iconic Maroon Bells were once topping traveler’s destination wish-lists, the pandemic spurred a desire for lesser-known locals. Our second most-read story, “10 of Colorado’s Best-Kept Secrets” gives a rundown of some of the best places you never knew you had to visit.

“Think “Colorado” and what likely comes to mind is powder-dusted ski slopes, frosty pints of craft beer and the wild beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. All amazing, to be sure. But tucked inside the seemingly unassuming rectangular state are 104,185 square miles of secrets to uncover — from desert wineries and ghost towns to glacial lakes so blue, you’ll never think of the color the same way again.”

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14 Texas Hill Country Towns Worth a Stop

Jacobs Well.
Jacobs Well.

Year after year, Texas ranks as one of the top tourism states. And our third most read story goes to show that Texas Hill Country was a much-needed escape. Located outside of Austin in the central region of Texas, Texas Hill Country is known for wine, BBQ, natural springs and small town charm. This was the most popular story from our Austin Destination Guide and a popular hit on social media too, where the image of swimmers floating over the underwater cave at Jacob’s Well sparked curiosity and awe.

“Splash in the cool, clear waters of Jacob’s Well, home to one of Texas’ longest underwater caves (be sure to make a reservation). Wander through the town’s many art galleries and watch a glassblowing demonstration at Wimberley Glassworks. Arrange a tour of the family-run Bella Vista Ranch and pick up a bottle of fresh-pressed olive oil.”

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Explore a Lunar Landscape Right Here on Earth at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Photo credit: @noahawaii.

The out-of-this-world landscape at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve is an alluring escape from the world’s troubles. Located in south-central Idaho, the monument and preserve is a volcanic landscape with lava tubes, craters and unobstructed views of the night sky. The stunning landscapes landed this story at number four on our list of most read stories.

“Granted silver-tier International Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in 2017, this area is among the U.S.’ most spectacular places to stargaze and spot celestial bodies. As if that wasn’t cool enough, it also happens to be the best place on planet earth to experience what it’s like to walk on one of our closest astro orbiters—the moon.”

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5 Digital Trips You Can Take While Quarantined

A person holding a phone in front of a colorful background.

Remember March? The month that will live in infamy as the single longest month of our lives also brought us more digital content than ever before. Zoom classes, Facebook Live events and virtual cooking classes took over as the world shut down.

Destinations also got in on the trend, finding increasingly unique ways to let you “travel” during lock down. Our fifth most popular story outlines a few of the getaways that were available at the time.

“Tour famous British filming locations, get a behind-the-scenes look at Kentucky’s bourbon and horses, and discover how to make a real Philly Cheesesteak.”

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Wildlife Viewing Denali National Park

Denali National Park
Photo credit: @peterphotogram

When it comes to escaping from it all, you can’t do much better than Alaska. Coming in at number six on our list, this story about Alaska’s wildlife outlined a few of the best spots to catch a glimpse of bears, moose, caribou and more.

“Take in the extraordinary kaleidoscopic colors of the volcanic rock peaks at this overlook and keep a look out for the grizzlies, moose and caribou that roam down below. They’ll be quite a long way from where you’re standing so there’s little chance that they’ll be spooked.”

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Top Texas Road Trips

Big Bend National Park
Photo credit: @meggerst12

You know the saying – “everything’s bigger in Texas”. That also includes the open road. Driving across the state takes about 16 hours and finding the hidden gems is like searching for a needle in a haystack. At number seven on our list, “Top Texas Road Trips” rounds up destinations worth a visit in the Lone Star State, from the bubble tents in Terlingua to the desert art installation (complete with a fake Prada store) in Marfa.

“This desert trek is around a six-hour drive from Austin or a two-and-a-half hour drive from El Paso. And while it’s become popular with New Yorkers and Angelenos looking to snap a pic with the haunting Prada storefront, Texans shouldn’t pass up the chance to visit either. It’s a bucket-list destination many dream of, but few can visit thanks to its remote location, hours away from airports. And beyond the trendy art, there are other mysterious sites to see. Peer into the open expanse at night and you might catch a glimpse of the Marfa lights.”

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Utah’s Dark Skies: Canyonlands National Park

Goblin Valley State Park
Goblin Valley State Park near Canyonlands. Photo credit: @thatdadblog.

Sliding in at number eight, we take a look up at the night sky. Utah has plenty of remote, dark-sky locations but what makes this destination unique is the tour operations designed for night sky viewing. Guides can take you out on a fully outfitted trip paddling through Labyrinth Canyon by day and gazing up at the stars by night.

“But nighttime is when you’ll really grasp just how rare this trip is: You’ll be floating along, then resting on a sandy beach, looking up at one of the deepest, darkest patches of sky and very best places to stargaze in the entire U.S. In the total absence of light pollution and modern-life distractions, you’ll give your undivided attention to the trip expert and your pre-bedtime rituals will include listening to stories about the constellations, using binoculars and a laser pointer to locate the Andromeda Galaxy, and mentally mapping the endless sky.”

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Death Valley National Park Winter Hikes and Camping

The Milky Way over Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.
The Milky Way over Zabriskie Point with Panamint Range glowing in distance, Mojave Desert.

Winter doesn’t mean the end of outdoor exploration. Sliding in at number nine, “Death Valley National Park Winter Hikes and Camping” outlines some of the park’s truly jaw-dropping sites. In the winter months, the park hovers around 60 to 70 degrees during the day, making it a much more pleasant place than during the summer where the park reaches scorching temperatures near or above 100 degrees for months on end.

“Zabriskie Point is the most famous viewpoint in the park. It’s great at any time of the day but come at sunrise and sunset and you’ll be blown away. The viewpoint overlooks sculpted, creamy gold and brown-hued badlands composed mostly of Furnace Creek Formation mudstones. To see more than the vistas the viewpoint offers and hike through winding canyons, take the trail that starts from the point around Badlands Loop. Connector trails can take you to other great spots, too such as Golden Canyon, Gower Gulch and Red Cathedral.”

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Travel that Heals in Hot Springs and Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Blue Spring Heritage Center
Blue Spring Heritage Center. Photo credit: @shortpassion_ch.

Coming in last on our list is another park-focused story with a unique twist. Hot Springs National Park is the smallest and oldest park in the National Park System and was founded to protect the natural hot springs in the area. In both the park and Eureka Springs, visitors can bath in spring water, drink spring water and enjoy the healing benefits.

“If you’d rather drink thermal spring waters than soak in them, head over to Superior Bathhouse, once the smallest bathhouse on the row and now a brewery. It’s the first one in the world to use thermal spring water to make beer and the only one located in a U.S. National Park.”

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