The 5 Best Virtual Tours Of National Parks & Wild Lands

Conservation policy and green living expert By Heather White
Conservation policy and green living expert
Heather is the former President & CEO of Yellowstone Forever and former Executive Director of EWG
Joshua Tree National Park

Image by Steve Geer / iStock

For many people, spring and summer mean beach days, hikes outside, and road trips to expansive wilderness. But this year, things are different: Most of us heading into the warmer seasons with sadness and grief in some form, whether it be for friends and family affected by COVID-19, the loss of a job, or the disruption to daily routines.

At the same time, national parks across the U.S. are closed, and it's unclear when and how they will be reopening. Yet, we need the healing power of nature now more than ever: Countless studies show the benefits of spending time in the outdoors, from lowering blood pressure to anxiety to cortisol. Even looking at photos of nature can help reduce anxiety, and sounds of nature can limit stress. Here are five ways to connect to beautiful parks and wild places from afar and create your own healing journey from home:

1. Meditate to the night sounds of nature.

This soundtrack of national parks' night sounds, created by the National Park Foundation (the philanthropic arm of the National Park Service), is a powerful tool for meditation. These soothing 12 minutes of natural sounds can transport you to a state of tranquillity even if you live in a dense urban setting. Close your eyes. Be still. Listen. Feel the space between your heartbeats, and experience the wonder of the outdoors.

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2. Explore a Lava Tube, Coastal Cliffs, and an Active Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

This virtual tour of Hawaii Volcanoes explores lava tubes, explains the geological processes that have created more than 500 acres of new land in 30 years, and follows rangers as they describe the grandeur of the park's volcanic coastal cliffs. Virtually fly over the active Kilauea volcano for a reminder of the powerful forces of nature. 

3. Witness the splendor of Canary Spring at Yellowstone National Park.

From grizzly bears to geysers, Yellowstone National Park never ceases to amaze. Find out why John Muir called it "America's Wonderland," as you take this virtual walk to Canary Spring, in the Mammoth Hot Springs area of Yellowstone. You can also visit the series of live webcams from nine locations in the park to experience the scope and scale of the world's first national park, or explore this 3D tour of a geyser to appreciate the 10,000-plus hydrothermal features in Yellowstone.

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4. Experience the wild beauty of Bears Ears National Monument through virtual reality goggles (or just your laptop).

You may have seen the controversy surrounding the planned rollback of Bears Ears National Monument—home to beautiful landscapes and more than 100,000 archaeological sites. Outdoor retailer Patagonia created a virtual reality video series advocating for the protection of Bears Ears. This series is best viewed with a VR headset but can also be accessed from a laptop. The stunning scenery highlights the uniqueness of this natural area.

5. Behold the mysterious world of Badlands National Park.

In 1935, architect Frank Lloyd Wright declared that his visit to the Badlands created "an indescribable sense of mysterious otherwhere." Experience the "otherwhere" of Badlands National Park through this virtual tour of its thousands of acres of prairie, buttes, and rock spires. This park has the largest mixed-grass prairie in the park system and is home to abundant wildlife including bison, pronghorn, and prairie dogs.

The pandemic underscores that nature is essential to our collective well-being. As we continue to process the losses from COVID-19, let's also focus on what we can gain—a newfound gentleness with ourselves, each other, and the natural world.

Heather White
Heather White
Heather White is a conservation policy and green living expert. She is the President & CEO of...
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