Seven Wonders of Winter

When Jack Frost gets his hands on America's natural wonders it makes for some pretty awe-inspiring sights. Check out our picks for the USA's most impressive frozen scenery.

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greenland, iceberg, top 10 natural wonders
Glaciers and Icebergs, Greenland

Glaciers and Icebergs, Greenland

Combine the world's largest island with a total population of only 55,000 and Greenland provides the perfect backdrop for a true bonding experience with nature. Rent a kayak, originally invented by hunters here, and row arctic waters past towering icebergs and glaciers. The waters provide a home to many whale species, including humpbacks with tails up to 16 feet wide. Outdoor excursion opportunities abound, from mountain climbing to hiking and angling -- just be sure to bundle up! Temperatures range from 20 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and much colder in the winter. Experience round-the-clock daylight during the arctic summer or watch the Northern Lights paint dazzling colors across the dark autumn skies. 960 1280
Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef's vibrant coral and fish form an underwater tropical paradise that promises the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. Spanning more than 1,200 miles of crystal waters along the coastline, the reef system is the largest and healthiest anywhere. Its isolation from the mainland will put you one-on-one with marine life, seemingly cut off from human contact. Australia offers countless other natural gems in the raw wilderness of its outback, so after exploring the depths of the sea, you can hop in a four-wheel drive and adventure in a totally different world. 960 1280
Grand Prismatic Springs, Yellowstone, Wyoming

Grand Prismatic Springs, Yellowstone, Wyoming

More than 1,000 miles of backcountry hiking trails through Yellowstone lead travelers to pristine areas rich with extraordinary wildlife and steaming, bubbling hot springs. Your chances at spotting an endangered grizzly or elk are pretty good -- the park is home to the largest elk herd in North America and one of two grizzly bear populations. You'll no doubt leave with everlasting images of the grand sweep of the rugged Teton mountain range and nature's fireworks leaping from the geysers. 960 1280

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Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park, California

Visitors here cannot help but feel awestruck by the unbelievable enormity of the coast redwoods, the tallest and oldest trees on earth. The tallest redwood on record, known simply as "the Tall Tree," is 600 years old and stands more than 350 feet. These majestic examples of nature, which can only be found in California and Oregon, take 400 years to mature and can live to be 2,000-plus years old. Emerging from the darkened paths on foot, bike or horseback, visitors may be shocked to find it is still daylight, and still the 21st century, in a place where time seems to stand still. 960 1280
Mt. Everest, Nepal

Mt. Everest, Nepal

The Sherpas and Tibetans worship Everest as Chomolongma, or "Mother Goddess of the Earth." Luckily you don't need to actually climb the 29,000 feet to the "Top of the World" to experience its magnificence and the beauty of the surrounding valleys and forests. 960 1280
Emerald Landscape, Ireland

Emerald Landscape, Ireland

Though all of Ireland's landscape is stunning, the southwest region shows visitors at first glance why this is called the Emerald Isle. Lush green pastures stretch as far as the eye can see, and the colorful hills are cut with winding streams. The Lakes of Killarney offer some of the most refreshing natural scenery in the south, which can best be explored by bike or on foot. Take the time to visit the picturesque small towns and villages, like Adare and Kinsale, whose charm and tranquillity will soothe the soul. 960 1280
Diverse Ecosystem, Costa Rica

Diverse Ecosystem, Costa Rica

Thanks to the biological influences of neighboring North and South America and the Pacific and Caribbean oceans, this small mountainous country is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Thousands of miles of roads and nature trails make it easy to experience the wide spectrum of habitats, from steaming volcanoes to the cloud-shrouded jungles and deserted beaches. A model National Conservation System protects Costa Rica's invaluable natural heritage, including 9,000 different kinds of flowering plants and more species of birds than in the United States, Canada and northern Mexico combined. 960 1280
Gran Sabana, Venezuela

Gran Sabana, Venezuela

Located within Canaima, a national park the size of Belgium, Gran Sabana is the plateau region between Venezuela and Brazil. The hauntingly beautiful landscape is dominated by the unique "tepuyes" -- flat-topped mountains with steep vertical walls. Tours by jeep and canoe are popular ways of seeing the most scenic spots, but to get the full experience, guided walking tours are the way to go. The dense jungles house exotic plant life, some 20,000 species of orchid alone, and several species of endangered animals, including jaguars and giant armadillos. The rock is some of the oldest on Earth, dating back two billion years, making it one of the nine most ancient geological regions of the world. 960 1280

By Paolo Costa Baldi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons  

Desert Sand Dunes, South Africa

Desert Sand Dunes, South Africa

The southern states of Africa have been the most successful in not only conserving its diverse wildlife, but also in offering visitors the privacy and isolation of intimate camps apart from the mass tourism more common in the north. You'll surely want to plan a safari in one of these regions where more than 90% of the continent's rhinos and the largest herds of elephants can be found. Africa's stunning landscape of coastal cliffs, enormous desert sand dunes and magnificent waterfalls have been shaped by over four billion years of geological activity. 960 1280
Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

A trip to these enchanted islands puts humans in a unique and humbling second-place position to the untamed plant and animal life. Here we are mere visitors to the inhabitants of the protected national park that covers 97% of the land area. The islands were named after the giant tortoises that bask boldly on the sandy beaches and mingle with their reptilian brethren, most notably the marine iguana -- the only aquatic iguana in the world. Birds are the most diverse and abundant on the islands, many having evolved into unique species that can only be found here. 960 1280

By Pete from USA (Bartolome View) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

National Christmas Tree
National Christmas Tree

National Christmas Tree

Looking for ideas on where to travel in December? Kick off the month with a tour of the National Christmas Tree. Located on the White House’s South Lawn, a towering 40-foot evergreen spruce has been a seasonal fixture of the nation’s capital since 1923. 960 1280

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San Antonio River Walk

San Antonio River Walk

Keep the Christmas spirit going in San Antonio. Every December, more than a mile of the San Antonio River Walk comes alive with over 100 underwater lights, as well as LED rope lighting crossing from one side of the river to the other. 960 1280

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Hobbit Tour

Hobbit Tour

Hobbit fans, rejoice! With this month's release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Tolkien fans have a reason to follow the Hobbit trail to New Zealand. Besides being a great time to visit (December is the start of New Zealand’s summer season), the country has a Hobbit movie set tour on upper North Island. 960 1280

Jeff Hitchcock, flickr  

Ice Fishing, Colorado Style

Ice Fishing, Colorado Style

This December, put Colorado on your outdoors adventure map: Colorado's robust winters lure ice-fishing enthusiasts to gear up and head out for the thrill of the catch. Prime spots include Wolford Mountain Reservoir, a 1,550- acre reservoir, about 100 miles west of Denver. 960 1280

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Caribbean Cruise: Early December

Caribbean Cruise: Early December

For an impromptu December getaway, set sail for the Caribbean. The first 2 weeks of December are your best bet for bargain prices on cruises and hotels, before fares rise come Christmas and New Year’s. Combine your warm winter escape with cool events, like the Bahamas International Film Festival. 960 1280

Royal Caribbean International  

San Francisco Ballet's The Nutcracker

San Francisco Ballet's The Nutcracker

The holiday season wouldn’t be quite the same without catching a performance of The Nutcracker. We suggest heading to the City by the Bay to see the sparkling 2-act ballet performed by the San Francisco Ballet, which first introduced Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece to American audiences in 1944. 960 1280

Erik Tomasson  

Rockefeller Center Ice Skating

Rockefeller Center Ice Skating

For the quintessential NYC Christmas experience, take a whirl on the ice at Rockefeller Center. The world-famous ice-skating rink at the famed commercial complex, in the heart of Manhattan, has been a fixture of Rockefeller Center since 1936. 960 1280

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Stonehenge Winter Solstice

Stonehenge Winter Solstice

Take in the winter solstice at Stonehenge. Every year, more than 5,000 people gather at the prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, to mark the time when the sun appears at noon at its lowest altitude above the horizon. And good news in 2013: Visitors can explore a new visitor center close to the ancient site that's set to open this month. 960 1280

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Santa Claus House in North Pole

Santa Claus House in North Pole

Just where does Santa Claus live? North Pole, AK, of course. Head to this small, wintery city in the heart of Alaska to see Santa Claus House: A storefront, built in the early 1950s, it’s the spot from which the Original Letter From Santa is mailed out, proclaiming the bearer to be “on Santa’s Good List.” 960 1280

Rosie Rosenberger, flickr  

Hit the Slopes

Hit the Slopes

Hit the slopes this month at North America’s most popular ski resort. In addition to being home to more groomed terrain than any other resort in the world, Vail, CO, boasts the country’s largest ski school for all skill levels. For the more seasoned skier, head to Jackson Hole, where over 90% of the trails fall into intermediate to expert categories. 960 1280

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NOLA Christmas Bonfires

NOLA Christmas Bonfires

Add a little spice to the holiday season with a trip to The Big Easy. Come Christmas Eve, dozens of bonfires light up along the Mississippi River levee to make way for Papa Noel, as locals in bayou country call Santa. Arrive by 7 p.m. to watch the fiery feu de joie (“fires of joy”)! 960 1280

Douglas and Charlene Guilliams of Baton Rouge, LA: A Father and Daughter Photography Team  

Christmas Village in Philadelphia

Christmas Village in Philadelphia

Come December, the City of Brotherly Love transforms itself into a Christmas Village. This annual holiday market in Philadelphia’s LOVE Park features traditional German Christmas market items, displayed by more than 60 vendors in decorated booths and tents. Get your fill of holiday goodies like gingerbread cookies and mulled wine. 960 1280

Christmas Village in Philadelphia  

Chicago's Polar Adventure Days

Chicago's Polar Adventure Days

Learn dog sledding in … Chicago? Yep, for outdoor winter adventure, head to the Windy City’s Northerly Island, site of the 9th annual Polar Adventure Days. Beginning in early December, the family-friendly event includes a toddler zone with outdoor “ice fishing,” an REI winter activity station and a dog-sledding demo with huskies. 960 1280

Chicago's Polar Adventure Days  

Blowing Rock Winterfest
Blowing Rock Winterfest

Blowing Rock Winterfest

Head to the mountains of North Carolina for the annual Blowing Rock Winterfest. This lively winterfest features a plunge into the icy waters of Lake Chetola, followed by the chance to warm up with hot chocolate and chili in downtown Blowing Rock. When: Late January 960 1280

Todd Bush Photography  

Vancouver Polar Bear Swim

Vancouver Polar Bear Swim

Run for your life! This group of New Year’s revelers rushes from the freezing waters of Vancouver’s English Bay. 2014 marks the Vancouver Polar Bear Swim’s 94th year, making it one of the largest and oldest clubs of its kind in the world. When: New Year's Day 960 1280

Reuters   

Courage Polar Bear Dip

Courage Polar Bear Dip

Courage, lads! Since its start in 1985, the annual Courage Polar Bear Dip in Oakville, Ontario, has become the largest polar bear dip for charity in Canada. Money raised supports clean water projects organized by the advocacy organization World Vision Canada. When: New Year’s Day 960 1280

Courage Polar Bear Dip  

Seattle Polar Bear Plunge

Seattle Polar Bear Plunge

They’re freezin’ for a reason. Plungers take to the waters off Seattle’s Matthews Beach for the city’s annual polar bear plunge. Now in its 12th year, the Seattle Polar Bear Plunge is one of 8 statewide plunges to benefit Special Olympics Washington. When: New Year’s Day 960 1280

mordac, flickr   

Aruba New Year's Plunge

Aruba New Year's Plunge

In search of warmer climes to take the plunge? Head to Aruba for the Caribbean island’s annual Aruba New Year's Plunge. Hundreds of people gather at MooMba Beach for the “Unox Nieuwjaarsduik” (New Year’s plunge), which takes place at noon sharp. The event is open to everyone; no charge. When: New Year’s Day 960 1280

Aruba Daily Newspaper  

Coney Island Plunge

Coney Island Plunge

Cold enough for you? These 2 brave guys take part in the annual Coney Island Plunge organized by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the oldest ice swimming club in the US. The yearly dip into the Atlantic begins at 1 p.m. sharp; afterward, if you’re still breathing, check out the famous Coney Island boardwalk. When: Jan. 1 960 1280

Getty Images  

Russian Orthodox Epiphany

Russian Orthodox Epiphany

In the name of the …wow, this water is cold! A Russian man celebrates the Russian Orthodox Epiphany with a dip in frigid waters. The age-old ritual commemorates Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, but we have a feeling the Jordan’s waters were a lot less cold. When: Mid-January 960 1280

Reuters  

Tybee Polar Plunge

Tybee Polar Plunge

Thousands of people flock to Tybee Island, near Savannah, GA, for the annual Tybee Polar Plunge plunge into the brisk waters of the Atlantic. Plungers register for a nominal fee, with proceeds going toward the historic Tybee Post Theater, built in 1930. When: New Year’s Day 960 1280

Tybee Polar Plunge   

Scotland's Loony Dook

Scotland's Loony Dook

Showing their white-and-blue Scottish pride, these 2 “loony dookers” take a dip in Scotland’s River Forth. The annual Loony Dook event in Scotland began in 1987 with a handful of participants; the event has since grown into a New Year’s rite of passage for thousands. When: New Year’s Day 960 1280

Lee Carson, flickr  

Baltimore PlungeFest

Baltimore PlungeFest

Holy moly, ma, Darth Vader’s not wearing any clothes under that cape! This wickedly cool plunger takes a dip in the Chesapeake Bay’s cold waters near Baltimore. The annual Baltimore PlungeFest kicks off in Annapolis, MD’s Sandy Point State Park, with proceeds going to Special Olympics Maryland. When: Late January 960 1280

Steve Ruark Photography  

Chicago Polar Plunge

Chicago Polar Plunge

Skip the clothes, grab a wig! Celebrate the New Year (and a good cause) with hundreds of revelers who dive into the icy waters of Chicago’s Lake Michigan in early spring. 2015 marks Chicago Polar Plunge’s 15th year, with proceeds going toward Special Olympics Chicago. When: Early March 960 1280

Grace Trivino, flickr   

Netherlands New Year's

Netherlands New Year's

Wearing colorful vestments, this man takes a dip in the waters off Scheveningen, a beachside resort town in the Netherlands. The annual event began in 1960, and attracts more than 10,000 people, who plunge into the icy North Sea on New Year’s Day. When: Jan. 1 960 1280

Reuters  

Plunge Into 2014  12 Photos

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