Nothing was going as planned. I was just a few days into a weeklong family trip in Iceland (thank you, inexpensive nonstop flights from DIA), and already, two northern lights excursions had been canceled due to weather. Our eight-person group knew that seeing Mother Nature’s light show was improbable, but we had decided to visit in February—one of the country’s coldest months—specifically because its long nights often translate into peak aurora borealis viewing.
We managed to push our disappointment aside by preparing for the two-hour snowmobiling tour we’d planned in Akureyri. Then our guide told us our outing was off because of too much snow.
Luckily, I’d done some research before we left Denver. Goðafoss waterfall was just 30 minutes from our hotel. So, we rented a four-wheel-drive van and set out—only to run into bad luck once again as we drove into a whiteout. Conditions had worsened by the time we pulled into the parking area; we could see the Skjálfandafljót River but not the path to the falls. Determined, we tightened our hoods and set out in the direction the woman at the visitor center had pointed. Ten minutes later, our cheeks pink from the wind, we heard the sounds of gushing water above the gale and then, suddenly, the 39-foot-high, nearly 100-foot-wide cascade was before us. I laughed—delighted at the sight and relieved that something had finally gone right—and immediately asked my fiancé to capture the moment in a photo.
The truth is, travel rarely goes as planned, even closer to home. I-70 could be closed for a rockslide. Your Jeep might get a flat tire. A summer festival might make it difficult to find a place to stay in a small Western Slope town. This is why I always read up on the area I’m visiting and ask friends for recommendations. I want to stumble upon an alleyway bar or a quirky local market, but I also want to check out that one restaurant I’ve heard so much about and pitch my tent on the site I had in mind. I (almost) always have backup ideas in case that no-reservations restaurant is hosting a private party or heavy rains make reaching my campsite impossible. Instances like these can be frustrating—but you can choose to view them as setbacks or consider them opportunities to explore options you may not have otherwise made time for. We suggest the latter.
It’s for this reason that, every year, we pull together this compilation of the best of the best of 5280’s regional travel coverage.* We want you, our readers, to make discoveries within the pages of 5280 Traveler—and then chart your own paths once you reach your chosen destinations, whether that’s a national park in Utah or a sandstone canyon in Arizona. Because you never know when an unplanned visit to a waterfall will become the highlight of your trip.
*Every story has been fact-checked and updated (where possible) with current information as of press time in early June.