Last summer, I stood breathless at the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. The day’s climb had been grueling, but it was the sight of sunset over Half Dome that really took my breath away. The sky blushed as the monolith of ancient granite shimmered beneath, flaunting her curves in the last pink moments of daylight. Here was a beauty with the power to hush, and the silence seemed to echo. Minutes stretched by like taffy – I can’t recall for how long I stood still.
I know many travelers who feel the same way, who wander in the wild seeking the spiritual and physical healing that “Father of the National Parks” John Muir wrote about so passionately. But when the practical business of life precludes the luxury of getting lost, what can we do?
Thanks to the power of technology (and the painstaking work of quite a few brilliant videographers) nature lovers can continue their journeys indoors – only, in a more imaginative sense. Though it seems paradoxical, technology can help bring the majesty of nature into our homes promoting a sense of wellbeing, igniting inspiration, and opening our eyes to natural wonders that we might otherwise overlook.
So next time the travel bug bites and you can’t get away, I invite you to explore from home with Hidden Lemur’s best virtual tours for nature lovers.
Virtual Reality Nature Tours
Virtual Reality is mostly known among gamers, but VR headsets are also a great tool for travelers who want to relax and immerse themselves in nature, or for travelers who want to broaden their world view by virtually stepping into places they can’t logistically reach.
VR headsets provide the most immersive at-home travel experience possible, and are becoming cheaper and more accessible by the day. My top recommendation for armchair travelers is The Oculus Quest for its quality, price, and standalone capability.
For less money, you can buy headsets that work in conjunction with your phone or computer. Take a look at this guide for choosing a budget-friendly headset.
Once you have a headset, you’ll want to explore the many programs VR has to offer. Nature Treks, for example, allows people to make the most of limited leisure time with therapeutic immersions into nature. Similarly, Ocean Rift is an enjoyable exploration of Earth’s oceans, giving you an up-close look at twelve different underwater habitats and the creatures that live there.
Nature Videos with Guided Meditations
If virtual reality is not your thing, then allow yourself to soak in the visual splendor of Nature Relaxation on Demand’s gorgeous nature videos shot in 4K paired with relaxing music. This way you can feel secluded and serene in any environment you choose, without the time or effort it takes to get there.
This type of experience is great for people who work from home and want to have a soothing ambience for their home office. It can also be used as a meditation tool and or sleep aid. Distraction-free viewing experiences are a must for optimal relaxation, but hard to come by without subscriptions. Nature Relaxation has a 30-day free trial which allows you to access all of the video on demand without any ads or water marks.
Best Virtual Tours of National Parks
Google Arts & Culture is a non-profit initiative that collaborates with cultural institutions and artists worldwide to bring immersive, virtual experiences to the masses. The database hosts an extensive library of some of the best virtual tours and exhibits, including, “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” – a series of ranger-led adventures through five different national parks. The tours feature interactive maps with clickable elements that allow viewers who want a more in-depth experience to learn more about specific natural phenomena, or simply move on to the next narrated segment when they are ready. Supporting National Parks from afar is not only a great way to appreciate nature, but also an opportunity to financially contribute to conservation efforts.
AirPano is a VR production studio created by a team of Russian photographers focused on taking high-resolution aerial 360° photographs and 360° video. Their videos can be enjoyed in 2D and VR and boast seemingly impossible footage of the world’s most inaccessible places, including the North Pole, the Antarctic, volcanic eruptions, and even views from the stratosphere. AirPano continues to capture 360-degree photos and videos weekly, to fascinate and educate even the most seasoned travelers. Three of my favorites are Lake Baikal, Russia, Huangshan Mountains, China, and Chad, South Sahara.
Online Museums and Virtual Classrooms
Many museums are now offering free online exhibits to the public. Here are my top three choices specifically for nature lovers:
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, long renowned for its researchers and impressive collection of 145 million natural specimens and artifacts, offers both self- guided and narrated room-by-room tours. Acces the experiences here.
Alternatively, you could hop across the pond to the Natural History Museum of London, which showcases 80 million life and earth science specimens, including pieces collected by Charles Darwin. Over 5 million people visit this museum each year, making it the most visited natural history museum in Europe. Their virtual exhibits include ten galleries and a virtual tour. To view the online virtual tour, click here.
The Nature Conservancy is not a museum, but a global, scientifically driven organization that works across sectors to help solve some of the most challenging ecological issues today. Their website has 9 free virtual field trips that provide in-depth, accessible insights from experts into some of our most important ecological issues. Each video lesson also comes with a downloadable teacher guide that gives a detailed overview of the class with lesson ideas.
Although these educational experiences are designed specifically for young audiences in classroom settings, they are free and accessible to anyone who appreciates the natural world and wants to help protect it. If you have kids at home, this would be a great way to connect and learn together!
Take A Virtual Safari
Now that we’ve covered options for relaxation, inspiration, and learning, it’s time to answer the call of the wild and embark on a virtual safari with Africam! Their “profit for purpose” motto aims to increase awareness and amplify conservation efforts by sharing the unadulterated beauty of african wildlife. You can check in on your favorite exotic animals at any time of day with live-streamed footage.
For a more in depth adventure you can also subscribe to Africam Premium to access live shows, ranger insights, multi-view options and an action channel which takes you to the best sightings.
Nature Hikes or Bike Rides from Home
For the most part, virtual travel experiences rely on visual and audio effects to transport us. But sometimes we just need to get moving and feel like we ‘went” somewhere. Granted, no virtual experience compares to the euphoric exhaustion of finishing an epic hike, or to the exhilarating freedom of running along a sandy shore with the wind at your back. Still, virtual travel does not have to be completely sedentary.
For avid walkers, hikers and bikers, World Nature Video has created guided tours that are set to various walking and biking speeds and include all of the ambient sounds that you would hear in the environment you see. So if you have a bike or treadmill at home, this is a healthy way to escape! Just pop in some earphones and use your tablet, phone, or computer to watch and learn as you hike or bike along.
You may also enjoy the Ambient Walking channel on youtube. This channel includes a series of long walks around the world that have a more personal quality. The videographer also includes an informative post beneath, so you can get the most out of your viewing experience.