The Best Books of Hawaii: What to Read for an Excellent Trip to the Islands

The Best Books of Hawaii: What to Read for an Excellent Trip to the Islands

Are you traveling to the Aloha State and looking for the best books of Hawaii?  Discover what to read to ensure an excellent trip to the islands. You will find the top travel guides to plan an amazing vacation. Curl up with some of the best fiction– either at home or relaxing on the beach while you are there. Discover more about Hawaii’s rich history so that you can appreciate its complexity while you are there. Then enjoy some classics with your keiki, we have choices for preschoolers through teens.

Our family lived in Hawaii and I have some favorite books I always recommend to friends and family when they visit. I have also asked other travel writers to share their top picks. Whatever your interests, if you take the time to learn more about the islands before you arrive, you are guaranteed to have a better trip!

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Travel Books on Hawaii

Maui Revealed, The Big Island Revealed, Oahu Revealed & The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook by Andrew Doughty

The books in this series are my top picks for books about Hawaii travel. When we lived there, we eventually wore ours out with almost weekly use, planning our adventures and learning more about the islands. In fact, we often give friends a copy for the island they plan to visit because we know it will improve their trip considerably. These highly informative books are by Hawaiian local, Andrew Doughty, who writes in a very personal style with an entertaining, easy going humor.  

Because there is a book for each of the four most visited islands, you have comprehensive information about any of the sites you want to visit. You will find highly detailed maps, inspiring photos, countless tips, multiple insets with factual information about Hawaii, and lots of honest reviews that have all been done anonymously. 

The books have grown in popularity, which means many of the hidden gems are no longer hidden and have become popular sites. There is also an app available (free with in-app purchases) that offers up-to-date weather, surf and snorkel conditions, and much more. These books make a great choice for first time visitors and kamaaina alike.

Lonely Planet's Best of Hawaii by Adam Karlin, Kevin Raub & Luci Yamamoto

Lonely Planet Best Of Hawaii is a guidebook that gives a great overview of the whole state and would make an ideal first book to read in the early stages of your travel planning. It will continue to be helpful through the trip itself, with included tips that save you both time and money. 

You will find out the best  time of the year to visit Hawaii, the weather, packing list ideas, the top places to visit, accommodation choices, transportation, and a lot more– all in one book. You also have the times of operation and contact information, all updated since the Covid crisis began. 

Another reason why this book can make your travel experience exceptional is by educating you about your destination. You can read it beforehand to learn more about Hawaii’s rich history and traditions. It is a great tool to help you navigate the state like a local and avoid getting into difficult situations based on misunderstanding cultural cues by being knowledgeable about them. 

Contributed by Ossama Alnuwaiser at Awesome Traveler Blog

Fiction Books About Hawaii

Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport

Written by a Native Hawaiian author, Shark Dialogues is an epic and sweeping story that spans multiple generations and touches on many aspects of Hawaii’s complex history, from the exploitative sugar industry to whaling, leper colonies, and the annexation by the United States. The book is largely set on the Big Island, but also offers vignettes from Maui, Oahu, and Molokai.

At the heart of the novel is Pono, a Native Hawaiian matriarch and prophet with magical powers (she can turn into a sea creature!)  and her four estranged granddaughters, who married non-Hawaiians and are seeking to come to terms with their heritage and with Pono herself.

The story is interwoven with flashbacks, ancient myths, and the Hawaiian language, providing educational touchpoints along with the immersive and luscious narrative. Additionally, the book highlights tourism’s negative impact on the islands and its incredible culture- while it may be a tough pill to swallow, understanding this perspective will hopefully make you a more respectful and responsible visitor.

Contributed by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler

Honolulu by Alan Brennert

Honolulu is a historical fiction novel that follows Jin, a young “picture bride” who is brought to Hawaii from Korea to be a wife to a pineapple plantation worker. Set in 1914, Honolulu is in many ways a classic coming to America story told by a lesser-heard voice. 

Born a girl named “Regret” in Korea, the novel accompanies Jin as she navigates her new life and new relationships in early 1900s Honolulu with unrelenting determination.

Honolulu weaves together reality and fiction as you follow Jin through many of the formative events of the 20th century, including both World Wars and the Spanish Flu outbreak. 

Anyone traveling to the Aloha State should read Honolulu to get a unique perspective from the immigrants that built modern Hawaii. Another book by by the same author that readers will likely enjoy is Moloka’i.

Contributed by Katie from 

Books About Hawaii History

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson

Polynesia is one of the most intriguing destinations in the world. The vast triangle that stretches from Hawaii to Easter Island to New Zealand is home to epic voyagers. Until European explorers arrived in the 1500s these explorers were the only people to have ever lived there. That leaves the question – where did these people come from? How did they get there? And why? All of these questions are explored in depth in this book.

While the book is non-fiction, it doesn’t read like a traditional historical book. The author reveals bit by bit what has been discovered about Polynesia in chronological order. Over time, as scientific knowledge progresses and our sociological studies improve, we learn more and more about the people of Polynesia. It’s a captivating journey through time.

Not only do we learn the history of Polynesia, but about the traditions and cultures of the “sea people.”  It was interesting to learn about the different types of canoes used on different islands for different purposes. If you’re unaware of the history of Hawaii, and Polynesia overall, then this book is perfect to read before your trip to Hawaii! 

Contributed by Pamela at The Directionally ChallengedTraveler 

Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, Queen Liliuokalani

One of the best books about Hawaiian history was written by Queen Liliuokalani. It’s a first-hand account of what happened during Hawaii’s illegal overthrow and annexation from Hawaii’s last reigning monarch. 

Most people on the mainland never learned about this in school, but it’s an enormously important part of Hawaii’s history. Visitors to Hawaii benefit from reading books about this complicated time in American history. You may see protests and signage around the islands talking about this issue. You’ll also get a deeper understanding of some of the conversations about tourism in Hawaii. 

After reading this book, you will be inspired to visit Iolani Palace in Honolulu. This is the only royal palace in the United States, and you can take a tour to see exactly where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned.

Contributed by Marcie Cheung of Hawaii Travel with Kids

Kids Books About Hawaii

Kaiulani: The People's Princess, Hawaii, 1889 by Ellen Emerson White

Written diary-style, Kaiulani: The People’s Princess, is an installation of the very popular Royal Diaries children’s literature series. 

Following the life of young Princess Kaiulani, the last heir to the Hawaiian Kingdom, 13-year-old Kaiulani navigates the recent annexation of Hawaii by the United States of America. 

A fantastic historical-fiction read, this book is perfect for anyone with children or young teens planning to visit Hawaii because it shows an important part of Hawaii’s history from a first-person perspective, which is easier and more enjoyable for young readers than learning from a history book. 

Kaiulani’s Diary also covers what it was like to be a Hawaiin royal during that time. Even though it is a Children’s book, Kaiulani’s Diary is an enriching read for anyone who wants to learn more about the annexation of Hawaii and the Hawaiian royal family. 

Contributed by Katie from 

Ho’onani: Hula Warrior by Heather Gale

Ho’onani is a children’s book that has been widely regarded as a celebration of identity and gender equality. It follows the story of a young girl, Ho’onani, who dreams of leading the boys-only hula troupe in a performance at her school. Ho’onani doesn’t define herself by gender, she sees herself as mahu, neither kane (boy) nor wahine (girl). 

What makes Ho’onani special is that it’s based on a true story of one young person’s journey of self-discovery and empowerment, who earns the respect of the people around them.

Hawaiians are very proud of their culture and heritage and it is important to read stories that speak of their culture before visiting. The author has done a great job of highlighting some key elements of Hawaii’s culture in the story in a way that is approachable for children. It also includes some words in Hawaiian, so kids can learn a few words while still at home.

Contributed by Louisa Smith of Epic Book Society 

Too Many Mangos by Tammy Paikai

Too Many Mangos is a sweet story of two Hawaiian children who help their grandfather harvest the mangoes off his very full mango tree. The result is way too many mangos for the small family to use on their own, so the children set off on an adventure to share the mangoes with their neighbors. Each neighbor shares something in return leaving them with a wonderful variety of treats to enjoy when they return home.

This hardcover book is perfect for young children and its colorful illustrations are engaging and thoughtful. Teaching lessons in sharing, thankfulness and generosity, this picture book also gives children a peek into Hawaiian culture as the author shares real-life experiences from his childhood.

Reading this book before a trip to Hawaii will leave children inspired to soak up the beautiful Hawaiian culture as they vacation. It will also leave them with a curiosity for tasting tropical fruits and other foods on the island such as banana macadamia nut muffins, papayas, and mangoes sprinkled with li hing powder. Too Many Mangoes is sure to be a favorite on your child’s bookshelf long after you return from your Hawaiian adventure.

Contributed by Sierra Schmidt at Free to Travel Mama 

Geckos Make a Rainbow by Jane Gillespie

Geckos Make a Rainbow is an adorable board book perfect for the youngest travelers to Hawaii. With simple rhyming lyrics and colorful illustrations, this book tells the story of geckos stuck in the house while the rain pours down. They decide to make a rainbow to hang in the sky to help the sun come out. They build each color with items such as blue surf shirts and red lehua flowers. The final color of the rainbow is green for the geckos themselves.

The sweet book for toddlers and young children will teach colors, introduce Hawaiian words and nature, as well as entertain all ages. The silly illustrations and geckos’ facial expressions are illustrated by Hawaiian cartoonist, Jon J. Murakami and are quite comical. Part of a series, fans of this book can continue their collection with Geckos Surf and Geckos Up Geckos Down.

Reading this book before a trip to Hawaii, will leave children prepared for the fruits to try at the Farmers Market, the flowers to discover in the beautiful gardens, the geckos sure to be spotted on the walls of buildings, and the beautiful rainbows that frequently fill the Hawaiian sky after a refreshing rain. 

Contributed by Sierra Schmidt at Free to Travel Mama

Best Books of Hawaii

I hope you have found a few books here that you can enjoy, both before and during your trip to Hawaii. Let me know what you favorite it in the comments or tell me what book you recomend to others before they visit. I’d love to hear!

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Best Movies About Hawaii to Watch Before Your Trip

Best Movies About Hawaii to Watch Before Your Trip

Isaac Hale Beach, Big Island, Hawai’i

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Whether you are planning a trip or dreaming of the islands, enjoy this collection of the best movies about Hawaii! The Aloha state is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful places in the world, in fact over 100 feature films have been shot here. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world, allowing directors to utilize an extraordinary range of dramatic natural scenery. Grab your popcorn and expect a visual delight!

Our family lived in Hawaii, and we love to bring the beauty, culture, and history of the islands into our lives on the mainland, often through film. I’ve also asked travel writers to share the Hawaii movies they recommend to people planning their own trips.

We start with some fantastic films made by Hawaiians and other residents of the Hawaii. They will help you gain a deeper understanding of the culture and history of the islands, inspiring you be a more thoughtful traveler. You will also appreciate the exquisite natural beauty of the islands and find inspiration for caring for it while you visit.

You can extend the joy of your travels and understand the country much more deeply by spending the months (or years!) preceding your trip by learning about Hawaii. At Trip Scholars, we offer many resources and ideas to help you dive deep into understanding your travel destinations before you arrive. 

Jump to Your Favorites!

Table of Contents

Movies in the Hawaiian Language


2020 | NR

This evocative and memorable animated film is one you will want to watch before your trip to Hawaii. It tells the legend of the mahu deities (deities of the third gender, embodying both male and female) who came from Tahiti to Hawaii to share their healing powers. Their healing gifts remain in four Stones of Life, or Nā Pōhaku Ola, on the beach in Waikiki today. 

The eight minute short has won numerous international awards and is narrated completely in Hawaiian with English subtitles. You will be captivated by the animation style and transported with the soundtrack. The story is a haunting reminder of the suppressed history of Native Hawaiians and encourages us to learn more. This same interpretation is also available as a book.

Both adults and children can enjoy this film from home and then visit the stones in Waikiki. You can find the location here to add a visit to the Stones of Life to your itinerary. 

Movies About Hawaiian Culture

The Haumana

2013 | NR

This multi award winning film was written and produced by the Hawaiian actor, director, and hula master Keo Woolford. It is a top movie recommendation because of the realistic portrayal of local Hawaiian culture, engaging acting, and captivating hula scenes.

Haumana is Hawaiian for disciple or student, and this highly enjoyable film allows us to learn and be inspired alongside the main character, Johnny Kealoha. Kealoha hosts a highly commercialized Polynesian show for tourists in Waikiki but is asked by his Kumu Hulu (master hula teacher) to teach the high school boys hula class. As he grows as their instructor, he also expands his own understanding of hula, his culture, and ultimately himself. 

The movie is filmed on Oahu and the cast has many local Hawaiians. We are given an intimate window into learning traditional hula, with a gorgeous soundtrack including contributions from top Hawaiian musicians like Robert Cazimero. The characters navigate blending ancient Hawaiian traditions with being teenagers on modern day Oahu. Add it to your queue today, you will be glad you did!

Documentaries on Hawaii: Culture

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings

2012 |NR

Hawaiian music is certain to be a highlight of any trip to the islands and this documentary will give you a much deeper understanding of its influence and importance. Plus, it is an absolute joy to watch and listen to Jake Shimabukuro! The virtuoso is a world famous ukulele player who has shown global audiences what an exceptionally talented and creative player can do with this beautiful instrument. 

The documentary follows Shimabukuro through a season of performing, but also looks back on his childhood and forward to his future dreams. His humility, curiosity, and generous spirit are easily highlighted throughout the film. It is uplifting, not just because of his musical performances, but also because of his inspiring life story.

Start a playlist of Hawaiian music while still at home and include both Shimabukuro’s solo work and his recordings from his earlier band, Pure Heart.  While you are in the Islands, be sure to find some live local music! There are often free performances in shopping centers, parks, and local events.

If you are inspired, I also recommend trying the ukulele yourself. I love to play and have two ukuleles, this is my favorite. It is very forgiving and a great choice for beginners on a stringed instrument, so you can be playing a simple tune your first afternoon.  But, as you have seen in this documentary, the ukulele can play transformative music in the hands of a master.

The Endless Summer

1966 | 11+

Endless Summer is very much what the title says, a trip around the world by two surfers in search of the world’s best surfing and endless sun. Naturally, Hawaii fits them perfectly, being famous for its huge waves for surfing and sunny weather.

Although the movie is not entirely about Hawaii, the segment about it shows the surf scene in Hawaii during the 1960s, which was partially instrumental in the surge of tourism that followed afterwards. Indeed, much of the appeal of visiting Hawaii came about from the images of a relaxed beach vibe and epic waves that purveyed in the surf scene there.

The surfing culture in Hawaii is the most famous in the world due to its ancient surfing traditions among the inhabitants of the area that surfed the waves on longboards going back 1500 years, long before ‘westerners’ discovered it.

The Endless Summer is one of the best travel movies that you can watch, especially if you have an interest in surf, sun, and adventure. Great for watching before any trip to Hawaii.

Contributed by Johnny at Backpackingman

Wayfinders: A Pacific Odessey

1999 | NR

If you have always wondered how the early Polyneisians discovered Hawaii in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, this documentary is for you! It is a PBS special revealing the rare art of wayfinding, the art of navigating the sea using only nature as one’s guide: the stars, sun, weather, sea, and animals. Historically many anthropologists and historians did not think early Polyneisians could have intentionally navigated the massive Pacific to populate the many islands throughout the ocean. However, work by The Polynesian Voyaging Society, Maiden Voyage Productions (who created the film), and many others has proven that wayfinding was an important skill throughout ancient Polynesia.

In the film we are introduced to one of the few remaining wayfinders in the world, Mau Pialug from the island of Satawal. He teaches Nainoa Thompson, a Native Hawaiian navigator, and in turn, a whole new generation of nature based navigators. Herb Kane designed the famous Hawaian sailing vessel, Hokule’a, after a lifetime of studying ancient Hawaiian canoes. It was eventually built in a mostly traditional way, in large part by volunteers in Hawaii. 

We follow along as a new generation from many islands around Polynesia learn wayfinding skills and boat building techniques, while also coming to a greater understanding of their cultural heritage. Patrick Stewart narrates the role of Captain Cook, the famous British navigator and cartographer. The nearly extinct art of wayfinding is put to the test as these modern sailors set out on a 2000 mile journey, with nature, their knowledge, and their history to guide them.

Hawaiian Islands | Filmed in 1906

1906 | NR

This unique footage is a fascinating window into life in Hawaii in 1906. The inventor Thomas Edison also had a film studio and he sent Robert Bonine in the early 1900’s to gather footage of the islands. There are over 30 clips, all of them silent. A few of them include what is thought to be the oldest film clips of surfing in the world. 

This is not your typical documentary, but it is a rare and unique view of many places and cultural touchstones. The youtube description includes the titles of each clip so you can watch just the places you plan to visit– but you will likely be hooked and want to watch a lot more!

Hawaii Documentaries: Nature

Hawaii's Mauna Loa: The World's Largest Volcano

Hawaii's Kīlauea Volcano

When we are on the islands we are constantly aware that we are actually on volcanoes: active, dormant, or extinct. Each island arose from the bottom of the ocean floor as it was formed over the hotspot that is currently under the Big Island. Weather erodes them and plate tectonics carry the volcanoes northwest. These exposed peaks form the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain, the youngest of which are the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Curious travelers can experience the vastness of geologic forces in real time by visiting an older island, like Kawaii, and comparing the island to what they see on the youngest, the Big Island. 

The Big Island is a dream destination for anyone fascinated by volcanoes and geology. If you are unfamiliar with the subject, a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will likely make you a lifelong admirer. Much of the park, and over half of the island, is on the volcano Mauna Loa. The rest of HVNP includes the youngest above-water Hawaiian volcano, Kilauea. 

These two documentaries bring the viewer up close to learn about the incredible power and beauty of the volcanoes and they are valuable viewing before a trip to the islands. Even if you are not planning to visit the Big Island on your next trip, understanding more about how the islands are formed will enhance your time anywhere in the state. They were both made before the most recent eruptions so that information isn’t included. The films incorporate a lot of interviews with, and footage of, scientists at work in the park. They also include a strong focus on learning from Native Hawaiians about the geologic history held in songs and legends.

Another fascinating Hawaii documentary is Sharks of Hawaii.

Hawaiian History Movies

Princess Kaiulani

2009 | PG

The drama-based movie Princess Kaiulani documents the events that led up to the dissolution of the Hawaiian monarchy. It’s a history lesson for some, a painful event for others. While the movie gained mixed reviews because of its original title of ‘Barbarian Princess,’ it adds excellent incite into the Hawaiian royal family.

Iolani Palace in Oahu sets the stage for the opening of the film. Electricity has arrived in Hawaii, but the upheaval from the King’s advisors has overshadowed the momentous event. With uncertainty in the homeland, Princess Kaiulani, who’s in line for the throne, travels to Scotland for an education and to avoid the tensions.

During her absence, the King’s death and Queen Liliuokalani’s imprisonment bring her back to her homeland to fight for the monarchy. ‘Princess Kaiulani’ allows the watcher to delve into the lives of the people that made Hawaii so special. While the film may be part fiction, it embodies the spirit of her Polynesian heritage. Before traveling to Hawaii, visitors will better understand the history of royal residences such as Iolani Palace and Queen Emma Summer Palace on Oahu, and Hulihe’e Palace on Hawaii.

Contributed by Karen of Forever Karen

Pearl Harbor

2001 | PG-13

Pearl Harbor is a great movie because it takes a moment in American history and brings it to life with intense dramatic performances.  

 Directed by Michael Bay, and starring Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsdale, Pearl Harbor is a beautiful love story set during World War II. 

 Pearl Harbor is a fantastic movie to watch before your first trip to Hawaii beause it humanizes an important moment in Hawaii’s history. The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, has been immortalized by the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Oahu. Watching this movie, in addition to visiting the famous memorial, will add a level of relatability for the real people who died and fought on that day for anyone visiting Hawaii. 

Submitted by Katie from

Hawaiian history movies about the missionary moment to add to your queue are Hawaii and Molokai: The Story of Father Damien.

Hawaii Family Movies

Finding Ohana

2021 | PG

One of the newest kids movies filmed in Hawaii is Netflix’s Finding Ohana. It’s filmed on Oahu with a lot of the adventurous scenes at Kualoa Ranch. The story is all about a mom moving back home to Hawaii from Brooklyn with her teenage kids. The main character is a girl named Pili (played by Kea Peahu) who finds an old journal that takes her on a real-life treasure hunt. 

The movie has a lot of the same vibes as the kids adventure movies from the 90s, so both parents and kids will enjoy watching it. Plus, the soundtrack is pretty fabulous.

What sets this movie apart from other kids movies filmed in Hawaii is that they focus a lot on Hawaiian culture, especially the elusive Night Marchers. This is a really cool part of Hawaiian culture that most people don’t know about before their trip. Finally, you can even do a Hawaii movie tour to see exactly where they filmed at Kualoa Ranch!

Contributed by Marcie Cheung of Hawaii Travel with Kids


1991 | PG

Peter Pan is a classic movie and often a childhood favorite. Hook is what happens after the story of Peter Pan when Peter grows up. It is fun to learn more of the Peter Pan story, and an important lesson about growing up and changing.

Hook doesn’t take place entirely in Hawaii, but the Neverland scenes were filmed in Kuaui, Hawaii. Neverland is a magical place, and of course, Hawaii is a perfect choice for imagining Neverland. We know that Neverland is close to the ocean, as that is where Captain Hook lives. Peter lives on land but visits the mermaids under the sea and flies onto Hook’s pirate ship.

Directed by Steven Speilberg, Hook is filled with well-known actors. Robin Williams played the grown-up version Peter and his sidekick Tinkerbell is played by Julia Roberts. Dustin Hoffman played the role of Peter Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook.

Hook is a great opportunity to discover that there is always more to the story. Plus, it’s fun to learn more about the characters we know and love. Hook is a kid’s movie that adults might enjoy even more than kids.

Who doesn’t want to go to Neverland, at least for a while? If we can’t get to Neverland, at least for now, we can imagine Neverland from the beautiful Kuaui, Hawaii.

Contributed by Lanie van der Horst at Make More Adventures

Hawaii Disney Movies

Lilo & Stitch

2002 | PG

Lilo & Stitch is a funny & unique Disney animated film based in Hawaii. The story is about a young girl who picks up a “dog” at a local pound – only to find out the animal is actually a scientific experiment called 626. Follow along as the girl learns the truth about 626 (Stitch), forms a friendship with him, and works together to avoid his capture by the Galactic Federation.  

The film itself is based in Hawaii. You’ll notice many iconic themes from Hawaiian tradition included in the movie like surfing, hula dancing, ukeles, and more! Writers used the town of Hanapee on the island of Kauai as inspiration. This town is often referred to as “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town” as it is truly only made up of a few streets!

You’ll recognize scenes from the animated movie that mimic the town’s vibe with charming plantation-style buildings. You can walk in and out of many stores and restaurants here in town along the main street. You’ll even find a few murals that locals have painted in honor of the adorable animated film! Missing this small town would be one of the biggest mistakes to make when visiting Hawaii as it truly transports you into the movie Lilo & Stitch! 

Contributed by Lisa Shehan at wanderlustwithlisa


2016 | PG

Moana is set on a fictional island in Ancient Polynesia. The fictional story is based loosely on several stories from Polynesian mythology. The catchy music and powerful female lead in Moana make it a favorite. It comes complete with funny characters and jokes that Disney animated films are known for. In the movie, Moana is the daughter of the chief on a Polynesian island. Her people are struggling and she learns that Maui the demi-god has stolen the heart of Te Fiti. She takes off on open water to find Maui, restore the ocean, and heal her island. 

Moana is a great movie to watch with kids to kick start a conversation about Polynesian culture and history before your trip. Hawai’i marks one corner of the Polynesian triangle and the story of Maui is a common one in all of the Polynesian Islands. The demi-god is known for being mischievous and for using his powers to help humans. As in Moana, Maui is known for his magic fish hook in Hawaii but in other parts of Polynesia, he is known differently. The story in the movie is fictional but with some quick research you can find the different cultures associated with each story about Maui mentioned in the song “You’re Welcome”.  The Polynesian Islands share many parts of their culture but are each unique as well. Watching the fictional story in Moana can open a conversation about Polynesia. The Hawaiians make a great effort to revive, maintain, and showcase their culture; Use Moana to start the conversation before you leave. 

Contributed by Jami at Celiac Travel Pack

Adventure Movies in Hawaii

Kong: Skull Island

2017 | PG:13 

The movie ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a fun action / monster movie in the newly rebooted King Kong series, starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and others. In the movie, a group of soldiers and explorers has to go on an expedition to Skull Island to find the giant King Kong and other mysterious creatures.

The movie was filmed in Vietnam and Hawaii, and places where they did filming in Oahu include Kualoa Ranch, Honolulu’s Chinatown, and the Waikane Valley. A visit to Kualoa Ranch in particular is one of the best things to do in Oahu Hawaii since so many movies have been filmed there — more than 80 movies in total!

Even though the plot of Kong may not win any big awards, it’s still a great movie to watch before your trip to Hawaii. It’s loaded with nice tropical scenery and intense action sequences to pump you up for your travels, and if you’re lucky you may get to visit some of the filming locations while you’re in Oahu!

 Contributed by David & Intan at The World Travel Guy

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

2017 | PG-13

For an exciting adventure film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, watch “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” A sequel to the 1995 film “Jumanji,” this reboot is a great comedy-action film that showcases some stunning Hawaiian scenery.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle tells the story of four high school students getting sucked into a video game set in the jungle. To return home, they have to beat the video game by returning a magical jewel to its shrine.

This is a great family-friendly film with tons of action, humor, and character-growth. A lot of the movie scenes were shot on the island of Oahu, and in particular, the Kualoa Ranch. And while there are many incredible Oahu waterfalls, the set of falls shown in the film are located in Papaikou on the Big Island.

Needless to say, watching “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” before a trip to Hawai’i would greatly enhance your vacation! Filled with spectacular tropical landscapes, lush jungles, and soaring hills, watching the film will truly get you pumped to visit Hawai’i. It’ll also provide you with some incredible ideas on what to do in Hawai’i, from touring the Kualoa Ranch to admiring Kawainui Falls.

Contributed by Mia at Walk a While with Me

Another classic Adventure movie to include in your watchlist is Jurassic Park.

Comedy Movies About Hawaii

The Descendants

2011 | R

Starring George Clooney, The Descendants follows Matt King, whose life is turned upside down when his wife is left in a coma after a tragic accident. Not only is Matt struggling with the consequences of the accident, but he’s also been named the trustee of an enormous plot of untouched land in Kauai and is being pressured by his family to sell this incredibly valuable asset to developers. While grappling with these issues, Matt, a busy attorney in Honolulu, attempts to figure out how to be more present for his two daughters while they navigate their mom’s possible death. 

The film is visually stunning and highlights some of Hawaii’s most beautiful landscapes, from the beaches of Oahu to the lush greenery of Kauai. But visitors should watch The Descendants for more than just its imagery- the film highlights the commoditization of Hawaiian land and the pressures locals face to exploit its natural beauty for tourism and other development. The United States’ complex- and often problematic- treatment of Hawaiian land and resources is important context for any visitor to the islands to understand and perhaps Matt’s struggles relating to his duty to protect his ancestors’ land will offer you a unique perspective before your trip.

Contributed by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler


Forgetting Sarah Marshall

2008 | R

One of the funniest comedies of the 2000s, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a great movie to watch before a trip to Oahu, especially if your trip involves the North Shore! 

The movie features Jason Segel as the forlorn, newly-dumped boyfriend of a famous TV actress, Sarah Marshall. He goes to Oahu to try to find himself and relax — but ends up finding out that she and her new boyfriend, played by Russell Brand, are staying at the same resort he is! Luckily, he unexpectedly makes friends with a bunch of workers at the resort, and they help to save his trip.

The movie is filmed mostly at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu, and it has scenes from different places along the North Shore, including the famous ‘cliff jumping’ scene which takes place at Laie Point, and the surfing scenes filmed on the beaches near Haleiwa. The beautiful shots of these North Shore locales will have you adding it to your Oahu itinerary!

This funny movie is also poignant, and it’ll be especially resonant for solo travelers or people who are taking a trip in order to forget or get over a recent bad event like a breakup or loss. The movie addresses how we can feel lost and look to travel to try to save us, but ultimately, our connections with the people we meet while traveling are what impact our experience the most. For travelers feeling a bit lost, this is a really powerful message to take with you both on your travels to Hawaii and when you return home. 

Contributed by Allison Green of Eternal Arrival

50 First Dates

2004 | PG13

The film, 50 First Dates takes place on the mesmerizing island of Oahu and is charming because of it’s message of true love despite the odds. The movie follows the daily interactions between the main character, Henry who is set on winning over Lucy, a joyful woman who unfortunately forgets what happens every day due to short-term memory loss. 

Fifty First Dates follows the interactions and budding love Henry develops for Lucy as he continues his battle every day to win her over, while also trying to convince her close friends and family that he can make her happy. In the movie, you taste Hawaiian culture in the attire as well as the cuisine, like at Hukilau cafe, where Lucy eats every morning. 

You also get to see some popular historic locations in the movie, like where Lucy and Henry kiss at the famous Makapuu lighthouse, which is a popular hiking destination in Oahu. Lucy lives on the ranch at Kualoa Ranch, a substantial 4000-acre private nature reserve. Another famous Hawaiian location, as seen in the movie, is where Henry works, the real-life Sea Life Park. This renowned park allows visitors to meet the animals up close but still works towards preserving nature and conserving wildlife. The concept of the preservation and conservation of nature is an important focus in Hawaii. All in all, 50 First Dates is not only a cute and funny movie but shows us a glimpse of Hawaii and it’s culture. 

Contributed by Sierra and Yesenia, The Sisters Who Voyage

Hawaii Surfing Movies

Soul Surfer

2011 | PG

The movie Soul Surfer is set on the island of Kaui and follows the story of Bethany Hamilton, an upcoming teenage surfing star who was attacked by a shark one day on the water. The shark bit off her arm but luckily, Bethany survived the attack. The movie focuses on her journey to figure out how to cope with the loss of her arm and also how she overcame that setback in her surfing career. 

It’s a heartwarming and incredibly inspiring film that is perfect for families and anyone who loves a movie about overcoming the odds. Sean McNamara was the director, and Anna Sophia Robb starred in the film. 

The movie showcases the beauty of Hawaiian water and beaches and the strength of the local communities. There are also many scenes of surfing competitions and surfing practice in Hawaii, which is an aspect of a Hawaiian vacation that many visitors are interested in. 

Contributed by Stephanie Rytting of The Unknown Enthusiast

Gidget Goes Hawaiian

1961 | NR

One of the cutest movies that is set in Hawaii is a 1960’s surfer chick-flick called Gidget Goes Hawaiian. The Gidget series follows the story of a small, teenage girl named Francine. Francine longs for a life that is more than just sitting at home, and finds her passion in the waves. In the first Gidget movie, Francine learns how to surf with the help of Moondoggie and his surfer bros. She receives the nickname “Gidget” from them – girl + midget. She falls in love with Moondoggie and surfing and the rest is history.

In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Francine has the opportunity to go to Hawaii and surf some pretty big waves. Just before the adventure, she and Moondoggie break up, making her Hawaiian adventure now fueled with “post-breakup” vibes. This movie is super cute and shows off multiple Hawaiian hotels and beaches. It will make you want to go to Hawaii, learn to surf, and fall in love. From the beautiful beaches to the cute Luaus, Gidget Goes Hawaiian is the perfect movie to watch before going to Hawaii because it will inspire you to get out there and enjoy everything the Hawaiian islands have to offer.

Contributed by Shannon at Adventuring With Shannon

Other surfing movies to enjoy are the documentaries Endless Summer and Hawaii 1906 shared earlier in this article.

Films About Hawaii

Watching films from this collection is sure to give you a deeper understanding of Hawaii: it’s natural beauty, fascinating culture, and rich history. Hopefully you’ve found some great Hawaii movies to add to your queue!

What are your favorites? Did we miss anything you would recommend? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!



Hi, I’m Erica and I created Trip Scholars for curious travelers, just like you! As a professional educator with a passion for travel, I want to help you save time, learn more, and travel better. I believe that the wonder of travel can begin the moment you start to plan it. I am also a Certified Travel Education Coach and love supporting other curious travelers with transformative trip research. Learn more on my Coaching or About Us page!
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You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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Yellowstone Family Vacation Planning

Yellowstone Family Vacation Planning

Yellowstone Family Vacation Planning

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

One of the great joys for many of us is experiencing national parks both as children and as adults with our families. It is remarkable to bring our kids to the same astounding places our parents shared with us when we were younger.  Or, maybe you are creating fresh new traditions for your family! Whether you are returning or visiting for the first time, your family vacation to Yellowstone will be one of your favorites!

The best way to plan Yellowstone vacations for families is to learn more about the park so you can enjoy it to its fullest. You can find all the best resources to learn more in our article, The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Trip to Yellowstone. This article adds a few more options specific to families.

To get everyone in on planning your family trip to Yellowstone, read our article, Joyful and Educational Trip Planning for Families.  It is a guide for how to follow your children’s interests to kindle their curiosity. For your trip to Yellowstone, they may be most interested in animals, geology, or history. Here are some other recommendations specific for kids.  

The best ways for kids to learn about Yellowstone National Park from home

Yellowstone National Park Website

The site is great for educational trip research. If you are traveling with a larger group of kids, consider Yellowstone Distance Learning. These need at least 10 young people for a live class.  

They also have about 25 recorded lessons available for everyone on a wide range of topics including history, microbes, the night sky, and bison. They are 20-minute recorded ranger lessons, similar to what you can enjoy in person.   

If you are looking for something more formal, there is a collection of about 25 lessons you can enjoy from home. Curriculum ranges from activities for pre-k through 12th grade. They include both science and history projects. These are perfect for homeschooling and world schooling families, but all curious travelers can enjoy them.

Whether you take a virtual tour from home to help better plan your trip, or you want to enjoy Yellowstone tours from your couch, the park’s website also offers some free virtual tours. In addition, you can also watch the webcams in Yellowstone. The Upper Geyser Basin is live-streamed, and the other webcams are static and cover the entrances and some major sites.  

What I saw in Yellowstone

This is an excellent choice for any budding naturalist. Get it before your trip so they can learn Yellowstone facts for kids, including more about the animals, geology and history of the park from home. Then bring it along so they can track what they see and take notes about details of their finds.  Let them teach the rest of the family what they have learned while you are walking the trails and boardwalks. It includes park activities for kids. When they return home, it serves as their personal journal of your trip. 

North American Forest Animal Figurines

There is nothing like open ended exploration in play and these animals invite curiosity and discovery. They are safe for ages three and up and are a wonderful addition to many of the documentaries, activities, and books shared on this site. Bring them outside, add them to your box of blocks, or take them into the bath to invite joy and natural conversations about the animals you will be seeing on your trip. Then be sure to pack them for the road trip to add some adventure to long stretches of the drive. 

Trekking the National Parks

Trekking the National Parks is a lively and engaging game for families who enjoy visiting the national parks in the United States. Players collect stones representing different national parks and learn a little about them in the process. It is intended for ages 10+ and games usually last less than one hour. For more ideas about games to inspire travel, including a few more specific to our national parks read, Games For Globetrotters: The Best Games for People Who Love to Travel. 

Yellowstone: kid friendly tips

Top things to do in Yellowstone with kids

  1. Watch the animals in Hayden Valley or Lamar Valley
  2. Visit the geyser basins
  3. Go for a hike
  4. Become a Yellowstone Junior Ranger
  5. Become a Yellowstone Young Scientist
  6. Take pictures of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
  7. Eat ice cream in the historic Old Faithful Lodge
  8. Look elk for when you visit the travertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs
  9. Stargaze in the park and look for planets and constellations
  10. Be the lookout for your family as you drive and try to spot animals in the distance

Is visiting Yellowstone with toddlers safe?

Many people ask if visiting Yellowstone with toddlers is safe and there isn’t a universal answer. We have visited with babies, toddlers, and young children (and they all survived just fine!), but it is more relaxing to visit with older kids. The boardwalks over geothermal features don’t have safety rails and the wildlife is, indeed, wild. If your little one is in an especially independent and defiant stage, you might want to wait for a different year. But if you are carrying them in a backpack or they old enough to comfortably understand and follow safety directions, you can have an amazing time enjoying the many family things to do in Yellowstone!

The best places to stay in Yellowstone for families

Depending on your preferences, budget, and when you make your reservations, family lodging in Yellowstone can be an integral part of the trip, or simply a place you sleep each night.  

If you hope to camp in the park, make your reservations as soon as possible through two different agencies depending on the campground: and Yellowstone National Park Lodges.    

Yellowstone is also home to historic lodges and modern lodging managed through YNP Lodges.  If you are fortunate enough to stay in one of the historic lodges, your family will  enjoy reading the Yellowstone section of Great Lodges of the National Parks. 

Most in-park lodging fills many months in advance. If it is already full, or if you prefer access to more amenities, stay in one of the towns outside the park. If you are not sleeping in the park, I recommend West Yellowstone for your home base. It is a charming town with plenty of perks for families. You’ll have access to many lodging options, multiple restaurants, banks, stores, and tourist attractions. The biggest plus is the location. It is off the center of the Grand Loop Road, allowing multiple easy day trips without as much backtracking as the other towns right outside the park.  

Yellowstone family vacation tours

If you prefer not to drive and deal with parking in the park, these are some great educational tour options for ages 3 or 6 and up.

Yellowstone family vacation planning

We hope you have discovered some useful resources to help you plan your trip to  Yellowstone National Park with kids. Even though your time in the park will be brief, you can enjoy months of enjoyment before and after your trip. Be sure to read more in our full article, The Ultimate Guide to Planning  Your Trip to Yellowstone  where we have gathered the best documentaries, audio tours, games, books, websites and more to help you enjoy months of learning and entertainment before you leave.

Have you been to Yellowstone with kids or do you plan to visit in the future? What were your favorite activities that you enjoyed, both before you left and while you were in the park. Please let me know in the comments!



Hi, I’m Erica and I created Trip Scholars for curious travelers, just like you! As a professional educator with a passion for travel, I want to help you save time, learn more, and travel better. I believe that the wonder of travel can begin the moment you start to plan it. I am also a Certified Travel Education Coach and love supporting other curious travelers with transformative trip research. Learn more on my Coaching or About Us page!
You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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The Ultimate Guide to Planning A Trip to Yellowstone

Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone

The Ultimate Guide to
Planning A Trip to Yellowstone

Microbial Mats, Yellowstone. Photo by Trip Scholars

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Visiting Yellowstone National Park can be one of life’s most treasured experiences. The place is so extraordinary that it inspired the creation of the world’s first national park and it was one of the initial UNESCO sites! Your time in the park will be limited, but you can begin enhancing your trip today by learning more about this remarkable area. Planning a trip to Yellowstone can be a long and joyful endeavor and we have gathered the best resources to help you make the most of your visit to this incredible park. This is a different kind of travel guide offering you many ways to learn much more about the park. We promise, it will be worth your while! 

What is the best way to plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park?

The best way to plan a trip to Yellowstone is to take the time to learn about it in advance. By discovering more, you will be able to create your own personalized itinerary. You will also cultivate a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural wonders that you will see.  

The best things to see in Yellowstone are the wildlife and the geology, especially the geothermal features. We will highlight helpful resources to learn more about each of these. We will also offer many other resources to enjoy from home before you go so you and your travel companions can be intentional and well researched visitors to the park. 

I am a former science teacher and I have visited Yellowstone dozens of times since my family lived nearby. I have used many resources over the years that have made my visits to the park some of my greatest life experiences and I have brought the best together here to save you time and money in finding them.  

Map of Yellowstone

Sites referenced in the article are labeled  on the map. 

What are the main attractions of Yellowstone?

The main attractions in the park are the unique geologic features throughout the park, especially the geothermal wonders and the abundant wildlife. Let’s look at each of them in turn. When you look at a map of the park, you will notice there is a large figure eight road with offshoots leading out of the park. This is known as the Grand Loop Road, and you will refer to it often throughout your trip planning. We will be highlighting sites along this road since they are the main attractions in the park.

Grand Canyon Of The Yellowstone
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Yellowstone Geology and Thermophiles

The extraordinary and unique features of the park are all directly related to the geologic story of the region. The Rocky Mountains rose up 55-80 million years ago and can be enjoyed through visits to the adjacent Grand Teton National Park and nearby Glacier National Park or Rocky Mountain National Park. If you can include additional time on your trip, we recommend visiting any of these dramatic areas in the Rocky Mountain system.

The Yellowstone Volcano

The Rocky Mountains radiate from the park, but much of what visitors see while in Yellowstone is related to more recent chapters in the geologic story. Yellowstone is over a hot spot, an area on our planet where the crust is very thin. At the Yellowstone hotspot the magma is about three miles below the surface. (Think of the last three mile walk you took. It is that close!) In most other places on the continental crust the magma is 20-30 miles below the surface.   

As the North American tectonic plate has gradually moved, the hotspot has been under different areas. Sixteen-million years ago it was under the Columbia Plateau in Oregon. Interested travelers will be thrilled with the examples of volcanic phenomena related to this hotspot that they will see on a well-planned road trip to the PNW from Yellowstone. 

When this hotspot moved under what is now Yellowstone there was enormous volcanic activity, and the Yellowstone Super volcano came into being. The Yellowstone plateau was created over two million years and included two of the largest known eruptions on the planet. This plateau was created after eruptions when the massive magma chamber emptied and collapsed. Plateaus were created after each of the major eruptions, leaving noticeable highlands above the rest of the park. The most recent caldera encompasses the whole southern end of the Grand Loop Road. It is mind boggling to look around through your travels in the park and realize you are inside of a massive caldera!  The last major eruption was 640,000 years ago and no magmatic eruptions have occurred for 70,00 years.  

Some of the best things to see in Yellowstone are directly related to these ancient volcanic roots. Sheepeater’s Cliff in the northwest part of the park is a stunning example of columnar basalt. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is one of the most spectacular canyons in the U.S. and is a must-see stop on your drive through the Grand Loop Road. The “yellow” stone dramatically framing the falls from Artist’s Point is from the stone rhyolite, a type of lava that erupted during one of the major volcanic phases. The dramatic range of colors along the canyon walls were made by hydrothermally altered rhyolite and sediments. The sculpting by the Yellowstone River through this yellow stone is a much more recent phenomenon. The river drops over 400 feet (more than Niagara Falls!) between the top of Upper Falls and the bottom of Lower Falls. The canyon itself is over 20 miles long and the wild Yellowstone River at the bottom is the longest free flowing river in the contiguous United States. 

Yellowstone Earthquakes

Many visitors are concerned about earthquakes in the area. There are an extraordinary 1000-3000 earthquake tremors a year, making it one of the most seismically active areas in the country. Most of these quakes are not noticeable to visitors and it is unlikely you will feel any seismic activity on your visit. The last major earthquake in the region was at Hebgen Lake (7.5) in 1959 and created Quake Lake, not far outside of the West Yellowstone Entrance. Those interested in geology will find it worth the drive if their travels bring them west of the park.  

Here are two excellent websites to learn more about earthquakes in the Yellowstone area.  

USGS Yellowstone Volcano Observatory 

The United States Geological Survey site is obviously comprehensive and thorough. You can read a brief but fascinating geologic history of the area, stay up to date with recent news and visit the monitoring map for a staggering window into how active the area actually is.  

Earthquake track 

This is a much simpler website that makes it easy for the general public to track earthquakes around the world. Small tremors are not registered, but you can easily see how active the Yellowstone Volcano has been today! 

Yellowstone Geothermal Features

Among the best things to see in Yellowstone are the geothermal features. The park has half of all of them in the world and boasts the largest collection of varied hot water features on earth! There are 10,000 thermal features in the region and they include geysers, mud pots, travertine terraces, hot springs, and fumaroles. They are all caused by underground water interacting with the intense heat caused by proximity to the mantle throughout this hot spot.  

The differences in features are primarily related to the underground plumbing, the minerals involved, and the quantity of water. Much of the water in the park is alkaline and when it reacts with rocks underground, it lines the cracks with silica, creating natural underground plumbing.  

Yellowstone Geysers

Geysers have a constriction below ground where the hot water pressurizes until it finally gives way and the geyser erupts, often creating one of the greatest spectacles on the planet.  

Geysers are one of the best things to see in Yellowstone National Park. Even people who are only able to visit the park for one day will stop at Old Faithful Geyser. The underground plumbing allows people from all over the planet to gasp in unison at its majesty on a very predictable eruption schedule, rightfully earning it the name Old “Faithful.” There are over 300 geysers in the park, but none are as predictably awe inspiring. 

The Old Faithful area, also known as Upper Geyser Basin, is visited by almost everyone. Nearby you will also find Midway Geyser Basin and you will want to stop here, even on a one-day visit to Yellowstone. Norris Geyser Basin is another favorite and I recommend taking an hour or two to visit if you are in the western part of the park. 

Yellowstone Mud Pots

If you head east from Old Faithful and drive towards Yellowstone Lake you can visit the West Thumb Geyser Basin and the Mud Volcano area. Mud volcanoes are partially caused by acidic water, which is different from the more alkaline water in other areas of the park. Hydrogen sulfide is digested by microorganisms that turn it into sulfuric acid which, in turn, break the rock down into an exceptionally fine, silty clay. Steam and other gases bubble up through the mud and create something otherworldly.  If you are not able to visit the Mud Volcano, be sure to stop at Artist’s Paint Pot or Fountain Paint Pot on the west side of the park to enjoy a similar spectacle.  

Planning a trip to Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs Travertine Terraces
Mammoth Hot Springs
Yellowstone Travertine Terraces

Repeat visitors to the park love to drive north to Mammoth Hot Springs and see how things have changed since their last visit. Unlike most of the other geothermal features throughout the park, Mammoth Hot Springs lie outside of the caldera and instead are formed over the major inland sea that once covered much of North America. Plankton in this sea fell to the bottom and eventually became limestone. This limestone is an exceptionally soft rock and is easily broken down, allowing the travertine formations to grow and change very quickly. Anyone who enjoys geology will be mesmerized seeing these changes happening in their lifetime.  

Best things to see in Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic Springs, Midway Geyser Basin
Grand Prismatic Sping
Yellowstone Hot Springs

Among the most beautiful things on earth are hot springs. They are similar to geysers, but without any constriction in their underground plumbing, allowing a steady flow of water. The most well-known geyser is Grand Prismatic Spring. Its spectacular size and stunning rainbow of colors are breathtaking. You can visit it in the Midway Geyser Basin. It is the largest hot spring in the United States and third largest in the world. You will find its gorgeous image rightfully earning a place on mugs, ornaments, and calendars in all the gift shops you visit on your trip. 

Yellowstone Thermophiles

It is the colors of Grand Prismatic Spring that are most enchanting. Although some are from the minerals themselves, most of the splendid colors that delight visitors are from pigments in different microbes. These particular microbes thrive in heat and are thus called thermophiles. Visitors can use the colors of Grand Prismatic Spring to understand and remember different types of microbes and temperatures they can tolerate. Closest to the center of the hot spring where the temperature is the hottest, are light yellow microbes that feed on sulfur. Photosynthesizing bacteria live further out, in radiating regions of cooling temperatures, each an ideal habitat for microbes of a certain color.  

The thermophiles of Yellowstone National Park are all microscopic but are some of the most interesting organisms on Earth. Astrobiologists study these extremophiles in Yellowstone to better understand what life off earth might be like.  

Everyone who visits Yellowstone will be thrilled to see these geologic wonders but taking time to study the geology before your trip will bring your level of awe even higher when you take into account the ancient forces at work. After learning more about the geothermal features in the park, you can decide which areas you want to include in your itinerary. Even if you only visit for a day, you can enjoy years of discovery by learning more from home. 

They best ways to learn more about the geology and thermophiles of Yellowstone

If you find the geology of Yellowstone fascinating, check out these resources to learn even more! 

Geology of the National Parks: Yellowstone

As a former earth science teacher, I find videos to be one of the best ways to transform the complexities of geology into engrossing storytelling. This series elucidates and inspires, which is no surprise since it is a co-production of National Geographic and The Great Courses.  

Take advantage of the Great Courses Plus (now Wondrium) free trial to watch the first two episodes of the series which are on Yellowstone. During the week you can also watch their Yellowstone episodes in the America From Above and The American West series. Curious travelers are forewarned, you may end up loving the Great Courses so much that you will keep your subscription. (This is one of my personal favorites and we often have the subscription!)   

Seen and Unseen: Discovering the Microbes of Yellowstone

Every time I visit Yellowstone, I reread this book. It explains the diverse types of microbes that we see in the park and explores details about their habitats. It highlights each geothermal area of the park with a map, fascinating text, many color photos of the landscape, close ups of the habitat, and images captured with a microscope.  

It is appropriate for readers with all levels of scientific understanding and, although it is written for adults, the photos make it visually engaging for kids too.  If you are intrigued with the colors and inhospitable habitats of the microbes of Yellowstone, you will love this book! 

Roadside Geology of the Yellowstone Country

Another book I start reading before each visit to Yellowstone is Roadside Geology of the Yellowstone Country. This is part of the well-loved Roadside Geology series, where readers learn about the geologic story of what they see on particular roads and, sometimes nearby hikes. The book starts with an overview and then dives into each segment of the Great Loop Road, plus the roads from each of the different entrances.  

The book includes diagrams, maps, and multiple black and white photos. It is too much to comprehend while you are in the park, you won’t want to miss anything on your drive! I recommend reading it in advance of your trip and then bringing it with you to better understand each area of the park in real time. It makes great nighttime reading before each new day’s adventures.  

Geology Underfoot in Yellowstone Country 

Geology Underfoot is another fantastic choice for curious visitors to Yellowstone. Visual learners might prefer it because it includes so many color photos and diagrams. It also highlights many stops in the park: trails, hikes, and pullouts. Additionally, it includes an exploration of the geologic past of the Greater Yellowstone Region. It is another book worth reading in advance and bringing with you on your trip. 

The Best Free Resources for Planning a Trip to Yellowstone

Tight on funds? Here are some excellent free resources that will greatly enhance your trip! 

The Best Free Yellowstone Book

The best free book is the Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook. It is a 300-page PDF created by park staff and is overflowing with information about the park. The focus is on the natural and human history of the park, and it includes lots of color photos and maps.  

The Best Free Yellowstone App

The best free app is the Yellowstone App. Be sure to download it before you arrive since cell service in the park is spotty. You will have access to interactive maps, predictions of geyser eruption times, real-time information about services in the park, and narrated stories to enjoy on your drive.  

The Best Free Yellowstone Podcast

Everybody’s National Parks is my favorite podcast about our parks because they interview so many experts and I always learn something new. They have over ten episodes specifically about Yellowstone ranging from geology and wildlife, to native tribes and the history of the park. There are also trip reports and episodes on visiting with kids. It is definitely worth listening to in the months preceding your trip! 

Yellowstone Bison Yellowstone Wildlife

Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

Watching wildlife in the park is a thrill for all visitors. At the time the park was created, there wasn’t anything unusual about the abundant wildlife that we now marvel at. But the world has changed around the park, and for most of us, this is our best opportunity to see many of these species in their natural habitat. It is North America’s version of Africa’s Serengeti. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that allows for this wonderland of animals, extends far beyond the boundaries of the National Park itself and is dependent on well managed adjacent lands. 

The park boasts the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 and there are sixty-seven distinct species. It is the large mammals that enthrall most visitors and sightings of Yellowstone bison and elk stop visitors on the highway throughout the park. Sightings of bears, wolves, moose and the great cats, are rarer, but visitors who see them will remember their encounters for the rest of their lives. 

Yellowstone National Park is also a birder’s paradise. There are nearly 300 species of birds in the park who thrive in the diverse habitats. Seeing birds of prey, including Golden and Bald Eagles is common. Trumpeter Swans, pelicans, and egrets grace the waters and wetlands, and you’ll hear varied songbirds and woodpecker hammerings throughout the park. Once again, habitat and season will determine the likelihood of what species you will encounter. It is worth a birder’s while to do research before visiting to enhance their chances of seeing their favorites. 

The park is also home to 16 species of fish, 5 species of amphibians and 6 species of reptiles. Many of these are not seen by visitors but can be studied from home with the right documentaries and field guides. 

10 Best Tips for Seeing Wildlife in Yellowstone

Top picks to learn more about the wildlife of Yellowstone

Want to learn more about the wildlife of Yellowstone? Here are some top picks for learning from home! 


This is my top recommendation for a documentary focused on Yellowstone National Park Wildlife. It is a three-part series by BBC Earth and the footage is phenomenal. Each 50-minute episode focuses on one of the seasons in the park. 

This is a highly rated and inspirational series. There aren’t as many facts conveyed as in some other documentaries, there are no interviews, and there is a single narrator. Instead, it is a story told about the animals and geographic features as narrative with the primary focus on the amazing photography.   

Even when we do experience the thrill of seeing animals in the park in person, we watch from a distance. This series offers us extraordinary close-ups we would never otherwise see. We are also offered views of animals in their habitats beyond the few days we might see them while visiting and can understand more of their life cycles and how they are interrelated with each other and the greater ecosystem. 

This series is part of the incredible collection of documentaries offered by Curiostiy Stream. Check out the link below to view their affordable library with many excellent choices for curious travelers. 


This beautiful board game with gorgeous pictures and game pieces will help you and your traveling companions learn more about the birds you will see in Yellowstone. You play as a bird enthusiast and get to learn about the birds living in your travel destinations. You collect birds of North America, many of which spend part of the year in the park. 

Gameplay is slightly complicated but worth learning. It is a medium-weight, card driven engine builder for ages 10+. There isn’t direct competition with other players and points are not counted until the end of the game. This is an award-winning game for good reason and is a perfect choice for birding travelers. 

In the Temple of Wolves

In the Temple of Wolves is a moving first-hand account of author, Rick Lamplugh’s time volunteering in the park with his wife. They are both former educators and were stationed over winter near Lamar Valley, prime wolf habitat. This is a contemplative book where he marvels at this astounding ecosystem and can sit with unanswered questions. We join him in watching bison, elk, eagles, and mountain lions as they interact with one another and with the wolves.  

The history of Yellowstone

West Thumb Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake

The First People of Yellowstone

Humans have been in Yellowstone for at least 11,000 years, arriving sometime after the last ice age (which ended 13,000-14,000 years ago). A fascinating stop in the northwest section of the park is Obsidian Cliff. The earliest people in the park have been quarrying obsidian here since these early days. In fact, obsidian from this cliffside is the most widely traded obsidian by hunter-gatherers in the United States. When you visit the marvelous shimmering Obsidian Cliff, you can appreciate it from both a geological and an archaeological perspective.  

Yellowstone was an important area for many indigenous people. Twenty-seven different tribes have ancestral connections to the area we now know as Yellowstone. Hunting, fishing, gathering, and quarrying were common, in addition to the use of thermal waters for health and religious purposes. Archaeological sites are being studied throughout the park, with the greatest concentration around Yellowstone Lake. 

As settlers from the newly formed United States began moving west, Yellowstone was also the site of tragedies and injustices against indigenous people. It was a small but important part of the journey Chief Joseph led his people on in the flight of the Nez Perce. The last of the native tribes were removed in 1882. 

Top resources to learn more about archaeology in Yellowstone

To learn more about exploring the archaeology of your travel destinations, read our article, How to Create Your Own Archaeological Tour.  

If you want to learn more about the first people of the Yellowstone area, here are a couple of great choices. An excellent (and free!) article about the first peoples in the park is, The Lost History of Yellowstone.  It features much of the work of the author listed below, Douglas Macdonald, but in a shorter format. 

This book provides a much deeper exploration of the archaeological sites and discoveries made within the park. Douglas Macdonald is an archaeology professor at the University of Montana, and he shares the most recent work in this engaging book. To protect the finds, precise locations are omitted, but we gain a much richer understanding of the earliest people, up through the recent tribes who moved through and lived within the current park boundaries. It is recommended for adults and older teens with a keen interest in the Native American archaeology of the park. You will find yourself remembering passages throughout your visit and will have a vastly richer appreciation of the people who came before you.

Yellowstone: The First National Park

For many, Yellowstone holds a special place in our hearts because it is the world’s first National Park. It is an extraordinary thing to realize the value in recognizing our most treasured natural places as belonging, not to the wealthy and powerful, not even to the residents of one state within our nation, but instead, belonging to all of us. 

Fur traders began traveling through Yellowstone in the late 1700’s, but the reports that made it back to the citizens of the new nation dismissed the tales of bubbling ground and steaming waters, considering them fiction. Different expeditions continued to bring reports that were thought of as flights of fancy.  

It wasn’t until a government sponsored expedition in 1871 led by Ferdinand Hayden, that the government seriously considered protecting this completely unique landscape. Although there were many esteemed scientists on this trip, it was the photographer William Jackson and the painter Thomas Moran who may have had the greatest impacts on swaying the legislature.  

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law the creation of the Yellowstone National Park as a “public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Today almost one hundred countries have national parks, land set aside for the enjoyment of everyone. 

In 1978 Yellowstone was one of the initial twelve sites to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, another significant step in protecting our most valuable places. To learn more about visiting these sites, check out our article, Your Guide to Visiting the World’s Most Valuable Places: UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Top picks to learn more about the history of the park

Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone

If you are looking for an in-depth exploration of the formation of the park and the important people involved in the story, Empire of Shadows is for you. Author George Black has done extensive research which he weaves into a fascinating narrative. He introduces us to characters from history whose names are laced throughout the park and surrounding areas. We see developments from these various perspectives and the complex forces at work behind the formation of the park. This is reading to enjoy from home before you leave, the book is almost 600 pages, many of which are well annotated footnotes. It is well worth the read for any history lover. 

Death In Yellowstone

I asked Kris, a travel writer at Nomad By Trade to share one of her favorite resources. Kris has many helpful articles about the practical aspects of planning a trip to Yellowstone on her site. Here’s what she shared: 

When planning my last visit, I picked up a book called Death in Yellowstone by Lee H. Whittlesey. It sounds morbid, but it’s actually fascinating and a great way of learning about the park. The book details all the known deaths reported in the park over more than one hundred years and presents them in an analytical way that allows the reader to learn from them. It’s especially useful in Yellowstone as its many thermal features present unique dangers that even the most experienced outdoors enthusiasts are unlikely to encounter in many other places.  

The stories, though often tragic, are used as cautionary tales warning visitors to stay on the marked trails and use extra caution around the geothermal features. And those lessons are much needed as in just 3 days in Yellowstone, I witnessed a man stick his hand in a hot spring and an unsupervised kid fall off a boardwalk in an area surrounded by geysers – both were fine though I suspect the man had some minor burns on his fingers. It also helped me get a feel for the geographic layout of the park and get familiar with the different thermal areas we wanted to visit.   

National Parks: America’s Best Idea

The best documentary about the formation of Yellowstone National Park, and eventually the entire National Park System, is National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns. Yellowstone is highlighted in episode one of the six-part series. The first half of the episode features Yosemite with a focus on John Muir and is inspiring for all nature lovers. You will recall stories from the series while you visit different areas of the park, and it will add a great depth to your trip. 

The whole series will have you falling more deeply in love with the National Parks of the United States.  You will be inspired to continue in the long tradition of those who fought for their original creation and protection. As you would expect from Ken Burns, the episodes are brimming with engaging interviews with experts, original source documents read by talented actors, a powerful soundtrack, engrossing narration by Peter Coyote, and spectacular photography of our national parks. 

Help, we are leaving tomorrow! Our top picks for quick learning

If you just found this article and are leaving tomorrow (lucky you!), we have you covered! Your first stop is the official website to check current conditions. Download this free app then check out these two resources. When you return home,  come back and enjoy some of our other recommendations to enjoy a lifetime of discovery about Yellowstone National Park as your remember the amazing trip you are about to take!

The best audio tour of Yellowstone

The GyPSy guide Yellowstone and Grand Teton App is an excellent choice if you are leaving soon and haven’t had a chance to do a lot of this research yourself. It also makes a great supplement for well-researched travelers.  You can learn as you drive around the park and listen based on your current location.  

The most informative one-hour documentary

If you only have an hour to invest in learning more about the park before you go, watch the National Parks Exploration Series: Yellowstone. It offers the most information about the broadest range of interesting topics in the shortest amount of time.  If you have plenty of time to prepare for your trip, you will appreciate how this documentary ties together many things you have already learned. Through multiple interviews with rangers and park guides we learn about the history of the park, the animals, and the geologic wonders. 

More ways to learn before your trip to Yellowstone

This website is dedicated to helping travelers make the most of their time before departure. Many of our articles will be helpful to visitors to Yellowstone and provide inspiring activities to do from home.

For those with a keen interest in history or natural history, check out our step-by-step guide to using timelines to assist with in-depth learning about the natural and human history of the park.

If anyone in your party is even slightly interested in astronomy, read our article, How to Plan Stargazing Trips. Yellowstone skies are very dark and you can see the Milky Way! Whether you are helping a city dweller find the Big Dipper, or you are packing your favorite scope, the park is a fantastic place to for everyone who loves to look out to the cosmos. 

Hopefully, you will be taking many photos while you are in the park. We’ve got a super helpful article on how to improve your landscape photography skills from home before your trip.  There are even tips on using your phone’s camera and traveling with non-photographers.  If you start practicing now, you’ll be able to capture photos to cherish for a lifetime.


Enjoy your trip to Yellowstone

When you are finally in the park, enjoy! You’ll find the soundtrack to the park is oohs and ahhs, it is a land beyond superlatives! You will be driving through some of the prettiest scenery you have ever seen only to turn the corner to see an otherworldly and extraordinary site! This will continue throughout your entire trip and, because these experiences are so unique, they will live on in your memory forever.

It is my most sincere hope that some of the resources you found in this article enhance your time in the park! The deeper understanding I have gained from them created transformative experiences for me on my own trips and I wish the same for you.

Have you been to Yellowstone or do you plan to travel there? I would love to hear about it in the comments! Do you have a resource you recommend to other travelers? Please tell us below.



Hi, I’m Erica and I created Trip Scholars for curious travelers, just like you! As a professional educator with a passion for travel, I want to help you save time, learn more, and travel better. I believe that the wonder of travel can begin the moment you start to plan it. I am also a Certified Travel Education Coach and love supporting other curious travelers with transformative trip research. Learn more on my Coaching or About Us page!

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You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

Planning a Trip to Florida

Planning a Trip to Florida

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

The raw beauty of Florida is unmatched by any state in the continental United States.  In a single day during a Florida road trip, you can drive from the rolling waves of the East Coast to the dense panther-filled jungles in Central Florida. When planning a trip to Florida, curious travelers will want to understand its natural beauty and complexities. 

As a tourist, your visit to Florida will likely be jam-packed with beach lounging, seashell collecting, kayaking in the Keys, hiking in the Everglades, and swimming in crystal-clear lagoons. If you are wondering how to plan a trip to Florida, we suggest you begin by exploring it from home. By familiarizing yourself with the following important topics will lay the groundwork for you to really understand Florida as more than a simple tourist destination.


Explore the Nature to Plan your Trip to Florida

Plan a trip to Florida alligator in the Everglades
Photo by Beyondthebucketlist

The Everglades

The Everglades is one of the largest of America’s National Parks. It’s brimming with wildlife and vast, wide-open natural landscapes, and no visit to Florida is complete without a day or two spent there looking for gators. Learning about Florida’s wildlife and conservation efforts will help you appreciate the landscapes and species found only here. The National Park website has plenty of resources to virtually explore the subtropical wilderness.

If you’re more of a visual learner, or mostly interested in the wildlife that this environment shelters, this free Discovery documentary focuses on the relationship among the native species.

Plan a trip to florida Peleican
Photo by Beyondthebucketlist

Bird Watching

Florida is world-renowned as a bird watcher’s paradise. Even I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the vast number of large exotic birds that call Florida home: Cormorants, American White Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, and Ibis just to name a few. This Florida Birding website provides great resources for identifying species and the game Wingspan is a fun way to learn about many of the birds you will see.

Manatees, The Gentle Giants of Florida

To round out your knowledge of Florida wildlife, you can’t miss researching the Florida Manatee. Endangered and protected, they are perhaps one of the most important native species that call Florida home. This National Geographic article explores the slow, underwater life of sea cows and why they are so at risk.

 I visited several state parks in Florida, including Blue Springs and Silver Springs, where sightings of manatees are common. If you are heading to Tampa, here are more tips to see manatees in person. 

Explore the History to Plan your Trip to Florida

How to plan a trip to Florida St Augustine Florida
St Augustine Florida. Photo by Kristin Wilson

St. Augustine-- The First Settlement in the United States

Jamestown and Plymouth get all the glory when it comes to colonizing the United States, but St. Augustine was established long before its northern counterparts. This History Channel article lays out how the Spanish colony was established, as well as the timeline of France and Spain arriving and laying claim to settlements in Florida.

Today St. Augustine is a tourist mecca in Florida. It’s a beautiful city covered in brick and old colonial architecture. Add in its lovely coastline, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the top destinations in Florida.

Florida's Cuban Heritage

From Miami to the Keys, any visitor to Florida will notice the heavy Cuban influence in the area: from food to coffee, and rum to cigars. It’s apparent that although we cannot trade with Cuba itself, Cuban culture plays a huge role in Florida. During my time in Florida, I savored Cuban sandwiches and guava jam just like I enjoyed during a previous visit to Cuba. This PBS article explains the four great exoduses of Cubans to Florida, and why so many immigrated to the neighboring state.

The Seminoles

Native Americans are integral to the fabric of the United States. After centuries of oppression, tribes like the Seminoles continue to preserve their rich traditions. This is the official Seminole Tribe website and it provides lots of information for those interested in learning about Florida’s most famous Indian Nation. They are the only Native American Tribe to never sign a peace treaty with the US government.

The Seminoles are an important, lesser-known group in Florida’s history. Slaves from Georgia and South Carolina fled to Florida and took refuge with the Seminole people. The offspring of the slaves and the Seminoles created the Black Seminoles, as outlined in this Yale article. The Black Seminoles were known for their bravery and tenacity during the Seminole wars and after the fact many were exiled to the Bahamas. 

Black History in Florida

From the first free black settlement in Fort Mose to the slave trade fueling the sprawling sugar plantations of Florida, to the many influential Black Floridians in recent history and today, Black Americans played a large role in Florida’s history. In fact, right before the civil war was over, half of Florida’s population was enslaved African Americans. This article takes a look at Florida’s slave-trade history.

Florida was a confederate state during the civil war, but not all of Florida– the Keys famously tried to remain part of the union, despite mainland Florida’s views on slavery. 

The Conch Republic

The Keys also once seceded from the United States for a completely unrelated reason. Visit the Florida Keys and you’ll see dark blue flags proudly fluttering in the wind with the white emblazoned logo of the Conch Republic. In the 1980s, during the ramping up of the War on Drugs, the Florida Keys seceded from the US in protest. Not in protest of anti-drug laws, per se, but because of the highly invasive roadblocks set up on the way to Key West. This short podcast from Stuff You Should Know outlines the publicity stunt and the weird history of the Conch Republic.

The Florida Keys are a must-see on any Florida itinerary. From the bustling famous Key West to the more laidback Key Largo– there’s an island for every kind of traveler.

Movies and books to help you plan a trip to Florida

Cocaine Cowboys

In our exploration of Florida, we have to glance at the Cocaine trade. Florida has long been a major player in the international trade of Cocaine, both as a port of entry and as a major consumer of the infamous drug.

The documentary Cocaine Cowboys does a great job of examining the booming Miami Cocaine trade of the 1980s. Straight from the mouths of cops, citizens, and smugglers, it’s a harrowing look at an unscrupulous time in Florida’s history. 

Florida & the Great Depression

Christopher Knowlton’s book, Bubble in the Sun, is a great read for those who want to learn a little more about the glamorous side of Florida and how it caused the US economy to come crashing down. The book illustrates how the boom of Florida in the roaring 20s, a land of excess and crime, may have directly caused the great depression. Florida has a complicated modern history of development, overindulgence, and extravagance. You’ll still see signs of this today walking the high-rise lined streets of Miami. 

Florida is Weird

We’ve all heard the infamous “Florida man” stories. But take it from longtime Florida resident Dave Barry– it only gets weirder the longer you stay. His book Best. State. Ever.  is a look at the weirder side of Florida and the odd attractions and stories that make his state so unique.

Whether it’s Florida that brings out the weirdness in us or the other way around, I found myself sucked into the strange culture during my visit. Standing in a parking lot in the middle of the night feeding stray cats from a can of Spam and parading a herd of ducks across the lot with crackers, I realized that maybe I had become ‘Florida woman’.

How to plan a trip to Florida
Photo by Beyondthebucketlist

Planning a Trip to Florida

After spending a few weeks road-tripping through the state, I found Florida to be one of the most interesting states in the US, with diverse landscapes, a melting-pot cultural history, idyllic beaches, and also a prominent wildlife destination. Planning your visit is easy. But exploring the intricacies of Florida and digging deeper takes a little preparation. Be sure to check out all the resources we have available in our Tripscholars Resource Library. 

This guest post was contributed by Geena at Beyondthebucketlist.

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. 

You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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Discovering Ancestral Puebloan Culture As You Plan a Trip to New Mexico

Discover Ancestral Puebloan Culture As You Plan a Trip to New Mexico

Chaco Cultural Historic Park 

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

New Mexico is home to some of the most interesting areas of the United States. With beautiful desert landscapes, fascinating cities, and a long history, New Mexico is a very rewarding destination for savvy travellers. Although the first known occupants of New Mexico arrived as early as 9,000 BCE between 7,000 BCE and 1,400 CE, the area was dominated by the Ancestral Puebloan culture. Later arrivals, like the Navajo, the Hopi, and of course the Spanish conquistadors, have given New Mexico a fascinating mixture of cultures, and exploring this blend today is a very enriching experience. When you plan a trip to New Mexico you will especially want to learn about puebloan culture. 

There are many spectacular places to visit within the state, including the stunning Carlsbad Caverns, the amazing desert landscapes at White Sands National Park, and the towering snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. In the state capital, Santa Fe, there’s also a thriving arts scene, with galleries and studios lining the picturesque and historic streets of town.

But to truly understand New Mexico, one needs to fully explore the incredible cultural legacy of the state’s earliest inhabitants: the Ancestral Puebloans. Remains of their cities at Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo, and Mesa Verde in nearby Colorado have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites for their stunning architecture. You can wander through the ruins and ponder the lives of these ancient peoples. However, the Ancestral Puebloan culture is by no means extinct! It continues to survive and thrive today, with many modern New Mexicans claiming descent from the Ancestral Puebloans. Art, food, language, and stories have all been passed down to the modern day, and exploring the ancient ruins alongside their living descendants is an opportunity not to be missed.

To prepare for a trip to New Mexico, there are quite a few ways, both online and off, to brush up on your knowledge of the area and its inhabitants. Let’s have a look at a few highlights.

Pueblo Bonito

Chaco Canyon lies in the far northwest of New Mexico, about 100 miles from Albuquerque. One of the largest and most important sites for the Ancestral Puebloans, Chaco Canyon is home to an enormous collection of ancient ruins. Largely occupied between around 900 and 1200 CE, the most impressive features of Chaco Canyon are the immense stone buildings known as “great houses”, which were constructed by the Ancestral Puebloans. The grandest of these is the incredible Pueblo Bonito, a colossal semi-circular complex three acres in size, and that once rose almost five storeys high. Built of adobe and sandstone, there are a staggering 800 rooms in Pueblo Bonito, and the layout has been carefully chosen to match cardinal compass points and key astronomical observations like the solstices and equinoxes.

Casa Rinconada at Chaco Canyon

Elsewhere in Chaco Canyon are several other great houses, including Kin Kletso, Nuevo Alto, and Pueblo Alto. There’s also the impressive Casa Rinconada, a large and well-preserved kiva (ceremonial site). Almost precisely circular and 64 feet in diameter, Casa Rinconada is the largest kiva in Chaco Canyon and certainly the most imposing. Although the rituals performed here are only vaguely understood, it’s certainly fun to let your imagination fill in the blanks.

In this YouTube documentary, a pair of Australian travel bloggers visit Chaco Canyon and learn about the Ancestral Puebloan culture first-hand, sharing their journey and knowledge.

You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

Learn about the history of the UK Acoma Sky City Cultural Centre & Haak'u Museum

Located to the south of Chaco Canyon, not far from Albuquerque, is the fascinating Acoma Pueblo. Home to the Acoma Sky City Cultural Centre and Haak’u Museum, the Acoma area has been occupied more or less continuously for almost 2,000 years. Sitting atop a large mesa, with buildings constructed from adobe, sandstone, and brick, Acoma Pueblo continues to be an important cultural location for the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans. The on-site museum and cultural center are both highly regarded and well worth a visit, with excellent displays of artistic and cultural importance. To fully explore the pueblo, it’s recommended to take the museum’s virtual tour, showcasing the history and culture of the pueblo.

Puebloan Culture at Taos Pueblo - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo is located in the northeast of New Mexico, just near the modern town of Taos. Constructed at some point between 1,000 and 1,450 CE, Taos Pueblo is the oldest continually inhabited community in North America. The community consists of two large multi-storey residential complexes, built mainly of red adobe, sitting on either side of a small stream. With space for dozens of families, the housing complexes are surprisingly large and well-built–  and very attractive too, sitting in front of a snow-capped mountain range. Taos Pueblo was originally established when Ancestral Puebloans from elsewhere in the region (like Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon) migrated away from their traditional lands, possibly due to drought, climate change, or perhaps even war. With such a clear link to the Ancestral Puebloan peoples, the modern occupants of Taos Pueblo offer a fantastic glimpse into traditional beliefs, practices, and customs, and it’s for this reason that Taos Pueblo was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.

In this YouTube documentary, World Heritage Journey visits Taos Pueblo, you can watch as they explore the buildings and experience first-hand the oldest continually occupied community in North America.

Puebloan Culture at Mesa Verde - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mesa Verde

Located in the south-east of Colorado, Mesa Verde is one of the most important Ancestral Puebloan sites. Occupied as early as 7,500 BCE, the distinct Ancestral Puebloan culture emerged by around 750 CE, marked by the construction of increasingly larger communal stone dwellings. Constructed largely of sandstone, adobe mortar, and wood, these dwellings were built both on top of the Mesa and in caves and rock overhangs along the Mesa’s cliffs. The largest of these is known as Cliff Palace, a huge residential and ceremonial complex with 150 rooms, towers, and kivas (sacred spaces).

Other highlights at Mesa Verde include the Long House, Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, Square Tower House, and the Sun Temple. Thanks to the incredibly well-preserved architecture and the vivid artwork still remaining in many places, Mesa Verde was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978– the first such site in the United States! Explore some of the highlights of Mesa Verde with World Heritage Journey, a YouTube channel attempting to visit every UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mesa Verde Voices

A joint production between KSJD Community Radio, Mesa Verde Museum Association, and the National Park Service, Mesa Verde Voices is a long-running podcast series that aims to connect modern audiences with the Ancestral Puebloan culture of Mesa Verde. With more than four seasons and 20 episodes worth of material, Mesa Verde Voices covers a diverse range of topics relating to the Ancestral Puebloan culture. Tackling diverse subjects like trade, art, food, conservation, archaeology, and technology, Mesa Verde Voices is always a fascinating and informative listen. It’s available to listen for free from the usual podcast providers, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud.


Surviving Columbus

Any discussion of Native American culture, including that of the Ancestral Puebloans, is incomplete without properly examining the post-Colombian period. Starting in the 16th century, as Spanish colonists expanded and the United States pushed westward, Native Americans were systematically pushed out of their lands, subjected to disease, forced to convert to foreign religions, enslaved, and much more. This incredible documentary from New Mexico PBS, Surviving Columbus, tells the story of the relationship between the Puebloans and other cultures, starting with the first Spanish arrivals in 1539. Told through the stories of elders, photographs, reenactments, interviews with scholars, and historical accounts, Surviving Columbus is an excellent and rarely-told Native American perspective on European arrivals.


Ancestral Puebloan Culture at Aztec Ruins National Monument

Ancestral Puebloan Culture As You Plan a Trip to New Mexico
Aztec Ruins National Monument

The Aztec Ruins National Monument lies in the far northwest of New Mexico, just outside the town of Farmington. Part of the Chaco Canyon UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Aztec Ruins was home to Ancestral Puebloans for centuries prior to the first European arrivals. The site itself is spectacular, with a large ruined great house complex, along with a reconstructed great kiva (ceremonial space). For those unable to make the trip out to New Mexico and visit the site in person, the National Park Service has an excellent Junior Ranger online program, where kids can learn about Aztec Ruins National Monument, life in the community, and the culture of its inhabitants. It’s a really great way to keep young ones engaged and interested in Ancestral Puebloan culture.

Pueblo Tribe Food and Cooking

One of the best ways to experience and engage with a new or unfamiliar culture is through food. Every culture on earth has a distinctive and unique approach to cooking, with endless varieties and local tastes mixed in. Of course, the Ancestral Puebloan culture is no exception, and thanks to their many descendants still living in the Southwest, their cooking styles and culinary techniques are well known. With a diet heavy in squash, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and meats, Pueblo tribe food and cooking are both familiar and unusual. This cookbook, written and compiled by Roxanne Swentzell (a well-known artist from Taos Pueblo), offers a fantastic chance to engage directly with Ancestral Puebloan cooking.

Puebloan Basketmaking Lesson

It’s thought by modern scholars that the Ancestral Puebloan culture, with their distinct pottery and construction techniques, were the descendants of earlier cultures in the region. These cultures are known as the Basketmakers, named after the incredible and intricate woven baskets recovered from archaeological sites where they lived. Although basketmaking declined in importance as the Ancestral Puebloans became more skilled at pottery, making baskets was still an integral part of their culture. These traditions have lived through to modern times, with impressive and beautiful woven wicker baskets still being made in the area. In this video demonstration from the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, local man Carlos Herrera of Cochiti Pueblo shows off traditional basket making techniques. It’s a really interesting watch, and the skill behind it is very impressive!

Enrich your trip to New Mexico

There’s so much to like about New Mexico. There aren’t many places in the world where living descendants of an ancient culture can guide you around their long-abandoned cities, explaining the purpose of each brick and the meaning behind each artwork, but New Mexico is definitely one of them. When combined with the outstanding natural scenery, the fascinating towns and superb food, New Mexico really is a hidden gem of the United States. Anyone with even a passing interest in Native American culture should absolutely have New Mexico high on their bucket list.

Have you visited New Mexico? What resources did you use to plan your trip? We’d love to hear from you! 

This guest post was contriubted by Joel Baldwin of World Heritage Journey

We love to learn from our guest authors and appreciate their expertise! Visit Joel’s website by clicking on his name below.


I’m Joel, a digital nomad and native of Sydney, Australia. In 2016 I quit the corporate life and began travelling the world, with a specific focus on visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As of late 2020, I’ve visited 505 of the 1121 sites! I produce a short documentary about each site, which you can see at I’m also a freelance writer and video producer. My passions are history, travel, football (soccer), craft beer, and my miniature dachshund, Schnitzel.
You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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Breathtaking British Columbia: Prepare Before You Go for a Deeper Understanding

Frozen Waterfall

Breathtaking British Columbia:

Prepare Before You Go for a Deeper Understanding

British Columbia, Canada.       Photo by Sherbsworld/Sheryl Hickey

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It’s no mystery why BC is on many nature lovers’ bucket list. Hugging the Pacific Coast on the west and fusing with the Rocky Mountains on the east, with dense forests and arid grasslands in between, British Columbia is Canada’s most environmentally diverse province. It has over 27,000 km of coastline, adorned with sweet smelling spruce and cedar, and home to some of the most diverse wildlife our planet has to offer. 

British Columbia
British Columbia. Photo by Sheryl Hickey

With a quarter of the population made up of minority groups and 40,000 new immigrants settling every year, it is also the most ethnically diverse province. 

Vancouver pleases city dwellers with micro-breweries, scenic coastal walks, and movie sets. As many of the wide boulevards resemble that of New York, the lower budget is appealing to the US film industry. Vancouver is also the perfect base for exploring the nearby nature, taking weekend climbing breaks to Squamish, spectacular road trips to Whistler, and even skiing at one of its 3 city slopes.

Many of BC’s residents are environmentally conscious. Vancouver Island’s unique beauty has attracted artists, musicians, and environmentalists for generations. For centuries, Indigenous communities have preserved and lived off the land and multitude of waterways.

So if abundant wildlife, laid back cities, crispy mountain views, and lush greenery appeals to you, then BC offers all that and more. 

Why plan your trip to BC?

Whistler Hiking
Whistler Hiking. Photo by Sheryl Hickey

Whether you’re island hopping around the Georgia Strait or exploring the National Parks, you’ll want to lose yourself in your surroundings. BC has so much beauty to absorb. It’s home to 10 mountain ranges, thousands of crystal clear alpine lakes, the Great Bear Rainforest, and many wellness centres on islands like Salt Spring. Believe me, you will want to switch off from the outside world. 

If you know what to expect beforehand, you’ll also be prepared for the weather. The wettest part of Canada is on the west coast, and temperatures can plummet in winter months.

Doing your research beforehand will allow you to immerse yourself in the vast nature and not worry about the lack of data reception. Some of my best memories were when I had no connection to anything other than my own complete isolation.

Prepare before you go and you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the nature and the history of BC’s people. 

Learn the culture of the nation’s first people

Vancouver, Canada. Photo by ArtTower

As a naive European, I assumed that because Canada was founded less than 150 years ago and has no historic architecture, it was a very new country. How wrong I was. Evidence shows the Haida people lived along the west coast at least 15,000 years ago. The Haida are one of Canada’s First Nations communities, the first people to ever settle on the land before being colonised by Europeans in the 18th century. 

Now a third of Canada’s Indigenous communities live in BC. It’s where half of Canada’s Indigenous languages originate from. Indigenous peoples’ deep-rooted culture and connection to the land is weaved through the intricate textiles, local art, and wood carvings that you see throughout the province. Their history is one of displacement, bloodshed, and discrimination and it deserves and demands recognition.

As a foreign visitor, it’s difficult to know where to start, but Peter Walter’s podcast Introduction to Indigenous Relations in BC is a handy stepping stone. You can learn about customs and etiquette, and the respective terms to address different Indigenous groups.

Crafts are a huge part of Indigenous culture, and you can learn to make wool woven pouches and dream catchers at home by following the tutorials on the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre’s website.

For more articles about Indigenous culture, business and heritage, check out the Indigenous BC website.

Know what to do if you go down in the woods today

Grizzly Bears, Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada
Grizzly Bears, Kootenays, British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Sheryl Hickey

The wilderness in BC will bring out the adventurer in you. But before you venture out, you really should know what you might find. Humans aren’t the only species to make BC their home. This biodiversity hotspot is home to grizzly, black and spirit bears, wolves, elk, skunks, racoons, beavers, Bighorn sheep, caribou, cougar (puma), and moose. Wildlife encounters can be a rewarding and mesmerizing experience– it doesn’t have to be a terrifying one. The best practice is to know how to handle an encounter, or how to avoid them. Memorize the do’s and dont’s that could save your life!

Parks Canada has all the guidelines, so check out their website and get savvy about how to respect wildlife. The Bear Conservation is a great website for what to do if you encounter a bear.

A general rule of thumb is to make noise whilst you’re in nature to avoid suddenly startling animals: play music, sing loudly, and store your food up high at night. Understand that different animals behave and react differently, and that ultimately, you’re in their territory. And remember to always listen to local advice on weather conditions. Setting off at the wrong time can be more fatal than any wildlife sighting. 

Read about the industry which has sparked movements for protection

Hiking on Haida, British Columbia, Canada
Hiking on Haida, British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Sheryl Hickey

Two thirds of BC is dense forest, and historically, this is what attracted European settlers. The threat of logging has sparked movements across ancient communities and with new environmentalists for protection of some of the old growth forests. 

The notorious story of a BC logger who became an obsessed conservationist was captured in John Vaillant’s book, The Golden Spruce. It tells the story of Grant Hadwin, who, at the same time that Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver, committed environmental terrorism by felling a rare 300-year-old golden spruce on the island of Haida Gwaii. Common opinion is that he went crazy from a lifetime of witnessing the destruction of nature. The book explores Hadwin’s manic actions, details the history of the ruthless logging trade, and highlights the sacred significance of nature to the First Nations around the coast. 

There are movements throughout BC to call for protection of old growth forests and spread awareness about conservation, and they welcome support. Old Growth Blockade is based on Vancouver Island and is working with local chiefs to defend trees up to 2,000 years old.

Learn about ocean health and help conserve this vibrant ocean life

Grey Whales, Tofino, British Columbia, Canada
Grey Whales, Tofino, British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Sheryl Hickey

BC has some of the clearest and richest waters on the planet, and there is a sense of connection between the locals and the coast. Some of the best cold water diving can be experienced here, where rare anemones and nudibranchs vibrantly decorate ocean walls. Sightings of local and transient orca are common, as well as grey whales, humpbacks, salmon, seals, sea lions, and dolphins. My most magical travel memory was seeing a humpback whale wave and follow me along the shore on a beach on Haida Gwaii. 

Oceans are threatened by plastic waste and pollution. The Georgia Strait Alliance shares information on ocean health awareness, as well as organises events like beach clean ups.

Cosy up with great films set in this magical landscape

With 6 National Parks and 400 provincial parks, BC is a film director’s playground. It’s the backdrop of adventure films such as the Red Bull snowboard film, The Art of Flight. The distinct, moody landscape where the forest meets the ocean features throughout the Twilight series. These films were set all over BC and the US’s Pacific Northwest. Leo fans will love blockbuster hit The Revenant, which was filmed near Fernie and around the Squamish River. And last, for a heartfelt documentary about a First Nations community, Waałšiʔaƛin (Coming Home) will introduce you to some of the struggles and challenges one nation faces.

 These films will give you a stunning preview of BC. You can lose yourself in the dreamy scenery before you’ve even packed!

Travel Tips

Tofinao Kayaking Photo by Sheryl Hickey

Travelling BC is a jaw-dropping experience you’ll never forget. I spent a lot of my time there on the coast, taking boats to the islands and looking out for sea life. I highly recommend exploring the islands on the west coast, such as Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, Salt Springs, and Meares Island via water taxi from Tofino. The cheapest way to get to the bigger islands is by travelling on the many routes BC Ferries offers. 

Road journeys are also incredibly scenic in BC, but they are always longer than you think, so allow extra time!

My final tip is to respect your surroundings. BC offers its beauty, and the only thing required in return is for you to look after it. Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. Clear up after your camp, follow local instructions, and listen to warnings– you’re in the wild now! And remember that much of the land here is sacred to indigenous people. They were here before you, so please show your respect.

Enjoy BC. You will long for it once you’ve left!

This guest post was contributed by Sheryl at Sherbsworld

We love to learn from our guest writers and appreciate their expertise! Visit her website by clicking on the image or name below. 



Hi and thanks for following my posts! I’m an international Travel fanatic/ European Tour Guide/ Blogger and I’m thrilled to be contributing to this unique and informative site. When I’m not travelling the globe, I’m reading about it, writing about it and daydreaming about the next trip. I’ve been travelling for over ten years, often solo. Currently, my country count is 60, and I’m not done yet. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the more you educate yourself, the more understanding you have of different cultures, and the more the world will welcome you, with open arms. There are so many lessons and so much reward when you start to explore. I hope my posts are of help to get you on your way. Please visit, follow and share my site for more travel inspiration!
You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

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Planning a Trip to Seattle: The Guide for Curious Travelers

Planning a trip to Seattle Washington, boats in marina with Seattle and Mount Rainier behind

Planning a Trip to Seattle- The Guide for Curious Travelers

Eliot Bay Marina, Seattle, Washington

 This post may contain affiliate links which means Trip Scholars may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.  As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.  Read more here. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on!

Planning a trip to Seattle? This Seattle trip planner will help you have a more intentional, meaningful, and enjoyable trip! It is a little different, instead of itinerary logistics (which we know you can find on some other great sites), we are here to help you better understand what makes Seattle unique and worth visiting. We have gathered some of the best resources for you to learn about the history, culture, and nature of Seattle before you visit. We have also included many tips to help you plan your trip and decide what to include in your itinerary.

How to Plan a Trip to Seattle

If you dive into information about the complex history, vibrant culture and breathtaking nature of the Seattle area before you go, you’ll come away a more educated traveler with much richer memories. 

As you gaze in awe from the top of the Space Needle you’ll understand the geologic forces that sculpted the stunning landscape. (Note that the Sky View Observatory offers a more affordable option!) You’ll know the stories of the people who have lived here for thousands of years. And those of many residents who continue to shape our world today.

Start With A Virtual Vacation

First, I suggest taking a virtual tour with one of my favorite local authors and tour guides, David B Williams. Learn how residents changed the topography of Seattle and the secrets of the ship canal and locks. He’ll show you the geology of nature around the area (and in the stones of the buildings downtown).

A way to view the area before your trip is through one of the many local webcams. Check out the cam on the Space Needle to see a live view of the region. Or peek in to see what the harbor seals and sea otters are up to on the live cams at the Seattle Aquarium.

Another not-to-miss resource you can enjoy from anywhere is the Orca Network. Follow them on social media and learn all about these majestic creatures and what you can do to protect them. You can even follow their most recent sightings in the area and be alerted to when you can listen to them on the hydrophone — a powerful, otherworldly experience!

Exploring Seattle and Its Complex Natural History

If you are a resident or are planning a long trip, The Natural History of Puget Sound by Arthur Kruckeberg is my best recommendation for any budding naturalist, scholar, or any of us in between. You’ll explore the interrelationships between the geology, geography, flora, fauna, weather, water, and people of the region. It’s comprehensive and inspiring, but if it’s too hefty for a quick trip to the area, read on for other resources!

Planning a trip to Seattle, children playing at a seattle beach
Myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle, Washington. Photo by Tripscholars

Delight In the Geologic Wonder

The Seattle region is breathtakingly gorgeous! The mountains, lakes, and Puget sound itself would make even Slartibartfast weep with joy. An exploration of the geologic forces that sculpted the area is fascinating.

As a well-researched traveler, you can marvel at how the mighty volcanoes of the Cascade range were made by the subducting Juan de Fuca Plate off the coast. Or you can think about the steepness of the Denny retrograde as you huff and puff uptown from the shoreline in the heart of the city. 

While on a ferry, you can marvel at how Puget Sound was sculpted by incomprehensibly massive ice sheets. (The Cordilleran Ice Sheet, the last of seven to cover the region during the last ice age, was 3,000 feet high in what is now Seattle. That is five Space Needles high, and these sheets carved out the sound itself!) 

A little study can make a simple look around the region transformative. This is trip planning at its best!

Planning a Trip to Seattle: How To Discover The Story Behind The Dramatic Landscape

Ready to explore? Before you travel, enjoy these short videos about the particular geologic wonders of Washington state. Check out Nick on the Rocks, hosted on our local PBS stations. 

Enjoy walks through Seattle guided by geologist David B. Williams in his book Seattle Walks: Discovering History and Nature in the City. Or take a deeper dive to understand the geologic story of the whole state with Roadside Geology of Washington.

Exploring Seattle: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, USA
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington, USA. Photo by Tripscholars

Discover Resources To Explore Puget Sound

Sea Anemone, Lincoln Park, Seattle, Washington, USA
Sea Anemone, Lincoln Park, Seattle, Washington, USA. Photo by Tripscholars

One of the most enjoyable natural wonders in Seattle are our shorelines. When you are planning a trip to Seattle, I suggest researching and crafting your itinerary around the low tides to experience the best of our beaches! A great place to start is by visiting the Seattle Aquarium website. Their website offers many activities to enjoy from home, including a robust collection for kids. You will be inspired to be a good steward of the local land and waters while you visit.

During the lowest daytime tides in the summer, and for a couple of evenings in the winter, you can find the aquarium’s team of volunteer Beach Naturalists at the local beaches. They love answering questions about the many sea creatures and geology of our beaches!

An excellent field guide is The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest. I served as a beach naturalist with one of our kids, and this was one of the books the aquarium provided. It’s full of useful information and  photographs that make it easy to identify tidepool residents. 

These are just a few ways that you can discover and learn about the nature of Seattle before you travel. 

Exploring Seattle and Its Rich History

As you plan a trip to Seattle, you’ll discover a rich and complex history. Local editor and journalist, Knute Berger has a fun collection of short videos, Mossback Northwest. It’s a great way to get an overview of the area and also know details like who or what was Galloping Gertie? And what was the Great Swinomish-Husky Race? 

The Duwamish- The People of the Inside

The city is named after the great Duwamish chief, Chief Si’ahl (Chief Sealth, Seattle). The Duwamish and the other Coast Salish Peoples have a fascinating history and a modern day culture. You can learn about their rich culture and their fight for federal recognition by watching Chief Sealth (Seattle): The Suquamish and Duwamish Peoples or The Promised Land

Your study may inspire a visit to their longhouse in West Seattle, a trip out to Blake Island and Tillicum Village, or to the Burke Museum to see the stirring collection of artifacts from Coast Salish Peoples.

Today, the Duwamish continue to fight to have past treaties recognized so that they can become a federally recognized tribe. Interested in raising your voice to help? Check out Stand with the Duwamish.

Chief Sealth Documentary

The History of Japanese Internment in Seattle

Be sure and check out Jamie Ford’s best selling novel, Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. The book poignantly tells a story from another ignoble chapter in the city’s history. It opens at the Panama Hotel, where Henry Lee discovers an umbrella owned by his childhood friend Keiko, who was taken to a Japanese internment camp. In the novel, her family’s possessions were stored, along with those of many others who were forced into the camps.

It is a beautifully told, moving story that has earned many awards. And you can visit, or even stay at, the real Panama Hotel while in Seattle.

I brought my mom to the International District of Seattle to see the hotel on her last visit to Seattle. She had been moved by the book and was equally stirred by the experience of being there in person. It would be very hard not to be!

You can order tea and explore the historic photos on the walls. Don’t miss the plexiglass covered floor near the bar. You can peer through and see some of the remaining possessions that were stored there as Japanese American families were uprooted. 

The History of Civil Rights and Labor in Seattle

Civil Rights and Labor History Project
Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium Website

Seattle has a proud history that includes fighting for the rights of the underrepresented. In 1919, the International Workers of the World helped to organize a strike by hundreds of unions in the city. Also in the midst of a pandemic, the protests lasted for five days. Thirty nine members were sent to jail as “ringleaders of anarchy.” 

In 1999, another protest happened in the city’s downtown core. Groups of mostly peaceful protesters stood up against the behemoth of the World Trade Organization. These protests are sometimes referred to as the Battle of Seattle and were the largest protests in the U.S. associated with economic globalization.

After George Floyd’s horrific killing in May 2020, a dedicated group of organizers and thousands of Seattle citizens repeatedly took to the streets demanding justice as part of the greater Black Lives Matter movement. They eventually created  the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (formerly CHAZ).  Although this administration has labeled the whole city an “anarchist jurisdiction,” CHOP covered just six city blocks and a park.

For more information about this history, check out the Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium website. The site is full of articles, photos, maps and even lesson plans. You’ll gain an in-depth understanding of this rich history in the Seattle region.

This just skims the surface of ways that you can plan a trip to Seattle by learning about the history of the city. Share your favorite resources so others can learn from your recommendations.

The Top History Activities to do in Seattle

In addition to the activities listed above, here are more top recommendations for exploring the history of Seattle. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park is in the heart of downtown and an easy stop on your trip. The free NHP highlights Seattle’s pivotal role in the Alaskan gold rush of the 1890s. The Seattle Underground Tour is a favorite we often bring out of town guests to. The current downtown around Pioneer Square is built over the early city structures from the 1890s. In this tour you get to tour underground passageways while learning about the history of the city. 

Depending on your particular interests in history, I also highly recommend the Museum of History and Industry, The National Nordic Museum and the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

Exploring Seattle and Its Remarkable Creativity

Space NeedleDiscover and Learn About the REal Seattle Before you travel

Everyone knows that one of the highlights of Seattle is the astounding creativity throughout the region. Start-ups, breweries, bands, video game companies and so many more– Seattle consistently ranks in the top ten cities for people pursuing these creative endeavors.

This may be rooted in our long dark winters and the time that gives us to devote to creative pursuits. Or perhaps it stems from the cultural crossroads in this multicultural metropolis. Whatever the reason, creativity is one of the great delights of the city. Read on to discover and learn more about the real Seattle before you travel!

Planning a Trip to Seattle: The Entertainment Scene

As you plan a trip to Seattle, be sure and include a live performance in your itinerary if you can. There are numerous festivals throughout the summer and many historic local venues for entertainment. The current live music scene is one the most enjoyable parts of living here. Be sure and support local art and entertainment! 

If you want to learn more about the countless talented musicians and bands from the region you have many choices. In A Film About Jimi Hendrix, marvel at his genius as he plays live performances. The film also includes interviews with him and others. The documentary Hype! tells the story of the region in the early 90’s as the local grunge scene erupted into massive worldwide popularity. And, Pearl Jam 20 celebrates the band’s 20th anniversary (back in 2011!) with loads of great footage and interviews.

The city mandates that 1% of all city capital improvement project funds goes toward the installation of public artwork. This and the fact that there is a prolific street art scene, leads to a city that is stimulating even without setting foot inside our many interesting museums and galleries. To learn more about some of the public art exhibits and artists in Seattle, check out this collection of short documentaries from the Seattle Channel. 

Some of you best stops to explore Seattle’s creativity are our public library downtown (seriously, check it out!), the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and MoPOP– a one of kind museum celebrating music, science fiction, horror and fantasy! The City Pass is your best bet for visiting most of these sites since the admissions individually add up quickly. 

Creativity also shines through in the city’s thriving food scene. Before you visit, enjoy the tantalizing podcast Seattle Kitchen hosted by local James Beard recipients, Tom Douglas and Thierry Raututeau. The stories and information will whet your appetite and help as you plan your restaurants, bars, and markets for your trip. Then, check out these great tips for visiting the culinary heart of the city, Pike Place Market.

Seattle Movie Night

Considering how beautiful it is in Seattle, it is really no wonder that there are many movies and television shows filmed here. As you plan your trip to Seattle, queue these up for Friday nights. Or, during Covid, maybe  Tuesday afternoons!

Sleepless in Seattle has everything you would expect from from Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in Seattle in the 90’s. It is a feel good story that can offer the balm of an easier time with some nice shots of the Seattle skyline and beaches. When you visit Seattle and are out on Lake Union, you can see the famous houseboat from the movie. 

Or, cozy up with the family to enjoy The Last Mimzy, another film with beautiful shots of the region. This sci-fi classic can just as easily be enjoyed by adults. Based on All Mimzy Were the Borogoves and featuring Roger Waters on the soundtrack with Hello (I love you), you can be confident that this is no ordinary family film. 

To see what local independent filmmakers are up to check out the Northwest Film Forum.  During Covid they are streaming indie films that they would otherwise be showing in their theater/school/hub for local filmmakers. When you visit their site, the films may, or may not, be featuring Seattle or local filmmakers. By the way, the NWFF was inside of the Capital Hill Organized Protest and screened free social justice documentaries during the existence of CHOP.

There are many great ways to enjoy and learn about the culture of Seattle before you travel. Share your favorite resources in the comments so others can learn from you!

Puget Sound from the Ferry
Puget Sound From the Vashon Ferry. Photo by Tripscholars

Travel Tips

To wrap up my recommendations on the best way to discover and learn about the real Seattle before you travel, I leave you with just a few travel tips.

The best tip I can recommend is to learn a little more before you come so you can appreciate the city of Seattle from multiple facets. This can save you money as you’ll be knowledgeable enough to craft your own tours instead of hiring tour guides.

Another way to save, is to craft your itinerary around first Thursdays at many of our world-class museums for free or reduced admissions.  I also highly recommend that you take a ferry ride to get out on the water. This is a money saver and the stunning views are the same as those you would enjoy from tourist boats! The Bainbridge Ferry offers beautiful views and many wonderful things to do on Bainbridge. 

The next best tip is to plan on spending at least a couple of nights out of the city itself relishing the natural splendor of the area. Seattle is surrounded on all sides by national parks and monuments: Mount Rainier NP, North Cascades NP, Olympic NP, Mount Saint Helens NVM, and San Juan Islands NM are all no further than a few hours from downtown. We are excited to offer articles about visiting each of these parks in the future. 

I hope I have conveyed a small sliver of what makes this city so special. I look forward to reading your comments and learning about your favorite resources. 

What resources do you recommend that will help other members plan a trip to Seattle? If you’ve used any of these resources yourself– please add them in the commnets. We want to learn from you!



Hi, I’m Erica and I created Trip Scholars for curious travelers, just like you! As a professional educator with a passion for travel, I want to help you save time, learn more, and travel better. I believe that the wonder of travel can begin the moment you start to plan it. I am also a Certified Travel Education Coach and love supporting other curious travelers with transformative trip research. Learn more on my Coaching or About Us page!
You've landed in the right place! Tripscholars is here to help you extend the joy and wonder of travel far beyond your days on the road. Find travel education tips and inspiration in our ROADMAPS BLOG. Save yourself time and money by using our TRAVEL RESOURCES LIBRARY where we have already gathered top resources for you to enjoy from home. Tripscholars is where curious travelers come for meaningful travel planning and trip research.

Let's Connect

I’d like to send you a free gift!

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