Megan Bryant is a passionate writer and traveler who has combined her two loves to help others fulfill their traveling dreams. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually curled up with her 3 Dachshunds and a good book or planning her next adventure—wherever that may be.
The United States is home to one of the most diverse ranges of landscapes in the world. From expansive deserts and enormous lakes to snow-capped mountains and dense redwood forests, America really has it all, and I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves.
Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to the US for its National Parks, State Parks, National Monuments, and various natural wonders that truly are one of a kind. Whether you’re a local or a tourist in search of your next outdoor adventure, here are 12 of the most breathtaking natural landmarks throughout America that you won’t want to miss.
Gypsum Dunes at White Sands National Monument
Up first are the gypsum sand dunes in the White Sand National Monument. And really, the monument couldn’t have a more fitting name. In all honesty, the sand in the monument doesn’t even look real as 4.5 billion tones of bright white gypsum—the same material you’d find in plaster or drywall—spreads over 145,000 acres in New Mexico.
In some places throughout the monument, the dunes reach up to 60 feet tall, which, combined with its size, makes it the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Throughout the day, the color of the dunes changes dramatically, so be sure to stay all day to see them transform from white to gold, to pink, and finally to blue.
Lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii in itself is an incredible destination for outdoor enthusiasts, but the volcanoes in the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island really are the star of the show. Home to two major active volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Kilauea, the National Park offers visitors the chance to see piping-hot lava amongst jet-black igneous rock.
The UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve that is the Volcanoes National Park is open all year round, 24 hours a day, and with various hiking trails, mesmerizing landscapes, and Puʻuloa Petroglyphs to discover, it is one of America’s—if not the world’s—most fascinating natural wonders.
Snowcapped Mountains at the Glacier Bay National Park
On the opposite end of the scale are the snowcapped mountains up in the Glacier Bay National Park. Spread throughout the 3 million acre National Park are an astonishing 1,045 glaciers, with the longest glacier, the Grand Pacific Glacier stretching for 40 miles. But although the glaciers draw millions of visitors each year, the mountain ranges that sit behind the glaciers are what really make the park so impressive.
The largest mountain, Mount Fairweather, stands 4,671 meters tall, making it the seventh tallest mountain in America and a sight that is definitely worth visiting.
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah
The Arches National Park in Utah understandably got its name from its 2,000 wind-sculpted sandstone arches—the largest concentration of arches in the world.
Of all the 2,000, however, there are a few that stand out above the rest, with Delicate Arch being the most popular. Standing 52 feet tall, Delicate Arch—which can be seen on Utah license plates—is the largest free-standing arch in the park and is described as the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area.
Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is quite possibly the most well-known waterfall in the world. But did you know that it is actually three waterfalls—Horseshoe, Bridal Veil, and American—combined together?
Although Niagra Falls isn’t the biggest waterfall on the planet, what makes it so impressive is the amount of water that flows over every minute. Six million cubic feet of water plunges over Niagra’s 160 feet drop, making the falls a valuable source of hydroelectric power.
Despite Niagara’s Canadian side giving you the best views of the falls, the waterfall’s American side lets you get right up close to them. But as you can easily walk from one border to the other, you can get the best of both worlds in this incredible natural wonder.
Monument Valley’s Mitten Buttes
The buttes in Monument Valley look like something out of a movie backdrop—because they are. Hollywood has used the red-sand desert region and its iconic buttes for countless Western movies, which only adds to the Monument Valley butte experience.
The three buttes, which are known as West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte, are giant sandstone pillars that were made and crafted from tectonic forces and erosion.
The largest butte, Merrick Butte, stands at a whopping 966 ft tall, and with the Highway 163 Scenic Drive running straight up to the buttes themselves, you don’t even need to get out of your car to witness the towering natural marvels.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon in Utah is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos—free-standing sandstone pillars—in the world. Formed by a combination of erosion, freezing, and unfreezing, the hoodies in the Bryce Canyon are thousands of years old and one of the most spectacular sights in all of America.
Displaying beautiful shades of pink, white, and orange, the hoodoos overcrowd the canyons. And although you’ll spot hoodoos all around Bryce, one of the best places to see them is the Bryce Amphitheater—a large bowl-shaped arena with thousands of hoodoos creating a breathtaking pattern around the arena’s walls.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
One of the most popular natural attractions in the US—and for good reason—is Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Created by land erosion, the slot canyon has two separate sections: Lower Antelope Canyon and Upper Antelope Canyon. Of the two, Upper Antelope Canyon is by far the most frequented, jaw-dropping, and most photographed canyon on Earth. And with just one look at it, you’ll understand why.
At certain times throughout the day, light beams that shine through the canyon illuminate the swirling walls that give off shades of red, orange, and pink. And although you can’t tour the canyon by yourself, you can book a guided tour that is run by Navajo Native Americans in order to preserve the sacred Najavo land.
Giant Redwoods in the Redwood National and State Parks
Many people believe the sequoias are the world’s biggest trees—and they are, in terms of volume. However, redwoods are actually the world’s tallest trees standing more than 320 feet tall.
The tallest tree on record, the Hyperion, stands proudly at 380 feet in the Redwood National and State Parks, and although it is now off-limits to visitors, its neighboring redwoods are truly a sight to see. There is something so calming about walking amongst giants, and in the Redwood National and State Parks, you can do exactly that. With accessible hiking trails that take you right up to the tree’s trunks, you can get a better understanding of the unparalleled powers of mother nature.
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
The Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico are a collection of more than 100 caves. The National Park, which was established in 1923 in order to preserve the caves, allows visitors to hike the limestone chambers and take in the beautiful surroundings. Of the chambers, the biggest is the Big Room which is almost 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet tall.
In the evenings, from April to October, you can even witness thousands of free-tailed bats fly out of the caves to feed on bugs in the surrounding areas—that’s even more reason to make a trip to Carlsbad Caverns.
Lake Tahoe, California, and Nevada
North America’s largest Alpine lake, Lake Tahoe, spreads over 6,225 feet with a depth of 1,645 feet, making it also the second deepest lake in America. This natural landmark in Nevada and California is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike 365 days a year.
In the winter, it transforms into a snow and ski resort, whereas in the summer, thousands of visitors enjoy the crystal clear waters and sandy beaches. With countless things to see and do in Lake Tahoe, it is definitely a destination that everyone should tick off their bucket list.
Natural Bridge, Virginia
In Viriginia’s Natural Bridge State Park is what’s known as the Natural Bridge—the park’s iconic centerpiece. Standing 215 feet tall, the limestone arch that towers over the one-mile Cedar Creek Trail was formed thanks to erosion and the help of the Cedar Creek tributary.
In 1774, Thomas Jefferson discovered Natural Bridge and subsequently purchased it from the king of England. Now, however, the bridge holds a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and you can even see George Washington’s initials carved into the arch—which he did in the year 1750.
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