They don't call her America the Beautiful for nothing. The U.S. has more national parks than states (plus over 10,000 state parks), as well as plenty of places outside of the park system that capture our attention with their remarkable beauty. That said, what you're about to see is by no means a definitive round-up of America's most beautiful places, but the following 14 spots certainly top our list.
1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
You can’t have a list of the most beautiful places in America and not include the Grand Canyon. This vast natural wonder measures 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and over one mile deep. The high elevation (the North Rim is about 8,000 feet above sea level) also means you’ll find an array of ecosystems. Along the rim of the canyon, for example, you’ll likely see pine forests packed with elk and other wildlife. The gorgeous layers upon layers of red rock stretches as far as the eye, making you wonder how anything beyond can exist.
Grand Canyon Hotel Pick:
2. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains are a sight to behold and a must-hike for nature lovers looking to spot wildlife like black bears and colorful birds. Here, you’ll find Shenandoah National Park, which is full of forest, wetlands, and waterfalls. It also contains part of the Appalachian Trail. If hiking isn’t your thing, experience the beauty of this place with a drive along the Skyline Drive. Pro tip: This place is particularly mesmerizing at night, when there’s a glittering sky full of stars.
Arlington Hotel Pick:
3. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Located about an hour east of Palm Springs, California, Joshua Tree National Park is another stunning spot that’s worth a visit. It was a U.S. National Monument until 1996, at which point it officially became a national park. Named for the Joshua trees that fill the park, it covers an expansive 800,000 acres and includes both the Colorado Desert and Mojave Desert. The park is also flanked by large boulders that are popular among rock-climbing enthusiasts; the most well known is Skull Rock, aptly named as it resembles a skull. It’s no secret that this place is drop dead gorgeous, day or night. In fact, according to park services, over 2.5 million people visited this national park in 2016 — up 500,000 from the year before.
Palm Springs Hotel Pick:
4. Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Old Faithful might be popular household name, but if you ask us, the gorgeous rainbow waters of the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park beats the geyser with flying colors. It’s the largest hot spring in the U.S., but we don’t suggest going for a soak: the steamy waters sizzle at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yellowstone Hotel Pick:
5. Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas
For an unexpected and gorgeous departure from the traditional tall trees and lush mountains of most parks, head to Monahans Sandshills State Park in Texas. Here, spectacular dunes rise up to heights of 70 feet tall, making them perfect for taking pictures, riding horses, and surfing. (Walking is also great, but be prepared to work out your glutes).
6. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Alaska’s Kenai Fjords is not only a breathtaking sight, but it’s also one of the best spots in the country to peep unique marine life, such as breaching orcas and humpback whales, soaring bald eagles, and adorable otters floating on their backs. You might even see a black bear or two. Plus, expect to witness smooth waters brushing up against glaciers, mountains, and forests, as well as the famously large Exit Glacier.
7. Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
Alaska is chock-full of mind-blowingly beautiful spaces, and the magical Mendenhall Glacier is one of them. Expect a part-Ice Age, part-futuristic vibe while visiting. Being inside the ice cave, under the bubbly ceiling of ice with water dripping all around you, is an experience no photo can translate.
Juneau Hotel Pick:
8. Oneonta Gorge, Oregon
The moss- and fern-coated mountainside and rushing waterfalls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon look like they belong in an exotic, far-flung destination, but this impressive triple waterfall is in fact located stateside, in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge area. The dramatic scenery begs that you don’t forget your camera, though wear on the trail over the years means you need to be a little cautious.
Portland Hotel Pick:
9. Sequoia National Park, California
The towering trees in Sequoia National Park in California have long drawn tourists from around the globe. The famous Tunnel Tree, which was carved out so cars could drive straight through it, was toppled by a storm last year, but there are still plenty of larger-than-life trees, stunning caves, and surreal viewpoints from which to soak in all the beauty. Watching the leaves change during the fall is an especially mesmerizing experience, but a visit to Sequoia National Park is a good idea any time of year.
Cambria Hotel Pick:
10. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Your jaw will drop to the floor more than a few times during your visit to Antelope Canyon, located a few miles east of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The canyon is split in two parts: upper and lower. The former is flat and sandy and you can drive up to it (with a guide), while the lower canyon is accessed via a set of stairs that lead down through a crack in the earth. Both sections were naturally carved out of the surrounding sandstone, thanks to flash flooding and water erosion. The result is two beautiful, sunlit crevices that will undoubtedly impress.
Page Hotel Pick:
11. The Road to Valdez, Alaska
The road that leads from Anchorage to Valdez, particularly the curved stretch between Glacier View and Tonsina, might take three times longer than expected because you’ll likely want to pull over to take pictures of the mind-blowing scenery every few minutes. It’s easy to feel humbled as you carve your way through the impossibly large mountains and towering trees. Speaking of scenic drives in Alaska, we also love the Seward Highway’s romantic sunset views.
12. Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are one of the most popular attractions in the country and it’s easy to see why. With outstanding vistas any time of year — plus outdoor activity offerings like hiking, rafting, and wildlife viewing, to name a few — it’s an easy pick. Everywhere you turn, you’ll find fresh air and a fresh perspective.
Estes Park Hotel Pick:
13. The Florida Keys Reef System, Florida Keys
Did you know that Florida is home to North America’s only living coral barrier reef system? It’s true, and it gets better. The Florida Keys reef system is also the third-largest barrier reef system in the world, stretching 221 miles, from Key Biscayne down to Dry Tortugas. Unfortunately, it’s disintegrating at a faster-than-predicted rate, so if you want to experience the reef system — and its over 1,000 species of fish — plan your trip ASAP.
Key Largo Hotel Pick:
14. Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Utah/Arizona Border
The 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness straddles the border between Utah and Arizona, and is composed of a colorful landscape that includes sandstone formations, deep canyons, and meandering waterways. A variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, mule deer, and mountain lions, also call this area home. Hiking is the most popular activity here, but folks also enjoy camping and canyoneering.
Utah Hotel Pick:
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