America really is beautiful. Coast to coast, this country contains such a bounty of natural wonder that it’s hard to believe you could see and experience it all in a single lifetime. We honor many of America’s most impressive landscapes with national or state park status. With 59 national protected areas, more than 7,800 state parks, and countless other worthy designated destinations, however, it’s still hard to know where to begin. This list is a must-see guide to eight of our favorite natural wonders in the U.S.
1. Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Photo by Diana Robinson, CC BY-ND 2.0
There are plenty of impressive canyons in the U.S., but none are as grand as this one. Heck, it says so in the name after all. At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide in parts and more than a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is arguably the country’s premier natural attraction. There are no shortage of ways to explore it, whether by foot, river, helicopter or the knee-weakening skywalk. No matter your mode, you’ll be rewarded with incredible color and formations of geological force that have been at work for more than 17 million years.
2. Grand Prismatic Spring
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Photo by James St. John, CC BY 2.0
While Old Faithful tends to be the household name among Yellowstone National Park’s attractions, the Grand Prismatic Spring is just as impressive. It’s the park’s largest, and thanks to its rainbow-hued water, by far one of Yellowstone’s most impressive features at 370 feet wide and more than 120 feet deep.
3. N?pali Coast
N?pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii
Photo by Howard Ignatius, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Hawaii’s N?pali Coast is the iconic image most people bring to mind when picturing the state. The 16-mile coast along Kaua?i’s north shore belongs to a more than 6,000-acre state park. It’s famous for the towering verdant cliffs marked by deep ridges that give way to the sea. To really appreciate this natural wonder, book a helicopter tour.
4. Horseshoe Bend
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona
Photo by Ralph Arvesen, CC BY 2.0
It’s just a bend, but it’s really quite something. Not far from Page, Arizona in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Colorado River meanders so magnificently it was given a name. Less than a mile hike will bring you to a steep cliff overlooking Horseshoe Bend and the canyon, which has become popular staging ground for photographers and those with an appreciation for geological wonders.
5. Monument Valley
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona and Utah
Photo by Wolfgang Staudt, CC BY-NC 2.0
Monument Valley ??is the iconic Western? landscape? of a bygone time? preserved for us modern folks to marvel at. Drive the through the par?k ?and you’ll find yourself dwarfed by the sandstone pinnacles, mesas and buttes that ?pierce the valley floor ?to heights of as much as 1,000 feet above sea level.
6. Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave State Park, Kentucky
Photo by Gary Tindale, CC BY 2.0
At more than 400 miles long and covering over 52,000 acres, Mammoth Cave is officially the longest in the world. The cave is not only home to numerous plant and animal life, some of which are endangered, it is also packed with impressive limestone formations worth testing your claustrophobia to see.
Redwood National Park, California
Photo by Matt Northam, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The temperate rainforests of northern California are a spectacular gathering of the world’s tallest trees. Redwood National Park, along with several neighboring protected areas, combine to make a 38,982-acre area of old-growth redwoods. While you’re up there, don’t miss a drive down the scenic Avenue of Giants, formally State Route 254, which gets its name from the enormous trees that tower over the road. Two of the drive’s most notable, albeit touristy, attractions are the Immortal and Chandelier trees. The former is more than 950 years old and the latter is one of several trees you can, for a fee, drive through. The Avenue of Giants is an easy detour from U.S. Route 101 and runs for 31 miles as it takes you through Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Photo by Rick Schwartz, CC BY-NC 2.0
Covering 1.5 million acres in southern Florida, this UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park features several distinct ecosystems that manage to thrive side-by-side. From sawgrass prairies to the coastal mangroves along the Florida Bay, it should be no surprise that the Everglades are home to a vast array of animal life like alligators and manatees. Given the size and diversity of the park, there are activities for everyone, including hiking, boating and wildlife spotting.
Top photo: Casey Reynolds, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.