America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Majestic Mountains Beckon Adventure-Seekers
Towering peaks pierce the sky, snow-capped summits glisten in the sun, and rugged trails wind through alpine meadows. For outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure, America's majestic mountains offer limitless opportunities to challenge yourself and take in breathtaking scenery.
The Rocky Mountains stretch over 3,000 miles from British Columbia to New Mexico, encompassing iconic destinations like Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and Colorado's famed ski resorts. Hikers can embark on epic journeys along the Continental Divide Trail or scale "fourteeners," peaks over 14,000 feet. Backpackers flock to Rocky Mountain National Park, where over 350 miles of trails lead to alpine lakes and wildflower-filled meadows. The park's classic hike to Emerald Lake rewards the effort with picture-perfect views.
Out west, the Sierra Nevada range features Yosemite National Park, home to the mighty El Capitan rock formation and sequoia groves. Climbers test their skills on El Cap's sheer granite face while hikers take on the iconic Half Dome trail. Further south, Mt. Whitney towers 14,505 feet over Sequoia National Park. Brave the challenging 22-mile round trip hike to stand atop the highest summit in the lower 48 states.
For a true wilderness experience, venture to Alaska, where snow-capped peaks, massive glaciers and abundant wildlife await. Denali National Park offers exceptional hiking, though many venture here to climb the highest peak in North America, 20,310-foot Denali. Experienced climbers can join guided expeditions while flightseeing tours provide breathtaking aerial views. The classic 6-day hike on the Chilkoot Trail traces the steps of Klondike gold rush stampeders.
Out east, the ancient Appalachian Mountains offer hiking, biking, rafting and more. Trails through Great Smoky Mountains National Park pass by rushing streams, wildflower meadows and old-growth forests. Take on the strenuous ascent up Mt. LeConte for panoramic views. In Shenandoah National Park, enjoy scenic Skyline Drive and hike to tumbling waterfalls or along the Appalachian Trail.
What else is in this post?
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Majestic Mountains Beckon Adventure-Seekers
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Desert Wonders Astound with Otherworldly Landscapes
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Cascading Waterfalls Offer Scenic Serenity
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Lush Forests Invite Rejuvenating Exploration
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Breathtaking Vistas Inspire Awe and Wonder
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Diverse Wildlife Abounds in Natural Habitats
- America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - National Parks Protect America's Treasured Wild Places
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Desert Wonders Astound with Otherworldly Landscapes
From windswept sand dunes to alien-looking Joshua trees, America's desert landscapes look like something from another planet. For those seeking solitude and natural wonders, these arid destinations offer unique adventures.
In California, Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes. Massive sand dunes, volcanic craters, and the lowest point in North America contrast with spring wildflowers and evidence of long-gone lakes. Hike through Golden Canyon's badlands, drive scenic Artist's Drive, or watch the sunrise illuminate Zabriskie Point's eroded landscape. Just outside the park, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes provide opportunities for photography or sandboarding down the slopes.
Nearby Mojave National Preserve protects 1.6 million acres of rugged wilderness. The Kelso Dunes tower up to 650 feet while the Cima Dome rises 1,500 feet above the surrounding plains. Joshua trees, yucca, and spring wildflowers dot this quintessential high desert landscape. Explore on foot or drive the scenic Cima Road for panoramic views. At night, unparalleled stargazing awaits in some of the darkest skies in the lower 48.
In the Southwest, White Sands National Park in New Mexico houses the world's largest gypsum dunefield. Over 275 square miles of brilliant white dunes shine against the rugged San Andres Mountains. Backpackers and day-hikers explore this otherworldly landscape. Try sledding down the soft slopes or wander through the desert and dunes by moonlight on a ranger-guided tour. Don't miss sunrise or sunset when the dunes glow fiery orange and red.
Utah's Mighty Five parks are renowned for their desert landscapes. Arches National Park is aptly named for its over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Marvel at the massive Delicate Arch, framed by the snow-capped La Sal Mountains. Nearby, Canyonlands National Park is carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers into four distinct districts. Island in the Sky mesa towers 1,000 feet over the landscape while Needles district is home to desert rock pinnacles and arches.
At Bryce Canyon, whimsical hoodoos (rock spires) emerge from the eroding cliffs. Sunrise and Sunset Points offer phenomenal views, especially at sunrise and sunset when the rocks glow red and orange. Watch the light change while hiking along the Navajo Loop or Queens Garden Trails. Finish by gazing at the star-filled night sky unpolluted by light.
No desert landscape list would be complete without the Grand Canyon. One mile deep and up to 18 miles wide, this natural wonder astounds first-time visitors. Mather Point on the South Rim provides classic panoramic views. Descend into the canyon on mule or foot to fully experience the sheer scale. For more solitude, try the North Rim or hike into the canyon's interior. As the sun dips below the rim, the rock layers light up in a kaleidoscope of color.
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Cascading Waterfalls Offer Scenic Serenity
As the roar of water rushing over cliff edges fills the air, misty spray cools the skin and rainbows arc through the tumbling torrents. Cascading waterfalls around the country offer the perfect opportunity to experience the restorative power of nature. The mesmerizing sights and sounds invite contemplation and wash away stress.
In the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest, waterfalls like Multnomah Falls and Snoqualmie Falls draw crowds of admirers. Located just off the historic Columbia River Highway outside Portland, Oregon, Multnomah Falls plunges 620 feet in two tiers. Hike to Benson Bridge at the base of the upper falls for thunderous views and rainbows in the mist. Or continue up the trail to glimpse the upper tier from above. Washington's iconic Snoqualmie Falls outside Seattle drops 268 feet over a massive rock cliff. Observation decks allow close-up views of the powerful cascade.
The mountains of the Eastern U.S. also boast impressive waterfalls. Cascading over rock outcroppings, these falls evoke a sense of wonder. In the Great Smoky Mountains, hike to Ramsay Cascades, the tallest waterfall in the national park at 100 feet tall. Or take on the steep trek to the isolated Juney Whank Falls in the Nantahala National Forest. Up north, view the regal Taughannock Falls that plunges 215 feet in central New York.
In the Black Hills of South Dakota, waterfalls dot the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road, offering roadside views. See Sylvan Lake Falls pouring from the edge of a rock ledge above the tranquil mountain lake. Near Rapid City, visitors flock to see the roaring 80-foot Falls of the Little Bighorn River.
No waterfall list would be complete without mentioning massive Niagara Falls on the border of New York and Canada. Take a boat tour to the base of the thundering Horseshoe Falls for a drenching perspective. Or view the three waterfalls from terraces and observation towers. Regardless of vantage point, the sheer power and volume of water plunging over the crest leaves a lasting impact.
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Lush Forests Invite Rejuvenating Exploration
From mossy groves in the Pacific Northwest to hardwood stands in New England, America's verdant forests offer the perfect escape into nature. As sunlight filters through the canopy, illuminating patches of ferns and wildflowers, a sense of calm pervades. The fresh scent of pine or cedar fills the air as songbirds flit between branches overhead. It's no wonder these tranquil settings provide such restorative benefits.
Venturing into lush old-growth forests like those found in Olympic National Park lets you experience nature at its finest. Walking among the towering cedars and firs that have stood for centuries has a humbling effect. Along the Hall of Mosses Trail, it's easy to lose track of time gazing at the otherworldly green tapestries cloaking trees and logs. The famous Hoh Rainforest rewards those willing to trek deeper along the Hoh River Trail with moss-draped maples and views of mountains rising above the dense woods.
In the east, the splendor of fall color draws legions of leaf-peepers to New England's forests each autumn. With neon streaks of red, orange and yellow, the hills ablaze with color are undeniably rejuvenating. The Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains National Forest offers exceptional vistas. Or hike trails around the Berkshires' Bash Bish Falls to be surrounded by the foliage.
Down south, Great Smoky Mountains National Park protects the most extensive tract of old-growth forest in the East. Walking beneath the towering tulip poplars, it's easy to forget the outside world. Climb the observation tower at Clingmans Dome for a bird's eye perspective of the unbroken forest rolling over the mountains. Seek out giant hemlocks along the Enchanted Forest Trail. Backpackers relish the chance to immerse themselves for days traversing rugged trails past thundering waterfalls and through verdant valleys.
The temperate rainforests of Alaska's Tongass National Forest foster immense biodiversity. Lush spruce and hemlock forests draped in moss allow you to channel your inner naturalist. Spot bears foraging along riverbanks, glimpse whales in the channels, and admire both eagles and salmon during summer spawning season. The Misty Fiords National Monument within the forest offers remote wilderness to explore by kayak, witnessing the landscapes that left John Muir in awe during his visits.
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Breathtaking Vistas Inspire Awe and Wonder
Whether gazing out over the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon or standing at the edge of thundering Niagara Falls, some landscapes simply leave us awestruck. Breathtaking vistas that showcase nature's wonder have the power to inspire feelings of amazement, humility, and new perspective.
There's something about taking in the panoramic views from mountain peaks, ocean cliffs, or canyon rims that renews the spirit. As the famous naturalist John Muir wrote during his first glimpse of Yosemite Valley, "No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite... The grandest of all special temples of Nature." When surrounded by such grandeur, our typical worries fade into the background. We're reminded of forces greater than ourselves.
Some intrepid travelers specifically seek out these awe-inspiring destinations. Backpacker Leigh G wrote on her blog, "I've come to realize my happy place is anywhere with a view. There's something magical about reaching a summit or vista point and soaking in the panorama stretched out before you. All the effort it took to get there melts away as you sit and savor the moment."
Places like Yosemite indeed deliver jaw-dropping vistas, especially from vantage points like Glacier Point and Half Dome. Gaze out over sheer granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls and Yosemite Valley 3,000 feet below. Or take in the vast wilderness from the backcountry. During his first summer in Yosemite Valley, Muir wrote, "Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty."
At the Grand Canyon, most first-time visitors gasp when they glimpse the immensity of the colorful canyon carved over millennia by the Colorado River. No matter how many photos you've seen, standing at the edge for the first time is an unforgettable experience. Writer Harriet Baskas described it as, "The sheer size; the layers and colors and shadows and light...it was magical and mystical."
For ocean lovers, watching the sunset from cliffs along the California coast can induce the same sense of wonder. As the sun dips below the horizon, golden light illuminates the Pacific's rolling waves. Witnessing the power and ceaseless motion of the ocean can make your problems feel small and fleeting.
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - Diverse Wildlife Abounds in Natural Habitats
From roaming bison herds in Yellowstone to alligators basking in the Florida Everglades, America's national parks and wildlife refuges provide crucial habitats for diverse species. Getting a glimpse of iconic wildlife in their natural environments is a special experience for many outdoor enthusiasts. Safely observing animals in the wild allows us to connect with nature and learn about the interconnectedness of ecosystems.
In Yellowstone, massive bison herds, wolf packs, and grizzly bears still roam the 2 million acres of wilderness. Watching a shaggy bison herd grazing in the Lamar Valley or spotting a lone wolf on the hunt makes it easy to imagine what the landscape was like before human settlement. Writer and naturalist Edwin Way Teale captured the sentiment well, writing "In Yellowstone, time stands still... Here may be heard the songs and cries of wildlife little changed since the dawn of earth's long day."
The Florida Everglades provide critical wetland habitat for alligators, manatees, dolphins and more than 350 bird species. Gliding in a canoe past sunning alligators and great blue herons elicits a primal sense of being one with nature. Birdwatchers flock here to spot roseate spoonbills, wood storks, egrets and other tropical species not found elsewhere in the U.S. Anhingas spear fish with their dagger-like bills while colorful caracaras patrol the marshes.
Alaska's wildlife diversity astounds, with 40 different land mammals including bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep and wolves. Cruising the Inside Passage offers opportunities to admire humpback whales breaching alongside the ship. On land, Denali National Park visitors hope to glimpse the "Big Five" - grizzlies, caribou, moose, Dall sheep and wolves. Few experiences compare to witnessing the majestic wildlife that inspired naturalist John Muir to write, "To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world."
America the Beautiful: 10 Breathtaking Destinations to Experience the Great Outdoors - National Parks Protect America's Treasured Wild Places
America's national parks protect some of our country's most treasured wild places, preserving stunning landscapes and crucial habitats so they can be experienced and enjoyed by all. These awe-inspiring public lands are true national treasures that showcase the diversity of our country's natural beauty and wildlife.
From the soaring granite domes of Yosemite to the geothermal wonders of Yellowstone, America's national parks contain many of the most iconic wilderness areas in the nation. Adventurers have long been drawn to explore these unique landscapes. Backpacker Heather B. writes of her experience hiking through Glacier National Park, "Standing there surrounded by rugged peaks and hearing nothing but the sound of wind and waterfalls, I truly felt I was glimpsing the wild America that existed centuries ago."
Indeed, national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone preserve million-acre ecosystems and provide sanctuaries where wildlife still roams free. Visitors can thrillingly experience habitats that seem untouched by human activity. Wildlife photographer James W. captured a sentiment many share about observing Yellowstone's wildlife, writing "Seeing the steam rising off a bison's back in the cold morning air as the sunrise lit up the landscape behind it, I felt in that moment I was getting a glimpse of what this land was like for the Native Americans who revered these animals."
The National Park Service's mission is to preserve these special places not just for this generation, but for all those to come. Their protected status ensures these landscapes will endure for future generations to admire. As Wallace Stegner eloquently wrote about national parks, "National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best." These treasured public lands indeed welcome everyone to experience the grandeur of our country's natural heritage.
In addition to preserving iconic landscapes, national parks also protect critical habitat and wildlife corridors. Parks like the Everglades and Joshua Tree harbor ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth. Writer John S. reflected on the importance of experiencing such rare natural diversity, observing "Seeing the wildlife unique to the Sonoran Desert and learning about these plants found only here gave me a new appreciation for the value of preserving specialized habitats." By designating certain areas national parks, we ensure crucial habitat is conserved rather than developed.