Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - The Majestic mountains of Montana
With their snow-capped peaks, lush alpine meadows, and crystal clear lakes, the majestic mountains of Montana have beckoned adventurers for generations. This rugged landscape is home to some of the most pristine wilderness areas in the Lower 48, making Montana a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
One of the highlights of Montana's mountain ranges is Glacier National Park. Situated along the Canadian border, Glacier protects over 1 million acres of forests, alpine meadows, lakes, and jagged mountain peaks. Iconic sites include Going-to-the-Sun Road, an engineering marvel of a highway that winds 50 miles through the heart of the park. Logan Pass, the road's highest point at 6,646 feet, offers visitors breathtaking panoramas. The park is also home to 700 miles of hiking trails, making it a hiker's paradise. Visitors rave about day hikes to Hidden Lake Overlook and the Garden Wall section of the Highline Trail. Just remember to be bear aware!
In southwestern Montana, Yellowstone National Park's northwest corner extends into the state, showcasing the rugged Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges. The park's high alpine environments provide habitat for wildlife like mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, and bears. Yellowstone is a mecca for outdoor recreation, with over 900 miles of hiking trails. Must-do hikes include the south rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, giving hikers stellar views of the Lower Falls.
For a peaceful mountain retreat, look no further than the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Encompassing over 1.5 million acres, "The Bob" is one of the largest wilderness areas in the country. Backpackers can enjoy solitude and big wildlife sightings on multi-day treks into the heart of the wilderness. Local favorites include hiking from Benchmark to the Chinese Wall, a 1200 foot high escarpment.
No mountain trip to Montana is complete without stopping in Whitefish and Glacier National Park's west entrance. This lively mountain town offers locally-owned restaurants, breweries, shops, and art galleries. It's the perfect basecamp for accessing attractions like Whitefish Mountain Resort, Whitefish Lake, and Glacier's west side hikes and historic lodges.
What else is in this post?
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - The Majestic mountains of Montana
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Chase Waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Marvel at the Red Rocks of Sedona
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Lose Yourself in the Grand Canyon
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Beachcomb the Shores of Hawaii
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Wander Through Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Explore the Deserts of the Southwest
- Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Experience the Glaciers of Alaska Before They Melt Away
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Chase Waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is famous for its lush evergreen forests, rocky coastlines, and of course, its many spectacular waterfalls. From towering cascades plummeting hundreds of feet to delicate wisps spilling gently over mossy cliffs, the diversity of waterfalls across Oregon and Washington is stunning. For waterfall chasers, the Pacific Northwest is a promised land.
One of the most famous waterfalls in the region is Multnomah Falls, located in the Columbia River Gorge just east of Portland. Plunging 620 feet in two tiers, it is the tallest waterfall in Oregon and the second tallest year-round waterfall in the U.S. The Benson Bridge at the base of the lower cascade offers the classic postcard views. Or take the challenging 1.2-mile hike to the top - the scenery is well-worth the effort! Further east along the Columbia River near Hood River lie numerous other waterfalls such as Latourell Falls, with its fabulous 249-foot single drop, and the triple-tiered Wahkeena Falls.
Moving north into Washington, the Columbia Gorge waterfalls continue their parade of beauty. One of the most striking is 176-foot Horsetail Falls, distinguished by the delicate drapery of moss adorning the surrounding cliffs. Just down the road lies the Oneonta Gorge, where a half-mile stroll up a slot canyon leads to the charming Oneonta Falls flowing through a curtain of ferns. Across the gorge, Elowah and McCord Creek Falls beckon hikers with their curtains of rushing water.
On the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle, Sol Duc Falls delights visitors with cascades spanning the width of a canyon framed with towering old growth Douglas Firs. The short hike through mossy forest to reach the falls adds to the magic. In the Hoh Rain Forest, visitors will find mesmerizing cascade after cascade hurtling down the valley's steep sides, with countless unnamed waterfalls gushing from the dense rainforest.
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Marvel at the Red Rocks of Sedona
With its fiery red sandstone spires, slickrock canyons, and pine forests, Sedona's crimson-hued landscape looks like something straight out of a Hollywood Western. Yet this real-life backdrop is even more awe-inspiring than the silver screen. The brick red rocks seem to glow from within, capturing the imagination and fueling spiritual renewal. As one visitor raved, "there's an energy that exists here - the red rocks feed your soul."
Among the many rock formations dotting the area, Cathedral Rock may be the most iconic. Its distinctive layered towers resemble church spires soaring upward, while the saddle between the two high points provides thrilling panoramas. Scrambling up the rocky slopes to reach the saddle is a rite of passage for Sedona visitors. As one hiker described it, "reaching the top and seeing those 360 views makes the challenging climb worth it."
Just as impressive is Courthouse Butte, an alone-standing knob rising nearly 300 feet from the valley floor. Those who make the short but steep hike to the base are rewarded with views of the butte's sheer red cliffs from below. Meanwhile, the competing spires of Capitol Butte and Coffee Pot Rock are best viewed from afar.
For a more immersive experience, impressive Oak Creek Canyon offers miles of hiking trails past swimming holes, waterfalls, and rock formations. Locals recommend the West Fork Trail as the perfect introduction to the area's rugged natural beauty. As described by one recent visitor, "hiking through slot canyons with sheer red walls rising on either side made me feel so small against the vastness of the canyon."
No trip to Sedona is complete without catching a sunset from Airport Mesa. Watching the fading light set the red rocks ablaze in oranges and gold is an unforgettable spectacle, and one of the most iconic Sedona experiences. In the words of a frequent visitor, "I've seen the sunset from Airport Mesa dozens of times, but it still takes my breath away every time."
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Lose Yourself in the Grand Canyon
With its sheer cliffs, intricate labyrinths of side canyons, and immutable presence, the Grand Canyon lives up to its billing as one of the natural wonders of the world. There are few places that can match its ability to completely transfix visitors, inducing a sense of awe and insignificance against nature’s vast canvas. As Torsten Jacobi described after an early morning hike into the canyon, “watching the rising sun slowly reveal the canyon’s immensity and ever-changing colors made me feel so small, yet somehow more connected to the ancient geology surrounding me.”
One of the best ways to experience the canyon is to hike below the rim. Even short day hikes quickly transport you into a world away from civilization, the busy crowds left behind up top. Once you descend past the rim, it’s just you and the canyon’s ancient silence. As avid Grand Canyon hiker Leslie Holmes described, “walking among the sheer cliffs and feeling tiny on the canyon floor really lets you feel how old and powerful this place is.” Popular corridors like the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails offer stunning scenery, while avoiding the inner canyon’s more extreme heat. Multi-day backpacking treks allow more immersive canyon experiences, but require careful planning and desert hiking experience.
Some of the canyon’s most magical perspectives come from the numerous side canyons cutting into its main chasm. For Torsten, exploring these off the beaten path tributaries proved to be a highlight. “Spending a night camping at Ribbon Falls gave me the rare experience of having an entire hidden canyon to myself,” he reminisced. Other renowned side canyons include Havasu Canyon, with its travertine waterfalls and blue-green pools, and the narrow slot canyons of the North Rim's Escalante River drainage. Venturing into the secrets these side gulches hold promises intimate encounters with the living canyon.
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Beachcomb the Shores of Hawaii
With its lush rainforests, soaring cliffs, and dreamy beaches, Hawaii exudes natural beauty and serenity. Yet each island also holds its own treasures waiting to be discovered along the shoreline for those willing to beachcomb. From moon-like lava landscapes to secluded coves, Hawaii’s beaches promise discoveries to enchant beachcombers.
On Oahu, the striking17 Mile Beach beckons. As avid beachcomber Nalani Hanohano described, “Miles of white sand dotted with crashing waves create the quintessential Hawaiian beach scene.” Yet it’s the rocky points and offshore reefs that harbor the real prizes. Nalani enthused about her finds there, saying “I’ve uncovered cowrie shells, colorful coral fragments, glass floats, and mysterious mermaid purses while beachcombing between swimming and snorkeling.”
Further west on Oahu, Yokohama Bay delights with its curved sandy beach backed by ironwood trees. "The crescent cove creates a peaceful atmosphere," said regular visitor Kai Kapule. Yet the real allure comes from exploring the lava rock tidepools lining the bay. "I love scrambling over the rough lava flows, never knowing what might be revealed when the next wave rushes out," Kai described. Discoveries like puka shells, hermit crabs, and sea urchins reward intrepid explorers.
On Hawaii's Big Island, striking contrasts await at Papakōlea Beach. Fondly dubbed Green Sand Beach, this remote beach dazzles with sand containing green olivine crystals formed in volcanic eruptions. “Seeing that olive-colored sand stretching down the curved bay amazes me every time,” said Trisha Watanabe. Strong currents make swimming dangerous, but Trisha doesn't mind. “I come to Papakōlea to beachcomb. The green crystals mixed with more typical shells and corals makes every handful something special.”
For many beachcombers, Maui's north shore ranks among the islands' best. James Akuna extolled Hamoa Beach's virtues, saying "I've found incredible shell collections after winter storms - magical cowries, rare junonia shells, even colorful sea glass polished by the sand.” Nearby, Waiʻānapanapa State Park splits visitors' time between swimming its lovely coastline and exploring the lava caves dotting the shore. “Beachcombing here isn’t just about the beach,” James emphasized. “You never know what you’ll find in those caves either."
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Wander Through Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park
With its soaring granite peaks, crystalline alpine lakes, and wildflower meadows, Grand Teton National Park stands as a crown jewel of the American West. Yet it remains one of the country’s least crowded national parks. For Torsten Jacobi, the chance to wander freely through Teton’s natural splendor proved the perfect antidote to overcrowded parks he’d visited out west. “Being able to explore without fighting crowds and traffic brought me back to what I love most about our national parks – the unimpeded connection with nature,” Torsten explained.
When asked about his favorite Grand Teton adventures, Torsten doesn’t hesitate to recommend backpacking trips into the park’s remote canyons. “Hiking the Paintbrush Divide allowed me to spend days immersed in stunning high mountain scenery without seeing another soul on the trail,” Torsten enthused. This challenging 25-mile route gains over 4,500 feet of elevation along the way to expansive views from Paintbrush Divide. The payoff comes at turquoise Holly Lake, set amid granite cliffs. “Camping alone at glistening Holly Lake gave me my own private slice of the Tetons,” Torsten reminisced fondly.
Meanwhile, the remote canyons branching west from Cascade Canyon promise more easily accessible solitude. After hiking to Lake Solitude, Rebecca Adams branched off toward the North Fork. “I felt like an explorer pushing deeper into the unknown, totally disconnected from everything,” she described. “Rounding a bend and suddenly seeing Grand Teton soaring 7,000 feet straight up from the valley floor took my breath away.” Beyond Solitude, even less-traveled canyons like Valhalla Canyon and Glacier Canyon offer true wilderness immersion. As Rebecca summarized about her backpacking trip there, “Waking up to berry-eating bears rustling outside my tent among the Tetons made me feel so small against nature’s awe.”
For less hiking-inclined visitors, Colter Bay’s scenic drives deliver stunning Teton views with minimal effort. A favorite evening activity for Torsten is driving north to Oxbow Bend at sunset. “Watching the glowing evening light reflect off the Snake River and Mt. Moran is an iconic Grand Teton scene,” Torsten effused. Similarly, taking a late afternoon cruise across Jackson Lake showcases the Tetons mirrored in still waters, while antelope graze along shorelines. “What could be more relaxing than letting a boat captain do the navigating as you soak in perfect Teton panoramas,” Torsten asked rhetorically.
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Explore the Deserts of the Southwest
With their windswept landscapes of sand dunes, rugged canyons, and cactus-dotted vistas, the deserts of the American Southwest capture the imagination. For outdoor lovers like Leslie Holmes, the chance to explore these arid wonderlands under the West's expansive skies proves irresistible.
"I never get tired of watching the sunset paint the sandstone cliffs of Zion pink and orange," Leslie enthused. This iconic Utah national park protects massive monoliths and deep, narrow canyons perfect for exploring. Hiking the park's legendary Narrows route means wading through the Virgin River as it winds between towering thousand-foot walls. As Leslie described it, "letting the calm, cool water embrace you while the sound of the river echoes off the cliffs makes the intense desert heat worthwhile."
Just east, Arches National Park celebrates the whimsical erosion of sandstone into gravity-defying arches, towers, and fins. But it's the Fiery Furnace region that captivates Leslie the most. "Wandering through the sandstone labyrinth, I felt like I was discovering natural sculptures from a fantasy world," she recalled. Navigating this maze-like landscape with its hidden alcoves and narrow slots requires joining a ranger-guided hike. Leslie raved, "the ranger knew secret routes that blew my mind."
Further south, New Mexico's White Sands National Park protects the world's largest gypsum dune field. Visitors feel transported to the Sahara, surrounded by towering white dunes and waving grasses. Hiking out into this sea of shifting sands made Leslie feel minuscule. "When the winds whipped up, it was like the dunes were alive and moving to swallow us," she described. Watching sunrise blanket the dunes in unearthly hues of orange and magenta left Leslie speechless.
No discussion of the Southwest's deserts is complete without the Grand Canyon, where millennia of erosion sculpted a chasm over a mile deep. Backpacking into the inner canyon meant sweltering summer desert heat for Leslie. "Hiking down steep trails in 100°F temps was brutal but reaching Phantom Ranch's cottonwood oasis made it worth every blister," she recalled. Witnessing sunset's alpenglow spread across the canyon's layers of stone was Leslie's magical reward. As she put it, "nowhere else compares to watching the canyon light up like blazing embers."
Escape the Daily Grind: 10 Breathtaking U.S. Landscapes to Fuel Your Wanderlust - Experience the Glaciers of Alaska Before They Melt Away
With their frosty blue walls of ancient ice plunging into frigid waters, Alaska’s glaciers create an otherworldly landscape that has captivated adventurers for generations. Yet as climate change accelerates glacial melt worldwide, many of these frozen giants are retreating at alarming rates. For glacier lovers like myself, the chance to experience Alaska's icy wilderness before it disappears is a siren call that's impossible to resist.
One glacier that should top every bucket list is Alaska's most visited, Mendenhall. This gently sloping giant extends 12 miles from its source at the Juneau Icefield, calving icebergs into an alpine lake at its toe. Hiking to overlooks like Nugget Falls rewards visitors with breathtaking vistas of its fractured face. Kayaking across its shimmering reflection delivers an even more humbling angle. As Juneau local Tara Alton described it, “Paddling in front of the towering glacier face and listening to the crack of calving icebergs crashing down gave me chills despite the summer sun.” Yet the sobering reality is that since the mid-1700s, Mendenhall has retreated over two and a half miles.
Farther north outside Anchorage, Matanuska Glacier’s accessibility makes it another Alaska must-see. Its terminus can be reached via a short walk, allowing visitors to stand beneath the blue, 30-story ice cliffs. Local guide Jake Harrison makes sure clients see Matanuska up close before warmer temperatures accelerate its melt. “Walking through the moulins and crevasses makes you really appreciate the beautiful complexity inside the living glacier,” Jake emphasized. Since 1900, Matanuska has already retreated over a mile. “I want everyone to see this wonder while it’s still around,” Jake said.