Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — or so they say. But, when it comes to Mother Nature’s splendor, well, that’s not so subjective. There are so many places across the globe where she definitely shows off.
However, don’t think you have to trek to far-off lands in hard-to-pronounce places. The United States definitely has its fair share of exotic vistas and natural wonders; actually, so many that’s it’s quite difficult to contain the surreal sites to one list.
That said, here’s a start with this group of marvels. You probably won’t believe most of these places even exist — until you go there, that is. Which means, you should definitely go there — to all 25 of these entrancing destinations. Let the adventuring begin.
Where: Southwestern Utah
With the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos — irregular columns of rock, formed through weather and erosion — this park is a geological wonder with endless vistas of tall reddish rocks, pink-tinged cliffs, and bristlecone pine trees. Sunset and sunrise here is particularly jaw-dropping with the mix of warm colors that dramatically flush together. And, of course, the fantastic dark night skies make stargazing an otherworldly endeavor.
Where: Oahu, Hawaii
Also known at the Stairway to Heaven, these stairs (and the associated panoramic views) are an unreal sight along the Ko’olau mountain range in Oahu. The 2,120-foot-long trail has 3,922 steps. But, before you jet off to Hawaii, just know that the difficult hiking trail has been closed to the public — although that has not deterred some determined adventurers from finding their way to the top.
Where: Mount Vernon, Washington
You won’t be able to tiptoe through the tulips, but you will be able to drive the 300 acres of these famous flower fields during the annual Pacific Northwest festival that celebrations the millions of blooms. From about April 1-30 every year, the vibrant flowers carpet the Skagit Valley in the dreamiest manner — and draw people from all over the world (93 foreign countries and counting!).
Where: Navajo Territory, Arizona
One of the most photographed canyons in the world, this slot canyon near Page, Arizona is not only an Instagrammable fantasy, it’s an awe-inspiring example of nature’s sculptural work with its wavy sandstone walls and mysterious, narrow passages. The masterpiece of color and form is split into two different sections: upper and lower. Both are worth a visit, but it’s the upper part that is easiest to access and that has the signature beam of light flooding through the opening from above. All areas of Antelope Canyon are only accessible via guided tour.
Where: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Talk about flashing lights! The Great Smoky Mountains are surreally beautiful as it is, but it is the synchronous fireflies that truly take the scenery to the next level with their bioluminescence. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light patterns; it’s all part of their mating display. But, mating season only lasts for about two weeks each year from late May to mid-June and you have to register by a parking pass lottery application for entrance into this magical showing.
Often called the “intimate Grand Canyon experience,” this bend in the Colorado River is a miniature wonder that’s only about five miles from the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park — about 140 miles from the South Rim and North Rim of the Grand Canyon itself. Named for its horseshoe shape, it’s a beautiful landscape to behold. And, it’s less than a mile to hike for the best views of the rock formation and the swirling, blue-green colorations of the river that weaves around it.
Where: Yachats, Oregon
Along the edge of the Oregon coast is what appears to be this gaping sinkhole — or the drainpipe of the Pacific, as some call it. Located in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area, the bowl-shaped hole is driven by the ocean tide. During high tide, it fills with seemingly endless waves rolling in with surges and sprays of water. It’s a dangerous area though, too, so proceed with caution.
Where: Makawao, Maui
You may just think you’re on another planet once you get to the summit of the dormant Haleakalā volcano. At 10,023 feet above sea level, the richly hued, deeply sculpted landscape is an evocative wonderland among the clouds. Although it’s truly breathtaking any time of day (or night), the summit is renowned for its sunrise views — after all Haleakalā means “house of the sun.” As for the rest of the park, it spans more than 30,000 acres with stunning landscapes that range from the Mars-like red deserts and rock gardens that are near the summit to the lush greenery, magical waterfalls, and streams in the coastal Kipahulu section.
Forest bathing takes on new meaning at this park that’s home to giant sequoia trees that soar into the sky, including the General Sherman Tree which is one of the largest in the world at 275 feet tall. Among this land of giants, you’ll feel very small — in the best way possible.
Where: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Rainbow-bright, this brilliant natural pool in Yellowstone National Park definitely lives up to its prismatic name. As the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world, it has a diameter of 370 feet with extremely hot water traveling 121 feet up from a crack in the Earth to reach the surface of the spring. With bright bands of orange, yellow, and green that encircle the deep blue waters, the multicolored layers are pretty surreal. In reality, they get their hues from different species of bacteria living in the progressively cooler water. While you’re in Yellowstone, you might as well check out Old Faithful, too.
Where: Yosemite National Park, California
The crown jewel of Yosemite National Park, this geologic marvel is a seven-mile-long, 4,000-foot-deep trough covered in pine, lined by spectacular cliffs, and surrounded by glacially sculpted, polished rock. The towering (and quite famous) El Capitan rock formation is also in the valley as are amazing waterfalls including the 2,425-foot-high Yosemite Falls. Of course, the entire park itself is a wonderland of natural beauty.
Where: Washoe County, Nevada
Although not a natural geyser, this rainbow rock is no less impressive for it. Created accidentally when a geothermal company drilled a test well, the unique geyser consistently spews water into the air. But, it’s the thermophilic algae that give it the vibrant, otherworldly red, green, and blue coloration. Interestingly enough, the geyser now belongs to Burning Man, as the organization acquired the entire 3,800 acres of Fly Ranch a couple years ago.
Where: Juneau, Alaska
It’s called the Mendenhall Glacier, but the 12-mile ice formation might as well be called magical — especially with the frozen enchantment of its ice caves, formed from the melting of glacial ice water. Reaching the caves is no small feat; it requires kayaking and ice climbing. But, if you’re up for it, it’s more than worth the trek to see the transparent roofs and otherworldly aqua colorations.
Where: Canyon, Texas
As the second largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro is a sight to behold just south of Amarillo. Measuring 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, the “Grand Canyon of Texas” impresses with its rocky terrain that’s a layer cake of colors from geologic changes over the years. The hoodoos are particularly impressive here.
Where: Watkins Glen, New York
You’ll be spellbound the moment you enter this park. The glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, creating 19 waterfalls along its course. You can experience the fantasy of it all on the Gorge Trail, where you’ll encounter the Cavern Cascade, Spiral Tunnel and Suspension bridge, Glen Cathedral, Rainbow Falls, Glen of Pools, and more.
Where: Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico
What lies beneath the rocky slopes and canyons is what’s most compelling at this national park. Hidden underground are 119 caves, formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone and left behind caverns of all shapes and sizes with stalactites and stalagmites galore. A popular 1.25-mile trail underground winds around the Big Room to dramatic areas like the Hall of Giants, Bottomless Pit, and Crystal Spring Dome.
Where: Monahans, Texas
You may feel like you’re on another planet (or the prettiest sandbox ever) upon embarking on these 3,840 acres of rolling sand dunes — some even towering multiple stories into the sky. The undulating waves of sand are consistently changing due to weather patterns and wind, so there’s always an intriguing ripple effect to further mesmerize you.
Where: Buffalo River, Arkansas
This craggy rock is not only surreal, but the spot has also pretty much cemented its celebrity status. Countless proposals and nuptials have taken place here; iconic photos have been captured; it’s been voted the best place in Arkansas to get kissed, and Disney even filmed the opening scene to “Tuck Everlasting” here. And, the three-mile roundtrip hike to Whitaker Point and back is a stunning trip in and of itself.
Where: Dripping Springs, Texas
This little piece of paradise is just a short drive from Austin, Texas. But, it will make you think you’re not in Texas at all anymore. The tucked-away grotto reveals a 45-foot-tall waterfall that pours into a beautiful body of water beneath. It’s like something from a fairytale.
The rare and mystical lights are a phenomenon that you just have to see to believe. The best chances of glimpsing the aurora borealis are in Fairbanks and Anchorage during the winter when the weather is the coldest and when it is the darkest. But, anytime from September to April can give you a front-row seat to this Alaskan magic show.
Where: Sonora, Texas
A subterranean crystal kingdom awaits at this natural landmark that was called the “most indescribably beautiful cave in the world” by the founder of the National Speleological Society, which promotes the exploration and conservation of caves. The enchanting calcite crystal formations are located 155 feet below the ground, where the Texas Hill Country meets the Chihuahuan Desert — about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park.
Where: Border of Utah and Arizona
Surf The Wave at this sandstone rock formation that doesn’t look quite real. You can reach the breathtaking swirls of colors and shapes on the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness via a rather difficult, six-mile roundtrip hike. Just be aware that, due to its popularity and fragile nature, daily entrance is limited and only granted by daily lottery for a few.
Where: Big Bend National Park, Texas
The drama is so real here — and so are the Insta-worthy moments. Located deep within Big Bend National Park, the canyon is a study in contrasts between the rough, jagged rock formations and cliff walls that soar 1,500 feet above the glossy, smooth river below. The best way to really see every nook and cranny is by a raft or canoe.
Where: Olympic National Park, Washington
Imagine a fairytale forest, and you’d see Hoh Rain Forest. From the blanket of moss to the fantastical ferns, and the canopy of greenery that envelops nearly every bit of the scenery, it’s a lush dream. And, it’s all the result of the heavy rainfall (12 to 14 feet each year!) throughout the winter season.
Where: Mono County, California
Those spectacular spires you see are known as tufa towers; the calcium-carbonate formations are the result of the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. But, they’re not the only spectacular thing about Mono Lake. The majestic, shallow body of water spans 65 square miles and is nothing short of an oasis in the dry Great Basin desert of California; it’s almost like a mirage.