The United States of America. A huge country. A magnificent country with a geographical smorgasbord that includes some incredible natural wonders. Every state has some awesome photo opportunities and thanks to the travel team at CNN I can bring you one natural wonder from every state you should see.
Little River Canyon National Preserve
Little River has carved out one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi, and its whitewater rapids have become a mecca for rafters and kayakers. For people not interested in water sports, take in Little River Falls from the shore or boardwalk.
Glacier Bay National Park
While many of Alaska’s glaciers are retreating, the Johns Hopkins and Margerie Glaciers are actually advancing. Take in these glacial wonders by sea kayak or a flightseeing exhibition, where you may also see wildlife like bears and moose.
The Grand Canyon
This 277-mile gorge is a mile deep and one of the world’s largest canyons. The colorful carved canyon walls are best seen from Yaki Point at the south rim. Hikers can take a six mile trail that descends 4,860 feet into the canyon.
Crater of Diamonds State Park
An ancient eruption littered the area with diamonds, and you can actually hunt for them within the 37 acres search field and keep whatever you find! U.S.’s largest diamond, the Uncle Sam, was unearthed here.
Redwood National Park
You’ll feel like a dwarf among giants as you drive or walk though forests of trees that can reach 300 feet into the air, some of which have been around for 2,000 years.
Rocky Mountain National Park
In the U.S.’s highest park, altitudes range from 7,500 to 14,000 feet. There are 350 trails throughout the park, some leading you up to tundra areas where few plants grow but animals roam freely. More experienced hikers can head to Flattop Mountain or Estes Cone, both over 11,000 feet.
Bluff Point State Park Coastal Reserve
These 800 acres make up the last of the untouched coastline in this state. The loop from the parking lot to Bluff Point is accessible only by foot but it’s an easy 4-mile hike. Along the way, hikers walk though several types of coastal habitats until they arrive at the narrow, pristine beach.
Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
More than 150,000 ducks and geese take refuge here during October and November, then again in spring as they migrate back and forth. Birders delight in the migrations and the one of the last remaining tidal marshes in the mid-Atlantic.
Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
The main attraction here is the multitudes of wildlife, including areas frequented by alligators. Take a 15 mile scenic loop with an observation tower, or take the popular 2 hour tram ride through the area. Just give the ‘gators a wide berth.
Not only is this area fairly undeveloped, it is replete with rare animal life. Famous for its feral horses, where 150 to 200 horses run freely, it’s also well known for its endangered Loggerhead Sea turtle nesting grounds. It’s accessible by ferry from St. Mary’s.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Within this park are two of the world’s most active volcanoes; Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Kilauea erupts regularly, and it’s an amazing site to see molten lave slip into the ocean accompanied by giant bursts of steam. Watch at night for an unforgettable light show!
This mountain range boasts more than 50 peaks over 10,000 feet high. Largely bypassed by tourists, you can enjoy the mountain wilderness, along with a number of lakes and rivers, pretty much all by yourself.
Starved Rock State Park
Spring thaw brings hundreds of waterfalls to the 18 glacier-formed canyons within this park. Dozens of trails make this park great for hiking enthusiasts and the bird watchers who get a thrill around January to March when the bald eagles arrive.
Indiana State Dunes Park
Some of the dunes in this park along Lake Michigan can reach 200 feet high. Nearly 3 million people come to camp, hike and swim. For nature lovers, it boasts more natural orchid species than even Hawaii and is a haven for birdwatchers.
The Loess Hills
These odd hills were created by fine soil blown up into dunes that reached 200 feet. Now, the dunes have become hills that are second only to China’s in height. These hills stretch 200 miles into Missouri and can be enjoyed by car via the Loess Hills Scenic Byway.
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve
With less than 4 percent of the native prairies still surviving, Tallgrass Prairie offers 10,000 acres of wild prairie with plenty of walking trails to enjoy it. Bison, having been reintroduced in 2009, can be seen roaming the area but can be aggressive so take care when observing one.
Mammoth Cave National Park
This cave is the largest known cave system in the world, and with 400 miles of caves, there are spectacular wonders to see. Curated hikes can range from family friendly to strenuous and difficult and even include lamplight tours for the adventurous.
This wetland area is teeming with life. Its swamps and bayous are full of anoles, alligators, snakes, and over 200 species of birds. Crisscrossed with trails and boardwalks, it’s fairly easy to catch sight of the wildlife. Kayak or canoe through the waterways for an even closer look.
The End of the Appalachian Trail
Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin marks the end of the famous trail, and at 5,268 feet it is said to be the most difficult hike on the trail. Temperatures can vary widely, and now may come at any time, even in summer.
Nothing defines Maryland more than the famous Chesapeake Bay, where fishing and crabbing have become practically cultural icons. The blue crab, a staple of menus in the area, are a special treat.
Coskata Coatue Wildlife Refuge
Most people visiting this are head for the southern coast, but if you head north, you’ll find outcroppings of sand that are home to nesting shorebirds, sunbathing seals, and the rebuilt Great Point Lighthouse.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Dune climbing is almost its own sport here, as hundred climb over sand bluffs that can get to 450 feet tall. The park is full of paved trails, warm inland lakes for swimming. Take a scenic drive or visit South Manitou Island Lighthouse, one of several historic structures.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The 190,000 acres of lakes and streams in this area are the result of glacial activity thousands of years ago, and it’s become one of the best areas for canoeing anywhere. With over 1,200 mile of canoe routes, you can usually walk overland and find another waterway quickly.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
The wild barrier islands are only accessible by boat, and are practically untouched and very pristine. All are open to primitive camping. West Ship Island is accessible by ferry and is home to the 19th century Fort Massachusetts, a fortification shaped like the letter D.
Elephant Rocks State Park
Massive pieces of rounded granite are all over this park, and visitors have fun climbing over or fitting between the massive boulders. Some are as large at 600 tons and more than 20 feet tall!
Glacier National Park
Glaciers are still easily visible here, although some are retreating rapidly. The glacier fed lakes are pristine and sometimes take on a milky turquoise hue. More than 700 trails beckon hikers, and some are open in the winter for cross country hiking or skiing.
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
Fossils at this park have been extraordinarily preserved due being buried under ash from an ancient volcano. Most animals are preserved in their death positions. Lucky visitors can watch excavations being carried out right in front of them, and a lucky few may be accepted to join a fossil dig.
Valley of Fire State Park
Created from ancient shifting and dunes, the red sandstone I brilliant, especially at sunrise or sunset. If you go in spring you’ll catch brilliant desert blooms, and if you look closely you’ll be able to see some ancient 3,000 year old Native American petroglyphs.
The Appalachian Trail
A great deal of the 117 mile portion of the trail runs through the White Mountains and above the timberline. About 44 miles of the trail runs through prime fall foliage country. The weather is extremely changeable, so be prepared for any condition.
The Delaware Water Gap
This river valley is full of scenic lakes, streams and waterfalls, making it a huge attraction for anyone who love to canoe, kayak, raft, or even just ride the waterways in an inner tube. There are also 100 miles of trails that include 27 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail.
Carlsbad Caverns Bats
Not only are the caves spectacular, but the evening flight of the bats is something you won’t soon forget. Thousands fly out of the caverns around sunset between about May and November, after which they migrate to Mexico.
Fall Foliage Letchworth State Park
In fall, New York comes alive with color. The best place to view the turning of the leaves is in Adirondack Park, a 6 million acre park that offers the longest season of fall foliage in the country, its season spanning early September through late October.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge is never the same place twice, with its sands being moved about by the winds. The 80 by 100 foot dune attracts kiteboarders, sandboarders and hang gliders, and of course, people who love to watch the sunset perched on top of the soft sandy dune.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Teddy’s conservation efforts benefit us today in the form of these 70,000 acres of wild country. Full of rivers and valleys, it attracts horseback riders and hikers along its many trails. You can even see the site where Roosevelt had his cabin.
Hocking Hills State Park
Weathering and erosion have carved wonderful caves and recesses within the sandstone of this area, and many caves have been occupied by humans over the centuries. Hikers can enjoy the caves as well as numerous waterfalls and pools.
Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
This 11,200 acre salt plain is a refuge for migratory birds. The real fun, though, is digging beneath the salt surface to find geological wonders, because it’s the only known place in the world where visitors can dig for selenite crystals.
The deepest lake in the U.S. at 2,000 feet, this lake is the result of a massive volcanic eruption thousands of years ago that left a crater, which eventually filled with water. The pristine lake is a lovely deep blue, and the area is only accessible during summer months.
Cherry Springs State Park
One of the biggest attractions at this park is a clear starry night. Stargazers can view the Milky Way’s nucleus, both because of the park’s location and because of its famously dark nights. On a good night, you can see up to 10,000 stars.
Accessible via ferry or plane, Block Island is a resort with rolling hills, freshwater ponds, open meadows and 17 miles of public beaches. For breathtaking views, climb the stairs to the 200’ Morgan Bluffs, or scour the beach for glass balls in the summer.
The Jocassee Gorges stretch across nearly 43,000 acres of lakes, waterfalls, streams and forest. You’re likely to see several rare plant and animal species along the trails, and you can camp along Lake Jocassee Reservoir at one of several campgrounds in the area.
Many tourists simply enjoy the view of the Badlands on their way to Mt. Rushmore, but the Badlands are interesting all on their own. Full of pinnacles, oddly shaped formations, and small mountain ranges, this area can be viewed from multiple lookouts along a loop road.
Cades Cove is actually a forested valley, and one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The valley still has historic settler’s homesteads, and there are a number of caves. Gregory’s cave was a Cold War fallout shelter at one time.
The Big Bend
About a quarter of the Rio Grande River, a winding river serving as the border between the U.S. and Mexico, lies within Big Bend National Park. The Big Bend is where the river changes directions. The park has over 150 miles of hiking trails, and kayakers and canoers love riding the river.
Zion National Park
Hiking in a river is a great way to spend a hot afternoon. The 16-mile Narrows trail follows the Virgin River but in many places, the river and the trail are the same. Wear waterproof sandals and bring a swimsuit, because there are several areas deep enough for a summer plunge.
Quechee State Park
Quechee Gorge in known as Vermont’s Grand Canyon. At one mile long and 165 feet deep, this glacier carved canyon is rugged and steep, with numerous waterfalls. Snowshoeing is a popular activity here, as well as hiking along the many trails.
The Blue Ridge Mountains
The Blue Ridge Mountains are not only gorgeous, they are ecologically diverse. Take the ridge top drive along the parkway to enjoy the variety of plant and animal life, and for a full view of the characteristically blue color of the hills, a color coming from the hydrocarbons released by the trees.
This active volcano is covered with a deceiving mantle of ice. The tallest of Washington’s mountains at 14,000 feet, climbing is for the experienced only. Mt Rainier National Park has over 260 miles of maintained trails however, so it’s not necessary to climb the mountain to enjoy it.
Beartown State Park
The landscape here is full of strange and beautiful rocks, formed from Pottsville sandstone. Trails and boardwalks lead you through richly verdant areas and through large rocks that almost resemble old stone houses.
The hundreds of species of birds that nest here or stop here during their migration are best viewed from a canoe. Follow the 6-1/2 mile Horicon Marsh Canoe Trail through the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the U.S., and view numerous species such a pelicans, herons, and geese.
Yellowstone National Park
A geothermal wonder, this park is full of colorful pools and geysers, the most famous being Old Faithful, which erupts every 30-120 minutes. Don’t miss Yellowstone Falls, which plummets 308 feet into a deep gorge and van be viewed by a viewing platform or a hike down the stairs to the base of the falls.
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