13 of the Greatest Natural Wonders in the United States
Glaciers. Mountain peaks. Underground caverns. Wildlife sanctuaries. In this nationwide tour of destinations, we wax poetic about America's abundance of natural beauty—from sea to shining sea.
While going to places like Bora Bora and French Polynesia offer immeasurable opportunities to witness natural beauty, you don't need to travel far from home to find awe-inspiring wonders. The United States has plenty of its own sites to visit that are guaranteed to take your breath away. From the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs to the multi-state Appalachian Trail, you can experience awe-inspiring views, exciting terrain, and rare-to-see wildlife right here at home. That's right: You don't even need your passport to get to any of these places.
The benefit of visiting these natural wonders across the country is that you can gain a newfound appreciation for the environment. Many of us live in urban areas that are always bustling with activity, but preserving the natural sanctuaries of the world is important. The preservation of remote deserts, for example, helps to minimize light pollution and offer stargazing views. In addition to ensuring that the planet is livable for future generations, preservation of natural wonders gives us an opportunity to step away from our daily lives and unwind from stress.
The history of the continent on which the United States is founded is told through the natural landscape. Volcanoes shaped islands, forests provided cover and food, caverns offered shelter, and lakes gave water. It's easy to take our modern technology for granted and forget that majority of humans from previous generations lived off the land. And what was it like before we came onto the scene? We can imagine when we visit the destinations on this list—pack your bags, and get ready to explore.
Garden of the Gods
In the Garden of the Gods, you can walk where dinosaurs used to roam. The sandstone rock formations of Colorado Springs reach toward the sun and offer ample opportunity to climb up their peaks. Hike along the various trails to catch a view of these rocks under the shade of the forest trees, and you'll also catch a glimpse of the wildlife—like mule deer, black bears, and bighorn sheep—that call this National Natural Landmark home.
Old Faithful Geyser
Located within Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Old Faithful Geyser earned its name because it has a predictable pattern of eruption. You won't be allowed to get too close, but you will definitely get to witness this geyser in action. It erupts on average every 91 minutes. About 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water are expelled whenever it erupts.
This tidewater glacier, the largest of its kind in North America, may be a bit of sleeping giant. Off the coast of Yakutat—200 miles northwest of Juneau—Hubbard Glacier certainly lives up to its breathtaking reputation: It's more than six miles wide where it meets the ocean. Visit by ship, and as it turns into view of the glacier, you hear thunder-like sounds of falling to the ocean icebergs.
A volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago created this lake when Mount Mazama collapsed from the seismic activity. According to scientists, Crater Lake in the state of Oregon is one of the purest lakes on the earth. The Cascade Mountain Ridge that overlooks the lake is covered in several feet of snow during the winter, making it perfect for skiing and snowshoe hiking.
Have you ever wondered what's just below your feet? The Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico has more than 119 caves underneath the ground. You can go on self-guided cavern tours or explore with a ranger who can tell you all of its many secrets. One of the caverns, called the Big Room, also happens to be the largest-volume cave chamber in America.
You may have once visited Niagara Falls from the Canadian side on a field trip for school, but did you know that you can see these spectacular falls in the United States, too? The shared natural wonder helps to produce four million kilowatts of electricity, and it serves as the natural destination for four of the Great Lakes, which drain into the falls.
The Joshua Tree stands out by its unique features: a twisty trunk that spreads to the sky with spiky leaves. It's a tree that provides the wildlife in the Mojave Desert with shade and nourishment, and you'll find a collection of these trees within Joshua Tree National Park.
This volcanic caldera—one of only three in the world—is marked by its crescent shape. Molokini is an ideal spot for those who love to surf or snorkel. Formed by a sunken volcano over 150,000 years ago, as scientists believe, it's located a few miles off the shores of Maui. You can only get to it by boat or plane, but the sights to be seen underwater at Hawaii's only island marine sanctuary is well worth the trip.
Imagine what it would be like to stargaze near the Grand Canyon. Without the light pollution from the city, you can get a clear view of all of the stars that cast their light above this part of the world. And gazing down the canyon's depths also puts things into perspective.
Subtropical wetlands like the Florida Everglades are home to more than 360 bird species and endangered animals like the Florida panther. You'll also meet alligators, crocodiles, and probably a few snakes—they're all part of this rich ecosystem.
Mount Rainier in the state of Washington is the mother of five major rivers in the United States, and its highest peak is 14,410 feet above sea level. You can climb the mountains or hike through the wilderness that surrounds it. Glaciers, volcanoes, and forests provide a varied landscape that will keep you in awe the entire time you are there to explore.
Mendenhall Ice Caves
Do you have what it takes to scale the ridge and witness this outstanding glacier? You'll have to hike 800 feet on steep, slippery, mountainous terrain, but the view within the Mendenhall Ice Caves will be worth it. A river of ice still courses through the glacier formation.
Avenue of the Giants
The world's tallest trees grow on the fog-kissed Northern California coast. Redwoods can reach a height of 380 feet, taller than the Statue of Liberty, and live for up to two millennia. Along old U.S. Highway 101 about 300 miles north of San Francisco lies a 32-mile stretch of road called Avenue of the Giants, filled with more than 50,000 acres of redwood trees—leaving you to feel truly dwarfed by nature.