Wow! A State-by-State Guide of America's Natural Wonders
From the superstars like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls to the lesser known ones, here are America’s best national and state parks by state. By Yahoo! Travel
Pools of ‘Ohe’o in Haleakala National Park (Flickr: Joe Parks)
This week, Yahoo! Travel shares with us a showcase of the best spots America has to offer. Here are some of the best places to visit with the family in the United States by state.
The USA is one of the most diverse and beautiful places on Earth. From the sweeping coastal vistas of Big Sur, California to the breathtaking drama of Niagara Falls, New York, the country contains some of the worlds most incredible natural wonders. Here are the most spectacular from all 50 states:
Alabama — Cathedral Cavern State Park
Declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972, these incredible caves were opened as a state park in 2000. The 126-foot-wide by 25-foot-high entrance to the Cathedral Caverns leads to almost 2 miles of public pathways that wind through the dramatic rock formations.
Alaska — Denali National Park and Preserve
Caribou at Denali National Park (Flickr: Denali National Park and Preserve)
It could be said that the entire state is one big natural wonder — and with more than 17 national parks, 16 wildlife refuges, two national forests and 25 beautiful rivers, it’s easy to see why. However, the Denali National Park has to take the top prize. Spanning more than 6 million acres and home to Mount McKinley, the continent’s highest peak, the stunning park and preserve has become Alaska’s most popular attraction. The picturesque landscape is home to bears, wolves, moose and caribou, as well as dozens of dinosaur fossil footprints.
Arizona — Grand Canyon National Park
Maybe it’s an obvious choice, but as one of the planet’s most significant geographic landmarks, the Grand Canyon deserves its top-spot status. Carved over several million years, the epic landscape is considered the most impressive example of arid land erosion. With an average depth of 4,000 feet and running for 277 miles, the Grand Canyon National Park draws millions of visitors from across the globe each year. Pictures don’t do it justice. This place should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Arkansas — Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas was the country’s first official national preserve, declared so by Congress in 1832. It is also the country’s smallest national park. The park consists of 47 thermal hot springs — rare natural features have been used for thousands of years for their soothing and therapeutic properties, earning the region its nickname, "The American Spa."
California — Redwood National Park
Trees of Mystery at Redwood National Park (Flickr: Kirt Edblom)
When thinking of California, most people associate it with the ocean and beaches. But further inland is one of nature’s most incredible and unique feats. Spanning more than 130,000 acres of Northern California is the Redwood National Park — a vast forest of giant, ancient, redwood trees, which are the planet’s tallest living things. With multiple campsites, 80 miles of hiking trails, three visitor centers, and picnic areas, there are many ways to get up close and personal with these incredible wonders.
Colorado — Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, in the north-central region of the state, consists of 415 square miles of spectacular mountain range. More than 60 of its peaks soar above 12,000 feet, winning it the award for the highest national park in the U.S. The park boasts 359 miles of trails, more than 150 mountain lakes, glaciers, ski runs, incredible wildlife, and multiple waterfalls. The park’s most famous attraction is the Trail Ridge Road — the road at the highest elevation in the country.
Connecticut — Dinosaur State Park
In 1966, thousands of 200-million-year-old fossilized dinosaur tracks were discovered in Rocky Hill, Conn., during the construction of a state building. The dinosaur tracks, discovered in an exposed layer of sandstone, have since been preserved, and more than 500 of them are now under a giant geodesic dome at the Dinosaur State Park. The tracks were believed to have been made by a Dilophosaurus — a three-toed, raptor-like theropod that was a fierce predator during the Jurassic age and stood about 8 feet tall and grew as long as 20 feet. The park and visitor center are open all year round.
Delaware — Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve
Established in 1937, the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve is a 16,000 acre refuge located on the Eastern coast of Delaware Bay’s Kent County. Set up to protect the tidal salt flats and the migratory water fowl that reside there for part of the year, the area is considered the most valuable wildlife habitat in all Delaware. It is home to more that 150,000 ducks and geese that stop here during October and November on their way to their Northern breeding grounds. A of 2009, the refuge management programs recorded 302 species of birds living in the reserve. The park has a popular visitor center, multiple observation towers, nature trails even an auto tour route.
Florida — Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park covers an area of more than 1.5 million acres, making it the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. The wetland is a World Heritage Site, and home to numerous endangered and rare species of wildlife — such as the American crocodile, the Florida panther, and the manatee. It is also home to more than 1,000 species of plants, 20 percent of which are not native to the area. The park provides visitors with a multitude of activities, including boat tours, camping, hiking, canoeing, biking, and even a tram ride.
Georgia — Okefenokee Swamp
Designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1974, the Okefenokee Swamp is the largest "blackwater" swamp in the U.S., spanning 438,000 acres on the Georgia-Florida border. The shallow swamp formed over the past 6,500 years because of the accumulation of peat in the basin of an ancient coastal terrace. It is the origin of the St. Mary’s River and the Suwanee River, the latter of which channels 90 percent of the swamp’s water down to the Gulf Of Mexico. The vast majority of the swamp is a National Wildlife Refuge, and is home to various amphibians and reptiles, including toads, frogs, lizards, turtles, snakes and alligators. It is also the natural habitat of the Florida black bear.
Hawaii — Haleakala National Park
Aside from their near-perfect weather, stunning beaches and picturesque landscape, the Hawaiian islands are special for one other reason — their active volcanoes. To this day, the southern half of the Big Island still sees a lot of lava flow and other volcanic activity. Visitors to the island are regularly able to view active lava flows from Mount Kilauea (depending on the level of activity), as well as explore the cratered summit. Mauna Loa, also on the Big Island, is the world’s largest volcano and climbs 30,000 feet, making it taller than Mount Everest. On the island of Maui, there is the Haleakala National Park, where visitors can drive to the summit of the Haleakala volcano — a popular location to watch the sun rise or set from above the clouds.
Idaho — Sawtooth Range
The postcard-perfect vistas of Idaho’s iconic Sawtooth Range are spread out over 50 jagged peaks, all soaring to more that 10,000 feet. Bisected by the Salmon River and bejeweled by hundreds of glacial lakes, the area is a magnet for adventurous outdoorsmen and women who come here to fish, kayak, hike, camp, and watch wildlife. Idaho is also one of the few places you can witness the "fire rainbow," where the sun reaches more than 58 degrees above the horizon and ice crystals in the atmosphere refract the light into a stunning rainbow.
Illinois — Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park in Northern Illinois is a historic 2,630-acre park along the Southern bank of the Illinois River, less than 100 miles from Chicago. The park welcomes millions of visitors each year who are drawn to its stunning hiking trails and scenic canyons formed millions of years ago from glacial melt and steam erosion. More than 13 miles of trails lead to clifftop lookout points and picturesque waterfalls. For for the less energetic visitor, there are trolley tours and a wine-tasting room where you can sample the locally produced offerings.
Indiana — Wyandotte Caves
Southern Indiana is peppered with hundreds of caves, but none are as impressive as the Wyandotte Caves. This pair of limestone caves was formed about 2 million years ago and is known for lengthy open passageways and expansive rooms. Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1972, the Wyandotte Caves also incorporates Monument Mountain — believed to be the world’s largest underground mountain, at more than 135 feet. The caves are home to nine species of bats, including the endangered Myotis sodalis, or Indiana bat.
Iowa — Asperatus Clouds
The flat plains of Iowa are the perfect place to witness the armageddon-est Asperatus Clouds. These frightening-looking formations were only given their own classification in 2009, and look like waves flowing through the sky (their full name, undulates asperatus, actually means agitated wave). They are created by an elevated layer of warm air over a layer of cooler, air but the specifics of the clouds’ development and evolution is still under discovery. Regardless, they make for some very impressive skylines.
Kansas — Mushroom Rock State Park
Located in the Smokey Hills region of Kansas, the Mushroom Rock State Park is one of the smallest parks in the state but is home to the most rare of landscapes. The 5-acre park contains some of the planet’s most unique rock formations, which appear similar to giant stone mushrooms growing out of the earth. The largest measures more than 27 feet in diameter. The rocks have been a meeting place for Native Americans and early pioneers, such as John C. Freeman.
Kentucky — Mammoth Caves
Considered by many to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the United States, the Mammoth Caves region in central Kentucky is the longest cave system in the world. With more than 400 miles of passageways carved out of limestone surveyed and mapped, the true extent of the underground system is still yet to be fully discovered. Vast rock chambers are connected by a complex maze of passageways, some just big enough to crawl through, and archeological finds in the depths of the caves show the passageways have been used by humans for thousands of years.
Louisiana — The Barataria Preserve
The bayous (swamplands) of Louisiana are, in national terms, relatively young. But the 23,000 acres of sprawling coastal wetlands of the Barataria Preserve, created by the drainage gateway of the Mississippi River, have become home to more than 200 species of birds and snakes, incredible plant life and thousands of alligators. Boat tours can take tourists on an adventure through the waterways where they will encounter endless wildlife and hear stories of Bigfoot, pirates and nature’s power. Bayou Bartholomew is also the world’s longest, at just over 375 miles. The region is truly one of the most unique landscapes on earth.
Maine — Desert of Maine
The Northeastern state of Maine is known for its dramatic coastline, spanning more than 230 miles, and expansive forests that cover about 83 percent of the state’s land. The temperate climate sees even rain distribution year around, making the state’s most famous natural wonder quite the enigma. The Desert Of Maine, a seemingly out of place 40-acre attraction, was uncovered over 200 years ago as a result of man-made erosion. Created by the slow movement of Ice Age glaciers, this mini desert even has its own micro climate, with temperatures on the sand becoming much hotter than surrounding wooded areas.
Maryland — Assateague Island
Wild ponies of Assateague Island (Flickr: m01229)
Shared between Maryland and its neighbor, Virginia, Assateague Island is a 37-mile -ong barrier island on the Atlantic coastline just off the shores of Delmarva. Despite containing a wildlife refuge, numerous marshlands and pristine beaches, the island is most well known for the wild horses that roam its beaches. These feral ponies, according to local legend, are said to have been originally left on the island following a shipwreck off the coast which left them stranded. The state park, taking up more than 800 acres, contains 350 campsites and is home to more than 300 species of birds — particularly waterfowl — making it perfect for wildlife lovers looking for a beachside getaway.
Massachusetts — The Great Marsh
When most people think of the natural wonders of Massachusetts, what comes to mind is the state’s unparalleled coastline. Boasting the likes of Cape Cod and Nantucket, it is easy to see why. However, the state is home to a more impressive natural wonder — The Great Marsh. Extending from Cape Ann to New Hampshire, this huge expanse of marshland extends more than 20,000 acres and includes barriers beaches, a tidal river, an estuary, a mudflat and several uplands islands. Experts in the region, an important area for bird life, are focused on preserving the many species of breeding and migratory birds who call the marsh home.
Michigan — Sleeping Bear Dunes
On the breathtaking shores of Lake Michigan sits the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the enormous sand dune bluffs that tower 450 feet over the crystal waters. Voted "The Most Beautiful Place in America" on ABC’s Good Morning America, the dunes provide incredible views of Glen Lake and play host to the time-honored family tradition of sand skating — where people attempt to climb the dunes at speed before sliding back down again. Trails, paths and campsites surround the picturesque area so visitors can stay and enjoy the beautiful beaches and warm inland waters.
Minnesota — Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Part of the Superior Natural Forest in northeastern Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an incredibly popular adventure sports and camping destination that spans over a million acres and draws up to 250,000 visitors a year. The area is world renowned for canoeing and fishing on its many lakes making it the most visited wilderness area in the whole United States.
Mississippi — Petrified Forest
Dating back 36 million years, the Mississippi Petrified Forest is a fascinating and eerie monument to the area’s incredible geographic history. The site was formed when fir and maple logs washed down the ancient river channel and got trapped. There these gigantic trees, some more than 15 feet in girth and 100 feet tall, became petrified, turning them — seemingly — to stone. Visitors can walk the 13 miles of hiking trails and visit the museum featuring petrified wood from all over the globe, as well as dinosaur footprints and other fossils.
Missouri — Elephant Rocks
Scattered throughout the St. Francis Mountains of Missouri sit spectacular and unusual Elephant Rocks. Created millions of years ago from molten lava, these enormous pink granite boulders have become rounded through millennia of weathering by the elements. Some of them stand more than 20 feet tall and weigh more that 600 tons. Visitors can hike the trail that leads between these giants through the Elephant Rock State Park, or grab lunch at one of the parks 30 picnic sites.
Montana — Glacier National Park
Situated right on the Canadian-U.S. border, Glacier National Park covers more than a million acres of pristine wilderness, comprising of two mountain ranges, over 700 lakes, more than 1,000 species of plant and hundred of species of animals. In summer, the 700 miles of hiking trail treat adventurers to breathtaking views of the landscape and the chance to see some amazing wildlife including bears, mountain lions, mountain goats, deer and eagles. But during the winter, the park transforms into an icy wonderland where most of the lakes freeze over, allowing visitors to ski or snowshoe through this spectacular national park.
Nebraska — Chimney Rock
One of the great natural wonders of the West, Chimney Rock is an iconic geological landmark, visible for many miles across the flat surrounding area. Rising almost 300 feet in the air above the North Platte river valley, the rock’s peak actually sits 4,226 feet above sea level. Made from clay, volcanic ash and sandstone, it is believed to have been created as the harder sandstone protected the pillar as it broke away from the nearby retreating cliff line.
Nevada — Valley of Fire
Just an hour drive from the state’s cultural epicenter of the Las Vegas Strip is the Valley Of Fire — Nevada’s oldest state park. Containing some of the oldest and most staggering rock formations known to man, the incredible landscape was created over 150 million years by shifting sand dunes and erosion. Made from bright red sandstone, the rocks seem to glow in the sunshine. The park’s highlight is the Fire Wave — a curved wall of layered rock accessible via a mile and a half hike through the red rocks. Look out for rattlesnakes and kangaroo rats, which populate the area.
New Hampshire — Mount Washington
Souring 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States and offers views of up to four other U.S. states and Canada on a clear day. However, the mountain is renowned for having some of the worst weather systems on the planet. Located in the White Mountain National Park, the mountain is a popular hiking, hang-gliding and skiing area, where visitors can ski as late as Memorial Day.
New Jersey — Delaware Water Gap
Located to the northwest of the Garden State weaves the Delaware River. Cutting through the Appalachian Mountains, the river created the Delaware Water Gap just on the border with Pennsylvania. The river valley is now protected by the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, where visitors can go rafting, canoeing, fishing, swimming, hiking and rock-climbing in a beautiful landscape surrounded by wildlife.
New Mexico — Carlsbad Caverns
From April to November, visitors to the beautiful Carlsbad Caverns can play witness to one of nature’s greatest scenes. Every day at sunset, tens of thousands of Mexican free-railed bats emerge from the cave to spend the night feeding. The fleeing swarm is an impressive phenomenon, with the bats flooding the sky for as long as three hours as they corkscrew through the air in a giant group. Visitors can also experience the caverns’ historic cave chambers — some of the biggest in the world.
New York — Niagara Falls
Easily one of the world’s most iconic natural landmarks, Niagara Falls is situated on on the New York State border with Canada, and the cause of a long-term dispute over the location of the international boundary. The three waterfalls that make up the collection — Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls — create the highest combined flow rate of any waterfall in the world. Said to be the unofficial wedding capital of the world, the falls attract more than 25 million tourists a year, making it one of the most visited attractions on earth.
North Carolina — Pilot Mountain
Pilot Mountain, in the northwestern region of the state, is a unique mountain peak rising 2,421 feet above sea level in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Made up of metamorphic quartzite, the distinctive mountain top has two unique features called Big and Little Pinnacle. The Big Pinnacle, nicknamed The Knob, sits atop the mountain like a hat, and has colorful bare rock sides with a vegetation-covered rounded top.
North Dakota — Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Named after former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a 70,000-acre area of badlands in western North Dakota. Known for its scenic drives, rugged horse trails, and wildlife-viewing opportunities, the park is a popular camping destination. It is home to wild bison, feral horses, elk, sheep, deer, ferrets, and prairie dogs, as well as 186 species of birds.
Ohio — Hocking Hill State Park
Hocking Hill State Park was first inhabited by humans more than 7,00 years ago. But the rock formations on which the park is situated date back a lot further — more than 350 million years further. The spectacular rock formations have created caves, gorges, waterfalls, and cliffs, making for an exceptional place to camp, hike, gorge walk, bird-watch and go spelunking. There are more than 200 campsites throughout the park, most of which have electricity, and the park recently installed a zip-line attraction.
Oklahoma — Great Salt Plains
Millions of years ago, the plains of Oklahoma were flooded by the ocean, which eventually became cut off and evaporated, creating the Great Salt Plains. The 11,200-acre park is now a wildlife refuge, protecting migratory birds that use the plains as a stopover. Visitors flock to the park to swim in the lake, fish, canoe, hike, mountain bike, or even horse trek the miles of trails.
Oregon - Thor’s Well
Part of the Cape Perpetua coastline, Thor’s Well is a giant saltwater fountain that explodes with the force of the ocean as the water is forced through it from underneath through the Devil’s Churn crack in the coastal rock. Best seen an hour before high tide to an hour after high tide, the waves put on an impressive and powerful display of nature. Visitors are warned to stay well back from the unpredictable and forceful natural phenomenon.
Pennsylvania — Cherry State National Park
For those who love to look up for their natural wonders, the Cherry State National Park is the first designated Dark Sky preserve in the U.S. Thousands of visitors flock to the 2,300-foot-high mountain plateau where the Milky Way, along with other planets and stars, are visible by the naked eye. This incredibly rare and breathtaking sight is thanks to the lack of light pollution in the area. Twice a year, the park hosts "star parties," where novice stargazers and professional astronomers marvel at the incredible skyscape.
Rhode Island — Mohegan Bluffs
With 400 miles of pristine coastline, Rhode Island has a lot to offer the water-loving visitor. Located on the southern shore of Block Island sit giant clay cliffs called the Mohegan Bluffs. Rising 200 feet from the beach below, the cliffs offer a stunning landscape with unmatched views of the Atlantic Ocean. The cliffs also feature a steep stairway with more than140 steps to the sand below.
South Carolina — Congaree Swamp National Park
The state of South Carolina has more than 50 state parks and many more natural national monuments, making it hard to pick just one. But the Congaree Swamp National Park is both beautiful and historic. One of the most biodiverse areas in the United States, the park contains the largest expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the South East of the country. It is also one of the highest remaining deciduous forest canopies in the world and is home to armadillos, bald eagles, bobcats, feral pigs, opossums, and a multitude of amphibians.
South Dakota - Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park (Flickr: Always Shooting)
The Badlands National Park is one of the world’s richest fossil beds. The 244,000-acre expanse of mini mountain ranges and odd rock formations have been carved by millions of years of erosion, and are splattered with incredible ancient mammal fossil remains — all interspersed with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the U.S. Sable-toothed tiger, aquatic rhino, and even ancient camel remains have been found in the region, and the park has been used by Native Americans as a hunting ground for more than 11,000 years.
Tennessee — The Great Smoky Mountains
Every June, for two weeks, The Great Smoky Mountains play host to an incredible natural spectacle. Thousands of Synchronous fireflies (also known as lightning bugs, carry out their annual mating ritual of flashing in unison. Scientist are baffled as to why this incredible species performs this way, but for visitors, it makes for a special viewing opportunity. The Synchronous firefly is the only species in America that can synchronize its flashing patterns and live as adults for only around 21 days.
Texas — Enchanted Rock
The enormous pink granite dome known as the Enchanted Rock soars 1,825 feet above sea level, in the Llano Uplift near Fredericksburg. The rock covers around 640 acres and rises 425 feet from the surrounding terrain. It is the largest pink granite rock in the U.S. What makes it so special is the fact it is an "exfoliation dome," meaning it is made up of onion-like layers below the surface.
Utah - Arches National Park
Considered on of the top ten natural wonders in the U.S., Utah’s Arches National Park features some of the most unique and spectacular landscapes in the world. Mostly carved from bright red sandstone, Arches National Park is just one of five that make up most of the state. The red desert is scattered with more than 2,000 stone arches as well as many other individual rock formations. Although rock climbing is prohibited on the formations, there are plenty of other places designated for climbing throughout the park, and other recreation activities include camping, hiking, biking and off-road auto tours.
Vermont - Burlington Burled Forest
The Burlington Burled Forest is a small patch of woods located on a sandy bluff over the North Beach where Mother Nature has truly left her mark. Each tree in the woods sports burls, or large, growth-like bumps, all over their trunks. These burls were created by the fierce coastal winds which manipulated the fast-growing box elders into these warped and gnarly natural wonders.
Virginia - Virginia Natural Bridge
Located in the aptly named Rockbridge County is the impressive geological phenomenon known as the Virginia Natural Bridge. Formed by the Cedar Creek carving its way through the mountain’s limestone gorge, the 215 feet natural stone arch towers 90 feet wide over where the river once flowed. Designated a Historic National Landmark, the bridge was a sacred site for the Native American Monacan Tribe which have lived in the area for centuries. Visitors can hike the trail that leads under the bridge and heads towards the Saltpeter Cave.
Washington - Mount Rainier
One of the most active volcanoes in the U.S., Mount Rainier has snowy vistas that create almost a false sense of security about the volatility of the powerful mountain. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet, and has a history of destructive eruptions. It is the highest peak in Washington and third-highest in the U.S. The mountain is popular with glacial climbers, who take up to three days to reach the summit. Lower down, its slopes there are great opportunities for hiking, skiing, and camping.
West Virginia — Beartown State Park
As the only sate which lies completely within the Appalachian Mountain Region, it has earned its nickname, The Mountain State. And situated at the foot of Droop Mountain is the Beartown State Park, known for its unusual sandstone rock formations. Huge boulders, overhangs, deep crevices and cliffs are surrounded by stunning woodlands throughout the 110-acre park. Only open from April to October, the park offers visitors a picturesque area to hike, picnic, camp, and birdwatch.
Wisconsin - Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
The archipelago of 21 wilderness islands that make up the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore punctuate the frosty waters of Lake Superior, creating some of the country’s most spectacular seascapes. In the winter, sea caves become frozen inside by suspended waterfall ice, creating a sparkling jagged wonderland. When the conditions permit, the caves can be hiked to, and some years the lake freezes solid, allowing the adventurous to skate or snowshoe from island to island.
Wyoming - Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, which extends more than 2.2 million acres throughout Wyoming into Montana and Idaho, is an international natural wonder and historic site. It has steaming geysers, soaring waterfalls and stunning landscapes, but nothing is as breathtakingly beautiful as the Grand Prismatic Spring. The largest hot spring in the state and third-largest in the world, this incredible attraction produces a striking rainbow-colored display — created by pigmented bacteria growing in the warm spring waters. Truly eye-catching.
By Sophie Forbes
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