The Most Scenic Nature Getaways in Every State
You don’t have to travel far to see some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders. From shimmering turquoise lakes to majestic mountaintops, these are the places in each state that are sure to take your breath away.
Alabama: Noccalula Falls
Along a trail that winds its way through the Black Creek ravine on Lookout Mountain you’ll find Noccalula Falls, a 90-foot gushing waterfall named after a Cherokee princess. It’s said that Noccalula, daughter of the tribe’s chief, ended her life by jumping off the top of the falls on the day she was to marry the man her father had forced her to be with after he exiled her true love. Find the most gorgeous waterfall in your state.
With its summit towering 20,310 feet above sea level, Denali is the tallest mountain peak in North America. Its name, given by the native Athabascan people, literally means “Great One.” And while you may not be able to make it to the top (there’s only a 60 percent success rate for the brave climbers who have tried), you can get one of the best views of the snow-capped silhouette from Wonder Lake in Denali National Park.
Arizona: Mooney Falls
If you’re looking for an adventure outside of the Grand Canyon, head to its southern rim where you can hike through the Havasupai Reservation to Mooney Falls. It’s not an easy trek (you have to scale a cliff face to get to the bottom) but the sight of the sparkling turquoise water against the red rocks of the canyon is so worth it. Here are more of America’s most stunning hiking trails.
Arkansas: Hawksbill Crag
Also known as Whitaker Point, this rocky ridge overlooking the Buffalo River valley is one of Arkansas’ most photographed spots (it’s also where the intro to the Disney movie Tuck Everlasting was filmed). Just be careful when you’re enjoying the colorful fall foliage or blossoming mountain wildflowers—the bluff can be very dangerous as the drop is a long way down.
California: The Redwoods
There are trees… and then there are the California coastal redwoods, the tallest trees on Earth which can grow to 378 feet—that’s about the size of a 25-story building! And they’re wide, too—some in Redwood National Park are big enough to drive a car through. You’ll feel like you’re in the land of giants as you explore the enchanting forest of cinnamon-hued trees. Don’t miss the best picnic spot in every state.
Colorado: Maroon Bells
Colorado is known for its bevy of natural beauty but Maroon Bells definitely top the state’s list of must-visits. In the glacier-formed valley at the foot of the towering twin peaks lies Maroon Lake lined by lush aspen trees. Sunny days provide the perfect panorama of the burgundy mountain caps and fluffy white clouds reflected in the shimmering water below. Don’t miss these 10 photos of America’s National Parks in full bloom.
Connecticut: Kent Falls
The cascading water of Kent Falls flows for 250 feet across moss-covered rocks through the valley, where you can view the river from numerous stairs and observation decks. Keep an eye out for the little pools and potholes that the water’s force has created in the layers of limestone.
Delaware: Cape Henlopen
You don’t have to fly south for beautiful beaches—you can find them right here in Delaware at Cape Henlopen where the Delaware Bay empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The six miles of pristine shoreline is bordered by sandy dunes dotted with beach grasses blowing in the breeze. Sink your toes in the soft sand and watch the shorebirds flit in the surf as the waves roll in. Here are 12 more of the best beaches in America.
Florida: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
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Grab your scuba diving gear or board one of the glass-bottomed boats for an aquatic adventure at the nation’s first underwater park in the Florida Keys. Gaze at schools of vibrant fish darting through the coral reef below and gasp when you see a shark lazily float by. Afterward, picnic on the pristine beach under the shady mangrove trees. Find out more of Florida’s best beaches that locals want to keep secret.
Georgia: Tallulah Gorge
Fall foliage fans everywhere will flock to this Southern nature getaway where the river runs through two miles of wooded hills. Admire the deep reds and vibrant oranges that line the 1,000-foot deep Tallulah Gorge from the swaying suspension bridge or get a permit to hike down to the bottom and see some of the waterfalls below.
Hawaii: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Forget white sand beaches—the coal-colored grains of basalt beneath your feet at one of Hawaii’s most famous beaches will have you re-thinking everything. The dramatic contrast of the jet black sand (caused by the island’s volcanic activity) against the bright blue waves is worth a picture or two. Chances are you’ll see a few green sea turtles lounging in the sun while you’re there, too. Here are more stunning black sand beaches you never knew existed.
Idaho: Craters of the Moon
There’s a sea in the middle of Idaho… a volcanic sea, that is. At Craters of the Moon, it’s nothing but 618 square miles of craters, solidified lava flows and cinder cones from over 2,000 years ago along the Great Rift of Idaho (the deepest rift in the world). The area is constantly changing and shifting as it lies above a dormant volcano which scientists expect will erupt again in the future.
Illinois: Garden of the Gods
Devil’s Smoke Stack, Anvil Rock, Camel Rock… those are the names of just a few of the one-of-a-kind rock formations that make up the Garden of the Gods in Shawnee National Forest. Sculpted by wind, rain and other elements over 320 million years ago, the sandstone structures are completely climbable, making this nature getaway a sort of natural playground for all ages.
Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Who knew land-locked Indiana has a beach that rivals those along the Atlantic coast? On the shore of Lake Michigan, you’ll find over a mile of grassy rolling dunes, the largest of which is Mount Baldy. Hike to the top of this “living” dune (it moves about four feet every year) for incredible views of the glistening lake.
Iowa: Maquoketa Caves
Step into Maquoketa Caves and you’ll feel like you stepped into a South American rainforest. Whether you’re walking the paved trail through the most popular Dancehall Cave which was originally formed by a glacier or slipping on a headlamp and getting dirty in one of the lesser-known caves, there are plenty of hidden nooks and crannies to explore.
Kansas: Flint Hills
When you think of the Midwest, you likely think of vast prairie fields of wildflowers and grasses stretching as far as the eye can see. That’s what you’ll find in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, where four million acres of hills and meadows make up 80 percent of what’s left of the world’s tallgrass prairie. Fun fact: Kansas has also been deemed one of the top 10 places in the world to watch a sunset. Here’s the most spectacular sunset in every state.
Kentucky: Cumberland Falls
Known as the “Niagara of the South,” Cumberland Falls is more than just an impressive cascading curtain of water in southern Kentucky. It’s also the only spot in North America where you can see a moonbow. To get a glimpse of the mysterious phenomenon, visit the falls at night during a full moon—the mist rising off the water reflects the light of the moon, creating an arch similar to a rainbow.
Louisiana: Atchafalaya River Basin
One million acres of wetlands, bayous, and lakes make up our country’s largest river swamp—it’s even bigger than the Florida Everglades! Take a guided swamp tour through the waterways shaded by bottomland hardwoods dripping in Spanish moss. You might catch a glimpse of a bobcat or alligator… or even a bald eagle soaring overhead (the Atchafalaya River Basin has the most nesting bald eagles in the southern U.S). Check out these hidden gems in every state.
Maine: Cadillac Mountain
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This nature getaway is one for the early birds. Cadillac Mountain in beautiful Acadia National Park is not only the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, but it’s also the first place in the United States to see the sunrise. Head to the summit before dawn for a panoramic view of the sun coming up over the ocean in front of you and pink granite rock dotted with spruce trees and wild blueberry bushes all around you.
Maryland: Assateague Island
Off the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula, this barrier island is a serene yet rugged retreat where the natural coastal habitat—from salt marshes to gentle dunes—has been carefully preserved. And you won’t be sharing the beaches on this barrier island with the usual crowds—instead, you’ll be sharing them with the wild horses that freely roam the shoreline. Here’s where else you can see wild horses in North America.
Massachusetts: Aquinnah Cliffs
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High red clay cliffs rise up from the pounding waves of the Atlantic on the south side of Martha’s Vineyard. Formed by glaciers millions of years ago, the crimson-hued layers of gravel, sand, and clay are most vibrant in the winter when they’re completely waterlogged. These are 10 of the most romantic island destinations in the United States.
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Native Americans originally named this freshwater spring (the largest in Michigan) “Mirror of Heaven”—and we can understand why. Over 10,000 gallons of icy cold water (it’s a constant 45 degrees) rush into the limestone pool each day where the captivating emerald colored water is so crystal clear, you can see the bottom of the spring 40 feet down from aboard the raft.
Minnesota: Palisade Head
For one of the most breathtaking views in the whole Midwest (and maybe even the country), make the journey to Palisade Head. The steep cliff, along Minnesota’s rocky north shore, was formed by a lava flow billions of years ago and is now a great place to soak in the Sawtooth Mountains in the distance looming over the deep blue waters of Lake Superior.
Mississippi: Cypress Swamp
Pull off at Milepost 122 on the Natchez Trace Parkway to immerse yourself in one of the South’s famous swamplands. Meander down the wooden boardwalk surrounded by bald cypress and tupelo trees which grow where most trees can’t in the bog waters. Look closely enough and you might see an alligator sunning itself on one of the tree’s “knees” (the part of their root that protrudes through the water).
Missouri: Onondaga Cave
Missouri’s nickname is the Cave State, so it only makes sense that the must-see nature getaway is an underground gem. Venture deep into the cool caverns below the surface for a glimpse of impressive stalactites and stalagmites amidst a reflective river that winds its way through the cave. Don’t miss some of the favorite spots like King’s Canopy and the Lily Pad Room. Find out the best-kept secret in every state.
Montana: Grinnell Glacier
It doesn’t get more scenic than wild and wonderful Glacier National Park in Montana’s Rocky Mountains. To steal a breathtaking vista of one of the main attractions (Grinnell Glacier, of course), you’ll have to hike through fields of wildflowers, across rocky pathways and even under a waterfall until the snow-covered beauty comes into view, shadowing the alpine lake fed by its melting ice sheets.
Nebraska: Platte River
The Platte River, with its twists and turns through wetland meadows, is worth a trip no matter at any time of the year. But if you visit in early March, you’re in for a spectacular show courtesy of Mother Nature. That’s when over 500,000 sandhill cranes descend on the river as part of their annual migration. It’s almost magical between the gentle rustle of flapping wings and rushing water and the silhouettes of the graceful birds dotting the riverfront.
Nevada: Valley of Fire
When in Vegas, take a day trip to nearby natural wonder Valley of Fire. Named because of the fiery hue of the famous rock formations filling the 40,000-acre valley, it’s all Aztec sandstone, massive petrified trees, and prickly cacti. Look for the bright blooms of desert marigolds or indigo bushes poking up through the rock crevices when you’re scaling the sandstone paths. Here are other must-see Vegas attractions that aren’t casinos.
New Hampshire: White Mountain National Forest
Between the thick groves of fragrant evergreen trees and the statuesque slopes rising overhead, the White Mountain National Forest should be on anyone’s bucket list of nature getaways. Explore the secret waterfalls in the summer, bask in the way the hills change colors in the fall or ski some of the powdery trails in the winter.
New Jersey: Paterson Great Falls
There’s something about a rush of water plunging 77 feet down a rocky cliff that always feels like you’re witnessing one of the natural wonders of the world. The Paterson Great Falls on the Passaic River is no different—it’s the second largest waterfall in the eastern United States (only behind Niagara Falls). Watch the 2 billion gallons of water that cascade into the gorge below each day from the pedestrian bridge over top the chasm.
New Mexico: White Sands
Looking for pristine white sands? Look no further than this dazzling dune field in the middle of the Southwest. The largest gypsum dune field in the world, White Sands National Monument is a rare expanse of pure white hills made from sparkling minerals from a nearby ephemeral lake. Bring a sled and you can spend a day flying down the sandy slopes.
New York: Niagara Falls
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An obvious choice for New York’s No. 1 nature getaway, Niagara Falls is actually a group of three majestic waterfalls surging across the Canadian border and dropping about 167 feet into the cliff-lined Niagara Gorge below. The cascade was formed during the Ice Age by a giant melting glacier and continues to dump over 3,000 tons of water over its edge every second. Experience the phenomenon firsthand with a boat ride right into the mist of the thundering falls. See what Niagra Falls and 10 other famous landmarks look like zoomed out.
North Carolina: Chimney Rock
The name says it all—this 535 million-year-old granite formation is shaped just like a chimney. As if the massive rock isn’t enough, climb to the top and you’ll be treated to an incredible view of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains including Lake Lure and the Hickory Nut Gorge as you stand 2,280 feet above sea level.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Badlands buttes, grassy prairies, dramatic canyons… this national park has it all. Whether you want to trek the backcountry trails or drive the 36-mile scenic loop, you’ll linger over panoramas of colorful rock structures jutting out of the ground and wild bison grazing in the rolling fields. It’s no surprise this was its namesake president’s favorite place to spend time.
Ohio: Oak Openings Preserve
Only the locals (and some select die-hard photographers) known where “The Spot” in Oak Openings Preserve is. The grove of 1,200 red pine trees is off the beaten path (literally) and standing underneath the towering branches surrounded by the quiet sounds of nature is a calming escape from daily life.
Oklahoma: Great Salt Plains
Imagine a flat expanse of land dusted in a thin layer of salt that comes from a trickle of saline water underneath the ground. The Great Salt Plains in Oklahoma, which used to be an ocean, are certainly unique but they’re also remarkable. Here, you can dig for hourglass-shaped selenite crystals— it’s the only place in the world they can be found—and lounge by the saltwater lake.
Oregon: Crater Lake
Oregon has almost too many beautiful scenic spots from its rugged coastline to its magnificent mountains. One favorite among outdoors adventurers is Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the entire world. Observe the picturesque scene from the 2,000-foot tall rim or hike down to the water’s edge—either way, you’ll be reminded of the power and wonder of Mother Nature as you take in everything from the tree-studded island in the middle of the lake to the incredible blue color of the water itself.
Pennsylvania: Allegheny National Forest
While the Allegheny National Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania is dazzling in any season, it’s at its prime in autumn when the hardwood trees boast leaves in everything from fiery reds to burnt oranges to sunny yellows. As you traipse across the hills and valleys in this million-acre wilderness, you never know what will be around the next turn from an ancient rock formation to a gurgling brook. Don’t miss these 38 stunning photos of fall across America.
Rhode Island: Mohegan Bluffs
Rhode Island might be the smallest state but its scenic nature getaways certainly have a big impact. Take the dramatic Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island, for example. From the top of the steep clay cliffs, you can see all the way to Montauk as you listen to the waves crashing against the rocky outcrops 200 feet below. You can also descend the 141 stairs to the bottom to frolic in the refreshing Atlantic surf.
South Carolina: Hunting Island
Escape the hustle and bustle of the summer crowds on the windswept beaches of this lesser-known island off the coast of South Carolina. Go shelling during low tide (you just might find some shark’s teeth!) or meander through the Lowcountry lagoons that lie further inland.
South Dakota: Badlands National Park
Now, this is the Wild West at its best. Post up on “The Wall” to take in the vast valley of the Badlands, boasting colorful buttes, rock spires, and steep canyons carved by millions of years of erosion. Then hike the Fossil Trail and look for the hundreds of animal fossils and skeletons preserved in layers of rock at the foot of the hills.
Tennessee: Clingmans Dome
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There’s no shortage of spectacular sights in the Great Smoky Mountains, but one of the most stunning views of the tree-lined peaks can be found at Clingmans Dome. On a clear day atop the highest point in the Smokies, you can see for up to 100 miles of towering spruce firs and rolling ridges—you can even see across seven states (Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Georgia).
Texas: Hamilton Pool Preserve
Consider this the Lonestar State’s little slice of paradise. Dive into the blue-green water surrounded by walls of smooth limestone to cool off in the Texas heat—the breathtakingly beautiful swimming hole was created thousands of years ago by a collapsed grotto and also features a 50-foot waterfall that flows continuously into the pool below. Here are more of the best natural swimming pools in the country.
Utah: Bryce Canyon
Bryce is unlike any canyon of its kind with hundreds of uniquely shaped “hoodoos” lining its floor. Enjoy these red rock formations, which the Paiute Indians thought to be men who had been turned to stone, from the Rim Trail above or hike into the canyon itself through dense bristlecone pine trees (the oldest trees in the world!) and a rainbow of orange-pink hues.
Vermont: Lake Willoughby
Referred to by the locals as “America’s Lucerne,” this serene lake bordered by striking mountains looks like something straight out of northern Europe. Sculpted by glacial rivers, Lake Willoughby is now home to a wide variety of wildlife from the trout swimming through its deep waters to the occasional peregrine falcon you might spot flying overhead.
Virginia: Natural Bridge
High above babbling Cedar Creek stands the 215-feet tall Natural Bridge. Carved out of limestone by nature’s own forces, the bridge is a sight to behold nestled deep in the overgrowth of the forest—in fact, Thomas Jefferson was so in awe of it, he purchased it for himself in the 1700s. Pro tip: Continue along the trail at the base of the bridge to see the swelling Lace Falls.
Washington: Blanca Lake
This vivid turquoise body of water hidden in the Cascade Mountains is one of Washington State’s best-kept secrets. A cascading waterfall dumps blue water from the surrounding glaciers into the lake as snow-capped peaks look on in the distance. It’s only accessible by a more intermediate hike but you can kick back on the south shore under the pines and snack on wild huckleberries before heading home.
West Virginia: Dolly Sods
Make your way through the Monongahela National Forest and you’ll happen upon the preciously preserved Dolly Sods Wilderness. Because it sits atop the highest plateau in the eastern United States, the area flaunts flora and fauna typically found in places much further north like blossoming mountain laurels and expanses of heath and bogs.
Wisconsin: Apostle Islands
The archipelago of 21 islands you’ll see from the shores of Lake Superior is much more than meet the eye. Because while you can take a ferry to Madeline Island for a day of hiking, the real treasure lies below the surface in the interconnected passageways of sandstone caves whittled out underneath the islands. In the summer, kayak through the cavernous rooms or, if it’s winter, simply trek across the frozen lake and marvel at the massive icicles hanging from the ceilings. Find out the best weekend getaway in every state.
Wyoming: Grand Prismatic Spring
Rainbows don’t just exist in the sky, they’re also on land as proven by this jaw-dropping body of water in the middle of Yosemite National Park. The third largest hot spring in the world (it’s wider than a football field), the rings of green, yellow and orange surrounding Grand Prismatic Spring‘s blue water are due to the bacteria that live there. Next, read on to find out the best staycation in every state.