12 Secret Features Hidden in America’s Natural Landmarks
Where can you find a dried-up lake bed where the rocks seem to move on their own? Which state has a cave containing a massive underground waterfall? These are America's most incredible natural spots that you probably won't read about in guidebooks.
Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park, Washington
You don’t have to travel all the way to Hawaii to feel like you’re in Jurassic Park. On the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, there is a real-life rainforest. The Hoh Rain Forest gets 12 to 14 feet of rain every year. All that moisture makes it easy for lush green plants, mosses, and ferns to cover most surfaces and give the feel of an Amazonian rainforest. It is located in the stretch of the Pacific Northwest rainforest that once ran from southern Alaska all the way down to the central coast of California. It’s one of the best remaining temperate rainforests in the United States, so if you ever find yourself in Olympic National Park, you’ll definitely want to visit.
Eternal Flames Falls, Chesnut Ridge Park, New York
Believe it or not, Eternal Flames Falls lives up to its name. Located near Buffalo, New York in Chesnut Ridge Park, this waterfall has a flame behind it that is fueled by a natural gas pocket. Consistently burning flames caused by natural gas aren’t all that uncommon, but this one is especially fascinating because it is encapsulated by a waterfall and continues to stay lit. You also probably never realized that some of the world’s most famous monuments are hiding secrets, too.
Lost River Cave, Kentucky
When you think of caves and Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park—the longest known network of caves in the world—might come to mind. But Mammoth Cave is less than an hour’s drive away from a totally separate, but no less fascinating, cavernous wonder. Lost River Cave is much smaller, but it’s hiding a pretty amazing secret—you guessed it, an underground river! Of course, since the river gets a shout-out in the name of the park itself, it’s not entirely a secret. But if you were to just look at the mouth of the cave, you’d just see a river disappearing into the depths and have no idea that you can actually explore the cave. The river vanishes underneath a low-hanging rock that looks like a tight squeeze. And, well, it is, but explorers can easily get past it by sitting in a boat (with a licensed tour guide, of course!) and ducking their heads for a few seconds. After that, though, a network of earthen “rooms” and tunnels awaits.
Secret Caverns, New York
Cave fanatics have most likely heard of Howe Caverns, New York State’s second-most-visited natural landmark (after a certain waterfall). But just up Caverns Road from this more famous park lies another set of underground wonders: Secret Caverns. True to their name, Secret Caverns have a pretty fascinating hidden feature—a 100-foot-tall underground waterfall! You’ll have to hike down about 100 steps through the limestone cave to reach it, but the unique sight is truly worth it.
Kolob Canyons, Zion National Park, Utah
This amazing must-see national park features spectacular hikes, picturesque wildlife, and rock features that look like they belong on another planet. With 230 square miles’ worth of natural wonders, it’s not surprising to learn that there are a few hidden gems worth seeing. Travelers who want to experience this park’s stunning natural beauty without encountering large tourist crowds should consider a visit to Kolob Canyons. This 20-mile network of hiking trails and breathtaking rock faces is the perfect spot for a quieter (but no less awe-inspiring) trek through Utah’s magnificent preserve. One of the most picturesque spots is Kolob Arch, the sixth largest free-standing natural arch in the world. If this secret feature sparks your interest, you’ll also want to check out some more amazing natural rock features everyone should see in their lifetime.
Petroglyph Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah
Kolob Canyons isn’t the only cool natural feature hidden within Zion. Head to Petroglyph Canyon to experience a more mysterious but no less mesmerizing spot in this Utah park. Its existence is fairly hush-hush, even among park employees, because the glyphs are in danger of fading away thanks to years of flaking rocks and human touch. Prehistoric Native Americans adorned the walls of the canyon with over 150 separate cave drawings, mostly depicting different animal species native to the area. Many historians believe the drawings to be about a thousand years old, but since there’s no way to properly date them without damaging them, it’s impossible to know how old they actually are. The National Park Service claims that they could have been there for as long as 7000 years!
Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon, Arizona
If you’re up for straying way, way off the beaten path to experience a unique corner of this world-renowned landmark, consider making the trek to Toroweap Overlook. One of the reasons it’s a “secret” is because the journey there is certainly not for the faint of heart. Getting there involves a 60-mile drive along an unpaved road, with no bathrooms or rest stops to speak of. This overlook juts out 3000 feet over the Colorado River, and from it, you can have an unrivaled view of one of the deepest and narrowest spots in the canyon. This is also one of the best spots in the whole park to view the evidence of volcanic activity in the region. If you can’t handle this journey but still want to see volcanos, check out these active volcanoes you can actually visit.
Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Utah has no shortage of national parks, that’s for sure. Located about 175 miles northeast of Zion, you’ll find the gorgeous Capitol Reef National Park, and within that park, you’ll find the breathtaking and lesser-known Cathedral Valley. One look at its magnificent rock formations and you can easily see how it got its name; the towers of rock are reminiscent of massive Gothic houses of worship. Like Toroweap Overlook, you’ll have to access this spot via a fair amount of driving on a dirt road. Stargazers, in particular, should consider making the trip; all of Capitol Reef National Park is a designated “Dark Sky Park.”
Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
This hidden lake within Montana’s most famous national park provides a serene spot for hiking, camping, and fishing. At eight miles long, Bowman Lake is the third largest lake in the park. To get there, you’ll need to veer off of the famously gorgeous Going-to-the-Sun Road and traverse a few miles of dirt road, but once you have, you’ll encounter an oasis from the better-known tourist hubbub, as well as a wealth of enough hiking trails to make this a vacation all its own. Don’t worry if you’re too far from these hidden wonders, go visit the amazing hidden gems in every U.S. state.
Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia, the oldest national park in the northeast, is home to many a must-see spot, from Jordan Pond to Cadillac Mountain. While the rest of the park is located just off the coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula is still part of the mainland, so many parkgoers overlook it without a second thought. Savvy travelers, however, know that Schoodic Point, located at the very tip, offers one of the best lookout spots in the entire park. Specifically, from there you’ll have a view of Mount Desert Island, including a lighthouse perched there that many people don’t even know exists. Get a glimpse at more secret chambers hidden inside well-known landmarks.
The Racetrack, Death Valley, California
No one knows for sure what type of natural phenomenon is responsible for “The Racetrack,” a dry lake bed located in America’s hottest spot where the rocks seem alive. In this valley, large rocks sit at the ends of trails in the sand, some as long as 1500 feet, similar to the ones snails make in gooey sand. Researchers think that a unique combination of wind and rain might enable the rocks to creep across the valley, but that’s nothing more than an educated guess. Though it might sound counter-intuitive for the hottest place in the country, they believe that patches of ice, of all things, allow the rocks to slide around on the sandy surface.
Sliding Sands Trail, Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
In a state packed with natural beauty, from beaches to volcanoes to rainforests, one of the activities that gets the most tourists flocking is watching the sunrise from the summit of the Haleakala volcano. And while that is, undeniably, an incredible sight, travel experts recommend coming for the sunrise but staying for Sliding Sands Trail. Follow this trail, and its eponymous vibrantly colored stripes of sand, through the volcano’s crater to the floor. This gem is so little-known, you and your travel squad may well be the only ones around. For more uncommon adventures, check out these lesser-known national parks that are off the beaten path.