50 States: 50 Places: The Top Natural Wonder in Your State
Adventurers may not consider a trip successful unless there was a “wow” moment that they can’t stop talking about. An eye-popping natural wonder will have that effect on most tourists. The good news is that you don’t have to go to great lengths and travel to the other end of the world to see such marvels. Phenomena are all around you, as close as the state in which you live.
Alabama – Noccalula Falls
Cascading over 90 feet into the Black Ravine are the stunning Noccalula Falls, located in Noccalula Falls Park. Admire the falls then head to the Black Creek Trails – 8 trails and connectors for runners, bikers and hikers. If your cut out for the rugged outdoors stay overnight at the Noccalula Falls Campground.
Alaska – Mendenhall Ice Caves
Imagine how they will look as the background of a selfie! The striking ice caves inside the 12 miles long glacier are constantly on the move as Mendenhall inches towards Mendenhall Lake and changes shape along the way. The best way to access the shimmering blue walls underneath is from the West Glacier Trail with the help of a guide.
Arizona – The Grand Canyon
The “fight” in Arizona is really between the Grand Canyon and The Wave. Even though most people visit the Canyon, it “won” because the second largest canyon in the world – 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and the distance is approximately 10 miles – and the Havasupai tribe has been living in and around the South Rim for the past 800 years. There is also plenty to do: Rafting in the Grand Canyon is an incredible experience, and the backcountry is amazing. Visitors can explore the park by camping, biking, guided tours and summer/winter hiking.
Arkansas – The Ozarks
Flying above the region is an incredible journey. The Ozarks are the place to be if you can’t decide what summer adventure you want to go on this season. The highland areas offers it all – fly across the sky on a zip line tour, catch your own fish for dinner, go waterskiing, canoeing or hiking to see stunning waterfalls.
California – El Capitan
From Yosemite and Redwood to Sequoia national parks, picking just one national wonder in the Golden State is a very difficult task. But if you are to choose one specific place you can visit, you won’t go wrong with El Capitan. The largest monolith of granite in the world, it has several designated climbing routes, the majority of which are considered highly challenging.
Colorado – Great Sand Dunes
Nestled in southern Colorado, North America’s tallest dunes rise over 750 feet high against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The wind-shaped dunes glow beneath the rugged backdrop of the mountains. This geologic wonderland, containing over 30 square miles of massive dunes.
Connecticut – Thimble Islands
You may take a road trip up the Connecticut coast and never see the Thimble Islands. You may not have even heard of them. This is an archipelago of about 100 island, and some more if you consider the tide, not far from New Haven, in Long Island Sound. The largest of them is Horse Island, and it is about 17 acres.
Delaware – The Great Cypress Swamp
Simply “The Swamp,” as locals call it, is the largest freshwater wetland and contiguous block of forestland in the state. It spills over into both Wicomico and Worcester counties in Maryland. It was known as the headwaters of the Pocomoke River until the 1930’s.
Florida – The Everglades
This is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. The park, and American treasure that is also a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, protects an unparalleled landscape that provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species. The narrow, occasionally overgrown mangrove tunnels in the Everglades are nearly impossible to access without a kayak and the open waters are best traversed with a paddle. They also move so a GPS won’t do a very good job at navigating you.
Georgia – Cumberland Island
Cumberland Island is protected as a National Seashore, retaining its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife. From sea turtles to wild horses, the well preserved land is wild and in order to keep it that way the National Park Service limits the number of visitors.
Hawaii – Mauna Loa
If you choose to hike to the volcano, you should know that, from the sea floor, Mauna Loa climbs 30,000 feet. This is it is taller than Mount Everest. After it, Mauna Loa means “Long Mountain.” Eruptions are large and produce rivers of lava that have threatened nearby towns.
Idaho – The “fire rainbow”
The name is a bit deceiving. This phenomenon has nothing to do with fires or rainbows. It is technically known as circumhorizontal arcs which occur when the sun is higher than 58 degrees above the horizon and its light passes through high-altitude cirrus clouds made up of hexagonal plate ice crystals, according to UCSB. The ice crystals act as a prism, and the resulting refraction looks like a rainbow.
Illinois – Lake Michigan
This is the Great Lake that is located entirely within the U.S. Go on a 2-hour sailing tour and you will see some of the most stunning sights of the Chicago skyline. It’s not easy to describe how truly stunning the lake is, but also how rough the waters can be – it’s more like an angry ocean on stormy days. Calm or not, the views are always impressive.
Indiana – Wyandotte Caves
There are many caves in Indiana that you can visit but the limestone Wyandotte Caves, which are actually made up of two caverns, are truly spectacle. Formed about 2 million years ago, they make up one of the five largest cave systems in Indiana. The caves’ most spectacular formation is Monument Mountain; it is known as the largest underground mountain in the world, standing at 135 feet.
Iowa – Loess Hills
Loess Hills State Forest is a 5.6 mile lightly trafficked loop trail, according to AllTrails.com. Comprised of approximately 11,600 acres and, with the exception of certain areas, the entire forest is open to hiking, and it’s certainly among the most spectacular hikes in the entire state. Visitors say the trails are great and the scenery is incredible.
Kansas – Strataca salt deposits
One of the largest in the world, the extent of the bedded salt deposit is 27,000 square miles. Go on a salt safari at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. It is an hour long ride through tunnels mined in the 1950’s. Learn about the geology and structure of the mine. The purest portion of the salt vein is 650 feet underground and is still mined today.
Kentucky – Mammoth Cave
Home to the longest known cave system in the world, this World Heritage Site will have you going back every chance you get. You’ll have to crawl on your hands and knees to see certain places. Mammoth Cave consists of 390 miles of passageway. With three campgrounds, backcountry, and the Green River, the park offers a grand Great American adventure.
Louisiana – Barataria Preserve
Louisiana is known all over the world for its swamps. They are filled with exotic wildlife and beautiful plants. The preserve’s 23,000 acres of coastal wetlands were created by the drainage gateway of the Mississippi River and are home to over 200 species of birds, snakes and alligators.
Maine – Desert Of Maine
After Acadia National Park, this is the most famous natural phenomenon in the state. The 40-acres of sand and silt aren’t exactly a desert – it rains a lot there – but attract about 30,000 tourists a year. Thousands of years ago, during the last ice age, large glaciers scraped rocks and soil as they expanded, grinding rocks into pebbles down into what is known as glacial silt, according to the Smithsonian.com Layers of glacial silt piled up and, as time went by, topsoil began to cover the silt, hiding the sandy substance underneath what is now Maine’s famous forests.
Maryland – Assateague Island
This is where wild ponies travel the beaches. The 37-mile uninhabited island, near Chincoteague, is split between Virginia and Maryland. One legend says the ponies survived a shipwreck. The “wild” horses are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state, according to NPS. This is not the only island ruled by animal.
Massachusetts – The Great Marsh
The North Shore’s Great Marsh is the largest continuous stretch of Salt Marsh in New England, extending from Cape Ann to New Hampshire. It includes over 20,000 acres of marsh, barrier beach, tidal river, estuary, mudflat, and upland islands from Gloucester to Salisbury.
Michigan – Sleeping Bear Dunes
Part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located along scenic State Route 22, Sleeping Bear Dunes Point beach boasts clear, turquoise waters and white sand beaches. Reminiscent of the Caribbean, you might actually forget you are in Northern Michigan. The Sleeping Bear Dunes are some of the largest dunes in the world. You can’t miss the sand bluffs that rise 450 feet over Lake Michigan.
Minnesota – Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
This is one of the most underrated attractions in the state, according to locals. It is part of the Superior National Forest. Over 1 million acres in size, it has over 1,200 miles of canoe routes. Because this area was set to preserve its primitive character, it allows visitors to canoe, portage and camp in the spirit of the French Voyageurs of 200 years ago, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Mississippi – Petrified Forest
Believe it or not, the Petrified Forest, the only one in the eastern part of the country, is said to have been formed about 36 million years ago when ancient logs washed down a river channel to where they are today, and they later became petrified.
Missouri – Elephant Rocks
The huge elephant-shaped boulders are about 20 feet high and weigh over 600 tons. Formed from 1.5-billion-year-old granite and standing end-to-end like a train of circus elephants, they present a stunning sight. The rocks have created formations that intrigue geologists and are popular with history buffs, according Missouri State Parks.
Montana – Glacier National Park
Pristine forests, incredible mountains, stunning lakes and spectacular hikes – picking just one natural wonder is impossible. Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of trails and is home to over 70 species of mammals and over 260 species of birds. From majestic elk to grizzly bears, the wildlife there is incredible.
Nebraska – Chimney Rock
The Chimney Rock National Historic Site is perhaps the most famous and recognizable landmark in the state. It’s situated about 4 miles south of Bayard. It is a natural geologic formation that rises 325 feet. The impressive formation is composed of layers of volcanic ash and brule clay dating back millions of years.
Nevada – Valley of Fire State Park
The Valley of Fire State Park is a must-see spot for any outdoor enthusiast visiting Vegas. Less than an hour away from The Strip, Nevada’s oldest state park features petrified trees and petroglyphs, which are believed to be more than 2,000 years.
New Hampshire – Mount Washington
Mostly recognized as the highest peak in the Northeast, Mount Washington, which stretches 6,288 feet, is home to some challenging trails and rugged weather. Its high relief of 4,000 feet makes it a steep trail to climb. It’s located just 25 minutes north of North Conway on scenic NH Route 16.
New Jersey – The Delaware Water Gap
It encompasses 67,000 acres of mountain ridge, forest, and floodplain on both sides of the Delaware River in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Bring your kayak and explore the 40 miles of the Middle Delaware National Scenic River. About 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail are also in the area. Beware of black bears and timber rattlesnakes.
New Mexico – White Sands National Monument
With more than 143,000 acres to be explored, this site, which is part of the U.S. National Park System, is considered to be the largest and best protected area of gypsum sand in the world. It is composed of white, wave-like dunes that make up 275 square miles of desert. Did you know that this is also the most haunted spot in the state?
New York – Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls, which forms the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet, links the international border between the U.S. and Canada. Some may argue that the falls are better-looking from the Canadian side, but those in Buffalo are also stunning. Niagara Falls consists of three waterfalls: The Horseshoe Falls (the most powerful waterfall in North America), the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls.
North Carolina – Jockey’s Ridge
People living on the East Coast, who are looking to experience the desert, should head to Jockey’s Ridge. The park resembles the Sahara Desert, but is also on the shore of Roanoke Sound, according to the North Carolina Parks Department. Fantastic sunsets and the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic coast draw visitors from all over the country.
North Dakota – Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Located in the colorful North Dakota badlands and home to a variety of plants and animals, including bison, prairie dogs, and elk, this national park is largely overlooked. Visit for a chance to see a combination of flamboyant badlands terrain, riparian habitat along the Little Missouri River, and wildlife both native and not.
Ohio – Hocking Hills
Hocking Hills State Park is treasured for its variety of recreational opportunities in superb natural scenery. The 2,356-acre park has towering cliffs, waterfalls and deep hemlock-shaded valleys to appeal to hikers and naturalists. Primitive camping and staying at cottages is available.
Oklahoma – Great Salt Plains
The barren landscape of the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of salt left over from an ocean that covered Oklahoma in prehistoric times, according to TravelOK. The salt deposits are leftovers after the water eventually evaporated. The saltwater lake in the park is about half as salty as the ocean.
Oregon – Crater Lake
The deepest lake in the U.S. with a measured depth of 1,949 feet is one of the most spectacular in the world. The water is so blue because there is hardly anything else in it – just water, according to the NPS. Explore old-growth forests or wildflower meadows, and climb mountains for great views of the lake.
Pennsylvania – Penn’s Cave
This is America’s only all water cavern and wildlife park. It’s also the only cave in the state placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Go on a boat tour and see some strangely-shaped stalactites and stalagmites, some of which somehow look like “The Statue of Liberty” and “The Garden of the Gods.”
Rhode Island – Mohegan Bluffs
Local always recommend that people go see the Mohegan Bluffs if they want a complete picture of Block Island. Standing about 150 feet above the beach below, the clay cliffs offer one of the most dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean in all of Rhode Island. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Montauk at the tip of Long Island.
South Carolina – The Angel Oak
This is just one attraction that proves America is truly beautiful. It is estimated to be more than 500 years old; some say it’s even older than 1,500. It stands 66.5 feet tall, measures 28 feet in circumference, and produces shade that covers 17,200 square feet. From tip to tip, its longest branch distance is 187 feet.
South Dakota – Badlands
The Badlands, which spans 244,000 acres, are a picturesque expanse of mixed-grass prairie and one of the world’s richest fossil beds. That’s probably why scenes of the films “Dances with Wolves” and “Thunderheart” were shot here.
Tennessee – Ruby Falls
Most people will point to the Great Smoky Mountains as the natural wonder in Tennessee, and it’ll be hard to argue. But a good case can be made for Ruby Falls, located over 1,120 feet below the surface of Lookout Mountain. Rock formations and shadows take on fascinating dimensions. The falls are lit using a system of pulleys and lanterns.
Texas – Enchanted Rock
The enormous pink granite dome expanding above Central Texas, and which formed over a billion years ago, has attracted people for thousands of years. It soars 1,825 feet above sea level, in the Llano Uplift not far from Fredericksburg. The Enchanted Rock Batholith stretches 62 square miles; most of it is underground.
Utah – The Narrows trail in Zion Canyon
This is one of the most popular areas in Zion National Park. The walls within the Narrows are extremely tall and the river can reach 20 to 30 feet wide. It’s to hike the park’s slot canyons – when it’s not raining. If a sudden storm hits the area, don’t waste time and find refuge somewhere high. Unexpected and abrupt flash flooding is common year-round.
Vermont – Quechee Gorge
This is the deepest gorge in Vermont – at 165 feet. It’s popular as “Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon.” It’s formed over many years by the winding Ottauquechee River, which is a popular whitewater kayak run.
Virginia – The Natural Bridge
This is one of the oldest attractions in the U.S. It is 215 feet high and has a span of 90 feet. The geological phenomenon, carved out by Cedar Creek, was a sacred site for the Native American Monacan Tribe and was once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
Washington – Mount Rainier
This is the most ice-covered peak in continental U.S. It’s also one of the Pacific Northwest’s most active volcanoes, even though you don’t see lava spilling over.
West Virginia – Seneca Rocks
Seneca Rocks has more than 370 routes that will satisfy climbers of all levels. The area is mostly famous for multi-pitch trad climbs. The good news is that the stunning summit pinnacle can be obtained by several 5.2-5.5 routes. Climbers have left good reviews of Gunsight to South Peak classic route (5.3).
Wisconsin – Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Go in the winter to see amazing ice caves. A dreamland of needlelike ice columns forms inside and they change every day. They are located at the western end of the Mainland Unit of the park, in far northern Bayfield County. The lake surface is usually a frozen white expanse, which is a stunning view in itself.
Wyoming – Grand Prismatic Spring
This is America’s largest hot spring and the third-largest in the world. Besides its size, it reflects the entire rainbow spectrum just like a prism. The spring changes color throughout the year as the water’s temperature changes. You should definitely not leave this eye-popper off your bucket list.
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