BEST OUTDOOR PLACES TO VISIT IN THE US – PERFECT PLACE FOR NATURE LOVERS
The US has some amazing cities and towns – that is for sure. But the US also has amazing national parks and beaches that have to be on your itinerary.
While it is almost impossible to see all of the 58 US National Parks and the endless amount of stunning beaches, this post introduces you to some of the most amazing places in the USA – so be prepared to find out about the best outdoor places in the USA to visit.
With one post on the most beautiful cities and towns in the US, this post only covers nature lovers’ most beautiful places.
Grand Canyon in Arizona
Recommended by Arzo from Arzo Travels
Outside the US, the Grand Canyon is probably the most famous national park. After visiting myself on a day trip from Las Vegas, I can clearly see why this place is so popular amongst foreigners and locals.
Ideally located for people who like to escape Las Vegas’s craziness, the Grand Canyon makes a wonderful day trip – though, you will only see a small fraction of this giant national park located in Arizona.
There are plenty of things to do – hiking and cycling (depending on the weather), rafting, and enjoying the amazing views are just a few options that you have. While you basically have these views from everywhere, there are some special viewpoints: the Grand Canyon Skywalk is extremely popular among visitors, though less popular among the Native tribes that live there.
So, while I think that the Grand Canyon was an amazing part of my US trip, it is important to remember to be careful where you go and where you leave your garbage – this applies to all the places you go, but it is even more important with parks and beaches.
Sequoia National Park in California
Recommended by Kirsty from Travel With Meraki
Sequoia National Park packs a punch. The world’s largest tree to granite rocks towering above the wilderness, amazing wildlife, and magic underground crystal caves.
With so many things to pick from to do in the park, one of our favorites was standing next to the largest living sequoia. The General Sherman Tree makes you realize just how small we are in the scale of things. Over 11 meters in diameter and 83 meters tall, this 2000+-year-old tree is hard to get into just one photograph!
If seeing this huge tree has given you a taste for sequoias, The Giant Forest’s Big Trees Trail should be your next stop. Wandering amongst these regal giants seems to give you a sense of peace, and you can see visitors often finish this walk in total silence, just soaking in the views and atmosphere.
After seeing the National Park from the first floor, you need to head up Moro Rock to see its vast scale from above. The 350 steps leading up this huge granite dome are no small feat, but the view from the very top is definitely worth the climb.
We left Sequoia National Park with a little bit of enchantment in our hearts after walking amongst giants, seeing a mama bear and her two cubs, and relaxing amongst wilderness at Silver City Mountain Resort.
Glacier National Park in Montana
Recommended by Nathalie from Unbridled
If you ever plan a road trip through the North of the U.S., you should definitely hit the Glacier National Park.
My favorite of all places in the U.S. Montana’s only National Park is a playground for hikers and outdoor junkies. It has many stunning trails for day hikes and trekking, crystal-clear lakes for kayaking, and remote areas for relaxation. You can fully disconnect from your stressful life because cell phone service is non-existent.
My favorite hike was the Highline Trail, which offers incredible views of the mountains and valleys. Kintla Lake is another fantastic place in the very North of the park. It is tranquil because it is far away from the visitor center and only available by dirt road.
If you are like me, you will be camping. The campsites are very popular, so you should reserve your site before you go or get up extremely early so that you can get one of the precious spots at Lake McDonald or Rising Sun.
Glacier National Park is one of the few places in the U.S. with the clearest night sky. On cloudless nights, you get to enjoy the impressive milky way that will appear over your head. There are even stargazing gatherings with telescopes in summer.
Divine nature and remoteness make Glacier National Park the best place to visit in the U.S.
Joshua Tree National Park in California
Recommended by Marta from Learning Escapes
Joshua Tree National Park is a wondrous place.
Here, two desert systems meet the Colorado desert, which lies in the park’s Eastern part. The Mojave desert, which is higher in elevation, has distinctive traits such as giant smooth boulders and the famous Joshua trees that park its name.
The Joshua Trees are unique to this area and were named Mormon settlers who thought they looked like the prophet Joshua with his arms stretched towards the heavens.
You can visit Joshua Tree National Park all year round, and the best activity here is hiking: there are paths for all levels of ability, and the views are spectacular!
If you love camping, campsites are available in the park but make sure you are prepared for the weather as, especially in summer, the heat is intense!
Joshua Tree can be visited in a relatively short period of time, and it is even possible to get a sense of the beauty of the park driving through it.
The park has many sites of interest, such as Skull Rock and the Cholla Cactus garden. What is special here is the vast desert landscape with the evocative Joshua trees, giving the park a distinctive otherworldly and unique appearance.
Volcano National Park in Hawaii
Recommended by LC Hunter from Birdgehl
The Big Island of Hawai’i doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as the other Hawaiian islands of Oahu or Maui. This is silly because the island has something the others don’t – Hawai’i Volcano National Park, which makes a trip there worth it, alone.
The island comprises five volcanoes – Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. Three are considered active, with Kilauea erupting continually since 1983.
Entry to the National Park is $25, and a pass will last you a full seven days. On entry, you can see steam vents, walk through lava tubes, visit both an observatory and museum, or check out the action at the Volcano’s summit.
Best of all, the park is open 24/7. You can rock up any time of the day and night. I’d advise arriving about an hour before sunrise – there’ll be fewer people there (only the very dedicated), and it sure is a sight to see the glow of the volcano against the backdrop of millions of stars. It’s somehow even more impressive than witnessing it in the light of the rising sun.
You can also ride a bike or walk from the town of Kalapana to the ocean’s edge, where if you’re lucky, you’ll see lava fields flowing straight into the water. Try to arrive an hour before sunset to scope out a decent spot.
The park is a two-hour drive from the city of Kona and around forty minutes from Hilo. You can also stay onsite within the park, but accommodation is generally cheaper in either of the island’s two big cities.“
Finger Lakes in New York
Recommended by Sky from Sky Vs. World
When traveling through the East Coast of the United States, the Finger Lakes region of New York is a must-visit.
The area is known for several long, thin lakes that resemble “fingers” and is one of the best wine regions in the country. The Finger Lakes encompasses around 9,000 square miles and many small towns and a few larger cities, like Ithaca and Corning. Besides wineries, the region is also known for beautiful hikes and waterfalls at state parks.
Ithaca is home to Cornell University, one of the best universities in the country, and the Buttermilk State Falls. The Buttermilk Falls are absolutely stunning when there’s been rain, though the hike to the top is considered strenuous.
Watkins Glen is another area with many beautiful waterfalls and cute towns. Wineries can be found all around the lakes, with wine trails set up on Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. For those looking for a little more, Seneca Falls is a quaint historic town known as the Women’s Rights Movement’s birthplace.
The museum there is definitely worth checking out! Overall, you really can’t go wrong with a visit to the Finger Lakes, whether you want to sip on wine, take a hike, or enjoy small-town New York!
Yosemite National Park in California
Recommended by Taiss from Together To Wherever
National Parks in the United States are some of the most amazing places to visit in the world.
We may be a bit biased as Californians, but we’d say that Yosemite is the absolute best of all to visit. The natural beauty alone is more than mind-blowing, even if you’ve already seen pictures of this place. The awe-inspiring sights at Yosemite National Park provide a backdrop to any vacation one may choose.
There are plenty of adventures to be had, such as epic hikes on Half Dome, as well as checking out several viewpoints like the famous Glacier Point, along with chasing some of the waterfalls that are dotted all around the park. Yosemite offers tremendous value to visitors on any budget.
Getting around the park is easy and free with the buses provided there, and the park entry is good for up to three days. There are various options for accommodations ranging from renting a campsite and pitching your own tent to motels, bed, and breakfasts or renting cabins.
However, park visitors can also enjoy some luxury amidst the raw natural experiences by staying at a high-end hotel-like Tenaya Lodge. The luxury accommodations there include a spa, steam and sauna rooms, as well as several pools.
So, whether you are into camping or glamping or you want to see some stunning landscapes, courtesy of mother nature, Yosemite National Park should be high on your list of must-see places in the US.
Naples Beach in Florida
Recommended by Lori from Travlinmad
Soft white sand? Check! Crystalline blue water? Check! Warm enough to swim year-round? Check, check, and check! Welcome to Naples, Florida.
Located in the subtropical southwest corner of the state on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, the summers here are hot and humid, while the winters offer perfect warm temperatures and little to no rain.
And although there’s the typical great shopping, dining, and cool arts scene here, perhaps the biggest draw to Naples are the spectacular beaches – after all, what better to do than relax at the beach with more than 300 sunny days a year!
There are several great ones to head to – from a family-friendly and dog-friendly -, but Barefoot Beach Preserve tops the list for one of Naples’s best beaches. With a secluded location, natural dunes, and nice wide beaches, the Preserve is 342 acres of natural land and one of the last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida’s southwest coast.
You could hardly be blamed for spending the entire day here relaxing in paradise. And the icing on the cake is one that kids of all ages will love — Barefoot Beach Preserve has some of the most spectacular shelling in the world, where little gifts from the sea wash ashore against your ankles.
Just be sure and return the live shells to the sea!
Redwood National Park in California
Recommended by Sam from Alternative Travelers
The United States’ wilderness is one of the country’s biggest assets and visiting the Redwood National and State Parks in California is a must-see for travelers to the U.S. West Coast.
This is one of the only places in the world where you can stand in the presence of such massive and humbling trees. In fact, the tallest measured tree in the world, named Hyperion, is located within the Redwood National Park.
Wandering among the trees truly feels like entering another world as the unique redwood coastal ecosystem is home to several rare species. The Redwood National and State Parks are now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site and an International Biosphere Reserve.
The best way to experience these magnificent trees is to take any of the numerous hikes with varying levels of accessibility. While camping is restricted to backcountry camping in the national parks, state parks have more accessible campsites that allow visitors to spend a few nights under the canopy of the redwoods.
There are many scenic drives through the forest, such as the Avenue of the Giants or Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, for those who cannot or do not want to hike or camp.
Visiting the redwoods is a great stop on a West Coast road trip, or even a few days trips from San Francisco. The state of California alone has nine national parks, so if you plan on visiting a few, make sure to grab a yearly parks pass, as it will save you tons of money! You can buy them at any park, and you can even pick up a park’s passport too so that you can collect stamps at each park that you visit.
Sanibel Island in Florida
Recommended by Bret from Green Global Travel
Located on Florida’s gulf coast, just minutes from Fort Myers, Sanibel Island offers Florida’s nostalgic taste as it was 40-50 years ago.
Visitors may get the feeling of having stumbled onto their own private paradise. Neon, stoplights, and fast-food restaurants are prohibited (except for a Dairy Queen built before 1974). Businesses are prohibited from using gaudy colors or building taller than the tallest palm tree. Homes must be built a certain distance from the shore. These are just a few of the reasons Sanibel has kept me coming back over and over again since my first visit in the early ’90s.
Sanibel is a barrier island created by nature to buffer the mainland from the elements via native palm and mangrove trees. Its gorgeous white sand beaches are consistently ranked among the world’s finest, lined with sea grape and sea oats that lend themselves to striking sunrise/sunset photography.
Sanibel is also widely considered the #1 shelling beach in the world: Take a stroll along it, and you’ll see many people searching in a position known as the “Sanibel stoop.”
The island is a haven for nature lovers, thanks to the 5,200-acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which protects one of the country’s largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems.
Hiking, biking, or driving through the refuge is a must, revealing wildlife ranging from raccoons and alligators to a world-renowned assortment of birds that includes herons, egrets, and the fluorescent pink Roseate Spoonbills. We recommend taking a naturalist-led kayaking tour in Tarpon Bay, which was voted one of the Top 10 places to paddle in the nation by Canoe & Kayak magazine.
From learning about marine conservation at Sanibel Sea School and mollusks at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum to fishing for tarpon and Sea Trout just offshore, this quiet little island offers a surprising array of attractions and activities. The only problem is, after visiting once, you may find yourself wishing you could call it home!
Antelope Canyon in Arizona
Recommended by Christine from The Traveling Pinoys
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon in the Navajo Nation – a native American Indian territory that covers three states: Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon in the Navajo Nation – a native American Indian territory that covers three states: Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.
The Canyon has 2 separated sections: the Upper Antelope Canyon and the Lower Antelope Canyon. Both sections offer amazing landscapes, and the only differences are the cost, your own mobility, and the crowd.
Upper Antelope Canyon is more expensive and popular – hence it is more crowded. However, it offers more dramatic views because of the light beams from the slots. The trail is also easier.
While the lower canyon offers a more secluded tour and less expensive, the trail can be quite tricky. Antelope is also a decent drive away from Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and Grand Canyon, making it ideal if you want to do an epic road trip in Arizona. If you are a photographer, it will give you one of the best photo sessions you won’t forget.
It gives you the feeling of being in a different world – with its unique landscape that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
Fairbanks in Alaska
Recommended by Rebecca from Tattling Tourist
Fairbanks, Alaska is one of the top destinations to visit in the USA because of its offers.
It is best to start a visit here with a trip downtown and to the museum to learn about the town’s gold rush history.
Then, enjoy one of the many tours offered in the area. Earn bragging rights as you cross the Arctic Circle while touring the Ice Road Trucker’s Dalton Highway. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you make your way on the 2-hour journey to see the highest peak in North America, Denali.
Head to Chena Hot Springs, where you can relax after visiting the nearby Aurora Ice Museum, the largest year-round ice museum in the world. Get a close-up of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline on the way back into town.
It is easy to enjoy Fairbanks no matter what time of year you visit.
Enjoy long summer days spent hiking, fishing, panning for gold, or enjoying a festival. In the winter, despite the short days, there are many activities to keep you busy, such as dog-sled tours, ice fishing, skiing, a visit to the Santa Claus House in the North Pole, and viewing the Northern Lights. Fairbanks, Alaska, is a town full of history and activities to keep you busy year-round.
Tip: It is recommended to stay in the downtown Fairbanks area since everything is within walking distance.
This is convenient in the winter as some hotels, such as the Springhill Suites by Marriott, provide free pick up and drop off at the airport. With all the tours that offer pick-up service, driving on the snow-covered roads in a rental car is unnecessary.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park in N. Carolina and Tennessee
Recommended by Ashley from A Southern Gypsy
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of my favorite places in the entire world. It consists of large portions of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina in the United States.
Being from Tennessee, I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Smokies often, and they always blow me away by their beauty. This national park is the most visited national park in the US, and for a good reason.
Some of my favorite things to do include driving and hiking the 11-mile Cades Cove loop for the best black bear sightings, seeing the synchronous fireflies in June (one of only two places in the world to see them), spotting elk in the Cataloochee Valley, exploring the ghost town of Elkmont and all the hiking you could ever want.
The Smokies offer a little something for everyone and is a spot that should not be missed in the United States. Many people come to this area for Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge but forget about the amazing outdoors right at their backdoor.
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Recommended by Ljojlo from The Traveller’s Guide
Yellowstone National Park is a volcanic wonderland located mainly in Wyoming, with small sections sprawling into Montana and Idaho.
This place is special because it is the first recognized National Park in the USA, but it is full of wildlife and spectacular geothermal activity. There are countless areas of Yellowstone to explore however are dependent on the time of year because, during the winter, much of the park is closed.
Spectacular spots not to be missed include Yellowstone Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. Yellowstone Lake took my breath away because, in the middle of April, it was still frozen.
Being from Australia, seeing a frozen lake doesn’t happen ever, so seeing this was magical. Mammoth Hot Springs is a sight to be witnessed by all. The colors and the features can’t be described but must be seen. So, do yourself a favor and visit.
Lucky last on my top three was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. As the name suggests, this is an impressive canyon topped off with a raging waterfall. Other spots to be noted are Old Faithful, a cone geyser always waiting to excite onlookers, and finally getting a campsite and staying in the park.
Without a doubt enjoying the park from the comfort of our RV was undoubtedly a highlight.
Yellowstone National Park is a must-see purely because I have seen nothing like it and nothing quite as spectacular, except maybe Antarctica, but that is another story.
Big Sur in California
Recommended by Sierra from Passport Voyager
One of my favorite places in the entire world is Big Sur, California.
I grew up in Monterey, about 40 minutes north of Big Sur, and visited regularly. The Big Sur coastline boasts incredible natural beauty and many iconic sights, including McWay Falls, Pfeiffer Beach, Garapatta State Park, and Bixby Creek Bridge.
Stopping on the drive up or down the coast to visit any of these spots is a great way to break up the trip! Another beautiful viewpoint is at the famous Nepenthe Restaurant, which offers lots of delicious food (including vegetarian and vegan options), as well as a gorgeous view down the coastline from their upper deck.
If you’re on a budget, try eating at Cafe Kevah downstairs, which has a slightly more affordable menu.
Hiking through the beautiful state parks and spending time on the iconic beaches are two of the more classic Big Sur activities, but there are lots of other options as well! For a truly magical experience, I recommend staying at Deetjen’s Inn (or just grabbing a meal there if you can)!
This inn is made up of a set of rustic cabins set back in the Redwood forest of Big Sur and will provide a cozy experience no matter how long you stay. Big Sur is a must-see location because of its unique, exceptional natural beauty and local charm and a perfect addition to your California itinerary.
Bryce Canyon in Utah
Recommended by Danielle from Like Riding a Bicycle
Everyone thinks the best of this area is the Grand Canyon, and while stunning, to me at least, it didn’t hold a candle to Bryce Canyon.
Located in southern Utah, with beautiful canyons all around the area, Bryce Canyon has stunning rock formations that look like pillars coming out of the ground. You can drive up and see this amazing canyon from above, or go for a hike right down into it – and a much less strenuous hike than at the Grand Canyon, might I add!
It’s best to go during the daytime, of course, so that you can see it all, but I highly recommend early morning, as watching the sunrise above the canyon is spectacular. The canyon is huge, and while we did one hike down into it, there are many different options, so if you’re lucky, you’ll rarely see another person or can take a quick break to separate yourself from the rest.
I always prefer hikes that are along (or just with my group), so it’s wonderful that this is so much less crowded than the Grand Canyon. Bryce Canyon is an essential place to go to if you find yourself in Utah – believe me. You’ll be sorry if you don’t!
Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan
Recommended by Natasha from The World Pursuit
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park in Northern Michigan covers over 35 miles of beautiful and almost untouched coastline.
When you visit, the water is so blue. You would think you are in the Caribbean. It’s the perfect place to visit in Michigan to relax and be at one with nature. There are some beautiful and historic hotels in the area, or you can take a campervan.
The whole area is great for hiking, canoeing, and being out on the water, especially in June, July!
Some ideal things to do there are to venture out on a Dune Climb, take in the stunning overlooks as at Pyramid Point, and stop off for an ice cream ice-cream cone in Leelanau County.
In the heart of winter, the whole area turns into a winter wonderland as well! In general Sleeping Bear Dunes is a great spot on any USA trip. It provides beautiful water, relaxing towns, and amazing forestry to vacation in.
Images: all images from shutterstock.com
FINAL THOUGHTS ON VISITING BEAUTIFUL OUTDOOR PLACES IN THE US
There are so many stunning places for nature lovers in the US. It would be impossible to add them all to this list. However, this list of beautiful places is pretty great to start exploring the best spots in the US.
For the best cities to visit in the US, check out my “best cities and towns to visit.”
What are your favorite places to visit in the US? Have we missed an awesome outdoor spot in the US? Let us know.