Top 5 (Lesser-Known) Natural Attractions in the U.S.
The wonderful thing about America is its diversity in geography, which makes some of nature's greatest wonders just a short flight or a drive away. You already know you should see the Grand Canyon, explore Yellowstone Park, and drive through California's redwoods, but what other undiscovered beauties lurk just beneath the surface? Here's a list of top 5 lesser-known attractions to be seen in the continental U.S.A.
1. Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Located a mere 30 minutes outside of Portland and nestled amidst the lush greenery that is the Pacific Northwest, Multnomah Falls is quite a sight to behold. The waterfalls, just one of the 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, are the 4th highest falls in the country but unmatched in their magical surrealism, resembling something out of a Lord of the Rings movie.
The highest fall of the two-drop cascade sits at 620 feet, with a trail that can be hiked all the way to the top for gorgeous views of the Columbia River just beyond the falls. Most visitors do not make the hike all the way to the top, instead opting for the easier 1/4-mile hike to the Benson Bridge, which crosses the lower cascade of the falls and is an easy hike for all fitness types and ages. The Benson Bridge, which offers photo-worthy views, is a foot-crossing built in 1914 by lumber magnate Simon Benson and offers a brief respite before the steep hike all the way up. The Multnomah Falls are a year-round attraction, and particularly stunning framed in fall foliage. Fed by rainwater and snow, the falls will be waiting to show off whenever you get there.
2. Delicate Arch, Utah
Dubbed “Utah's most recognizable arches” and found on Utah's license plates and postage stamps, the Delicate Arch is a 1.5 mile hike into Arches National Park. The park itself is a red-rock landscape that feels otherworldly, with rocks precariously balanced on each other in great feats of nature. The Delicate Arch is one of such 2,500 arches in the park, and the most famous of these.
The arch sits 4 stories high, and whether you stand underneath it or just next to it, it is a stunning sight to behold. To capture the brilliance of the rock colors, the arch is best seen during the golden hours right after sunrise or before sunset when the rocks seem to change their color. The cooler temperature in these hours also makes hiking easier, with the best hiking overall done in spring and fall when the desert's heat is more forgiving. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a camera to capture the Delicate Arch in all its angles.
3. Acadia National Park
A national treasure tucked into Maine's rugged coast, the 49,000 acre Acadia National Park is where sea and mountain come to meet, and it’s also one of the most visited parks in the country. Most of the park sits on Mount Desert Island, with other parts scattered on smaller surrounding islands and a peninsula. The park originated from donated land, slowly expanding itself over the years, darting around private property until 1986 when Congress set its official boundaries.
The park has a long list of attractions from woodland to granite peaks, and old carriage roads to rocky shores, making it perfect for camping, hiking, biking and other outdoor adventures. Everything to be loved and experienced on the Maine coast can be found here; hike Cadillac Mountain for expansive views of the coast, then enjoy the craggy coastline replete with the iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse before jumping into one of the many inland ponds perfect for swimming or fishing.
4. Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah
One of the most photographed places in the U.S., Monument Valley is a phenomenally gorgeous landscape of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spire rock structures on the Colorado Plateau. It stretches between Arizona and Utah, featuring sandstone towers up to 1,000 feet tall and whose natural colors are brilliantly red and deep. While many visitors come for the impressive rock formations, the area also features dramatic, intoxicating lighting, as the sun bounces off towers and casts long shadows on the valley's floor. It is the romanticization of the American West realized in imagery.
Managed by the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley is more than a series of jaw dropping rock formations, and includes hiking trails, camping areas, and a 17-mile scenic route for driving around the park. The best time to visit is between July and September. Be sure to check out some of the more popular formations such as the East and West Mittens which look like mittens, the Three Sisters, which look like two students facing a nun, Elephant Butte, and John Ford Point, where film director John Ford filmed many a Western movie scene.
5. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Forget Florida's coastline and California's beaches. For your next beach vacation, head to North Carolina's Cape Hatteras National Seashore instead. The first national seashore, Cape Hatteras extends more than 70 miles from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet and covers 30,000 acres. Composed of a series of barrier islands along North Carolina's coast, the seashore is protected land, which means any extensive commercial development is kept at bay. Because of this, the coastline is able to offer miles of pristine natural beaches and sand dunes, amidst a backdrop of salt marshes.
There is also lots of history to be found along North Carolina's Outer Banks, with a series of old lighthouses and lifesaving stations littered along the unspoiled coastline. The area is also of ecological importance as shifting sands of the barrier islands create a biologically diverse ecosystem that has made Cape Hatteras an important feeding and nesting site for many birds. This means if the beaches (perfect for surfing and shell hunting) aren’t for you, there is still plenty to occupy even the hardest to please visitor. Take your pick between birding, fishing, or just exploring the natural wildlife to be found.
If this list of top 5 lesser-known travel destinations doesn't leave you feeling inspired to go off the beaten path and soak in some of nature's finest attractions, I'm not sure what will. Start by snooping around in your own backyard, and you may just be surprised to find what's been hiding in plain sight all along.
By Kari M.
Kari is a freelance writer born and raised in Nairobi and currently living in the Midwest. When not mulling too deeply over things, she is making lists out of her lists. You can follow her on Twitter @the_warm_fruit.