It’s a big, beautiful world out there! Happily, though, you don’t have to travel far to see some of its most spectacular sights. Plenty of them are right here in our own backyard, ready to welcome travelers in search of adventure. From the towering, misty cliffs of California’s central coast to the leafy peaks and valleys of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, these are some of the most beautiful places to visit in the U.S. while on tour.
1. Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona
As far as America’s top travel destinations go, the Grand Canyon is a classic. Carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years, the canyon is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide in some spots. Lookout points along its north and south rims afford stunning bird’s-eye views, and white-knuckle-adventure enthusiasts can get up close to the colorful rock layers while hiking, biking, rafting, and kayaking. Check out our top tips for exploring the Grand Canyon.
2. Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska
Craggy mountains, otherworldly glaciers, temperate rainforest, and deep fjords make Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park one of the most beautiful places to travel in the U.S. The 3.3 million-acre park in southeastern Alaska is home to humpback whales, wolves, brown bears, and other majestic animals. Visitors can explore it all by air (seaplane tours), land (hiking, camping), and water (rafting, kayaking). September and October are wet, while April, May, and June are the driest—and comfiest—months to visit.
3. Monument Valley Tribal Park in Arizona and Utah
Sprawled across nearly 92,000 acres in Arizona and Utah, the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Park—Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii in the Navajo language—is a spectacular desert landscape studded with sandstone formations that rise 400 to 1,000 feet high. This spot is one of the most photographed in the U.S., and it’s no wonder why; throughout the day, movement of the sun and clouds creates a constantly changing display of light and shadows that visitors won’t soon forget. Jeep excursions on our U.S. National Parks: The Grand Canyon to Zion tour are a fun way to take it all in.
4. Big Sur in California
One of the best places to visit in the U.S. for awesome ocean views is Big Sur, a wild, rugged stretch of central California’s coastline about 140 miles south of San Francisco. With blankets of wildflowers, swooping seabirds, and emerald mountains that slope toward the sea, it’s a playground for nature buffs and shutterbugs. Can’t-miss photo ops include Bixby Bridge and the Big Sur Cliffs, which tower 5,000-plus feet over the Pacific at their highest points. Hiking and camping here are primo, and excellent restaurants keep visitors fully fueled. Continuing down the Pacific Coast Highway? Stop for a tour of spectacular Hearst Castle along the way on our Grand Tour of California: San Francisco to Los Angeles.
5. Yosemite National Park in California
Deep valleys, rolling meadows, and ancient giant sequoias make California’s Yosemite National Park one of the most beautiful places to visit in the U.S. Among the features it’s most known for are its waterfalls, which are fullest (and at their most thunderous) in the summer—one of the best times to visit. A popular one is Horsetail Falls, which cascades over the park’s iconic El Capitan vertical rock formation. Each February, a phenomenon occurs when the setting sun shines on the falls, creating a glowing, lava-like effect—and sending photographers scrambling to snap it.
6. Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii
If there’s such a thing as paradise, Kauai’s Na Pali Coast might just be it—and you can see it while on tour in the Aloha State. The lush, 17-mile stretch of the island’s North Shore is easily recognizable by its razor-sharp ridges, towering cathedral cliffs, and golden beaches. Aerial tours are the best way to fully take in the magnitude of the area. Boat tours—and guided kayaking and rafting tours, which are available in certain seasons and conditions—allow visitors to get a closer look at hidden sea caves and remote, unspoiled beaches.
7. Acadia National Park in Maine
Mostly located on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park welcomes 3.5 million visitors each year, making it one of the 10 most-visited national parks in the United States. Highlights within the 47,000-acre park include soaking in views of Maine’s coast and islands from atop Cadillac Mountain (it’s the highest point on the East Coast), strolling on Sand Beach, watching sea spray crash out from Thunder Hole, and snacking on freshly baked popovers and jam at Jordan Pond House.
8. Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts
For many Massachusetts residents, summertime is synonymous with Cape Cod. The peninsula, which is shaped like a hook—or a flexed arm, depending on who you ask—juts into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeastern part of the state and is chock-full of charming coastal villages, casual seafood shacks, photo-ready lighthouses, and wildlife-rich aquatic ecosystems. Nature buffs won't want to miss a visit to the Cape Cod National Seashore, where they'll find protected marshes, ponds, beaches, and lots more to explore.
9. Glacier National Park in Montana
Home to more than 700 miles of trails, this pristine park is one of the best places in the U.S. to visit if you love hiking. But no matter how you explore—camping, boating, and biking are also allowed—you’ll be treated to views of soaring, snow-capped mountains and turquoise alpine lakes. No visit to Glacier would be complete without a drive along Going-to-the-Sun Road, which connects the east and west sides of the park and is dotted with waterfalls and other points of interest that are worth pulling over to see. Sound cool? See all of our tours to Glacier National Park.
10. Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada
A visit to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park is like stepping back in time. There, visitors can see ancient, petrified trees, plus Native American petroglyphs that date back nearly 3,000 years. A hike along the 40,000-acre park’s trails will take visitors past naturally formed sandstone arches, through a sea of multicolored rock formations, and into narrow slot canyons carved out over time by flash floods and rainfall. Adrenaline junkies won’t want to miss out on rock climbing or rappelling.
11. White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire
Part of the Northern Appalachian Mountains and covering about a quarter of New Hampshire, the White Mountains are a popular year-round vacation destination for hikers, campers, golfers, snowboarders, and everyone in between. The scenic drive from Lincoln to Conway along the Kancamagus Highway is a must for road-trippers, and leaf-peepers won’t want to miss riding the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the top of the region’s highest peak for colorful views on our Fall Foliage Tour: Vermont to Massachusetts.
12. Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Though it may sound ominous, the name of this national park in South Dakota is also a geologic term used to describe the spectacular layered rock formations found there. Within its 244,000 acres, visitors can explore one of the world’s richest fossil beds, and watch paleontologists at work in the Fossil Preparation lab. Animal lovers: Keep your eyes peeled for bison, bighorn sheep, and black-footed ferrets. At the White River Visitor Center, rangers are on hand to chat about the Badlands’ ties to Lakota heritage.
13. Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
Holy hoodoos! That might be your exclamation upon first seeing Bryce Canyon. Situated in southern Utah, this national park is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos, or irregular columns of rock, in the world. At the park’s visitor center, guests can check out museum exhibits (or hear from rangers) about the rocks’ formation and pink and red coloring. Out in the park, travelers can soak in stunning vistas from Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce viewpoints, hike trails of all levels, and go stargazing at night. In the wintertime, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are exciting ways to explore the park’s plateaus.
14. Zion National Park in Utah
Situated in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park is one of the most amazing places to visit in the U.S. thanks to the steep, red cliffs of its crowning jewel, Zion Canyon. Among other can’t-miss spots to visit in Zion National Park is Angels Landing, one of the world’s most renowned hiking trails thanks to its tricky terrain and Zion Canyon views. The Virgin River flows to the Emerald Pools, where visitors will find waterfalls and a hanging garden. Whatever adventure travelers want—backpacking, canyoneering, stargazing—they’ll find it here.
15. Arches National Park in Utah
Another Utah gem, Arches National Park gets its name from the 2,000 natural stone arches that are found within its boundaries. Add to the mix hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks and you get an alien-like, red-rock landscape that’s truly unforgettable. Highlights include the 19-mile Arches Scenic Drive, hiking the easy, mile-long Park Avenue trail, and stopping to see Delicate Arch, the park’s main attraction.
16. Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona
Lake Powell may be manmade, but it’s plenty worthy of a spot on our list of the most beautiful places in the U.S. to visit. A reservoir on the Colorado River, it straddles the Utah-Arizona border and is a popular spot for water sports—especially boating, paddle boarding, and jet-skiing. There’s plenty for landlubbers here, too, like hiking, stargazing, and visiting the Navajo Village Heritage Center on our U.S. National Parks Adventure: A Week in the Southwest tour. Up for a nearby excursion? Check out Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, and be sure to bring your camera.
17. Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
Simply put, Yellowstone is a natural wonderland. Primarily located in Wyoming (it touches Montana and Idaho, too), the park is known for its steaming hot springs and gushing geysers, the most famous of which is Old Faithful. Another can’t-miss attraction is Grand Prismatic Spring—the largest hot spring in the U.S. and the third-largest in the world. The rainbow-colored thermal pool is 121-feet deep (that’s more than a 10-story building!) and covers more area than a football field.
Ready to explore your own backyard? Check out our U.S. tours!