Looking for a holiday with spectacular natural scenery? Having visited the United States many times, I’m drawn back there because of its wonderful wilderness landscapes and National Parks. Here are 15 of my favourite natural wonders which are well worth the road trip.
Bryce Canyon – Utah
Utah is packed with spectacular scenery but Bryce Canyon scores highly with its orange-hued landscape covered by weathered sandstone rocks . Strangely shaped hoodoos and spires stretch as far as the eye can see. The walking trails down through the hoodoos provide a genuine sense of the scale and power of this immense landscape. Sunset Point provides great views across the horseshoe-shaped amphitheatre with its spires, fins and slot canyons.
The Grand Canyon – Arizona
The Grand Canyon is king of North America’s spectacular National Parks. It’s hard not to be blown away by the beauty of the rock formations with the Colorado River snaking along the canyon’s valley bottom for mile upon mile. Whether from the land, river or air the sheer scale of the landscape is guaranteed to make you swoon with amazement. Those who love adventure tours, should take a trip down to the bottom of the valley on a donkey or head to the skies for unrivalled aerial views of the canyon from a helicopter. The awe inspiring and unforgettable Grand Canyon is truly a trip of a lifetime.
Monument Valley – Arizona
Hollywood has etched this archetypal western desert landscape into our minds through movies like Stagecoach and The Searchers. It’s easy to wax lyrical about the jaw-dropping beauty of Monument Valley’s landscape of rocky pinnacles, mesas and buttes. The rock’s colours change throughout the day depending on the light, creating spectacular photo opportunities. A guided jeep tour reveals the full magnificence of the valley’s sandstone masterpieces that tower up to 400 and 1,000 feet. This Navajo land is a remarkable place imbued with native American culture.
Antelope Canyon – Arizona
Entering into the small crack in the rock to Antelope Canyon is like moving into a different world and time zone. Long revered and by the Navajo peoples, it’s a special meditative place (if you close one eye and forget the tourists) with its radiant interplay of light and shadow on sculptured rocks. Magenta, brown, orange, yellow and red hues play on the rock surfaces as the light changes. This slot canyon is a hugely impressive sight.
Glacier National Park – Montana
Glacier National Park on the American-Canadian border takes in more than a million acres of forests, alpine meadows and lakes. Wildlife lovers will be thrilled to discover that it has one of the largest grizzly bear populations in the USA. Its spectacular glaciated landscape is a hikers’ heaven with 700 miles of wild trails. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the USA. The 50 mile long paved road passes through the park’s various habitats, from large glacial lakes and cedar forests to alpine tundra on top of the pass.
Yosemite – California
California’s stunning Yosemite National Park boasts an abundance of habitats and scenery – mountains, crystal clear streams, waterfalls, lush meadows and ancient giant sequoias. Driving through the park the landscape becomes increasingly dramatic before you arrive at the sheer granite rock face of El Capitan which glowers over the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite is a great park for wildlife lovers who should look out for bears, deer, marmots and other critters. The cascading Yosemite Falls can be seen in full flow during the spring when its falling waters are a breathtaking sight.
Niagara Falls – New York State
Niagara Falls has two faces – its Canadian side and the United States face. The Canadian viewpoint is arguably the best, but either way this natural spectacle is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. The Canadian Falls, Horseshoe Falls and Bridal Veil Falls cannot fail to impressive with their gushing, voluminous waters. The American Falls form a ‘W’ in shape and are illuminated in multi-colours every night. Attractions such as the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds give visitors a great opportunity to experience the rush of Niagara’s waters at close quarters… plus you get to wear a tasteless yellow mackintosh.
Canyonlands – Utah
Canyonlands National Park is a heady spectacle of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, arches, and spires in the Utah desert. Arguably, the most spectacular area in this vast wilderness is the Island in the Sky with its panoramic views along the paved scenic drive. Hikers will love its many rocky trails. Adventure addicts can take off along the White Rim Road four-wheel-drive route, whilst white water rafters will enjoy trips along Cataract Canyon. The area has a wealth of ancient history. Look out for American Indian rock art in the Horseshoe Canyon area.
Yellowstone – Wyoming/Montana
Yellowstone’s stunning scenery takes in everything from mountains, meadows and forests to canyons, rivers and lakes. Yellowstone is said to be one of the most dangerous places on Earth because it sits on top of a giant magma chamber which could blow up at any time. Its geysers are some of the most impressive anywhere in the world. Old Faithful is the most famous with its spurting, thermal outbursts which can shoot 140 feet into the air. The wildlife is fantastic with bison, beers, elk, wolves and mouse amongst the most easily observed.
The Grand Tetons – Wyoming
Grand Teton’s landscape is characterised by towering mountains and lush water meadows. The Tetons form a dramatic sequence of jagged peaks rising to 9,000-10,000 feet. The mountains appear to rise up from the flat valley bottom like vertical daggers or ‘teets’ – hence the name Tetons. This is ‘Moose Country’ – remember to keep your eyes peeled for these odd-looking, shy creatures which can often be spotted in the water meadows.
Acadia – Cadillac Mountain – Maine
Acadia National Park is one of those awesome places that crams a lot of stunning scenery into a relatively small space. This beautiful park has everything from mountains and gentle hills to a rocky coastline and an archipelago of islands. Drive or walk to the top of Cadillac Mountain and take in the panoramic views over the Porcupine and Cranberry Isles. The road is dramatic with hairpin bends and sensational views as it winds its way to the summit. My top tip – take an evening drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset when the sun drops over Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles.
White Sands – New Mexico
White Sands National Monument is a sight to behold. It’s a shimmering vision of pure white sand dunes which almost blind your eyes in the mid-day heat. This great natural wonder in the Chihuahuan Desert boasts huge silvery sand dunes which form the world’s largest gypsum dune field. Nearby military complexes and rocket sites are a stark reminder of the area’s history and atomic bomb testing during the Cold War.
Mesa Verde – Colorado
Mesa Verde boasts a remarkable landscape pockmarked with the remains of the homes of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Most spectacular are its famous cliff dwellings which cling to the underbelly of overhanging cliffs ranging in size from one-room homes to villages with over 150 rooms. Mesa Verde is Spanish for ‘green table’ so it’s no surprise to find a mix of desert and lush, green landscapes close to sources of water.
Zion National Park – Utah
Zion is God’s own country if you’re a Mormon – this was their historic Promised Land. It’s also one of Utah’s most spectacular wilderness areas with huge sandstone rocks which have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded. Zion’s landscape of high plateaus, canyons, and monolithic cliffs is dramatic and breathtaking. I can also recommend the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Rock climbers will love Zion’s giant rock walls of red and white Navajo sandstone.
Death Valley – California
Death Valley is the hottest, driest and lowest place on the planet, making it a landscape of extremes. Head to Furnace Creek to experience this first-hand. Temperatures often exceed 100 degrees but can also drop dramatically into the minus figures. The weird flora and fauna also reflects the unusual climate including valley floor plants with roots that go down 10 times the height of a human being. This is an incredible eco-system which has succeeded in coping with everything nature can throw at it.