12 Most Beautiful Regions in the United States
For a long time, it was a myth that only 10% of American citizens held valid passports. Nowadays, the number is more like over 40%. But still, you can see why people wouldn’t want to leave – you simply don’t need to.
With epic mountain ranges, national parks with forests running off far beyond the horizon, deserts that include the very hot, very dry Death Valley, volcanoes, geysers, craggy New England coastlines, surfer beaches, Caribbean and even Pacific Islands, the U.S. practically has it all when it comes to different environments, landscapes, and climates. There’s a lifetime of exploration on offer in the most beautiful regions in the United States.
1. The South
One of the largest and most quintessentially American regions of the United States, the South is where you’ll find some iconic natural areas of the country. Though there are big cities dotting this massive tract of land, here is where you’ll find some truly wild nature.
At 367 miles long, Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest known cave system – there’s still more to be discovered. For natural beauty that isn’t subterranean, the Blue Ridge Mountains extends around 550 miles as part of the larger Appalachian mountain range. One of America’s famous walking routes, the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail, is found for the most part in the Southern United States.
The South is also famous for its swamplands. The Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana is the largest river swamp in the US at almost a million acres, while The Great Dismal Swamp straddling Virginia and North Carolina makes for haunting scenery; both are pockmarked with the characteristic Bald Cypress trees of the region.
The Midwest – Midwestern United States – is America’s rust belt, home to swing states and cornfields. Endless prairies where bison and ranchers roam, the southern shores of the Great Lakes, and even mountains pockmark this sprawling region.
West Virginia boasts a densely forested karst landscape. A sight like the famous landmark of Seneca Rocks – in Seneca Rocks State Park – could easily convince you that you’re in Southeast Asia. South Dakota’s Badlands National Park is famous for being home to the largest mixed-grass prairie in the US. It’s in this stretch of wilderness that you’ll find otherworldly buttes and pinnacles striped and eroded into an almost alien landscape.
There are more badlands to be had in South Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and still, there’s more – find rolling hills in Iowa, grasslands in the Flint Hills of Kansas, hundreds upon hundreds of lakes in Minnesota, and strange rock formations in Kentucky.
And, of course, don’t forget Mount Rushmore in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
3. New England
Leafy New England in the northeast of the country is the United States’ quintessential Atlantic coastline. Famous for its fall foliage, fishing towns, and European influences, the aptly named New England is where the United States first began to take shape.
When it comes to nature, a good place to start is Arcadia National Park. Spread across more than 70 square miles, this area is abundant with deep woodlands and magnificent mountaintops. It’s here that you’ll find the renowned Maine coastline, as well as Echo Lake Beach, where you can spot peregrine falcons and black bears.
Fans of colorful scenes should head to White Mountain National Forest. Situated in the state of New Hampshire, the forests here are aglow with reds in the autumn, all on a backdrop of peaking mountains. It’s the perfect place to camp, hike to waterfalls, and truly take a breath of fresh air.
Another part of the US won from Mexico in 1948, it’s in this world-renowned state that you’ll find some of the world’s most famous cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego might ring a bell.
California also boasts some very famous natural regions. There are wineries in the relatively tame and charming Napa Valley, but there’s much more to California’s natural beauty than that. The Yosemite National Park, situated in the Sierra Nevada, is home to ancient sequoia trees and dramatic cliffs. Also in the Sierra Nevada is are the blissful waters and pine forests of Lake Tahoe.
Elsewhere, you can discover the giant trees of Redwood National and State Parks, drive the glittering Pacific Coast Highway, and hike amidst the dry sands, rock formations, and cacti of Joshua Tree National Park.
Comprising five states bordering New England to the west and south, the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States is home to big cities like Washington D.C. and New York City. It’s also here that you will find the world-famous Niagara Falls – one of America’s most iconic natural landmarks.
While California may have Napa Valley, the Finger Lakes region is the Mid-Atlantic’s wine country; eleven slender, beautiful lakes stretch south from Lake Ontario, studded with wineries and rolling hills. For something more rugged, there are the 2,400 square miles that make up the Poconos – a mountainous area dotted with lakes and twined with rivers.
In New York State, you’ll find Adirondack Park. This is the oldest protected park in the contiguous United States. It’s also the largest, bigger in area than Yellowstone, Glacier, Everglades, and Grand Canyon National Parks put together. With over 2,000 miles of hiking trails (also the most in the country), it’s also great for keen rock climbers and skiers.
Much of the Southwestern United States began life as New Spain and then Mexico. Roughly half of New Mexico, and later most of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona became part of the US at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1948.
Mostly a desert region, the Southwest is where you will find the gambling hub of Las Vegas, which is relatively close to where you will find one of the wonders of the world – the Grand Canyon.
Over a mile deep, this natural phenomenon has been carved over millennia by the Colorado River. It’s seriously old; there are places in the canyon where you can see rock layers with over two billion years of history embedded within.
Arches National Park in Utah is another big draw. Set in Canyon County, it’s where you’ll find the most natural arches in the world – there are over 2,000. Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico boasts the aptly named Big Cave, one of the world’s largest cave rooms.
The second-largest state, just bigger than France, Texas has a strong identity – in fact, it was its very own nation (the Republic of Texas) from 1836 to 1845 before being admitted into the Union. There are a variety of environments to be found in the ‘Lone Star State,’ from deserts to mountains.
One of the lesser-visited national parks in the United States, Big Bend National Park is awash with bountiful nature. The park takes its name from the Rio Grande, which takes a big turn along the border with Mexico in the heart of the park. Desert scenery abounds here, most of it part of the much larger Chihuahuan Desert, where you can stumble across lush green oases and intriguing limestone formations.
Not usually known for its coastal scenery, Texas actually has a lot of it. The reef island of South Padre, for example, is a place to soak up the sun just off the southern coast.
Florida is one of the United States’ most famous regions. A state in itself, this southern state is known as the ‘Sunshine State.’ While it may not always be sunny, it definitely has a warm, subtropical climate that attracts millions of visitors each year.
One of its most iconic natural areas is the Everglades National Park. A vast, swampy area that covers a million and a half acres (established in 1947), it’s America’s third-largest national park and is teeming with wildlife. From the Everglades panther to roseate spoonbills, and of course, the ubiquitous ‘gator, there’s a lot of life here.
And then there’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Located along the string of islands that inch southward into the Caribbean from Florida’s southern coast, this marine wonderland consists of corals and opportunities to swim with stingrays and parrotfish.
The newest state – having only received statehood in 1959 – the Pacific archipelago of Hawaii is a bit of an island paradise. Not only is it known for its surfing – it’s here that surfing originated. Today, thousands flock to this northeast corner of Polynesia to catch waves at famous surf spots.
There are also miles and miles of sandy beaches to laze around on, such as the famous Waikiki Beach and Anahola Bay, with clear waters and snorkeling opportunities in its coral reef.
Made up of 19 islands strung out into the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii isn’t just known for surfing; there’s a lot of hiking on offer here too. On the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, complete with pits, calderas, vents, and lava tubes – everything you’d expect of a volcanic landscape.
Kauai – also known as the Garden Isle – is a lush wonderland filled with spectacular scenery. If you thought Hawaii was only beaches, think again.
10. Pacific Northwest
Made up of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, the northwest area of the contiguous United States is all about wild coastlines, mountains, and grassy, forested inland areas. Some of those mountains are volcanic – like 2,549m Mount St. Helens, which erupted after a hundred years of dormancy in 1980.
Part of the Cascade Range, another stratovolcano is the towering Mount Rainier (4,392m), located 54 miles southeast of Seattle. Situated in the Mount Rainier National Park, the volcano’s not the only thing to see, with lakes, rivers, and streams dotting the craggy scenery.
Sometimes, in this region of the United States, the mountains literally meet the sea, such as at Cannonball Beach in Oregon, famous for its Haystack Rock. For more marine-based nature, the San Juan Islands in Washington State is an archipelago of at least 176 named islands, where visitors get the chance to spot passing Orcas.
11. Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a significant mountain range in the United States, separating the country from Canada and dividing the country’s west with its central great plains. This is not just a sight of remarkable natural beauty; there are a lot of reasons to visit, with destinations like Colorado Springs and Aspen.
It’s within the reaches of the Rockies themselves that you’ll find many national parks, not least the Rocky Mountains National Park itself. There’s also Glacier National Park, known for its sedimentary rock formations, glaciers like Jackson Glacier, and symbolic mountain goats.
Arguably the most famous national park of all, Yellowstone is the country’s largest – as well as the oldest declared national park in the world.
There are over 10,000 thermal features, including hot springs, but its most well-known are the clockwork Old Faithful geyser – which erupts on schedule – and the awe-inspiring rainbow-colored Grand Prismatic Spring.
A true wilderness stretching into the Arctic Circle itself, Alaska only became part of the United States when it was purchased from Imperial Russia in 1867 for approximately two cents an acre. It was a good deal.
This state is sparsely populated and is, for the most part, a swathe of sweeping forests and tundra. It’s also where you’ll find the ten highest mountains in the US, fjords, glaciers, and all manner of larger-than-life scenery.
Kenai Fjords National Park boasts almost 1,100 square miles of jagged fjord scenery that’s rich with marine life, including whales. In the southeast of Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park can be admired from a boat, with vast waters, soaring glaciers, and a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
The granddaddy of them all is Denali National Park. Covering six million acres, this wild frontier is the home of Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley. It’s the highest and most prominent peak in the United States and North America, at 6,190 meters above sea level.