From the pristine beaches of Florida’s Emerald Coast to the rugged cliffs of the Pacific Coast Highway, America boasts some of the world’s most amazing vistas. Whether you’re looking to camp under the stars or just out for a scenic drive, here are ten vacation destinations with some of our nation’s most incredible scenery.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
As one of our nation’s most visited natural attractions, the Grand Canyon needs little introduction. Located in northern Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park gets over five million visitors every year. The national park area consists of two main visitor centers – the North Rim and the South Rim. The Native American Hualapai Tribe also operates the Skywalk center along the western edge of the canyon. If you’re staying in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Skywalk is just over a two-hour drive and a great way to see the canyon. The North Rim has few facilities and closes in winter. The South Rim visitor center remains open year-round. Grand Canyon Village – located at the South Rim – has a variety of lodgings, restaurants, and a supermarket.
The Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park features some of our country’s most stunning scenery. Along with hiking, biking, and kayaking, the Smoky Mountains offer several unique ways to appreciate their natural splendor. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, for example, lets you enjoy the beauty of the Smoky Mountains right from your car. The one-way, 5.5 mile drive winds through national park elevations and features waterfalls, hikes, and scenic overlooks. You can take an aerial tram to the top of the mountain at Ober Gatlinburg for some incredible views of the Smoky Mountains and surrounding area. Gatlinburg cabins, the area’s most popular accommodations, offer star-studded views at night and gorgeous sunrises in the morning.
Florida’s Emerald Coast
Charming little towns, pristine beaches, and teal-green waters combine to make Florida’s Emerald Coast one of our nation’s prettiest vacation destinations. Popular stops along the Emerald Coast include Destin, Seaside, Panama City Beach, Rosemary Beach, and Santa Rosa Beach. Destin and Panama City Beach are a little more built-up than the rest of the area and have enough attractions to satisfy most vacationers. If you’re looking for a perfect family destination, try Seaside. This charming little master-planned community served as the setting for Jim Carrey’s Truman Show movie, and was designed for walking. The town never gets too crowded because it has no hotels, only rental cottages, which range in size from one to six bedrooms and are all walking distance to the beach.
The Pacific Coast Highway
California’s Pacific Coast Highway features stunning views at almost every point along its stretch between Santa Barbara and Monterey. The Pacific Coast Highway – popularly known as the PCH – traverses some of our country’s most rugged coastline. Dozens of scenic overlooks, interesting towns, and natural attractions dot the entire 250-mile route. Popular stops include Hearst Castle, the old-world Danish village of Solvang, McWay Falls, and 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach. Start in Santa Barbara and head north if you prefer the inside lane. Camp under the stars in Big Sur or spend a night in San Luis Obispo, self-proclaimed as America’s happiest city. Bring the clubs and hack away at Pebble Beach (bring your wallet, too) or, continue on to the town of Santa Cruz to ride one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the country.
Drive north on Arizona’s Highway 163 for spectacular views of one of America’s most stunning natural wonders: Monument Valley. You might recognize Monument Valley as the backdrop for many automobile commercials. Teamed-up with John Wayne, legendary film director John Ford also used Monument Valley as the set for hit westerns throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Stay at least one night at The View Hotel and enjoy the most amazing sunrise and sunset you will ever see. Be sure to take a Navajo tour as well – the Navajo tour operators have exclusive access to some of Monument Valley’s most spectacular sights.
Moab, Utah has two of our nation’s top national parks within a short driving distance. About thirty-five minutes from downtown Moab, Canyonlands National Park has many pullouts and overlooks with spectacular views, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The park’s most popular section, Island in the Sky, sits on top of a huge 1,500-foot mesa. From atop this mesa, visitors enjoy panoramic views of more than a hundred miles in every direction. Located five miles north of Moab, Arches National Park features the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches and an amazing variety of geological formations. Beautiful stone spires, giant balanced rocks, and massive formations greet visitors as they drive through Arches National Park. Go early, pack a lunch, and bring lots of water. The park gets hot and crowded, especially in-season. Each overlook has (limited) parking and you will almost certainly want to stop at them all.
Niagara Falls, NY
Once the “Honeymoon Capital of the World”, the Niagara Falls area has more than enough attractions and activities to create memories that will last a lifetime. The Niagara Falls Maid of the Mist tour takes visitors close enough to feel the spray from the park’s Horseshoe Falls. You can also get closer to the falls than you ever dreamed at the Cave of the Winds viewing deck. Niagara Falls State Park features several easy hiking trails with big payoffs. The Great Gorge Scenic Overlook Hike, for example, takes only about one hour to complete and offers beautiful vistas without arduous climbing. When your stomach starts to growl, the Top of the Falls restaurant overlooks Terrapin Point and offers panoramic views of Horseshoe Falls through floor-to-ceiling windows and outdoor dining decks. Night time takes on a special magic with hundreds of lights illuminating the falls for a show not to be missed.