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I’VE BEEN FORTUNATE ENOUGH to have traveled to some amazing places around the world over the last 10 years: Bolivia, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Mongolia, Jordan, and the list goes on. But I’m not exaggerating in the least when I say that some of my favorite trips have taken place here in the US — typically behind the wheel of my car, on a lonely state highway.

America is just massive. At 3.8 million square miles, it’s three times larger than all the countries listed above combined. So it’s kind of a given that our country would be home to spectacular deserts, mountain ranges, volcanic features, ancient forests, waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, caves, and swamps. But that fact doesn’t diminish the awesomeness of these places.

As summer approaches, my wife and I can’t wait for our next opportunity to hop into our little Mazda with the dog and go find a spot we haven’t been to yet in our thousands of miles of driving around this country that keeps on giving. Hope to see you out there.

1. Death Valley, CA

A section of the Mojave Desert, Death Valley is the lowest, driest, hottest place in North America.
(1) Trey Ratcliff (2) Pedro Szekely (3) Gleb Tarassenko

2. Kilauea, HI

Kilauea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, sends streams of lava steaming into the Pacific Ocean.
(1) Tumanc (2) Esten Hurtle

3. Monument Valley, UT

The sandstone buttes of Monument Valley stand like towers in the Four Corners region of the Western US.
(1) Wolfgang Staudt (2) Trey Ratcliff (3) clockwise L to R: Bosure, Wolfgang Staudt, Jason Corneveaux, Kartik Ramanathan

4. Niagara Falls, NY

The tourist vessel “Maid of the Mist IV” does a float-by of the American Falls.
(1) Arne Bornheim (2) paul bica (3) Daniel Peckman

5. Redwoods, CA

The tallest trees on the planet hide out in a few remaining tracts of Northern California’s old-growth coastal forests.
(1) m24inStudio (2) clockwise L to R: Giant Ginkgo, Mike Baird, jjgardner3 (3) Justin Brown

6. Grand Canyon, AZ

A mile down from the canyon’s rim, the Colorado River is still cutting.
(1) Ignacio Izquierdo (2) Randy Pertiet (3) Steve Dunleavy

7. Mammoth Cave, KY

Mammoth Cave National Park protects a portion of the longest known cave system in the world.
(1) Peter Rivera (2) clockwise L to R: clarkmaxwell, Peter Riviera, Insley Pruitt, Peter Riviera

8. Florida Everglades

The Everglades are a 60-mile-wide, super-slow-moving subtropical river covering the tip of Florida.
(1) Timothy Valentine (2) Brian Koprowski (3) crow 911

9. Hubbard Glacier, AK

Where Hubbard Glacier meets the sea, its 6-mile-wide face calves huge blocks of ice.
(1) Alan Vernon (2) Mike McElroy (3) Rich Englebrecht

10. Black Hills, SD

Harney Peak (pictured at top), within the Black Hills National Forest, is the highest east of the Rockies.
(1) blucolt (2) Ryan O’Hara (3) Dave Morris

11. The Mississippi

This monster river system drains 31 US states and is the fourth longest in the world.
(1) Jon Haynes Photography (2) Adventures of KM&G

12. Bryce Canyon, UT

Bryce can be more accurately described as an immense eroded amphitheater, populated with hoodoos (pictured at middle).
(1) Todd Petrie (2) Wolfgang Staudt (3) Sam Gao

13. Mt. Desert Island, ME

The island is protected by Acadia National Park and is all rocky shoreline and crumbly mountain woodland.
(1) Scott Kublin (2) clockwise L to R: Andrew Mace, Scott Smitson, Jim Liestman, Howard Ignatius, Frederico Robertazzi (3) A.D. Wheeler

14. Crater Lake, OR

Collapsed volcano, now a deep blue lake in southern Oregon.
(1) Ninad (2) Howard Ignatius (3) Andy Spearing

15. Arches, UT

The national park preserves land that’s home to over 2,000 of these weathered sandstone arches.
(1) Keith Cuddeback (2) Katsrcool (3) Kartik Ramanathan

16. Yosemite Valley, CA

Looking down the Yosemite Valley, you can see Bridalveil Falls and the granite cliff of Half Dome in the distance.
(1) John Colby (2) Nietnagel (3) clockwise L to R: Craig Goodwin, Scott, Nietnagel

17. Carlsbad Caverns, NM

The caverns’ “Big Room” is the third largest cave chamber in North America.
(1) FMJ Shooter~Off to the last frontier (2) G (3) J.J.

18. Old Faithful, WY

This geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts a 140-foot spout of water at regular 45- to 120-minute intervals.
(1) David Kingham (2) Scott Kublin (3) frazgo


The open road. That’s what it’s all about. Driving down long stretches of asphalt, pulling over at a local diner for some grub, and discovering the most incredible roadside wonders. Roadtrippers is a simple but powerful road trip planner that helps you discover, plan, & book your adventure.

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About The Author

Hal Amen

Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.

  • http://alainarose.wordpress.com Alaina O’Brien

    Beautiful. I’m often the same way, forgetting that I have so much of the United States left to explore!

  • http://www.holisticwithhumor.com Christine Garvin

    Utah is so ridiculously beautiful. The West has certainly got it like that.

  • http://joelrunyon.com/two3 Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things

    I need to make it out west soon. Like Christine said, it looks ridiculously beautiful.

    Kilauea is awesome as well. If you get the chance, go do it. It’s worth it =)

    • erak

      Never been to that place in Hawaii, but the Waimea Canyon on Kauai was beautiful to the point of absurdity. To the right: the Pacific with Ni’ihau in the distance, to the right, a huge two-tiered waterfall. In front of you, a massive green and orange canyon with a full-arch rainbow seemingly close enough to touch.

  • Matt

    Incredible pics. Loved it

  • http://www.blogaforeva.wordpress.com ade truna

    i wish i were there

  • Kathy

    Not only how beautiful, but how varied! Wonderful pix!

    And I totally agree with Joel, everybody should see Kilauea. It’s like visiting another planet without even needing a passport!

    • Deb G

      That’s how I felt about Yellowstone.

  • http://www.kaleidoscopicwandering.com JoAnna

    I love, love, love Death Valley! And just about anywhere in Utah is fabulous!

  • Paul Sullivan

    Amazing. I did a road trip around the SW USA (Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches etc) and was blown away by some of these places. I had previously thought of America as a nation of cities. Since then I always think of it in terms of the jaw-dropping beauty that often exists between those cities. Great photo essay.

  • http://www.spiritualmind.com Alex Andrei

    That monument valley shot is crazy.

    • http://www.sandstonetours.com/ Candi63

      There are so many great sites there, I never get tired of seeing them.

  • http://onceatraveler.com Turner

    Great pictures!

  • Johnny

    God is creator of all these things!!! Grace to Him!

  • http://www.saltlake-utah-weddingphotography.com/about.htm Amanda, utah

    So glad to see Utah making repeated spots on the list. ;)

  • katie

    I love the black hills. absolutely gorgeous if you stand on the top of a peak!

  • http://hannahinmotion.wordpress.com Hannah In Motion

    I’m originally from Maine and was psyched to see Mt. Desert Island on your list. After lots of international traveling I’m ready to venture into the belly of the US; thanks for the added inspiration, Hal!

  • Jacob Van Baalen

    I feel so good that I’ve been to almost all of these! These pictures are awesome, but no media can do these features justice.

    Oh, it’s also really cool that there is no other half to half-dome in Yosemite. And, in California, the Coastal Redwoods are the tallest, and the Sequoias by the Sierra-Nevadas are the biggest by mass.

  • Sandy

    You can only get on the Maid of the Mist in Canada.

    • http://jennifertice.com Jennifer Tice

      We really do have the better side of Niagara Falls! One for Canada :)

  • Rick

    Just like to point out that the picture of “The Mittens” above is in northeastern Arizona, not Utah. Utah has Bryce Canyon, which is part of the same region and has similar landscapes, but Arizona has Monument Valley.

  • http://www.xn--usa-sdwesten-hlb.de USA Suedwesten

    I totally love the picture of the Death Valley. It just looks so alien. I really enjoyed this photo series and will link it on my website!

  • http://www.ieatmypigeon.wordpress.com Eva

    Now ain’t this all the damn truth. Ain’t it the damn truth.

  • Gabe

    Four selections from California, three selections from Utah….couldn’t have spread it around a bit more? Typical United States slideshow – the only Pacific Coast state apparently worth mentioning is California. Nearly every state surrounding Colorado is covered, but Colorado is somehow left out, even though it has more beautiful mountainous terrain and “Fourteeners” than any other state in the country, by a landslide. Guess that’s not beautiful enough for Mr. Amen. The only mountain shot is just an opportunity to show yet ANOTHER location in California. Pretty pictures, but giant FAIL in pic selection.

    • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal Amen

      Ouch. I’ll admit to missing CO (please share links to pics if you’ve got them), but I thought I did well at spreading it around. ME, NY, KY, FL, SD, NM, OR (also a Pacific Coast state)…

  • michelle

    as if not include the aurora borealis in alaska!

  • steve

    I feel really spoiled living in Utah and only living a few hours away from each of these places on the list. Sometimes going on vacations I don’t have to even leave the state! If you live in the west or are visiting try to at least check out one of those National Parks listed in Utah you’ll be amazed how beautiful the desert can be. : )

  • http://www.oregoncanadian.com/ Softwood Timber Suppliers

    It’s amazing how diverse America’s climate is, you really can see everything!

  • http://www.drawchange.org Jennie Lobato

    Beautiful photography. And what a great thing to do..remind of the beauty that’s in our own backyard. Thanks YOU!

  • Brett Troeger

    The Monument Valley photograph is breathtaking. Brilliant article — this is the precise inspiration I need right now. THANKS.

  • Motor72

    i want to know about the wonders of the united states

  • http://www.sandstonetours.com/ Monument Valley Tours

    I run a tour of Monument Valley.  I see the formations every day and I never get tired of the beauty of the land around me.  The iconic buttes are just one of the many sights and the valley has some amazing and massive sandstone formations that are truly a sight to behold.  I can only hope to see the rest of these places, I’m working on it!

  • Markopolo1998

    Bryce Canyon is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in the world.

  • Julien Pons

    the antelope canyon should be in this list and yellow stone park, definitely.

    • Géraldine Chastanet-Guittard

      Yosemite, Redwoods…. Hawaii… so much things to see…

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