10 Hidden Natural US Wonders
Visit one of the natural wonders of the US for the ultimate day trip
Explore some of the hidden wonders of the US and visit one - or more - of these 10 top locales. Whether day hiking, or an overnight camping trip appeals to your vacation style, you'll find plenty of options in these national parks, monuments and non-profit nature reserves.
Caladesi Island State Park has won numerous awards for its pristine beaches and natural vibe. The 3-mile beach is located on Caladesi Island, a barrier island off the western coast of Florida. The park is one of the only places where you can still experience the state’s pristine, untouched wildlife. Caladesi Beach has retained its natural beauty as the result of strict regulations that make Caladesi State Park accessible only by boat or ferry. There are more than 1,800 acres of mangroves and grass flats, and a 3-mile natural trail and plenty of camping options.
Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota is one of the last frontiers in the world, as the third-longest cave in the world. Jewel Cave has more than 169 miles of mapped and surveyed passages and offers an underground wilderness unlike any other. It is located 52 miles southwest of Rapid City, S.D., and offers dazzling calcite crystals that illuminate the underground, lighted walkways within the cave. There are three trails available ranging from a quarter mile in length to 5.5 miles with level ground or steep and rugged, depending on your preference.
White Sands National Park in New Mexico is a national monument and rises from the heart of the Tularosa Basin. Great wave-like dunes of gypsum sand engulf 275 miles of desert to create the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. The monument is within a major portion of this dunefield, and it gives a glimpse at the natural plant and wildlife that live within such an environment. It offers unparalleled backcountry backpacking and primitive camping experiences.
Photographers and nature lovers thrive at the Wave in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Arizona Strip. This sandstone rock formation is nothing short of stunning and draws people from around the world. Fair warning: it can be difficult to get a permit to see the Wave, with only 10 daily permits given and up to 150 people applying for a permit each day in the prime months of April, May, September and October. And day permits are required. No overnight camping is allowed.
The Moanalua Valley Trail in Honolulu, Hawaii, is officially named the Kulana’ahane Trail and is a 2.75 mile strenuous climb that is worth the effort. There are numerous other trails that lead to the main trail, so consider making this a full-day trip and make sure you take plenty of water. There’s also a risk of flash floods, and lots of mosquitos, so come prepared. But then, once you reach the summit, which is actually past the end of the trail, the glorious view will make you realize why you went to so much trouble.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the Colorado Desert in southern California offers hiking, camping and cabins, for those who like a more comfy overnight experience. It’s the largest state park in California, with more than 600,000 acres. It’s framed by rugged mountain ranges and offers hiking trails up rocky hills, through deep sand, and down steep hills. It’s 78 miles east of San Diego, so it’s an easy drive from the airport.
The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is a 512-mile National Scenic Byway in Utah and Colorado. This dual-state byway covers a regional area rich in dinosaur, fossil and archaeological resources. The day trips out of Utah and Colorado include bike tours, canoeing tours and even day trips to nearby Grand Junction to sample Colorado wines. There’s truly something for everyone in this region.
Embracing nature is the key to The Wildlands Conservancy’s Wind Wolves Preserve in central California. This ecologically unique region ranges in elevation from 640 feet to 6,005 feet, so it offers a vast array of wildlife and landscapes. Wind Wolves covers 95,000 acres and is the west coast’s largest non-profit preserve. There are guided weekend hikes available, as well as moonlit hikes and special hikes for parents and kids.
Pinnacles National Park in central California is a former volcanic field and features massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages where visitors can view millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement. Hiking, rock climbing, wildflowers viewing and camping are among the numerous activities available. Extreme temperatures in summer can make hiking uncomfortable, or even dangerous, so it’s best to be prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen if you visit during late May through early September.
Seeing the history of the ancestors of Puebloan people who lived in the Mogollon area more than 700 years ago is part of the appeal of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico. Visitors can tour the village they built in five caves of Cliff Dweller Canyon. Day hikes in the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wildernes areas are popular activities, and there are also several nearby hot springs.
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