While it’s easy to traverse from one city to another and see all the usual signage — like typical coffee haunts and big-box shopping depots — there are so many spectacular places to visit in the U.S. with the potential to really wow visitors. For example, places such as the turquoise blue waters of Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon’s North Rim or Alaska’s impressive Kenai Fjords National Park.
Americans and international travelers alike are becoming more aware of these wildly dramatic landscapes and unexpected gems and adding them to their travel bucket list with glee. Keen on doing the same? We’ve rounded up 20 of the best places to visit in the U.S. that seem almost too beautiful to be real.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
- Best Time To Visit: Late spring through early summer is the perfect time to visit this stunning U.S. National Park thanks to mild temperatures. Another option is mid-autumn to catch the cottonwoods changing color.
Rising from the heart of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, glistening white-sand mounds made from rare gypsum crystals appear like a sparkling mirage and vanish for miles into the horizon at White Sands National Park. Approximately 12,000 years ago, the area was filled with large lakes, streams, grasslands, and Ice Age mammals, until the climate warmed and caused the water to evaporate into selenite crystals that have slowly turned into fine sand from the desert winds.
Today, it is the largest gypsum field of its kind on earth and truly a rare beauty. The park is a popular stop for road trippers who tow sleds to slide down the near 60-foot white-sand dunes, however, the most beautiful time to be there is at sunrise and sunset as the wind is calm and the desert sky creates a vibrant gradient among the pearly-white sands.
- Best Time To Visit: Arcosanti is susceptible to scorching temperatures since it’s located in Arizona’s high desert. Visit anytime from early fall to late spring for comfortable weather.
Our society has always been fascinated with flying cars and space missions, but what if we were more fixated on living in a world that’s more in harmony with nature. That’s what architect Paolo Soleri set out to do in the 1970s when he built an experimental town in the high desert of Arizona, seventy miles from Phoenix.
In Arcosanti the seamless blend of architecture and ecology — dubbed “arcology” — was designed to utilize the external elements and benefit from nature, resulting in completely solar-powered structures and domed communal areas inspired by Romanesque cathedrals. For more than 50 years, around 8,000 volunteers have helped contribute to the project to keep the dream of a futuristic utopia alive, fostering a community that lives without roads and is nourished by the bountiful onsite garden.
The structures are built to work with the elements, they each face south to allow for shade in the high-sun summer months, and to trap heat during the winter as the sun lingers above the horizon. To truly experience the Arcosanti philosophy, there are also onsite private suites with panoramic views of the desert and eco elements throughout. This is truly one of the most interesting places to visit in the U.S., especially if you’re interested in obscure architecture or sustainable motives.
- Best Time To Visit: Head to Marfa anytime from spring to fall for pleasant temperatures and a lower chance of rain.
The smallest, strangest, middle-of-nowhere town in Texas happens to be the epicenter of America’s coolest art scene. Seemingly miles from civilization, Marfa is found between the hill-country mountains, sprawling ranches, and dusty drive-throughs of far west Texas.
While you’d assume a population of 1,800 would be a sleepy, rancher town, the city is in fact buzzing with amazing restaurants, bars, and shops run by cool artists, chefs, and entrepreneurs who flock to Marfa’s thriving creative hub from all over the world. El Cosmico, a hotel, and campground designed for nomads who call colorful trailers and yurts home is the best way to experience the town and its unique charm.
The outdoor showers will ground you right in the middle of nowhere and, if you’re lucky, you’ll experience the “Marfa Lights” — magical, mystical, and mysterious glowing orbs that hover, twinkle, and disappear unexpectedly in the mystifying dark night sky.
Pando Aspen Grove, Richfield, Utah
- Best Time To Visit: For a spectacular show of fiery foliage, plan your trip to the Pando Aspen Grove in mid to late autumn. If you prefer camping, aim for mid to late summer for warmer weather.
In the Fishlake National Forest, a gentle giant has been quietly growing for over 80,000 years. The Trembling Giant or Pando (which translates as “I spread” in Latin) is the most massive living organism on earth with over 47,0000 aspen trees that grow from one central root system.
During the early fall, the leaves change and Aspen Grove becomes one giant forest of bright, vibrant trees that seemingly glow from within. There are several campsites within the park to spend a night beneath the ancient trees and allow the gentle shake of the fragile leaves to soothe you to sleep.
Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon, Utah
- Best Time To Visit: The Havasupai tribe allows visitors year-round, and if you’re lucky enough to secure a permit anytime in the year then take advantage of it. However, early to mid-spring is probably the crème de la crème in terms of weather.
If you venture beyond the Grand Canyon’s postcard-perfect vistas, you’ll discover the increasingly popular gem known as Havasu Falls. Located in the Canyon’s North Rim in Supai Village and home to the Havasupai tribe, these five cascading waterfalls have been guarded and protected for centuries.
Only a handful of visitors are allowed each year via a limited availability reservation. If you’re lucky enough to get access, your journey begins with a 10-mile strenuous hike deep into the canyon’s valley to reach this enchanted beauty where 100-foot falls cascade over the orange rock into a large turquoise pool. It’s not an easy venture to experience the falls, but once you do, you’ll be forever in awe of one of the most beautiful places in the United States and in the world.
Allerton Garden, Kauai, HI
- Best Time To Visit: For fewer crowds, aim for the shoulder travel seasons, which occur from September through December and again in April through June.
The entire island of Kauai is a tropical paradise. However, Allerton Garden, a remote protected garden on the South Shore, is an oasis of Hawaiian flora and fauna. Here towering rainforest trees with tall curved roots meet groves of swaying golden bamboo, and tropical coconut, mango, and passionfruit trees line the pristine oceanfront.
Cared for by an artist-and-architect couple, you can take a two-hour tour of the property to see how they’ve enhanced the garden with exotic water features, mermaid bronze sculptures, and outdoor dining rooms. If some of the trees start to look familiar, that’s because the massive Moreton Bay figs have played a starring role in blockbusters Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Shou Sugi Ban House, Watermill, NY
- Best Time To Visit: The weather is perfect from May through October, which allows visitors to enjoy the meditative, lush property to its fullest potential.
A sense of peace immediately washes over you upon arrival at Shou Sugi Ban House, a secluded sanctuary and spa set among lush evergreen trees and tall grasses in the Hamptons of New York. The entire property is meant to replicate a Japanese bathhouse with meditative stone pathways that connect the property, guestrooms, fitness area, and spa with a zen-inducing list of amenities including daily yoga, meditation, and therapeutic sessions. The airy spaces promote an even deeper connection and grounding with nature, while the holistic programs provide a lens to healing the body inside and out.
The Golden Isles, Georgia
- Best Time To Visit: The weather is temperate year-round, so you really can’t go wrong when booking your stay. However, if you prefer a quieter beach moment, aim for the winter months.
Once you catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the Atlantic or the sunset beneath the gentle lapping wetlands, you’ll understand why The Golden Isles of Georgia are indeed golden. The picturesque town of Brunswick is the main hub that will give you access to each of the five isles — Little St. Simon’s, St. Simon’s, Jekyll, and Sea Island — by a short 20-minute boat or car ride.
Each has its own unique charm with grand 19th-century homes, quaint cobblestone streets, and historic lighthouses. Whether you opt for land or sea activities, each island is a relaxing oasis to recharge without any hint of crowds.
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
- Best Time To Visit: The park is open throughout the year, but the summer months are the best time to swing through this National Park. Winter can make the roads tricky and seas rough, and more activities are planned in the warmer months.
Alaska boasts nearly three million lakes, but Kenai Fjords National Park boasts the only one where the Ice Age still stands, making it one of the coolest places to visit in the country. Here around 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield where wildlife thrives in its icy waters and lush forests grow in the expansive sheets of ice.
Aside from marveling at the arctic wonderland, you can enjoy water sports, including kayaking through the icy fjords, dog mushing and ice skating in the winter, and hiking to the glacier peaks for panoramic views.
Thor’s Well, Oregon
- Best Time To Visit: The best time to spot the geyser is an hour before high tide when water begins to rush in and build before the eruptions begin.
In the world’s oceans, there are a few mysteries that have remained unsolved for centuries. One of these is Thor’s Well, a powerful geyser on the edge of the coast of Cape Perpetua located in Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest. Easily one of the most interesting places to visit in the U.S, the geyser forms during high tide when a whirlpool of seawater rushes into a deep, seemingly bottomless sinkhole and then violently erupts onto the shore.
Ocean researchers are stumped as to what actually causes the phenomenon, but that doesn’t stop travelers that continue to flock here to witness this dramatic 20-foot hole with their own eyes and marvel at its natural beauty.
Los Alamos, CA
- Best Time To Visit: It can get chilly in the winter months, especially at nightfall, so aim for a spring through fall visit.
The wild, wild west lives on in Los Alamos, a little town along California’s Highway 101, between Santa Barbara and Monterey, where historical western facades of old-school saloons and stagecoaches will transform you to a bygone era. What used to be known as a drive-by between Santa Barbara and Monterey has recently earned its place on the map thanks to a slew of cool new restaurants led by Los Angeles chefs and the wine-and-whiskey tasting rooms popping up in old-school saloons.
Here the accommodations have also been given a chic modern make-over while preserving their quintessential Old West charm. Skyview Los Alamos, a former roadside motel, is now a mid-century modern desert oasis where Western textures such as cowhide rugs and retro stereos promise to get you in the cowboy mood.
Catskill Mountains, New York
- Best Time To Visit: For leaf peeping, head to the Catskills from September through November. If you’re more of an adventurer who loves camping or hiking, aim for summer to enjoy the warmer temperatures.
Taking refuge from the hustle and bustle of New York City can be a pretty spectacular thing. For those seeking fresh air and solitude, look no further than the Catskills, which is one of the best places to visit in the U.S. whether you’re a fan of outdoor adventure or simply want to sit and take in the beauty of Mother Earth.
The Catskills are located on the southeastern range of the Appalachian mountains where preserved forests can be viewed from the panoramic peaks high above the tree canopies. This area is also home to the historic towns of Phoenicia and Woodstock, a summertime haven for artists and musicians to reground and find inspiration in nature. To soak up the mountain stillness, book an A-frame cabin at Eastwind, where a cozy platform bed is perfectly positioned below the window to rise with the sun and watch the stars at night.
Pipiwai Trail, Maui
- Best Time To Visit: High season takes place from July through September, so aim for the shoulder if you prefer smaller crowds. As for the trail itself, try to get there no later than 10 a.m. so you can take your time.
Each turn of Pipiwai Trail, a four-mile round trip that reveals a string of majestic pools and waterfalls framed within the vibrant lush tropical rainforest is idyllic and mind-blowing. The trail rises and falls in elevation as it becomes a walking meditation through an immersive zen bamboo forest that leads to a 400-foot waterfall cascading down a sheer cliff of black lava rock. It can be a slippery walk to reach the pool beneath the falls, but with caution, it is well worth the cleansing swim beneath this beauty.
Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah
- Best Time To Visit: For great weather, visit anytime from March through May and September through November. Note that temperatures can get quite cold in the winter and pretty hot in the summer.
While many road trippers and adventure enthusiasts typically flock to Moab and Arches National Park for their dramatic sandstone arches and rock formations, Utah’s lesser-known Grand Staircase Escalante is a national monument that offers the same magnificent scenery — minus the crowds. Though less popular than neighboring parks, and a little more challenging in terms of hiking, it’s considered one of the most beautiful places in the United States.
Short or long hikes lead to unspoiled cliffs, slot canyons, and breathtaking plateaus where sprawling no man’s landscapes show off. And once your legs are sore and dusty, you can retreat to nearby Yonder Escalante, a stylish new camp-style retreat with A-frame cabins, vintage Airstreams, and a drive-in theater with classic cars to watch movies under the stars.
The Integratron, Landers, California
- Best Time To Visit: Since the Integraton is indoors, you don’t really need to worry about inclement weather. It’s less apt to be busy during the low travel season, which is fall through spring.
Built, in the 1950s, the man-made geological phenomenon The Integratron was designed by aircraft mechanic and ufologist George Van Tassel to unleash profound healing powers to prolong human life, rejuvenate the spirit, and even perform anti-gravity time travel in the heart of California’s Mojave desert.
While his vision never became a reality, the structurally sound wooden structure which has unique surround-sound properties now houses meditative sonic-healing sound baths sessions, where you can lie down in the main chamber and immerse yourself in harmonic sounds produced by quartz crystal bowls.
It might sound woo-woo, but the experience is so soothing and it’s one of those super obscure places to visit in the United States that you can brag about later. You’ll feel like you’re actually bathing in sound and emerge feeling recalibrated and with an overwhelming sense of calm.
Hamilton Pool Preserve, Texas
- Best Time To Visit: On a hot Texas day the cool water is heavenly, making it so easy to spend an afternoon floating on your back while staring up at the juniper and oak uplands surrounded by native grasses and wildflowers.
It’s no secret Mexico gets all the praise for its abundance of beautiful cenotes: deep sinkholes within the earth that fill up with salt or freshwater making a crystal-clear swimming pool. However, Hamilton Pool Preserve is an insider’s best-kept secret.
This rare, 50-foot waterfall and pool formed thousands of years ago when an underground river collapsed, leaving behind a giant circular rock formation with a deep-water natural jade pool. It’s one of the best places to visit in the U.S. if you’re seeking one of those escapes that combines adventure, history, and relaxation into one.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley, Washington
- Best Time To Visit: Head here in July when the annual Lavender Weekend takes place so you can frolic in the fragrant purple fields.
Olympic National Park already blows most parks out of the water with its rainforests, glacier mountains, and the longest stretch of undisturbed wild coastline in the US. Add in Sequim-Dungeness Valley’s fragrant, sprawling fields of wild lavender that look just like Provence, and it’s an incredibly pretty, beautifully scented place. In the summer, you can pick your own lavender and stock up on eye pillows and all manner of lavender-infused treats to keep you smelling fresh and feeling zen.
Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, Louisiana
- Best Time To Visit: For great weather and ample opportunity to explore the hiking trails and other outdoor activities, visit anytime between May and September.
If you thought you had to sail down the Amazon for an epic jungle adventure, think again. Exploring the 6,000-acre Lake Fausse Pointe State Park in southern Louisiana with its intricate labyrinth of waterways and wildlife is a unique experience that — for better or worse — rarely makes it on the map of the best places to visit in the United States. Also on the experience list: fishing, canoeing, campsites, and hiking just a stone’s throw from the shore.
Grand Portage State Park, Minnesota
- Best Time To Visit: Minnesota’s warm months don’t last too long, so take advantage of them while you can. It’s best to visit from May through September. For an autumn leaf show, time your trip slightly later.
Minnesota gets its fame from the largest mall in America, land of 10,000 (often frozen) lakes, great hockey, and a beloved 10-day state fair. What is little known about the northern state is its bounty of uncharted wilderness and raw beauty, especially where the tippy-top of the state meets Lake Superior (the world’s largest freshwater lake) in the gorgeous Grand Portage State Park. Several cascading waterfalls are reachable within one-or-four mile hikes in the park, while the naturally jagged Hollow Rock arch off the shores of Grand Portage will make you feel like you’re at the end of the world.
Headlands Dark Sky Park, Michigan
- Best Time To Visit: Plan your trip between spring and autumn to take advantage of nice weather. If you want longer nights to enjoy the stars, aim for winter but make sure to bundle up.
Depending on where you live in the world, the concept of a completely dark night sky with an unobstructed view of the galaxy might be hard to imagine. Headlands Dark Sky Park, a 50-acre expanse on the undeveloped shores of Lake Michigan makes your star gazing fantasies a reality, making it one of the best places to visit in the U.S. for stargazers.
The dark-sky observatory also has an ideal low-latitude location to spot the aurora borealis (Northern Lights) during the fall and winter. There’s technically no camping allowed, however, the park never closes so there are plenty of places to hide out under the stars and watch the nightly illumination dance in the sky.