America is a big country full of bigger views, from sea to shining sea. From stunning natural formations to architectural wonders, these ten sights rise above the rest.
Sedona, Ariz.: Literally cinematic in their breathtaking scenery, the sandstone formations of Red Rock Country served as movie backdrops for decades of classic Hollywood westerns, though they could also stand in as a set for an alien world. The area’s sandstone towers, canyons, and sculpted buttes glow in many shades of orange and red, captivating visitors ever since the first Native Americans settled here 11,000 years ago. More recently, it’s become a beacon for artists, hippies, spiritualists and similarly New Age-minded individuals. It should go without saying that it’s also outstanding hiking and biking territory.
Pittsburgh, Pa.: The panoramic view of central Pittsburgh from atop Mt. Washington has long been considered one of the best skyline views in the world. The “mushroom” overlook platforms sit at an elevation of 400 feet, accessed by a historic funicular dating from 1877. From here, one can absorb how Pittsburgh is embraced by three rivers and the striking iron bridges that cross them. You can also add a meal to the view along the site’s “Restaurant Row.”
Kauai, Hawaii: Along Kauai’s northwest shore sits Na Pali (“the cliffs”), a 15-mile stretch of rocky, vividly colored coastline. It’s possible to hike parts of this steep, magazine photo-worthy terrain, namely the 11-mile Kalalau Trail which traverses sea cliffs and five valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach, but this is only recommended for people with superior hiking skills. It’s also possible to view the cliffs during a catamaran or kayak trip, though the sea can be rough. If money is no object, opt for the helicopter tour.
Denali National Park, Alaska: The name “Wonder Lake” sounds like it belongs in a Disney film, which fits its cinematic, mirror-finish sheen reflecting Mt. McKinley (North America’s tallest mountain) in the distance. Wonder is a “kettle lake,” a depression filled by water from rapid glacial melting/retreating. A meandering nine hour drive north of Anchorage deep inside Denali National Park, the lake is accommodated by abundant campgrounds in the park. Visitors should wear long sleeves, bug spray and even a headnet; the mosquitoes there are legendary.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: The New York skyline, in terms of compact awe and beauty, is arguably the prettiest in the country. One of the most exquisite views of this stunning architectural formation is that from the tables of The River Cafe at One Water Street, under the Brooklyn Bridge. From here one can also see the Statue of Liberty and the action on the East River. The Café itself is a notable special occasion experience, as more formal attire is required.
Lake Superior, Minn.: The North Shore of Lake Superior is comprised of seven state parks, the historic Split Rock Lighthouse and a driving route that has been designated as an “All-American road.” The route is dotted by cliffs, rocky beaches, rolling hills, tree-covered ridges and small towns catering to tourists with local restaurants, quaint shops and art galleries. Push inland for pristine rivers and waterfalls running towards Lake Superior. Hiking is popular here, allowing visitors to explore the area’s wilderness, streams and waterfalls, including Minnesota’s largest waterfalls at Grand Portage and Tettegouche state parks. According to locals, fall is the best time to visit.
Washington, D.C: The combination of nostalgia, national pride and sheer beauty marks the view from the Lincoln Memorial steps. A mere 87 steps up from the mall and reflecting pool, the panoramic view includes the Washington Monument and, in the far distance, the Capitol. Many historic events have taken place here, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, which was witnessed by some 250,000 people. Both the sunrise, cresting behind the Capitol Building and Washington Monument, and the sunset from this spot are superb.
Arches National Park, Utah: In terms of outstanding natural vistas that are relatively easy to access, Park Avenue in Arches National Park is hard to beat. The walk to the vista is an easy low-impact one-mile trek, filled with natural stone arches (of which the park has over 2,000), pinnacles and — a photographer’s dream — massive, balanced rocks, all under a vast sky. Crowds in the park are thinnest from late November through early March.
Grand Canyon, Ariz.: No list of the best views in the U.S. is complete without the mother of them all, the layered, red-orange brilliance of the Grand Canyon, specifically from the 13-mile Rim Trail.The trails into the canyon itself are only recommended for very experienced hikers and campers. However, the Rim Trail is flat, mostly paved, profuse with panoramic views and dotted with shuttle stops along the way to come and go around the trail as one pleases. Generally, the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset (aka “the golden hours”) are the best times to catch the multi-colored rock face at its most vibrant. For sunset specifically, Hopi Point and the less crowded Mohave Point are ideal spots.
Grand Targhee Ski Resort, Wyo.: Located on the western slope of the Tetons, near Alta, Wyoming, the snowy views from this resort are about as expansive as one can find in the USA. On a clear day, standing on Lone Peak, one can see four states, two national parks, the peaks of Middle Teton, Mt. Owen and Mt. Moran and, squinting hard enough, even climbing parties on Grand Teton. The resort gets about 500 inches of snow each year, so once your brain can’t process any more sweeping views, get yourself into a snowcat for the best access to the area’s snowy expanses. The drive through the Teton Valley to the resort is no slouch in the views department either.