Because 2016 holds the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service, we decided to compile a list of the best natural sights in each state.
From National Parks to State Parks to Wildlife Refuges to National Forests, we’ve chosen a beautiful natural sight for each state that truly represents the grand beauty of our great nation.
Alabama – Russell Cave National Monument
This cave system holds within its walls the most thorough records of the Mississippian prehistoric community, also known as the Mound Builders.
Alaska – Denali National Park & Preserve
The 4.7 million-acre park is centered around Mt. Denali, the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet.
Arizona – Grand Canyon National Park
Slightly cliche for a reason, the beautiful Grand Canyon is listed as one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Arkansas – Mt. Magazine State Park
Legend has it, the tallest peak in Arizona gets its name from early colonial period when French explorers mistook a landslide on the mountain for the sound of ammunition being released from a magazine.
California – Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley, which sees the highest number of visitors each year, actually makes up only 1 percent of the park itself.
Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park
After living in Colorado, I had to choose RMNP over the other brilliant options simply for the great fly fishing that goes on in RMNP. Who can blame me? The park is also split by the Continental Divide, and watching the water change directions on the drive through is an incredible experience.
Connecticut – Dinosaur State Park & Arboretum
The 7-acre dinosaur trackway in the park is one of the longest tracts in North America.
Delaware – Cape Henlopen State Park
This park was one of the first unofficially-declared public lands in the United States, stemming back to when William Penn stated it was a land for all to enjoy without barriers.
Florida – Biscayne National Park
Though the Everglades is a classic choice, Biscayne National Park doesn’t get its day in the sun enough, especially since 95 percent of the park is underwater.
Georgia – Ocmulgee National Monument
Like Alabama’s Russell Cave Monument, Georgia’s natural place is a prehistoric Native American sight that was also incorporated into Mississippian culture around 900 years ago.
Hawaii – Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Both the Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes in the park are two of the most active in the world, proven by the fact that lava flows through Kīlauea’s vents at 800 to 1,300 gallons per second on average.
Idaho – Yellowstone National Park
So while both Wyoming and Montana also hold claim over Yellowstone, there’s a rumor that one can commit the perfect crime in the Idaho portion of the park, as it is a federally-regulated area only in the Wyoming portions. Probably shouldn’t test it, though.
Illinois – Shawnee National Forest
In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps launched an initiative to replant the forest, which was near total loss due to logging efforts.
Indiana – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
There are more native orchid species here in Indiana than there are in Hawaii.
Iowa – Backbone State Park
This park derives its name from the steep, narrow ridge created by the Maquoketa River cutting through the bedrock.
Kansas – Monument Rocks
The American kestrel, the smallest falcon in the United States, is commonly found nesting in the crevices of the rocks year after year.
Kentucky – Mammoth Cave National Park
The Mammoth Cave system is the longest known cave system in the entire world. Now that is something.
Louisiana – South Toledo Bend State Park
This beautiful state park is a popular breeding ground for bald eagles that feast on the ample freshwater fish found in the park’s streams and rivers.
Maine – Acadia National Park
Not only is Cadillac Mountain the highest point on the United States’ Atlantic coast, but it is also one of the first spots in the U.S. to see the sunrise.
Maryland – Assateague Island National Seashore
The incredible wild ponies that graze over the island are rumored to have been left there to thrive by early colonial settlers. Be careful when camping there, though, because these ponies are known to snatch apples and other yummy treats.
Massachusetts – Muskoget Island
Here you’ll find the beach vole, or the Muskogee vole, which is the only known of its kind on the planet. It’s also a common place for gray seals to begin breeding each year.
Michigan – Isle Royale National Park
This park is made up of Isle Royale and 400 smaller islands. You could spend a year trying to visit every single one and you still couldn’t do it.
Minnesota – Voyageurs National Park
The area that eventually became Voyageurs National Park was famous territory for fur trappers in earlier centuries due to its high populations of beavers, desired for their pelts.
Mississippi – Mississippi Petrified Forest
This is the only petrified forest in the United States, and it holds a history that is both exciting and wise when walking along the trails.
Missouri – Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge
Not only was Squaw Creek named a 2007 Site of Regional Importance, but it also holds some of the last remaining natural prairie plants in the Midwest.
Montana – Glacier National Park
With over 27 glaciers in the park, the largest is Blackfoot Glacier and it stretches for over 400 acres.
Nebraska – Scotts Bluff National Monument
This area in Nebraska, named for fur trapper extraordinaire Hiram Scott, pays homage to the legacy of the Native Americans and pioneers alike who traversed this landmark on their voyage to the West.
New Hampshire – White Mountain National Forest
While there is no record of how the rugged range earned its name (although it probably has to do with New Hampshire’s infamous winters), Native American records from over 500 years ago refer to the most rugged range on the Atlantic seaboard as the White Mountains.
New Jersey – Pinelands National Reserve
This unique national reserve, spanning over seven southern N.J. counties, is home to 43 threatened or endangered species, not to mention over 56 human communities.
New Mexico – Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The limestone rock that holds the cavern is full of oceanic fossils that existed before the Ice Age. No pictures can truly do justice to the massive size of the formations inside.
New York – Adirondack Mountains
This mountain range surprisingly grows faster than the Himalayas with an astounding average of 100 feet per year.
North Carolina – Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge is the largest sand dune park on the East Coast and is an incredible micro-ecosystem in its own right.
North Dakota – Theodore Roosevelt National Park
During a big game hunt, Theodore Roosevelt visited this region of North Dakota and became so smitten, he bought a ranch with the effort of preserving the wilderness. He returned to this land following the death of both his mother and his wife on the same day.
Ohio – Cuyahoga Valley National Park
The 308-mile long Ohio and Erie canals that run through the park were hand-dug by German and Irish immigrants in the 19th century.
Oklahoma – Great Salt Plains State Park
The salt flats were once a prehistoric ocean, and today the barren landscape is made up of the salt leftover from the geological anomaly.
Oregon – Crater Lake National Park
The deepest lake in the United States, no streams flow in or out of the behemoth Crater Lake.
Pennsylvania – Poconos Mountains
For a local fun fact, snowmaking was actually patented in 1956 at the Big Boulder Ski Area, which became the first place to use artificial snow.
Rhode Island – Block Island Wildlife Refuge
Block Island Wildlife Refuge was named one of the Nature’s Conservatory’s ‘Last Great Places,’ an honor given to its sparse and virtually untouched landscape.
South Carolina – Congaree National Park
This national park preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States.
South Dakota – Badlands National Park
The epic, awe-inspiring Badlands are considered home to one of world’s richest deposits of mammal fossil beds.
Tennessee – Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The park that both North Carolina and Tennessee share is the most visited national park in the United States.
Texas – Big Bend National Park
Bigger than the state of Rhode Island, Big Bend is home to over 450 different species of birds, making it a bird watching paradise.
Utah – Zion National Park
Originally called Mukuntuweap National Monument, the National Parks System changed the name to Zion for easier pronunciation, fearing a tongue-twisting title would mean less visitors.
Vermont – Mt. Philo State Park
Designed to state-park status in 1924, Mt. Philo is Vermont’s oldest state park.
Virginia – Shenandoah National Park
First, a national fun fact: the national park holds 14 wineries inside of its boundaries, which is more than any one area in the United States. Now, a personal fact: I was named for this park, so clearly it was the frontrunner for Virginia’s most beautiful natural place.
Washington – Olympic National Park
While this park holds 3,000 miles of streams/rivers and 611 miles of trails, there are only 168 miles of road, which makes it pretty ideal if you ask me.
West Virginia – Blackwater Falls State Park
Named for the multiple waterfalls in the park, the water appears black due to the high amounts of tannic acid in its chemical makeup.
Wisconsin – Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
This national forest contains more than half of the archeological sites recorded in northern Wisconsin, with the number sitting around 2,100.
Wyoming – Grand Teton National Park
So one could argue that Wyo is more famous for Yellowstone, but the Teton range is the youngest range in the Rockies, which makes it pretty incredible and worth a mention. Also, it’s the only national park that holds a commercial airport inside.