As promised I’m dedicating this week’s blog post to the most beautiful places I’ve been in the USA.
Hopefully you read the international edition post a month ago that was filled with some pretty incredible destinations.
But with Thanksgiving upon us — and the start of the crazy holiday season here in the USA — I thought I’d look at my home country and all the gorgeous places right here. There are so many!
So here are the most beautiful places I’ve been in the US — and yes, there are a lot of places I have yet to visit!
I know I’ve selected an entire state, but after living here for 15 years, I simply fell in love with so many places in my adopted home.
Rocky Mountain National Park was the first area of Colorado that I spent a lot of time in. I’d get up early to photograph the sunrise then take an early morning hike, beating the crowds of tourists. I visited in the cold of winter and the height of summer. I love this park and always will.
But then I traveled to Aspen and Breckenridge and fell in love with those old mining towns — now turned ski towns — and the mountains that surround them. I hiked to Maroon Lake at the base of the famous Maroon Bells peaks a couple of times and snowshoed and hiked in the mountains around Breckenridge.
Then onto Ouray, Telluride and Lake City with Ouray being a place that I hold near and dear to my heart. The San Juan mountain range became one of my favorites and I photographed at sun up and sun down. American Basin, Mount Sneffels and the Dallas Divide became places I dreamed of.
Crested Butte joined the list as a favorite for summer and fall. The aspen leaves here in autumn are stunning, especially the drive over Kebler Pass.
Snowboarding in Steamboat Springs and Copper Mountains, hiking up Mt Elbert and Mt Massive, rock climbing in Eldorado Canyon and driving over the Dallas Divide — all experiences of Colorado that have left a mark on my heart.
It’s truly one of the most beautiful states in the USA.
Grand Teton National Park
More love for the west as there’s no way my list would be complete without the Tetons.
While I was here for a short holiday weekend, I had the pleasure of hiking into these mountains and really being in this park. There’s nothing like seeing these rugged peaks popping up from the flat plains of Wyoming. This is what makes this park so unique and special. It’s a bit of a geological wonder.
I saw my first moose here, dipped my toe into Jenny Lake (others were swimming in that too cold for me water) and followed in the footsteps of my idol, Ansel Adams, visiting the point from which he took his famous image of the Teton mountain range and the Snake River.
My regret is that I didn’t go back here to dig deeper into this amazing national park and the nearby town of Jackson Hole.
But it’s a memory I have etched in my brain — seeing those peaks for the first time off in the distance on a beautiful summer morning.
New York City at Christmas
When my brother and sister-in-law were living just an hour or so north of New York City I decided to finally make my first trip to this amazing city.
Most of you know — if you’ve been reading this blog — that I’m more of a nature gal. I enjoy some cities (Paris!) and some left me a bit overwhelmed (London). However New York is THE city in the USA everyone needs to see — at least once.
And I decided I wanted to see it all dressed up in lights and tinsel.
So I chose to see it at Christmas time much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law. I’m not sure she was crazy about it but she was a good sport and indulged me.
It was crazy and busy and festive with wall to wall people as we neared Rockefeller Center and the big Christmas tree. And while I could have done without the crowds I loved how everything was decorated and I loved the festive energy.
Even now as I sit here thinking back to it I can feel that Christmas spirit.
To be honest I’d go back and do it again. It’s simply beautiful.
Siesta Key Beach, Florida
We here in the USA are so lucky to have some of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the world. So for me a list of beautiful destinations in the USA is not complete without including at least one beach.
I went to Siesta Key as a kid — I was about 14 I think. And I remember thinking, “This is the best sand I’ve ever walked on in my life.”
The sand is white and fine and never seemed to get super hot even though it was July. It’s really one of the prettiest beaches in the States. And that’s saying a lot because there really are loads of magnificent beaches in the USA.
But this beach, located off the coast from Sarasota, is really special.
Canyonlands National Park
Having been to 4 of the 5 national parks in southern Utah (Zion, Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches — I have unfortunately missed Bryce) Canyonlands is my favorite. But I’m not sure I can pinpoint just why. I’ll try though.
Although I had seen Arches first, I think Canyonlands just felt so much more otherworldly to me. Rock spires, sandstone mesas, the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Then there’s Horseshoe Canyon which is detached from the rest of the park but is stunning and contains some incredible rock art.
It’s a good-sized park but parts of it are accessible by car for those who can’t get out and hike.
But hike it if you can. There’s a major “cool” factor in this park when you can get out and hike around places where rock spires tower above you, cacti grow at your feet and you gaze off into the distance at a sandstone mesa.
This dazzling park requires time as well. So don’t rush it. And, typically, the parts that are the most intriguing are the ones that take some time and effort to get to. Well worth it!
Arlington National Cemetery
It might be kind of strange to put a cemetery on this list, but there is something profoundly beautiful to this place honoring our fallen soldiers and heroes. I suppose like Connemara in Ireland or Rannoch Moor in Scotland, there’s something mournful about these places that tugs at the heart and soul.
I first visited Arlington when I was 23 on my first visit to Washington, DC in the winter. Then I visited again about 2 years later with family in the heat of summer. Go in the winter!
What struck me was the orderliness of the rows of white stones across the lawn and all the little American flags. Occasionally there would be some flowers laid in front of the tombstone. There is a certain mournful beauty to it.
Then there’s the gorgeous gleaming white tomb of the unknown soldier guarded day and night. If you happen upon the tomb at the changing of the guard then stop and watch. It’s a beautiful and fascinating tradition. Regardless you’ll be moved to tears.
There are memorials to the Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts which had me crying. I always remember where I was on that day as it happened the day after my birthday.
But I think the 2 memorials that affected me the most are the graves of President John F Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.
Bobby’s grave is a simple white cross with a white plaque in the ground. But then it has the granite plaza around it with a couple of famous quotes with my favorite being:
“Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?'”
Robert F. Kennedy, 1968
JFK’s grave — the eternal flame — is definitely my favorite. I love the symbolism of his legacy living on with this flame — his hopes and ideals. Like Bobby’s (or should I say that Bobby’s gravesite is more like his older brother’s) there is a granite plaza with excerpts from this iconic president’s inaugural address. Here’s one part I particularly like:
AND SO MY FELLOW AMERICANS
ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU
ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY
MY FELLOW CITIZENS OF THE WORLD – ASK NOT
WHAT AMERICA CAN DO FOR YOU – BUT WHAT TOGETHER
WE CAN DO FOR THE FREEDOM OF MAN
John F Kennedy, 1961
Arlington National Cemetery is impressive in the grace in which we honor our fallen heroes. I think it’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the USA.
My first look of the Oregon Coast came in 2007 when I was staying with a friend in Portland. We drove out to the towns of Seaside (very touristy) Cannon Beach (rock formations off the coast) and Manzanita which was my favorite.
I loved that this coast was so different from Florida with rocky coastline dotted with sandy beaches. It felt more wild and rugged — and I loved it!
So when I returned in September 2008 I knew I wanted to stay along the coast for a couple of days. I found the village of Yachats along the central part of the coast and stayed for 2 nights — wishing I could stay a week. I’d say this was when I fell in love with the Oregon Coast.
I discovered tide pools, the coastal forest of Siuslaw National Forest and Heceta Head Lighthouse. There were seals frolicking in the waves and a run along the beach at low tide. And I took in the sun setting over the roiling Pacific. It was magical — heaven on earth for me.
And the biggest regret is that I haven’t been back. It’s a special place in the USA and very deserving of being on this list.
Acadia National Park
One of the most beautiful places in the USA has to be Acadia National Park in Maine. And Acadia National Park in autumn is even more magnificent.
While this park is much smaller than a park like Canyonlands, it’s filled with some diverse landscape — from forests to rocky coastline to granite peaks. And it has its share of wildlife too with lots of birds for bird lovers.
Cadillac Mountain is located within the park and is the highest point on the East Coast. You can actually hike this or drive to it. I drove as I was with a friend who wasn’t as outdoorsy. But we still had amazing views from the top of Cadillac Mountain — out to the sea and the little islands off the coast. It’s stunning! And with all that color it was even more stunning.
I loved the rocky coastline but I also enjoyed walking through the woodland and coming upon little ponds. The carriage roads are fabulous for easy walks through the forest. And with the color of fall it was even more spectacular. It felt very Walden-esque.
Throw in a lighthouse and the lovely town of Bar Harbor and it’s the perfect destination.
“Holy shit! Holy shit!” was all I could say when I first laid eyes on this natural phenomenon. My then-boyfriend was behind the wheel and laughing his ass off at me. I’m pretty sure he’d never heard me be at a loss of words. All I could come up with was, “holy shit!” My vocabulary left me.
And it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen or will see in your life.
And we were there on New Year’s Eve, arriving in the morning as the sun came up on the snow-covered red rock rims. *sigh* Even now I can see the gorgeous light hitting those red rock rims and hear myself saying, “holy shit!”
I love the mountains and I’d probably choose mountains over canyons as the most beautiful place in the world. But the Grand Canyon is awing. You can’t even see the bottom from up above. It’s that deep. And it’s truly that grand. This is a big place.
The best way to experience this wonder of nature is to hike to the bottom and see that river— the Colorado River — that helped carve this natural work of art.
This is what then-boyfriend and I did. We hiked down the South Kaibab Trail and across the bottom of the canyon to the base of the North Rim and camped for a couple of nights. It was just us and a determined mouse. Then we hiked back across to Phantom Ranch and camped for a night there before hiking back up the Bright Angel Trail to the top of the snow-covered South Rim. Best way to ring in the new year ever! Well minus the super cold temps and snow that we camped in that last night on top of the South Rim.
I’d still love to raft down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. It’s a dream of mine that I can’t let go. But I’d be happy to go back and hike it again in spring or fall. Summer is too hot in the canyon and winter leaves the North Rim inaccessible.
It’s truly one of the most beautiful places in the USA.
There you have my list.
I’d love to know what the most beautiful places you’ve been in the USA are.
And what you think of my choices.
Drop your comments below.