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With nearly 3.8 million miles of land area, the United States certainly has no shortage of picture-perfect natural landscapes, from sprawling, mountain-filled national parks to the surprising natural beauty that’s often found just outside bustling city centers. In some of these places, like California’s dreamy Mediterranean-esque Big Sur, it’s possible to forget that you’re in the U.S. at all. And in the case of Utah’s Arches National Park and its striking red rock structures, you might not feel like you’re even on planet Earth. The only problem? Narrowing down a list of sites to visit (and photograph). Whether you’re looking for the perfect Instagram selfie or you want to flex those photography muscles, we’ve picked the most photogenic spots you can visit in every state.
Alabama: Little River Canyon National Preserve
The breathtaking views from the scenic drive along the rim of Little River Canyon National Preserve are just the start. Located in Fort Payne, Alabama, the area also offers river hikes, swimming holes, three waterfalls, and bike trails among its more than 15,000 acres. The preserve is home to a thriving and diverse ecosystem, with a wide range of wildlife and rare plants growing along the river’s sandstone outcrops. It’s hard to pick just one spot where you should snap a picture, but the sunrises over the Wolf Creek Overlook are particularly spectacular.
Alaska: Denali National Park
Alaska’s mountain ranges are perhaps the most quintessential landscape in the Land of the Midnight Sun. While there are seemingly endless options for capturing the state’s numerous summits, there may be no better place than in Denali National Park — six million sprawling acres of scenic vistas and wild Alaskan land (including, of course, a host of unfenced animals roaming all around). The area is also home to the tallest peak in North America, the park’s namesake Denali, which towers at 20,310 feet above sea level. Your best chance for a clear view of the mountain ranges is in winter, as they tend to be shrouded in clouds during the summer. They’re even more beautiful when seen in the still waters of the park’s Reflecting Pond or Wonder Lake.
Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park
It might seem like a no-brainer, but the most popular tourist attraction in Arizona — and in all of the U.S. — is also the most photogenic spot in the state. The Grand Canyon is as vast as its name suggests, and while no picture can truly do its majesty justice, the South Rim is one of the best places to soak it all in. It features not only the most visitor amenities, but also the most all-encompassing viewpoints in the park, with almost two dozen unique lookout spots — many of which give you a glimpse all the way down to the Colorado River running through the canyon.
Arkansas: Hawksbill Crag
Hawksbill Crag, named for the rock formation’s protruding, beak-like shape, is one of the most visited natural wonders in Arkansas. Also known as Whitaker’s Point, the Ozarks landmark is a popular hiking destination, and the romantic views of Buffalo River country make it a top spot for proposals, weddings, and even whimsical Disney movie shoots. (The opening to Tuck Everlasting was filmed here.) The lush mountain views are splendid year-round, but in the fall, the colorful foliage dappled with golden sunlight makes for one splendid photo.
California: Big Sur
Although just about the entirety of the rugged 90-mile stretch of central California coast known as Big Sur is unforgettable, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park stands out as one of the most picturesque places. Here, land dramatically meets the sea, with the Saint Lucia mountains dropping right into the rich blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The beach itself is not open to the public, but a number of hiking trails throughout the park offer an overlook of the shore, as well as the park’s standout attraction: the McWay Falls waterfall cascading onto the sands below.
Colorado: The Maroon Bells
You may already be familiar with the twin peaks of the Maroon Bells, the most photographed place in Colorado. Located in a glacial valley about 10 miles west of Aspen, the larger-than-life Rocky Mountain landmark consists of Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, whose names were derived from the mountains’ distinctive coloring, a result of iron-bearing minerals found in the rock. Follow the hiking trail in the White River National Forest for a favorite view of the Maroon Bells; there, you’ll be able to take in pretty panoramas surrounded by wildflower fields and tranquil reflective lakes.
Connecticut: Kent Falls
Connecticut is a state of bountiful untouched natural beauty, and among all of New England’s tucked-away waterfalls, Kent Falls is one of the prettiest and most popular destinations. The falls’ cascading waters, accessed through a quaint covered bridge in Kent Falls State Park, drop over 250 feet in total, with several pools and plunges along the way. While the lower part of the falls provides plenty of photo ops on its own, the stair trail running alongside the falls provides different platforms for an elevated perspective all the way up to the top.
Delaware: Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Whether you’re driving the 12-mile loop, hiking one of the many trails, or climbing an observation tower, there are several ways to bask in the serenity of Bombay Hook’s 16,000 acres of incredible scenery. Located on the Delaware Bay, the wildlife refuge serves as an important stop for thousands of migrating birds making their way north every spring. The area is particularly beautiful before and after sunset, when you can watch the sun sparkle on the many streams, rivers, and marshes throughout the grounds.
Florida: Dry Tortugas National Park
Florida is home to endless picturesque locations, from its iconic amusement parks and beaches to its hundreds of natural springs and their dramatic bald cypress trees. But a little off the beaten path, about 70 miles west of Key West, you’ll find one of the state’s most remarkable natural sites: Dry Tortugas National Park. Made up of seven small islands and accessible only by plane or boat, this surprisingly exquisite spot not only offers secluded beaches with some of the clearest turquoise waters you’ve ever seen, but is also home to an old Civil War fort, lending a unique architectural flair to the seaside sights.
Georgia: Wormsloe State Historic Site
It’s nearly impossible to think of the South without picturing languid, drooping, Spanish moss trees, and nowhere is this evocative image more applicable than at the Wormsloe Historic Site near Savannah’s historic district. The road, lined with enormous live oak archways, leads to the oldest standing structure in the city, the ruins of the 18th-century colonial estate of Noble Jones. There are also walking paths that branch out to the waters of the Isle of Hope, where clearings in the trees and docks allow for even more views of the pensive historical space.
Hawaii: Na Pali Coast
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the Na Pali Coast, on the northwest side of Kauai, one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The colorful cliffs — or “pali” in Hawaiian — form undulating valleys, dotted with waterfalls and streams, that plunge abruptly into the crashing waters below, where deep caves are carved into the mountains’ rugged base. Much of the coast is inaccessible unless you’re willing to follow some treacherous hiking trails through the Na Pali Coast State Park, but a boat or plane tour is a popular way to take in the site’s powerful and nuanced beauty.
Idaho: Shoshone Falls
Known as the “Niagara of the West,” Idaho’s Shoshone Falls are a must-see in the Gem State. Here, levels of cascading waters culminate to form a massive water flow into the Snake River, giving this hidden Idaho landmark its resemblance to the more famous falls on the New York-Canada border. But at 212 feet tall, Shoshone Falls are actually over 20 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Even better, no major hike is required to snap a pic, but if you're feeling adventurous, paddleboard and kayak tours will get you up close to the base of the majestic waterway.
Illinois: Garden of the Gods
With its striking skyline, Chicago may have one of the prettiest man-made views in the U.S. But it still can't compare to the natural beauty of the Garden of the Gods rock formations and lookouts, which you'll find in the sprawling Shawnee National Forest at the other end of the state. The unique stone statues have been carved over centuries by the elements; the most famous resembles a camel, with a head and a hump hanging high over the forest below. The Garden of the Gods not only provides amazing views, but also offers a surprising glimpse into the geological history of southern Illinois.
Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Park
Sand dunes are a marvel of nature, formed to act as a natural barrier against storm surges and to play host to diverse and often delicate wildlife and ecosystems. They also happen to be incredibly beautiful. Case in point: Indiana Dunes National Park. Some of the sand dunes here reach several hundred feet high, with winding wooded trails to the top where you’ll catch jaw-dropping views across Lake Michigan.
Iowa: Pikes Peak State Park
With a 500-foot-high bluff over the Mississippi River among its many lookout points, Pikes Peak offers some of the most picturesque views in the Hawkeye State. Venturing into the 11 miles of hiking trails reveals even more brilliant slices of beauty, from wooded valleys to fossilized walls of shale stone and refreshing spring waters along the way.
Kansas: Monument Rocks
It’s been said that Kansas is flatter than a pancake, which makes its massive Monument Rocks even more of a standout. Also referred to as the Chalk Pyramids, the giant limestone formations stretch as tall as 70 feet in some places, standing in stark contrast to the prone prairie land all around them. A large gap in one of the monuments, known as the famous keyhole, is a favorite spot from which to snap the perfect sunset picture.
Kentucky: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
Scenic gorges and soaring sandstone bluffs might not come to mind first when you picture the state of Kentucky, but in the beloved Big South Fork, that’s exactly what you’ll find within its 125,000 acres of impressive natural beauty. The forest and recreation grounds surround the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, and the area features the highest number of natural sandstone arch bridges in the eastern United States. The grounds also boast the beautiful Yahoo Falls, which, at 113 feet, is Kentucky’s highest waterfall.
Louisiana: Lake Martin
Swamps get a bad rap as mysterious and murky wetlands, but those in the know realize they can be places of unparalleled beauty. Such is the case with Louisiana’s Lake Martin, a wildlife preserve and bald cypress tree mecca that, unlike most marshy places in the South, can be easily hiked on foot or traveled by canoe. The wide-open lake expanses make for some dazzling photography, and, for animal lovers, Lake Martin is home to several rare and migratory birds and is also a popular nesting place for alligators. The big reptiles may not be the most cooperative photo subjects, but they’re fascinating to observe (as long as you can do so safely, of course).
Maine: Baxter State Park
The lands of Baxter State Park were given to the state by future governor Percival P. Baxter under one condition: that they remain in their wild state “for those who love nature and are willing to walk and make an effort to get close to nature.” The park has lived up to its mandate, standing out as one of the most authentic backcountry experiences in the U.S. Visitors to the 200,000-acre park will likely be treated to moose, bear, deer, and lynx sightings on more than 200 miles of hiking trails. A standout for photographers and nature revelers alike is the vast vista of Mount Katahdin, the largest mountain in Maine, framed beautifully from the pristine mountain ponds found in the surrounding glacial bowls.
Maryland: Annapolis Rock
Hikers, rock climbers, and photographers alike flock to Annapolis Rock on the Kentucky stretch of the Appalachian Trail, and for good reason: It’s a relatively easy hike, coming in at just 2.2 miles, and the payoff is spectacular. The protruding rock formation alone is a sight to see, but below it runs Greenbrier Lake, and further in the distance, you can take in the view of the old growth forests of Cumberland Valley. The westward view makes sunset the perfect time to get that perfect photo memento.
Massachusetts: Aquinnah Cliffs
Massachusetts is full of charming coastal beauty, the pinnacle of which might just be the Aquinnah Cliffs of Martha’s Vineyard. The multicolored cliffs, which get their hues from red and orange clay mixing with pale sand, were initially carved by ancient glaciers, and continue to shapeshift thanks to the crushing power of the Atlantic Ocean. Such dramatic rock formations are not often seen along New England beaches. The cliffs are home to the historic Gay Head Light lighthouse, which serves not only as a welcome addition to landscape photos of the area, but also as a fun piece of pop culture trivia — it appears briefly in the background of Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws.
Michigan: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
There are countless scenic spots throughout the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — including 100 miles of trails, waterfalls, beaches, towering forests, and more — but the crown jewel is undoubtedly the Pictured Rocks cliffs. The striking sandstone cliffs are streaked with ribbons of color that appear when groundwater oozes out of cracks and trickles minerals such as iron and copper down the rock face. If you manage to make it to the sea caves along the shore for sunset, you’ll be rewarded with some truly magical photos.
Minnesota: Split Rock Lighthouse National Park
It’s one of the most visited lighthouses in the country for a reason: Perched high on a craggy cliff above Lake Superior, Split Rock Lighthouse makes for a moody setting and a one-in-a-million view. Though its main draw is man-made, the national park features plenty of other notable trails and lookouts over beautiful natural scenery, as well as many more relaxed beaches for swimming or simply taking in the peaceful views. As a bonus, if you’re looking for how to best capture the dramatic lighthouse scene, the Minnesota Historical Society has you covered with some pro tips and locations for getting the perfect shot.
Mississippi: Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
The Natchez Trace is an historical forest travel corridor between Nashville, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi, that was created by Native Americans and later used by European and American explorers. Today, the Natchez Trace Parkway and Bridge mirrors the path. The scenic drive also features several hiking stop points, and the Natchez Trace Trail allows visitors to access not only a fundamental part of Mississippi history, but also some of its most beautiful scenes — have your camera ready for a trek through the distinctly southern Cypress Swamp.
Missouri: Echo Bluff State Park
Missouri has no shortage of captivating panoramas, scenic lakes, and serene parks (including the urban oasis of St. Louis’ Forest Park), but its newest state park has already become the most photogenic spot in the state. Echo Bluff State Park, established in 2016, is the picture of charming Ozarks beauty, with towering bluffs, mysterious coves, the shimmering Sinking Creek, and even wild horses, which have been roaming the hills of Shannon County for over a century.
Montana: Glacier National Park
In a state known as Big Sky Country, it’s no surprise that it’s difficult to pinpoint a single place that's more photogenic than all the rest. But it's not hard to argue that Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful places not only in Montana, but in all of the U.S. You can’t go wrong with any angle on the plethora of crashing waterfalls, pristine lakes, stretched-out flatlands, wildlife, and, of course, majestic mountains (which are sub-ranges of the world-famous Rockies). The best way to get a well-rounded look of as much of the park as possible is to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile road that crosses the park from east to west.
Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument
Nebraska is more than just golden cornfields — it’s also known for its massive natural rock formations, the most distinct of which is the Scotts Bluff National Monument. The walking trails leading to the top of the bluff are for all levels of hikers and walkers, with expansive views for miles from the 800-foot-tall peak. But the most rewarding spot to snap a photo is from below the formation, where you can capture all of its towering beauty along with the novelty restored covered wagons that dot the historic Oregon Trail, which runs through the area.
Nevada: Red Rock Canyon
Nevada, like most desert regions, can at times appear otherworldly in its natural beauty. One of its most memorable vistas is Red Rock Canyon, which will have you reaching for your camera from the minute its distinctive red-and-white-colored sandstone cliffs appear on the horizon. But it’s worth waiting until you’re in Red Rock Proper — as you venture into any combination of the 26 trails, climbing the stones or hiking through sand dunes, you’ll feel like you’re in a completely different place (or even planet) at every turn.
New Hampshire: Mount Washington
The trek to the top of the highest peak in the northeastern U.S. is known as one of the most dangerous hikes in the country, but if you can make it up New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, you’ll be delighted by the sheer expanse of visible beauty. An alternative way to scale the mountain is via the Cog Railway, which has been operating for 150 years; even the drive to the train station will give you some tremendous sights of the surrounding White Mountains region. The fact that the retro locomotive looks as delightful as your surroundings doesn’t hurt, and makes it a must-have photo op for adventurers in New Hampshire.
New Jersey: High Point State Park
High Point State Park lives up to its name: The park’s High Point Monument, at 1,803 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the state. From its summit, the Delaware River and the farmlands, forests, hills, and valleys of three separate states — New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania — are all within view. A variety of hiking trails also offer spectacular views, including thickets of forest from High Point Mountain. Much of the mountains and park are tree-covered, so the best time to take in the scenery is on a clear fall day, when you can take full advantage of the seasonal colors.
New Mexico: White Sands National Park
Picture the palest, softest sandy shores of your vacation dreams, but instead of a beach, it’s 275 square miles of sprawling desert. That’s the essence of New Mexico’s ethereal White Sands park, featuring cascading dunes and plenty of prickly desert plant life. The sand’s sunbleached color actually comes from the mineral gypsum; the area is home to the world's largest gypsum dune field. It’s hard not to capture a beautiful shot of the rippling dunes, but in case you need some pointers, the New Mexico government has you covered. They advise climbing the tallest dunes for the best aerial views — and we suggest you partake in the park’s sand sledding excursion to get back down.
New York: Letchworth State Park
New York is, of course, home to one of the most photographed cities in the world, but the state’s most photogenic natural gem is Letchworth State Park. The park is known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” thanks to the 17-mile stretch of the Genesee River that rushes through the area’s beautiful gorge and cascades down three major waterfalls (some with cliffs stretching as tall as 600 feet). The spectacular falls, along with the park’s 66 miles of scenic hiking trails, cross-country skiing, and whitewater rafting, are among the many reasons the park was voted the best state park in the U.S. in 2015.
North Carolina: Craggy Gardens
The Smoky Mountains and all those beautiful North Carolina beaches are certainly tough to beat, but perhaps the most picturesque spot in the Old North State is the Craggy Gardens portion of the 400-mile scenic mountain drive known as the Blue Ridge Parkway. During the summer, the pinks and purples of the region’s wildflowers are on vibrant display; set against the backdrop of untouched rolling mountain landscapes, it’s a view that’s second to none.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Dakota is no stranger to remarkable rock formations and scenic lakes, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park makes up a good portion of some of the best views in the state. One of the most unforgettable outlooks is from the Boicourt Trail; here, visitors can see the iconic North Dakota badlands stretch out for miles on end. You’ll also want to have your camera ready to capture the herds of wild horses and bison that roam the park.
Ohio: Hocking Hills State Park
One of the most visited places in Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park encompasses over 2,000 acres of dense, colorful hills and hollows, a far cry from the state’s otherwise flat landscapes. Among the most popular destinations for photos is the medieval-looking Old Man’s Cave waterfall, so named for a reclusive man who stowed away inside its large recessed cave in the 1800s.
Oklahoma: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
While the highlight of Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is — spoiler alert — the wildlife (including buffalo, Texas longhorn cattle, prairie dogs, elk, and deer), the 59,000-acre grounds provide plenty of scenery to take in, too. Make sure to check out the soothing, symmetrical beauty of the Parallel Forest (where rows of cedar trees stand exactly six feet apart), a number of tucked-away gorges and waterfalls, and the view from Mount Scott — especially at sunset.
Oregon: Cannon Beach
Oregon is brimming with natural beauty just about everywhere you look. One of the most popular natural attractions is the state’s coastal region. About 90 miles northwest of Portland, on the beautiful, dramatic, rocky shores of Cannon Beach, visitors flock to photograph the famous Haystack Rock sea stack formation. Around the stone structure, you can also observe diverse marine creatures such as brightly colored sea stars and anemones, coral, sponge, and other vibrant aquatic life.
Pennsylvania: The Pinnacle Overlook
The Susquehanna River is one of the longest rivers on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, and there may be no better place to view it than from southern Pennsylvania’s Pinnacle Overlook. The Pinnacle sits on a bluff nearly 400 feet above the river basin, affording views of not only the winding river itself, but also the prehistoric Duncan Island in the middle. (Artifacts dating back to 8,000 B.C. have been found on the island.) The Pinnacle is easily accessible, and if you’d like to make the most of your trip up, you can check out the beautiful trails in the nearby Kelly’s Run Nature Preserve and Tucquan Glen Nature Preserve.
Rhode Island: Beavertail State Park
The New England coastline rarely disappoints, and Rhode Island’s Beavertail State Park is one of the best examples of the idyllic regional views. Located on a peninsula at the southern tip of Jamestown, Beavertail is best known for its iconic lighthouse as well as its fascinating geology — the rock formations produce a fault line that has been the subject of many studies over the years. The stunning shores are visible from several charming coastal trails winding along Conanicut Island.
South Carolina: Angel Oak of John's Island
One of the most sought-after photo subjects in South Carolina is also one of the oldest in the region. The famous Angel Oak tree of John's Island is thought to be between 300 and 400 years old. It stands 65 feet high and, with its branches, the longest of which is 190 feet long, provides 17,000 square feet of canopied shade. The Angel Oak could best be described as majestic, although even that hardly does the fairytale-esque natural wonder justice.
South Dakota: Badlands National Park
The fascinating South Dakota Badlands take their name from the Lakota people, who described the difficult terrain as “mako sica” (which roughly translates to “bad lands”). The mesmerizing rock formations are among the most revered sights in America, and Badlands National Park was even recently named one of the most beautiful places in the world. For a well-rounded view of the striking geology and protected wildlife, try the Badlands Loop Road, which provides plenty of great sightseeing spots.
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Both North Carolina and Tennessee claim portions of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but some of the best vistas can be found in Tennessee. Highlights include Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome — from which, on a clear day, you can see seven states! — and the popular Chimney Tops trail, whose panoramic views show off the rich hallmarks of Southern Appalachian mountain beauty.
Texas: Big Bend National Park
Sitting on the Mexico border is the remote Big Bend National Park, a hidden gem that has some of the most diverse topography and best views in the Lone Star State. Take a short but strenuous hike through the visitor-favorite Santa Elena Canyon for an unforgettable bird’s-eye view of the Rio Grande; consider the short but rewarding Grapevine Hills Trail to the logic-defying Balanced Rock formation; or take a day to explore the South Rim trail — on a clear day, it offers one of the most expansive views in the whole park.
Utah: Arches National Park
Utah has an abundance of awe-inspiring rock formations, from the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the winding canyons of Spooky Gulch. But none may be more recognizable than the natural wonders on display at Arches National Park. Currently, the park boasts at least 2,000 natural stone arches — the largest collection in the world — which formed out of Entrada sandstone over millions of years of elements and erosion. The most well-known (and photographed) structure is the Delicate Arch; standing 60 feet high and even depicted on Utah’s license plates, the magical landmark is a must-see for anyone visiting the park.
Vermont: Hogback Mountain
Vermont is renowned for its sparse population and its untouched green pastoral hills, and one of the best places to stop and snap a photo or two is along Route 9. This highway bisects the Hogback Mountain Conservation Area, delivering the famous 100-mile view, where on a clear day you’ll be able to take in the beauty of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.
Virginia: Great Falls Park
Over thousands of years, the mighty Potomac River has transformed layers of rock, carving plunging cliffs and winding bends along the way. One of the most beautiful results of this exists in Virginia's Great Falls Park, where the Potomac roars over a series of steep rocks to flow through the serene Mather Gorge. The falls have three main overlooks, connected by some climbing rocks and wooden footbridges (don’t worry, they’re all simple and safe to travel), and each is worth checking out for different perspectives on this Virginia gem.
Washington: Olympic National Park
With nearly a million acres to its name, Olympic National Park is full of diverse and distinct-looking pockets — most of which feel more like Middle Earth from Lord of the Rings than they do America. The enchanting mossy green Hoh Rainforest is a standout in the park, as are the robust and colorful coastlines, which — with their sea stacks, cliffs, and lively tide pools — are ready for their closeup.
West Virginia: New River Gorge National River
The New River is responsible for the longest and deepest river gorge throughout the Appalachian Mountains — and its handiwork is on dazzling display at the New River Gorge National River. While portions of the river appear serene, the park serves as a premier whitewater rafting destination, with surprising rapids developing along the waterway. Make sure you hike the Long Point Trail to get to one of the most photographed views in the state — the expansive New River Gorge Bridge.
Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Wisconsin’s natural wonders are some of the most beautiful (and underrated) in the country, and nowhere is that more evident than in the brilliant sandstone sea caves on the banks of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Surrounded by Lake Superior, the caves are spectacular in all seasons — in summer, the rich blue hues of the lake form a picturesque backdrop. And in winter, the formations turn into striking ice caves.
Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone, established in 1872, was the first national park in the U.S. and remains one of the most popular to this day. The park is perhaps best known for its hydrothermal features, from the glowing colorblock outline of Grand Prismatic Spring to Old Faithful, a legendary geyser that still erupts a massive column on a predictable schedule. A trip to the park might never feel complete, but after you’ve checked the aforementioned must-sees off your list, you might want to move on to the epic Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the lively Yellowstone Lake.