From soaring man-made monuments to jaw-dropping natural landforms, the U.S. has a wealth of beautiful landmarks.
Niagara Falls, NY
More than 750,000 gallons of water per second thunder down this iconic 167-foot waterfall—the most powerful on the North American continent. The falls straddle the border between the U.S. and Canada, and though some argue that Horseshoe Falls—set on the Ontario side—is more spectacular than the smaller American Falls, the landmark has held a particular place in American history ever since 1901, when Michigan schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the falls (and survive) in a barrel.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, SD
Carved into a granite mountain face in South Dakota’s southwesterly Black Hills, this sculpture of four of America’s most influential presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt) was considered an extraordinary feat of engineering when it was completed in 1941—and it’s still majestic today, bringing in more than two million visitors per year.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Stretching 1.7 miles high above the mist-enshrouded waters of San Francisco Bay, this peaked, vermilion-painted suspension bridge (the color is officially known as International Orange) is as striking today as it was when it was completed in 1937. The natural surroundings—including the coves and forested bluffs of Marin County; the island of Alcatraz; and numerous sailboats, barges, kite-surfers, and even frolicking seals—can all be seen from the bridge on a clear day.
The Wave, Coyote Buttes, AZ and UT
Set in the remote Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the Arizona/Utah border, this dazzling rock formation, which looks like a cresting wave frozen in time, isn’t easy to access: you’ll need a permit from the Bureau of Land Management, which allows only 20 people per day to visit the delicate landform. But getting to see this fiery swirl of Jurassic-age sandstone, carved by the wind more than 190 million years ago, is well worth a little advance planning.
The Giant Forest, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, CA
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, this three-square-mile forest of massive giant sequoias is home to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree by volume (52,508 cubic feet). The other trees here are jaw-dropping, too—on average, they are as tall as 26-story buildings and have base diameters wider than many city streets. Equally awe-inspiring as these conifers’ grand size, though, is their age: most are between 1,800 and 2,700 years old.
Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
This stately 555-foot monument, built in the bladelike shape of an Egyptian obelisk and completed in 1884, is the most prominent structure in the American capital city. Built in honor of the nation’s first president, the marble monument has been visible in the background during some of the country’s most historic moments, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. It’s at its most beautiful when mirrored in the Reflecting Pool at sunrise or sunset, and especially on the Fourth of July with evening fireworks bursting overhead.
Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME
Illuminated for the first time in 1791 by whale-oil lamps, this lighthouse is located within the beautifully landscaped grounds of Cape Elizabeth’s Fort Williams Park. Attached to a red-roofed Victorian keeper’s house, the 92-foot-tall white conical tower is often seen as a symbol of Maine’s beauty. From its location on a commanding point at the southwestern entrance to the harbor, you can take in crisp salt air as well as endless views of the ocean and rocky coastline for which the state is known.
Gateway Arch, St. Louis
While this stainless-steel-faced landmark is officially called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, it’s better known as the Gateway Arch because of St. Louis’s position as the gateway to the West in the 19th century. Completed in 1965 and designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the 630-foot structure is America’s tallest monument—more than twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty.
Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
From the overlook tower here at the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can see seven states—if the weather is willing to cooperate. After all, you’re in the Smokies, named for the fog that often blankets the old-growth forest.
Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis
Consisting of 23 arches made of native granite and limestone, the bridge offers spectacular panoramas of St. Anthony Falls across the Mississippi River. Built as a railroad bridge in 1883, it’s been open to pedestrians and bicyclists since 1994.
The Fountains of Bellagio, Las Vegas
From a nine-acre lake on the Vegas Strip, water shoots up to 460 feet in the air in an elaborately choreographed display complete with flashy lighting and music—everything from “Singin’ in the Rain” to “Viva Las Vegas,” naturally. The 1,200-nozzle Fountains of Bellagio put its design firm, WET, on the map, leading to commissions for the Dubai Fountain and dozens more.
Monticello, Charlottesville, VA
Thomas Jefferson designed and built this extensive Palladian mansion in the hills just outside of Charlottesville. It’s a beautiful setting for a house that’s quite a looker, with big windows, skylights, and thousands of artifacts, including an illustrated engraving of his greatest work: the Declaration of Independence.
Dry Tortugas National Park/Fort Jefferson, Florida Keys
These seven islands, made from coral reefs and sand, are at the far end of the Florida Keys and closer to Cuba than the American mainland. They are notable not only for Fort Jefferson—a large 19th-century masonry fort built to guard the Gulf Coast—but also for the colorful marine life best viewed while snorkeling in the pristine waters.
Brooklyn Bridge, New York City
At its completion in 1883, this engineering marvel was the world’s longest suspension bridge. Even though it hasn’t held that title for a while, the Brooklyn Bridge’s two Gothic arched towers are an instantly recognizable symbol of New York and all its innovation.
Hoover Dam, AZ and UT
Located in the Black Canyon on the Arizona-Nevada border, this concrete arch-gravity dam—which stands at a jaw-dropping 726 feet tall—attracts approximately 1 million visitors each year. Funded by Congress during the Depression, the dam controls floods, provides irrigation water and produces hydroelectric power.