These bewitching places pack jaw-dropping scenery and legendary photo ops.
Maybe you're longing to traverse an epic trail with captivating mountain views. Or perhaps you're itching to experience otherworldly landscapes in a national park or explore a quaint community with a historic downtown. "'Scenic' can range from knockout vistas -- like ocean views, mountains and pinch-me landmarks and works of art -- to quieter moments that anyone can find in nearby state parks, museums and charming towns," explains Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of BudgetTravel.com. While stunning views take many different forms, no matter where you're headed, you can capture one-of-a-kind scenes in iconic and lesser-known destinations across the country. Read on for 51 beautiful escapes that are well worth the trip.
Alabama: Cheaha State Park
If you're searching for beautiful hiking trails and abundant wildlife-viewing opportunities, head to Cheaha State Park, where you can enjoy spectacular vistas from the state's highest point. Take a scenic hike from the Cheaha Trailhead, which links to the Appalachian Trail and offers picturesque paths meandering past striking waterfalls. Must-see trails include Bald Rock, featuring a beautiful overlook, and the Mountain Laurel Trail, boasting arresting views of Talladega National Forest. As for accommodations, take your pick from camping near Cheaha Lake or renting a rustic lodge cabin at the Bald Rock Lodge in nearby Delta, Alabama.
Alaska: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve appeals to adventure- and nature-seekers alike with its striking fjords, pristine lakes and abundant wildlife (think: grizzly bears, moose and whales). The national park stretches across nearly 3.3 million acres, making it impossible to explore all of its unspoiled trails and natural splendors in just one trip. Carve out time for a glacier tour or whale-watching expedition before venturing to the Bear Track Inn, located along the Icy Strait in Gustavus, to experience the area's mesmerizing landscapes with a fishing, hiking or customized outdoor excursion. The Inn's nightly rate covers meals, accommodations, transportation and select activities.
Arizona: Red Rock State Park
With its unrivaled views of Sedona's famous rock formations, this sprawling 286-acre nature reserve offers ample opportunity to enjoy guided nature walks and challenging hikes. The park boasts a 5-mile trail network, with paths for hiking, biking and even horseback riding that lead to lookout points along Oak Creek. Aside from the chance to admire the otherworldly rock formations, the park also offers kid-friendly activities through its Junior Ranger program (for visitors ages 6 to 12). Plus, you can enjoy a variety of events, including geology-focused hikes and moonlight hikes, granting visitors a rare opportunity to observe the sunset and moonrise from iconic park overlooks.
Arkansas: Mountain View
Travelers looking to explore an off-the-beaten-path locale should consider the quaint town of Mountain View, located in the heart of the Ozarks music and arts scene. Here, "you can hear authentic mountain music everywhere in the town and explore hands-on craft-making at the cultural center," Firpo-Cappiello explains. Plus, the area is well-suited for adventure-seekers, with plentiful outdoor activities, from fishing in the White River to hiking past dramatic limestone bluffs and glistening waterfalls along the 13-mile Sylamore Creek Trail to biking the challenging 22-mile Syllamo Trail. Tuck into a rustic cabin, campground, bed-and-breakfast or affordable hotel to enjoy the surroundings.
California: Big Sur
California features its fair share of cinematic backdrops, from legendary lookouts at LA's Griffith Observatory to the staggering Sequoia trees and rock formations of Yosemite National Park. So while you have many idyllic destinations to choose from, Firpo-Cappiello recommends exploring the picturesque destinations in Northern California (think: Mendocino) for "bargains, fewer crowds and incredible views." There are plenty of rugged coastal destinations to pique your interest, but Big Sur stands apart, with its enchanting waterfalls, meadows and redwood groves in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Don't skip the Valley View trail, with its sparkling beaches and mountainous scenery.
Colorado: Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
This area within Rocky Mountain National Park -- along the Continental Divide -- affords eye-popping vantage points of Colorado's high-altitude scenery. Easily accessible from Denver, the Bear Lake area brims with trailheads, overlooks and picnic areas. Inspiring photo ops abound along Bear Lake and Sprague Lake. What's more, there are plenty of ranger-led programs and wildlife-watching opportunities to entice you. Horseback riding, fishing, hiking and other outdoor escapades are on the menu here.
Mystic, the charming New England town filled with coastal mansions, quaint inns and plenty of salty sea air, may be best known for its appearance in the 1988 classic "Mystic Pizza," starring Julia Roberts. But the area has plenty more going for it than stellar pizza spots and a laid-back, small-town allure. The seaport is chockablock with lively cafes, storied homes and an impressive maritime museum, while the downtown area offers an eclectic mix of galleries and shops. For the best vistas, unleash your inner seafarer and rent a kayak to check out the lighthouses speckling Long Island Sound. The Whaler's Inn has reasonable nightly rates and plenty of local charm.
Delaware: Rehoboth Beach
Rehoboth Beach draws visitors to its lively shoreline and boardwalk, but away from the sand you'll also find plenty of amusements, from wildlife at Cape Henlopen State Park to craft beer at Dogfish Head Brewery in nearby Lewes, Delaware. "Rehoboth Beach and the surrounding area boasts beaches as beautiful as any of the other mid-Atlantic vacation spots, but you'll find a mellow vibe, good prices and not quite as many fellow visitors," Firpo-Cappiello says. When you need a break from the heat, make your way to Grove Park, which brims with picnic areas, swings and serene, tree-filled surroundings.
District of Columbia: The Tidal Basin
Come spring, the Tidal Basin's 2-mile pond is flanked by pale pink cherry blossoms, beckoning to visitors across the globe. The floral display, which is typically in its peak in late March and early April, is always beautiful, says Christine Blau, senior editor for National Geographic Travel. If you've already witnessed the annual spectacle, she recommends heading to the U.S. National Arboretum for fewer crowds and equally impressive scenery. Another way to take in the district's marbled monuments: by paddleboat. Just don't skip strolling past must-see landmarks, including the FDR, MLK Jr., Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
Florida: Everglades National Park
With the arrival of spring, many travelers turn their sights to Florida's golden beaches, but there's impressive wildlife and natural gems worth exploring in Everglades National Park, Blau says. Here, you can catch sight of hundreds of rare species such as the manatee and the Florida panther; you can also take a 99-mile kayaking trip in Big Cypress National Preserve or embark on an eco-adventure tour. Best of all, you can enjoy camping, ranger-led programs and remarkable vistas from points of interest across the park, including the Pahayokee Overlook, with its brilliant views of the "river of grass" ecosystem.
If moss-canopied gardens and antebellum architecture speak to you, add Savannah to your travel list. Forsyth Park, in the Savannah Historic District, enchants visitors with its iconic fountain, serene walking paths and famous memorials. After soaking in the park's surroundings, make your way to can't-miss attractions, including the Mercer Williams House Museum and the Bonaventure Cemetery, which you might recognize from the famous book and later film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Another must-do: strolling along historic River Street, a cobblestone stretch that is replete with shops, eateries, hotels and pretty river views.
While Hawaii offers an alluring island escape any time of year, summer is a prime time to beat the crowds, Blau says. And Kauai, with its enchanting cliff-carved coastline, epic sunsets and magnificent hiking trails, appeals to those seeking a mix of adrenaline-pumping outdoor adventures and relaxation. The Na Pali Coast, with its staggering sea cliffs, lush surroundings and tucked-away waterfalls and beaches, is especially enticing for nature-seekers. And while hiking the Kalalau Trail along the coast can be challenging, the north shore scenery is spellbinding. After completing the steep climb, unwind in Hanalei Bay, where calm waves and tropical scenery await.
Idaho: Sun Valley
You may associate Sun Valley -- perched on the Dollar and Bald mountains near the quaint town of Ketchum -- with skiing, but the area has other enticing cold-weather pursuits, from Nordic skiing and snowshoeing to ice skating and snowmobiling. And in the warmer months, you can enjoy fly-fishing, horseback riding and hiking, among other pastimes. For excellent wildlife -- and wildflower -- viewing, venture along Trail Creek, a network of inspiring paths. What's more, you can enjoy camping in a rustic yurt in Sawtooth National Forest, where crystal-clear lakes, fresh air and blue skies abound. Or take in the commanding mountain scenery from the iconic Sun Valley Resort.
Illinois: Shawnee National Forest
Covering more than 28,000 acres, Shawnee National Forest, located in southern Illinois, features a wealth of underrated natural wonders and ecological splendors, including 14 botanical areas and four recognized National Natural Landmarks. From the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail to Garden of the Gods (a unique and widely photographed rock formation) to the flower-lined Inspiration Trail, there are plenty of bucket-list-worthy attractions and hikes to experience. And aside from the chance to take in Shawnee's rugged terrain and craggy bluffs -- a welcome reprieve from city life -- you can also enjoy swimming, canoeing, kayaking and other activities during warmer months in scenic areas like Devils Kitchen Lake.
Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Located at the edge of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore boasts unique bird species, more than 1,100 native plants, little-known biking and hiking trails and arresting sunsets. During your visit, don't skip lakeside fishing at the Little Calumet River, cycling along the park's 37-mile-long interconnected network of paths hugging the lakeshore. And if you're planning a trip in the warmer months, enjoy sunbathing and strolling along Lake View Beach -- and of course, checking out the unspoiled dunes the area is known for.
Iowa: Pikes Peak State Park
When you peer over the 500-foot bluff inside this storied park, you'll be hit with sky-high views of the Mississippi River. And that's not all. Looking north, you'll spot suspension bridges linking Iowa to Wisconsin. Stroll along a wooden boardwalk to Bridal Veil Falls, where you can eye overlooks and ancient structures from an American Indian tribe that once occupied the area. The park has campgrounds, picnic areas, mountain biking trails and old-growth forests aplenty. What's more, if you don't want to rough it in the great outdoors, several budget-friendly hotels and bed-and-breakfasts are available outside the park in McGregor, Iowa.
Kansas: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Kansas may be best known for its picturesque prairie pastures. You can check out the remaining tall grass covering the landscape in the Kansas Flint Hills, along with wildflowers, bison herds and unspoiled nature trails. A top highlight is hiking along the Southwind Nature Trail, one of the reserve's three nature trails that affords sweeping views of the local ecosystem and unmatched scenery -- complete with idyllic hills, cottonwood and hackberry trees, and unique local flowers. Try your luck at catch-and-release fishing in one of the preserve ponds or on Fox Creek. Not a fishing fan? Explore the Scenic Overlook trail to catch sight of the area's rare wild bison herd.
Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park
Navigating the world's longest known network of caves, located about 100 miles outside of Louisville, Kentucky, isn't for the faint of heart. Covering more than 400 miles, the park's labyrinth of limestone caves is filled with pointy stalactite formations. And the park isn't just for cavern enthusiasts. It also features trails and rivers, and plenty of opportunities for horseback riding, canoeing, biking and camping, among other recreational activities. Plus, you can join ranger-led talks and enjoy conveniently located accommodations within the park at the Mammoth Cave Hotel or take your pick from a variety of campgrounds or backcountry campsites.
Louisiana: New Orleans
The Crescent City, with its world-renowned architecture, cuisine and music, has long been luring visitors to Bourbon Street, where revelry, live jazz performances and vibrant nightlife await. But there's more to experience in the Garden District and the French Quarter, including historic homes, lovely courtyards and balconies adorned with baroque ironwork. Another particularly scenic area is City Park, a 1,300-acre green space featuring a stunning botanic garden, sculpture garden and even art-deco fountains. Plus, the park offers a variety of recreational activities, from boating on the lake and fishing to birding and biking against a backdrop of Spanish moss-laden trees.
Maine: Acadia National Park
With pristine unspoiled trails, carriage roads and breathtaking coastal scenery, Acadia National Park is a one-of-a-kind setting, Blau says. Firpo-Cappiello also highlights Maine as a top destination to soak in awe-inspiring coastal scenery. "The most scenic beachscapes usually combine mountains and ocean, and there are a few places in the U.S. where that happens: the Pacific Northwest, the California coast and Maine," he explains. "And a visit to Acadia National Park in Maine will deliver mountains, ocean, hiking and unforgettable views," he adds. Highlights include exploring Cadillac Mountain, strolling along the Jordan Pond Shore Trail and driving on the legendary 27-mile Park Loop Road, awash with scenery.
For a relaxing retreat along the Chesapeake Bay, complete with ample opportunity for sailing, kayaking, shopping, windsurfing, savoring the state's legendary blue crabs and admiring colonial architecture, head to Annapolis. Start your tour of the state's capitol city along Main Street, where you can pop into independent shops, galleries and casual eateries as you mosey to the harbor, where bobbing sailboats complete the waterfront scene. Then head to Ego Alley, a seaside walkway, to catch sight of glamorous boats lining Dock Street. Refuel with a hearty meal at Cantler's Riverside Inn or Mike's Crab House.
Massachusetts: Martha's Vineyard
This idyllic seaside retreat charms visitors with its unpretentious atmosphere, fresh sea air, serene wooded trails and wind-swept beaches. For jaw-dropping scenery, make your way west and head up island to Aquinnah, where the majestic Aquinnah Cliffs rise dramatically over untouched beaches, yielding panoramic views of the Elizabeth Islands across the Vineyard Sound. For a picture-perfect sunset, grab a blanket and a bite, and make your way to Menemsha Harbor, a charming fishing village with tucked-away private beaches, prime water views and an unbeatable vantage point at dusk.
Michigan: Mackinac Island
Golden beaches, unique rock formations and fragrant lilacs are just a few draws of this charming, small isle situated on Lake Huron, sandwiched between Michigan's Lower and Upper peninsulas. Blau points to the 10-day Lilac Festival each June as especially enchanting, complete with a parade, wine tastings, concerts and even more festivities. But the laid-back setting attracts visitors year-round as well, with its Sugar Loaf and Arch Rock formations, historic sites, carriage tours, water sports, leisurely pace and irresistible fudge varieties.
Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park
Set near the Canadian border, this pristine national park lures fishers, kayakers and campers with its emerald lakes, remote trails and beautiful forests. Take your pick from 270 campsites throughout the park. No matter what's on your agenda, you won't want to miss sleeping beneath the stars. The park offers a fantastic location for stargazing, with inspiring views of the Milky Way and even a ranger-led telescope-observing program during the summer. At certain times of year when the skies are clear, you can even catch sight of the northern lights. Trekking the Rainy Lake Recreational Trail, a 1.75-mile stretch that winds past the woods, lake and forest, is also a must-do.
Mississippi: The Barrier Islands
"These little-known barrier islands off the coast of Biloxi offer miles of unspoiled beaches and ecologically rich environments for nature-lovers," says Rebecca Warren, Lonely Planet's eastern U.S. destination editor. Plus, the area is ideal for wilderness camping, she adds. "You can take a chartered boat out for a day exploring one of the islands, or for the more adventurous, you can take a kayak and paddle out from the mainland for an extended stay on the islands," she explains. For sun and splendor, visit Horn Island, where you can enjoy boating, lounging along sand dunes and keeping your eyes peeled for pelicans, alligators and other creatures.
Missouri: St. Louis
With its Midwestern charm, graceful Gateway Arch and mishmash of parks, museums, boutiques and bars, there are plenty of reasons to meet in St. Louis. And while it's home to big-city allures, St. Louis also boasts serene green spaces such as the 1,300-acre Forest Park, where picnic spots and trails abound. The green space even hosted the 1904 World Fair. After enjoying a respite, regroup at The Loop, a favorite spot among urbanites and hipsters, with its trendy restaurants and bars.
Montana: Glacier National Park
Legendary for its awe-inspiring scenery -- complete with snowcapped peaks, glacial lakes and ancient forests -- Glacier National Park is home to several postcard-worthy locations. A drive along Going-to-the-Sun-Road -- a 50-mile stretch -- is a must-do (don't forget to stop at Wild Goose Island Viewpoint), as is hiking Lake McDonald, which features a kaleidoscope of brilliantly tinted rocks created by glaciers. For a mystifying mix of wildflowers, head to Logan Pass, where alpine florals and serene trails abound. Across the park, you can spy wildlife from wolverines and mountain lions to grizzly bears and bighorn sheep. As for lodging, the choices include camping, escaping to Swiss-inspired chalet lodges or staying at historic inns.
Nebraska: Niobrara National Scenic River
To take in plenty of untainted natural beauty, "canoe, kayak or float the Niobrara National Scenic River," Firpo-Cappiello says. You can glide past imposing bluffs, majestic waterfalls and distinctive native prairie species, such as the piping plover shorebird, peregrine falcons and red-spotted purple butterflies. The river slices through the Nebraska Sandhills and includes stunning formations, such as the Rosebud formation, which has not been impacted by erosion. To maximize your experience, join a ranger-led tour or a scenic road trip through the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.
New Hampshire: Portsmouth
Sure, the state may be best known for its mountains, but its gorgeous seashore merits its own visit, Firpo-Cappiello says. In Portsmouth, history, art, excellent cuisine and quaint cobblestone streets collide, he says. Plus, this lovely seafaring town teems with low-key restaurants, modern art galleries and a lively downtown area. During your visit, check out Strawbery Banke Museum, which pays tribute to the area's colonial heritage, before venturing to Old Ferry Landing restaurant along the harbor to people-watch and catch vistas of the Piscataqua River. If you have time to spare, stop by nearby Rye, a quiet seaside town with a sublime coastline.
New Jersey: Cape May
If you're craving a romantic getaway, consider Cape May. The seaside escape is great for couples, thanks to its charming (and affordable) inns and bed-and-breakfasts, and plenty of seclusion. Easily accessible from Atlantic City, Cape May brims with Victorian architecture, and picturesque shorelines and forests. Head to Cape May Point State Park to soak in the scenery along easy-to-navigate trails and observation areas. Don't miss the historic lighthouse.
New Mexico: White Sands National Monument
With its gypsum sand deposits, rugged dunes and surreal scenery, White Sands National Monument attracts adventurous types and nature enthusiasts. The looming mountains in the distance feature sedimentary rocks, limestone and sandstone, and the stunning sand dunes house unique native desert plants and wildlife. Keep watch for cane cholla, claret cup cactus and other rare species. For the best vantage points, check out the Big Dune Trail, the Alkali Flat Trail and the Interdune Boardwalk, which offers 360-degree views of the Sacramento Mountains, outdoor exhibits and shaded areas.
New York: Lake Placid
Nestled in New York's Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid is an adventure-seeker's paradise year-round. The host of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid draws cold-weather sports enthusiasts with its jagged slopes atop Whiteface Mountain and its serene cross-country ski paths in the wintertime. During warmer months, Lake Placid lures visitors with its charming main thoroughfare, quaint cottages and opportunities for canoeing, fishing and other outdoor pastimes. After spending a day in the great outdoors, hang your hat in Lake Placid Lodge, which boasts impressive views of Lake Placid's pristine shores, alpine lakes and dramatic peaks.
North Carolina: Asheville
Asheville isn't just a cool mountain town with an innovative brew scene. "This city has it all -- a gorgeous mountain setting with a picturesque, beaux-arts and art deco-filled downtown. And it has a wealth of great food options, a wide array of cultural pursuits and superb outdoor activities," Warren says. "It has a fantastic craft beer and spirits scene as well, and has claimed the title of Beer City, USA, numerous times," she says. She also highlights the Biltmore Estate as a must-see. "It is a grand estate to explore, and its gardens are beautiful to visit year-round," she adds. Other highlights include the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Spanning 70,447 acres, this picturesque park may be best known for its founder, Theodore Roosevelt, who visited in 1883. After exploring the park's majestic terrain -- characterized by its rusted badlands -- he championed conservation efforts to preserve five national parks across the country and later create the U.S. Forest Service during his presidency. During a summertime visit, you can enjoy wildlife spotting, hiking, ranger-led discussions, photography and camping beneath the stars. You may not see it all, but make sure to explore Scenic Loop Drive and Buck Hill, which offers panoramic views of the badlands and prairie flats.
Ohio: Ohio Wine Country
When you picture Ohio, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame likely springs to mind. But the area also lays claim to an underappreciated wine region. In Ohio's wine country along Lake Erie and the Grand River, you can enjoy tranquil views while sipping top-notch wine. The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, with its stunning Lake Eerie vistas and its proximity to several wineries, makes an ideal launching pad for a grape escape. Debonné Vineyards is well-known for its riesling varieties, while Bene Vino Urban Winery is known for its malbec bottles. When you're ready for some fresh air, visit Headlands State Beach Park.
Oklahoma: Ouachita National Forest
Along the Talimena National Scenic Byway, which weaves through the Ouachita National Forest straddling Arkansas and Oklahoma, take in dramatic lookouts above rolling hills and valleys, quaint farming villages and forests dotted with dogwood, hickory and oaks, along with prairie grasses. The Ouachita National Forest, which dates back to 1907, offers especially sublime surroundings -- full of wildflowers in the warmer months, pine forests and lake vistas. The Horsethief Springs Trail and Ouachita National Recreational Trail are standout spots for hikers.
Oregon: The Oregon Coast
With craggy cliffs, lush forests and golden sands, the Oregon Coast appeals to beach-seekers and active hikers desiring rugged natural landscapes. Ecola State Park, perched between Cannon Beach and Seaside, offers stunning cliffside views. And Cannon Beach, along U.S. Highway 101, merits its own visit, with its impressive 235-foot-high Haystack Rock, verdant woods and glorious beach, where you can enjoy horseback riding with a variety of reputable companies. Before hitting the park's trails (including an 8-mile slice of the Oregon Coast Trail), plan a picnic at Indian Beach, an isolated spot where you can see elk, eagles and even migrating whales in the spring.
Pennsylvania: Valley Forge National Historical Park
Best known for its ties to the Revolutionary War, as the encampment site for the Continental Army under George Washington, Valley Forge offers so much more, Firpo-Cappiello says. "It is also an amazing place for hiking, cycling and wildlife observation," he explains. There are 21 miles of biking trails and 19.5 miles of hiking trails. Plus, the park affords easy access to the beautiful Brandywine Valley, complete with a host of charming inns and bed-and-breakfasts. The area also houses noteworthy historical homes, attractions, museums and gardens to explore. (Longwood Gardens, with its extensive orchid and fountain collections, is particularly lovely.)
Rhode Island: Newport
Gilded Age estates and dramatic coastlines are just a few of Newport's allures. Indulge in a leisurely stroll along the 3.5-mile Newport Cliff Walk, which meanders past the craggy shoreline, affording views of historic homes, like Marble House. Looking to splurge? Retreat to the Chanler at Cliff Walk, with its unrivaled seaside scenery and easy access to the Cliff Walk. Soak up Newport's New England charm along Thames Street, dotted with boutique shops and maritime-inspired bars. For a little more activity, hop on a bike and explore Bellevue Avenue's cottages from behind the handlebars.
South Carolina: Myrtle Beach
"In some cases, you'll find an under-the-radar scenic getaway right near a high-profile locale," Warren says. "Right near Myrtle Beach's popular beaches and boardwalk, for instance, Brookgreen Gardens is a sculpture garden and botanical garden worthy of a day trip," she explains. Pineapple lilies, gardenia and Southern magnolia trees are just a few blooms you can expect in the summer season. Plus, Brookgreen offers expert-led tours of the antebellum architecture and architectural sites within the Oaks Plantation and the Longleaf Pine forest. Cap off your day with seaside dining at popular haunts like The Original Benjamin's Calabash Seafood.
South Dakota: Badlands National Park
"There are so many national parks, national forests, national seashores that get a bit overlooked in favor of the 'marquee' parks like Grand Canyon and Yosemite," Firpo-Cappiello says. Badlands National Park is one of those unique, underappreciated destinations, he says. After all, the drive through South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills is one-of-a-kind, with meandering roads, cherished sites (Mount Rushmore) and prairie scenery. The fascinating geological formations are best experienced from the 31-mile Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway. During your visit, keep your eyes open for bison, prairie dogs and bighorn sheep. And for a challenging but rewarding hike, traverse the Notch Trail, which affords captivating views of the White River Valley.
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, this national park lures more than 10 million visitors each year. Wildlife enthusiasts can enjoy observing local species in Cades Cove, while nature-seekers can stroll along Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail to check out the staggering Grotto Falls. Another scenic stop is Newfound Gap, a low point on the mountain ridge with staggering vantage points. After ascending roughly 3,000 feet, snaking past hardwood forests and pine-oak trees, hikers are rewarded with sweeping vistas. Best of all, Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, is situated nearby, just south of Newfound Gap.
Texas: Big Bend National Park
From sky-high mountain terrain to desert landscapes, this sprawling park in southwestern Texas caters to a spectrum of interests. Whether you want to raft along the Rio Grande, bike on a trail or embark on a scenic road trip, there are plenty of ways to take in the park's splendor. Wildlife-viewing locations also abound, as do front-country and rugged backcountry campgrounds. For dramatic cliff-side and canyon views, drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, hit the Santa Elena Canyon Trail or unwind in the charming Rio Grande Village Campground.
Utah: Arches National Park
Set above the Colorado River in southern Utah, this iconic national park features a dizzying array of geological wonders and high-desert scenes. Don't miss the epic red sandstone rock formations (hat tip to Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock and Sand Dune Arch) on a hike to remember. With 2,000 natural arch formations, there's plenty of stunning backdrops to take in, so make sure to bring your camera and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes. The quaint town of Moab, along U.S. Route 191, offers an ideal home base, thanks to its abundance of cost-effective lodging options and eateries.
Vermont: Green Mountain Byway
Along Vermont Route 100, you'll come across this serene area filled with historic homes, quaint villages, tranquil meadows and lovely landscapes. "Drive through the lush countryside and experience summer at its finest," Warren says. "The Green Mountains live up to their name, with country roads cutting through a landscape covered in verdant forest alongside rolling hills and farmland," she adds. If you have a sweet tooth, she suggests heading to the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury to try the Vermonster, an enormous 20-scoop sundae. Along the way, stop in Burlington or head north to view the beautiful shores of Lake Champlain, she adds.
Virginia's capital city boasts a wealth of cultural and historical Civil War sites, along with impressive galleries, architecture and trails. "I love how the river cuts through the city," Blau says, highlighting Richmond's abundance of inexpensive attractions and elevated culinary scene as top enticements. Take in the commonweath's diverse scenery along the 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail, check out the historic homes on Monument Avenue, pop into eclectic boutiques in Carytown or retreat to the new Quirk Hotel to enjoy views from the trendy rooftop bar. Prefer more adventure? The James River is bubbling with water activities, from swimming to kayaking to white-water rafting.
Washington: Olympic National Park
"The first thing that comes to mind with spring is beautiful flowers and nature," Blau says. And in Olympic National Park, where the coastline is punctuated by staggering cliffs, craggy shores and a wildflower-laden meadow, it's easy to engage with your natural surroundings. In spring, you can catch beautiful blooms and the gray whale migration, Blau adds. The area also boasts glacier-topped mountains, and a rugged 730-mile coast where seabirds, wind-swept trees and tucked-away beaches abound. During your visit, you can also enjoy camping, fishing, boating, hiking and ranger-led programs, among other outdoor pursuits.
West Virginia: Fayetteville
No trip to West Virginia is complete without a stop to New River Gorge Bridge -- the second-biggest steel-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. In October, adventure-seekers flock to Fayetteville to enjoy base jumping off the bridge. Other heart-pounding thrills include white-water rafting, fishing and biking. After checking out the New River Gorge, enjoy mountain biking, antiquing, popping into quaint independent boutiques and eateries, admiring the area's Victorian architecture and unwinding in a charming and reasonably priced bed-and-breakfast in the Historic District.
Wisconsin: Green County
When you picture colorful hot air balloons afloat in the sky, Albuquerque, New Mexico, likely comes to mind. But if you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path spectacle, head to Green County during the annual Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival in June, where catching sight of the epic-sized balloons gliding above makes for an unforgettable experience, Blau says. As you witness the giant balloons, you'll also view the scenic countryside of Green County, she adds. You can also catch live music and witness the illuminated balloons at night during the Fairgrounds Balloon Glow.
Wyoming: Jackson Hole
With an enviable location near Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, Jackson Hole offers a convenient launching pad for hiking-, wildlife- and nature-viewing. If you're a powder hound, you can't skip tackling the slopes at Grand Targhee Resort or Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And if you would rather hit the trails, plan a summer trip to explore soaring mountain ranges and excellent wildlife-spotting locations along the Snake River. After enjoying some fly-fishing, mountain biking or horseback riding, unwind with a relaxing soak in Granite Hot Springs, located near the majestic Granite Falls and tucked amid the Gros Ventre Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Jackson.
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