7 Must-See Places in the U.S. For Nature Lovers

Mountain landscape with purple flowers in the foreground
Photo: PCSpics/Shutterstock

Mark Twain once wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness," while Henry Miller wrote, "One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things."

Travel is good for the soul. Visiting new places and meeting new people opens us up to new ideas and makes us more complete individuals. Plus traveling is just fun! Who doesn't like a chance to get away from the daily grind for a little vacay R&R?

The U.S. is a big country full of landscapes as diverse as the Alaskan tundra and the swampy Florida Keys, as different as the Arizona desert and the old growth forests of California. It's full of beautiful places to see that could rightly be placed on anyone’s bucket list — including Yosemite National Park, pictured. The following spots are some of my favorites and make up my list of seven places every nature-loving person should see.

1
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Key West, Fla.

Kay Gaensler/Flickr.

Key West, Fla., is a beautiful little town that does double duty as the southernmost incorporated spot in the continental United States. The drive from Florida's mainland to the island is long enough that it almost feels like you're leaving the country. No visit to Key West is complete without a stop over at B.O.'s Fish Wagon, a local institution known for its unique decor and killer burgers. Beach lovers will have a blast at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park (which charges a small entrance fee) or the nearby Higgs beach (which is free), which is known as one of the better places on the island to snorkel. One of my favorite parts of my recent visit to Key West was the day I spent riding around town on a rented moped — it's the perfect way to get a sense of the place.

If you're traveling on the cheap, the Seashell Motel and Hostel is a good option, while those with more flush bank accounts should check out the gorgeous Hyatt Key West.

2
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Boulder, Colo.

Let Ideas Compete/Flickr.

Boulder is nestled in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies just north of Denver and is renowned for its easy access to the great outdoors. It's one of those places where it's likely your waiter is a semi-professional cyclist and your bartender a pro climber. There are hiking trails accessible along the entire Front Range and bike paths throughout town. Rocky Mountain National Park is just a couple of hours up the road, while world-class climbing crags like Eldorado Canyon are found just outside town. There is a great hostel in town for the budget-minded traveler and more elegant accommodations like the Boulderado and the Millennium Hotel for those with more to spend.

3
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Jackson, N.H.

cmh2315fl/Flickr.

Jackson, N.H., is a small village sitting about halfway between the popular tourist town of North Conway and Mount Washington, the highest point in the state and home to the world's highest recorded wind speed (231 mph in 1934). Jackson is home to Jackson Falls, a beautiful stretch of the Wildcat River that was famous back in the early 1900s as a getaway for the rich and affluent. Visitors would stay at the nearby Wentworth Inn (still in operation) and cool off in the numerous pools, slides and waterfalls found in the river. From Jackson, you can set off into the White Mountain National Forest for hiking, fishing, rock climbing and other outdoorsy pursuits.

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Eugene, Ore.

Don Hankins/Flickr.

Eugene, Ore., is perched at the nexus of the Willamette and McKenzie rivers and is another city, like Boulder, that's renowned for both its natural scenery and access to the great outdoors. It's where Nike got its start and is home to the University of Oregon (stadium pictured at left). While winters can be a bit dreary and rainy, summer weather tends to the sunny and perfectly warm. The town has an inordinate number of natural foods stores and has been holding a popular weekly farmers and crafts market, known as the Saturday Market, since 1970. Eugene has a few hostels to choose from, including Eugene Whiteaker International Hostels as well as some nicer, more expensive options like the Campbell House.

5
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Bar Harbor, Maine

icemomo/Flickr.

Bar Harbor, Maine, is a haul of a drive to get to (about five hours from Boston) but is worth every mile. The picturesque little town is home to Acadia National Park and is chock-full of hiking trails. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was a summer getaway for the rich and famous who dallied away the warm season with garden parties, yachting and carriage rides up Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast of the U.S. within 25 miles of the sea and the first place in the U.S. to see the sun rise. Today Bar Harbor is a popular destination for tourists and a wonderful place to get away from the demands of everyday life. There are plenty of campsites in the area (thanks to the proximity of Acadia National Park) and no shortage of luxury hotels, including the Harborside Hotel, Spa and Marina. If you find yourself in town, make sure to swing by the Udder Heaven ice cream shop and the attached Bay Gulls Bagel shop (both are owned by friends of mine).

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Yosemite National Park

NationalGeographic.com.

Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited of the national parks and considered to be one of the top rock-climbing destinations in the world. In 1984, it was designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations for its natural beauty and ecological diversity. It's also famous for the dense concentration of waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, the highest in North America at 2,425 feet. There is no shortage of outdoor adventures to be had at Yosemite and campers can find options aplenty in the valley. Those who are less into roughing it can shack up at any one of the more luxe hotels and resorts like the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite.

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Asheville, N.C.

Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Asheville, N.C., is regularly ranked as one of the coolest cities in the country to live in. Self Magazine named it the "Happiest City for Women," Outside Magazine dubbed it one of the "Best Outside Towns," while Rolling Stone called it the "New Freak Capital of the U.S." The Blue Ridge Parkway, a beautiful scenic route, runs through Asheville, and the surrounding mountains are rife with hiking, fishing and other outdoor opportunities. The French Broad River, a popular rafting and kayaking destination, also runs through the town. Travelers with flush bank accounts can stay at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, while those on more limited budgets can choose from a handful of hostels, including Sweet Peas.