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

A blue sky above a verdant Yosemite Valley
A verdant Yosemite Valley in springtime.

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The majestic landforms and dramatic seascapes of the United States are best experienced up close. Those seeking solitude away from the busy demands of modern life might find it in the rolling woodlands of Jackson, New Hampshire or within the dramatic, glacial valleys of Yosemite. Whether on a peaceful hike through an evergreen forest or by the rushing water of a cascading waterfall, outdoor enthusiasts can have it all within the borders of the United States.

From the rugged mountain climbs of Boulder, Colorado to the expansive coastal views of Bar Harbor, Maine, here are eight must-see places in the United States for nature lovers.

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Key West (Florida)

A greenish-blue waters of Dry Tortugas in Key West Florida

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The southernmost city in the contiguous United States, Key West is made up of several tropical savanna islands in the Florida Keys archipelago—including the island of Key West. Visitors to Key West can take in the aquatic beauty of the city as they approach on Overseas Highway, a 113-mile stretch of highway that begins in Miami and connects islands throughout the keys.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be impressed by the nearby island of Dry Tortugas, which is home to sea turtles like the hawksbill and loggerhead, and bird species like the sooty tern and masked booby. The Key West Botanical Society is another must-see destination for nature lovers, which features native flora to the region and is the only frost-free subtropical, botanical garden in the continental United States.

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Boulder (Colorado)

Autumnal colors dress the landscape in front of a looming mountain in Boulder

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Nestled in the foothills of the majestic Colorado Rockies, Boulder is enveloped by gorgeous scenery and is a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world. Located just outside the city, Eldorado Canyon State Park hosts mountain climbers and hikers alike, with hundreds of climbing routes and a variety of hiking trails past steep canyon walls, mysterious caves, and evergreen-lined streams. Boulder also boasts stunning natural rock formations, like the magnificent 20-foot-tall Royal Arch in Chautauqua Park.

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Jackson (New Hampshire)

A cascading waterfall surrounded by the yellows and greens of autumnal trees

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A small resort town on the eastern edge of the state, Jackson, New Hampshire offers relative quiet among the rolling hills and low mountains of White Mountain National Forest. Lovers of the outdoors will enjoy the 100-foot cascading Jackson Falls in Wildcat Brook during the summer months. When the weather turns cold in Jackson, folks can experience the wondrous and snowy local vistas from Wildcat Mountain and Mount Washington on skis or snowshoes.

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Eugene (Oregon)

A roaring waterfall amidst the mossy green of a Eugene, Oregon forest

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Eugene, Oregon, known as Emerald City for the color of its beautiful fern forests, sits near the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers and features picturesque foothills and verdant lowlands. Visitors looking to enjoy the best of Oregon’s natural splendor without leaving the city limits will be enchanted by 200-year old Douglas firs and over 6,000 varieties of rhododendrons at Hendricks Park. For hikers and bikers, there’s no better spot than the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail—with its epic waterfalls and mesmerizing pool of water that seeps up from the ground known as Tamolitch Pool.

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Bar Harbor (Maine)

Dark, cloudy skies above the red, yellow, and green of fall with the harbor in the background

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Situated on Frenchman Bay on Mount Desert Island in coastal Maine, Bar Harbor offers breathtaking views of Acadia National Park. The 49,000-acre park boasts stunning coastal cliffs, forested mountain trails, shining lakes, and tremendous views of the Atlantic Ocean. Climbers can be the first in the country to witness the sunrise from October to March atop the 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain.

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Yosemite National Park (California)

El Capitan rises above the evergreen forests of Yosemite National Park

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A UNESCO World Heritage Site since its designation in 1984, Yosemite National Park contains glaciated landforms of unmatched grandeur. The park is known for monumental cliffs, like Half Dome and El Capitan, which are among the most revered climbing surfaces in the world. Ancient giant sequoias, like the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant found in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, stand as some of the oldest living organisms on Earth. In springtime when the snow and ice begin to melt, visitors are treated to the rush of waterfalls like Bridalveil Fall and Chilnualna Falls.

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Asheville (North Carolina)

The morning sun rises above the dense fog enveloping the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville, North Carolina features dramatic Appalachian views that are often covered in a serene bluish fog (formed when trees release the hydrocarbon isoprene to protect themselves from the summer heat). At 6,684 feet, the peak of Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi River and is accessible from the balsam fir forest hiking path on Balsam Nature Trail. For folks who want to experience dazzling landscapes without physical exertion, the nearly 60-mile Blue Ridge Scenic Loop provides access to some of the most gorgeous spots around, like Pisgah National Forest, from the comfort of a car.

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Taos (New Mexico)

The view of snow-covered mountains and the reflective waters of a lake from Wheeler Peak near Taos, New Mexico

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A small artistic community nestled within the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos, New Mexico has plenty of scenic vistas to offer any lover of the outdoors. Visitors will be enthralled by the hike up to Wheeler Peak within Carson National Forest, which is 3,409 feet above the surrounding area and the tallest point in all of New Mexico. Impressive wildlife roams the region freely—from foxes and elk to black bears and bighorn sheep. For those without a fear of heights, the 800-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge, best viewed from the bridge of the same name, provides a stunning display of how water can shape a landscape over time.