There’s a lot of beauty in this world, and plenty of it is right here in America. You don’t need to travel across the globe to catch a glimpse of some of the most fantastic sites and structures the earth has to offer. From incredible natural features to absolutely astounding human-made structures, there’s more than enough wonders in America to fuel your imagination.
1. The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most recognizable and beloved natural features in America. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and has dazzled visitors with its staggering immensity and drama for as long as it has existed, which is a very long time indeed.
The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and nearly 6 million years old, depending on who you ask. It was formed as the Colorado River cut its way through the hard stone of the region, and over two billion years of geological history can be seen in the canyon's sheer cliff faces.
The Ancestral Puebloans were the first known native people to live in the area, and the region is now inhabited by the Hualapai, Havasupai, Southern Paiutes and the Navajo. The first European to see the Grand Canyon was García López de Cárdenas of Spain, who stumbled across the area in 1540.
2. Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is another globally recognized natural feature. There are actually three separate falls that are collectively referred to as Niagara Falls: Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls.
Combined, the falls have the highest flow rate of any waterfall on earth, while Horseshoe Falls holds the distinction of being the most powerful waterfall in North America. The falls are over 165 feet high and a crucial means of generating hydroelectric power for the city of Niagara. Today, the falls are one of the most popular destinations for domestic and international tourists. These cascades are a frequent honeymoon stop, and have provided inspiration to generations of artists.
3. Redwood and Sequoia Forests, California
These forests are home to the tallest trees on earth. The giant redwoods and sequoias draw visitors from all over the world who come to stand in the shadows of the biggest organisms to ever live.
Redwood trees and sequoia trees may look similar, but they are actually very distinct species with different likes and dislikes. Redwoods prefer a moist and slightly humid environment, and tend to grow in northern California. They can reach up to 378 feet in height.
Sequoias like to hang out in high elevations and love the periodic dry heat of more mountainous areas. They are slightly shorter than redwood trees, but are usually much wider and actually bigger overall than the redwoods. A tree nicknamed General Sherman is over 2.7 million pounds and over 100 feet wide. It is the largest organism on the planet today.
4. Death Valley, Nevada
Located in Death Valley National Park, this desert is one of the most unique environments on the globe. It is the absolute lowest, driest and hottest place in North America.
This is the land of extremes. The desert's Badwater Basin is a staggering 282 feet below sea level. Death Valley's Furnace Creek has the honor of being one of the hottest places on earth. In 1913, the highest reliably recorded air temperature ever was recorded here – a stifling 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
Death Valley is also the home of the Timbisha native people, who have been living in the area for at least a thousand years. Rare rainstorms occasionally bring with them a total transformation of the area, as the seemingly barren desert erupts in fields of wildflowers.
5. Cliff Palace, Colorado
These surreal dwellings are located in the Mesa Verde National Park. It is the largest cliff dwelling structure in North America, and definitely one of this country's greatest national treasures.
Built by the Ancestral Puebloans over a thousand years ago, this massive complex of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams was occupied for at least 150 years before being mysteriously abandoned. Some believe that droughts devastated the food supply in the area and caused the native people to relocate.
The architecture of Cliff Palace is fascinating. Because the average woman at the time of its construction would have been about 5' and the average man about 5'6'', the scale of the buildings and doorways is curiously smaller than expected. Over 150 rooms have been excavated, it it is theorized that the palace may have been the center of a larger city or community.
6. Grotto of the Redemption, Iowa
Words can't even begin to explain how breathtaking this man-made, Midwest wonder really is. Located in West Bend, this structure is literally encrusted with precious stones. Gems and jewels glitter on almost every surface, from the elegant spires to the delicate arches.
The grotto's creation was a labor of love by German immigrant Paul Dobberstein. As a young man in Germany, Dobberstein fell very ill and swore to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary if she would help him recover. When he eventually landed in West Bend in 1898, the devout man was disappointed to find that his new home had no naturally occurring precious stones.
Father Dobberstein collected stones and gems for 14 years before beginning construction on the grotto, and labored for 42 years of his life before his death in 2002.
This staggering feat of craftsmanship and devotion is truly one of the most spectacular sites in America.
7. Hubbard Glacier, Alaska
You don't have to leave the country to find a genuine polar giant. Located in Disenchantment Bay, this frosty behemoth is over six miles wide and over 400 feet tall. It frequently "calves", or lets go of smaller ice chunks, and the resulting icebergs can be over four stories in height.
Most of this glacier's bulk is actually hidden under the water, which is really saying something when you consider how gigantic the visible portion is. Massive cruise ships are absolutely dwarfed by the glacier.
Nicknamed the "Galloping Glacier", there are reports that this ice feature is actually growing. According to NASA's Earth Observatory, the Hubbard Glacier may well be thickening as it creeps along Disenchantment Bay.
Of course, there are plenty more incredible wonders in America that we didn’t cover. What do you think is the most incredible wonder in the United States? Let us know!