Here Are The 17 Most Jaw-Dropping Rock Formations In The Country
Pardon the pun, but rocks kind of
rock. Whether it’s the slick granite face of a steep mountain, a natural wonder that stands out like an iron iconoclast, a sea stack that seems to rise from the depths of the ocean floor, or a massive and commanding cave, these stark formations never fail to take our breath away. The U.S. is full of jaw-dropping rock formations that are nothing short of sublime, especially when juxtaposed with their surroundings. Today we’re taking a tour of the most unique and uncompromising rock formations in the country; 17 awe-inspiring places sure to satisfy and inspire your wanderlust.
Half Dome - Yosemite National Park, California
Half Dome, California, USA
Yosemite National Park is an American icon, with sites such as Half Dome and Yosemite Falls an inextricable part of our national consciousness.
, in particular, is a striking sight: rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, this granite giant is the park's very own North Star, as it's visible from all directions. While expert climbers train years to tackle Half Dome, less experienced adventurers can take in the spectacle via the Sentinel Meadow & Cook's Meadow Loop. An easygoing jaunt through two gorgeous meadows, this two-mile loop trail affords dreamy views of various Yosemite landmarks like Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Chapel, and, of course, Half Dome.
Beacon Rock, Washington
Beacon Rock, Washington 98648, USA
Explorers can relive an iconic moment in American history when visiting
. The monolith, which was named by Lewis and Clark in 1805, stands 848 feet tall and is actually the cone of an ancient volcano. At the eponymous park, visitors can actually climb to the top of Beacon Rock on a dizzying mile-long trail. Although the trail is only a mile long, it isn't easy -- you can expect a slow and steep uphill climb. But the views from the top, which include jaw-dropping panoramas of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area? Worth each and every step.
Haystack Rock - Cannon Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock, US-101, Cannon Beach, OR 97110, USA
The Oregon Coast is awash in sea stacks and rock formations, but none are as commanding nor iconic as
. Standing at 235 feet tall, this Oregon monolith is an incredible sight to see, and one of the most iconic places in the Pacific Northwest. Formed some 17 million years ago as lava flowed through the old Columbia River and intruded into soft marine sediments, this basalt formation is an arresting, ancient anomaly. Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock is actually one of a trio given the moniker; this is the one featured in the 1980s classic "The Goonies," making it a pop-culture must-visit *and* natural wonder all rolled into one.
Craters of the Moon, Idaho
Craters of the Moon National Monument
For those who wonder what Neil Armstrong saw during those first magical moments on the moon, there's a place in Idaho that will put you in his shoes (or moon boots). One of Idaho’s most unique parks,
Craters of the Moon National Monument
is best-known for its stark scenery, volcanic features, and jaw-dropping rock formations. Consisting of lava flows, cinder cones, and endless sagebrush, the landscape of Craters of the Moon is hypnotizing in its rugged beauty. And come wintertime, when the wilds of Idaho are covered in snow, Craters of the Moon National Monument becomes an otherworldly expanse that's, quite frankly, more magical than any lunar lands.
Devils Tower, Wyoming
Devils Tower, WY 82714, USA
Rising out of the Wyoming landscape like an otherworldly specter,
is a one-of-a-kind natural phenomenon that's quite literally on another level. At 1,267 tall, Devils Tower is certainly foreboding; its sheer size dwarfing the pine forests and grasslands at its base. Established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as our first national monument, Devils Tower is a place that's long captured the imaginations of those who gaze upon its unyielding mass; the Kiowa and Lakota tribes have many stories to explain Devils Tower, including that the Great Spirit created the tower to save some children from giant attacking bears. Rock climbing the monolith gained popularity in the 1990s; today, the tower draws expert climbers looking for the thrill of a lifetime, as well as outdoor adventurers curious to behold this jaw-dropping spectacle in person.
Badlands National Park, Soth Dakota
There's nowhere in the country more haunting beautiful than
Badlands National Park
. The massive 242,756 acres known as Badlands National Park is a true show stopper; it offers varied landscaping with sharp buttes and pinnacles among its untouched prairie expanse. Home to myriad flora and fauna, it's also a favorite spot for birdwatching, photography, and stargazing. The sunsets here are surreal: the way the shadows and colors dance upon the rocky landscape is dynamic and truly divine, offering a wholly unique and wondrous experience each and every time.
Garden of the Gods, Colorado
Garden of the Gods Road, Garden of the Gods Rd, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Colorado is full of places that will take your breath away, and
Garden of the Gods
is definitely one of them. A National Natural Landmark located in Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods is one of the most marvelous geological wonders in the world. The park is an ecological melting pot where the grasslands of the Great Plains meet the mountains of the Southwest; this unique landscape is then drenched in the dreamy desert hues of Colorful Colorado. It’s a place wholly unique unto itself; and best part is, Garden of the Gods is accessible to all. Admission is free, the park is open year-round, and its most popular trails are paved, so everyone can come and explore this heavenly haven.
Delicate Arch - Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park Road, Arches Nat'l Pk Rd, Utah, USA
Located in eastern Utah, near the Utah and Colorado border, you'll find the small town of Moab and
Arches National Park
. This national treasure is filled with red stone called slickrock that was formed by wind erosion that left nothing but smooth, polished outcroppings. The park itself is packed with incredible trails and plenty of wildlife, but these natural spans and hoodoos really define it. There are more than 2,000 natural stone arches throughout this national park, and many of them date back more than 65 million years! Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Arches, and it's the best way to see the sand and stone structures up close. Trails range in difficulty and length, with something for everyone; a handful of trails are less than one mile, in fact, and many are wheelchair accessible. Just be warned: nothing in your life thus far will have prepared you for the surreal landscapes and jaw-dropping rock formations you'll encounter when you visit Arches National Park.
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona 86040, USA
Ignoring, for a moment, that Arizona is home to one of the most celebrated rock formations in the entire world, opens up space for the wonder and awe that come with experiencing
. Similar to the Grand Canyon (and, in fact, it's referred to as the "east rim" of the Grand Canyon), Horseshoe Bend is a place that must be admired from above. A 1.25-mile hike across barren, unforgiving landscape leads to the cliffside of Horseshoe Bend, which materializes almost as a desert mirage. One of the most photographed sites in Arizona, it is truly as beautiful in person as it is in photos. The cerulean blue and emerald green horseshoe stands out like a dazzling gem against the coppery red desert landscape, making this spot one of the crown jewels of the West.
Alien Throne - Bisti Badlands, New Mexico
Bisti Badlands, New Mexico
One of the wildest and most aptly-named rock formations in the country, the
not of this world
. You'll find it within the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area, also known as the Bisti Badlands, a 45,000-acre expanse of high desert wilderness rife with unique geologic features and formations. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Navajo Nation, it is a major stop on the Trails of the Ancient Byway, a trail that runs through several important geological and archeological sites. Within this landscape, the Alien Throne stands alone in the Valley of Dreams, a remote field of hoodoos filled with petrified wood -- even petrified trunks and branches -- that's rich with fossils. Free and open to visit year-round, this is an otherworldly landscape that truly puts visitors in another place... and planet.
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas 79226, USA
Hailed as the Grand Canyon of Texas,
Palo Duro Canyon
is the second largest canyon in the country. Within the eponymous state park, there are numerous ways to explore the canyon, starting with its 30 miles of trails. This canyon is 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, and is up to 800 feet deep in some areas. A place of immense history, you can see the beautiful colors of four geologic layers painted on the colossal canyon walls. The canyon began forming a million years ago -- but the walls of the canyon tell a much older geologic story, one that began 250 million years ago! Prepare to experience total awe and wonder at Palo Duro Canyon.
Garden of the Gods, Illinois
Garden of the Gods Road, Garden of the Gods Rd, Illinois, USA
Garden of the Gods
is an Illinois iconoclast; a 3,300-acre expanse that's characterized by commanding canyons, magnificent mountains, and jaw-dropping rock formations. Located within Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, Garden of the Gods is a wholly otherworldly experience that plops hikers on another planet. A hike along the Garden of the Gods Observation Trail will lead you through some of the most otherworldly rock formations in the country; and, even better, this trail is accessible for most hikers. Within this rock formation fantasy, Devil's Smokestack is a compelling sight: a 30-foot-tall, stand-alone, pillar-shaped rock formation that's, as its name suggests, reminiscent of a smokestack.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan, USA
A 42-mile stretch of stunning, cliff-filled coastline in Michigan,
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
is undeniably beautiful and unique. The area is managed by the National Park Service and became the first of the nation’s four National Lakeshores in 1996. Pictured Rocks gets its name from the uniquely colorful sandstone cliffs - some of which tower over 200 feet - along 15 miles of Lake Superior's coastline. The park, as a whole, stretches for 42 miles along the shore, but the cliffs are definitely the star of the show. The unique colors come from various minerals that have stained the sandstone a rainbow of colors, making for a sight unlike any other. Whether you choose to kayak through these sea cliffs and caves in the summer or snowshoe along the snowy shores in the winter, this is a wild and wondrous place you'll never forget.
Chimney Rock, Kentucky
Chimney Rock, Kentucky 42633, USA
Kentucky's Red River Gorge is celebrated for its unique rock formations and captivating canyons, and within this region,
rises up into the heavens like a beacon. This scenic overlook towers 400 feet above the Red River. As you look out over the ridges and valleys of the Red River Gorge, it's easy to mistake them for mountains, so tall and majestic they stand.
Chimney Rock, North Carolina
in the South? Yes. Because while a number of states in America have natural wonders they've dubbed "chimney rock" (see above), the 315-foot naturally occurring chimney rock at North Carolina's Chimney Rock State Park is exceptional. This wholly unique natural tower offers intrepid explorers 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape, which, is downright heavenly in the height of fall foliage. (The best part? Elevator access makes this scenic vista accessible for all!) Headlining rock formation aside, the state park is home to several can't-miss trails that lead to equally extraordinary views, one of which leads to the most iconic waterfall in the state.
Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire
Cathedral Ledge Road, Cathedral Ledge Rd, Conway, NH, USA
affords some of the best views in the Northeast; from here, the Saco River Valley and White Mountains seem to go on
. As for as the formation itself, the stark, granite rock face stands in startling contrast to the lush landscape of New Hampshire, especially in the peak of fall foliage. Speaking of peaks, visitors can drive to the top of this massive monolith, taking in the views without breaking sweat. Of course, for those looking to
this rock formation, it's a popular climb and also reached via a manageable 2.8-mile trek.
Molokini Crater, Hawaii
looks like just another one of Hawaii's 137 islands and archipelagos. But looks are deceiving. A crescent-shaped crag of rocky land rising 160 feet off the west coast of Maui, Molokini Crater is brown and barren from above -- but an entire
awaits beneath it, filled with fascinating flora and fauna and endless adventures. It's here where a site of spectacular beauty beckons to explorers, thanks to a partially submerged crater and volcanic eruption that occurred 230,000 years ago. The crater itself is far from Maui’s busy beaches, and its sunken bowl protects wildlife from the open ocean, nestling over 250 species of fish, birds, and mammals, plus 38 varieties of coral. This is one of the most fascinating rock formations in the world; a veritable
offering a portal to our planet's very own Narnia.
These granite monoliths all ground and connect us to the bigger, wide world — and our place in history, too. After exploring these stark landscapes, why not mix if up and venture into one of the country’s numerous
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