The 10 Most Beautiful States in the U.S. to Explore
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and there are no objectively most beautiful states in the U.S. However, considering how large and geologically diverse the country is, you can determine which states in the U.S. are the most beautiful based on what you’re most drawn to, be it mountain ranges, waterfalls, beaches, deserts, or forests.
For example, if you’re really into mountains, base yourself around Wyoming and Montana, where you can hop between desirable national parks such as Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. If you love canyons, base yourself around Utah and Arizona to explore the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park. Into ocean views? Start out in the Pacific Northwest in Washington State, then take a road trip down the coast to stop along the way in Oregon and California. Or, if you’re desiring the desert, head to the Southwest, where Arizona, New Mexico, and the Texas panhandle are calling your name.
Regardless of which beautiful place you decide to explore, you’ll have endless options for spectacular scenery and Instagram-worthy natural beauty. The most beautiful states in the U.S. are scattered across the country and are just begging to be admired. So, what are you waiting for? Here are the most beautiful states in the USA:
The most beautiful states in the U.S. for mountain views
While the eastern half of Montana is made up of mostly flat farm and prairie lands, the western part of the state soars with spectacular mountains. The so-called “Big Sky” country is world-famous for its wide-open spaces that are juxtaposed against its majestic mountains.
The most postcard-worthy mountain views can be found within the glacier-carved (and aptly named!) Glacier National Park. Here, the snow-capped mountains are made even more awe-inspiring when reflected back from the park’s bright turquoise lakes. The Going-to-the-Sun Road winds along the mountain paths, but given the huge amounts of snow the park receives, the road—like many of the park’s trails—is only accessible from around June through September. During your trip, be sure to head further north in the park to get away from the crowds. Bowman Lake is especially picturesque with its multi-colored rocks glistening from beneath its crystal-clear water.
Base yourself in Kalispell or Whitefish, two small towns nearby that are well-prepared to accommodate visitors.
The most visited national park in the country is Great Smoky Mountains National Park—and for good reason! The mountains are stunning, and there are loads of activities, such as hiking, biking, camping, and kayaking. This park has over 800 miles of trails to explore, meaning it won’t be too hard to find a quiet corner of the mountains you’ll have all to yourself. If you’re not big on crowds, arrive early, visit on weekdays, and avoid the busiest months from May to October.
The park straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, so it makes for an easy 3.5-hour drive from either Nashville, Tennessee, or Atlanta, Georgia. If you love the mountains but want to base yourself on the water, consider Charleston, South Carolina, which is only five hours from the park.
The great state of Colorado is also one of the most mountainous, as the Rocky Mountains cut right through the state and even have a national park named after them here. Whether you’re looking for remote, hard-to-reach wilderness areas or more accessible peaks you can just about drive to, Colorado has something for you.
Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs make great home bases to climb, camp, and hike your way through the mountains or just drive up for a relaxing sunset picnic. If you stay in Denver, you’ll also have big-city amenities and easy access to the one-of-a-kind Red Rocks, which is part red-rock amphitheater and part park.
The most beautiful states in the U.S. for rock formations
Nowhere in North America are rock formations more famous than in Utah’s Arches National Park. The park is a desert sea of natural wonders, with one jaw-dropping formation after another. Some of the most stunning sections of the park are only a five-minute walk from the parking lot. The Windows section, for instance, comprises several window-like rock arches that are especially beautiful around sunset.
More advanced hikers will also find formations along longer hikes through the desert, but be sure to bring plenty of water—particularly in the summer, as there are no restrooms or water fountains in the desert. The park is open year-round, but summer temperatures often exceed 100 degrees, meaning you’ll need to plan accordingly if you visit between June and August.
Base yourself in Moab (four hours from Salt Lake City), where you’ll be 10 minutes from Arches National Park and only 45 minutes from Canyonlands National Park.
While Utah’s rock formations are sky-high structures, arches, and mounds in the desert, Oregon’s formations are quite the opposite. The best way to see them in Oregon is to drive down the coast on 101, where postcard-perfect sea stacks, intertidal rock forms, and offshore rocks dot the coastline.
About 1,800 of these formations make up the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and this protected area provides a safe habitat for seabirds, sea lions, and seals, among other wildlife.
The area is about a 4.5-hour drive south from Portland, but taking 101 along the coastline is well worth the additional hour it will add to the drive.
The most beautiful states in the U.S. for forests and wilderness
As Alaska is the largest and most remote state in the U.S., it’s no surprise that it also has loads of national parks. While California technically has the most national parks of any state (nine), Alaska’s eight national parks occupy the most land, including some of the vast wilderness and arctic regions in the northern part of the state.
Anchorage makes a great base in the southern part of the state (and there are daily direct flights from Seattle!). From there, you can drive, take the train, or fly to Fairbanks. From either city, you can easily get into the mountains, visit Denali National Park, or even witness the Northern Lights.
And don’t be afraid of Alaska in the winter! While it may be cold and the snow-covered mountains may be too dangerous to climb this time of year, it’s also the best time of year to go snowshoeing and sledding and to see the aurora borealis.
Idaho has a bit of everything, from mountain biking, kayaking, and camping to skiing, hot springs, and dark-sky preserves. The state is also known for having some of the best whitewater rafting in the country, including the Lochsa, Salmon, Snake, and Selway, which meander through forests and vast wilderness areas all around the state.
Whether you plan to raft, camp, hike, or bike, you’ll have your pick from wilderness areas in the Payette, Sawtooth, Caribou, Boise, Bitterroot, Targhee, Panhandle, and Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.
Boise is a great base for exploring some of the wilderness areas in the center of the state, and you could drive or catch a bus from McCall to check out Payette or go rafting on the Salmon River. Because these are extremely vast wilderness areas hidden deep in the forest, there is no such thing as a day trip, so plan to spend at least a few days getting to and exploring the area.
The most beautiful states in the U.S. for ocean views
The California coastline is long and luxurious, providing a huge diversity of opportunities to enjoy the ocean. Even if you base yourself in a large city like Los Angeles or San Francisco, you’ll still have easy access to beautiful beaches right around town—and you’re also only a quick drive away from the natural beauty found in the state’s forests, state parks, and national parks. While surfing and scuba diving are available all along the coast, San Diego is an especially beautiful place to live if you’re looking for water adventures.
While Maine may not necessarily be known for sandy beaches, its rugged coastline provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the ocean. Acadia National Park, the crown jewel of the state, is not only a picture-perfect paradise well known for lighthouses and leaf peeping, but the park sits on an island surrounded by the water.
The best time to visit is between April and November, with October being the prime leaf-peeping season. The park is located 10 minutes from small-town Bar Harbor, and the park is a three-hour drive from “big-city” Portland.
The most beautiful state in the U.S. for desert views
New Mexico may be best known for hatch chiles, hot air balloons, and UFO culture, but it’s also home to two national parks, including White Sands National Park. As the name implies, the park is a sandy park located in the southwestern desert, and it’s completely blanketed with sand dunes.
Not only can you hike in and around the sand dunes, but you can also walk along several boardwalk trails if you’re not keen on hiking in the sand—and even sled the dunes. Yes, sled them. Sleds are available for sale at the visitor center, or you can bring your own to whisk your way down the powder-soft dunes. Do note that sand sledding requires a steeper hill than snow sledding, so be sure you have enough clearance at the bottom to stop safely.
There’s enough to see in the park to spend the entire day there, but if you’re limited on time, get there in the late afternoon for the best sunset of your life.
The park is a 45-minute drive from Las Cruces, which is where most visitors spend the night during their visit. It’s also only 90 minutes from El Paso, Texas, and three and a half hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico, two great bases to explore the Southwest.
Looking to explore the most beautiful places in the U.S.?
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