There's a reason that song they play during the seventh-inning stretch at baseball games isn't called "America the Mediocre." First, because then there's no way we could ever get T.I. to live here. But also because, well, it's beautiful!
But what is beauty, really? If Rod Serling taught us anything, it's that the word "beauty" means different things to different people. And, accordingly, different things to different states. In Pennsylvania, it might be a towering skyline. In Nevada, a mountain lake. Every state (and/or Commonwealth!) has its own version of beauty, which is why we polled residents and tourism boards from each to determine what that one must-hit (and must-Instagram) spot is. And here's what they told us, the 50 most beautiful places in America.
It’s been said that the Florida Panhandle is basically East Alabama. And, yes, that extends to the alarmingly high rate of jorts and "#3" stickers, but also to the gorgeous beaches; this tiny town on Alabama’s Gulf Coast is on par with any you’ll find in the Sunshine State. One of America’s best small beach towns is also home to the annual Hangout Music Festival, where you can see acts like Skrillex, Paramore, and the Zac Brown Band in the same weekend.
If you’re into glaciers and want to see one from closer than the inside of a terrifyingly small bush plane, Matanuska is the best in Alaska, and the only one that can be reached by land. It’s basically a giant floating river of ice in a perfect Alaskan mountain valley, and it is best viewed from within the 229-acre Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site.
Created completely out of paper mache by Disney in 1956... wait, what? It wasn’t? Wow, who knew Mother Nature could make something that looks as cool as what they create over at Pixar? Anyway, the tropical turquoise falls in the Havasu Canyon (in the Western part of the Grand Canyon) are the kind of oasis you’re only used to seeing with the help of CGI, and they're surrounded by the equally spectacular Navajo, Mooney, and Beaver Falls.
Little Rock skyline (from the Clinton Presidential Center)
With an acknowledging nod to all the beautiful scenery in the Natural State -- and especially Hot Springs National Park -- even the Arkansas Convention and Visitors Bureau agreed that the view of the Little Rock skyline from the Clinton Presidential Center is the prettiest place in all of Arkansas. And while we’re never ones to knock an urban vista, it may ALSO be the top spot because the library doesn’t smell like a hot spring.
Though a year from now the most beautiful sight in California might be a water tap that works, right now it’s still this spot along California’s Central Coast. In a state with pretty much every type of landscape you could imagine, the most breathtaking is Big Sur along CA-1, where the majestic cliffs drop into the Pacific creating perhaps the most postcard-worthy sunsets in America. Pro tip: if you're ever on a road trip through here, make sure you’re the passenger. Highway 1 has more twists than a season of Scandal, and you don’t want to be looking at asphalt instead of ocean.
The Maroon Bells
Yes, once upon a time people went to Colorado for crazy stuff like scenery instead of... well, why were YOU thinking about going to Colorado? This pair of jagged mountain peaks that tower above serene Maroon Lake outside of Aspen has been dubbed the most photographed place in the state.
Brownstone Exploration & Discovery Park
If you listen to Jesus H Christ and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (and who doesn’t?), Connecticut is pretty much only for something that your phone autocorrects to “ducking.” But if you listen to the CT Convention & Sports Bureau, it’s for rock climbing, swimming, zip-lining, water skiing, and all the other fun stuff you can do at this recreation park carved into an old rock quarry.
Nemours Mansion and Gardens
If you live in Delaware, Versailles is a long way away. Both the famous palace and the landmark MIami Cuban restaurant. Unfortunately, we can’t help you with Cuban food in Delaware, but if you’d like to see a building modeled on Louis XIV's famed French château, head to Nemours. It boasts fountains, artwork, gilded sculpture, and reputedly the largest formal French garden in North America. But still no ropa vieja.
Seven Mile Bridge
If we were aiming for an all-out comment war, we’d pick a beach like Sanibel or Ana Maria and invite the indignant fans of Port St. Joe to go ballistic, much as they did in the comment section when we rated the top beaches in Florida. To avoid that, we’re going with this impressive feat of engineering, a seven-mile concrete stretch in the Keys that connects Little Duck Key and Knights Key. Simply, it offers the most impressive panoramic view of the islands and Moser Channel. Also, fun facts: the original was once part of the overseas railway, but it was actually a model of the bridge that was demolished during the filming of the Schwarzenegger flick,True Lies.
After driving miles past nothing but trees, the occasional log cabin, and plenty of stands selling peaches, you’ll appreciate Georgia’s hidden gem: Callaway Gardens. Think lush rolling mountains with bike trails, one of the world's largest indoor butterfly exhibits (!!), plenty of lakes, and spectacular golf courses. And, not only can you enjoy a long weekend of ropes courses and water sports at what's billed as kind of Club Med in the middle of Georgia, but there's even a circus camp held on the grounds. So, at the very least, you can get over your lifelong fear of clowns.
Stairway to Heaven
Another title for this one: most scenic place in America where you will absolutely get arrested if you try to visit in person. Yep, the 3,922 steps constructed to lead the Coast Guard up to the LORAN radio antenna atop Oahu are closed to the public (not to mention dangerous to climb), but that doesn't mean it's not still the most beautiful spot in the state -- the panoramic view of the island, Honolulu, and the Pacific is insane.
With all due respect to the blue field at Boise State, this Idaho behemoth stands tall at 212ft (Niagara Falls, by comparison, is only a buck 67) and is fed by one of the most challenging whitewater rivers in the country, the Snake River. Don't miss it, even to visit that field.
Top of the Willis Tower
Combining both natural and man-made beauty, it's tough to compete with the view from the highest point in Chicago, the Willis Tower, for title of most beautiful spot in Illinois. Not only can you appreciate Lake Michigan and the rest of the Windy City from one of the world's most premiere observation decks, but you can even enjoy a stuffed-crust pizza while you're up there!
Indiana Dunes State Park
Indiana is known for a great many things. Basketball? Sure. Auto racing? Absolutely. Regular season NFL football? From September until the second round of the playoffs, Indiana is the place. But beaches?! Yes, believe it or not, this three-mile protected stretch of beach along Lake Michigan is one of the best on the Great Lakes, and is a summer destination spot for Midwesterners looking to camp, hike, cycle, or just work on what will eventually just have to pass as a tan.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
People who think Iowa is nothing more than the birthplace of high-fructose corn syrup have probably only seen it from the window of an airplane. The state has A LOT more to offer than just cornfields, like this park in the “Driftless” region. Turns out, glaciers didn’t wipe everything out during the last ice age, and these limestone caves (and the green wilderness around them) remain. So while the rest of Iowa might be as flat and corn-filled as you learned in fifth grade, this section looks more like the Pacific Northwest.
You wouldn’t think any place that offers tours of outhouses would be at all scenic. Unless your idea of scenery is the inside of an outhouse in which case, ewwww, what is wrong with you? Assuming you’re into more traditional scenery, though, the small town of Elk Falls -- known as the world’s largest living ghost town -- is a mid-19th century settlement in the heart of the Kansas Ozarks that attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Natural Bridge State Park
In the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest sits the Natural Bridge State Resort Park, a 2,300-acre swath whose main draw is this 78ft-long, 68ft-high sandstone bridge. The arch was actually created naturally over years of erosion, and while it’s certainly the highlight, Natural Bridge also includes over 20 miles worth of trails and Balanced Rock, which looks vaguely like the Egyptian Sphinx.
If we're to believe the History Channel, the people who inhabit Louisiana swamps aren’t what might classically be defined as “beautiful.” But really, who needs silicon-enhanced supermodels (or those dudes from Abercrombie & Fitch) when you’ve got the largest wetland in the United States, 1.4 million acres of mangroves, alligators, and migratory birds. In fact, the cypress-tupelo swamps are actually the largest contiguous stretch of coastal cypress in the nation, providing welcome shade should you opt to see this area by airboat.
Top of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park
The oldest national park East of the Mississippi -- and hands down the best tourist attraction in Maine -- Acadia is 47,000 acres of New England beauty. But to visit the most scenic spot in the state, you’ll need to climb to the top of Cadillac Mountain. It not only offers visitors one of the best sunrises over Frenchman Bay, but also one of the earliest; the park is among the first spots in America to get daylight.
Though the beaches in and around Ocean City are among the nicest in the mid-Atlantic, the nod in the Old Line State goes to Brookside Gardens: a 50-acre, award-winning botanical oasis complete with an aquatic garden, azalea garden, rose garden, regional park, and more. But, sadly, no saltwater taffy.
Route 2 in the Berkshires
Drive through this part of scenic Western Massachusetts in early October and it looks, as one Thrillist editor put it, “like fall created a giant tifo display made from leaves” (A tifo, if you don’t watch soccer, is one of those big posters they unveil before games). It's a combination of vibrant fall colors and quaint New England charm that causes peepers from all over the country to descend on the region every autumn.
We've said it once, and we'll say it again: Michigan might be the most underrated state in America when it comes to natural beauty. Most of it, though, you wouldn’t want to visit from November to April -- just not that nice in the winter. The ‘Arb,’ however, with its 123 acres of trails and gardens along the Huron River is beautiful all year-round. And each May, it also becomes the home of over 270 historic cultivated varieties of peonies and 10,000 flowers at peak bloom!
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
While our first inclination was to go with “grape salad,” the good people at Explore Minnesota advised against that, recommending the Boundary Waters Canoe Area instead. This MILLION-plus acre area of natural waterways in the Superior National Forest restricts motorized access, allowing for peaceful exploration along the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that run through a bunch of the state's 10,000 lakes.
Tishomingo State Park
Though some suggested the Jackson Volcano, that’s actually located beneath 2,900ft of sedimentary deposits and the Mississippi Coliseum. And since we’d be remiss sending you to something you can’t even see, instead we suggest this park in the foothills of the Appalachians. Not only is it full of waterfalls, massive rock formations, and fern-filled crevices, but it’s also part of the famous Natchez Trace Parkway, possibly the most scenic drive in the American Southeast.
Table Rock Lake
Though Missouri has no shortage of scenic lakes that are perfect for a summer weekend getaway, there are more than a few that also double as filming locales for Girls Gone Wild. The calm waters formed by the White River (and created by the Table Rock Dam), however, make this not only a naturally beautiful destination, but also one you could legitimately describe as “relaxing.”
“Paradise” is obviously a relative term. And if your version of paradise involves palm trees and cocktails served in coconuts, you’d obviously steer clear of Montana. However, if your definition includes monumental glaciers, crystal-clear rivers, deer prancing in meadows, and big blue skies, then this is indeed your version of perfection. This area just North of Yellowstone Park sits between the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges, and is one of the world’s premiere destinations for fly fishing.
Courthouse and Jail Rocks
While Chimney Rock might be the top tourist destination in Nebraska, it is only ONE rock. But if you want TWO impressive, towering natural structures made of clay sandstone and ash (and, of course, you do), you’ve gotta head to the panhandle and see these two outcroppings (historic landmarks along both the Pony Express and Mormon Trail) rise up from the North Platte Valley.
Ask any dude who’s spent one night too many in Vegas, and he’ll tell you the prettiest place in this desert state is inside the Crazy Horse. But that’s why you don’t ask THAT guy, and instead call the Visitors Bureau, where they'll unanimously inform you it's Lake Tahoe. The best views can be had from Incline Village in the North, or from the top of the slopes at Heavenly. Which, in addition to its spectacular views, also provides access to one of the best party mountains in America.
Cog Railway, Mount Washington
Though the trip up one of the highest points East of the Mississippi is possibly the best way to take in New England’s fall colors (the other, obviously, being that drive through Western MA), that might be the last time of the year you’d want to go here; temps can get as cold as negative-102 degrees with wind chill, and the summit once recorded a wind gust of 231mph -- the fastest ever recorded on Earth at the time.
A popular spot for whale watching, this island and its collection of towns with the name “Wildwood” also boasts quiet beaches, boardwalks, a roller coaster, and all the other stuff you’d expect on the Jersey Shore -- just instead of loud music and IROC Camaros, there’s birdwatching, English gardens, and a historic lighthouse.
Sandia means "watermelon" in Spanish and after you witness the gorgeous sunset here -- during which the mountain range glows pink -- then you'll understand how the name came to be. From the top, you can see 11,000 square miles of meth labs and probably the spot where Hank’s body was buried. JUST KIDDING NEW MEXICO!!! You can also see some state landmarks more than 100 miles away.
Yes, this pick was only slightly less predictable than every NBA season from 2004-2014. And since Manhattan’s skyline might be the only thing in New York more overrated than its bagels, can you think of a spot in New York that’s MORE scenic? Niagara Falls is an easy choice: a 167ft drop that drains one Great Lake into another and separates us from our friendly Canadian neighbors. It may well be the most famous waterfall in the world, and has been the site of more wedding proposals than probably any spot on the planet not named "Las Vegas at 4am."
Yes, there are some picturesque beaches on the Outer Banks, as well as lighthouses like the Cape Hatteras that are among the most visited in America. And the Smoky Mountains ain’t bad, either. But perhaps the single most scenic place in North Carolina is the gardens off the Blue Ridge Parkway, recognized by the state as a National Heritage Area. Here, wildflowers give way to exposed bald rocks and some of the most gorgeous mountain views in America.
Painted Canyon Visitor Center
Not only is Theodore Roosevelt the coolest dude from New York who charged up San Juan Hill like a damn lunatic, but he's also the founder our national park system and donated parts of his own ranchland to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Today, the visitor center overlooks North Dakota’s Painted Canyon and the rest of the North Dakota badlands, and the view is almost as insane as TR was ordering that attack in Cuba.
Cincinnati Museum Center
City views are nice. Ancient caves are pretty cool. But what if we could put them both... IN THE SAME BUILDING? In the greatest cultural advance Cincinnati has given the world since the Ickey Shuffle, they’ve done just that at this museum in the old Union Terminal, as multiple museums feature large-scale models of the city and replicas of ancient caves that you can actually walk through. Adding to the scenery of this spot on the National Register of Historic Places is the grand, Gilded Age architecture that denotes an old-school rail station.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area
The best song ever written about Oklahoma clearly didn’t appreciate the contribution of the Choctaw Nation as much as it should have. Bingo, sure. But not this park, which was originally part of the area where the tribe was re-settled and found to be flush with hot springs and healing waters. Fearing developers would come in and make it the next Bathhouse Row, the Choctaw sold it to the federal government and it was turned into a national park, which was eventually incorporated into the bigger Chickasaw Recreation Area along with scenic Arbuckle Lake and Travertine Creek.
Even though almost half of Oregon is forested, and the state boasts beach rocks cool enough to be featured in Goonies AND Point Break, the most scenic spot is still Crater Lake, the deepest in America. It was created when Mount Mazama collapsed thousands of years ago.
Top of the Mount Washington Neighborhood
Though some might argue that the most scenic spot here is the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign you see when leaving Ohio, the most postcard-worthy place is the view from the top of the Mount Washington neighborhood outside Pittsburgh, from which you can look out on one of America’s best skylines and the valley where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join the Ohio.
It’s tough to argue with the views from the Newport Mansions, but when you’ve got an island that you can only reach by boat or plane -- and almost half of it is preserved open space -- well, that's an outdoorsman’s dream. And because it’s an island, you get sandy white beaches and unobstructed sunrises and sunsets.
There may not be a better example of preserved Victorian-era architecture in America than Historic Charleston. Yes, it's true that the South Carolina beaches are never unattractive, but a trip through this city -- known these days as much for its food and nightlife as it is for its history -- is one of the rare experiences that can’t be duplicated.
Buffalo Gap National Grassland
We told you once, we’ll tell you again: Mt. Rushmore is more disappointingly small than the cast members of Entourage. Which is why in the giant country that is the Dakotas, the most scenic parts are in the Badlands, and specifically the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Here, buffalo literally do roam under rock formations and through grass prairies that stretch well into Nebraska.
The most scenic place in Tennessee is actually underground. No, not the TV room at Graceland (though Elvis might argue for that one) but this 145ft waterfall that sits 1,100ft under Lookout Mountain. And while the Waiahuakua Sea Cave in Hawaii might be a little more scenic, this is the deepest waterfall in America that’s open to the public.
Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park
The best way to experience this 1,500ft-deep canyon is by rafting through it along the Rio Grande. The river’s most notable feature: the Rock Slide, a Class IV rapid considered by some to be the most challenging whitewater in America.
Bryce Canyon National Park
As impressive as the collection of red rock natural amphitheaters that make up Bryce Canyon are, what may make this park even more impressive is how it looks in the dark. No, you can’t see the geologic formations, but you can see stars. Billions of them. Which make this site the most beautiful in Utah 24 hours a day.
The far Northeastern section of Vermont -- often referred to as NEK -- represents New England wilderness at its finest. In this area revered by residents and visitors alike for its untouched countryside and fall colors, moose still roam wild among mountain lakes and lush forests. Consider it some of the most peaceful country in America.
Monticello Wine Trail
Once California completely runs out of water, look for every bachelorette party, girls’ weekend, and Thomas Keller restaurant in America to shift here, to Central Virginia and the most scenically impressive wine country on the East Coast. Though not as temperate as Napa, this picturesque region boasts wineries, rolling hills, and the Blue Ridge Mountains off in the background. The views are almost as good as the viognier, the grape this area is beginning to claim as its own.
Columbia River Gorge
Even though Washington boasts two of America’s top 20 national parks and America’s best skyline, the most scenic place in the state is probably better known for KUBE 93’s Summer Jam than for the scenery. That’s because this river gorge in central Washington has some of the best amphitheater acoustics in the world, and is the famous home to The Gorge at George and its lineup of summer concerts. Get there a few hours before the sun goes down and enjoy the most scenic tailgating you’ll ever experience.
New River Gorge
The highlight of the year in West Virginia is Bridge Day, where denizens of this state (and several others) gather at the bridge over this gorge to hurl themselves towards the bottom attached to things they pray don’t break. And if they do? Well, at least their last view was of this stunning river, which winds through towering rock formations with names like Endless Wall and Junkyard Cliff.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
While just hearing the words “scuba diving in the Great Lakes” may have you quoting George Costanza, if you own a REALLY thick wetsuit, the clear waters of Lake Superior at Apostle Islands might be the best cold-water diving in the country. Here you’ll see underwater rock formations unlike any found in warmer waters, as well as some notable Great Lakes shipwrecks. And if you’re not dive certified, the lakeshore has eight historic lighthouses and 240 species of migratory birds for your above-water viewing enjoyment.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
About 200 years ago, some fur trappers were trekking through Wyoming and stumbled on what they described as a “boiling lake.” But “rainbow lake” would probably be more accurate, as the colored bacteria near the water made it look like a turquoise pond surrounded by a rainbow. It’s the third-largest hot spring in the world and the largest in America. It's also definitely the only one that looks like it just came from one of those REALLY fun high school parties you never got invited to.