All 50 States, Ranked by Their Beauty

Ecola State Park, Oregon
Ecola State Park, Oregon | Feng Yu/Shutterstock
Ecola State Park, Oregon | Feng Yu/Shutterstock

In addition to being the world leader in just about everything, the United States of America is also, without a doubt, the most physically beautiful country in the world. Perhaps there are grander fjords in Norway, taller mountains in the Himalayas, and greener waters in the Caribbean, but nowhere has it all quite like America. Not that we feel the need to brag about it or anything.

Among the states, naturally, there's bound to be some sibling rivalry. States who think their granite mountains are sexier than someone else's red-rock deserts. One state has cocaine-white beaches, another one has thousand-year-old redwoods. Well, we're here to settle the debate. We assembled a crew of writers who combined had visited every state, and then set about arguing: weighing the variety, quantity, concentration, highlights, and lowlights of every state's physique. We came to realize that every state has something to recommend it. And that more than a few are downright boggling in their physical gifts.

We independently ranked the states, then came together around a table to debate the discrepancies, and to plead for the divisive cases, of which there were several. How do you pick, after all, between desert vs. mountains? Mountains vs. lakes? Lakes vs. forests? Forests vs. seashore? Seashore vs. glacier? Glacier vs. orchards? There was no right answer... until we decided there was.

Kansas wheat
Flint Hills | TommyBrison/Shutterstock

50. Kansas

Kansans are a resilient lot, able to find happiness in life's simple pleasures. Their landscapes, which emphasize the latter half of "Great Plains," encourage this enviable character. If Kansans can love their land, no one else has any excuses not to love the bejesus outta theirs.

McCormick's Creek State Park | Kenneth Keifer/Shutterstock

49. Indiana

At its top edge, Dunes National Lakeshore does offer a crackling little playground and views of Lake Michigan. Near its southern border, Indiana's hilly contours give towns like Bloomington an idyllic feel. In between, though? There's not a lot to recommend, aside from summertime drives, and discovering the soothing, almost hypnotizing allure of watching corn flash past your window at 60mph.

Blackwell Forest Preserve | Mark Baldwin/Shutterstock

48. Illinois

The largely featureless Midwestern state that compensated in the most effective way possible: plugging dozens of beautiful skyscrapers along Lake Michigan. Yet outside Chicago, you can still find dramatic vistas in Illinois -- the knobby sandstone formations of the Garden of the Gods in the state's southern tail, for one. And do scope those beautiful Mississippi River views along that long meandering western border.


47. Iowa

Iowa may be flat as hell and, well, kinda boring. But it supports a lot of green living things, and it sure looks nice when the lights go down. Iowa sunsets never get old.

Warren Price Photography/Shutterstock

46. Louisiana

There's a ton to recommend a trip to Louisiana, even amid nature -- the fishing's great, the duck hunting is world-class, and the air-boat rides amid alligator-infested cypress knees are not to be missed. But its position at the bottom of the Mississippi (as the nation's cloaca, essentially) doesn't do its beaches or wetlands any favors, and when the highest natural point in the state is only twice as high as the Superdome, you're going to be stuck with a lot of scenery that ducks are in the best position to appreciate.

Housatonic River | Enfi/Shutterstock

45. Connecticut

Poor Connecticut (not literally, of course). Not only will most New Englanders disavow it for its close ties to New York -- "half the state is Yankees country!" -- but it also came out as the runt among the region's hill-and-valley idyll. Most of the state is flat, and although it's got some quaint towns along the coast, and comely streams further inland towards the Berkshires, nondescript suburbs and urbanized areas are the norm. Plus, at this point in its march towards the ocean, even the mighty Connecticut River has lost some steam (and picked up flotsam in Hartford and Springfield).

Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

44. Oklahoma

A certain sort of person could protest this low ranking, because Oklahoma at least brings its share of variety. That panhandle stretches out and kisses New Mexico on the cheek, the southern edge is perfect for reading Larry McMurtry scenes, and the eastern edge along the Arkansas border is a surprisingly diverse mix of electric-green hills and jungly mid-American forests. Suffice it to say that Oklahoma is probably prettier than you expect, but then again, your expectations were low for good reason.

Gulfport | clayton harrison/Shutterstock

43. Mississippi

Right now hundreds of Mississippians are reading this and saying, "Holy cow! There's a state ranking where we're NOT in the bottom five!" Thank your lucky stars for that funky, frolicsome Gulf Coast, Mississippi. Your lovely magnolias and charming Southern foliage notwithstanding, you're 21 miles of undeveloped white sandy beach and some pristine swamps away from being the Indiana of the South.

Cuyahoga National Park Ohio
Cuyahoga National Park | Shriram Patki/Shutterstock

42. Ohio

High in the middle and round on the ends, Ohio has a well-earned reputation as flat and forgettable. But the hilly southern part of the state is prettier than people realize -- it does border Kentucky and West Virginia, after all. And while no one would mistake the southern shore of Lake Erie for Big Sur, Ohio's nearly 300 miles of Great Lake coastline offer outstanding open-water vistas from the tops of roller coasters.

lake nawahunta
lake nawahunta | jgorzynik/Shutterstock

41. New Jersey

Look, even if New Jersey hadn't gone and covered the bulk of the state with jughandles and suburban sprawl, it still wouldn't be a stunner. But then it did go and litter the state with freeways, develop the beaches to the breaking point, and come down with a case of 105 superfund sites -- more than any other state. That said, if you can manage to escape the sprawl, many parts of the state are lovely, with rolling hills and glacial lakes, nicer beaches as you get further south, and the Delaware Water Gap -- a truly beautiful and underappreciated stretch of earth that NJ shares with Pennsylvania. 

platte river
platte river | leaves002/Shutterstock

40. Nebraska

Sleep on Nebraska's subtle beauty if you want, but its big skies and rolling hills have a thoroughly pleasant and peaceful charm. As impressive as Toadstool Geologic Park (Nebraska's Badlands!) and Chimney Rock are, the Cornhusker State doesn't have the spectacular vistas of its neighbors to the west. What it does have is open spaces, the Platte River, and a complex and important ecosystem where literally millions of birds -- including 80% of the world's sandhill cranes -- visit every spring.

Georgia trees
Wormsloe Plantation | ESB Professional/Shutterstock

39. Georgia

If you live in Florida, the most beautiful sight you'll ever see is when you cross the state line into Georgia and see gas prices drop a buck a gallon. Past that? There ain't much. Aside from the quaint Southernness of trees draped in Spanish moss in the southern part of the state, the scenic highlight is the "mountains" north of Atlanta. Which seem downright towering when you've been driving through Florida, but still don't measure up to the Smokies a few hours down the road.

North Dakota
Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park | RRuntsch/Shutterstock

38. North Dakota

For some reason -- maybe some combination of fracking, the Coen brothers, and January -- the words "North Dakota" have become synonymous with "frozen wasteland." Which isn't completely inaccurate when discussing some parts of this state, but lest we forget it's also home to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a breathtaking mix of prairies, mesas, and mountain views dotted with buffalo. And kind of like the cute girl with the smoke-show older sister, North Dakota doesn't get proper credit when compared to its beautiful sibling to the south.

Delaware beach
Lewes, Delaware | Yvonne Navalaney/Shutterstock

37. Delaware

You want to surprise someone? Send them a postcard from Delaware. "I never knew Delaware was that pretty," they'll say, looking at a silhouette of dune grasses framed by an ocean sunset. Actually, no one does, because Delaware's not large enough to hold more than three cars at a time. But if you're lucky enough to be in one of those three cars, you too can take in the rolling rural countrysides and the not-half-bad beach views and say, "Delaware. Hi. I'm in Delaware."

Red rock canyon | popgallery/Shutterstock

36. Nevada

Most people know this as Las Vegas plus the let's-floor-it portion of a drive to California. And, yes, the bulk of this state is so dusty and unremarkable that the military used to test nukes here without anyone really caring. But the highlights range from staggering to obscure. Red Rock Canyon, a mere Uber ride from the Vegas Strip, is a jaw-dropping haven of striated limestone and sandstone. The Ruby Valley is a foxy little patch of mountains that'll break up any trip across I-80. The swirling cream-and-crimson rock formations of Valley of Fire State Park look like Dr. Seuss drew them. And of course there's Lake Tahoe. Most of which is in California, but, hey, bright side, you made it.

Allegheny National Forest
Allegheny National Forest | Zack Frank/Shutterstock

35. Pennsylvania

It's got hills and Amish buggies and pleasant forests that in the fall molt into spectaculars golds and yellows and oranges. But for Pennsylvania's size, it lacks that "wow" factor. It's a densely populated eastern state minus the redeeming coastline. It's got a nice piece of the Appalachians, but not so impressive a piece as its neighbors. And, yes, you can ski the Poconos if you really don't feel up to going somewhere better. But like so many of the features here, you'd trade up, given the option.

Missouri River

34. Missouri

It's tough for Missouri, which borders five states that have already appeared on the bowels of this list, to distinguish itself. The great sprawling center of the state is a less agriculturally fatigued transition between Illinois and Kansas. But that southern third or so is a delight. The ruddy hills of the Lake of the Ozarks area (population: Branson) are terrific for winding drives and trout-fishing trips. Further east, Missourians enjoy their forests and rivers as playgrounds. The curious rocky outcroppings around the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park swimming holes and the lazy tube-floats on the Current River are exemplars. They're almost spookily litter-free, evidence that Missourians appreciate what they have.

Ceasars Head State Park South Carolina
Courtesy of Explore South Carolina

33. South Carolina

Probably the most scenic part of the state is Downtown Charleston. But since this is a ranking of natural beauty, not charming colonial architecture, the scenic highlight of the state is the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, home to the 420ft Raven Cliff Falls in Caesars Head State Park, and some of the best scenic overlooks in the South. The coastal beaches are pleasant and calming as well, and you cannot beat a sun-dappled drive through the Low Country, under a canopy of moss-draped live oak. 

Rhode Island Cliffs
Cliff Walk | Joseph Sohm /

32. Rhode Island

For such a tiny state, Rhode Island does relatively well for itself, on average. Lots of folks will joke that half of its area is made up of beaches, and they're honestly not too far off -- Block Island has some lovely ones, and sea cliffs/bluffs there and in Newport add to the state's nautical charm. But it's got the deck stacked against it: there just isn't enough room in Rhode Island for anything truly grand, the Breakers aside. It's just a shame that nature didn’t build them.

Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock

31. Alabama

Though most Gulf Coast states are a flat, green expanse of humidity and pine trees, Alabama actually has some pretty elevation in the central part of the state around Birmingham. Add this to the white sand beaches of the Redneck Riviera and you've got a state that rarely gets its due. Unspectacular, maybe, but for nature as comfort food, you can't do much better.

Martha's Vineyard | GagliardiImages/Shutterstock

30. Massachusetts

Topographically, Massachusetts is the crossroads of New England. Its neighbors to the south are comparatively nondescript, and its neighbors to the north are far more rugged (both in geography and the boot-leather character of their citizens). Still, Massachusetts has its draws -- the Cape Cod National Seashore has long attracted artists for the quality of its sunsets, and the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley showcase some of the nation's best fall foliage. But Massachusetts also has Middlesex County, which, contrary to its name, is actually low in sexiness.

Gabamichigami Lake | Wildnerdpix/Shutterstock

29. Minnesota

Could change its name to Canada Lite. The biggest, most delightful shock in Minnesota is its sledding hills: they do exist, and during much of the year, you can slide down 'em. In the summertime, the Boundary Waters offers some of the most sought-after fishing and canoeing in the upper prairie. The sheer, rugged Lake Superior shoreline gives another glimpse of raw North America, and the pocky glacial holes around Interstate State Park remind you how far north you really are. 

New Hampshire
White Mountains | Richard Cavalleri/Shutterstock

28. New Hampshire

New Hampshire: Land of Contrasts. A choke of suburbs in the south, the highest mountains in New England in the north. The Old Man of the Mountain on the state road signage, aaaaand in reality he's long gone. See? Contrasts. Yet New Hampshire's profile is strong -- the White Mountains' grand Presidential Range, dramatically carved flume gorges, notches, big lakes like Winnipesaukee, and sprawling valleys of farmland near the Canadian border. It's just a shame that the southern part of the state looks so much like Connecticut, but with fewer liquor stores.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Nickolay Khoroshkov/Shutterstock

27. Tennessee

Read the state left to right, and it just keeps getting better: from the top of the Delta in the west, across the hills and pastures of the central third, to the crescendo of mountain vistas that announce your arrival in the Smoky Mountains. For a landlocked eastern state to pack this much variety ensures you can pretty much pick any highway in the state to travel, turn off the first time you see a sign announcing a state park, and feel like you've figured out America. 


26. Florida

Tough call with Florida. Here's a state that originally was just a bunch of flat, nasty swampland. Then people dredged said swamps and built hundreds of miles of artificial beaches. Then ruined those beaches by filling them with condos and hotels, once again rendering the state pretty darned ugly. Though there's some nice swampland in Big Cypress National Preserve, and the rivers in north and central Florida, the state still ruined some great potential. You had your shot, Florida, and you blew it. 

West Coast Scapes/Shutterstock

25. Maryland

Now cracking into the top half of this list, things get really competitive. It's hard to say anything really bad about Maryland, since it's got all the aspects of scenery you look for in a state. The mountainous west is almost an extension of West Virginia with dramatic green hills and blooming fall colors. Along the Atlantic beaches and the tributaries of Chesapeake Bay, the state has 600 miles of coastline -- almost double what Texas has on the Gulf of Mexico. Scenic farmland and vineyards along the eastern shore in Talbot County are another quiet highlight.

Mount Magazine State Park | Zack Frank/Shutterstock

24. Arkansas

There are benefits to being a hermit kingdom. The southeast half of the state isn't much to behold, unless you're into swamps, pastures, rice fields, and the same fungible pine forests you'll find in Mississippi and Georgia. Heading north, though, you find hills that conceal caves, creeks, and gullies, and which every so often will reveal a flat slab where you can slouch and soak in a sunset. The Buffalo River, the first designated national river in the country, remains one of the rare undammed American rivers of any consequence. And the Ouachita Mountains in the southwest amble endlessly, pocked with springs and towns just big enough to support a gas station where you can outfit yourself for a few days of floating or camping. 

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore | Bryan Neuswanger/Shutterstock

23. Wisconsin

More than prairies and dairies. You could wander 800 miles along its shores on Lakes Superior and Michigan, and those don't include the 15,000-odd lakes scattered around the rest of the state. (Yes, more than Minnesota.) The state lacks a grand, signature natural feature that you just gotta go see -- though the Apostle Islands are one-of-a-kind, and you'll be hard pressed to find country more pleasant than Door County. But to truly appreciate Wisconsin's full array of cliffs, forests, water, and the occasional natural stone bridge, take the 1,200-mile-long Ice Age Trail that winds through the state like a tapeworm. Glaciers left these lakes and boulders for you to enjoy, so you might as well use 'em.

Lake Placid
Lake Placid | jiawangkun/Shutterstock

22. New York

New York the state is too often defined by New York the city. Too bad, 'cause the wilder reaches of the state rivals the diversity of most any other. Consider: New York has three coasts (Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the Atlantic), and two distinct mountain ranges (the Catskills and the Adirondacks). It claims a slice of Lake Champlain and all of the Finger Lakes. Plus the prettier half of Niagara Falls -- there's a reason the best views come when you stand on the Canadian side. Conservation is an ongoing battle in New York, but the state has done an admirable job of securing natural spaces for wildlife and wild people to enjoy. The Empire State has more publicly owned land by percentage than any state east of the Mississippi, and is No. 1 in the country for percentage of land owned by the state itself. (Thanks, New York City tax base!)

Big Bend National Park Texas
Big Bend National Park, Texas | JB Manning/Shutterstock

21. Texas

The place is so damn big it can't help but have some standout sights along the way: Big Bend, Hill Country in springtime, the open lap of the American West stretching off to the horizon. What it doesn't have is anything that is, in fact, the best in its category. There's better Western scenery as you go farther west, better forests anywhere east, better beaches in any direction 'cept straight north. But give Texas its due. Anything you'd want to take in, save snow-capped mountains, really is all here, and if you break free of the cities, the open roads here feel as open, and as freeing, as anywhere.

Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park, Virginia | Jon Bilious/Shutterstock

20. Virginia

Though the beaches here might not be showing up in any Corona ads, the ones in the Hampton Roads are some of the nicer, wider ones on the Eastern Seaboard, and probably the least-appreciated scenery in the commonwealth. The rolling hills and wine country of Central Virginia are a big part of why they say “Virginia Is for Lovers.” And a trip down Skyline Dr in Shenandoah National Park might be the best leaf-peeping drive in America.


19. Vermont

This famously sparsely populated state is covered in rolling green hills, all of which seem to have clear mountain streams, lakes, and tiny villages huddled around them. From the sunset shores of Lake Champlain to the misty rivers of St. Johnsbury, you’d be pressed to find a place in Vermont that didn’t look like it popped out of a calendar. Of course, it is the only state in New England without any ocean coastline, and even Bernie Sanders can only make up so much for that.

Alexey Stiop/Shutterstock

18. Kentucky

Culturally this state can never decide whether it's part of the Midwest, the South, or Appalachia. Geographically it doesn't care, because it rocks the highlights of all those regions: the pocky hollers and mountain views in the east, 400-mile-long Mammoth Cave, and an abundance of rolling, grassy hills. You can still find family tobacco farms on the back roads, but the most distinct part of the landscape is that symbiosis between horses and luminous pastures. People here swear they can see the grass glint blue, hence the name. Green or blue, it all makes you want to stop and marvel. 

Sawtooth Lake | J K Floyd/Shutterstock

17. Idaho

Quick: what states make up Yellowstone National Park? Bet you only said Wyoming and Montana, but Idaho’s there too. And the fact that you forgot is precisely why Idaho is such an under-appreciated place for scenery. The Sawtooth Mountains have some of the best mountain biking in America, while the snow-capped peaks at Coeur d’Alene make it a world-class skiing destination. And all the state’s beauty is best taken in with a trip down the Snake River, winding through mountains and scenic meadows.

New Mexico
Weldon Schloneger/Shutterstock

16. New Mexico

The fine cinematographers from Breaking Bad made this state a stunning backdrop for making crystal meth. But even without the dilapidated trailers in the foreground, the desert scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. The red rock cliffs and sprawling mesas make a drive through New Mexico seem a lot shorter than the 375 miles I-40 travels through the state. Northern New Mexico also boasts the mountains of Taos, and gives that part of the state a look more Colorado than Arizona. And White Sands National Monument is one of the most distinct -- and arresting -- pieces of earth in the lower 48.

Blackwater Falls State Park
Blackwater Falls State Park | Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

15. West Virginia

You may not mean to drive to it, but you'll never forget driving through it. A favorite of base jumpers for its gorgeous gorges, West Virginia's scenery is full of unbroken, rolling old hills and rivers spilling down limestone. The Monongahela National Forest exemplifies the forested, rocky terrain that kids from Maine to Missouri grew up clambering through. One of the most overlooked corners of the country evokes the best parts of the eastern half of the continent.

Fort Williams Park | Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

14. Maine

Topping off New England is Maine, a state whose residents know they’ve got the best natural scenery in the Northeast and are totally content with you just sticking to the Portland area to eat lobstah so there’s more room up north for them. In addition to possessing some of the most breathtaking coastline in America (with thousands of jagged islands offshore bringing the total mileage of pebbly beach to over 3,000), Maine’s got the gorgeous Acadia National Park, Mount Katahdin (the tip of the Appalachian Trail), and countless acres of dense wilderness for the L.L. Bean types (it’s basically, like, their uniform up there).

North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park | Dave Allen Photography/Shutterstock

13. North Carolina

The most beautiful state on the East Coast? Hard to argue with North Carolina, the rare eastern state where you can see a progression of scenery as you drive through from beaches in the east to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west. The Outer Banks are some of the best coastal retreats in the nation, and a trip through the lush greenery of the center of the state ultimately brings you to the east’s preeminent place for mountain scenery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Monument Valley Arizona
Monument Valley | Paul B. Moore/Shutterstock

12. Arizona

Here marks the start of truly elite, best-of-the-best portion of this list. Everyone in the top quarter of the list has some singular, majestic facet that can make a case for being the best in the land.

Take Arizona. Its baseline is a riot of desert oranges and fuchsias that only build to perhaps the most-ogled feature on the continent: the Grand Canyon, the climax of a million American road trips. Monument Valley has been scientifically proven to be where cowboys' souls go when they die. Elsewhere, Arizona's B-sides -- the Superstition Mountains, the Petrified Forest, Lake Powell, the areas around Flagstaff and Sedona -- would alone make it a top-20 state. And don't sleep on one of the most dramatic terrestrial features anywhere: the 560ft-deep meteor crater that, befitting so much of Arizona's look, literally came from elsewhere in the solar system.

South Dakota
black hills of South Dakota | Wollertz/Shutterstock

11. South Dakota

If you’re wondering how the heck a freaking DAKOTA sniffs the top 10, you’ve clearly never made a trip to the most underrated state in America. The scenery here is so much more than just a mountain with four dudes’ faces. It’s the entire Black Hills region, where you can in the morning hike to Harney Peak (the highest point between the Rockies and the Pyrenees) and spend the afternoon hiking Spearfish Canyon. Or head a little further into the Badlands, that inaptly named Martian rockscape, with more vegetation and a greater variety of colors. Even the flatter eastern part of the state has places like Palisades State Park outside Sioux Falls, where Split Rock Creek meanders through 50ft quartzite cliffs. A trip here might have you wondering why it’s not ranked higher.

Munising, Michigan | John McCormick/Shutterstock

10. Michigan

Taken on their own, the Upper or Lower Peninsulas could have ranked in the upper tiers of this list. Combine them, and you get 3,288 miles of Tim Allen-approved pure Michigan coast, and the most beautiful state east of the Mississippi River. And that's saying a lot for a Midwestern state -- just look at how Michigan's neighbors fared. From the unspoiled forests of the UP to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan to the craggy coast of Lake Huron, and the more than 11,000 inland lakes between, you could spend years exploring Michigan, and never reach the end of those good waters.

Montana glacier
Glacier National Park | Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

9. Montana

The word that comes to mind here is imposing. A brunch-menu version of Alaska, Montana offers big Rockies, big lakes, distinct seasons, and two of the most awe-inspiring national parks anywhere in the world: a section of Yellowstone at the south border, and the broad shoulders of Glacier at the top. The sky isn't any bigger here than elsewhere; if anything, the mountainous contours at the edges give definition to the surroundings. But what you do get is wide-open spaces, and lots of 'em. This, America's third-largest state, packs in only 1 million people -- compared with 38 million in California and 27 million in Texas. Splendor abounds in Montana, and chances are you can have a huge slab of it to yourself.

Grand Teton National Park | f11photo/Shutterstock

8. Wyoming

Wyoming is so rich with beauty that even the Grand Tetons -- quite possibly the single most dramatic vista in the country -- somehow get overshadowed by Yellowstone National Park right next door. But if all you've ever seen of Wyoming is Jackson Hole and I-80, you're missing out on the other-worldly high plains outside of Laramie and Cheyenne, the ghostly rocks of Vedauwoo, the mountains of the Front Range (the same mountains you saw on your trip to Denver), the Wind River Range, the Bighorns, and some of the darkest night skies with the brightest Milky Way in the lower 48. That's not to mention Red Canyon, the Red Desert, Devils Tower, or pronghorn populations (you probably know them as antelope, but they're actually pronghorn) that number in the hundreds of thousands, plus elk, moose, and bison. Few people venture into Wyoming to see just how the light shimmers off gold Aspen trees on a limitless mountain prairie -- and folks in the Cowboy State like that just fine.

Lincoln City Beach
Lincoln City Beach | Ray Whittemore/Shutterstock

7. Oregon

Oregon is the perfect transition from California -- and Nevada -- into the Pacific Northwest. The state begins with rugged coastline and temperate desert, much like northern California. Then it eases through the mountains into evergreen wilderness, making Oregon’s stretch of I-5 the most scenic section of that highway. The state’s also got fantastic beaches, most notably Cannon Beach and Seaside in the north, with their trademark Haystack Rock. There’s also Mt. Hood, the jagged peak that’s the most scenic point between Mt. Whitney and Mt. Rainier. Add in Crater Lake, the Willamette Valley wine country, and the undulating Painted Hills in the empty, open east, and you've got a state that holds its own as a coastal gem or a desert standout.

Mt. Rainier paradise
Mt. Rainier National Park | Mike Peters/Shutterstock

6. Washington

Seattle doesn’t have the best skyline in America only because the Columbia Center is a great feat of architecture. It’s because of the setting: Seattle looks south to Mt. Rainier, and sits between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. And that’s just one city. The state is home to not one but two towering mountain ranges (the dramatic Cascades, the rainforested Olympics) as well as the winding Columbia River Gorge. The San Juan Islands are the closest thing you’ll get to cruising through Alaska without having to go north of the 49th parallel. And even parts of Eastern and Central Washington – especially up north in the Okanagan -- have some spectacular desert scenery. 

Rocky Mountain Meadow
Rocky Mountain Meadow | welcomia/Shutterstock

5. Colorado

To make it into the top 10% of scenic states, you’ve gotta have that extra something. And nobody who’s ever set foot in Colorado hasn’t been wowed by the sheer verticality. Colorado has more than 50 -- that’s FIVE ZERO -- peaks higher than 14,000ft, more than triple the rest of the lower 48 combined. Harder to reach, but no less amazing, are the state's abundant mountain lakes, places that make the journey up those peaks worth the trek, and provide some of the most underrated beachfront on the planet. The only drawback to Colorado is the eastern third or so that feels like Nebraska got a director's cut. But if you want to get the most out of this state, take a drive from Denver to Telluride and prepare to be blown away.

Arches National Park
Arches National Park | Josemaria Toscano/Shutterstock

4. Utah

To rate this high with exactly zero miles of coastline, you’ve gotta have some superlative sights. And Utah brings it like no other landlocked state in the nation. It’s one of the few states where someone can look at a picture and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s Utah,” whether it’s the famous sandstone arches or the canyons at Moab, or the bizarre formations in Goblin Valley. And that’s just the southern half. The Bonneville Salt Flats are one of the great geological sights in America, and further north Utah is home to powder-covered mountains as good as any in the west. If outdoor recreation is your top vacation priority, you might not find a better place.

Hubbard Glacier | Luis Boucault/Shutterstock

3. Alaska

No state will leave you in complete awe of the wild like Alaska. Whether it’s the Kenai fjords and glaciers of the inside passage, or the vast expanse of snow-capped peaks, sprawling tundra, and rugged coastline that make up the state's interior, Alaska boasts the rugged wilderness that just doesn’t exist in the rest of America. Part of the fun here is that much of the state isn’t accessible by road, so the only way to get there is either a scenic boat ride through the forest or a bush plane over glaciers. Both of which can have ample sighting of whales, bears, sea lions, and other animals you typically never see outside of zoos. And even though the land masses here are the biggest scenic draw, Alaska has some pretty respectable beach towns to boot.

Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon | Wildnerdpix/Shutterstock

2. Hawaii

Pound-for-pound, acre-for-acre, this archipelago is the most spectacularly diverse and diversely spectacular place you can get to without a passport -- and maybe with one. The islands (seven big ones are inhabited; 130 small ones aren't) hold such an array because forested, canyoned Kauai is 6 million years older than the broad, dark, raw Big Island, which is still growing, fed by the glowing volcanic vent that birthed the lot. Between them: Oahu is heart-stopping beaches and jungles and cliffs under constant assault by half-hour rainbows. Maui is a sheaf of vacation postcards that unionized and formed an island. Tourism-light Molokai has some of the world's steepest cliffs into ocean. Lanai looks like the love child of Ireland and a Caribbean isle. You don't think it can be true until you get there, but Hawaii is one of the few destinations that, if anything, manages to exceed its perfect-10 reputation. 

Yosemite | Phitha Tanpairoj/Shutterstock

1. California

Yes, it has issues. Lots of ‘em. But how many beautiful things do you know that don’t? So let’s drop the talk of droughts, bankruptcy, and traffic and talk for a minute about how this state has EVERY SINGLE KIND OF BEAUTY you could possibly want. Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches set against towering cliffs. Then move inland to the moon-like desertscapes in the Mojave. There’s the drive along the PCH and Big Sur, leading in the wine country of the Central Coast and up into San Francisco, a city that owes its aesthetic to cliffside views and curlicues of fog. Oh, and lest we forget Yosemite National Park. Or Redwood. Or Death Valley. Or Anza Borrego. And wine country stretching from Napa Valley in the north to Temecula in the south. Look, California’s not for everybody, but for sheer hotness, nothing else comes close. You can see why, when settling the West, Americans chasing manifest destiny crossed expansive grasslands and steep mountains and punishing deserts only to arrive and say to themselves, The trip was worth it after all.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.