Every state’s best destination for nature lovers

Breathing easy in these nature-loving settings

Of the reasons to feel #blessed, the abundance of natural beauty to be found in every U.S. state is up there with the best. Wild environs can challenge us and take us outside our comfort zones, but they also offer reasons to feel awe, solace, joy, and wonder.

We’ve looked all over the country to find the best places to access nature’s gifts in every state, from majestic mountains to noble forests to serene lakes. With access to state and national parks, diverse landscapes, adventure activities, and a general appreciation for all things outdoors, these 50 places, broken up by region, are must-sees for anyone craving a slice of the peaceful life. The grandeur of nature is the best medicine for the daily grind, so we say get out there and heal thyself.

West

Alaska

King Salmon
king salmon alaska sea plane

  • Fishing enthusiasts will love Naknek River Camp, where silver salmon and giant trophy rainbows are common catch.
  • Katmai National Park and Preserve’s volcanic landscape gives way to mountain lakes and forest. From Brooks Camp catch sight of abundant local brown bears and the deep gorges of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Washington

Spokane

  • Tucked all the way on the eastern border, Spokane is a great home base for exploring the lesser-visited wilds of Washington. Bike Centennial Trail—the 40-mile paved trail snakes around Spokane and into equally beautiful Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
  • On the Spokane River Water Trail, SUP, kayak, and white water raft through the heart of the city and beyond.
  • Mount Spokane hosts year-round activity, from skiing, tubing, and snowboarding in winter to mountain biking, hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, and huckleberry picking in summer.

Oregon

Sisters

  • Its proximity to both Bend to the east and the McKenzie River area to the west, make this country town an ideal headquarters for exploring the abundance of Oregon natural treasures.
  • Ample hiking opportunities such as the Sisters Trails provide views of Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Broken Top, and Mount Bachelor.
  • Water babies can cruise the stunning Metolius River in a vessel of their choosing or stay stationary at the perfect fly fishing spot.

California

Mammoth Lakes

  • The Golden State is rich in beauty and houses many outdoor gems, but in Mammoth Lakes, there is a little something for everyone. Ski or snowboard Mammoth Mountain in winter, or explore Rainbow Falls and nearby Yosemite National Park during summer.
  • Active, outdoor events are the norm here, like the Mammoth Half Marathon & 5K and the Mammoth Gran Fondo bike ride. Nearly year-round hiking is a must in this alpine wonderland, where treks range in difficulty.

Hawaii

Kipahulu, Maui
kipahulu hawaii

  • Take the famous Road to Hana then keep on driving 12 miles until you hit Kipahulu, the gateway to the Pipiwai Trail, to see a bamboo forest and Waimoku Falls. Stop for a swim in Seven Sacred Pools. There is so much to see in Haleakala National Park, you should plan for several days.
  • When the song of the sea is calling your name, take Ala Kahakai Trail. This half-mile hike includes sweeping ocean views.

Idaho

Sun Valley
sun valley idaho

  • Sun Valley is legendary for its snow sports, but summer activities—from hiking to rock climbing to stand up paddle boarding–are giving the cooler months a run for their money.
  • For something strange and unusual, head to nearby Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a vast, seemingly barren lava field that blooms with wildflowers in the summer.

Nevada

Las Vegas

  • Say what now? Vegas as an outdoor destination? Outdoor recreational activities do not immediately spring to mind when you utter the name Las Vegas, but the city of neon lights is surrounded by epic places to explore the desert.
  • Adventure of every kind, like riding with nearby All Mountain Cyclery, Red Rock Canyon climbing, hiking the many trails, and exploring Bonnie Springs Ranch, make a trip away from the Strip a must.

Montana

Kalispell

  • Tucked in the lush northwest corner of the state, Kalispell sits between the awe-inspiring Glacier National Park and the activity-abundant Kootenai National Forest.
  • Take a fishing trip with Swan Mountain Outfitters, or head to Wild Horse Island State Park to float on Flathead Lake and spot wildlife from the trails.

Wyoming

Cody

  • Horse trails, camping, biking, rock climbing, and more are all within easy reach of Cody, which sits in some of the most beautiful country in the U.S. Yellowstone National Park, the first in the nation, is nearby and bursting with natural wonders, from Old Faithful geyser to Yellowstone Lake.
  • Book an area pack trip with Boulder Basin Outfitters, or take to the skies and see it all from above with Airborne Over Cody.

Utah

Bryce Canyon
bryce canyon

  • As the closest city to Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon City is the best place to start your adventure through the arches and spires of this iconic landscape.
  • Not to be overshadowed, Zion National Park beckons an hour and a half away, while the colorful, otherworldly formations of Kodachrome Basin State Park are a stone’s throw at under 40 minutes away.

Colorado

Denver

  • The Mile-High City is rife with outdoor enthusiasts, who are drawn to spots like Cherry Creek bike path and blend nature with culture at venues like Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
  • Just outside the city, you’ll find Geo Tours, a go-to for white water rafting. A little farther out of town is Rocky Mountain National Park, where Trail Ridge Road will take you to new heights and sights at over 12,000 feet. Or, hitch a saddle with A&A Stables and see it all from horseback.

 
Southwest:

Arizona

Prescott

Via Prescott Tourism Office

  • Surrounded by 1.25 million acres of national forest, and especially good for mountain bikers, Prescott also boasts 16 parks and three lakes, on which you can kayak or canoe with Prescott Outdoors.
  • Guided hikes and adventure tours are the name of the game with Rubicon Outdoors, which also offers self-guided itineraries that include hikes through Granite Basin, Ponderosa forests, and up Blair Pass for unreal views of Skull Valley.

New Mexico

Eagle Nest

  • Fishing on Eagle Nest Lake, camping and backpacking in Cimarron Canyon State Park, and exploring nearby Maxwell Wildlife Refuge are just a few of the many ways to experience life from Eagle Nest.
  • After hiking surrounding mountains, enjoy them from the viewpoint of the town, where you’ll find good food and welcoming locals along the historical main drag.

Texas

Austin
austin, tx

  • Five minutes west of the city is Mount Bonnell, from which the Hill Country views are picture-perfect.
  • Austin loves to take to the water, and you haven’t experienced the city until you’ve practiced SUP (try Texas Rowing Center) on Lady Bird Lake and been swimming at Barton Springs.

Oklahoma

Broken Bow

  • Rivers, lakes and forests surround this little city, which sits in Oklahoma’s southeast corner. Beavers Bend and Hochatown State Parks are great for trail hikes and lakeside picnics at Broken Bow Lake.
  • Access is a breeze to Mountain Fork River, where trout fishing is arguably the best in the state.
  • Come to town during Kiamichi Owa-Chito Festival of the Forest, which celebrates the relationship between humans and forests.

 
Midwest:

North Dakota

Medora

  • Sitting on the threshold of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, this town offers easy access to the 36-mile scenic drive through the Badlands, the gorgeous views from Oxbow Overlook, and loads of hiking and stargazing.
  • Patterson Lake, 34 miles east, is a boating, fishing, and swimming playground, where camping, hiking, and mountain biking round out a busy outdoor itinerary along 26 miles of shoreline.

South Dakota

Deadwood

  • The Black Hills National Forest comprises 1.2 million acres, where you can camp, ride horses, rock climb, bird watch, and moon walk near 1,300 miles of streams, the breathtaking Bridal Veil Falls, and even caves.
  • Belle Fourche National Wildlife Refuge is roughly 45 minutes to the north, while Badlands National Park is a 1.5-hour drive southwest, where the stunning mountain formations make it well worth the trek.

Nebraska

Gering

  • This lovely town in western Nebraska is situated within a short distance of several beautiful points of interest. Scotts Bluff National Monument, for one, was an important landmark to settlers on the Oregon Trail, and rises over 800 feet.
  • Spend an afternoon hiking through the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area. Biking, camping, and an archery range are set amongst high-up views of North Platte River Valley.

Kansas

Cottonwood Falls

  • Placed in the center of the Flint Hills is the wonderful town of Cottonwood Falls, from where the best outdoor activities Wander the vast expanse of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and keep your eyes peeled for wild buffalo herds that still roam the area.
  • See if you can reel in a black bass or a channel catfish at Chase State Fishing Lake from one of its eight fishing piers.

Minnesota

Carlton

  • Explore over 50 miles of hiking trails within nearby Jay Cooke State Park, which also features 6 miles of horse trails and 8 miles of snowmobile trails.
  • Swiftwater Adventures takes voyagers white water rafting three seasons out of the year on the beautiful St. Louis River.

Iowa

Le Claire

  • Located on the western bank of the Mississippi River is this quaint Midwestern town. Nature photographers rejoice here in winter, when bald eagles abound at Lock and Dam #14, and come spring, pelicans begin to arrive for their summer stay.
  • Take a ride down the Mississippi like Mark Twain on the ornate Riverboat Twilight, or head 50 miles north to Maquoketa Caves State Park, where a day exploring caves and trails will keep your adventure bug satisfied.

Missouri

Wildwood

  • An outdoor junkie’s paradise, Wildwood offers a feast of state parks and nature reserves nearby. Hike miles of trails in Castlewood State Park, or explore the Shaw Nature Reserve section of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • Can’t be separated from your bike for long? Take it for a spin down the Al Foster Trail.

Wisconsin

Sturgeon Bay

  • Located east of Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay features many well-kept trails that wind through the area. If you have some time on your hands, hike Ahnapee State Trail, which runs 48 miles through Door and Kewaunee County.
  • In the summer, Whitefish Dunes State Park is a family-friendly waterfront area in Door County. In the winter, it absolutely stuns with beautiful ice formations and snow. Alternatively, you can kayak, cycle, or hike your way around Cave Point County Park.

Illinois

Oglesby

  • Oglesby is located directly west of Starved Rock State Park, which wows with waterfalls, a lovely natural swimming pool, and a cave-like setting. Take a guided or unguided hike on the 13 miles of trails or join the Walkers Club for a half-day excursion.
  • Mix in some culture at Art in the Park, an open-air collection of woodcarvings by local and Native artists, then dine at Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center’s Back Door Lounge, where the cabin look will give you camping vibes.

Michigan

Sault Ste. Marie

  • Located on the east side of the Upper Peninsula, the Sault Ste. Marie State Forest Area is a great place to get out on the water. Which water? Choose from Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. Kayaking and paddleboard classes and rentals are available at all three lakes.
  • Follow hiking or water trails through the forest on the North Country National (NCT) Scenic Trail.

Ohio

Hocking Hills

  • This Ohio town is surrounded by state parks and nature preserves. Hocking Hills State Park is lovely, with deep gorges and steep waterfalls to delight the eyes. Make sure to take a trek 1.5 miles south of the park through Ash Cave for an experience to impress.
  • High Rock Adventures will take you rappelling and rock climbing, while Touch the Earth Adventures offers hiking, kayaking, and cycling expeditions.

Indiana

Bedford

  • Come to Bedford, a town happily situated near Hoosier National Forest. The forest is home to almost 266 miles of trails, where horseback riding and mountain biking are welcome, along with hiking.
  • Spring Mill State Park, with its boat tours of the fascinating Twin Caves, lies 15 miles south. And if that sparks a new travel interest, boat tours are also available through Bluespring Caverns, 6 miles south of town.

 
Southeast

West Virginia

Fayetteville
fayetteville

  • West Virginia is a nature lover’s BFF, and Fayetteville is the over- generous friend offering sights in abundance. Raft, rock climb, bike, and wander through New River Gorge. The trails take you over bridges and through the woods.
  • For close and personal views of plants and wildlife, go to New River Birding & Nature Center.

Virginia

Luray

  • A super cool and unique experience awaits at Luray Caverns, equal parts eerie and beautiful. More beauty awaits 9.5 miles east at Shenandoah National Park.
  • Hawksbill Greenway is a multi-use scenic path in the city that is a habitat for butterflies, birds, and plant life.

Kentucky

Slade

  • So many nature spaces are within reach of Slade, including Daniel Boone National Forest and the Red River Gorge.
  • The sandstone arch in Natural Bridge State Resort Park, where miles of trails, such as the Rock Garden and Sand Gap, will challenge and delight hikers.

Tennessee

Chattanooga

  • Take on the upper, middle, or full Ocoee River with Cherokee Rafting just 40 miles east. You’ll traverse beautiful gorge scenes as your blood gets pumping over guaranteed rapids.
  • Rock climb, raft, kayak, or paraglide the area with Outdoor Chattanooga, experts at air, water, and land like the tabletop mountains and river valley.

North Carolina

Cashiers
cashiers north carolina

  • Fetch a super unique sight at Whiteside Mountain, which reveals the shadow of a bear during fall. Marvel at the tree-lined river views in Nantahala National Forest and enjoy nature on the many hikes around Lake Glenville.
  • Waterfalls are some of nature’s most impressive gifts, and Whitewater Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Rockies. Silver Run Falls cascades into a welcoming swimming hole, and is a great place to spend a relaxed day just 4 miles south of Cashiers.

Georgia

Lithonia

  • One of 49 National Heritage Areas in the nation, Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, part of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, is in constant flux, where the rare native plants paint exposed granite varying shades throughout the year. The area houses 40,000 acres of natural wonders 3.5 miles south of Lithonia.
  • This region is rich in trails, which range from easy walking paths to extensive bike routes.

Alabama

Huntsville

  • The Huntsville Botanical Garden hosts seasonal events, and meandering trails skirt though multiple gardens from perennial plots to vegetable rows. Nearby nature preserves, Monte Sano and Hays Nature Preserve are nice accompaniments to a visit to this peaceful space.
  • Wade Mountain Nature Preserve Trail System includes hiking, biking, water trails, motor routes, and equestrian paths. The Green Mountain Nature Trail is a public park that serves as a tranquil getaway for many Huntsville locals.

Mississippi

Natchez

  • Natchez Trace Parkway is a recreational road that is a natural setting for the perfect scenic drive. Along the route, breakaway trails lead to camping, hiking, and horseback riding sites.
  • Thirty miles east, Homochitto National Forest offers lakes and creeks throughout for watersport adventures. Speaking of, Everyday Adventure designs outdoor programs that are tailor-made to each visitor, and is based in town.

Louisiana

Baton Rouge

  • At Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center, you’re likely to spot wildlife such as armadillos, foxes, coyotes, deer, and otter as you walk over a mile of gravel paths and boardwalks that link the cypress-tupelo swamp to beech-magnolia and hardwood forests.
  • Located on the southern side of the Mississippi River Valley and 40 miles west of Baton Rouge, Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge covers 15,000 acres of wetland, including forests, bottomland, and bayous.

Florida

Cedar Key

  • This small island jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico is perfect for water lovers. Rent a kayak and paddle around the many small islands that make up the Keys. See how many redfish you can catch with Saltwater Assassin Fishing Charters.
  • Go wildlife viewing in Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, an 800-acre space frequented by egrets, spoonbills, and pelicans.

Arkansas

Havana

  • What’s the connection between Paris and Havana? Well, if we’re talking towns in Arkansas, that would be the Mount Magazine Scenic Byway. Route 309 winds its way through Mountain Township and Mount Magazine State Park.
  • In the autumn, drive through the colorful changing foliage, and get to know the local flora and fauna with bird watching and wildflower walks.

South Carolina

McClellanville

  • Located alongside the stunningly beautiful Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge, McClellanville is a quaint home base for exploring the area.
  • Rent a boat and explore the waterways of the Francis Marion National Forest, or make your way south and catch the Bull Island Ferry. Keep a lookout for the local alligators.

 
Northeast

Rhode Island

Block Island
block island rhode island

  • Located 14 miles off the coast of Rhode Island in the Atlantic Ocean, Block Island has more than enough fun outdoor activities to keep you occupied. Climb the stairs of Mohegan Bluffs and snap some stunning photos. Keep that shutter finger at the ready at the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, where capturing all the sites will have you feeling like a part-time wildlife photographer.
  • See if you can find the Sacred Labyrinth, a secret footpath not known to many. Or, free your adventurous spirit as you go parasailing with Block Island Parasail & Watersports.

New York

Cooperstown

  • This beautiful village in upstate New York is home to open waters and serene trails. Explore Otsego Lake, Goodyear Lake, and the Susquehanna River by kayak or canoe. Nearby Portlandville Paddle Sports has equipment on hand.
  • For fresh sustenance after a day on the water, check out what’s going on at the Cooperstown Farmers Market. Then board the Cooperstown train for a scenic ride through the country.
  • Pennsylvania

    Laporte

    • Sullivan County is home to this wonderful little town in in the midst of the northeastern Pennsylvania wilderness. A bright spot is Lake Mokoma and its surrounding woodlands, which are great for boating, swimming, and trekking.
    • For a more rugged adventure, head to untamed World’s End State Park. This Endless Mountains region park has year-round activity, including white water rafting and snowmobiling.

    Maine

    Wells

    • Maine is the place to be by the sea and enjoy its ebb and flow. At the Marina at Wells Harbor you can launch kayaks, canoes, and sailboards for free. Splash in the water and dig your toes in the sand at Wells Beach, Crescent Beach, and Drake’s Island Beach.
    • For a different vantage point, hike the trails at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and Wells Reserve at Laudholm.

    Massachusetts

    Charlemont

    • By land or by water, there are endless ways to explore the lands surrounding Charlemont. Get your heart rate up on the hikes at Mohawk Trail State Forest, or enjoy horseback riding, snowshoeing, or mountain biking on the many area trails. If you prefer to hit the slopes, go to Berkshire East Mountain Resort.
    • Water activities, from kayaking to tubing to rafting, are prime on the Deerfield River.

    Connecticut

    Hartford

    • Home to Bushnell Park, the oldest publicly funded park in the U.S., Hartford has a history of enjoying and preserving nature. Elizabeth Park, in West Hartford is the oldest public rose garden in America, and is called the Flower of New England Parks.
    • Charter Oak Greenway is an 11-mile trail where visitors enjoy walking, biking, and cross-country skiing through gorgeous foliage. South of downtown, Charter Oak Landing is a riverfront park that offers boating and fishing.

    New Hampshire

    Lincoln

    • Head into town via the scenic Kancamagus Highway and be sure to stop at the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area right off the highway.
    • Once you’ve settled in Lincoln, begin to explore the area at Franconia Notch State Park, where you should see Echo Lake Beach, Flume Gorge, Franconia Notch Bike Path, and Craggy Beauty. Loon Mountain is fun for gondola rides, the Aerial Forest Adventure Park, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, and zip lines. For something different, try a moose tour through the White Mountains.

    Vermont

    Woodstock

    • Home to Mount Tom, Woodstock enjoys multiple hiking and running trails with views of surrounding sister peaks, such as Mount Peg. Lucy’s Lookout along the Appalachian Trail is a short hike from Bartlett Forestry & Wildlife, a habitat preservation effort that offers nature tours.
    • Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park is one of the state’s most beautiful areas, with covered bridges, stone walls, shady sugar maples, and old-growth hemlocks.

    Delaware

    Wilmington

    • Brandywine Creek State Park encompasses the state’s two first nature preserves, Tulip Tree Woods and Freshwater Marsh. Along 14 miles of trails, visitors often spot wildflowers, songbirds, deer, and hawks. Alapocas Run State Park has a rock climbing area and many more trails to discover.
    • DuPont Environmental Education Center is located on the Wilmington Riverfront near the Russell W. Peterson Urban Wildlife Refuge, and is the meeting point of the city, marsh, and river.

    Maryland

    Oakland

    • Around these parts, the parks are full of trails, waterfalls, and swimming holes. Herrington Manor State Park is 365 acres of land where fishing, swimming, and 12 miles of hiking and biking trails are among the popular activities.
    • Swallow Falls State Park houses in its 257 acres: Youghiogheny River, Tolliver Falls, and the 53-foot Muddy Creek Falls, which are the highest in Maryland.

    New Jersey

    Vernon

    • Vernon’s range of things to do make it ideal for those who crave variety. See the scenery at high speeds on a zip line at Mountain Creek. Or hike over a suspension bridge, on boardwalks, along train tracks, and through pastures all in one go on the Stairway to Heaven hike from Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista.
    • Visit Legends Riding Stables for year-round guided horseback tours or riding lessons.

    What do you think are the best nature places to visit in the USA?

    Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

    Lily Rogers

    Lily is a Southern California-based writer, editor, and traveler. She aspires to never be too far away from her next adventure, whether it be exploring the deserts of SoCal or the mossy forests of her native Pacific Northwest. She also loves international travel and always looks forward to crossing another destination off her bucket list.

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  • Virginia Fuller

    As far as Prescott Az comes into this totally money driven program…stop it…the residents of Prescott Az tell you stay home. We are the drug rehab capital of the U.S. You do not want to deal with this problem. No one ever tells you this. Research it…you do not want to raise children in this community. Drug/alcoholic youths walk the streets of Prescott Az daily. Go somewhere else..