Seven Stunning Great Outdoors Destinations Across the Continent

When it comes to awe-inspiring nature, it's hard to match the natural wonders found in the great outdoors right here in North America. Across the continent--from the Atlantic to the Pacific--unparalleled wonders await modern-day outdoors explorers, just as they did in the days of Lewis and Clark, John Muir, and many others.

Of course, compiling a list of North America's 'top' natural wonders reveals an abundance of worthy options. Thankfully, the work has been done for today's wanderers by a global grassroots endeavor called Seven Natural Wonders. Their mission is to protect the natural wonders of the world, help people discover and explore them, and inspire visitors and armchair travelers to practice conservation.

"North America is blessed with facets of nature that could all easily be classified as wonders," says Dr. Phillip Imler, the president and founder of Seven Natural Wonders. "It was fun to witness the Declaration Committee and other conservation experts from around the world consider statistical significance and uniqueness as they cast their votes for the Seven Natural Wonders of North America," he adds.

Dr. Imler travels extensively to view natural wonders around the world and his personal travel blog--Wonder Wanderings--also makes for fascinating reading...and natural wonders wandering. "Having had the opportunity to travel and experience many of these natural wonders within North America and around the world, it seemed necessary to launch a blog that captured the experiences and relayed helpful travel and photography tips."

It's not surprising that many of the seven natural wonders on the group's list are part of the National Parks System. "North America has some of the most spectacular scenery on earth," says National Parks System spokesperson, Kathy Kupper. "And, many of these geological wonders and magnificent landscapes are in our national parks, preserved and protected for all to enjoy."

The Everglades

There's nowhere on earth like the Everglades and Everglades National Park is the best place to experience everything this sprawling natural wonder has to offer. Spanning 1.5 million acres in South Florida, Everglades National Park is known for a wide variety of outdoors activities, including hiking, biking, canoeing and other boating, birdwatching, ranger-led programs, tram and boat tours, and much more.

The thriving wildlife of Everglades National Park is what attracts many visitors. From the tiniest grass frog to huge American crocodiles, wildlife viewing areas like Shark Valley, the Anhinga Trail (at Royal Pond), and Eco Pond (one mile past the Flamingo Visitor Center) are all great for viewing alligators, wading birds, and other freshwater wildlife.

Hiking is popular throughout the park and rangers can provide specifics on trail lengths and possible wildlife sightings. From spring to fall, rangers will also recommend mosquito repellent for hiking and any outdoors activities in the Everglades.

Biking in Everglades National Park is also extremely popular for good reason--and not just because the bike trails are generally as flat as a pancake. Most of the pines in the Everglades were heavily logged prior to the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947. Roads that were created for logging, plus fire roads and old farm roads, have been used to create 40-plus miles of paved and primitive trails across the pinelands. All are open to hiking and some, like the Pineland Trail and Old Ingraham Highway are also great for two-wheel travel.

Situated in the north part of Everglades National Park, Shark Valley is particularly popular as a bike trip. The 15-mile round-trip route typically takes two to three hours and includes a Visitor Center at the start and lots of wildlife and nature viewing opportunities. Bike rentals are available at the Visitor Center.

Canoeing, kayaking, and other boating options abound in Everglades National Park. Snake Bight (near Flamingo) and Chokoloskee Bay on the Gulf Coast are great places for visitors out on the water to see lots of water birds feeding in the shallows and mud flats. Nine Mile pond and adjacent 'borrow pits' also feature world-class freshwater paddling and wildlife viewing. Of course, fishing is also an option.

Birdwatching is also very popular. More than 360 different species of wading birds, land birds, and birds of prey have been sighted in Everglades National Park. Typical sightings can include white Ibis, wood stork, varied herons and many more.

Free seasonal park ranger-led programs are also a favorite activity. Each area of Everglades National Park-Royal Palm, Flamingo, Shark Valley, and Gulf Coast-has unique programs, like the 'Croc Talk' and 'Anhinga Amble.' There are also guided concession tours in Everglades National Park. Those who don't want to bike the 15-mile loop in Shark Valley will enjoy the two-hour narrated tram tours. Reservations are highly recommended during the dry (winter) season. Concession boat tours are also offered at two Everglades National Park locations. The Gulf Coast park boat tour explores the Ten Thousand Islands area over on the Gulf Coast, while the Flamingo area boat tour explores the Whitewater Bay backcountry north of Florida Bay.

The Bay of Fundy

Unlike any natural wonder in the world, Canada's Bay of Fundy features some of the highest tides and tidal ranges in the world. It's located between the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (with a sliver of the bay off the state of Maine as well). The tidal changes present an array of sightseeing options and outdoors activities.

The Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy presents many options, with 300-foot cliffs overlooking the ever-changing Bay and opportunities to literally walk on the floor of the ocean at low tide. Coastal hiking possibilities include Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, Advocate Harbour, and Five Islands Provincial Park with ocean floor walking best at Burncoat Head Park and Noel. Whale watching is popular off Digby Neck and Brier Island. Tidal 'bore' rafting on the Shubenacadie River and sea kayaking at Advocate Harbour is anything but boring. Area wineries are also well worth a visit.

Over on the New Brunswick side, up from the craggy Maine coast, there are similar options. The Hopewell Rocks at low tide feature picture-perfect 'flowerpot rocks,' while whale watching, tall ship tours, cliff walking, Fundy Trail biking, Fundy National Park, New River Beach Provincial Park, the Fundy Isles, and Stonehammer Geopark (North America's first UNESCO-supported geopark), the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve all present opportunities to experience Mother Nature at her most wonderful.

Niagara Falls

Located between New York State and the Canadian province of Ontario less than 20 miles from Buffalo, the three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls are located on the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Cascading down more than 150 feet, combined, they have the highest rate of water flow of water for any waterfalls in the world.

Though commercialism has developed all around the Falls, North America's Niagara Falls remains a natural wonder for visitors to enjoy in a variety of ways on both sides of the border above, below, and even inside the Falls. With more than 700,000 gallons of water typically falling over the Falls every second at peak flow in the summer and fall, it's no wonder that more than eight million people visit the fabled Falls each year.

The U.S. side of Niagara Falls has lots to offer, including: great views of the Falls; up-close views of the American and Bridal Veil Falls in Cave of the Winds; the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour; the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour; fishing and boating; birdwatching; golf; and various historical attractions. Hiking--especially in Niagara Gorge and at Niagara Falls State Park--is excellent.

The nation's oldest state park, Niagara Falls State Park was established in 1885 and was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Along with some of the best views of the Falls, both the Cave of the Winds tour and Maid of the Mist Boat Tour are also state park offerings.

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls also has much to offer. Along with great 'sideline' views of Canada's thundering Horseshoe Falls and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in the U.S., getting up close and personal with the Falls is also easy in Canada. The many possibilities include: Table Rock Welcome Centre; Hornblower Niagara Cruises by boat; helicopter tours; Journey Behind the Falls through tunnels that travel to Observation Decks behind the falls; a sky-high Falls view atop 775-foot Skylon Tower; the White Water Walk; Niagara Falls History Museum; Niagara Falls Incline Railway; and nightly Falls illumination and seasonal fireworks.

The Grand Canyon

There may be nothing grander in this grand land than Grand Canyon National Park. More than five million people see the one-mile-deep Grand Canyon annually, with a large majority (about 90%) visiting the South Rim of the park.

At an average of 7,000 feet in elevation, the South Rim is the most accessible part Grand Canyon National Park and has the most facilities, activities, and viewing areas. Open all year, South Rim visit possibilities include: lots of dramatic view points and signed photo hot spots; Historic Grand Canyon Village; several museums and information centers (including a great 20-minute orientation film at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center); a free shuttle bus system; walking and hiking (like South Kaibab Trail); mule trips; Scenic Hermit Road; Scenic Desert View Drive; whitewater and smooth water rafting trips on the Colorado River; interpretive ranger programs; various education tours with the Grand Canyon Field Institute; the Grand Canyon Railway trip between the park and the city of Williams (with more than 230,000 passengers annually); and much more.

Mule trips are definitely a unique way to see Grand Canyon National Park. South Rim possibilities include a three-hour adventure and one- or two-night rides to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch on the Colorado.

The least-crowded time to visit Grand Canyon National Park's South Rim is November through February. But, cold temperatures and rough weather can sometimes wreak havoc with an otherwise peaceful winter visit.

At an average of 8,000 feet, the less-visited North Rim of the park is more mild and remote, with intrepid seasonal adventurers enjoying the North Rim Visitor Center, day hikes, mule trips, free interpretive ranger programs, and the North Rim Scenic Drive. Typically, the North Rim is only accessible from about mid-May to mid-October.


Historic and stunning four-season Yellowstone National Park was established way back in 1872 to protect the wildlife and other natural wonders of the area. Yellowstone was the nation's first national park. All of the wild animals that were present when the park was established, including grizzly and black bears, wolves, bison, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, moose, and many other species, are still present today.

A variety of visitor centers and museums provide perfect introductions to the park, including Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs, Canyon Visitor Education Center, Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center, Fishing Bridge Visitor Center, Grant Visitor Center, Madison Information Station, West Thumb Information Station, the Museum of the National Park Ranger in Norris, and Norris Geyser Basin Museum. Other great stops include the self-guided trail around historic Fort Yellowstone in Mammoth Hot Springs and the Old Faithful Inn and Historic District.

Of course, everyone comes to see Old Faithful geyser for good reason. However, many other geysers and hot springs signifying ongoing volcanic activity can be found in the Old Faithful area, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pot and Firehole Lake Drive, Midway Geyser Basin, West Thumb Geyser Basin, and Mud Volcano.

The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone includes the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River, lots of overlooks and trails in the Canyon Village area, plus Tower Fall and Calcite Springs overlooks south of Tower Junction. In addition, placid Yellowstone Lake is North America's largest high-altitude lake.

As with many national parks at natural wonders, hiking is very popular, including self-guided trails found through the sprawling park. Biking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, llama packing, cross-country skiing and showshoeing, and snowmobiling and snowcoach tours are also possible pursuits--as is driving the Grand Loop, a 'figure-eight' loop of interior roads that link Yellowstone explorers to many of the park's top destinations. Of course, the wildlife viewing can be world-class.

Ranger-led activities can range from short walks to evening campfire presentations. The Yellowstone Association is the park's official educational partner and they offer wildlife watching tours, backpacking trips, and short field study courses. In addition, concessionaires, outfitters, and professional guides offer lots more, including transportation, backpacking and hiking, biking, boating, fishing, painting and photography tours, horseback and llama trips, skiing and snowshoeing, and snowmobiling and snowcoach tours.


Home to famed cliffs, giant trees, and thundering waterfalls, Yosemite National Park is accessible by vehicle and bus year-round. Each season provides its own list of possible wonders within the park's 1,200 square miles of vast wilderness areas, deep valleys, ancient sequoias, and so much more.

First protected in 1864 long before motorized travel, free shuttle buses reduce traffic congestion, with service year-round in eastern Yosemite Valley. In summer, the frequent shuttle buses head as far west as fabled El Capitan.

There are many different destinations within Yosemite National Park and all have their draws, depending on interests and time of year. Of course, Yosemite Valley is a must, thanks to the unique rock formations and cliffs (like El Capitan), famed waterfalls (like Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls), pretty meadows, legendary views (including Tunnel View), and much more. The Valley Visitor Center, Valley Wilderness Center, Yosemite Museum, Nature Center at Happy Isles, and LeConte Memorial Lodge are all worthy of visits.

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is located about an hour south of Yosemite Valley and is near the park's South Entrance. The Mariposa Grove is the park's largest stand of giant sequoias, which are also known as Sierra redwoods.

Other options in the park include Wawona, home of the historic Wawona Hotel, and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. The road through Badger Pass to Glacier Point provides great views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. Scenic Tioga Road connects the meadow and forest area of Crane Flat with pretty Tuolomne Meadows. Finally--often called Yosemite Valley's lesser-known twin--Hetch Hetchy is a less-visited part of the park, but is still home to stunning scenery and less crowds.

A wide range of activities are possible in Yosemite National Park, including: touring by vehicle; hiking; biking; horseback riding; rock climbing; varied water activities (like fishing, swimming, boating, nd rafting); and winter sports--including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, ice skating, and downhill skiing and snowboarding at Badger Pass Ski Area, California's oldest. Badger Pass is one of only three lift-serviced ski areas in the National Parks System (the other two are in Olympic National Park and Cuyahoga National Park).

Ranger and interpretive programs are particularly appealing in Yosemite National Park. There are a range of informative ranger-led walks and talks where visitors can learn more about Yosemite, plus concessionaire-led nature and history programs and bus tours with Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, photography walks by The Ansel Adams Gallery, and varied outdoor adventures with the Yosemite Conservancy.

The Redwoods

California redwoods grow from the Oregon border down to Big Sur, but these primeval trees reach their greatest heights in Redwood National Park and State Parks. They are the tallest trees on the planet and can reach more than 375 feet in height.

In 1994, in a unique arrangement, the National Park Service and California State Parks agreed to cooperatively manage their contiguous redwood parklands. Both park systems actually have a long history of working together, dating back to Yosemite, which was California's first state park back in 1864. It became a national park in 1890 and was also briefly managed by both state and federal agencies.

Back in the redwoods region, visitors find one national park (Redwood National Park) and three state parks: Jedediah Smith Redwoods Park (now California's oldest state park), Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Though the world's largest trees are often simply referred to as redwoods, there are actually three redwood species: giant sequoia, dawn redwood, and coast redwood (the tallest trees in the world).

There are five information centers where rangers are on duty: Crescent City Information Center; Hiouchi Information Center, nine miles northeast of Crescent City on US 199; the nearby Jedidiah Smith Information Center; Prairie Creek Visitor Center, six miles northeast of Orick on the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway; and the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center two miles south of Orick on US 101.

Short walks to view redwoods are very popular in the area, including the half-mile Stout Grove Trail or Circle Trail, the 1.5-mile Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, and the 1.25-mile Yurok Loop Trail. Many longer mid-level walks and hikes are also available. For cyclists, bikes are allowed on all public roadways open to vehicles, plus there are some great designated backcountry bike routes: Little Bald Hills Trail, the Ossagon Trail, Davison Trail, Streelow Creek Trail, Lost Man Creek Trail, and the Coastal Trail. There are also several designated horseback riding trails.

Scenic drives can include Highland Hill Road and the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which are both ten miles long, 17-mile Bald Hills Road, and the nine-mile Coastal Drive Loop. The Avenue of the Giants is 32 miles long and starts in Orick. It runs through the heart of Humboldt Redwood State Park and communities along the way offer a range of activities, including hiking, biking, boating, and more. For those who want to drive right through a redwood (depending on vehicle size of course), there are three coastal options along US 101 in Klamath, Myers Flat, and Legget.

National and state park rangers offer a seasonal variety of programs and activities. Options include nature walks, tidepool walks, and campfire programs.

Mt. McKinley

About 400,000 travelers venture to Denali National Park and Preserve each year in the hope of catching a glimpse of 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley. But, the "Roof of North America" has so much more to offer than just McKinley, with wildlife watching most definitely at the top of a long list of natural wonders all around the fabled mountain peak. Established in 1917 and now with more than six million acres of wild lands and a single 92-mile-long road traveling into the wilds, visitor options abound.

At nearly the size of Massachusetts, a visit to Denali National Park and Preserve presents many possibilities, depending on interests and length of stay. The list of options can include: learning more at Visitor Centers; wildlife watching; exploring Denali by bus (often the only option for certain parts of the park and preserve); heading to the Savage River Area by private vehicle or courtesy bus for wildlife watching, hiking, and more; visiting Denali's sled dog kennels; and much more.

Denali National Park and Preserve has just one road, which is simply called the Denali Park Road. It's the main avenue for varied visitor explorations. The first 15 miles of the 92-mile road are paved and this portion leads to the Savage River Area--and is open to non-commercial private vehicles in summer. Travel during the summer season beyond the Savage River Area is only by shuttle or tour bus--or under human power (cycling Denali Park Road can be a great way to go). The summer season in Denali generally runs from late-May through early-September.

Of course, wildlife watching in the shadows of the peaks should be on the Mt. McKinley bucket list along with catching a glimpse of the mountain proper. The possibilities include iconic sightings like grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and Dall's sheep, but there are also golden and--more rare--bald eagles, ravens, ptarmigan, arctic ground squirrels, foxes, marmots, and more. Park rangers say the best chances of seeing wildlife are on a bus.

Hiking is quite popular in Denali on marked trails and off-trail deeper into the wilderness for those well-prepared. Many of the trails are centered around the Denali Visitor Center, where they can offer specific recommendations. The Savage River Area also has some great hiking, as does the Eielson Visitor center 66 miles along the Denali Park Road--including stunning views of Mt. McKinley on a clear day.

As with many national parks, excellent park ranger programs are offered. "Hike with a Ranger" and "Sit with a Ranger" offerings abound, as do other naturalist and education programs through the park's partner non-profit association, Alaska Geographic.

Flightseeing trips offer a dramatic way to tour Denali National Park and Preserve, with spectacular views of the glaciers and peaks of the Alaska Range. Most flightseeing companies--both fixed wing and helicopter=-are based in towns surrounding the park, including Talkeetna, Denali Park, Healy, and Kantishna. Some companies do start out of Anchorage and Fairbanks and several concessionaires are permitted to land aircraft on glaciers within Denali National Park and Preserve--truly a highlight for many Mt. McKinley visitors.