You don’t even need to leave the country to find out-of-this-world sites. Hit the road this summer to visit these 5 natural landmarks!
If you’re looking for some destination inspiration, 2016 is the perfect year to set out on a road trip. Not only are gas prices low (knock on any wood you can find!), but the National Park Service (NPS) is also in the midst of its centennial! Being that it’s the big 1-0-0, the NPS isn’t waiting until its official birthday on August 25 to get the party started. Instead, the service has a whole year of celebration initiatives planned, and is encouraging travelers to pack their bags and get to the parks, waterways, and landmarks to celebrate. The NPS is even offering free admission to fourth graders and their families to parks and landmarks throughout the year!
With the 409 parks, landmarks, battlefields, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers, and trails in the national park system, choosing which ones to visit may seem overwhelming. Though you can’t go wrong wherever you stop, these five natural landmarks are topping our list of must sees during the NPS centennial!
1. Two Top Mesa and Big Mesa
Location: Billings County, North Dakota
Claim to Fame: This first natural landmark is a two-for-one stop! Two Top Mesa and Big Mesa are only a mile apart, so you really shouldn’t see one without the other. Made of sandstones, siltstone, and clay, these gorgeous natural landmasses are highlights of any trip to the Badlands.
When to Go: The best time to enjoy the views when the weather is warm, between June and September.
Pro Tip: If your trip allows, visit as the sunrises and sets. You’ll get some amazing photos with the different light!
2. Emerald Bay
Location: Lake Tahoe, California
Claim to Fame: Mark Twain dubbed Lake Tahoe “the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” and the shallow green embayment of Emerald Bay is surely the fairest of them all. Contrasting against the rest of the deep blue lake, this section formed by receding glaciers is exquisite.
When to Go: Enjoy mild weather and fewer crowds if you visit this stunning site between March and May, or between September and November.
Pro Tip: If you visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, fit a tour of Vikingsholm, “Tahoe’s Hidden Castle,” into your itinerary. This site, which is located at the head of Emerald Bay, blends stunning architecture with natural beauty.
3. Diamond Head
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
Claim to Fame: Diamond Head is a stunning preserved volcanic cone that looks over the island of Oahu. The locals know this basaltic glass form as Le’ahi, which translates into “tuna fin.” Take a look at it from afar, and you’ll understand why!
When to Go: Although there is a bit more rainfall between November and March, you can enjoy the landmark on this island paradise all year round.
Pro Tip: Don’t just view Diamond Head; experience it up close on the 1.6-mile round-trip hike to the summit. It can get hot, though, so make sure to pack sunscreen and water in your daypack.
4. Red River Gorge
Location: Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky
Claim to Fame: The natural landforms in Red River Gorge are breathtaking! This destination is home to 41 natural bridges, along with sandstone cliffs, rock shelters, waterfalls, and rare species of flora. Birdwatchers will fall in love with Red River Gorge, thanks to the hawks, owls, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds flying overhead.
When to Go: Many areas of the gorge are open year round, but camping conditions will be best between April and October.
Pro Tip: The Red River Gorge area has ample opportunities for camping so put down your pack and stay for a while! While you’re there, have a go at climbing, as routes are available for all experience levels. Be careful, though, because you are sharing land with the venomous copperhead and timber rattlesnakes.
5. Wesley Chapel Gulf
Location: Hoosier National Forest, Indiana
Claim to Fame: This natural wonder is regarded as the most significant and spectacular feature of the Lost River Basin, and it is the largest sinkhole in Indiana. Catch a glimpse of the Lost River from the subterranean footpath, along with caves, sinkholes, and swallow holes.
When to Go: You'll find your best hiking conditions between May and October.
Pro Tip: The unique caves within Wesley Chapel Gulf are very fragile, so recreational caving is not permitted.
Taking a road trip to visit some—or maybe even all—of these natural landmarks? Keep your bags organized for the long haul by filling them with Pack-It™ organizers .