The USA’s bountiful natural beauty and sheer size means that whichever end of the country you venture to, you’re guaranteed an altogether different but remarkable range of scenery. If you head west, prepare to be enraptured with sunset-coloured rock formations and ethereal lake vistas, among other extraordinary sights.*
Catch the sunrise in Bryce Canyon when the hoodoos are at their most captivating
One of Utah’s most historic towns, Panguitch serves as the gateway to the endless red-rock ramble that is Bryce Canyon National Park. About half an hour’s drive from the city, the canyon (which is actually a collection of giant natural rock amphitheatres) was formed over a period of millions of years; a seaway once ran through it, depositing sediments that formed layers of rock. The park’s most enthralling sight, however, are the hoodoos – spiralling, pinkish rock formations that punctuate the sky. You’ll find these wherever you wander, often peeping out above the burnt red expanse. Hike down bluffs that lead into towering ravines and through archways that serve as window viewpoints, framing the canyon perfectly. It’s worth a visit in any season, though the canyon’s supernal reddish glow is even more evocative in the winter, when contrasted with the thick blanket of snow and patches of evergreen trees. Spend the night at The Panguitch House, just a short drive away.
Lee Vining, California
The craggy rock formations on the lake are known as 'tufas'
Located on the southwestern shores of Mono Lake, Lee Vining is a small town which most lake-or Yosemite-bound travellers choose to make their base. Mono Lake is the primary draw in these parts, sought out for the unusual limestone formations that poke out of the water. Known as ‘tufas’, these craggy towers are the result of the highly alkaline water and make for an odd, slightly haunting but captivating sight. Admire these skeletal outcrops from afar and catch the Sierra Nevada’s snow-capped mountain range reflected on the lake’s surface. Beyond this, Yosemite’s Tioga Pass is a 30-minute drive away; a snaking route that carves out some of the valley’s most sweeping views. Before you head up the pass, rest at Double Eagle Resort.
Take the 20-mile drive from Kayenta towards these giant sandstone buttes
The town of Kayenta is the place to visit to reach the cluster of red rock formations that is Monument Valley. It’s a 20-mile drive to find these silhouettes of sandstone buttes that rise up into the sky. Formed over millennia by the many rivers that cut through the plateau, the landscape here is an enduring symbol of the American West. As there are no official hiking trails here, you’ll need a tour guide to take you around, or head to The Navajo Tribal Park which has its own trail with viewpoints that look out onto some of the most astounding peaks. Though perhaps the best view comes from the Valley Drive – a one-way road that showcases Monument Valley at its fiery best. Stop along the way at Goulding’s Lodge.
Denali Park, Alaska
Keep an eye out for grizzly bears and Denali in the distance
One of America’s wildest frontiers, Denali Park is – simply put – pure wilderness. Those who venture up to its northern climes will find an untamed mass of pine that swarms at the foot of North America’s tallest mountain, Denali. Visit the park when it’s slightly calmer and cooler between late August to mid-September, and you’ll be able to catch Denali under clear skies. You may well also spot herds of moose and caribou feeding on spruce, or even fleeting glimpses of lynxes and wolves, and maybe even a grizzly. Wonder Lake is a highlight too; a glinting mirror of a lake that provides a still reflection of the piercing and thunderous Denali, only disturbed by the gentle plod of thirsty moose. Give yourself plenty of time to see the park and stay closeby at the Denali Tri-Valley Cabins.
Klamath Falls, Oregon
Crater Lake is the USA's deepest lake
Klamath Falls is a sleepy town that is moments away from Crater Lake and its eponymous national park. It’s the USA’s deepest lake and looks like it could be the country’s bluest, too. The inky-hued lake was formed after a volcanic eruption around 5700 BC when the summit collapsed to form a cavernous caldera, which in turn slowly filled with rain and snowmelt and eventually formed the body of water we know today. There’s something magical about it and it’s even home to Wizard Island, aptly named for its resemblance to a sorcerer’s hat. Twisting rings of red fir and mountain hemlock border the lake, while towering Ponderosa pines cut above the tangle of woods, being the tallest trees in the forest. Return after a day outdoors to Shilo Inn Suites.
**The data scientists at Booking.com dug into internal data to find the most highly rated destinations in the USA's western states for ‘nature’.