The United States, with its vast diversity of terrain and its vibrant cities that have grown to contain millions in a matter of 300 years, is replete with unforgettable views. Whether coast or canyon, forest or sandstone, D.C. or NYC, the landscapes included in this list will leave an indelible mark on the cast of your imagination.
The red dirt for which the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i is famous rolls into lush green slopes that bunch and rise into giant igneous cliffs, rearing up to 1200 meters above the blue Pacific below. Sharp ridges dissect these cliffs and, within their folds, small forested glens are cradled in unique, glistening seclusion. White scallop-shell beaches and rocky caves run along the base of the cliffs at sealevel, held between tendrils of rock that reach out into the ocean like the roots of some vast Pacific tree. Blessedly, the Na Pali Coast is inaccessible by land vehicles, which accentuates the tranquility. It can be approached by boat, or by following the jaw-dropping Kalalau Trail on foot.
The urban landscape of New York gleams and shimmers around the Met´s roof garden. It looks out over Central Park, beyond which the skyline is sharply cut by the jostling buildings of a city that has sprung skywards with incredible speed since it was established 350 years ago. The garden is a great way to escape the grey granite canyons of NYC, a small green oasis amid the concrete, its peacefulness accentuated by a design that draws on Japanese dry Zen gardens.
The Marin Headlands are a glorious place to hike in their own right, a wilderness of valleys and lagoons spread over a hilly peninsula jutting out into the Pacific. But it is the park’s position to the north of San Francisco that throws it into this list, as one viewpoint looks down on the Golden Gate Bridge and onto the city beyond, drawing both together into a single frame.
The Rim Trail is perhaps the most scenic of all the hiking paths that run alongside the Grand Canyon. It weaves for 13 miles through a gorge-side landscape of pine and juniper, knotting together a string of viewpoints down onto the Canyon below. At the best of these, on a clear day, you can see the far side of the gorge and up to 40 miles along its length. Light and shadow dance across the Canyon as you walk, projecting a vivid light show onto the eons of exposed red rock.
Photo by lalo_pangue/Flickr
The Lincoln Memorial stands among the chain of monuments that line the National Mall. Located in the heart of Washington D.C., this stretch of statuary commemorates some of the defining figures and ideals of United States history. A giant Abraham Lincoln presides over the scene, cast in white marble and seated in a Grecian temple enclosed by 36 fluted Doric columns. Looking down the National Mall, over the age-old device of the reflecting pool and onto the Lincoln Memorial, you see the US’s self-mythology at its most majestic. Suspend your scepticism and immerse yourself in its optimistic grandeur.
Another side of the United States spreads before your eyes from the Griffith Observatory, perched on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood. This bronze-domed structure looks out over a panorama of Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, with the wide Pacific glinting on the far horizon. The frenetic activity of the US’s second-largest city, millions of lives swarming and unfolding beneath the Observatory’s viewing platform, marks the living, breathing reality of modern America, a vibrant contrast to the petrified monuments of the National Mall.
The granite dome of Sentinel Rock stands tall and exposed among the rugged terrain of Yosemite National Park . A scramble to its summit opens up panoramic views over the Park’s patchwork of shadowy forests, wildflower meadows, serrated cliffs and crashing waterfalls. The buzzing urban landscape of Los Angeles gives way to a wild world just as full of life, the natural habitat of of brown bears, woodpeckers, bobcats and lizards, and the temporary home of the occasional speck-like homo sapien ambling through the immense wilderness.
The vertiginous contrast of mountain and sea makes Big Sur a sight in itself, and the Julia Pfeiffer State Park covers some of its most spectacular terrain. It is dotted with 300-foot Redwoods, some of which have overlooked the shoreline for 2000 years. And the heart of the park contains the legendary McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that rolls off the edge of granite cliffs and tumbles straight into the turquoise Pacific. Fabulous views over McWay and the craggy coastline that surrounds can be reached with a short 10 minute hike from the Julia Pfeiffer Burns car park.
Arches National Park rises out of acres of flat and monotonous arable land, scoring the broad horizon with stark sandstone structures. Climb through this wind-blown landscape until you come to its most moving sight, the evocatively named Delicate Arch, which frames the pinnacles, fins, loops and boulders of the park against the solid backdrop of the La Sal Mountains. Once you’ve reached this point there’s only one thing to be done: wait until sunset, when the changing light captures the subtle orange and green tones embedded in the sandstone and kindles the whole landscape into flickering life.
Waimea Canyon is often called "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific," but this is actually a rather lazy appellation – Waimea is an entirely different phenomenon. Its walls of red rock share a similar color, but trees and plant life cling to them and waterfalls crash down them, striping the sides of the gorge with green and blue. In the center runs not a rock-cradled river but a bright and verdant valley, suggestive of some peaceful, fruitful idyll hidden for millennia from the wounded modern world. In fact its formation was very violent – a result of the sudden, catastrophic collapse of the volcano that first created Kaua’i, and later ripped it apart.