Maybe this national historic site in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska isn't American's most-talked-about tourist attraction anymore, but according to historian Merril Mattes, it was the most mentioned landmark among pioneers traveling westward in the mid-1800's. There's no record of any special events ever taking place at the tall, tower-like rock formation, but settlers moving west cited it so frequently that it's now recognized as a unique symbol of the great westward migration.
Situated within a dormant volcano in Klamath County, Oregon, this pristine lake's largest claim to fame is its boundless depth. At more than 1,900 feet deep it's the deepest lake in the United States and also one of the clearest in the world. But what might be even more immaculate than the water at Crater Lake is the air. According to National Geographic the park boasts some of the nation's cleanest and clearest air, which makes for some spectacular views. Hikers can sometimes see more than 100 miles into the distance from amidst the park's trails, which expand over more than 90 miles.
Despite its reputation as a barren badlands (it's the hottest and driest place in North America) Death Valley happens to be home to more than 50 species of mammals (including porcupine, jackrabbits, badgers, and mountain lions), over 300 species of birds, several species of amphibians, and even a few fish, too. According to The National Park Service average annual rainfall on the valley floor is less than 2 inches, yet the more than 3 million acres of land that the park covers contains a diverse range of plants as well.
General Sherman, an enormous sequoia tree in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California is not the widest or even the tallest living tree in on Earth, but by volume it is without a doubt the largest overall. This substantial shrub is estimated to be about 2,100 years old, and at 275 feet tall and 25 feet in diameter, General Sherman's massive girth makes it not only the biggest tree in existence, but also the largest living organism on Earth.
For the average tourist, the Grand Canyon is one of the most grand and magnificent sights in the world. And it's also mostly harmless. (In the past there have been several cases where visitors have accidentally fallen to their deaths.) But more so, for hikers who attempt to take on the canyon's elements unprepared it can be a most dangerous destination. According to a report by USA Today, Grand Canyon Park Rangers perform more rescues each year than at any other park in the United States. This includes over 300 saves that require assistance from a helicopter.
Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is home to the world's longest cave system. Over 400 miles of the underground labyrinth have been explored so far, but no one knows for sure how big it really is. With guides, visitors can venture 200-300 feet below the earth, but only about 10 miles of the cave's vast channels are open to tours.
Located on the borders of Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley Tribal Park may be most recognized as the backdrop for several of John Ford's famous western-style films and it is widely touted as the defining depiction of the "Wild West." According to Smithsonian Magazine, visitors can freely explore the 17-mile road that loops around the park, but a majority of the land lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation and only a Navajo can guide outsiders who wish to explore further. Hikers who intend to embark on any of the reservation's trails must apply for a permit to do so. Touring the land without a permit is considered a form of criminal trespassing.
Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in America, but how long will it be around to hold onto its distinguished title? According to the park's official website, the falls may eventually fade. The rate of erosion has been greatly reduced thanks to manmade flow controls, but it has not completely ceased and officials predict that the structure continues to recede at a rate of about 1 to 1.5 meters each year. Meaning in 50,000 years Lake Erie will be all that's left.
Arches National Park in Utah is home to over 2,000 stone archways, including Landscape Arch which is the longest (its reach is longer than the length of a football field) in the park. But Rainbow Bridge, which has been dubbed a national monument, is not only the largest and tallest natural bridge in the park, but the entire world. Tourists can access the arch by riding a tour boat across Lake Powell then hiking about 2 miles to the site of the monument.
There are no formal trails that lead to The Wave and the terrain of the Coyote Buttes is rugged, which means travelers hoping to hike the sandstone rock formation must be prepared and qualified. In fact, access to the wilderness area where it's located is limited to just 20 people per day. To gain entry, visitors must apply for a permit which is based on a lottery system. The Bureau of Land Management says that during peak months (April, May, September, and October) chances of obtaining a permit are slim, but through the rest of the year they're usually easy to obtain.
Did you know, the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states of the U.S. can be found at Yellowstone National Park? This includes bears, bobcats, coyotes, moose, and wolves. But the biggest (and possibly the most bad) beast you'll find in the park is the bison. According to the National Park Service more Yellowstone visitors are hurt by bison than bears each year. Male bison (called bulls) can grow up to six feet tall and weigh more than 1,800 pounds. Despite being quite enormous, the NPS says they are quick and agile, especially when it comes to defending their young, and attacks often happen when park-goers get too close. In fact, park regulations mandate that guests must remain at least 25 yards away.