16 Epic Places in the United States Even Americans Don't Know About

Teton Mountains
Teton Mountains | © Kamal Hamid / Flickr
Leena Kollar

You hear a lot about well-known tourist attractions in the United States, but what about the places that aren’t as well-known even to Americans? Whether you’re a visitor or a resident, these places top our list of the most epic discoveries, both natural and man-made, in the United States.

1. Brookgreen Gardens

Brookgreen Gardens | © Rain0975 / Flickr
© Rain0975 / Flickr

When Anna Hyatt Huntington was looking for a place to showcase her sculptures, she and husband Archer Milton Huntington came across the 9,100-acre property that would become Brookgreen Gardens. Located in Georgetown County, South Carolina, the gardens were originally one of four rice plantations that the couple purchased. The Huntingtons first visited the property in 1929, and Brookgreen Gardens opened in 1932 as the country’s first public sculpture garden. The property features themed gardens with figurative sculptures, a small zoo, and a nature exhibition center.
Brookgreen Gardens, 1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC, USA, +1 843 235 6000

Brookgreen Gardens | © Rain0975 / Flickr

Fly Geyser

Also known as Fly Ranch Geyser, the small geothermal geyser was accidentally created during well drilling in 1964 when the well was either not capped correctly or left unplugged. This caused dissolved minerals to accumulate, creating the travertine mound where the geyser sits and continues to grow. Water is constantly being released from Fly Geyser, sometimes reaching up to five feet (1.5 meters) in the air. In June 2016, the Burning Man Project purchased the Fly Ranch, where the geyser is located, and the property is currently closed to the public.

Fly Geyser in Nevada

2. Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument
© Alan Levine / Flickr

Just 36 miles southeast of Wilcox, Arizona, is the Chiricahua National Monument, established in 1924 to protect the Faraway Ranch as well as the hoodoos and balancing rocks remaining from a volcanic eruption 27 million years ago. Thick ash spewed from the Turkey Creek Caldera, cooled, and hardened, laying down nearly 2,000 feet (600 meters) of ash and pumice. This eventually led to erosion, creating the natural features currently seen at the monument.
Chiricahua National Monument, E Bonita Canyon Rd, Willcox, AZ, USA, +1 520 824 3560

Chiricahua National Monument | © Alan Levine / Flickr

3. The Lost Sea

Deep inside a mountain in east Tennessee is The Lost Sea, part of the historic Craighead Caverns cave system and listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as America’s largest underground lake. The Lost Sea was first discovered by settlers in the 1820s, again by Confederate soldiers in 1863, and once more in 1905 by a 13-year old boy named Ben Sands: as he wiggled through the cave’s muddy opening, 300 feet (91.4 meters) underground, he found himself in a room half filled with water. He described how he threw mudballs into the blackness that surrounded him, and hear nothing but splashes. The expansiveness of the Lost Sea is still unknown, but the visible part is 800 feet long by 220 feet wide (244 by 67 feet). More than 13 acres of water have been mapped, but no end to the lake has yet been found.
The Lost Sea, 140 Lost Sea Rd, Sweetwater, TN, USA, +1 423 337 6616

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Pecos National Historical Park

East of Santa Fe and south of Pecos in New Mexico is the Pecos National Historical Park. It was first a state monument in 1935 and was expanded and renamed a park in 1990. The park’s main unit is the Pecos Pueblo, a Native American community of rock and mud villages built around AD 1100. Thousands of acres of the landscape feature prehistoric archaeological ruins, a battlefield from the American Civil War, and the remains of a Spanish mission built in the early 17th century. There is a 1.25-mile (2-km) self-guided trail that winds through the Pecos Pueblo and the mission.

Pecos National Historic Park

4. Grand Prismatic Spring


Grand Prismatic Spring | © Kyla Duhamel / Flickr
© Kyla Duhamel / Flickr

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. The earliest records of the spring are from European explorers from the 1800s who crossed the Midway Geyser Basin and noted a “boiling lake.” The bright rainbow colors of the spring are the result of microbial mats around the edges of the water, which is rich in minerals. Grand Prismatic Spring discharges about 560 gallons (2120 liters) of water per minute.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, WY, USA, +1 307 344 7381

Grand Prismatic Spring | © Kyla Duhamel / Flickr

5. Fort Jefferson

Bookstore, Museum, Park

Fort Jefferson in Key West. Florida | © Russell Conard / Flickr
© Russell Conard / Flickr

Composed of over 16 million bricks, Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in America and is located within the Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The unfinished coastal fortress can be reached by ferry, approximately 70 miles (112.65 kilometers) west from Key West, and visitors generally spend several hours here. The fort has a museum and bookstore, and it allows swimming and snorkeling on the reef. The fort was named after President Thomas Jefferson and was constructed in part by civilian carpenters, general laborers, and Key West slaves employed by the United States Army.
Fort Jefferson, Key West, FL, USA, +1 305 242 7700

Fort Jefferson in Key West. Florida | © Russell Conard / Flickr

6. Cache River State Natural Area

Cache River State Natural Area | © Miguel Vieira / Flickr
© Miguel Vieira / Flickr

In the southernmost part of Illinois is the Cache River State Natural Area, situated within a floodplain carved by glacial floodwater from the Ohio River. The wetlands in the area are so vital to migrating waterfowl that the Ramsar Convention designated them a Wetland of International Importance, alongside only 18 other wetlands in the U.S. Many of the cypress trees in the area’s 14,960 acres are over 1,000 years old and exceed 40 feet (12.2 meters) in circumference. Visitors can enjoy several recreational activities, such as hiking, canoeing, biking, and fishing.
Cache River State Natural Area, 930 Sunflower Ln, Belknap, IL, USA, +1 618 657 2064

Cache River State Natural Area | © Miguel Vieira / Flickr

7. Bracken Cave

Bracken Cave bats | © Daniel Spieiss / Flickr
© Daniel Spieiss / Flickr

More than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats call Bracken Cave, the largest bat colony is the in the world, home during the summer, less than 20 miles from downtown San Antonio. The bats fly nearly 1,000 miles from Mexico to the cave, and between March and October, they emerge in the evening hours to hunt insects and moths that are pushed away from crops by the wind. Access to the cave is restricted, but Bat Conservation International does offer evening tours to watch the bats emerge from the cave.
Bracken Cave, 26101 FM3009, San Antonio, TX, USA

Bracken Cave bats | © Daniel Spieiss / Flickr

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park covers 310,000 acres in Wyoming, including the Teton Range, and is named after the tallest mountain in the range, Grand Teton. More than 1,000 species of plants, 300 species of birds, and a dozen species of fish call the park home. Some of the rocks are nearly 2.7 billion years old, the oldest found in any national park in the United States. The park has more than 1,000 campsites, over 200 miles of hiking trails, and is one of the few places to catch the fine-spotted cutthroat trout.

Grand Teton National Park

8. Plaza Blanca


Plaza Blanca | © Larry Lamsa / Flickr
© Larry Lamsa / Flickr

Plaza Blanca was made famous by the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. The artist visited the area in 1929 and was amazed by the lights and shapes she found in the New Mexico desert. She discovered the outcroppings of dark rock, which she called “Black Place” and inspired her Black Mesa Landscape piece. In 1940, she painted an oil canvas that was inspired by Plaza Blanca, which she called The White Place. She eventually made the nearby Abiquiu her home. The Dar Al Islam Education Center and Mosque, which currently contains Plaza Blanca, is privately owned but does allow visitors access.
Dar Al Islam Education Center and Mosque, 342 County Rd 155, Abiquiu, NM, USA

Plaza Blanca | © Larry Lamsa / Flickr

9. Garden of the Gods


Garden of the Gods | © Mark Byzewski / Flickr
© Mark Byzewski / Flickr

The rock formations at Garden of the Gods—first called Red Rock Corral by the Europeans until August 1859, when two surveyors explored the site and decided it was a “fit place for the gods to assemble,”—were created millions of years ago during a geological upheaval along a fault line. The fountain formation of the rocks is the result of coarse sand, gravel, and silica combining with the hematite, which gives the rocks their red color. Many American Indian Nations have traveled through Garden of the Gods, and petroglyphs found have been linked to the early Utes. The steep rock formations in the park attract rock climbers.
Garden of the Gods, 1805 N 30th St, Colorado Springs, CO, USA, +1 719 634 6666

Garden of the Gods | © Mark Byzewski / Flickr

Skagit Valley Tulip Fields

In Mount Vernon, Washington, are the Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, featured in the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival driving tour every April. The tulip fields are in different locations each year, and the crops are grown by RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town. During the festival, visitors can enjoy art shows, concerts, a youth basketball tournament, and a running race. The Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair and the Kiwanis Salmon Barbecue take place alongside the festival.

Skagit Valley Tulips

Providence Canyon

Sometimes called “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon,” Providence Canyon in southwest Georgia is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia because of its massive gullies, caused by erosion due to poor farming practices in the 19th century. The park is situated on marine sediments with small areas of sand and is home to the rare plumleaf azalea flower. An abandoned homestead at the park includes almost a dozen rusty 1950s-era cars and trucks; since removing the vehicles could cause environmental damage, park officials decided to leave them where they are.

Providence Canyon

Mendenhall Glacier

In southeast Alaska is the 13.6-mile (21.9-km) long Mendenhall Glacier. Since Mendenhall Lake’s creation in 1929, the glacier has retreated 1.75 miles (2.8 kilometers). Unfortunately, it’s possible that the glacier could experience a period of stabilization: increasing amounts of warm, moist air are carried to the head of the ice field, where colder temperatures cause it to precipitate as snow; however, if temperatures continue to rise, the head of the glacier will not longer have enough cold temperatures to cause the snow to precipitate.

Mendenhall Glacier

Horseshoe Bend

Located near Page, Arizona, is Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River, five miles (eight kilometers) downstream from Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam. The rock walls of Horseshoe Bend are made of several minerals including platinum, hematite, and garnet. An overlook at 4,200 feet (1280 meters) above sea level which is accessible by an access road or a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) round trip hiking trail along U.S. Route 89.

Horseshoe Bend

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