The Most Beautiful World Heritage Sites in the USA
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, created the World Heritage list in order to protect our past. The USA has 22 amazing sites on the list ranging from archaeological gems built by ancestral cultures to beautiful landscapes created by nature. We’ve put together a list of some of the stunning sites found throughout the country.
Located in Collinsville, Illinois, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park is where visitors can explore the remnants of one of the great cities of the past. A pre-Columbian settlement (A.D. 700 to 1400) that may have seen 10,000 to upwards of 20,000 residents at one time, this cultural gem features numerous mounds — there were originally 120 — in varying shapes and sizes with the biggest being Monks Mound. The largest earthwork found on North America, this mound, which featured a temple at one time, rises 100 feet and covers 14 acres of land. Due to its cultural significance, UNESCO designated Cahokia Mounds a World Heritage Site in 1982.
Named a Heritage Site in 1987, Chaco Culture National Historic Park is a cultural treasure found in northwestern New Mexico, where the ancestral Pueblo culture flourished. Located in the Chaco Canyon, the area, between A.D. 850 and 1250, was a major hub for ceremonial celebrations, trade, and political activity and featured many monumental buildings known as ‘Great Houses’ — composed of several stories — which were all connected by roads. Because no building plans exist, the stone buildings’ remains are not restored but rather preserved, to try to prevent further deterioration. The area can be explored via self-guided tours, ranger-led walks, and back country trails, which offers more adventures and glimpses into the lives of this ancient culture.
Located in southern Florida and denoted a Heritage Site in 1979, the Everglades National Park is a stunning masterpiece created by nature. The largest sub-tropical wilderness reserve found on North America, this park is known for its rich flora and fauna, including more than 400 species of birds and over 20 species that are rare, endangered, and threatened, making it great spot to watch wildlife. The Everglades also possesses the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere along with sawgrass marshes. The best ways to explore this beauty and possibly spot an alligator or crocodile are by strolling along one of several trails, fishing or boating, and camping to name a few.
Mammoth Cave National Park is a unique nature lover’s paradise located in south-central Kentucky. The largest known cave system in the world, the park features over 400 miles of caves along with the beautiful, verdant country above, the Green River valley, plus the abundant flora and wildlife that call the area home. These caves were first explored approximately 4,000 years ago, and they continue to capture people’s fascination today. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, visitors of today can participate in exciting, guided cave tours or other outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, and various water sports.
Another cultural gem built by the ancestral Pueblo people, Mesa Verde National Park is a stunning World Heritage Site (1978) located in Colorado. Home to this ancient culture from approximately A.D. 600-1300, the area has 5,000 archaeological sites but is best known for its numerous (600) cave dwellings. Built beneath overhanging cliffs, these dwellings are some of the best preserved and includes the famous Spruce Tree House. This 13th-century dwelling is the best-preserved structure found in the park and features 130 rooms plus 8 kivas — ceremonial rooms — and may have housed 60-80 people. Visitors can take both self-guided and guided tours of many of these structures or they can hike throughout the area.
Due to its beautiful architectural and cultural significance, Monticello and the University of Virginia received the honor of being named a World Heritage Site in 1987. Monticello — the only house of a U.S. president on the list — was the private plantation home of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson designed this neo-classical masterpiece, which also features breathtaking landscape, along with the University of Virginia Academic Village. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, Monticello is open to the public, where visitors will find numerous rooms adorned with artworks, including paintings, engravings, and Wedgwood china to name a few, along with period furniture. The surrounding area is perfect for a leisurely stroll.
A gorgeous area situated along the coast of Northern California, Redwood National and State Parks is a natural treasure featuring some of the tallest and oldest trees on the planet. Known for its majestic forest of redwoods, the park also contains prairies, oak woodlands, river ways, and a stunning coastline spanning approximately 40 miles along with many archaeological sites from pre-historic to historic. The area is also home to amazing wildlife, including sea lions, bald eagles, Roosevelt elk, and so much more, and offers numerous recreational adventures, such as hiking, camping, and kayaking to name a few. Visitors may also take in the World Heritage Site’s (1980) beauty by taking scenic drives.
An iconic symbol of freedom, democracy, and more, the Statue of Liberty, also known as Liberty Enlightening the World, stands tall in the New York City Harbor. A gift from France in 1876, the statue was designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and Gustav Eiffel and has been greeting immigrants looking to start a new life for over 200 years. UNESCO added this beauty to its list in 1984 due to its colossal stature and cultural and symbolic significance. Located on Liberty Island, the statue is open to visitors who can explore the grounds, the pedestal, which also includes the museum and Fort Wood level, and the crown. Tickets for the pedestal or crown require advance reservations.
Yellowstone National Park is home to the largest group of geysers in the world, including the iconic Old Faithful, and while the majority of the land is in Wyoming, the park is also found in Idaho and Montana. Named a World Heritage Site in 1978, this area contains over two million acres of spectacular landscape, including majestic peaks, alpine lakes, canyons, and forests. The diverse land is also home to abundant wildlife, such as grizzly bears, wolves, bison, elk, and much more, plus a diverse array of flora. A paradise for adventure seekers, Yellowstone also offers many recreational activities, including biking, fishing, boating, and skiing to name but a few.
An incredible natural site found in the heart of California, Yosemite National Park is made up of almost 750,000 acres of beautiful landscape. While known for its waterfalls, the area also presents towering granite cliffs, lush and verdant vegetation, giant sequoias, lakes, and rivers creating a diverse area that earned it a spot on the World Heritage Site list in 1984. A truly enchanting park, the landscape houses hundreds of wildlife species, including black bears, mountain lions, and bats, and features an array of plants and flowers. Something for every outdoor lover, the park offers great climbing adventures, including the famous Half Dome and El Capitan along with hiking, water sports, and more.