Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Mount Rushmore, one of the most iconic national memorials in the US, is a massive, 60-foot-high sculpture carved into the cliffside of the Black Hills Mountains featuring the faces of four former American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. Discovered in 1884, Mount Rushmore was constructed as a national monument and finally completed in 1939 after a plan was devised in the 1920s to draw tourists to the region. Today, nearly three million people visit every year, with peak season during the first few months of summer.
Chimney Rock, Nebraska
Chimney Rock, a symbol of the great western migration during the 19th century, served as a recognizable marker along the the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, but also represented a milestone for travellers. A historic national monument, Chimney Rock is a testament to thousands of years of erosion in the North Platte Valley, composed of layers of volcanic ash and million-year-old brule clay rising 480 feet above the ground (not including its 325-foot spire). Visitors can revel in this majestic geological formation, visit the museum, or learn about the history of the Overland Trails and the significance of Chimney Rock.
Gateway Arch, Missouri
The Gateway Arch is St. Louis’s most iconic structure, reigning supreme as the tallest of America’s national monuments at a whopping 630 feet high. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the Gateway Arch was completed in 1965, standing tall as a memorial that both celebrates the accomplishments of early westward pioneers and St. Louis’s role as the ‘Gateway to the West’. The Arch, a massive stainless steel engineering triumph, rests on the west bank of the Mississippi River, a location selected to help revive the riverfront. Today, the Arch features a grand museum, a tram, and floodlights that illuminate the structure at night.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park, an awe-inspiring geological wonder once home to the rhino and saber-toothed cat, is the largest expanse of grasslands in the US, covering nearly a quarter-million acres of wilderness. With strikingly colored spires, buttes, and pinnacles, the Badlands draw in visitors from all over the world to experience the protected wildlife, rugged landscapes, and rich fossil beds bursting with 65 million years of geological history. The park is home to many animals, including bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep; nearly 400 different species of plants; and 69 different kinds of butterflies.
Mackinac Bridge, Michigan
The Mackinac Bridge, a five-mile-long suspension bridge stretching between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world. Built to withstand severe wind conditions, the Mackinac Bridge boasts a remarkable design – on a windy day, drivers can feel the movement of the bridge as it sways 200 feet over the Straits of Mackinac. Head here at dusk for memorable sunset views and bridge lights glistening over the water.
Como Park Conservatory, Minnesota
Como Park Conservatory, also known as the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, is a half-acre of gardens and art galleries located on the grounds of the Como Park Zoo. This stunning botanical garden features a Bonsai Gallery, a butterfly garden, a Japanese Garden, a Palm Dome filled with over 150 species of palm trees, a tropical garden featuring plants and animals from Central and South America, along with an array of grasses, flowers, trees, and a native-grass terrace. Head to the Sunken Garden for breathtaking views of the glass greenhouse brimming with colorful flowers and lush foliage.
Cave of the Mounds, Wisconsin
Cave of the Mounds, a striking limestone cave in Blue Mounds, is a million-year-old geological marvel boasting beautiful mineral formations called speleothems, including soda straws, flowstones, curtains, lily pads, Oolites, and Helictites, exhibited in a brilliant array of colors from red and brown to blue and gray. A National Natural Landmark, the Cave of the Mounds boasts limestone from over 480 million years ago, and with guided tours available every day, guests can get an up-close experience of Wisconsin’s geological history.