Undiscovered Natural Wonders You Should Visit in North America

Denali National Park, in Alaska, is famed for its mountain views, glistening lakes and largely untrodden terrain
Denali National Park, in Alaska, is famed for its mountain views, glistening lakes and largely untrodden terrain | © sarkophoto / Getty Images

What if you could marvel at the Grand Canyon without the crowds? Or find true isolation in a national park accessible by just one road? America’s lesser-known natural wonders might just be what you’re looking for.

All too often we set out to reconnect with nature in the same tourist-filled places. Head to an RV-packed campground and you’ll photograph the same peaks and hike the same trails as thousands of others. With Verizon Visa Card, it’s easy to escape the crowds and see more. You can redeem Verizon Dollars, rewards earned from purchases made with the Verizon Visa Card, towards hotel rooms, car rentals, and dining: everything you need to turn a weekend trip into a total escape.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

You’ve almost certainly seen pictures of the wave-like rock formations present in Antelope Canyon. Nowhere else is the sheer power of the desert more evident than in this narrow slot canyon, its ochre-orange walls illuminated by shafts of light filtering down from some 100ft (30m) above. Oh boy, is it worth the journey: a guided 2.5hr drive from Flagstaff through Navajo land will help you understand the canyon’s spiritual significance. Just beware, Lower Antelope is as dangerous as it is beautiful, and flash floods are known to torrent across the plains.

Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona is one of America’s underrated natural wonders, renowned for its ribbon-like rock formations | © Andriy Kravchenko / Alamy Stock Photo

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

A Unesco World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, Mammoth Cave is remarkable not just for its petroglyphs and pictographs but also its glittering gypsum walls and twisting tunnels. This is the longest cave system in the world; it’s thought to have been first discovered some 4,000 years ago and first visited as a tourist attraction in the 1800s. Today, routes range from accessible strolls to 2mi (3km) circuits that take you deep underground. Temperatures in the cave can drop to 54F (12C), even when it’s relatively warm outside, so use Verizon Dollars to upgrade to a cozy hotel for the night.

The Drapery Room in Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system in the world | © Marc Muench / Alamy Stock Photo

Assateague Island, Maryland and Virginia

What if we told you there was an island where wild ponies still roam, and where the wind tickles grains of sand over the top of still-drifting dunes — and that it’s less than three hours’ drive from DC? Camping trips aren’t big on home comforts on Assateague, so you’ll need to come well prepared for the tent-only sites, but they are the best way through which to appreciate everything Assateague has to offer. Awake to the sound of crashing waves and after a long day, watch the sun set over the barrier island’s most beautiful beaches.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in a movie on Assateague Island, where wild horses still roam free | © Aschen / Getty Images

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

All too often, the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks get thrown together in blink-and-you’ll miss-it road-trip itineraries. Allowing you to see little more than roadside views, such trips mean you’re seriously missing out. One thing is for sure, though, you’ll need a car, so splurge your Smart Rewards on a rental fit for these epic landscapes. On a short trip, there are also plenty of ways to explore further areas of the park. Take the ferry across Jenny Lake, the second largest in the park, and you’ll skip the 2mi (3km) hike to the Cascade Canyon trailhead. From here, the only way is up, scrambling past waterfalls and through thick forest where you’ll be rewarded with mesmerizing mountain views.

Take to the water in a kayak to explore the mirrored waterways of Grand Teton National Park | © Ron Niebrugge / Alamy Stock Photo

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park protects 6m acres (2,428,113ha) of uncharted Alaskan wilderness. Let that sink in for a minute. That’s an area nearly the size of Belgium, populated only by grizzlies, moose, and caribou who roam free beneath snow-capped peaks. The best time to visit is in the summer, when you can go rafting down glacier-fed rivers or take it easy on the gentle hiking trails and bike routes on the park fringes. Get lucky and you might even spot arctic ground squirrels, wolves, and golden eagles.

America’s best-kept secret, Denali National Park, spans over 6m acres of wildlife-filled landscapes mostly untouched by humans | © dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo

Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Dropping faster and more steeply than the Grand Canyon, yet at points only 40ft (12m) wide, the Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park defies comprehension. Carved out of gneiss and schist over 2m years, its jagged cliffs descend an astonishing 2,700ft (823m) to inky-black ravines that get as little as 33 minutes of sunlight each day. You can appreciate the canyon’s majesty from easy nature trails on the north and south rims, or request a wilderness pass to descend to the canyon floor for more strenuous hikes, climbs, and rafting trips.

The Gunnison river coils around the Black Canyon in the Gunnison National Park | © Paul Brady / Alamy Stock Photo

White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire and Maine

Think the best of New Hampshire and Maine is on the coast? Think again. Stretching across some 800,000 acres (323,749ha), White Mountain National Forest is equally as worthy of your vacation time as the wave-lashed shores. In the fall, the big appeal is the spectacular foliage, best seen from the Kancamagus Scenic Byway. In the summer, it’s all about jumping into crystal-clear mountain lakes and natural, waterfall-fed swimming holes. You’ve not really experienced White Mountain National Forest until you’ve slid down a natural rock waterslide and plunged into an ice-cold pool below.

Expect breathtaking scenery and waterfall-fed lakes in White Mountain National Forest | © Robert K. Olejniczak / Alamy Stock Photo

San Juan Islands, Washington

Far closer to Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada, than they are to Seattle, the San Juan Islands are a slice of rugged, forested paradise that you could spend a lifetime visiting and still not manage to explore all 172 named islands and islets. Some are home to small fishing communities; some are known for their charming B&Bs and farm-to-table restaurants; while others are disturbed by little more than passing whales in season. San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, or Shaw Island are the best bases for your first trip, but the real joy is setting sail for a few days. Don’t sweat it if you fall in love with the island-hopping lifestyle: with Verizon Visa Card you can earn rewards and redeem them towards travel including flights and hotels. All you need is to decide where you’ll sail off to next.

You can camp on the quiet Doe island, accessible only by boat from the mainland | © Brad Mitchell / Alamy Stock Photo

To learn more about the Verizon Visa Card and start earning rewards, visit verizon.com/verizonvisacard.

In partnership with Verizon, Culture Trip is offering a promo code of $35 to be used across Culture Trip for one year. Enter VERIZON35 at checkout to redeem.

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