Best Views in America
Quick: close your eyes and picture a beautiful view. Where do you put yourself? Looking out over tall, gleaming urban spires? Mammoth snowcapped peaks? Vast gashes in the earth? Fortunately, no matter what your vision might be, you can probably find a view to match it somewhere in the U.S. Inspiring vistas are ubiquitous and easy to find—they stretch from Hawaii to Maine. But the best views in America not only showcase national parks. They incorporate the magic twinkle of city skylines, the fortitude of rocky coastlines, and breathtaking discoveries found on easy walks, rugged hikes, and scenic drives across the nation.
Anyone who’s experienced the dramatic drops around Big Sur, CA, or basked in the glimmer of New York City’s skyline will certainly agree. And uplifting views don’t necessarily start with tall buildings or plunging cliffs. Just ask anyone who’s witnessed the 360-degree panorama of nighttime lights on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, the best views in America aren’t going anywhere. From canyons and coastlines to peaks and parks, Americans have a proud history of preserving their special places for future generations. But that doesn’t mean you should wait to see them. Put these gorgeous spots on your bucket list and start making travel plans.
Battery Spencer, CA
The perfect place to gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge is Battery Spencer at Fort Baker in Marin County. Located on a 335-acre, former 1905 U.S. Army post, the splendid lookout is easily accessible by car or bike.
Sunrise Point, Bryce Canyon, UT
The otherworldly landscape of Bryce Canyon’s towering sandstone hoodoos, natural arches, staircases, and canyons leave an indelible impression no matter where you stand. Sunrise Point has incomparable views of the fire-hued, mostly limestone rock formations, which are the remnants of an ancient lake that covered western Utah. Visitors can take an easy hike from Sunrise Point to wander among the hoodoo giants along Queens Garden Trail.
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
The best advice for any first-time visitor to the nation’s capital is to start with a tour of the monuments on the National Mall—at night, when the marble structures resemble white beacons against a dark sky. There’s no more patriotic experience than to walk up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and see the powerful marble statue of Honest Abe in his chair next to the engraved words of his Gettysburg Address. From there, looking out over the Reflecting Pool, is the towering Washington Monument, with the ornate dome of the U.S. Capitol in the distance.
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, HI
The Na Pali Coast is a bucket-list must with towering green spires, deep canyons, and perilous cliffs sloping into the sea. Those who have the stamina and time to hike the full 11-mile Kalalau Trail are in for one of the world’s most celebrated vistas. A shorter option is to hike two miles of the trail to Hanakapiai Beach.
Portland Head Lighthouse, ME
Rarely has a sentry been so iconic and beautiful. Portland Head lighthouse, in Cape Elizabeth, was commissioned by George Washington and first lit in 1791. It has helped guide boats into the Portland harbor ever since. Today’s lighthouse is the epitome of charm, with its white tower and the red-roofed keeper’s house set on a rocky shoreline.
Dog Mountain, Columbia River Gorge, WA
Hikers are rewarded with a visual feast after climbing Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge: beautiful fields of wildflowers and the yawning expanse of the gorge, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens volcano. Dog Mountain is 16 miles from Hood River—a great town to enjoy dinner afterward.
El Morro Fort, San Juan, P.R.
El Morro’s sentry boxes (or garitas) have served as lookouts over the blue Caribbean Sea for centuries. Built by Spain 68 years before America’s Jonestown settlement, this Puerto Rican fort has withstood Dutch and British invaders and even a missile launched by a U.S. warship in the Spanish-American War. The best time for photos is sunset.
Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton, WY
One of the best places to capture the Tetons in all their glory is along the Snake River at Schwabacher Landing. This plum photography spot is located 16 miles north of Jackson, east of Highway 89. Take the small gravel road on the left until it dead-ends; the viewpoint is a short walk. You’ll know you’re there when you see it—and you’ll never forget it.
Mather Point, Grand Canyon, AZ
If there were ever a place you’d want to turn into a bird, it would be at Mather Point, on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim: the yawning, mile-deep, 277-mile-long opening is so vast, you could glide over it forever. Thankfully, Grand Canyon National Park has gone to great lengths to improve the infrastructure around popular Mather Point to ease congestion. There’s easier road access, expanded parking, and also a viewing platform, amphitheater, and visitors’ center.
Kerry Park, Seattle
It’s not unusual to find photographers standing together at Kerry Park waiting for the sunset to cast its glow across Seattle. The view encompasses the Space Needle, downtown Seattle, Elliott Bay, and the ferries floating by, along with Mount Rainier and Bainbridge Island in the distance.
Glacier Point, Yosemite, CA
What makes Yosemite so riveting is its breadth and variety of magnificent sites. First, Glacier Point provides the best view of towering Half Dome—the perfectly halved, naked granite mountain that rises 5,000 feet above the valley floor. Visitors will enjoy watching rock climbers try to conquer the herculean El Capitan, the world’s largest granite monolith, which can best be seen from Yosemite Village. Other sites include Cathedral Rocks, the 500 giant sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove, and famous Horsetail Falls, which reddens when illuminated by the setting sun.
Big Sur, CA
Big Sur is loosely defined as the Central California Coastal area between Carmel and San Simeon. Highway 1 is the place to put the top down, crank up the radio, and delight in the sight of the coast’s plunging cliffs and wild surf. Often there’s an abundance of wildflowers gracing the hillsides, along with impressive, ancient coastal redwood trees. The chance of spotting whales swimming by, or condors and eagles flying overhead, simply adds to the magic.
Merriam Point, Crater Lake, OR
Located 60 miles from Klamath Falls, Crater Lake is a blue mirror of perfection. In the spring, its Rim Drive opens for drives, cycling, and hikes. During winter weekends, rangers lead snowshoe hikes to the crater. Merriam Point edges out other terrific lookout spots, with panoramic views of mounts Scott and McLoughlin. Wizard Island sits serenely in the middle.