Saturday, June 15, 2024

17 Stunning US World Heritage Sites You Need to Visit

yellowstone rainbow

World Heritage Sites may sound like something only culture vultures will care to see. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating their beauty as well as their importance.

Even if you’re not a history or hiking buff, the sheer scale and value of these World Heritage Sites in the US will make you swoon with the Instagram potential. Whether they’re popular national parks, cultural treasures, or historical preserves, these 24 World Heritage Sites in the U.S. are fully worth your attention. 

Are you ready to jump in and explore the wonders of America? Let’s go!

1. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

Yellowstone Hot Spring
Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

The very first national park was established in 1872, and a protection act is in place at Yellowstone National Park to allow the landscape to evolve naturally. 

Visitors flock here to see iconic landmarks such as Old Faithful, the hot springs, the vibrant Yellowstone Lake, the Lamar Valley, and even the wolf and grizzly bear museum.

Outdoor activities like fishing, hiking, cycling, and backcountry camping are also available for nature lovers. The park is open throughout the year, but only in July and August are all areas accessible to the public.

2. Statue of Liberty (New York)

statue of liberty new york city
PC: UTBP/Depositphotos

This iconic statue was a gift to the U.S. from France as a symbol of the ongoing friendship between the two countries. The Statue of Liberty is constructed from copper, stands 93 metres tall, and is probably one of the most recognized landmarks in the country.

Lady Liberty and her torch symbolize opportunity and freedom to all who visit her shores — she is the ultimate icon of liberty on which North America was founded. Visitors take a ferry to Ellis Island and the Liberty Park Grounds to see the gateway for over 12 million immigrants but also to climb 20 storeys up into the statue’s crown. 

You can learn all about its history at the visitor’s centre. Liberty Island is open all year except for Christmas Day. 

3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Image by Martin Str from Pixabay

To the thrill of spelunkers and casual tourists alike, Carlsbad Caverns National Park has more than 100 limestone caverns artisanally crafted by nature. They’re all notable for their size and diversity, but the Carlsbad and Lechuguilla caverns in particular are renowned for their spectacular formations.

It’s also one of the few places on Earth where rare speleothems form. The cavern is quite deep, but for those who don’t enjoy hiking down into the depths, there is an elevator to take you straight to these natural wonders.  

4. Taos Pueblo (New Mexico)

Image by Rob Robinson from Pixabay

Nestled in the Rio Grande Valley, Taos Pueblo is a collection of ceremonial buildings and adobe dwellings representing the culture of the Pueblo Native Americans. Built as long ago as the 13th century, the site is a pristine example of traditional architecture that is still a thriving community to this day.

Visitors come to explore the culture, people, and history, but guided tours are recommended as this is a living community and some of the residences are private. It is, nonetheless, a unique insight into the culture of the Pueblo people. 

Sitting at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the site is open every day from 8 am to 4 pm.

5. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

grand canyon
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Possibly the most famous canyon in North America, this iconic natural site is one of the greatest geological spectacles on our beautiful Earth. It took six million years of natural erosion and geological activity for it to look as we know its fascinating 276.5 miles of parkland today.

Not only can you enjoy casual encounters with Grand Canyon National Park from the South or North Rims, but there are plenty of opportunities to experience its wonders up close. Go horseback riding, hiking, rafting, or swimming in the fresh air surrounded by one of the greatest natural wonders the world has to offer. 

Don’t forget the mystical petroglyphs and pictographs the Grand Canyon can boast. There are visitor centres and ranger tours for you to explore all this and more, as well as camping grounds for intrepid trekkers to stay at.  

6. Independence Hall (Pennsylvania)

Image by Jeanene Fisher from Pixabay

Independence Hall is practically the birthplace of America, being the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and signed. As the first home of the founding documents, visitors find a unique historical solace within its red-bricked walls.

It’s also a fascinating place to find out more about the founding fathers themselves. Learning programs and guided tours are always available to the inquisitive mind. Once you’ve enjoyed wandering the halls, you can pop over the road to see the Liberty Bell and its famous crack up close and personal. 

Tickets must be pre-booked from March through December, but they are free. 

7. Everglades National Park (Florida)

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Since 1979, the Florida Everglades has been a natural World Heritage Site, and one of the most popular on the planet. It’s understandable why, as the national park is home to many endangered and rare species, such as the manatee, American crocodile, and the Florida panther. 

This subtropical wilderness is also home to the world’s largest mangrove system, which is a wonder to experience. Its expansive 1.5 million acres have three separate entrances and four major visitor centres. 

You can explore Chokoloskee Bay and its natural wildlife or trek along any of the many wooden boardwalks that take you through the various areas of Everglades National Park. The Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail are two of the most beautiful walks in the park, definitely not to be missed.    

8. Chaco Culture National Historical Park (New Mexico)

Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Image by Alson Ruth Hughes from Wikicommons

Whether or not you’re exploring the hot springs of New Mexico, you’ll definitely want to check out Chaco Culture while you’re in the area. The sites make up the homeland of the Hopi Native Americans of Arizona, the Navajo Native Americans from the southwest, and the Pueblo Native Americans of New Mexico.

The canyon was a major hub of Puebloan culture from 850 AD to 1250 AD. It made for an unlikely place to thrive, what with long winters, short summers for growing food, and low rainfall, but thrive they did for over 1,000 years.

Chaco might be remote, but it has the largest and best preserved (not to mention architecturally advanced) ruins of all the Southwestern villages. The crumbling yellow and brown sandstone Chaco Canyon is where you’ll find all the major sites, ten of them to be exact. Half a day minimum is recommended to properly explore and enjoy their awe-inspiring wonders. 

The great kiva by the front of the Chetro Ketl is a major attraction, as are the petroglyphs of Una Vida. You can also get your best hiking boots on and trek to the ancient mesa area to really appreciate the scale of the ruins. 

In 2013, the site was designated a part of the International Dark Sky Park, so stick around after dark for a night sky alive with stars. 

9. Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)

Image by Aline Dassel from Pixabay

If you’re into ancient ruins, bask in the aura of these prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park and be in awe of the state of their preservation. There are single-room storages and whole villages to cast your gaze upon lining the cliffs.

Mesa Verde was deemed a World Heritage Site thanks to its exceptional archaeological relevance and one of the finest examples of its kind. Some of the best-preserved and more notable houses in the park include the Cliff Palace, the Spruce Tree House, and the Balcony House. The list continues to grow, though, as more findings are discovered on a regular basis. 

You can catch a guided tour for a full history of the sites, or you can visit the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to learn more about the Puebloan culture.

10. Olympic National Park (Washington State)

Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

Olympic National Park in Washington features some of the best aspects of Mother Nature: temperate rainforests, scenic coastlines, charming lakes, and majestic mountains. But what makes it a World Heritage Site is the ecological variety and biological evolution the park is home to, coupled with its one million acres of pristine wilderness. 

The Olympic Discovery Trail is popular amongst bikers and walkers thanks to its perfectly picturesque views. Hiking is another great reason to visit the park, especially Mount Storm King, for its spectacular views of Lake Crescent.

Or you could spend your time elk-spotting or whale-watching. For beach fans, Rialto Beach and its resident attractions, Hole in the Wall and Split Rock, are infinitely Instagrammable. There’s also La Push Beach, which is a favourite with “Twilight” fans.  

11. Yosemite National Park (California)

PC: TheBoutiqueAdventurer

As if this one needs an introduction. Geological formations and biodiversity spanning 1,200 square miles along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains attract over three million visitors a year. 

Tourists flock to see the unique wildlife, plants, and — of course — the stunning vistas. Half Dome is the most popular attraction rising 1,524 metres above the valley floor. But El Capitan, Mirror Lake, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Falls all have their own unique charms that beguile. 

There’re trails to be hiked or biked, as well as fishing and other outdoor activities to be enjoyed.

12. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Image by Julita from Pixabay

Glacier Bay is a true frozen wonder, with 3.3 million acres of sparkling glaciers, rugged mountains, wild coastlines, temperate rainforests, and sheltered fjords. Together, these seemingly separate landscapes offer an incredible and rare close-up experience of the natural environment of glaciers. 

Scientists flock to the park to study its intact ecosystems that are constantly evolving in this interesting era of climate change. They also study the glaciers themselves and their tidewater landscapes. 

Ranger tours take eager guests for explorations and explanations of the glacial landscapes before them. Boat tours of Glacier Bay are also available. The park remains open throughout the year, although, during the winter months from October to April, services are limited. 

13. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee)

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The fairytale setting of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is exceptional. Not only are there scenic vistas of the mist-kissed Smoky Mountains themselves, but there are also over 520,000 acres of peaceful forest and crystal streams. That includes the largest natural block of virgin red spruce on Earth. 

Here you’ll find the last remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. Ranger-led tours will show you the best sights, although there is plenty of hiking, fishing, and horseback riding activities to enjoy too.

The hiking is sublime, though. The most popular waterfall trail is Laurel Falls, followed by Grotto Falls and Abrams Falls. Clingmans Dome is by far the most popular attraction in the park for its incredible vistas, though. Entrance to the park is free and it’s open year-round.  

14. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii)

Image by Tommy Beatty from Pixabay

With a huge variety of lush green parks to visit, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park stands out as a singularity. Its barren, black landscape with steaming sulfur vents, sharp rocks, and magma pools is an enigma begging to be seen to be fully believed. 

Mauna Loa and Kilauea are two of the world’s most active volcanoes, and tourists arrive in hordes to hike the backcountry, drive the crater rim, or take a ranger-led tour. You’ll be swept away by the Thurston Lava Tube, a popular 500-year-old attraction you can hike along. 

But if culture is your vibe, the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs will enthrall you. This archaeological site has over 23,000 petroglyphs for your viewing pleasure. That is, if you’re not too busy checking out the infinitely fascinating dried lava flows. 

15. La Fortaleza and San Juan (Puerto Rico)

Image by kermit98 from Pixabay

The three forts and historic mansion (La Fortaleza) in San Juan make an unforgettable statement about the Caribbean’s colonial past. These fortifications built between the 16th and 20th centuries are culturally and historically significant architecture in the Americas.  

Visitors can wander the military structures and gape at the restored walls of La Fortaleza. After all, it’s the oldest executive mansion continually used in the Western Hemisphere since its construction in 1533. 

Take the 30-minute guided tour and then go explore the Moorish gardens, the chapel, and the dungeon for good measure. Security is a bit tight, seeing as it’s the official residence of Puerto Rico’s Governor, so don’t be surprised if you have to show some I.D. before you enter. 

16. San Antonio Missions (Texas)

Image by Simon from Pixabay

Only designated as a World Heritage Site in 2015, the San Antonio Missions is a historic site that preserves four of the five San Antonio Spanish frontier missions. The Catholic Church originally built them to spread Christianity among the locals. This area is regarded as the pinnacle of the spread of religion in North America.

Visitors enjoy strolling along the eight-mile-long recreational trails, bridges, and past pavilions to see all four missions at their unique locations. The visitors centre at the Mission San José has videos showing the rich history of the sites. 

Entrance is free to all the sites and the churches are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

17. Redwood National State Park (California)

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

With 38,982 acres to call its own, the sensational primary attraction of Redwood National State Park is the massive coastal redwood forest that’s over 160 million years old. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1980, it’s home to some of the tallest and oldest trees in America. However, it’s also known for its abundant intertidal, freshwater, and marine flora and fauna. 

Camping in the backcountry is popular among visitors, as is hiking, fishing, camping, and cycling. You can also enjoy a ranger-led tour to examine the beauty of the park and view wildlife safely. 

The park is open all year. The national park is free for all, but the state park charges an entry fee. 

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