Top 9 National Monuments
Build a great vacation around a spectacular island, forest, cliff dwelling, canyon, fossil bed, tower, or volcano
Bandelier has been entrancing people for nearly 1000 years—from when the Ancestral Pueblo people first began building homes in the cliffs of Frijoles Canyon.
They’re easily seen on the monument’s Main Loop Trail; more ruins can be glimpsed in Tsankawi Canyon to the north.
But archeology isn’t the only reason to come here—the monument is stunningly beautiful, with dramatic mesas and broad views across Northern New Mexico. All this only a 45-minute drive from Santa Fe. More
In fact, one of the best places to see brown bears anywhere (from a safe distance) is at Pack Creek, on the island’s northern shore.
Admiralty Island is wild but it isn’t remote, just about 15 miles west of Juneau and reachable by boat and floatplane. Tongass National Forest even has cabins you can rent; there are also wilderness lodges. More
You can see White House Ruin from the canyon rim, or take a 2-hour hike to see the ruin up close. And a number of Navajo outfitters lead Jeep, hiking and horseback trips into the canyon backcountry. Nearest hotels are in Chinle. More
This eerie lunar landscape is the product of volcanic lava flows that stopped only about 2,000 years ago. (Geologists say they could start up again, although no one seems too worried.)
You can see it all on a 7-mile loop drive or if you want to feel boot on lava, hike the North Crater Flow trail. More
But nothing prepares you for the real thing: the 1300-foot chunk of granite rising out of Wyoming badlands is bigger than even the widest of wide-screen attractions.
It's a sacred site to Crow and Cheyenne peoples; once you see it (say on the Tower Trail, which circles the rock’s base) you will understand why. More
In Southern Utah due east of Zion National Park, Grand Staircase National Monument is so big—1.9 million acres—that it would take a lifetime to discover it all.
Explore it by car on Utah Highway 12 and Hole-in-the-Rock Road; even better, get out and hike to Calf Creek Falls or Devil’s Garden. Numerous outfitters lead jeep and hiking trips into the area; for creature comforts, you’ll find good food and places to stay in Boulder and Escalante. More
John Day’s beautiful badlands contain some 50 million years worth of plants and animals; you can get all that ancient natural history straight at the excellent Thomas Condon Paleontology Center.
And the monument offers more than just looking at bones; it’s also great for hiking, particularly in the Painted Hills area, which explodes with wildflowers in spring and summer. More
Even now, decades after an eruption that impacted nearly all of the Pacific Northwest, Mount St. Helens is ranked as the most famously unstable mountain in North America.
The geology here is fascinating, of course, but so is the quieter spectacle of forests and meadows gradually reclaiming the mountain’s scorched slopes. Must-sees include Johnston Ridge Observatory and Blowdown Forest and Spirit Lake Viewpoints. More
The coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens if you want to get Latin about it) grow 300 feet tall; beneath them spread lush carpets of ferns and mosses. With most trails paved and relatively flat, this is a great place to take kids. More
- Cedar Mesa, UT
- Berryessa Snow Mountain, CA
- Modoc Plateau, CA
- Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ
- Northern Montana Prairies
- Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM
- Bodie Hills, CA
- San Rafael Swell, UT
- Vermillion Basin, CO
Slide show: See them all