The coolest science-themed destinations in all 50 states

Find an amazing vacation spot no matter where you live.
illustrated map of top us science vacation destinations
Peter Oumanski

You don’t have to go far from home to travel somewhere amazing. Every state, no matter how small, hosts natural and technological marvels that you may have never bothered to go see—which means a memorable trip doesn’t have to require a plane ticket.

These 50 science-y destinations, each within a drivable distance from a state’s largest population center, are well worth a visit. In about a half day’s travel (often less!), you can take in a natural wonder like a glowing lagoon, get to know wildlife like mustangs and bison, or marvel at ingenious installations like a solar system model big enough to drive through.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Descend into a sinkhole at Neversink Pit | Alabama

(2 hours, 10 minutes from Birmingham)

This gorgeous natural phenomenon is one of the most impressive and most photographed sinkholes in the world. Light sparkles off the tricking waterfall that spans its 162-feet—or 16 story—depth. Lush, rare and endangered ferns, along with a vulnerable bat population, also make their home in the pit. You will need a climbers’ permit to descend into this geographic wonder, but the site can be reached and admired by any adventurous hiker. Back to top

Travel back to the ice age at Kenai Fjords | Alaska

(3 hours from Anchorage)

Travel to the Kenai Fjords to see the ice age in all its might. Thirty eight glaciers cascade outwards from the Harding Icefield, sculpting the land as they go. These frozen rivers dominate the terrain, with nearly half of the park covered in ice. These giants have been home to wildlife that race through the icy waters, as well as the indigenous people of Alaska, for thousands of years. We might be losing more and more to global warming as time goes on, but a trip to these dramatic coastal fjords is a humbling reminder of our planet’s icy history. Back to top

kenair fjords in alaska
Kenai Fjords in Alaska. Naticastillog/Deposit Photos

Camp with the bats at Colossal Cave Mountain Park | Arizona

(2 hours, 10 minutes from Phoenix) 

Nearly half of all bat species found in Arizona pass through Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Overnight campers will have the chance to get a glimpse at the shy and smart critters, but daytime guests can choose many other adventures. Cave tours, ranging from the family-friendly to the more wild and challenging, snake through the complex rock formations. Trails in the surrounding desert deliver glimpses into the region’s history, such as The Path of the Ancestors, which passes through archaeological sites and explains how Native Americans survived in the arid climate. Back to top

Take in nature’s sculpture at Mystic Caverns | Arkansas

(2 hours, 40 minutes from Little Rock)

As you trek through the Ozarks, take a peek at the Mystic Cavern for some truly awe-inspiring works of nature. The cave is home to the “Pipe Organ”, a calcite formation that stands 30 feet tall and 12 feet across. In addition to natural musical instruments replicas, the cave also features other calcite formations, like helictites, that look like they grew without gravity. The Crystal Dome Cavern is just as impressive and features a 70-foot-tall dome, a pure white “Crystal Bell” calcite formation. The tight, dark spaces of the caverns help shine the spotlight on these naturally occurring sculptures. Back to top

Walk under the Pacific Ocean at the Monterey Bay Aquarium | California

(5 hours, 20 minutes from Los Angeles)

A solid drive up the coast from SoCal brings you to the iconic Monterey Bay Aquarium, the only place in the world where you can visit deep-sea cephalopods, the group of organisms that includes squids and octopuses, such as vampire squid, flapjack octopus, strawberry squid. A unique open seawater system also welcomes otters, sharks, and much more from the nearby waters. There are 1,700 different species of fishes, invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, birds, and plants to see, cycling in and out. If you can’t make the drive or are out of state, check out their live cams! Back to top

giant tank at monterey bay aquarium
Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. JordanFeeg/Deposit Photos

Experience acoustic perfection at Red Rocks Amphitheater | Colorado

(30 minutes from Denver)

You would be hard pressed to think about Denver without thinking about the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The iconic red sandstone monoliths are an architectural feat surrounded by a park where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. The spectacular setting is also a geological wonder, as this is the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world. If a calendar full of concerts wasn’t enough, there are also options to watch film screenings and practice yoga on the rocks. Back to top

Tour aviation history at the New England Air Museum | Connecticut

(1 hour, 10 minutes from Bridgeport)

Now open for more than 60 years and boasting one of the best collections of historic aviation artifacts in the world, this museum is dedicated to all things air travel. After having survived the destruction of a 1970’s tornado, it celebrates the decades of technological advances that led us from the Wright brothers’ first flight to the massive jets that we comfortably fly in today. Check out more than 80 unique, brightly colored helicopters and planes throughout the Civil, Military, 58th Bomb Wing Memorial, and Restoration Hangars. Back to top

Relish the flowers at Winterthur Garden | Delaware

(15 minutes from Wilmington)

For horticulturists, Winterthur Garden boasts a melody of color and design like no other. The design rejects symmetry and instead embraces the natural curves and contours of the landscape that draw the eyes to gleaming views in every direction. This romantic vision is surrounded by nearly 1,000 acres of meadows, farmland, and waterways. From the azalea woods to the peony gardens, color blooms all year. You can explore the garden on foot or, rather charmingly, on a narrated tram. Back to top

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Bask in the natural glow of the Indian River Lagoon | Florida

(1 hour, 40 minutes from Jacksonville) 

With every stroke of a kayak paddle in the Indian River Lagoon at nighttime, the water shines a mystical teal, a show of bioluminescence on full display. Two creatures drive the blue-green glow: comb jellyfish in the winter and dinoflagellates (a single-celled organism commonly classified as algae) in the summer. During the day, manatees and dolphins at the nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge offer delight, but for many are only a stopgap until the nighttime showstopper. Back to top

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Pan for gold at the Consolidated Gold Mine | Georgia

(1 hour, 30 minutes from Atlanta)

Though the Gold Rush is long over, you can still search for glimmers of the precious metal deep inside the earth. In this Georgia gold mine, descend the stairs and try your hand at mining some gold deep inside the quartz veins that run through the mine. Learn about the life of the miners who used to work here on your descent, and top it all off with a gold panning workshop. If you’re feeling a bit more glitzy, you can also try your hand at gemstone mining. And unlike the real world, you’ll also get a free sample of gold at the end for all your troubles. Back to top

Snorkel with sea turtles in Hanauma Bay | Hawaii

(30 minutes from Honolulu) 

Green sea turtles and wild spinner dolphins frequent this beautiful, curved beach—a geologic  reminder of the fiery origin of the islands: volcanoes. This iconic landscape—a kind of oceanic pool–attracts snorkelers who cruise among the lush coral gardens. To curb over-use, reservations are now required for visitors, and the Bay is closed on Monday and Tuesdays to give the natural ecosystem two days of undisturbed rest. Back to top

Simulate lunar life at Craters of the Moon | Idaho

(2 hours, 45 minutes from Boise)

You don’t need to board a spacecraft to go see the moon—at least in Idaho, you don’t. The Craters of the Moon national park is peppered with, well, craters like those on the surface of the moon. Molten lava fields nearly 15 million years old gushed across the landscape creating 53,500 acres of volcanic formation across the land within the park. The Apollo 14 astronauts even took a trip here to prepare for their trip to the moon, and NASA still uses the site for preparation and research today. You can even spot the national park’s craters from space. Back to top

craters of the moon in idaho
Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. DonyaNedomam/Deposit Photos

Tour prehistoric Chicago at the Garfield Park Conservatory | Illinois

(in the city of Chicago)

Lush, tropical air greets you inside eight different gardens at the Garfield Park Conservatory, often called “landscape art under glass.” The Fern Room, for example, was designed to give visitors an interpretation of what a swampy, prehistoric Chicago might have looked like, complete with an indoor lagoon and “primitive” plants, species that grew during the age of the dinosaurs about 300 million years ago. But that’s just one attraction among the facility’s eight gardens, in which plant species from around the world thrive: massive palms, desert cacti, and houseplants gone wild. The entire park spans 10 acres of outdoor gardens, complete with a lily pond, a labyrinth, and beehives. Back to top

Take charge of a train at the Whitewater Valley Railroad | Indiana

(1 hour, 15 minutes from Indianapolis)

All aboard the Polar Express! At Whitewater Valley, you can volunteer to help run themed trips on the railroads from the Polar Express train to the Easter Bunny ride. The regularly scheduled passenger excursion trains are pulled along by historical diesel locomotives, an ode to the tracks of the 1950s. The Whitewater Valley Railroad is also launching Throttle Time, a chance to make those railroad engineering dreams come true. For thirty minutes, a guest engineer can be in charge of the locomotive operations including starting and stopping the train. Back to top

Explore river life at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium | Iowa

(3 hours, 10 mins from Des Moines) 

It might be the coolest thing (mere yards) west of the Mississippi: the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium offers a holistic perspective on North America’s second-largest river. The collections include historical looks at cultures of the native peoples of the land, snapshots of technological innovation dating back to riverboats, and a cross-section of wildlife endemic to the iconic waterway, including otters, alligators, and even a Bald eagle. Back to top

Giggle at the World’s Largest Collection of Smallest Versions of Largest Things | Kansas

(2 hours, 20 minutes from Wichita)

Roughly two hours north-west of Wichita is the World’s Largest Collection of Smallest Versions of Largest Things. You can read that one more time to wrap your head around the concept. It’s the work of Erika Nelson, who travels around the country looking for objects that hold the title of World Largest Thing. Nelson photographs the object and then creates a miniature replica of the largest thing and voila! There’s a new smallest version of the largest thing. Sometimes, she even photographs the tiny one with the large one for some extra mind-boggling fun. It’s also the largest collection of its kind, but we would expect nothing less at this point. Back to top

See where ancient mammoths roamed at Big Bone Lick State Historic Site | Kentucky

(1 hour, 20 minutes from Louisville) 

With perhaps the most intriguing name on this travel guide, Big Bone Lick State Park offers a chance to learn about the mysterious animals that once roamed the vast expanses of the US. This site is the home to the remains of many megafauna, including giant versions of some of the animals we know today and fantastical ones like Ice Age mammoths. Paleontologists think these ancient creatures were drawn to this area because of the salt lick, but then got trapped in the soft, marshy earth. The site is still home to the largest species of land mammals in North America: bison. Back to top

Cool off with wildlife at the Audubon Nature Institute | Louisiana

(20 minutes from New Orleans)

Playful penguins, adorable sea otters, and some rambunctious flamingos are just the beginning of what you can see at the Audubon Nature Institute. A trifecta of a zoo, aquarium, and nature center make this spot in Louisiana an ideal spot to learn about and experience the wonders of the natural world. Travel from the savannah to the aviary to Louisiana’s own swamp in a few strides There’s also the Cool Zoo, pun most definitely intended, in the form of a lazy river that runs along the zoo and gives the wee humans a chance to cool down. Back to top

Drive to all the planets at the Maine Solar System Model | Maine

(3 hours, 20 minutes from Portland)

You don’t need Elon Musk to make visiting Mars a reality—at least in spirit. Beginning with the sun at the Northern Maine Museum of Science, this recreation of the solar system  stretches across 40 miles of Earth to display our entire cosmic neighborhood, moons included, at a 1:93,000,000 scale. Traipse through public gardens, university grounds, and roadside fields to find all the planets. Don’t forget little Pluto off the Interstate, demoted from planet status but never forgotten. Back to top

Camp with wild horses at Assateague Island National Seashore | Maryland

(2 hours, 50 minutes from Baltimore)

In the heat of summer, there’s nothing quite like an oceanfront escape. Stare out at the glittering blues of the Atlantic from Assateague Island, a 37-mile barrier island just off the coast. With an ecosystem boasting sandy beaches, salt marshes, and coastal bays, there’s plenty to walk and kayak through. The island is also home to wild horses, which are actually feral and escaped domesticity. As they brave the harsh conditions of island living, the horses should be admired from a distance, unless you want a swift kick off the edge of the continent. Back to top 

wild horses in assateague island national seashore
Wild horses in Assateague Island National Seashore. kitko111/Deposit Photos

Get inspired by the Purgatory Chasm State Reservation | Massachusetts

(1 hour from Boston) 

A 70-foot-deep granite gorge, the Purgatory Chasm State Reservation is a geological wonder that has inspired novels, poems, and songs—but you’ll probably just want to hike and picnic. The unique, massive granite chasm was likely formed from the release of blocked glacial meltwater some 14,000 years ago during the Ice Age. The park offers the opportunity to check out other formations with equally enticing names such as Fat Man’s Misery, The Coffin, and Lovers’ Leap, where you can also put those rock climbing skills to the test. Back to top

Marvel at American manufacturing at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation | Michigan

(20 minutes from Detroit)

From the futuristic innovations of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House to the bus that Rosa Park travelled on, you can see, touch, and even sit in the iconic forms of technology that served as a backdrop for—and often a catalyst to—the development of American society. The Henry Ford Museum spans the gamut of invention in the US. Whether you fancy learning more about the thrills of motorsport racing, touring a modern glass gallery, or spying the birthplace of American manufacturing, you can track the evolution of innovations that changed the way we live, all under one roof. Back to top

Correct your misconceptions about bears at the North American Bear Center | Minnesota

(3 hours 50 minutes from Minneapolis)

Did you know that grizzly bears are 26 times more likely to kill someone than black bears? These are the type of ursine misunderstandings that the North American Bear Center works to set straight at their educational facility, essential work as global bear habitat shrinks. In addition to their indoor displays, the facility is home to four black bears that serve as ambassadors to their kind, living on 2.5 acres of a naturally-forested enclosure. Watch the bears forage, interact with other wild animals, and play in their pond from the viewing windows or the outdoor balcony. Back to top

Touch ancient, stone trees at the Petrified Forest | Mississippi

(30 minutes from Jackson)

Much like Medusa turned people into stone, the forces of nature have petrified living things into stone in the Petrified Forest. The stone logs that currently lie in the forest used to be towering trees at over 100 feet tall, but were brought down by an ancient river. Over time, these trees were buried by sand and silt and began the process of petrification. Today, you can walk amongst giants that lived around 36 million years ago, during the Oligocene Epoch, like they’re stone statues in a natural museum. Back to top

Go spelunking at Meramec Caverns | Missouri

(4 hours from Kansas City)

This Midwest wonder boasts the world’s rarest cave structure: the ancient, three-legged, oddly bumpy rock feature called the Wine Table. But that’s not all in terms of cavernous adventures—there are seven levels of caves, formed over thousands of years, that are continuously being altered by growing mineral deposits. The site also offers an eclectic mix of non-cave activities, with the opportunity to zipline, kayak, or boat down the Meramec river, scale a climbing wall, or pan for gold. Back to top

meramec caverns
Meramec Caverns in Missouri. Lindasj2/Deposit Photos

View ancient art at Pictograph Cave State Park | Montana

(15 minutes from Billings)

Take a walk through the Pictograph cave for a rendezvous with prehistoric hunters. A looping trail through the three main caves in the park will show you over a 100 pictographs, the rock paintings and artistic musings of generations of ancient humans. The caves are products of long-term erosion into the Eagle sandstone cliff, and while the first recorded discovery was made in 1936, some of the art is over 2,000 years old. Since the drawings left behind are pretty ambiguous, (it’s more of the abstract variety) there’s plenty of room to speculate and craft your own stories. Back to top

Perform science experiments yourself at the Edgerton Explorit Center | Nebraska

(2 hours from Omaha)

“Doc” Harold Edgerton, the MIT professor and photographer for whom this unique science museum was dedicated, used to say “If you don’t wake up at 3 am to start testing your ideas then you are wasting time.” And although they don’t open at 3 am, that’s the hardworking spirit that will carry you through the many and often-changing exhibits that emphasize hands-on learning for Nebraskans of all ages. The museum emphasizes that science isn’t just for elbow-patch-wearing academics, and invites visitors to participate in the science itself through hands-on interactive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) exhibits. Back to top

Visit the nuclear age at the Atomic Test Sites in Nye County | Nevada

(4 hours from Las Vegas)

It’s not quite Area 51, but the Nevada National Security Site has plenty of government secrets. A spot on the tour takes you around a carousel of sites where scientists conducted nuclear tests between 1951 and 1992. At Frenchman’s Flat, the team constructed  a “typical American community”—complete with houses, a bank, cars, and mannequin—that suffered five nuclear tests. You can also step on the threshold of the largest man-made crater that moved 12 million tons of Earth. You won’t be able to take your phone or camera onto  the site, so you can’t even Instagram  this undesirable alternate reality. Back to top

Stand atop the tallest point in the northeastern US at the Mount Washington Observatory | New Hampshire

(3 hours from Manchester)

If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at meteorology, Mount Washington Observatory, located at the tallest point in the northeastern US and at the convergence of three major storm tracks, is the perfect place to start. Via snowcat transportation (think a truck, but on rolling treads like a snow-walking tank), you can visit the scientists who live and work in this remote station. Two alternating crews live at the Observatory’s station in one-week shifts, tracking extreme weather events like freezing fog and hurricane-force winds. Beyond the climatological wonders, you’ll be awestruck by the alpine beauty. Back to top

Uncover ephemeral history at the Sometimes Train Tracks | New Jersey

(2 hours 30 minutes from Newark)

If you get to Sunset Beach on the Cape May peninsula during low tide and walk around half a mile north of the main gathering grounds, you’ll stumble across a century-old secret in plain sight. Two pairs of rusted old train tracks are still embedded in the sand, offering visitors a unique opportunity to spot them in just the right conditions. One set of tracks is believed to date back all the way to World War I, when it led to a munitions testing ground. The second set was used to transport the beach sand to glass factories in town—there’s still plenty of opportunity to try your hand at glass-blowing on the New Jersey shore today. Now, the tracks are just a part of the beach’s storied history that you can glimpse when the tide rolls back. Back to top

Have an otherworldly experience at the International UFO Museum and Research Center | New Mexico

(3 hours from Albuquerque)

In 1947, mysterious UFO-like pieces of wreckage that appeared near a never-before-seen trench threw the town of Roswell, New Mexico, into a frenzy. Although no aliens were ever actually found, the spirit of the exterrestrial visit known as “The Roswell Incident” never left the town, and is now memorialized in the International UFO Museum and Research Center. The museum tells the stories of the famous incident and other otherworldly phenomena via exhibits, an extensive library, and lectures from visiting ufologists, with a steadfast dedication to providing the public with the most up-to-date alien information. Back to top

See a chill show in the Widow Jane Cement Mine | New York

(2 hours 10 minutes from New York)

Few places have a resume as impressive as the Widow Jane Cement Mine. Though it got its start as a limestone mine in 1825, the site has been a mushroom farm, a trout nursery, supplier of whiskey water, a performance venue, and a recording studio. Today, the historic mine hosts performances, art exhibits, drum circles, and dances. Even in the heat of summer, the cavern’s own microclimate keeps things chill. Back to top

Get bitten by a plant at the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden at Piney Ridge | North Carolina

(3 hours, 20 minutes from Charlotte)

Make sure you wear closed-toed shoes on your visit to this garden located on the Piney Ridge Nature Preserve—the plants are hungry and they have teeth! Here, pitcher plants, sundews, Venus flytraps, and other insectivorous species are on display. The garden was also the scene of a heist in 2013, when about $20,000 worth of Venus flytraps were stolen from the park, feeding the US’s black market for carnivorous plants and promoting the creation of a North Carolina state law that makes stealing a Venus flytrap a felony. Thankfully, the garden is fully stocked again and ready for your enjoyment! Back to top

Drive the Enchanted Highway | North Dakota

(4 hours, 30 minutes from Fargo)

Geese in Flight, A Fisherman’s Dream, Teddy Roosevelt Drives Again. If these phrases don’t mean anything to you yet, they will after you drive down the Enchanted Highway of North Dakota. The route passes seven impressive roadside metal sculptures along a 32-mile stretch between the towns of Gladstone and Regent. These larger-than-life creations reflect various local North Dakotan wildlife—including geese or a pheasant several times larger than the size of your car. Back to top

giant grasshopper statue on the enchanted highway
A sculpture on the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota. hesterphoto/Deposit Photos

Learn about ancient mysteries at the Great Serpent Mound | Ohio

(1 hour, 45 minutes from Columbus)

The raised shape of a giant curled snake forms the world’s most spectacular effigy mound. Indiginous Americans created the Serpent Mound, which spans 1,348 feet, although it’s not clear exactly which culture is responsible due to conflicting radiocarbon dating efforts. The site is on the US’s tentative list of places to be submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and could eventually join other monuments on the World Heritage List like the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge, bringing into further into the international limelight. Back to top

Experience the Old West at Woolaroc Wildlife Preserve | Oklahoma

(2 hours, 20 minutes from Oklahoma City)

The Woolaroc Wildlife Preserve is a time capsule to the Old West when animals walked the grassy plains. American bison, elk, and longhorn cattle roam freely in their natural habitat. The preserve is also a working ranch and has a museum dedicated to the history of the area—featuring one of the largest collections of Colt firearms in the world. If you prefer something a bit more domestic, visit the original dairy farm and take a gander at the chickens, goats and donkeys. Back to top

Trip out on optical illusions at the Oregon Vortex | Oregon

(1 hour from Portland)

Rules of physics that we ordinarily take for granted become confusing at this strange site, where your height seems to change depending on where you’re standing and balls can roll uphill. The owners claim that a vortex—a spherical area of force—that is positioned half above the ground half below the ground is the cause of these strange phenomena. Optical illusions are a more likely explanation. Either way, the degree to which your eyes and brain can trick you are impressive, and fully on display at this mystery house. Back to top

Spot the ISS at Cherry Springs Dark Park | Pennsylvania

(4 hours, 20 minutes from Philadelphia)

Sixty to 85 nights of the year, the Cherry Springs State Park offers front row seats to the Milky Way, constellations, meteor showers, and even a glimpse of the International Space Station. Cultural astronomy has a storied history, and so the park regularly runs dark sky telescope tours that take you through the mythological tales of ancient Greece, China, India and North America. Back to top

Learn to love sharks at the Living Sharks Museum | Rhode Island

(1 hour from Providence)

This toothy museum is the first in the US to focus entirely on the history of sharks. Packed with exhibits featuring shark memorabilia from around the world, the center aims to educate the public on the science and conservation efforts of these oft unfairly maligned sea creatures. Here, you can learn more about tagging techniques and experimental technology like shark repellant and the shark shield. And as a bonus, admission is always free! Back to top

Explore the Stumphouse Tunnel | South Carolina

(4 hours, 20 minutes from Charleston)

If finished, the Stumphouse Tunnel would have been the longest such passage in the US and a gateway to the Midwest. The Civil War interrupted construction of the blue granite tunnel, part of the Blue Ridge Railroad project. Today, you can hike the surrounding acres, visit the nearby Issawueena Falls, and, of course, explore the tunnel that never was. For a time, the chilly passage was home to Clemson University’s blue cheese curing endeavours. The cheese curing has since moved to air-conditioned rooms that mimic the tunnel’s remarkable environment. Sacr blue, indeed. Back to top

Trek a fossil trail at the Badlands Fossil Exhibit and Trailhead | South Dakota

(4 hours, 15 minutes from Sioux Falls)

Feel free to touch the fossil replicas and models of extinct creatures that once inhabited the dramatically beautiful landscape of the ancient Badlands. People of all physical fitness levels can enjoy the exhibits along this fully accessible trail, which is also perfect for walking, nature trips, and bird watching. This path is also close to the White River Valley Outlook and other slightly more ambitious hikes like the Saddle Pass Trail and the popular Notch Trail which features a wooden ladder for the adventurous. Back to top

Walk the longest pedestrian suspension bridge | Tennessee

(3 hours, 50 minutes from Nashville)

At roughly 680 feet, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America snakes walkers through the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The panoramic views of the rolling emerald hills may be enough to help you forget you’re 140 feet above the ground. Though a glass floor in the middle of the bridge will quickly remind you. Back to top

Stargaze at the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area | Texas

(4 hours, 15 minutes from Houston)

There’s a lot that’s magical about this Hill County nature destination, from the huge pink granite dome that rises above the horizon (officially an exfoliation dome, meaning it has layers like an onion!) to the tiny fairy shrimp that make up part of the vernal pool microhabitats. Here, you can hike, picnic and even experience the full celestial wonders of this International Dark Sky Park by attending a stargazing session with a park ranger or camping under the spectacular night sky. Rock climbing is also allowed, just make sure to check in at the park headquarters first. Back to top

Take in the Milky Way at Natural Bridges National Monument | Utah

(5 hours, 30 minutes from Salt Lake City)

There are few places in the US better to take in starry skies than the Natural Bridges National Monument. Thousands of years ago, a gushing river formed these huge naturally occurring bridges, cutting through the solid rock and eroding it over time. This unique geological area is so secluded, it claims an official designation as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association—a gateway to the celestial world. On a clear night, visitors can clearly see the colors and gradations of the entire Milky Way. Back to top

bridges national monument in utah
Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. fyletto/Deposit Photos

Bowl with granite at the Rock of Ages Granite Quarry | Vermont

(50 minutes from Burlington)

This stunning site is the world’s largest deep-hole dimension granite quarry, where massive rock walls tower over cloudy blue water. You can tour the quarry itself as well as the granite plant, where huge blocks of rock are sized, polished, and engraved to produce the majority of America’s granite gravestones. Make sure to put your bowling skills to the test by rolling a few granite bowling balls down the outdoor granite lane, a prototype for a variation on one of America’s favorite games that never quite caught on. Back to top

Hike Natural Bridge Park | Virginia

(3 hours, 50 minutes from Virginia Beach)

The Cedar Creek carved out this limestone passage, which stands an impressive 215 feet tall and overlooks thick forests and meadows backdropped against the Blue Ridge Mountains. Traipse nearby hiking trails to truly take in the landscape, and stop into the visitors center to learn more about the history of the bridge, including its significance to the indigenous Monacan tribe as it provided strength and victory for them during a tribal conflict. Back to top

Get shocked, literally and metaphorically, at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention | Washington

(1 hour, 30 minutes from Seattle)

Get ready to be shocked by the dazzling bursts of lightning produced by MegaZapper, a nine-foot Tesla coil, a transformer circuit that creates beautiful arcs of electricity. Or, show off your musical talent by trying your hand at the Theremin, the first electronic musical instrument. On top of the interactive exhibits, this museum also follows the history of electricity, with artifacts from the early days of electrical experimentation in the 1600’s to thousands of devices from the golden age of radio. Back to top

Ride a steam-powered train to the top of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park | West Virginia

(3 hours, 10 minutes from Charleston)

Bald Knob, the highest summit of the Back Allegheny mountain and the third-highest point in West Virginia, is a must-see, but getting there is the real treat. An 11-mile trip on a steam-driven locomotive passes through the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. The ride will take you up 2,390 feet from the foothills of Cass to the summit of Bald Knob while you drink in the uninterrupted views of ancient Appalachia. The train follows the same line that was built in 1901 to haul lumber to the mill in Cass. Back to top

Meet native wildlife at 1000 Islands Environmental Center | Wisconsin

(1 hour, 50 minutes from Milwaukee)

This unique site encompasses a nature center with live animals, an arrowhead collection, and interactive activities on subjects like orienteering and reducing environmental impact, with the goal of promoting sustainable balance between the environment, economy and community. There’s also an extensive outdoor recreation area for hiking and picnicking. Visit bald eagles, deer, and tons of bird species on the more than seven miles of trails that span the area, including a boardwalk and a path along the Fox River. Back to top

Watch mustangs run Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range | Wyoming

(6 hours, 20 minutes from Cheyenne) 

A trip to the Pryor Mountains in Wyoming will provide a close-up look at powerful wild mustangs roaming free in their centuries-old home. While horses have been a part of both Native American and colonial history, these beauties can trace their way back to the original horses brought over by Spanish colonizers. For the last few centuries, these feral herds have existed in the rugged mountains of Wyoming. Back to top

Correction June 4, 2021: The story incorrectly labeled a photo of Newspaper Rock in Utah as Pictograph State Park in Montana. The image has since been removed.