The Fourth of July holiday is rapidly approaching promising crowded beaches, sunburns, and lots of travel traffic. Take your weekend in a new direction and visit American landmarks on the anniversary of its birth. Celebrate the natural, industrial, and historic wonders of the US by visiting these iconic sites. From the Grand Canyon to the Alamo, this list of 14 American landmarks proves America has much to offer.
So many great places—so little time.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World alongside the likes of the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Everest, the spectacular gorge stands alone as perhaps the most iconic symbol of the stunning beauty of American. The Grand Canyon encompasses a 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River about the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. It is up to 18 miles wide and more than 1 mile deep standing as the world’s greatest example of the erosive power of water.
“The extent and magnitude of the system of canyons is astounding,” wrote U.S. Army explorer Joseph Christmas Ives, the first European American to explore the canyon in 1857-58. The Grand Canyon still astounds visitors today.
Savannah Historic District, Georgia
The colonial south lives today amid the verdant squares of Savannah, a nearly 300-year-old city that enjoyed a rebirth following its haunting, captivating portrayal in the 1994 bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Visitors love Savannah for its charming thoroughfares including the iconic cobblestones of River Street, delicious restaurants highlighting the best of southern fare such as Paula Deen’s flagship eatery The Lady and Sons, and its historic squares such as Chippewa Square featured in Forrest Gump.
Mount Washington, New Hampshire
The centerpiece of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains is nothing less than the tallest peak in the northeast (6,288 feet). More famously Mount Washington habitually witnesses the globe’s most severe weather—due to its elevation and its location at the convergence of several major storm patterns.
Mount Washington’s brutal wind and cold is proclaimed locally as a testament to the hearty nature of Live Free or Die state residents. The summit held the record for highest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph) for several decades and reached a record low temperate of -50 degrees Fahrenheit in January 1885. The Mount Washington Observatory recorded a wind chill of -103 degrees as recently as 2004. The mountain today is a popular attraction for tourists who ascend the top via hiking trail, precarious auto road, or popular cog railway.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
This geological oddity is an American wonder for its natural beauty and sobering role in the history of modern warfare. White Sands National Park includes 275 square miles of glistening gypsum sand—the largest dune field of its kind on Earth surrounded by the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. The park today offers spectacular vistas and touring by automobile, hiking, biking, or pack animals.
It was on this site in July 1945 that American scientists led by J. Robert Oppenheimer first unleashed the power of the atomic bomb, a victory of American ingenuity and industrial power amid World War II. The achievement also had lingering ramifications for mankind. The Trinity test at White Sands was a prelude to the atomic attacks the following month on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that ended World War II.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
The rugged and wild parkland is celebrated for its rugged badlands, free-roaming bison, and its namesake’s Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River. Stargazing is a popular activity in the isolated park hundreds of miles from the nearest major city, with weekly events and viewing parties highlighted by the August annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
The stunning human cost of preserving the nation is best seen in this sprawling battlefield in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Gettysburg pitted about 160,000 men in a pitched three-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union. Some 50,000 soldiers of both sides were killed or wounded. It remains the largest battle in North American history.
Visitors today can stand where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top to save the southern end of the Union line or walk in the footsteps of brave Confederates slaughtered during Pickett’s charge on the decisive day of battle or tour the vast battlefield by exploring the hundreds of haunting monuments that dot the landscape today.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established by the United States Congress in 1934 and formally dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. It was the first national park to be endowed with land and other expenses paid in part with federal money; previous parks had been entirely funded by state or private donors. The park is divided between the Blue Ridge Mountains which are a subdivision of the broader Appalachian Mountain chain and the Great Smoky Mountains part of the larger Southern Appalachians.
The national park is notable for its mountains, waterfalls, biodiversity, and spruce-fir forests. The park also houses several historical buildings that were part of early European-American settlers’ settlements in the area. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988.
The Alamo, Texas
Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it is a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort; they had tried without success to hold off Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in late February and early March of that year. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.
On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell and its defenders became American legends. The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 190 years and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.
Newport Mansions, Rhode Island
The wealth of the Gilded Age springs to life in Newport where the nation’s titans of 19th-century industry built ostentatious summer homes on the cliffs where scenic Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II is probably the most spectacular built of limestone in the ornate style of an Italian palazzo.
Newport’s legacy as a playground of wealthy lives on today, amid its charming and busy downtown waterfront. The city is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and hosted the America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing race, for decades.
Charleston plantations and gardens, South Carolina
The antebellum South both its beauty and the disturbing legacy of human bondage live on today and its vast collection of some 2,000 plantations many of which are centered around historic Charleston and open to visitors.
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens features what it calls “America’s last large-scale Romantic-style garden”. Middleton Place, named for Declaration of Independence signatory Arthur Middleton claims “America’s oldest landscaped gardens” across 65 acres. Boone Hall dates back to 1681 and is famed for its Avenue of the Oaks with its moss-covered limbs forming a photogenic canopy along with an array of brick homes that housed slave families.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
This monumental sculpture of four U.S. presidents, each of their faces an amazing 60-feet tall, turned a remote area of a remote state into a beloved symbol of the national narrative. Law school student William Andrew Burkett summed up the purpose of the monument in 1934 in a winning essay he submitted to a contest hosted by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
“Almighty God, from this pulpit of stone the American people render thanksgiving and praise for the new era of civilization brought forth upon this continent,” Burkett wrote, his essay immortalized in bronze at the park. Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year and is a prominent place in the nation’s cultural lexicon with its images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln staring stoically across the American continent.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona and Utah
The spectacular images of eroded sandstone buttes rising from the red rock of the Colorado Plateau along the Arizona-Utah state line are firmly ingrained in America’s natural and cultural landscapes. Monument Valley was forged by tectonic forces some 250 million years ago. It was inhabited by Navajo for centuries who set aside the land as a park within the Navajo Nation in 1958.
Its stunning landscape has reached audiences around the world as the backdrop of classic western movies such as Stagecoach, the 1939 John Ford flick that made John Wayne a star. More recently its jagged cathedrals of stone framed war hero and shrimp tycoon Forrest Gump as he abruptly ended his famous silver-screen jog across America on U.S. Route 163 hear Mexican Hat, Utah.
Lake Champlain, New York and Vermont
The “Sixth Great Lake” has loomed large in both Native and European American history. Lake Champlain divided the Mohawks to the west and Abenaki to the east while British and continental forces fought for control of the 107 mile-long lake throughout the American Revolution.
Lake Champlain today is a perfect place to enjoy the pristine wilderness and especially the fall foliage of northern New England or search for Champy. The mysterious Loch Ness monster-like creature was first known to the Abenaki allegedly witnessed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain himself and reported by dozens of other witnesses in the centuries since.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia
America’s newest national park has long been a symbol of an Appalachian Mountain state so beautiful it’s known around the world as Almost Heaven. New River Gorge achieved its federal designation in December 2020. The park is celebrated most notably for its spectacular New River Gorge Bridge. It was both the world’s highest auto bridge and longest single-span arch bridge when it opened in 1977 though it has been surpassed in both global superlatives since.
The park offers many recreational opportunities along with insight and exhibits exploring West Virginia’s coal mining history and culture. Among the figures celebrated: coal miner and son of slaves Carter Woodson who recorded the stories he heard digging ore and turned them into a published legacy as the “Father of Black History.”
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.