The Natural Wonders of North America

One of the most compelling reasons to travel is to experience the wonder of nature in all its varieties. From lofty mountain peaks to the deepest canyon depths, and even below the surface of the Earth, North America has dozens of must-see wonders that display not only the natural world as it is now, but as it was in eons past.

Here are just a few of the most extraordinary ones to visit:

The Northern Lights

Ranking number one on most lists is the aurora borealis, that spectacular light show that flashes across the northern skies. It’s not a place per se, but a mind-blowing experience. Visible in a narrow band of latitude 66 to 69 degrees north, the best locations to view them in North America are in Alaska and in Yukon and the Northwest Territories, plus the northern reaches of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador. While the phenomenon happens year-round, this is definitely a trip to take in the winter, because long summer nights make seeing the lights near impossible.

Northern Lights - Aurora Borealis

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): The Northern Lights by rodeime

The Grand Canyon

Nearly 2 billion years of geologic history are exposed in the walls of this immense canyon in the Arizona desert. It’s 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide, and an astonishing mile (1.6 km) deep. The South Rim of the canyon is open all year, and it’s where you’ll find of 90 percent of visitors. It offers rental lodging and RV parks as well as campgrounds. The less-accessible North Rim is open from May 15 to October 15. Beyond sightseeing, there’s hiking, bicycling, trekking down the canyon by mule, and half-day to multi-week rafting through the canyon on the Colorado River. Activities that require reservations are often booked over a year in advance, so plan early.

The Grand Canyon

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): The Grand Canyon by rickmccharles

Niagara Falls

Created as water flowed into the Niagara River from the North American Great Lakes 12,000 years ago, and forming a natural border between the province of Ontario and the state of New York, these three spectacular waterfalls form the hub of a sightseeing and recreational area with enough outdoor and indoor activities to make a great getaway. The Maid of the Mist cruise past the falls is the oldest tourist attraction in North America, in operation since 1846, and is open from late April to mid-October every year, depending on the weather. Niagara Falls hotels in Canada are right in the middle of the rest of the action, with restaurants, casinos, golfing, cycling, dozens of nearby wineries, and duty-free shopping for visitors from across the border.

Niagara Falls

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Niagara Falls by g4egk

Death Valley

From the wettest of the wet, to the driest of the dry, we come to Death Valley in the desert straddling the border between California and Nevada. At 282 feet (86 km) below sea level, it is the point of lowest elevation in North America, as well as one of the hottest places in the world, with summertime highs sometimes exceeding those of Middle Eastern deserts. You’d do best visiting during cooler winter months when you can hike or can drive or bike the 1000 miles of paved and dirt roads through the valley’s 3.4 million acres.

Death Valley National Park

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Death Valley by terchonline

Mammoth Cave

The world’s longest known cave, Mammoth has 390 miles (630 km) of passageways, with new discoveries and connections adding several more miles to that figure every year. You can explore via lighted tours ranging from one to six hours in length, and even take “wild” tours venturing away from developed parts of the cave into muddy crawls and dusty tunnels. Located in the southeastern state of Kentucky, the area also offers surface hikes, canoeing on the Green River, horseback riding, bicycling, camping, and more, including tapping your toes to that great Kentucky Bluegrass music.

Mammoth Cave

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Mammoth Cave by grumblie

Bay of Fundy

Located on the northeast end of the Gulf of Maine between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia — and halfway between the equator and the North Pole — the Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides on earth in a setting of breathtaking cliffs, sea caves, and rock formations. It also boasts the rarest whales in the world as well as Triassic-age dinosaur fossils. The bay’s unique shape gives rise to tides as high as a five-story building which recede at low tide six hours later to expose as much as three miles (five km) of ocean floor. The area offers a variety of hiking trails, sea kayaking tours, boat tours, and tidal rafting expeditions on the tidal rivers, and has a variety of hotels and historic inns.

Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Bay of Fundy by cjuneau

Comments

  1. I will definitely have to visit North America soon and explore these natural wonders! Are the Northern Lights a common phenomenon in winter?

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