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Our country has such incredibly diverse scenery from coast to coast, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is by taking a trip to see some of our many spectacular natural wonders. Every state has its share of them, and here are a few well worth exploring:
Avenue of the Giants
It’s hard to think of a more majestic (and humbling) sight than a stand of ancient redwoods. Avenue of the Giants, located approximately 300 miles north of San Francisco, is a 32-mile stretch of old Highway 101 that’s surrounded by more than 50,000 acres of redwoods, some of which are 2,000 years old. In fact, the area has the largest stand of virgin redwoods in the world, so as you drive through, be sure to take time to stop and hike, take a bike ride or enjoy a picnic as you take in amazing sights like the Champion Coast Redwood that stands an impressive 370 feet tall.
When you think of the state of Indiana, the words “Let’s go to the beach” may not be the first ones that come to mind, but in reality, Indiana Dunes State Park in northwest Indiana is home to more than three miles of beautiful beaches. Best of all, they’re flanked by sand dunes that tower nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan. The dunes are thousands of years old and provide a fun place to kick back and relax as well as a habitat for many types of plants and animals. Another point of interest, the 100-acre J.D. Marshall Preserve, is located approximately 600 yards offshore. It is the first underwater nature preserve in Indiana and is dedicated to the area where a ship named the J.D. Marshall capsized and sank in a storm in 1911.
Mammoth Cave National Park is certainly accurately named, since on the surface, it covers 80 square miles, and the cave system underground is so massive that no one knows how big it is, even though more than 365 miles of it have already been mapped. In fact, new caves are being discovered all the time. A variety of tours are available with names like Frozen Niagara, Domes and Dripstones, and Gothic Avenue. There’s also a Nature Tracks program for kids. Advance reservations for the tours aren’t required, but they are recommended.
Stargazing at Cherry Springs State Park
North Central Pennsylvania
Its location at the top of a 2,300-foot high mountain surrounded by state forest land that’s relatively undeveloped makes Cherry Springs State Park one of the best places to go stargazing on the eastern seaboard. The 82-acre park delivers excellent 360-degree views of the night sky, and the park’s latitude and longitude also make it ideal for viewing the nucleus of the Milky Way galaxy. The nearby Susquehannock Trail offers 85 miles of hiking.
The scary-sounding name of this area may give it a bad rap, but it’s certainly not one that it deserves. It’s an area filled with breathtaking rock formations, native grasslands and wildlife. A great way to see the region is by driving the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, a 30-mile loop of Highway 240 that contains nearly 30 scenic overlooks that offer excellent photo ops. Badlands National Park also contains a number of hiking trails, including a ¼-mile, fully-accessible boardwalk called the Fossil Trail where visitors can learn about the now-extinct species like saber-toothed cats that once roamed the area.
Blue Ridge Mountains Skyline Drive
The spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain range spans more than 600 miles from Georgia to Pennsylvania. The mountains get their name from the blue haze that floats over them that is created by an organic compound released by the region’s trees. A great way to take in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains is to travel along Virginia’s Skyline Drive that runs 105 miles along the crest of the mountains in Shenandoah National Park. It’s a relaxing drive with a speed limit of just 35 mph and there are 75 overlooks along the way. Sights to keep a lookout for include wildflowers, deer, black bear, wild turkeys and other woodland animals. RVs and camping trailers are welcome, but you’ll need to be prepared to shift into low gear and be able to clear Mary’s Rock Tunnel which is 12′8″ tall.