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The 30 most inspiring places in America

From sea to mind-blogglingly beautiful sea, and beyond, these 30 patches of American nature are ready to inspire you

Photograph: Shutterstock

When you take a minute to flee the city, America is a jaw-droppingly beautiful place to explore—a feast of mountains and rivers and beaches and forests and birds and trees that have inspired writers, artists and free-thinkers for centuries. This summer, we’re encouraging you to join them. In partnership with acclaimed new film Captain Fantastic­­, starring Viggo Mortensenwhich centers on a family that lives in the forests of the Pacific and is forced to re-enter the “real world”—we’ve scoured the country to find America’s most inspiring places. Looking to escape that real world for an invigorating encounter with nature? These destinations are calling. And for an invigorating encounter with nature closer to home, catch Captain Fantastic in select theaters July 8.

Let America inspire you...

Artist Point in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, WA

Artist Point in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest, WA

Near the Canadian border, this icy wilderness is crowned by an active volcano, the 10,781-foot-tall Mount Baker. The road to Artist Point (where Captain Fantastic was shot) is closed most of the year, but when the snow melts it's a breathtaking destination with cairns, blueberry meadows and panoramic views of Mounts Shuksan and Baker.

Pack Forest at Eatonville, WA

Pack Forest at Eatonville, WA

Pass through old-growth forest and wetlands in this 4,300-acre park and environmental laboratory, which is managed by the University of Washington and accessible year-round. Mossy trails meander by Douglas fir, hemlock, wildflowers and waterfalls; toads and woodpeckers provide the soundtrack.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flicker/Mount Rainier National Park

North Rim Campground, Grand Canyon, AZ

North Rim Campground, Grand Canyon, AZ

Aspens and ponderosa pines shade this relaxed site on the quiet north side of the canyon, 8,200 feet above sea level. A short walk takes you to the Transept Trail, where you can watch the sandstone peaks blaze at sunset.

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Viewpoint over Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park, OR

Viewpoint over Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park, OR

When explorer William Clarke reached Tillamook Head, in Ecola State Park, he saw "the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed." You'll agree with that sentiment as you take in the dramatic view south over Cannon Beach, where giant boulders stand misted in sea spray.

Buck Hill in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Buck Hill in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

In the park's South Unit, Buck Hill rises 2,855 feet above the prairie, giving visitors 360-degree views of the badlands—the view is particularly stunning at sunset.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nic McPhee

Heintooga Picnic Area in the Smokies, TN

Heintooga Picnic Area in the Smokies, TN

There are few more beautiful places to sit and eat a picnic at this mile-high cluster of spruce and fir trees, which looks out over rolling green peaks. Keep an eye out for kinglets, warblers and ravens while you're there.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jared

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Jasper Beach, Machiasport, ME

Jasper Beach, Machiasport, ME

This pocket beach is covered in polished volcanic pebbles, not sand, which look like crumbles from the surrounding bluffs. Located on a remote peninsula in Downeast Maine, it’s a cherished spot for residents of the nearby fishing villages.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kim Carpenter

Middle Pool on Emerald Pools Trail, Zion National Park, UT

Middle Pool on Emerald Pools Trail, Zion National Park, UT

Though technically a desert, Zion Canyon is lush with vegetation and waterfalls—you'll get a taste of that at these three pools on this scenic trail. The middle pool is particularly striking toward dusk, when it’s shaded and the sun hits the cliffs on the opposite side of the Virgin River.

Enders Falls in Granby, CT

Enders Falls in Granby, CT

In the summer, northern Connecticut's Enders State Forest offers cool respite, with a stream coursing through dense woodland. A short trail ends at a group of waterfalls and swimming holes shaded by maple, birch and oak trees.

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Assateague Island, MD and VA

Assateague Island, MD and VA

One of the few places in the United States to see wild horses is on this protected barrier island, where herds have likely roamed since the 17th century. They're a mystical sight along the windswept shoreline, best glimpsed at dawn on the Woodland Trail.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/M01229

Long Point near Provincetown, MA

Long Point near Provincetown, MA

A historic lighthouse marks this sandy spit at the tip of Cape Cod, a short boat ride (or long walk) from bustling Provincetown. Surrounded by the lapping bay, you’ll gaze on sailboats, seagulls and maybe even a school of dolphins.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Lori L. Stalteri

Breakneck Ridge overlooking Hudson River, NY

Breakneck Ridge overlooking Hudson River, NY

You’ll need to scramble up boulders and tackle a steep climb to get to this spectacular Hudson Highlands viewing point. Though it’s a short train ride from New York City, the overlook feels remote, spanning the lush banks of the Hudson River and Storm King Mountain.

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Sculptured Rocks swimming hole, Groton, NH

Sculptured Rocks swimming hole, Groton, NH

New England is filled with hidden swimming holes, like the gems you’ll find at Sculptured Rocks Natural Area. At this idyllic summer spot, the Cockermouth River has carved a narrow canyon and smoothed boulders around the cold wading pools.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kelly Verdeck

Walpack Bend, Delaware Water Gap, PA

Walpack Bend, Delaware Water Gap, PA

On a hot day, it’s hard to beat kayaking down this serene stretch of the Delaware River, with forests along the shore and bald eagles overhead. The whitewater at Walpack Bend is just enough to make this accessible park—near both Philadelphia and New York—feel like an adventure.

Weston Lake in Congaree National Park, SC

Weston Lake in Congaree National Park, SC

This swampy 22,000-acre tract became a national park in 2003, so tourists are only now discovering its expansive old-growth bottomland hardwood forest and fields of butterweed. Walk along Weston Lake to experience the park's variety, such as otters, wading birds and cypress knees poking up from a dried-up riverbed.

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Shelburne Farms, looking over Lake Champlain, Shelburne, VT

Shelburne Farms, looking over Lake Champlain, Shelburne, VT

Once a Gilded Age estate, this 1,400-acre property is a working sustainable farm, with woodlands, pastures and gardens. Its cheddar is delicious, but the real reason to come is the majestic view over Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks.

Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine

Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park, Maine

Those looking for inner peace should find it at dawn on <a href="https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">Jordan Pond</a>, when the pines are fragrant and mist rises off the water. Stand on the east side to see the sun hit the sculpted granite peaks behind the pond.

Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, UT

Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, UT

This turnoff offers a sweeping view of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater and its army of limestone hoodoos. The fanciful rock formations, eroded over millennia, are especially enchanting in the orange glow of sunset.

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Bird watching at Oxbow Band, Grand Tetons, WY

Bird watching at Oxbow Band, Grand Tetons, WY

One of the best places to see many of Grand Tetons' 300 species of birds is at this crook of the Snake River, which is filled with prey like suckers and trout. Look for white pelicans in the spring, bald eagles in the summer and trumpeter swans year-round.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flicker/Dave Bezaire

Deception Pass Cliffs at Deception Pass State Park, WA

Deception Pass Cliffs at Deception Pass State Park, WA

Rugged cliffs, 180-feet tall, separate Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands at Deception Pass in Puget Sound. The cliffs (which serve as a dramatic backdrop for a scene in Captain Fantastic) are part of a popular 4,134-acre marine and camping park with 15 miles of saltwater shoreline, sandy beaches and old-growth forest.

Fly-fishing in Boulder River, MT

Fly-fishing in Boulder River, MT

Montana has long been a magnet for fly fishermen, thanks to the diversity of its trout-filled waterways. Originating in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the 60-mile Boulder River is framed by mountains as it courses through pools and rapids, making it an especially scenic place to cast a line.

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Kalalau Beach, end of Kalalau trail, HI

Kalalau Beach, end of Kalalau trail, HI

At the end of the 11-mile Kalalau trail, this stretch of sand is an otherworldly destination for serious hikers. The secluded beach, on the Napali Coast, is cupped by fluted volcanic ridges that plunge into the turquoise Pacific.

Tall Trees Grove in Redwood National Park, CA

Tall Trees Grove in Redwood National Park, CA

The Redwoods on this creek-side flat are hundreds of years old and staggeringly immense, some reaching higher than 350 feet. Visitors need to get a free permit before driving the narrow unpaved road to the trailhead, then hike 1.3 miles to the site. 

Ouzel Falls in the Rocky Mountains, CO

Ouzel Falls in the Rocky Mountains, CO

In the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, Wild Basin is a forested area dotted with streams, lakes and abundant wildflowers. Thundering 40 feet, the impressive Ouzel Falls is one of several waterfalls in the vicinity and a great destination for a day hike.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Christine Warner Hawks

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Upper Teklanika River in Denali National Park, AK

Upper Teklanika River in Denali National Park, AK

Only one road passes through Denali National Park's 6 million acres of rugged wilderness, so you're guaranteed to find solitude here. To keep your bearings, hike along the wide Teklanika River, which braids through the tundra below Cathedral and Double Mountains.

Sugarloaf Cove, MN

Sugarloaf Cove, MN

Waves wash over billion-year-old cobblestones at this tranquil spot on Lake Superior’s north shore. Its unique coastal forest is home to species that thrive in the cool summers, like white cedars, tall bluebells and hawthorn shrubs.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/wsilver

Lookout Louise on Isle Royale, MI

Lookout Louise on Isle Royale, MI

This magnificent perch offers views of the north side of Isle Royale and over Lake Superior to the Ontario mainland. The trip there is part of the fun: From Rock Harbor, paddle or water taxi to the Lookout Louise trailhead, then hike through boreal forest to the overlook.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Joe Ross

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Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park, SD

Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park, SD

Campers feel like pioneers at this primitive site near the Badlands Wilderness Area, located at the end of a long gravel road. And yes, bison will graze on the expansive grassland surrounding your tent.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/mcfst3

McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains, TX

McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains, TX

The walls of this west Texas canyon protect a beautiful desert oasis, home to a diverse array of plants and animals including bobcats and rattlesnakes. Visit in late October to see the spectacular fall colors of the walnut, juniper, ash and maple trees.

Twin Falls in the Ozarks, AR

Twin Falls in the Ozarks, AR

After heavy rains, there can sometimes be three waterfalls at this oft-photographed spot in the Buffalo National River wilderness area. They are easily reached by a short hike from a Boy Scout camp.

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