From sea to shining sea

“America the Beautiful” probably isn’t on rotation in your favorite playlist, but its sentiment is one we shouldn’t take for granted. From the beach to the mountains, lakes and rivers to deserts and canyons, our country is blessed with stunning natural structures from one coast to the other. Especially with the cooling temps and changing leaves, make one of these fabulous views part of your next adventure.

Acadia National Park // Maine

If sunrises are your thing, Acadia is the place for you. The views here make it well worth setting your alarm for 4 a.m. Trails range from “very easy” to “strenuous” on the 120 miles’ worth of hiking through the park’s 50,000 stunning acres. Acadia is home to Cadillac Mountain, which at 1,530 feet, is the highest point on the Atlantic Coast and thus the first place in the States the sun hits each day. You’ll see the entire park from its peak and feel like you’re on top of the world.

Kanawha State Forest // West Virginia

Country roads, take me home . . . John Denver was on to something in noting the graceful beauty of West Virginia in his music. The Overlook Rock Trail is just outside of Charleston, and it’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for an excursion that combines city and country. Do the 1.6-, 3.3-, or 6.9-mile trail depending on your hiking experience and thirst for a views-worthy challenge. The route is one way, and you’ll see a bit of everything you might expect in an enchanted forest, even down to a babbling brook.

Cascade Head // Oregon

If you like a little marine life with your hike, the Oregon coast is the place to be. With trails for hikers of all experience levels, Cascade Head offers sweeping views of wildflower-filled meadows, forests, and the majestic Pacific Ocean. It’s not just a visual experience: Many hikers hear the barking of sea lions during their 6.8-mile sojourn. Others come to see the gray and humpback whales that migrate north past the coast in March.

Nā Pali Coast // Hawaii

One of the most western points of Hawaii, Kaua’i is geologically the oldest Hawaiian island, and so much of it remains absolutely breathtaking and untouched even today. You’ve seen bits of it in movies such as Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park (the waterfall!), and Lilo & Stitch (OK, animated, but still inspired!). A strenuous two-mile hike up the Nā Pali Coast on the Kalalau Trail will bring you to beautiful Hanakapi’ai beach, where you can lunch and sunbathe. A word of caution if you choose to swim in the ocean here: The currents can be powerful and no lifeguards are present, so unless you’re a strong swimmer, it’s best to stick to the shoreline. Along the route, you’ll encounter a stream, a river, and a waterfall, whose serene views come in just about every shade of blue.

Kenai Peninsula // Alaska

The views make this hike so worth the trip. As one Alaskan native says, “Alaska is like the woman: the crowning glory of God’s creation.” The 4.6-mile Skyline Trail loop is steep, strenuous, and will steal your breath both literally and figuratively. Consider yourself warned: Bears love the view too, so bring some sort of protection (like bear spray). You’ll start in the forest and emerge above the tree line about three-quarters of a mile in. From there, the view of the rich and rugged Alaskan landscape is perpetually astonishing. Bonus: In warmer months, you’ll find wildflowers and blueberries to pick along the way. Blueberries for Sal, anyone?