These Are the Most Naturally Beautiful States in America
The United States is one of the most naturally diverse and beautiful countries in the world. It’s really no surprise, given that the nation is absolutely gigantic, so it has a lot of space to fit in snow peaks, deserts, beaches, canyons, mountains, rivers, prairies and even volcanoes.
But while the vast land of "America the Beautiful" has plenty of scenery to offer, it's not all equally distributed among its states. We're not here to call any of the states ugly, but let’s just say some have Hollywood star-level looks while others are pretty in a normal-person-next-door kind of way.
At the risk of offending many people, we ranked the 25 most beautiful states in the U.S. Note that we’re looking at natural beauty, the kind that comes with the territory and can’t be developed. This means that flashy cities or cute colonial towns do nothing to give their state points.
State capital: Boston
Population: 6.87 million
No. of national parks: 16*
*These include all protected areas that are within the National Parks Service. Besides officially designated national parks, there are "monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails."
What Makes Massachusetts so Beautiful
Massachusetts is not the prettiest New England state, but it has enough going for it to land within the top half of all states overall.
The state is prettiest during the fall, making it great for slow road trips through the famed Berkshires. It also has a decent amount of shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean.
Must-Visit Spot in Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Lakeshore
There are other noteworthy spots in the state, but none can compare to the picturesque Cape Cod. Putting aside the charm of its seaside towns and their colorful houses, the Cape abounds in natural beauty.
The coastline is rugged and windy, and the water is cold, but this is all part of the allure of the area. Plus, this is what brings several species of whales here, which makes the area a great whale watching spot.
State capital: Boise
Population: 1.75 million
No. of national parks: 6
What Makes Idaho So Beautiful
Idaho usually gets overshadowed by its admittedly prettier neighbors, Montana and Wyoming.
Most people think the state's only worthy natural attraction is the small portion of Yellowstone that lies within its border. And while Idaho gives you the beauty of the national park without the crowds, there are also several other incredibly beautiful places you've probably never heard of.
The state is also surprisingly diverse. You have snow peaks that surround Lake Coeur d'Alene, the deep canyons of Snake River and Hells Canyon and tall sand dunes at Bruneau Dunes State Park.
Must-Visit Spot in Idaho: Crater of the Moon National Monument
Although space tourism to the moon looks like it will happen in the near future, chances are you're not a multi-billionaire who will be able to afford it. But don't worry.
Just head over to Idaho's Crater of the Moon National Monument for a barren landscape that is still somehow absolutely breathtaking.
23. West Virginia
State capital: Charleston
Population: 1.81 million
No. of national parks: 6
What Makes West Virginia So Beautiful
Tell someone you're going to West Virginia, and they might ask why. This overlooked state has gotten a bad reputation as a place you just drive through — and even then, only if you need to.
The reality, however, is that West Virginia is pretty gorgeous. There are soft hills, dense forests and deep rivers. This makes the state perfect for outdoor lovers who have already seen and done everything else.
Must-Visit Spot in West Virginia: New River Gorge National Park
New River Gorge was promoted from state to national park in 2021.
Though it's the newest park in the national system, it manages to be within the top 25 most visited national parks — a testament to how gorgeous this outdoor wonderland is.
Plus, the park boasts New River, which is, ironically, one of the oldest rivers in the world.
State capital: Madison
Population: 5.81 million
No. of national parks:
What Makes Wisconsin So Beautiful
Yes, Wisconsin does love its cheese. And, yes, there are a lot of prairies. But there's a lot more to the Badger State than it's given credit for.
The northern part of Wisconsin has long shores on both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, so really what's surprising is that people don't expect it to be as pretty as it actually is.
There are also thousands of lakes and many dramatic cliffs, some of which were carved out during the last Ice Age.
Must-Visit in Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Seashore
This collection of 22 islands is known for its seaside cliffs with dramatic arches. The unique natural formations alone are worth a trip to Wisconsin.
There are also several historic lighthouses and plenty of opportunities for water sports that can take you close to the cliffs.
21. New Mexico
State capital: Santa Fe
Population: 2.1 million
No. of national parks: 15
What Makes New Mexico So Beautiful
Miles and miles of desert mark the landscape of New Mexico. But far from being boring, the scenery is beautiful, often giving out a feeling of being an endless red sea.
There are also red rock cliffs, peppered with resilient vegetation that can withstand high heat. Unique rock formations, hoodoos and the gray Taos Mountains also enhance the state's unique beauty.
Must-Visit in New Mexico: White Sands National Park
Like New River Gorge, White Sands was upgraded from a national monument to a national park fairly recently.
Since 2019, this relatively new national park has enjoyed increased popularity. Of course, it's been a longtime favorite for those who want a spot that is (as its slogan states) "like no place on Earth."
Taking in the vast, expansive views of white dunes is incredible. But the best thing to do in the park is sandboarding down the tall sand mountains.
20. South Dakota
State capital: Pierre
No. of national parks: 6
What Makes South Dakota So Beautiful
South Dakota may just be the most underrated state of them all. Most people only know it because of Mount Rushmore, but believe us when we say that’s not the state’s best attraction by far.
Instead, we’d recommend you focus on the rest of the Black Hills, which have tall mountains, deep caves, powerful waterfalls and hot springs. Custer State Park is another point of interest, with jagged rocky peaks and deep blue lakes.
South Dakota is definitely isolated, but that’s part of what has helped it preserve its natural beauty so well. It may also be why — somewhat surprisingly — this is one of the happiest states in the country.
Must-Visit Spot in South Dakota: Badlands National Park
If you go to only one place in South Dakota, let it be the Badlands. Ignore what the name implies, this national park is a diverse paradise of dramatic landscapes.
You’ll find sharp, rocky crags and spires that have seemingly been handpainted white, red and orange. There are also grassy prairies where you can see grazing bison.
State capital: Richmond
Population: 8.51 million
No. of national parks: 22
What Makes Virginia So Beautiful
Virginia has the advantage of having a long coastline on one side and the Appalachian Trail on the other. This means that wherever you go, you’re guaranteed natural beauty.
Sure, the beaches aren’t the absolute best in the country, but Assateague Island has wild ponies. That is much more than any other state can say for their beaches.
The true beauty of Virginia, though, is its mountains. There are few things as relaxing as seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains from one of the state’s many vineyards.
Virginia natives love partaking in a little forest bathing. Camping, hiking and other outdoor activities are popular pastimes. Visitors are highly encouraged to look beyond neighboring D.C. and focus on the mountains.
Must-Visit Spot in Virginia: Shenandoah National Park
As part of the Appalachian Trail, Shenandoah is extremely hiker-friendly. The park is mostly made of mountainous forest, with numerous waterfalls and rivers where you can cool off from a day of arduous treks.
If you want to experience nature but can’t fully commit to a camping trip, you can drive along the Skyline Drive, which runs through the park.
State capital: Carson City
Population: 3.03 million
No. of national parks: 4
What Makes Nevada So Beautiful
Before you cry foul for including Nevada on here, let us quickly state that this has nothing to do with Las Vegas. We hear you, is there anything in the state besides Sin City? Absolutely yes, and it is mostly a collection of astonishing natural formations.
Right outside of Vegas, for example, is Red Rock Canyon, which features large red limestone and sandstone formations that call rock climbers from all over the planet. There is also the Ruby Valley with snow peaks, hot springs and deep verdant valleys.
Of course, we can’t forget Lake Tahoe, arguably the prettiest lake in the country.
Must-Visit Spot in Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park
You definitely won’t be fighting the crowds in this state park, whose swirling red rocks make you feel like you’re somewhere on Mars.
You’ll find petroglyphs, plenty of hiking trails and many unusual vistas. The best part is that it’s only about an hour from Las Vegas, so it’s easily accessible.
State capital: Lansing
Population: 10 million
No. of national parks: 5
What Makes Michigan So Beautiful
Nobody should be surprised to see Michigan here, considering how the state has a coastline on Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie.
Access to the Great Lakes basically guarantees beauty to this state, which has forest, beaches, dunes and sandstone cliffs.
Despite the cold, Michigan residents find ways to spend time outdoors at any time of the year, with ice fishing being a popular pastime in the winter. When your state is this beautiful, you definitely don’t want to waste any time staying indoors.
Must-Visit Spot in Michigan: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Located on Lake Superior, this beachy lakeshore may just be Michigan’s best spot. It is defined by Pictured Rock cliffs, colorful sandstone formations that hang over the water and make for picture-perfect scenery.
Explore caves, kayak on the lake and catch the sunset.
16. New York
State capital: Albany
Population: 20.22 million
No. of national parks: 24
What Makes New York So Beautiful
It may be obvious to Americans, but foreigners often don’t know about the immense natural beauty of New York state. Blame New York City for taking all of the attention.
First of all, the state boasts two mountain ranges, the Adirondacks and the Catskills, which make for some of the best fall foliage trips in the whole country. There are also many fluvial landscapes, courtesy of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Atlantic.
Yes, the beaches are cold and windy, but they still make for some fascinating views, especially when you can drive to the mountains from them in a couple of hours.
Must-Visit Spot in New York: Adirondack State Park
The Catskills may be where the upper-middle class goes to play, but the Adirondacks are where true nature enthusiasts head to when they need a break from urbanity.
The state park is wonderful to visit at any time of the year. Summer is perfect for swimming or canoeing in Lake Placid, and spring brings ideal camping weather with it. Fall is probably the busiest season for the park, as flocks of people come here to get a glimpse of the orange mountains. And let's not forget winter, which attracts skiers to Whiteface Mountain.
State capital: Salem
Population: 4.18 million
No. of national parks: 5
What Makes Oregon So Beautiful
Few states love nature more than Oregon. It makes sense, given the large number of green areas within it. Even large cities like Portland are surrounded by forests.
Some of the state’s most spectacular natural offerings include Smith Rock State Park, with Mount Hood at the center of its universe. Wildflowers dot the trails that lead to glaciers, which in turn feed pristine lakes.
The state’s shoreline is also something worth visiting. It’s rocky and cold, but it has personality. Don’t hesitate to spend a day just staring out onto the Pacific Ocean, watching seals play on the rocks and hoping to get a glimpse of migrating whales.
Must-Visit Spot in Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
The deep blue water of Crater Lake surrounds a small mount that peeks out defiantly. The perfectly circular lake is surrounded by the walls of the crater, which are equal parts barren and covered in forest.
This sight is unique enough to have warranted the area national park status. Hiking here is highly encouraged, but you can also cruise along Rim Drive, which goes around the lake and offers some of the park’s best views.
14. North Carolina
State capital: Raleigh
Population: 10.39 million
No. of national parks: 10
What Makes North Carolina So Beautiful
The Outer Banks, the Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park: North Carolina has it all. Did we mention it also has swamps?
Like Virginia, this state has the advantage of having beautiful beaches on one side and the Appalachian Trail on the other. If it ranks higher than the Old Dominion, it’s thanks to the Smokies.
Residents and visitors are never too far from nature in this state. Blue Ridge Parkway, a road that winds along the mountains, makes the breathtaking views even more accessible. We highly recommend driving through it during winter.
Must-Visit Spot in North Carolina: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Ancient, thick forests mark the Great Smoky Mountains, which is the most visited national park in the U.S. Asheville acts as the major gateway into the park, so you can easily go camping in it for the weekend.
Even day hikes are easy to coordinate, though, in this case, easy doesn’t mean the views are any less impressive.
State capital: Montpelier
No. of national parks: 2
What Makes Vermont So Beautiful
Vermont is famous for a variety of things: having the least populated state capital, maple syrup and fall foliage.
The entire state only has around 624,000 people — by comparison, New York City has 8.42 million. But this lack of population density is exactly why its natural beauty continues to be so intact.
In Vermont, it’d be harder to get away from nature than to find it, but you can still make plans to visit spots like Lake Champlain, where you may get a glimpse of Canada.
Must-Visit Spot in Vermont: Quechee Gorge State Park
There is not a single person in Vermont who hasn’t heard of Quechee Gorge. This state park centers around a tall gorge with a drop of about 165 feet.
At the foot of the gorge is the Ottauquechee River, whose strong rapids call adventure travelers from around the northeast.
State capital: Nashville
Population: 6.77 million
No. of national parks: 13
What Makes Tennessee So Beautiful
Like North Carolina, Tennessee is blessed with a part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This basically guarantees it a spot on this ranking, but it’s not the only reason it has earned the honor.
Tennessee is brimming with natural attractions that include natural pools, stone bridges and even an underground waterfall. And it does all of this without a shoreline.
Must-Visit Spot in Tennessee: The Lost Sea
The Great Smoky Mountains are amazing, but since you’ll visit them in North Carolina, let’s highlight this unique Tennessee natural wonder.
The Lost Sea is the world’s second largest non-subglacial underwater lake. Hidden within Craighead Caverns, visiting this site on a glass-bottomed boat is like nothing else you’ll experience in the U.S.
State capital: Augusta
Population: 1.34 million
No. of national parks: 4
What Makes Maine So Beautiful
One of the northernmost states, Maine is a paradise of rocky coastline and pebbled beaches.
The Appalachian Trail ends here, where visitors can check out the dense forests, cold lakes and countless trails to explore. Maine also has numerous offshore islands, which is why so many of the state's residents take on the hassle of owning a boat. When you have so many places to sail to, it’s definitely worth it.
Must-Visit Spot in Maine: Acadia National Park
Is this even up for debate? Acadia is a wonderland of perfect views, located right next to the picturesque town of Bar Harbor.
This means easy access into nature, which includes some of the highest mountains in the northeast. Hikes are especially rewarding since reaching the summit very often includes a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
State capital: Tallahassee
Population: 21.22 million
No. of national parks: 11
What Makes Florida So Beautiful
This peninsula is blessed by a long, long shoreline of soft sand beaches. In few other states could you catch the sunrise in the morning and drive a mere two hours to catch the sunset in the afternoon.
Florida is better known to outsiders for the parties in Miami, the parks in Orlando and the sports teams in Tampa. But the state actually has some jaw-dropping landscapes. The fact that it does this without any mountains is even more impressive.
Start at the beaches of the Gulf Shore, swim with manatees in Crystal River Springs, snorkel in the Keys and visit the isolated Dry Tortugas National Park.
Must-Visit Spot in Florida: Everglades National Park
Ah, the much-maligned and misunderstood Everglades! Often called a swamp, this massive national park is actually a slow-moving grass river. It is a unique and fragile ecosystem that exists nowhere else in the world and is home to species like the Florida panther. It is also the only place on the planet where you can find both alligators and crocodiles.
It took several decades, but thanks to nature photographers like Clyde Butcher, people are finally waking up to the quiet charm of the Everglades.
State capital: Olympia
Population: 7.51 million
No. of national parks: 15
What Makes Washington So Beautiful
When the biggest city in the state is surrounded by three national parks, you know nature is the name of the game here.
That’s the best thing about Washington. You don't even have to leave Seattle to go hiking or kayaking.
Visit the Columbia River Gorge, go whale watching in the San Juan Islands or stand at the foot of glaciers. It's all possible in Washington.
Must-Visit Spot in Washington: Mount Rainier National Park
If you ever feel like hiking an active volcano, consider Mount Rainier as an option. Located within close proximity to Seattle, this national park features the Cascade Range as your playground.
Expect old-growth forests, numerous glaciers, hundreds of lakes and tranquil meadows.
State capital: Denver
Population: 5.69 million
No. of national parks: 13
What Makes Colorado So Beautiful
Where do you even begin with Colorado? Of course, the Rocky Mountains, but the state has a total of four national parks that are absolutely stunning.
Visit cliff-dwellings and petroglyphs in Mesa Verde, traverse the yellow sands of Great Sand Dunes and challenge your vertigo at Black Canyon.
There are also smaller but noteworthy parks, such as Garden of the Gods, whose rock formations contrast with the green forests at their feet.
Must-Visit Spot in Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s difficult to choose a single spot in Colorado, but the Rocky Mountains sort of define the state in a way no other place does. Snow-covered peaks offer hundreds and hundreds of trails to explore.
There’s also alpine lakes and plenty of opportunity to see wildlife such as elk.
State capital: Cheyenne
No. of national parks: 7
What Makes Wyoming So Beautiful
Though much of Wyoming consists of mountain prairies, the state also has a desert, canyons and high plains. Besides this, it is home to two of the most astonishing national parks in the country. The first is Grand Teton, which was crowned as the No.1 national park by Tripadvisor. The other is, of course, Yellowstone.
The state is better known for cowboys than for big cities, but this makes it perfect for a wildlife safari, with bison, elk, moose and pronghorn found roaming freely.
Must-Visit Spot in Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park
Although Idaho and Montana also have part of Yellowstone, Wyoming has some of the park’s most famous landmarks.
If you want to see the impossibly colorful Grand Prismatic Spring or witness Old Faithful erupting, you’ll have to be in Wyoming.
State capital: Helena
Population: 1.06 million
No. of national parks: 8
What Makes Montana So Beautiful
Large and open, Montana feels like a whole country of its own. You’ll find more dark sky spots than you will big cities, which is why this state has people constantly looking up. During the day, you’re looking up towards the majestic mountains, and at night, you see more stars than you ever thought could exist.
Of course, Yellowstone is a big draw, but the state also has glaciers, caverns and even ringing rocks, which make mysterious bell-like sounds when tapped.
Must-Visit Spot in Montana: Glacier National Park
Spanning more than 1 million acres, this national park is as expansive as it is beautiful. It earned its name for the 26 glaciers you can find within its borders.
There are also wild meadows, dense forests and, of course, glacial lakes. The lakes provide some of the most entertaining activities within the park as well as some of its best panoramas.
State capital: Phoenix
Population: 7.17 million
No. of national parks: 22
What Makes Arizona So Beautiful
Arizona’s main draw is the Grand Canyon, considered one of the most incredible natural wonders, not just in the country, but in the world.
But the state has many other natural attractions it can be proud of, which are sometimes confused as being part of the canyon but are separate. The two most prominent of these are Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, both of which are very much worth making a trip to Arizona for.
Besides this, there is Red Rock State Park close to Sedona, the Painted Desert, Monument Valley and numerous hot springs.
Must-Visit Spot in Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park
There is simply no way around it — the Grand Canyon is a place you won’t find anywhere else on this gorgeous planet.
Formed by the Colorado River millions of years ago, the tall cliffs that drop off without notice are marked by the traces of the water, as if carved on purpose.
State capital: Salt Lake City
Population: 3.15 million
No. of national parks: 13
What Makes Utah So Beautiful
With a total of five national parks, Utah is more natural wonder than anything else. Especially because these five parks are often considered some of the most astounding.
See otherworldly Bryce Canyon, whose hoodoos never fail to capture the imagination. Trek through the large rock formations in Canyonlands and Arches. Or defy gravity at the steep Angels Landing in Zion.
Must-Visit Spot in Utah: Zion National Park
We hesitate to say Zion is the best national park in Utah, but we also think if you only visit one of the five, it should be this one.
The landscape of Zion is defined by deep red canyons and sandstone cliffs. The somewhat barren environment is brought to life by rivers and natural pools. There are many places you want to see, but the best may be the Narrows, the narrowest part of the canyon.
State capital: Juneau
No. of national parks: 23
What Makes Alaska So Beautiful
Part of Alaska is set within the Arctic Circle, which in itself means that the landscape is harsh, dramatic and demanding. You can’t do the Alaskan wilderness in a leisurely manner, but that effort is what gets you hooked to the isolated places that are almost too beautiful to take.
Get far up north enough during the winter, and you may get to see the Northern Lights on the Arctic Tundra. A little farther south, you’ll find forests, fjords and glaciers. There are also dozens of islands with rugged coastlines and seacliffs. And let's not forget its impressive eight national parks.
Many people also go to Alaska for the opportunity to see wildlife, which includes a very healthy population of bears and moose.
Must-Visit Spot in Alaska: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Glaciers that go straight into the ocean define this preserve, considered one of the best of Alaska’s eight national parks.
On your visit, you’ll be able to see imposing fjords and more than 1,000 glaciers.
State capital: Honolulu
Population: 1.42 million
No. of national parks: 8
What Makes Hawaii So Beautiful
No state even comes close to having the kind of landscapes you can find in Hawaii. Broken up into isles, the state’s space may be limited, but that doesn’t keep it from having a surprising amount of biodiversity and a variety of landscapes.
You can, for instance, experience various beach types, which range from typical white sand to rocky to glass. The volcanic islands also have lava tubes, caves, natural pools, desert-like canyons and tall waterfalls.
The ocean is, of course, a playground that’s to be respected, where you can swim, surf, scuba dive, snorkel and whale watch.
Must-Visit Spot in Hawaii: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This national park has Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on earth. It also has a second volcano, Kilauea, which is just as active as its counterpart.
Its nature means that the park is unpredictable, and its landscape is ever-changing, but it also gives you the opportunity to see an active caldera or witness hot lava falling into the cool ocean and searing.
State capital: Sacramento
Population: 39.35 million
No. of national parks: 28
What Makes California So Beautiful
With a grand total of nine national parks, California wins this beauty pageant merely by the sheer diversity of its landscape.
The state has a long coastline that provides incredible drives like the famed Big Sur, wildlife-watching opportunities and, of course, beaches. It also has the perpetually snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, forests with some of the largest trees in the world and deserts. Whatever kind of outdoor experience you want, chances are California has it in spades.
Must-Visit Spot in California: Yosemite National Park
Out of all the national parks in the state, Yosemite takes the prize for most famous and, perhaps, best looking. The park has forceful waterfalls, giant sequoia groves and impressive rock formations.
The most famous of the latter are El Capitan and Half Dome, which represent a dream for rock climbers around the world.