There are 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States and its territories, and I’d love to visit them all someday. I’m only partway through the list, so for this post I asked travel bloggers from around the world to write about their favorites to fill in the gaps. UNESCO World Heritage site designations are reserved for locations of significant natural and/or cultural heritage. New Mexico leads the way with three sites within its borders, so if you’re planning to visit all of the US UNESCO sites, that’ll be the place to start. This post is sorted into natural and cultural heritage groups so you can browse by your interests.
- 1 Cultural Heritage UNESCO sites in the US
- 1.1 Cahokia
- 1.2 Chaco Culture National Historic Park
- 1.3 Independence Hall
- 1.4 La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site
- 1.5 Mesa Verde National Park
- 1.6 Monticello and the University of Virginia
- 1.7 Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point
- 1.8 San Antonio Missions
- 1.9 Statue of Liberty
- 1.10 Taos Pueblo
- 2 Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the US
- 2.1 Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- 2.2 Everglades National Park
- 2.3 Grand Canyon National Park
- 2.4 Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 2.5 Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- 2.6 Kluane/Wrangell – St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alesk
- 2.7 Mammoth Cave National Park
- 2.8 Olympic National Park
- 2.9 Redwood National and State Parks
- 2.10 Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
- 2.11 Yellowstone National Park
- 2.12 Yosemite National Park
- 3 Both cultural and natural designations
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Cultural Heritage UNESCO sites in the US
Cultural heritage sites are selected based on the following criteria:
i. A masterpiece of creativity and cultural significance
ii. Important interchange of human values
iii. Bears testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization past or present
iv. Outstanding example of architecture or technology
v. Outstanding example of human settlements or land use or interaction with the environment
vi. Associated with events or traditions, beliefs, or creative works of major significance
Illinois – iii, iv
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Illinois uniquely illustrates America’s past. The site, one of 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the U.S., preserves the history of a city that existed long before Columbus. It tells the tale of those who built it and those who came after, from Trappist monks to a 19th century mechanic to the archaeologists who preserve their stories.
Cahokia was a planned city that covered six square miles dotted with 120 earthworks, and seventy of them remain on the site’s 2200 acres. One of the striking things about Cahokia is that U.S. 40, or Collinsville Road, runs right through it. Authorized in 1806 by Thomas Jefferson as the National Road, the section through Cahokia wasn’t officially completed until the 1920s, but by that time wagons, trains, and streetcars had all cut through the complex and the route was well established.
You can walk the grounds and climb the tallest mound independently, or you can take a guided tour. Be sure to allow time for the Interpretive Center, which goes into detail about the excavation process and what archaeologists have learned about the civilization that built this city.
See more about the Cahokia Mounds from Theresa at her site, The Local Tourist.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
New Mexico – iii
This important UNESCO World Heritage Site in New Mexico features the highest concentration of pueblos in the Southwestern United States. Located in a canyon, it was an important cultural center for the ancient pueblo people in pre-Columbian times. The Chacoan people used their architectural skill to create the largest buildings in North America, which weren’t surpassed until the 1800s. The area was a cultural center until the inhabitants were forced to abandon it due to a lengthy drought.
The National Historic Park is managed by the National Park Service, working closely with tribal representatives from the Hopi and Pueblo people. In addition to its Historic Park and UNESCO designations, the park has also been declared a Dark Sky Park, ideal for viewing stars, planets, and more at night. Visitors can pay per vehicle or per person if arriving on foot or by bike and enjoy guided tours of the ruins. Camping is also available.
Plan your visit here.
Pennsylvania – vi
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA was the site of the creation of the United States’ founding documents. The Second Continental Congress met here and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Several years later, delegates returned to Independence Hall to participate in the Constitutional Convention, which drafted the US Constitution in 1787. These important documents not only formed the basis of government in the United States, but influenced democracies in many other nations.
Visitors to Independence National Historic Park can take free guided tours of Independence Hall to learn about the events the occurred there. The park is also home to the famous Liberty Bell, other buildings of historic significance, and a rebuilt tavern favored by the delegates.
Find out more on the National Parks site. Check out the Society Hill Hotel right in the heart of the historic district.
La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site
Puerto Rico – vi
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Puerto Rico is U.S. soil. Sunny and breezy days, stretches of beautiful warm beaches, the old charm of European-style architecture, and Spanish-speaking residents all make it seem a world away.
Puerto Rico is one of the major islands of the Caribbean, and it has some of the most unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States. Old San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, was built in the 16th century, followed by several defensive towers and structures surrounding it to protect the capital.
The Spanish built these massive structures with their style of European military architecture that was adjusted to fit its natural subtropical island conditions. As a result, this style of architecture, especially the distinctive towers, can only be found here on the island.
The old city wall, town center, and most of the finest fortifications remain intact, even today. You can stroll the majestic fortifications of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Castillo San Cristóbal, and San Juan de la Cruz (El Cañuelo), all of which are quite impressive. These fortifications are now operated and maintained by the US National Park System, which conducts regular visits and tours. You’ll can see all the basic information about the forts, as well as the event calendar, online. You can also stop by the visitor center for more information and brochures.
Even better – if you have the chance to fly into Puerto Rico on a sunny, clear day, you may be able to catch a glimpse of these structures from above! It’s a fantastic view!
See more from Halef on The Round the World Guys.
Mesa Verde National Park
Colorado – iii
Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique Native American sites in North American. Mesa Verde is located in southwestern Colorado near the borders of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Mesa Verde National Park is home to more than 4,300 early native American sites. It is more famous for the 600 plus cliff-side dwellings in the park. The dwellings can range from single room structures to massive villages with 200 plus rooms. Mesa Verde National Park was created in 1906 and was designated a Cultural World Heritage Site in 1978. Both designations were done to protect these exceptional archeological sites.
To visit Mesa Verde is like stepping back into time and imagining oneself as an early Western explorer discovering these massive dwellings built into the sides of cliffs. The most popular activity in the park is to take a driving tour and stand at the top of the mesa viewing many of the cliff dwellings. The real treat though is to take a tour to one of several of the cliff dwelling open to the public. Two dwellings, the Spruce Tree House and Chapin Mesa, are open year round and do not require a ticket to visit. The famed Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House are only available via ranger-led tours. These three require climbing down the cliff side via wooden ladders to reach. Many of the non-cliff-side dwelling can be reached via hiking trails and roadside stops.
See more from Jennifer about Mesa Verde National Park at National Park Obsessed.
Monticello and the University of Virginia
Virginia – i, iv, vi
Monticello was a plantation home owned and designed by President Thomas Jefferson near Charlottesville, Virginia. He based its construction off of Italian Renaissance principles, though he continued to renovate it over the years. It’s also the site of his grave. The University of Virginia is a public university founded by Jefferson in 1819. Its original governing board also featured two other Presidents – James Monroe and James Madison. Jefferson designed the school’s original courses and part of its campus. Unlike most universities at that time, students were not required to study religion and had a far broader choice of schools.
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point
Louisiana – iii
Several centuries before Cahokia, there was another civilization near the Mississippi River. Constructed even before the Mayan pyramids, the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point in West Carroll Parrish, Louisiana, are estimated to be about 3,400 years old.
One of the most significant features of the site is a series of six semi-elliptical earthen ridges, which extend nearly three quarters of a mile and surround a flat plaza. There are also several mounds, and there’s evidence of timber circles. Unlike other mound cultures, which were agrarian societies, the people that built Poverty Point were hunters and gatherers. The background of the civilization that built these mounds beyond that distinction is a mystery. Some postulate that the site was used for ceremony and trade, and others believe that residences were built on top of the mounds.
Inside the visitor center is a museum featuring artifacts that have been found on the site, as well as an audio-visual presentation. You can also take a self-guided driving tour, and they’ll provide a booklet with information on the various stops. There are guided tours as well.
See more from Theresa on her site, The Local Tourist.
San Antonio Missions
Texas – ii
The San Antonio Missions in San Antonio, Texas have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2015. The UNESCO site consists of 5 different missions including the Alamo, one of Texas’s most visited tourist attractions. Other missions, including Mission San Jose and Mission Espada, are equally majestic and spectacular. 4 of the 5 missions, except the Alamo, are protected as a part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
The San Antonio Missions are Spanish Frontier Missions established between 1690 to 1720 to colonize and defend the southwest Spanish territory. The Missions also played an important role in the spread of Christianity among the natives. The Alamo was the site of the crucial Battle of the Alamo in 1836. All the Missions were self-sustaining and include several architectural and archeological structures of historical significance including churches, residential areas, ranches, farmlands, granaries, water distribution systems, wells, and perimeter walls. The Missions represent the evolution of a new culture formed due to merging of Spanish Colonial and indigenous cultures and are an integral part of Texas history.
All the Missions lie along the San Antonio River and are connected by a rich system of walking, hiking, and biking trails that extend over 15 miles. A paddling trail along the river also connects the Missions. The trail system is also connected to the San Antonio Riverwalk and allows visitors to easily explore the city’s most popular sights.
See more from Ketki at Dotted Globe.
Statue of Liberty
New York – i, vi
One of the United States’ most iconic sights, the Statue of Liberty is located on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. Originally a gift from France, the statue was built by Gustave Eiffel – yes, that Eiffel – and dedicated in 1886. Its location near Ellis Island (which has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site itself) meant that it served as a welcoming sight to thousands of immigrants arriving from overseas. With her lighted torch held aloft, broken chains at her feet, and a plaque featuring poet Emma Lazarus’ famous lines, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the Statue of Liberty represents the loftiest of American ideals.
Visitors can reach the Statue of Liberty by ferry from either New Jersey or New York’s Battery Park. Different ticket options are available with the most limited allowing access to the viewing area in Lady Liberty’s crown. Pedestal tickets allow entry to the museum and top of the pedestal, but not to the top. Grounds only tickets allow access to the island, but nothing else. Plan ahead as the crown and pedestal tickets sell out early, especially during popular visiting times.
New Mexico – iv
Taos Pueblo is an ancient pueblo near the modern city of Taos, New Mexico, in the southwestern USA. A pueblo, in case you aren’t familiar with the term, simply describes a Native American settlement, usually belonging to a tribe of Puebloan people. Pueblos usually consist of multi-story adobe houses, and the 4-story Northern House at Taos Pueblo is the one of the largest Pueblo structures still standing anywhere in America.
UNESCO recognized Taos Pueblo as a World Heritage Site in 1992, both for its traditional architectural features, and for its cultural significance. Because not only is Taos Pueblo historic (people from the Tiwa-speaking tribe have lived in this area for at least 1,000 years), but it’s an example of living history too.
Even though Taos Pueblo’s governing Tribal Council does not allow modern amenities like electricity and running water within the pueblo walls, some members of the community still live and work inside the pueblo. Bread is still baked in the humped earthen ovens. Trained hands still spin traditional pottery. And, once a year, the community still holds a ceremony to refinish the walls of each building in the pueblo with a new coat of adobe plaster.
When you visit Taos Pueblo, I highly recommend joining one of the guided tours of the pueblo in order to learn more about its history and the people who still call it home. Afterwards, you can wander around the pueblo on your own, stopping to visit various galleries and shops selling locally-made art, pottery, and jewelry – just make sure to bring some cash with you!
See more from Amanda at her site, Dangerous Business.
Natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the US
Natural heritage sites are selected based on the following criteria:
vii. Natural phenomena or places of exceptional natural beauty
viii. Representing major stages of Earth’s history regarding life, landforms, and geological processes
ix. Representing ongoing ecological and biological processes and evolution of ecosystems
x. Contains significant natural habitats of biological diversity
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
New Mexico – vii, viii
Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 100 caves including unique limestone features. Carlsbad Cavern, the most visited area, features The Big Room, which is 255 feet high and is the fifth largest cave chamber in North America. The caves were formed when groundwater combined with hydrogen sulfide to form sulfuric acid which dissolved the limestone deposits.
Visitors to Carlsbad Cave can hike into it from its natural surface entrance or ride down in one of the visitor center’s elevators. Once you’ve had your fill exploring underground, there are hiking trails and an unpaved scenic drive through the desert portions. The park is also designated as an Important Birding Area due to its large colony of cave swallows.
Plan your visit here.
Everglades National Park
Florida – viii, ix, x
The Florida Everglades sit at the southernmost tip of mainland Florida before you reach the Florida Keys. It’s the only sub-tropical wilderness in the United States and truly one of the most unique and fragile ecosystems in a part of the country where mass-development is an ever-imposing threat. This UNESCO World Heritage site is perfect for outdoor lovers, adventure types, and eco travelers who love hiking, fishing, and paddling. Exploring the “River of Grass” and Everglades National Park can be a bit daunting but with the help of a good map, GPS, or local guide, the rewards far outweigh a few bug bites. During the summer, when the estuaries and rivers in the Everglades swell from daily rains and thunderstorms sweep across the tropical savannah, hiking can be challenging but it’s an absolute paradise for paddlers and wildlife photographers. The dry season in winter is much less swampy and no less beautiful, but the lack of rain means wildlife sightings may be fewer and further between. Winter is a good time for day hikes through dry mangrove trails or along elevated boardwalks that snake through the National Park. Don’t forget to visit the overlook at Shark Valley Visitor Center for great photo ops. Everglades National Park is one of the most underrated and under-visited US National Parks. It’s one of the country’s last true wilderness areas teeming with wildlife and natural beauty, and exploring the Glades should be on every outdoor-lovers bucket list!
See more from Lori about things to do in the Everglades at Travlin Mad.
Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona – vii, viii, ix, x
Perhaps the most famous of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States, the Grand Canyon is a natural wonder so iconic that it hardly needs any introduction at all.
Arizona’s 277-mile-long Grand Canyon has been slowly carved out by the Colorado River over 70 million years. At over a mile deep in places, you may be surprised to learn that the canyon isn’t actually the largest in the world.
There are many ways to enjoy a visit to Grand Canyon National Park. You can plan out a multi-day hike, camping along the way in the basin of the Grand Canyon. You can fly over the canyon in a plane or helicopter. Or you can simply enjoy the splendid views from main viewing points along scattered along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
A visit to Grand Canyon National Park is possible year round, with the warmer months being by far the most popular (the canyon can get quite cold during nighttime). But for a special treat, visit during the winter for an opportunity to see the magical sight of snow sprinkled on the canyon’s walls.
Whatever you do, be sure to plan enough time for your visit to really take in the canyon from all its angles. If you can, stay in one of the many accommodation options on offer in Grand Canyon Village, which will allow you to maximize your time with the Grand Canyon. Because, no matter how high your expectations are for this natural wonder of the world, the Grand Canyon is likely to exceed them.
See more from Nathan at Travel Lemming.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee and North Carolina – vii, viii, ix, x
The most visited National Park in the United States annually, the Great Smoky Mountains feature a beautiful expanse of rolling mountains covered in thick vegetation – more than 1/3 it old growth forest predating European settlement of the area. The park is also home to a variety of animal species, including its famous black bears and a large quantity of salamanders. A section of the famous Appalachian Trail passes through the National Park and there are access points for hikers wishing to access a portion of it. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park and features an observation tower that provides beautiful views of the mountains stretching to the distance.
Visitors can enjoy an endless array of hiking trails suitable for all skill levels or stick to the Newfound Gap road for a scenic drive from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina. There are also numerous waterfalls that can be reached via trails. Fall is a particularly busy time in the Smokies, as visitors come to admire the colorful leaves. Campground reservations can be hard to get on popular weekends, so plan ahead if you want to stay in the park.
Find out more about the National Park here and check out my favorite hike to Grotto Falls. If you’re looking for accommodations, I recommend staying in Gatlinburg. We got a great rate and enjoyed our stay at the River Terrace Resort.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii – viii
The Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is an absolutely breathtaking place on Earth. Not only does it stretch over 323,431 acres, but it also encompasses two active volcanoes: Kilauea, which has just erupted and Mauna Loa, which is the world’s most massive shield volcano. When entering the park, you might feel as if you have just landed on the moon. Left and right on the road, you’ll find endless fields covered in lava ash which makes the entire park look surreal and unique. A visit to the park can be super diverse: Start off by visiting the information center, where you get all information on short and long hikes, as well as on the major things to see and roads to drive. Also, the park is super easy to drive through in your own rental car.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was designated as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 1987. In 2012 the park was honored on the 14th quarter of the America the Beautiful Quarter series. Do you need more reasons to visit?
See more from Clemens about Hawai’i at Travellers Archive.
Kluane/Wrangell – St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alesk
Alaska and British Columbia – vii, viii, ix, x
One of two UNESCO sites shared by the United States and Canada, it stretches between Alaska and British Columbia and features the world’s largest non-polar ice field. It’s also home to some of the world’s longest glaciers. If the natural beauty isn’t enough for you, it’s an important habitat for grizzly bears, caribou, and Alaskan salmon. The UNESCO designated site is made up of two parks in each country – Kluane National Park and Reserve and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in Canada and Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in the US.
Cruising is one of the most popular ways to visit this area, and the majority of visitors to Glacier Bay arrive via ship. Hunting and fishing are also allowed in the preserves on US territory, subject to appropriate licensing and permitting.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Kentucky – vii, viii, x
Mammoth Cave National Park is the world’s longest cave system. We visited here on a day trip from Nashville, Tennessee. It has almost 400 miles of underground chambers and tunnels, yet only about 10 miles have been explored. It became a UNESCO site in 1981 and is located in southern Kentucky. I learned many things on the guided tour, one of them being that the cave received its name due to the vastness of its size (not the discovery of mammoth fossils). The tour we took was about 2 hours long and about a mile in distance. However, you are expected to be in good physical condition because there are about 500 steps (some with quite an incline). It is rated moderate for physical activity, yet would be fine for older children and anyone not afraid of tight spaces. The park does offer a few other options for younger children and elderly who may not be as mobile.
This was my first visit to a cave, so I was not completely sure what to expect. I am usually slightly claustrophobic, yet there were enough open spaces that I felt fine the entire time. We had ample opportunity to stop and take pictures and soak in the beauty of this underground world. Seeing the stalagmites, stalactites and all of the other rock formations created over time by water was truly a spectacular natural beauty!
See more from Margie about Mammoth Cave National Park at DQ Travel.
Olympic National Park
Washington – vii, ix
Olympic National Park is a diverse and enchanting wilderness on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, encompassing a million acres of snow-capped peaks, massive glaciers, ancient temperate rainforests, and miles of rugged and wild coastline. Because of its unique and diverse ecosystems, it was designated a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and a World Heritage Site in 1981. There are very few roads into the park, but an extensive network of hiking trails allows visitors to traverse into the rugged interior and into the high peaks of the Olympic Mountains.
Because Olympic National Park is so large, careful planning is required to experience it fully. The most popular destinations within the park include the Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc Hot Springs, Hurricane Ridge, and the wild coast near Ozette Lake. Backpacking trips into the interior will allow you to traverse glaciers and mountain passes in the Olympic Range or along the rugged coastline, but if roughing it isn’t your thing, you can also relax and rejuvenate at one of four rustic lodges within the park. The Sol Duc Valley is a fabulous home-base for interior explorations, providing visitors with lots of hiking opportunities, but also year-round access to thermal waters, sleeping cabins, and a store for basic provisions.
See more from Tara about Olympic National Park at Back Road Ramblers.
Redwood National and State Parks
California – vii, ix
California’s coastal redwoods are a breathtaking sight, and walking through a forest of redwood trees is truly a spiritual experience. I had one such experience recently on a road trip from Santa Cruz, California to Portland, Oregon. As I drove up Highway 101 under a canopy of redwoods that extended for miles, I must’ve uttered, “Oh my God, look how tall,” no less than 101 times! My drive took me through the Redwood National and State Parks in northern Cali. The densest collection of these majestic trees – almost half of the remaining redwood forests in existence today – are found here. Here being Redwood National Park and three CA state parks: Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, and Prairie Creek Redwoods. I stopped for a few quick hikes and every tree, each seemingly taller than the last, was fantastic to behold.
The natural history of the area makes it an obvious choice for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. First, coast redwoods hung out with dinosaurs – yes, dinosaurs… this species of tree dates back 25 million years. They can be upwards of 300 feet and live for centuries; some trees in the parks have been estimated to be 2,000 years old. Not many, though, because there’s just a fraction of them left from what existed a hundred years ago – because of logging.
That’s prohibited now, and what’s left of the old-growth forest is protected and open for visitors to enjoy. The parks offer hundreds of miles of hiking trails for people of all abilities – whether you have 5 minutes or 5 days, can walk for miles or can’t walk at all, you can experience these natural wonders up-close. For a more educational experience, visitor centers have tons of displays and information, and offer guided hikes with park naturalists.
There’s also camping, kayaking, biking, fishing and horseback riding! (Some activities are tightly regulated to keep the park pristine… Check out the park’s official website for more info, including weather alerts and closures.) Y’all, visiting California’s coastal redwoods is a bucket list item. DO IT!
See more from Mary Beth at her blog MBsees.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
Montana and Alberta – vii, ix
As the first international park to span two countries, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a remarkable UNESCO Heritage Site located in both southern Alberta, Canada and northern Montana, United States. With rocky mountaintops and steep valleys carved thousands of years ago by vast glaciers, the terrain and landscape in the park is totally mesmerizing. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park is also home to lots of wildlife and plant life, providing a lush and abundant ecosystem for these various organisms.
While in the park, visitors can drive on Going to the Sun Road, one of the most beautiful drives in the United States. This winding road brings you along the side of cliffs, through stark valleys, and down handfuls of switchbacks. The scenery along the way is unbelievable.
Visitors on the Montana side of the park can visit the nearby Blackfoot reservation to learn more about the history, traditions, language, and culture of this Native American group. The Blackfeet were the original people who inhabited the areas in and around Glacier National Park.
On both sides of the park, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts can also enjoy plenty of day hikes and multi-day treks. One of the most popular of these hikes, located on the Montana side of the park, is the Highline Trail. If you’d like to cut the trek into two parts, there’s the option to spend a night in the Granite Park Chalet. Similarly, the Canadian side of the park boasts the Triple Crown, a series of 3 long and challenging day hikes. Many avid hikers take on the Triple Crown challenge simply for the bragging rights of finishing it. No matter what level of hiker you are, it’s worth taking a day or two to explore some of the hikes in Waterton Lakes and in Glacier National Park.
See more about Waterton Lakes from Kay at Jet Farer.
Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana – vii, viii, ix, x
The first National Park in the United States and one of the country’s original two UNESCO sites, Yellowstone National Park contains half of the geothermal features in the entire world – geysers, hot springs, thermal pools, and more. Some of its most popular natural attractions include Old Faithful – one of the world’s most famous geysers, Mammoth Hot Springs, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which stretches for 20 miles, and Grand Prismatic Spring. I loved the colorful hot springs, though some of them are fading due to geothermal changes and tourist activities. The park is also home to a variety of animal species and an important buffalo herd.
There are plenty of hiking trails and boardwalks through geothermal areas and you could spend a week there and not see everything. There are several visitor centers, lodges, and campgrounds within the park. Be sure to check opening dates for roads within the park as many of them close for the winter season.
Yosemite National Park
California – vii, viii
Yosemite National Park in California is one of the original American national parks. Before it was a park, it was the home of the Ahwaneechee people for over 4,000 years. They were forced out of the region when settlers starting coming in during the mid-1800s. But a number of resilient Ahwaneechee people still remain in Yosemite today, it is important to acknowledge their history on this land, their land.
Yosemite was established as a national park in 1890. With the help of people like John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams, it became one of the most iconic parks in our nation. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 due to its exceptional natural beauty, diversity of life zones and species, as well as its unique geological features.
The most popular area in Yosemite is the valley, which takes up about seven square miles of the park’s 1,200 square mile area. Many of Yosemite’s most famous sights are in the valley, so it’s easy to do a whole trip in this area. In the valley, you can access upper and lower Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, El Capitan, and many more iconic day hikes. In fact, 95% of visitors stay in the valley and never venture into the backcountry. When you adventure beyond the valley though, you can visit some wonderful spots like the giant Sequoia groves, Hetch Hetchy, Mirror Lake, Merced Lake, and Glacier Point. So if you crave the wilderness, and want to get away from the crowd, it’s still easy to do so even though you are in one of the most visited national parks.
Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, maybe even the world. Everywhere you look there are jaw-dropping views of dramatic landscapes, miles of tree covered mountains, granite giants, rushing rivers, waterfalls, and wildlife. It’s easy to see how this special corner of the world inspired the National Parks movement and why it is designated as a UNESCO treasure.
See more about Yosemite from Katy at Around the World in Katy Days.
Both cultural and natural designations
Hawaii and Midway Atoll – iii, vi, viii, ix, x
The world’s largest marine protected area, Papahānaumokuākea contains 140,000 square miles of ocean and several islands. There are over 7000 species living in the protected area. It’s the only United States UNESCO site that has received both cultural and natural designations due to its natural diversity and significance to native Hawaiian culture, including the concept of kinship between humans and the natural environment. There are also important archaeological sites dating back to pre-European settlements. Ocean habitats include numerous coral reefs and lagoons full of biodiversity.
Access to the site is very limited and general visits are unfortunately no longer allowed. Research, habitat restoration, scientific work, and the development of educational materials are some of the few ways to visit. The Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo, Hawaii was established to allow visitors who can’t set foot on the protected islands a chance to learn about the natural and cultural features there.
Learn more about Papahānaumokuākea here.
Have you visited any of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the USA? Tell me about your favorites in the comments!
Since so many of the United States’ UNESCO sites are also National Parks, I’d recommend buying a National Parks Passport to collect stamps for each visit. I’ve been traveling with mine for the last 10 years and have already filled up the Midwest section.
Check out these other great destinations in the US:
- Touring Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
- Hiking Your Way to a Spectacular View of Lake Tahoe
- Summer on Mackinac Island
- An Evening in San Antonio
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