Which State Is The Most Beautiful in the US? | All States Rated
When it comes to incredibly gorgeous, awe-inspiring vistas, America understands how to sweep the worldwide competition. Few areas on the planet offer the same geographic variation as the fifty states, where you can find anything from blistering deserts to mossy rainforests to endless tundras; from coast to coast, it's not difficult to locate a panorama that will leave you in utter awe of what Mother Nature can produce.
Naturally, there would be some sibling rivalry among the states. States that believe their granite mountains are superior to others' red-rock deserts or whose bone-white beaches must be superior to thousand-year-old redwoods. Well, we're here to resolve the argument. We organized a team of authors who had visited every state and then began debating and assessing each state's body's diversity, amount, concentration, highlights, and lowlights.
After all, how do you choose between deserts and mountains? Mountain versus lake? Forests vs. lakes? Woods or beaches? Which is better, the seashore or the glaciers? Orchards vs. glaciers? There was no correct answer... until we determined it was.
A tip of Wisconsin driftlands lies on the east side of Iowa, where there are some beautiful cliffs. There is some romance in seeing that far when the lights go out, but that comes only as a result of the state's flatness and boringness.
Kansans are a hardy people who can find satisfaction in the little things in life. Its surroundings, which accent the latter portion of the "Great Plains," foster this attractive personality. If Kansans can love their land, there are no excuses for anybody else not to love the bejesus out of theirs.
This generally featureless Midwestern state makes up for it by putting hundreds of gorgeous towers around Lake Michigan. In the southern tail of the state, you can see the knobby sandstone formations of the Garden of the Gods, which are stunning panoramas outside of Chicago. Also, don't forget to admire its long, winding western border and the breathtaking Mississippi River vistas.
The summit of Dunes National Lakeshore has a fun small playground and views of Lake Michigan. Indiana's hills contours along its southern border offer places like Bloomington a bucolic atmosphere. But what about in between? Except from summertime drives and discovering the relaxing, even hypnotic charm of watching corn rush by your window at 60mph, there's hardly much to suggest.
The panhandle stretches out and kisses New Mexico on the cheek, while the southern edge is ideal for reading Lawrence McMurtry scenarios and the eastern side near the Arkansas border is a startlingly diversified combination of electric-green hills and jungly mid-American forests. To summarize, Oklahoma is certainly more beautiful than you expect—but your expectations were probably low for a reason.
Hundreds of Mississippians are reading this right now and exclaiming, "Oh my goodness! There is a state ranking in which we are NOT among the lowest five!" Mississippi, thank your happy stars for the quirky, frolicsome Gulf Coast. Despite your wonderful magnolias and appealing Southern greenery, you're only 21 miles of unspoiled white sandy beach and pristine marshes away from being the Indiana of the South.
Ohio has a decent reputation for being flat and forgettable, despite being high in the middle and round on the edges. But, the steep southern half of the state is more beautiful than most people think; after all, it borders Kentucky and West Virginia. While no one would confuse Lake Erie's southern side for Big Sur, Ohio's roughly 300 miles of Great Lake shoreline offers spectacular open-water views from the tops of roller coasters.
If you wish to sleep on Nebraska's subtle beauty, its huge sky and rolling hills have a truly nice and serene charm. As amazing as Toadstool Geology Park (Nebraska's Badlands!) and Chimney Rock are, the Cornhusker State lacks the breathtaking vistas of its western neighbors.
#42 North Dakota
For some reason—perhaps a mix of fracking, the Coen brothers, and the month of January—the words "North Dakota" have come to mean "frozen tundra." It isn't entirely incorrect when describing some portions of this state, but let's not forget that it also has Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a stunning combination of plains, mesas, and mountain views filled with buffalo. Likewise, like the younger child who is frequently compared to their larger brother, North Dakota is underappreciated when compared to its lovely sister state to the south.
It's difficult for Missouri, which borders five states that have already been on this list, to stand apart. The state's enormous sweeping core is a less agriculturally exhausted transition between Illinois and Kansas. But, the southern third or so is a joy. The reddish hills of the Lake of the Ozarks region (population: Branson) are ideal for scenic drives and trout-fishing excursions. Missourians further east use their forests and rivers as playgrounds. Strange rocky outcroppings near the Johnson Shut-Ins State Park swimming holes and the lazy tube floats on the Current River would be the examples. They're almost spookily litter-free, showing that Missourians appreciate what they have.
Not only would most New Englanders disdain it because of its close ties to New York cause half the state is Yankees country but it also stood out among the region's hill-and-valley idylls. Notwithstanding several picturesque communities along the coast and magnificent streams further inland into the Berkshires, generic suburbia and developed regions remain the norm. Even the Mighty Connecticut River has lost its steam by this stage in its voyage to the sea (and picked up flotsam in Hartford and Springfield).
Do you want to surprise someone? Send a postcard from Delaware to them. "I had no idea Delaware was so beautiful," they'll exclaim as they gaze at a silhouette of dune grasses framed by an ocean sunset. But since Delaware is too small to house more than three automobiles at once nobody does that anymore. Although if you're lucky enough to be in one of those three automobiles, you, too, may take in the rolling rural countrysides and the not-half-bad beach vistas and remark, "Delaware. Hi. I'm now in Delaware."
Despite New Orleans (deservedly!) receives the most attention, there's enough to do in Louisiana outside of the cities: the fishing is excellent, the duck hunting is excellent, and the airboat excursions through alligator-infested cypress woods are unforgettable. Yet its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River doesn't help its beaches or marshes, and when the state's highest natural peak is only twice as high as the Superdome, you're going to be left with a lot of landscape that ducks are best suited to admire.
#37 New Jersey
Even if New Jersey hadn't gone and covered the whole of the state in jug handles and suburban development, it wouldn't be a surprise. Yet, if you can get away from the sprawl, many portions of the state are magnificent, with rolling hills and glacial lakes, good beaches, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area—a very beautiful and overlooked piece of land shared by New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Not to mention the Palisades.
Despite most Gulf Coast states are a flat, green stretch of humidity and pine trees, Alabama offers some beautiful elevation in the state's center region around Birmingham. When you combine this with the white sand beaches of the Redneck Riviera, you have a state that rarely receives its due. Unspectacular? Maybe. Yet, in terms of nature and comfort food, you can't get much better.
It has hills, Amish buggies, and pleasant woodlands that molt into stunning golds, yellows, and oranges in the fall. But, for a state of Pennsylvania's size, it lacks that "wow" aspect. It's an overcrowded eastern state with no redeeming coastline. It has a great slice of the Appalachians, although not as much as its neighbors. And, yes, you can ski in the Poconos if you don't feel like venturing further. Nevertheless, like so many other things on this list, you'd upgrade if given a chance.
#34 Rhode Island
On average, Rhode Island does quite well for itself for such a small state. Several people joke that half of the state is made up of beaches, and they're not far off—Block Island has some gorgeous ones, and sea cliffs/bluffs there and in Newport contribute to the state's nautical beauty. The odds aren't on its side, though; the Breakers apart, Rhode Island just doesn't have enough space for something genuinely monumental. It's simply a shame that nature didn't create them.
If you live in Florida, the most beautiful sight you'll ever see is crossing the state line into Georgia and seeing petrol costs decrease by a dollar per gallon. What comes after that? There's not much. Apart from the charming Southernness with Spanish moss-draped trees and unspoilt beaches in the south, the picturesque highlight is the "mountains" north of Atlanta. Which, after traveling through Florida, appear imposing, but pale in comparison to the Smokies or the Appalachians a few hours away.
#32 New Hampshire
If we're being honest, New Hampshire lost its most beautiful sight when the Old Man of the Mountain fell a few decades ago. (No, we're not over it yet.) However its profile remains relatively high: it is home to the majestic Presidential Range of the White Mountains, as well as spectacularly carved flume gorges, notches, large lakes like Winnipesaukee, and broad expanses of farming along the Canadian border. It's simply a shame that the state's southern half resembles suburban Connecticut, although with fewer booze outlets.
This state can't determine whether it belongs in the Midwest, the South, or Appalachia. Geographically, it doesn't care since it has the best of everything: the pocky hollers and mountain views in the east, the 400-mile-long Mammoth Cave, and plenty of rolling, green hills. On the back roads, you may still see family tobacco farms, but the most distinguishing feature of the area is the symbiotic relationship between horses and brilliant fields. Many here swear they can see blue glints in the grass (therefore, you guessed it, bluegrass). Every hue makes you want to pause and admire.
#30 South Carolina
Charleston is arguably the most beautiful and popular region in South Carolina. However, because this is a rating of natural beauty rather than lovely colonial buildings, the highlight of the state is the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, which includes the 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls in Caesars Head State Park and some of the most panoramic vistas in the South. The coastal beaches are very lovely and relaxing, and there's nothing like a sun-dappled drive through the low country beneath a canopy of moss-draped live oak.
It's difficult to say anything negative about Maryland because it has everything you look for in a state in terms of landscape. With its spectacular green hills and flowering fall colors, the hilly west is like an extension of West Virginia. The state offers 600 miles of shoreline along the Atlantic beaches and Chesapeake Bay tributaries—nearly double what Texas has on the Gulf of Mexico—while Talbot County's bucolic countryside and wineries round out the paradise.
Massachusetts is geographically located at the crossroads of New England. Its southern neighbors are unremarkable, whereas its northern counterparts are significantly more rugged (both in geography and the boot-leather character of their citizens). Nonetheless, Massachusetts has its draws: the Cape Cod National Seashore has long-drawn painters because of the brilliance of its sunsets, and the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley have some of the greatest fall foliage in the country. But Massachusetts also contains Middlesex County, which, despite its name, is not very sexy.
Being a hermit kingdom has its advantages. Unless you're like marshes, pastures, rice fields, and the same fungible pine woods seen in Mississippi and Georgia, the southeast part of the state isn't much to look at. Going north, though, you'll encounter hills that hide caverns, rivers, and gullies, and that every now and then will disclose a flat slab where you may slump and watch the sunset. The Buffalo River, the country's first designated national river, is one of the few undammed American rivers of any significance. And in the southwest, the Ouachita Mountains meander endlessly, pocked with springs and villages just big enough to sustain a petrol station where you may stock up on supplies for a few days of floating or camping.
The majority of people associate Nevada with "Las Vegas plus the let's-floor-it section of a road trip to California." And, indeed, the vast majority of this state is so dusty and uninteresting that the military used to test nukes here with little concern. Nonetheless, the highlights range from astounding to obscure. Red Rock Canyon is a jaw-dropping refuge of striated limestone and sandstone only a short Uber ride from the Vegas Strip. The Ruby Valley is a sassy little mountain range that will break up any ride over I-80. Valley of Fire State Park's whirling cream-and-crimson rock formations appear like they were drawn by Dr. Seuss. There's also Lake Tahoe and Death Valley National Park.
Things get pretty competitive in the top half of this ranking. The beaches in Hampton Roads are some of the best and broadest on the East Coast, with some of the least-appreciated landscapes in the state. Central Virginia's rolling hills and wine country are a large part of why they claim "Virginia Is for Lovers." A journey along Skyline Road in Shenandoah National Park may be the greatest way to see the leaves in America.
This American state could as well be called Canada Lite. Come in the summer, when the Boundary Waters provides some of the most sought-after fishing and paddling in the upper plains, and you'll find dramatic lakeshore cliffs studded with lighthouses and dense forests concealing great hiking routes and waterfalls along the North Shore. The steep, craggy Lake Superior shoreline provides another sight of raw North America, and the pocky glacial craters around Interstate State Park remind you just how far north you are.
More than just grasslands and dairy farms. You could walk 800 miles along the coastlines of Lakes Superior and Michigan, not to mention the other 15,000 lakes sprinkled around the state. (Indeed, it is more than Minnesota's Land of 10,000 Lakes.) The state lacks a single spectacular, hallmark natural feature that you just must visit, yet the Apostle Islands are one-of-a-kind and you'll be hard-pressed to find more delightful scenery than Door County. Take the 1,200-mile-long Ice Age Trail that snakes across the state like a tapeworm to properly experience Wisconsin's entire assortment of cliffs, woods, rivers, and the odd natural stone bridge. Glaciers left these lakes and rocks for you to enjoy, so make the most of them.
Texas is so vast that there are bound to be some memorable sites along the way: Big Bend National Park, with its incredible night sky and the vast desert grandeur of West Texas beyond, Hill Country in spring, and the broad lap of the American West reaching off to the horizon. What it lacks is something that is truly the finest in its field. There is more Western beauty as you travel westward, better woods as you travel eastward, and nicer beaches in every direction except straight north. But give Texas credit where credit is due. Everything you'd want to see (save for snow-capped mountains) is here, and once you're out of the city, the vast roads here feel as open and free as anyplace.
#21 South Dakota
If you're wondering how a friggin DAKOTA got this far, you've definitely never seen America's most undervalued state. The landscape here is so much more than four men' faces disrespectfully etched into a mountain. It's the entire Black Hills region, where you may walk Harney Peak in the morning and Spearfish Canyon in the afternoon. Or venture a bit farther into the Badlands, a misnamed Martian rockscape with more plant and a wider range of hues. Even in the state's flatter east, locations like Palisades State Park near Sioux Falls, where Split Rock Creek flows between 50-foot quartzite cliffs, are worth a visit.
Read the state left to right, and it simply keeps getting better: from the top of the Delta in the west, to the hills and meadows of the center third, to the crescendo of mountain panoramas that proclaim your arrival in the Smoky Mountains. Since this landlocked eastern state is so diverse, you may take any highway, stop off the first time you see a state park sign, and feel like you've won the gorgeous jackpot.
#19 West Virginia
You may not have intended to travel there, but you will never forget driving through it. West Virginia's beauty is full of uninterrupted, rolling ancient hills and rivers cascading down limestone, making it a favorite among base jumpers and outdoor enthusiasts who come to gaze America's newest national park. The Monongahela National Forest typifies the wooded, mountainous environment that children from Maine to Missouri grew up exploring. One of the country's most ignored nooks conjures the finest of the continent's eastern half.
It's a tough question in Florida, where people have dug the flat swamplands that once characterized the state, erected hundreds of miles of artificial beaches, and then lined those beaches with ugly condominiums, big-name hotels, and the Florida Men (and spring breakers) that come with both. Yet, we'd be negligent if we ignored the obvious beauty provided by places like Biscayne National Park, the Keys' palm tree and white sand-lined seas, and even the rather good swamplands in Big Cypress National Preserve. If you clean up your act a bit, Florida, you could rank higher the next time around.
#17 New York
Too frequently, New York State is defined by New York City. Unfortunately, the state's wilder areas exceed the diversity of practically any other. Consider this: New York has three coastlines (Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the Atlantic), as well as two unique mountain ranges (the Catskills and the Adirondacks). It claims a piece of Lake Champlain and the whole Finger Lakes region.
Additionally, the nicer half of Niagara Falls—a there's reason why the greatest views are from the Canadian side. New York's conservation efforts are ongoing, but the state has done an amazing job of preserving natural areas for animals and wild people to enjoy. The Empire State has more publicly held land than any other state east of the Mississippi, and it ranks first in the US in terms of the percentage of land owned by the state itself. (Many thanks to the New York City tax base!)
Which states have a bit of Yellowstone? Most people will mention Wyoming and Montana, but Idaho also has a national park. Surprises like those can be found all around Idaho, which is possibly America's most underappreciated state in terms of landscape. The Sawtooth Mountains boast some of the greatest mountain riding in America, and Coeur d'Alene is a world-class skiing destination because to its snow-capped peaks. A ride down the Snake River, which winds past mountains and picturesque meadows, is the greatest way to take in all of the state's grandeur.
Maine folks are well aware that they have some of the nicest natural settings in the Northeast and are quite okay with you staying in the Portland area to eat lobstah so that there is more room up north for them. Maine has some of the most beautiful coastline in America (with thousands of jagged islands offshore bringing the total mileage of pebbly beach to over 3,000), as well as the stunning Acadia National Park, Mount Katahdin (the Appalachian Trail's tip), and countless acres of dense wilderness and rugged seashore for the L.L. Bean types (it's basically, like, their uniform up there).
#14 New Mexico
Breaking Bad's excellent cinematographers transformed this state into a gorgeous background for crystal meth production. The desert view here is very magnificent even without the decaying trailers in the foreground. The red granite cliffs and wide mesas of New Mexico make a road drive across the state feel much shorter than the 375 miles that I-40 really covers. Northern New Mexico has the Taos Mountains, which give the state a Colorado feel rather than an Arizona one; travel south, and you'll come through the stunning Organ Mountains before arriving at White Sands National Park, one of the most distinct—and arresting—pieces of land in the lower 48.
This historically sparsely inhabited state is covered in rolling green hills, all of which appear to be surrounded by pristine alpine streams, lakes, and little settlements. (Please avoid visiting during the peak of autumn, when the crimson and gold leaves makes the sight almost unbearably lovely.) From the sunset shores of Lake Champlain to the foggy rivers of St. Johnsbury, it's difficult to find a spot in Vermont that doesn't seem like it came straight out of a calendar. Of course, it is the only New England state without an ocean shoreline, and even Bernie Sanders and Ben & Jerry's can only do so much to compensate.
#12 North Carolina
The most lovely state on the East Coast? It's difficult to disagree with North Carolina, an unique eastern state where you can travel from beaches in the east to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west. The Outer Banks are among the nicest beach getaways in the country, and a trek across the state's rich flora eventually gets you to the east's leading mountain landscape, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The adjective that springs to mind is "impressive." Montana is a brunch-menu version of Alaska, with massive Mountains, large lakes, distinct seasons, and two of the world's most awe-inspiring national parks: a part of Yellowstone at the south border, and the wide shoulders of Glacier at the top. The sky isn't much greater here than it is elsewhere; rather, the rugged outlines at the boundaries define the surroundings. But what you do get is a lot of wide-open places. This, America's third-largest state, has just 1 million residents, compared to 38 million in California and 27 million in Texas. Montana is full with splendor, and chances are you'll have a large chunk of it all to yourself.
Wyoming is so beautiful that even the Grand Tetons, which have to be the most stunning panorama in the country, are eclipsed by Yellowstone National Park, which lies right next door. You're missing out on the otherworldly high plains outside of Laramie and Cheyenne if you've only seen Jackson Hole and I-80. You're missing out on the ghostly rocks at Vedauwoo, the Front Range mountains (the same ones you saw in Denver), the Wind River Range, the Bighorns, and the brightest Milky Way in the lower 48. Not to mention Red Canyon, the Red Desert, Devils Tower, and the fauna, which includes hundreds of thousands of elk, moose, bison, and pronghorn.
Few people travel to Wyoming to see how the sun shimmers off gold Aspen trees on an endless mountain prairie—and the Cowboy State loves it that way.
The Grand Canyon, the conclusion of a million American road journeys, is Arizona's baseline, a riot of desert oranges and fuchsias that only grow to possibly the continent's most-ogled sight. Monument Valley has been scientifically shown to be the final resting place of cowboys' spirits. Elsewhere, Arizona's B-sides—the Superstition Mountains, the Petrified Forest, Lake Powell, and the areas around Flagstaff and Sedona—would be enough to propel the state into the top 20. And don't overlook one of the most stunning terrestrial features on the planet: the 560-foot-deep meteor crater that, like so much of Arizona's appearance, originated from elsewhere in the solar system.
Considered separately, the Upper and Lower Peninsulas may have rated towards the top of this list. When you add them together, you get 3,288 miles of pure Michigan shoreline and the most gorgeous state east of the Mississippi. That's a lot for a Midwestern state—consider how Michigan's neighbors performed. You might spend years exploring Michigan, from the untouched woods of the Upper Peninsula to the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan to the rugged shoreline of Lake Huron, and the more than 11,000 interior lakes in between.
Oregon is the ideal gateway between California and the Pacific Northwest. Like northern California, the state begins with a rough coastline and temperate desert. The road then winds into the mountains into evergreen forest, making Oregon's length of I-5 the most picturesque segment of the route. The state also has beautiful beaches, most notably Cannon Beach and Seaside in the north, which are known for their iconic Haystack Rock. Mt. Hood, the craggy mountain between Mt. Whitney and Mt. Rainier, is well worth a visit. Throw in Crater Lake, wine country in the Willamette Valley, and the undulating Painted Hills in the wide, open east, and you've got a state that can be a coastal beauty or a desert standout.
Seattle does not boast the finest skyline in America only because the Columbia Center is an architectural marvel. It's because of the setting: Seattle faces Mt. Rainier to the south and is sandwiched between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. And that is only one city. The state is home to not one, but two, high mountain ranges (the spectacular Cascades and the lush Olympics), as well as the flowing Columbia River Gorge. The San Juan Islands are the closest thing to traveling across Alaska without crossing the 49th parallel. Even sections of Eastern and Central Washington, particularly the Okanagan Valley, contain some stunning desert scenery.
You have to have a specific something to make it into the top 10% of picturesque states. That's no problem for Colorado, where the sheer verticality has amazed everyone who's ever set foot here. Colorado boasts more than 50 peaks higher than 14,000 feet, more than the rest of the lower 48 combined. The state's plentiful alpine lakes are more difficult to reach, but no less amazing—places that make the hike up those slopes worthwhile and give some of the world's most undervalued shoreline.
The main issue to Colorado is that the eastern third or so feels like a director's cut of Nebraska. Take a journey from Denver to Telluride and expect to be blown away to get the most out of this state.
With exactly zero miles of shoreline, you've got to have some spectacular scenery, and Utah delivers like no other landlocked state in the country. It's one of the few places where you can look at a photo and think, "Oh, yes, that's Utah," whether it's Moab's iconic sandstone arches and canyons or Goblin Valley's strange formations. That's only the southern part. The Bonneville Salt Flats are one of America's most spectacular natural views, and farther north, Utah has powder-covered mountains to rival any in the west. If outdoor activity is your main priority during your holiday, you might not find a better site.
No other state will leave you in awe of nature like Alaska. Whether it's the Kenai Fjords and the glaciers of the inner passage, Denali's enormous sweep of snow-capped peaks, or the expansive tundra of the interior, Alaska has the type of rough environment that the rest of America doesn't have. (For instance, consider its eight huge national parks, including the biggest of all 63, Gates of the Arctic.)
Half of the pleasure is that most of Alaska isn't accessible by car, so the only way to travel about is on picturesque boat excursions, helicopter tours, or Northern Lights train journeys, all of which include plenty of chances to view whales, bears, sea lions, and other species you'd never see outside of zoos. Although the land masses are the main lure here, Alaska also has some really decent beach communities.
This archipelago is the most stunningly diversified and diversely magnificent site you can see without a passport—and maybe even with one. The Hawaiian islands—seven larger islands plus 130 smaller, uninhabited islets—have such a diverse range of landscapes due to their vast age differences: Kauai, with its forested canyons, is 6 million years younger than Big Island, which is still at its birthing point, fed by its glowing volcanic vent.
Between them: Oahu, with its heart-stopping beaches, jungles, and cliffs under constant attack by rainbows; Maui, a slew of vacation postcards that merged to form the island; tourist-light Molokai, where steep cliffs plunge straight into the ocean; and Lanai, which is reminiscent of an Irish island crossed with a Caribbean one. You don't believe it until you visit, but Hawaii is one of the few locations that manages to outperform its perfect-10 image.
Certainly, it has flaws. There are a lot of them. But how many lovely things do you know that do not? Let's forget about climate change and traffic for a bit and focus on how California offers EVERY SINGLE KIND OF BEAUTY you could ever want. Begin in the south with the vast natural beaches situated against high cliffs. Then go inland to the Mojave Desert's lunar-like landscapes. There's the trip up the PCH and Big Sur, via wine country on the Central Coast and up into San Francisco, a city defined by cliffside panoramas and fog curlicues.
Not to mention Yosemite National Park. Or even Redwood National Park. Or even Death Valley National Park. Or any of the several underappreciated national parks. Or wine region, which runs from Napa Valley to Temecula in the north to Temecula in the south. The Golden State isn't for everyone, yet nothing else compares in terms of sheer range of natural beauty.