Spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and fruited plains — there’s a reason why poets and songwriters have been scrawling verses about America’s beauty for centuries. Home to spectacular deserts, mountain ranges, volcanic features, ancient forests, waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, caves, and swamps, America is filled with countless rainbow-hued wonders.
Fire Wave Trail, Nevada
One of the highlights of Valley of Fire State Park, the Fire Wave Trail is a wonderland for photographers and hikers alike. Surrounded by vivid colors and unique rock formations in all directions, the trail folds in on itself in picturesque, taffy-like curves. The hike to this iconic red-sandstone wave is just over a half-mile, and it’s worth every step. Once there, you’ll want to explore the entire surrounding area. Mid-morning and late afternoon/early evening are the best times to photograph the magic of the Fire Wave, as the colors pop against the surrounding hills when the sun is lower in the sky.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Located in the heart of Navajo Country just outside of Page, Arizona, Antelope Canyon is a “slot” sandstone canyon that has been carved by years of exposure to wind and water. Its mysterious and haunting beauty provides a playground for photographers. With tall, winding walls, the area is known for its wave-like structure and striking light beams. Needless to say, a visit to this picturesque geological formation is a must for both amateur and professional photographers. For your best chance of capturing the area’s famed light beams, visit the canyon between late March and early October, when you’ll be taken aback by this natural masterpiece of color.
Carrizo Plain, California
The wildflowers that bloom on the Carrizo Plain and surrounding foothills of San Luis Obispo County are nothing short of breathtaking. The valley floor is covered in endless expanses of yellows, with smaller patches of dozens of other hues. California is known for its long, spectacular spring blooms that start at the lowest elevations early in the year and extend into early summer in the mountains and on the northern coast. Although trying to predict wildflower seasons can be tricky — as they’re dependent upon yearly rainfall, temperature, wind, and a host of other factors — this area is typically in full-bloom by early April. If you’re looking to explore hillsides painted in freshly bloomed color, venture down Soda Lake Road near the Carrizo Plain National Monument, and take in the sights from the north and south ends.
Hall of Mosses, Washington
Tucked away in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park, the Hall of Mosses resembles a scene from the worn pages of a storybook. Its trails are lined with trees cloaked in green moss — and it’s often said that the trees stand tall “like robed figures of eld.” Due to the abundance of water and nutrients in the soil of the rainforest, many of the trees have stunted roots and are prone to falling during particularly windy storms. In this sense, the Hall of Mosses also serves as a graveyard for uprooted trees, but new moss and ferns continue to grow over those that have fallen. The short, loop trail winds through the primeval forest and showcases the ethereal quality and color of the atmosphere.
The Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina
One of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, the Blue Ridge Mountains aren’t exactly quietly beautiful. Starting in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you take the ridge-top drive along the parkway from Afton Mountain and Rockfish Gap to the Peaks of Otter, you’ll stumble upon the magnificent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The physiographic province gets its colorful moniker from hydrocarbons released by trees in the area, which contribute to the mountain’s vivid blue haze.
Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania
Located in Potter County, Cherry Springs State Park sits atop a 2,300-foot-high plateau, surrounded by the remote Susquehannock State Forest. Aside from its otherworldly setting, the park’s coordinates offer a clear window into the nucleus of the Milky Way. On a clear night, you can see 10,000 stars. To provide the ideal setting for stargazing, the park has shielded its lights and converted its visible white light to red light, a color-complement to the park’s trees. Although the night sky at this Gold Tier-ranked Dark Sky Park is notably darker than other locations across the U.S., the brightness of the stars causes the sky to lighten to a beautiful shade of indigo.
When most people think of this eastern Utah city, their minds wander to the massive red and orange rock formations in nearby Arches National Park. But the true show of color in Moab happens under the glow of the setting sun. To spot this picturesque view of the Utahn valley and canyons, venture five miles outside the city on the Delicate Arch Trail. Explore the landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures, but remember to take a seat and admire the pink and violet hues of the setting sun.