World Heritage Sites in the United States
The United States is home to 21 of the 981 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the globe. These sites are designated for their universal value in natural or cultural heritage and are places as unique and diverse as East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Grand Canyon in the U.S.
"World Heritage Sites represent an incredible opportunity for the United States to tell the world the whole story of America and the remarkable diversity of our people and beauty of our land,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell commented after nominating the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park as a World Heritage Site in January 2014. “The San Antonio Missions represents a vital part of our nation’s Latino heritage and the contributions of Latinos to the building of our country.”
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These parks are an impressive complex of glaciers and high peaks on both sides of the border between Canada and the United States. Glacier Bay features the largest non-polar icefield in the world and contains examples of some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers. Choose the type of experience right for you and then discover the majestic peaks and impressive glaciers.
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The Grand Canyon has been referred to as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and is being formed even today by the Colorado River, which charted its course about 17 million years ago. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep. With nearly five million people traveling to the Grand Canyon each year, visitors are encouraged to review the many options on how and where to access this magnificent canyon.
Home to the oldest and tallest trees on earth, the redwood forest in this area hosts remnants of a group of trees that have existed for 160 million years. The park also protects vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild river ways and nearly 40 miles (64km) of pristine coastline. Together the National Park Service and California State Parks manage these lands. Five visitor centers will help visitors enjoy this diverse and profound landscape.
Yosemite National Park, California
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In the heart of California, this park offers a dramatic landscape and awe-inspiring views. With its hanging valleys, many waterfalls, cirque lakes, polished domes, moraines and u-shaped valleys, Yosemite provides an excellent example of granite monoliths shaped by glaciation. Plan ahead for a trip to this popular destination by visiting the park’s website for helpful travel and lodging information.
The exceptional archaeological sites of the Mesa Verde landscape provide testimony to the ancient cultural traditions of Native American tribes and are among the best preserved in the U.S. They represent a graphic link between the past and present ways of life of the Puebloan Peoples of the American Southwest. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. Opportunities vary by season, and advance planning to this unique location is highly recommended.
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The largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., this 1.5 million-acre park provides important habitat for numerous rare and endangered species like the manatee, the American crocodile and the elusive Florida panther. Camping, boating, fishing, hiking, bird watching and ranger-guided programs are just a sampling of the activities popular in the Everglades.
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Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park contains Mauna Loa and Kilauea, two of the world’s most active and accessible volcanoes where ongoing geological processes are easily observed. Scenic vistas accessible by car, a visitor center and walking trails allow visitors to experience this ever-changing landscape.
National Monument (NPS)
This monument is a vast and isolated linear cluster of small, low-lying islands and atolls and their surrounding ocean. Located roughly 155 miles (250km) to the northwest of the main Hawaiian islands and extending over about 1,200 miles (1937km), the area has deep cosmological and traditional significance for the Native Hawaiian culture and is the largest marine protected area in the world.
Cahokia was a city like no other at its time. Mississipians who lived here built a wide variety of structures from practical homes for everyday living to monumental public works that have maintained their grandeur for centuries. The site offers an interpretive center, outdoor self-guided and guided tours, and amenities to keep you fueled for a full day of discovery. Visit Cahokia Mounds for trip-planning advice to this fascinating destination.
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
Yellowstone contains half of all the world’s known geothermal features (10,000) and the world’s largest concentration of geysers (more than 300, or two thirds of all those on the planet). It is equally known for supporting abundant and diverse wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, bison and wapitis. Yellowstone is America’s first national park and attracts visitors from around the world. Visit the park’s site for helpful information about planning a trip to this unique and beautiful place.
This is the world’s longest known network of caves and underground passageways with explored areas extending for more than 400 miles (644km). Mammoth Cave supports more than 130 species of flora and fauna and provides rich cave-dwelling wildlife habitat. Visitors can engage in cave tours, surface hikes, canoeing, picnicking, horseback riding, bicycling, camping and more. A quick tour of the park’s site before traveling to this destination will help you fully prepare for this underground adventure.
Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks, Montana and Canada
In 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world’s first International Peace Park. Experience the pristine forest, alpine meadows, rugged mountains and spectacular lakes of this area. More than 700 miles of trails also offer a hiker’s paradise across this dramatic and breath-taking landscape. Plenty of helpful information is available on the park’s site as you plan a trip to this stunning alpine landscape.
Beneath this rugged land of rocky slopes and canyons, cactus, grass, thorny shrubs and the occasional tree are more than 118 known caves – all formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone. Carlsbad Cavern is one cave in a fossil reef laid down by an inland sea 250 to 280 million years ago. The Plan Your Visit page at Carlsbad Caverns offers helpful information for those planning to explore this underground environment of prehistoric and living organisms.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Historical Park (NPS)
This complex collection of monumental public and ceremonial buildings are testament that their builders had a sophisticated understanding of astronomical phenomena. Visitors to this area may get a deeper sense of life and the connection to people who lived here (850 and 1250 AD) by exploring Chaco through guided tours, hiking and biking trails, evening campfire talks and night sky programs.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Situated in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, the adobe settlement represents the culture of the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. Adobe dwellings and ceremonial buildings are standing testaments to the enduring culture of a group established in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Also designated a National Historic Landmark, these multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years.
National Monument (NPS)
The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was a gift of friendship from the people of France on the 100th anniversary of American independence in 1876, dedicated on October 28, 1886. Standing at the entrance to New York Harbor, it has welcomed millions of immigrants to the United States ever since. Advance planning is the key to a Statue of Liberty visit.
The Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States were both signed in this building in Philadelphia. The universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents are of fundamental importance to American history and have also had a profound impact on law-makers around the world. Visitors can explore the First Bank of the U.S., Congress Hall, Old City Hall, Franklin Court and Liberty Bell Center, among many more. Also, see our article on Independence Hall for more details.
This massive fortification of San Juan features the La Fortaleza, the three forts of San Felipe del Morro, San Cristóbal and San Juan de la Cruz. There is also a large portion of the City Wall, built between the 16th and 19th centuries to protect the city and the Bay of San Juan. Visitors to this historic site can join a rangers’ presentation, explore the fortifications, enjoy a video program, and relax and enjoy this Puerto Rican attraction.
National Park (Mitch Truesdale/
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America’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains boasts exceptional natural beauty, is home to more than 3,500 plant species, and is relatively untouched by human influence. Auto tours, cycling and hiking trails, camping, fishing and best of all, site seeing, are some of activities that allow visitors to experience this amazing place. Visit the Great Smoky Mountains site for trip-planning and area information.
Designed by Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the American Declaration of Independence, Monticello, although a few miles away, is a building at the heart of the University of Virginia. The integration of the buildings into the natural landscape, the originality of the plan and design, and the refined proportions and décor make Monticello an outstanding example of a neoclassical work of art, while the University of Virginia is an outstanding example of a great educational institution from the Age of Enlightenment.
This park features spectacular coastline, scenic lakes, majestic mountains and glaciers, and magnificent temperate rainforest. These diverse ecosystems are like visiting three different parks in one. Visitors to this park can begin their experiences at any one of five visitor centers for more details about maximizing this coastal experience.