Where will you adventure in 2023? If you’re in search of inspiration, we’ve compiled ten spectacular natural wonders to add to your bucket list. From hot spots recognized across the world to lesser-known marvels, these unique locations will have you awestruck–and wondering if you’re still on Planet Earth.
To help with your travel planning, we’re including details on the best times of year to visit each place. Mix and match destinations to create a full itinerary from spring to winter. With adventures like these on the horizon, this is bound to be your most epic year yet.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
It is only fitting that we start this list with a location often considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Each year, the Grand Canyon welcomes nearly six million visitors from around the globe to gaze at this incredibly huge and deep canyon formed by the Colorado River. This canyon stands apart from others not only in its massive scale but also in the rich palette of colors and shapes you’ll see on the rock faces. Photos can’t capture what it feels like to stand on the edge of this expansive geological masterpiece, so be sure to see it in person one day–preferably this year. Visit in spring or fall to avoid the summer vacation crowd and enjoy optimal temperatures.
For more information, check out our Grand Canyon Adventure Guide here.
Psychedelic Swamps, Virginia
Speaking of rainbow waters, we also recommend a mysterious natural phenomenon in Virginia. Head to First Landing State Park for a chance to see a swirling, pastel rainbow on the surface of the swamp water. This phenomenon is formed when decomposing leaves in the water release tannic acid. Think of it as an oil-slick rainbow, but natural. The vegetation growing out of the water and casting shadows over it only adds to the visual candy. You’ll have to wait for the right time of year–fall and winter–and the right moment–when sunlight hits the water–to catch a glimpse of this natural wonder. The same phenomenon has also been observed in some swamps in Florida.
Yellowstone Geothermal Pools, Wyoming
Yellowstone is another national park that is world-famous for good reason. The remarkable geothermal activity here results in hot springs in a trippy array of rainbow hues. The colors are formed by archaea, a type of single-cell organism. These ones thrive in warm environments and group themselves according to the temperatures in different parts of the pools, resulting in rings of different colors. There are dozens of hot springs and geysers to check out at Yellowstone, each with its own unique look and characteristics. For the most vibrant colors, add Grand Prismatic Spring and Morning Glory Pool to your list. The springs are more colorful in warmer seasons, but the park is a treat to visit anytime from spring to fall.
For more information, check out our Yellowstone Adventure Guide here.
Niagara Falls, New York
While Niagara Falls isn’t officially included in the seven wonders of the world, many have called it the eighth wonder. The falls are admired for their height and the sheer amount of flowing water, which creates an impressive visual effect. Be sure to take in the view from afar and close up. Survey the iconic horseshoe shape from multiple free and paid vantage points or a helicopter tour. These viewing areas and tours are available on both the American and Canadian sides of the falls. Then get up close and personal to the thundering, misty waters with a boat tour or the Cave of the Winds tour. Summer is the busiest season due to the warmer weather. Visit in August or September for fewer crowds and good conditions.
The Wave, Arizona
Head to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument for a visually-pleasing geological formation. The wave is a hilly rock formation decorated with colorful swirling striations. Formed in the Jurassic Period, the mind-bending undulations of this natural wonder now act as one of the most photograph-worthy scenes in Arizona. Besides taking a significant hike in, you’ll need to apply for a permit. Due to the Wave’s popularity, permits are given on a lottery system. One highlight of van life is that you can camp at and explore various locations of interest near this national monument while you wait to see if you can get your hands on a permit. Spring and fall are favored seasons for more moderate weather. However, if you’re willing to brave a bit of cold, visit during winter for a better chance of getting a permit.
White Sands, New Mexico
If you’re a fan of otherworldly landscapes, you’ll love White Sands National Park. Here, visitors can wander through snow-white sand dunes as far as the eye can see–275 square miles, to be precise. There are bigger dunes in the United States, but the dramatic bleached color of this rare gypsum sand is what truly sets this natural wonder apart. When it comes to gypsum dune fields, White Sands is the world’s largest. Keep the magic going at night with next-level views of the stars. Fall is the best time to visit this national park for mild weather and bright yellow leaves on the cottonwood trees in the surrounding area.
To learn more about White Sands, check out our guide to the Top Van Destinations in New Mexico.
Northern Lights, Multiple States
The northern lights are a natural phenomenon that should be on everyone’s bucket list. You’re likely familiar with the wavy lines of green, purple, and red light flowing across the night sky. However, you might not realize that there are multiple places to see this jaw-dropping atmospheric display in the United States. Fairbanks, Alaska is one of the most popular places to see the lights if you’re up for the trek. However, the lower 48 states offer viewing opportunities as well. Specifically, check out Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, Washington, and Idaho to see the colorful lights dance across the sky from September to mid-April. Research conditions beforehand because each state is different. Van life is ideal for this adventure because you can camp comfortably in the best locations to see the natural show right outside your traveling home.
Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska
If you do venture out to Alaska for the northern lights, turn the trip into a double feature by heading to the Mendenhall Ice Caves near Juneau. These striking caves are carved out of a glacier by flowing water. The smooth, billowing ice forms are backlit by the sun to create a cerulean glow. You’ll navigate this dreamlike landscape with the help of a guide. The caves change over time and the main priority of the guides is keeping everyone safe, so you’re not guaranteed a cave visit if the conditions aren’t right. However, there are other ways to enjoy this frozen winter wonderland like hiking across the glaciers or paddling across Mendenhall Lake. Plan your visit between July and September, when the ice cave tours operate.
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Multnomah Falls is the most visited natural place in the Pacific Northwest, and we can see why. The 620-foot-tall narrow waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge looks like something out of a fairytale. Aside from the diaphanous stream of water, vibrant green vegetation and a picturesque bridge complete the scene. You can visit this natural wonder year-round. In winter, a dusting of snow highlights the forest landscape for an enchanting view, but hiking paths can be closed. If you’re looking for the best chance to explore beyond the main observation deck and the most optimal weather, visit in spring and summer. The water flow of the falls is also highest in spring.
Caddo Lake, Texas and Louisiana
We started this list with an incredibly popular destination, so we’d like to end it with something of a hidden gem. On the border between Texas and Louisiana, you’ll find an ideal location to get in touch with nature. Caddo Lake is a serene lake and bayou landscape filled with uniquely-shaped and moss-draped cypress trees. The reflection of this vegetation in the water below is simply stunning. Adding to the magical feeling, lily pads dot the lake’s surface in some areas. Many bird and fish species also call this natural wonder home. Explore the lake by canoe, kayak, or guided boat tour. The flora and fauna at this secret spot are attractive throughout the year, but spring and fall offer the most comfortable weather.
Which of these natural wonders are you adding to your list? Let us know in the comments at @myrecvan. Looking for a comfortable and flexible way to travel year-round? Visit RecVan today to browse our wide range of state-of-the-art camper vans from the best brands in the business.