A version of this article originally appeared in the book 100 Parks, 5000 Ideas.
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie with a head for heights or simply looking for sublime vistas, North America’s breathtaking summits and manufactured monuments deliver. Here are ten of the most amazing panoramic views in parks across the United States and Canada.
Mount Washington, New Hampshire
Whether you ride the cog railway to the summit, drive the historic toll road, or hike the Six Presidents, the view from the highest mountain in the Northeast U.S. is always commanding—and normally breezy: A weather station at the top of Mount Washington recorded a world-record 231 miles an hour (371.76 km/h) wind gust in 1934. (Learn how to make a one-day loop in New Hampshire's White Mountains.)
Statue of Liberty, New York
It’s far from being the highest outlook in the Big Apple, but it just might be the best. Look through Lady Liberty’s crown to view the Manhattan skyline and a harbor that has welcomed millions of immigrants to America since the statue was dedicated in 1886. (See the faces of immigrants in 1917.)
Washington Monument, D.C.
Recently refurbished elevators speed visitors to the summit of the monolith that honors America’s founding father and first president. Perched 555 feet (169.17 m) above the grassy Mall, the viewing deck looks down on the Capitol Building, White House, Lincoln Memorial, and other national landmarks. The 897 stairs to the top have been closed to the public since 1976. (Here’s your definitive guide to travel in Washington, D.C.)
Clingmans Dome, North Carolina and Tennessee
The highest point along the entire Appalachian Trail, the 6,643-foot (2,024.78 m) peak in Smoky Mountains National Park can be reached by foot, car, or cross-country skis when the road is closed in winter. On clear days, the view easily extends 100 miles (160.9 km).
Gateway Arch, Missouri
After years of renovation, the 630-foot-high (192 m) stainless steel arc above downtown St. Louis is once again open to visitors. To get an appreciation for what it took to build the iconic structure, be sure to catch the film “Monument to the Dream” at the National Park Visitor Center.
Navajo Bridge, Arizona
The Grand Canyon boasts dozens of world-class views. As for which one is best, that’s largely up to personal taste. But it would be very hard to top the vertigo-inducing view from the historic Navajo Bridge, opened in 1929 and still the only span across the Colorado River between Lake Powell and the Hoover Dam. (Plan a trip around these eight epic stops in the Four Corners region.)
Half Dome, California
Sliding your chin over the granite edge at the top of Half Dome and staring down at Yosemite Valley 8,844 feet (2,695.6 m) below is one of America’s essential national park experiences. But it doesn’t come easy: The adrenaline rush entails a 16-mile (25.75 km) round-trip hike from the valley. The last leg up is a vertiginous cable ladder on the mountain’s slick granite backside.
Marin Headlands, California
The verdant hills on the north shore of Golden Gate National Recreation Area provide a literal bird’s-eye view of the park’s namesake span and San Francisco Bay. On a foggy summer day, the bridge’s burnished towers are often the only parts protruding above the thick mist. (Find out the best things to do in San Francisco.)
Watching sunrise from the summit of the highest peak on Maui has been a tradition for decades, so much so that early risers must make reservations with the Park Service to visit the mountaintop at dawn. The experience is spectacular: the golden orb rising over the Pacific with Hawaii’s other volcanic peaks floating to your left and right. (Here’s our guide to all things Hawaii.)
Glacier Skywalk, Alberta
If you think it’s cool to walk across the massive Athabasca Glacier at the southern end of Jasper National Park, try looking down on the frozen behemoth from this translucent pedestrian platform that floats more than 900 feet (274.32 m) above the visitor center and Sunwapta Valley. It’s also the perfect place to see how the glacier flows down from the massive Columbia Icefield in the Canadian Rockies.