- The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Just hours from my suburban Minneapolis home, the BWCA consists of more than 1 million acres of pure, unspoiled nature without crowds of tourists.
- Gasparilla Island State Park, Florida
After my most recent visit to this Gulf Coast park, I felt like I had spent the afternoon at a luxury spa. Relaxation came from feeling the sand on my bare feet, watching the birds ride the wind and becoming mesmerized by the waves continually rolling onto the beach—all for a $3 parking fee plus a $5 toll for crossing the bridge to the island.
- Little Bighorn Battlefield, Montana
Walking along the battlefield path and honoring the fallen warriors and soldiers was a surprisingly moving experience for me. Visualizing history in the actual place where it occurred made it feel more real.
The enormity of Yosemite: Joel & the girls at Glacier Point (Half Dome in background).
- Yosemite National Park, California
At Yosemite I learned the true meaning of the word awesome. The immense and stunning landscape made me feel more like a speck than I'd ever felt before (or since).
- Sequoia National Park, California
If Yosemite presented awe, then Sequoia NP oozed reverence. Some giant sequoia trees are more than 3,000 years old. On average, giant sequoias can grow to be 150 to 280 feet tall (about 20 stories) and 16 to 23 feet in diameter. As strong as stately as these massive trees are, their root system lies within only four or five feet of the soil surface and can be damaged by too much traffic.
- Double Arch at Arches National Park, Utah
The more than 2,000 natural stone arches around the park come in different shapes and sizes, look different depending on the weather or the time of day, and serve as natural frames of the surrounding landscape. My favorite of all the arches is Double Arch, pictured here. (Do you notice the tiny people?)
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Each time we visit RMNP, we wind our way up to the Alpine Visitor Center and trek up the Alpine Ridge Trail to take a photo at the elevation sign. Once we drove up the one-way Old Fall River Road. (Once is enough for me!)
- The Grand Canyon, Arizona
When I was 16, my family visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The morning my dad and I watched the sun rise over the canyon, it seemed like we were the only two people on earth. Someday, Joel and I will bring our daughters to see this natural wonder.
Places I Have Not Yet Visited (But Are Surely Awesome)
- Yellowstone National Park
The nation's first National Park has the world's largest geyser collection.
- Washington, D.C.
D.C., where monuments and history abound, sits toward the top of our list of future family destinations.
Some day, I would like to experience the lush green islands of Hawaii.
Just one word: Denali.
Those who know me aren't likely surprised that my list focuses on nature and the outdoors. As I was writing this, I asked Joel what he'd put on his top 12. Aside from Gasparilla Island and Sequoia National Park (redundant to Yosemite, he says, since Yosemite has sequoias), our lists are the same. He would add two places he has not yet visited: Gettysburg and Acadia National Park.
What does your list of the 12 Most Awesome Places to Visit look like? I invite you to share you favorite destinations in the comments below, or send me a note on twitter.