What’s the difference national parks and monuments? National parks are protected for their recreational, educational, and scenic qualities. National monuments are preserved because they are historically, scientifically, or culturally important. The Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore are both national monuments, as is Stonewall in New York City and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad in Maryland. From fossil beds and military forts to dense forests and coral reefs, this is why you see so much diversity in the types of places that earn national monument status. Mark your map—these are seven monuments you don’t want to miss on your next road trip in the United States.
Devils Tower National Monument in Devils Tower, Wyoming Congress is responsible for designating national parks, but presidents appoint national monuments. This hulking rock formation in the northeast corner of Wyoming was the country’s first, established by Theodore Roosevelt in September of 1906. Northern Plains Indians consider this site sacred, as do the hundreds of rock climbers who attempt to shimmy up its vertical cracks each year.
White Sands National Monument in Alamogordo, New Mexico This alien-like desertscape is one of the most exotic sights in America: 275 square miles of silky-soft sand, as white as freshly fallen snow. Despite the name, it’s not sand you’re seeing at White Sands National Monument—it’s gypsum. And it’s fantastic for scrambling across undulating ridges, photographing the shadows at sunrise and sunset, and sandboarding like a maniac (the visitor center sells waxed plastic sleds for just this purpose).
Colorado National Monument in Fruita, Colorado
Effigy Mounds National Monument in Harpers Ferry, Iowa
This is one of the newest additions to the national monument family, established in May 2014 by former President Barack Obama (and jeopardized by President Trump’s executive order). The designation covers the Organ Mountains, the Dona Ana Mountains, the Sierra de las Uvas Mountains Complex, and the Greater Potrillo Mountains. The jagged ranges rise like razor teeth over Las Cruces, making them viewable from almost anywhere in the city. Sunset is an especially good time to look, when the rocky faces take on unreal pink, purple, and blue blazes. >>Next: 10 Amazing Ancient Forests Around the World