Courtesy of NPS
These under-the-radar national monuments are totally stunning, and they’re right in your backyard.
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.
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.
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).
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This 2,294,343-acre national monument/wilderness area in the Alaskan Panhandle is part of Tongass National Forest and overseen by the U.S. Forest Service. It was first designated by former President Jimmy Carter in 1978, sparking a land-use battle between the federal government and the state of Alaska. At stake: glacial valleys, saltwater canals, soaring granite walls, a density of hemlock and spruce trees, and abundant wildlife. Most visitors see this remote monument from the deck of a cruise ship, but the truly adventurous would spend a few days exploring by kayak.
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