Otherworldly rock formations, dramatic mountain peaks, sea-spray-speckled shores — the scenery is varied, but the results are predictably the same: pure awe. In the Utah desert, red spires and canyon cliffs rise from the desert floor. In the Louisiana swamp, the stillness is almost as thick as the mist and as close as the air. In Michigan, sculpted bluffs define a stretch of Lake Superior’s shoreline.
In these destinations, travelers can’t help but enjoy the view.
Some people contend that Glacier is the most gorgeous of all the national parks, and most residents of Whitefish, Montana, on the park’s western edge, probably wouldn’t argue.
Apgar Village sits at the head of Lake McDonald, and “you can drive there 365 days a year and see that beautiful view,” said Lisa Jones McClellan, public relations manager for Explore Whitefish. Groups can stop at Trail of the Cedars, a fully accessible boardwalk trail that meanders through towering cedars to Avalanche Gorge waterfall.
The park highlight is Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 53-mile engineering marvel that was completed in 1933 and is a must-do for visitors. The road stretches the width of the park and spans the Continental Divide, offering plentiful pull-off areas to get every view. Two concessionaires offer Going-to-the-Sun tours: Red Bus Tours operates a fleet of red 1930s buses with roll-back canvas roofs, and Sun Tours gives guests a Native American perspective of the park.
Whitefish Mountain Resort watches over the town below and offers amazing views year-round, whether of ethereal, icy snow ghosts in the winter or fluffy, white beargrass in the summer. Guests can ride a chairlift or a gondola to the top of Big Mountain and dine at the recently renovated Summit House Restaurant and Bar. On the lower level, visitors can explore displays and hands-on activities at the U.S. Forest Service Summit Nature Center. The resort also has aerial adventure and zip-line courses.
In town, Lady of the Lake provides private narrated cruises of Whitefish Lake for groups of up to 12, and the Lodge at Whitefish Lake has a deck overlooking the water. The marina also offers paddleboard, kayak, canoe, jet ski and pontoon boat rentals
The expansive Atchafalaya National Heritage Area covers 14 parishes along the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers from Louisiana’s northern border to the Gulf of Mexico. But the section of swamp along Interstate 10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette offers visitors several options to get out among moss-draped cypress trees and on green-carpeted waters.
The state Atchafalaya Welcome Center in Butte LaRose is a favorite stop for visitors and good for groups, said Ashley Herrick Orlando, assistant director of the heritage area. At the welcome center, visitors can peruse exhibits about the area’s flora, fauna and culture; explore walking trails and picnic areas; and watch an educational movie.
In Henderson, McGee’s Swamp Tours’ three boats can hold up to 48 passengers, and native guides talk about what it’s like to live on a houseboat and survive in the swamp. McGee’s also offers two-hour canoe paddling trips and small-boat sunset tours to spotlight alligators at dusk. The Bayou Teche Experience in Breaux Bridge can take groups of up to 45 on canoe paddle trips. In Lafayette, the Acadian Cultural Center has partnered with the Lafayette Parish Bayou Vermilion District to offer 45- or 90-minute boat tours of the Bayou Vermilion tidal river on a traditionally built bateau called Cocodrie, which is French for alligator.