Planning a trip to the American West soon? While there are so many well-known parks, sights and monuments to be seen, there are also many hidden gems that are worth seeking out during your tours and travels. Take your American West adventures to a new extreme and add these secret places to your travel bucket list.
Havasu Falls is a remarkable waterfall located in the Havasupai Indian Reservation inside the Grand Canyon National Park. Imagine beautiful clear blue vibrant water set against striking red rocks and a wide sandy beach covered in shady cottonwood trees. Perfect secret spot to capture some amazing photos, right? Havasupai is roughly translated as “The people of the blue-green waters,” which refers to the beautiful turquoise color of Havasu Creek. The color of the water is the result of having been stored underground – in limestone caverns or aquifers – for as much as 30,000 years. While underground, the water leaches out minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium, from the limestone. These minerals saturate the water and reflect sunlight, making the water a turquoise color. The Havasupai Waterfalls are the most dramatic waterfalls in the Grand Canyon and some would argue possibly even the entire Southwestern United States.
There are many places to look into in Yosemite Valley, such as Tunnel View, Sentinel Dome, and Glacier Point, but the absolute best (slightly secret) views are hands down at Artist’s Point on the side of Yosemite Valley. The view definitely rivals both Glacier Point and the park’s famed Tunnel View and doesn’t include half of the crowds that can be found in either one of the other viewpoints. Given the stunning view and the relatively short hike to get to it, it’s arguably the most under visited place in Yosemite. In June of 1855, artist Thomas Ayres stood here and drew a picture of Yosemite Valley – the first ever by a professional artist. During your visit, it’s actually quite likely that you will not see a single other person on the trail the entire time you hike it. Artist Pointe is similar to Yosemite’s most famous panorama, the Tunnel View, but from higher and a bit to the southeast. Most visitors agree that the view is superior to the Tunnel View. If you’re a serious photographer, you’ll find this spot extremely tripod-worthy.
There truly is no view more dramatic than what you see hanging onto a chain bolted into a cliff. Angels Landing is one of the world’s most renowned hikes, and is an unforgettable short adventure hike worthy of all bucket lists. The views of Zion Canyon’s 270 million-year-old rock layers will time travel you back to the Triassic period when this section of the Colorado Plateau was a flat basin at sea level. Anyone in an average physical condition can make this heavenward trek, but it can be mentally challenging with its steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs. There are chains bolted into the cliff to provide secure handholds. People who have a severe fear of heights should not attempt the final stretch, but can enjoy the trail all the way to Scout Lookout.
The Angels Landing trail is officially open all year long, but spring and fall have the most pleasant temperatures for this hike. Summer is the hottest and most popular season for the park, so be prepared to share the trail and sweat in the heat! Winter is the most unpredictable season for hiking Angels Landing; the trail could be completely clear or it could be riddled with ice and snow from recent precipitation. It is one of the most unique hikes and viewpoints in the world, so whether you are faster or slower than others hiking this route, be courteous and safe on the trail since there is not very much room for error.
Wall Street Trail
Planning a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park? Make sure you take time to enjoy the Navajo Loop where the famous Wall Street trail is, as well as an access trail to Peek-A-Boo. This trail can be entered from several different points within Bryce Canyon National Park and since it is a very steep trail, many hikers prefer to enter it from the bottom area of the Amphitheaters. It is claimed to be one of the most photographed areas within all the trails of Bryce Canyon as well, since it provides clear stunning views of the amazing hoodoos that Bryce Canyon is famous for. Wall Street contains a series of slow winding switchbacks that takes you to a narrower path in which you are enclosed by a bright red rock wall on each side. During heavy rain or snow the park tries to close off the wall, but even so the hike is very safe.
The Delicate Arch trail is 1.5 miles long with a gain of 500 feet in elevation; from 4,300 feet to 4,800 feet. This majestic natural beauty is a 65-foot-tall freestanding natural arch located in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, USA. It is by far the most recognizable arch in Arches National Park, and perhaps anywhere in the world. It also happens to be located along one of the most dynamic hiking trails within Arches National Park. More than 480 feet above the parking lot and trailhead in the valley below, Delicate Arch is hidden in a bowl at the top of one of the park’s famous sandstone fins. Delicate Arch is freestanding, and magnificently alone in the natural sandstone bowl, standing out against the multitude of horizontal planes around it. The arch was once part of the upper section of the fin, until erosion took its toll upon the sandstone throughout the years, and now Delicate Arch is all that remains of that Entrada sandstone formation. There are more than 2,000 arches in the park with the smallest having a three-foot opening and the largest having a 300-foot opening. We recommend hiking to Delicate Arch at sunset so you can see the arch reflecting vivid colors.
Dead Horse Point
Thelma and Louise took their final leap into the Colorado River from along the Dead Horse Point State Park. Located in the Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park is a state park located in Utah that covers 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. An ever-changing landscape showing immense vertical cliffs meet with canyons carved by ice, water and wind creating a visual masterpiece. Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of rock atop sheer sandstone cliffs. The peninsula is connected to the mesa by a narrow strip of land called the neck. There are many stories about how this high promontory of land received its name. According to one legend, around the turn of the century the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. Cowboys rounded up these horses, herded them across the narrow neck of land and onto the point. The neck, which is only 30-yards-wide, was then fenced off with branches and brush. This created a natural corral surrounded by precipitous cliffs straight down on all sides, affording no escape. Cowboys then chose the horses they wanted and let the culls or broomtails go free.
Balcony House stands as a tribute to those who built and occupied the site in the thirteenth century, the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. Balcony House is also a tribute to the men who excavated and stabilized the site in the early part of the twentieth century. With 40 rooms, Balcony House is considered a medium size cliff dwelling, only 10 sites in the park have more. Evidence of how room and passageway construction in the alcove evolved through time can easily be seen in Balcony House. Today, the tunnel, passageways, and modern 32-foot entrance ladder are what make it the most adventurous cliff dwelling tour in the park. Before you go you should know that anyone with a fear of heights should avoid Balcony House.
There is a 32 foot ladder that climbs straight up the cliff face, and two people on our tour were near tears trying to face down their fears. This hike may not be for people who are large, either, as there is a tunnel that narrows down to 18 inches to crawl through. You have to go through on your hands and knees for about ten feet of crawling. Finally, there is a climb up the slick rock face in steps that have been carved out of the cliff. A chain protects you and it would be nearly impossible to fall, but for those who don’t do heights well, stick with one of the other hikes. Make sure to look for the finger holds that were carved in the rock by the people who originally lived here.
Extend your travels to Fort Bowie National Historic Site, which commemorates the story of the bitter conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the United States military. It also stands as a lasting monument to the bravery and endurance of U.S. soldiers in paving the way for westward settlement and the taming of the western frontier. The remains of Fort Bowie are carefully preserved, as are the adobe walls of various post buildings and the ruins of a Butterfield Stage Station. Fort Bowie was a 19th- century outpost of the United States Army located in southeastern Arizona near the present-day town of Willcox, Arizona. The remaining buildings and site are now protected as Fort Bowie National Historic Site. The site is located on the unpaved Apache Pass Road which can be accessed from Interstate 10 near Bowie, Arizona or from Arizona Highway 186 just north of the entrance to Chiricahua National Monument. Access to the ruins of Fort Bowie and the visitor center is via a 1.5-mile foot trail which begins at a parking area along Apache Pass Road.