The 22 Most Surreal Destinations in the US West

southwest road trip of a lifetime

The abounding beauty in the American west is quite staggering.  Everywhere you drive, you’re inundated with a jaw-dropping, breath-taking scene.  With all the allure, it’s difficult to choose what to explore and what to forgo.  I’m a huge advocate of “seeing it all”.  However, rarely is that feasible.  Thus, I’ve created a list of what I believe to be the 22 most surreal and must-see destinations in the U.S. West (excluding the PNW because that is a list all on its own).  

In this post, destinations in the following states are included:

  • South Dakota
  • Colorado
  • Wyoming
  • Montana
  • Utah
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • California
Author: Mindy Michaels, mindyonthemove.com

Main Photographer: Doug Michaels

My name is Mindy Rose Michaels and I am an avid adventurer and traveler.  I “work to travel” (as I like to say) and thus, live a very unconventional life. My husband, Doug, and I are freelancers in the film industry and work on various reality/doc tv shows for a multitude of networks, such as: Travel Channel, Animal Planet, NBC, Discovery, A&E, Starz, HGTV etc.  Our work keeps us constantly moving and constantly on our toes AND, when we’re not working, you best believe we’re still on the move. Always. Because we love to travel as often and as far as possible.

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS AND I RECEIVE A COMMISSION IF YOU VISIT A LINK AND BUY SOMETHING ON MY RECOMMENDATION. PURCHASING VIA AN AFFILIATE LINK DOESN’T COST YOU ANY EXTRA, AND I ONLY RECOMMEND PRODUCTS AND SERVICES I TRUST. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN. FOR MORE DETAILS SEE MY DISCLOSURE AND PRIVACY POLICY.


Utilize TripAdvisor when planning and booking your adventure in the following places. On TripAdvisor, you can find the best hikes, recreational activities, sights, dining, lodging, flights, rentals and more! Plus reviews and testimonials of those who have explored these places prior.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#22) Sylvan Lake, Black Hills, South Dakota

  • prettiest lake in south dakota in the summer time
  • sylvan lake south dakota winter wonderland photo
  • black hills in the winter time photo magic
  • best photo spots in the blacks hills winter

Never in my wildest dreams could I construct a lake as astounding as Sylvan, hidden among South Dakota’s Black Hills in Custer State Park.  She’s one of the prettiest lakes I’ve ever laid eyes on.  People are always raving about Mount Rushmore, but what they don’t tell you: this lake is located next door to the national landmark and is much more impressive.  Spend a day swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding or even cliff diving in this immaculate paradise.  Not a water person?  Have an adventurous day on dry land hiking all the woodland trails that encircle this gem.  Opt to go rock climbing or shore fishing (you are bound to catch some pike, muskie or bass).   She’s even a sight to behold in the winter season with her sparking frozen waters and curious wildlife roaming freely. In the winter, Sylvan transforms into a secluded and serene wonderland. No matter when, the adventures are endless and the views are stunning here.

Discover more about the Black Hills region in South Dakota (including: lodging options, dining, adventures, parks and sites to explore) via TripAdvisor.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#21) Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

most surreal destinations in the US West

“Earth’s crammed with heaven…But only [she] who sees, takes off [her] shoes.”― Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Bonneville Salt Flats are the definition of “heaven on earth“. Located about an hour and a half west of Salt Lake City (off of I-80), the flats are amid some very remote and breathtaking scenery. After walking on the mirrored sky and capturing brilliant photos, we drove along the backroads on the Utah/Nevada border (West Wendover area) for hours on end. We rarely saw another soul the entire time. If you’re a lover of off-the-beaten path gems, this is the ideal place for you to explore because it’s utterly wild how remote these lands truly are.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#20) Devil’s Bridge, Sedona, Arizona

  • hiking to Devils Bridge in Sedona Arizona at sunset
  • hiking to devils bridge at sunset in sedona arizona

This was such an unearthly hike at sunset (but we recommend attempting it at sunrise, first) with all the red rocks glowing a fire-y hue. You can hear the coyotes yelping across the canyon and the birds preparing for sundown. The entire place is straight out of a storybook. The bonus to hiking at sunset: the crowds disperse and you’re actually able to have this place to yourself (which is rare). Plus, the desert at night is just as magical and a tad haunting as any other time. The hike is relatively easy and flat, except for the ending scramble up the cliffside. If you’re going to attempt to hike back down in the dark, as we did, I suggest bringing along a handy head-light for much need visibility aid.

Shop our Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp at backcountry.com

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#19) Artist Palette & Artist Drive, Death Valley National Park, California

  • photo of Artists Palette up close in death valley national park
  • views of badwater basin in death valley
  • best photographs of death valley national park in california
  • best wildlife photos taken in death valley national park california

The sites along Artist Drive are so unique and unlike any other in the country.  Heard of the Painted Mountains in Peru?  Well, did you know the USA offers a taste of her own natural and colorful artwork?  Artist Palette can be found about 5 miles into your drive along Artist Drive (turn off of Badwater Road, North of Devil’s Golf Course and South of Furnace Creek).  At Artist Palette you can see all the colors of the mountain shining brightly due to the oxidation of the metals and the elements found in the ground there.   The colors range from pink to green and even from purple to blue.  Even more, you’re able to walk about these painted mountains and see the impressive array of colors up-close.  Nature truly is a work of art – a masterpiece.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#18) Garden of the Gods, Colorado

most surreal destinations in the US West

Absolutely worthy of the name, Garden of the Gods sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains with Pike’s Peak in your sights.  Stay nearby in the cute, touristy town of  Manitou Springs and spend a full day wandering the grounds of this divine rock garden.  

As you hike over and under the illimitable red rock monoliths, you’re able to breathe in a little piece of heaven.  I had a total blast rock climbing and mountain-gazing in this stellar park.  Something about the way the red stands out amongst the greenery gives full life to the coined nickname “Colorful Colorado“.  Not to mention, the varying rock formations are mind-blowing. Balanced Rock, for example, is a puzzle to comprehend.

 Once finished discovering and playing in the Garden of Gods, take a hike up the challenging “Incline” or drive the scenic mountain route to the summit of Pike’s Peak (or hike to the summit, if time permits).

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#17) Devil’s Tower, Wyoming

  • must see Devil's tower photo in Wyoming
  • must see Devil's tower photo in Wyoming

The United States’ first national monument (est. 1906), Devil’s Tower in northeastern Wyoming rises 867 feet above its forest and prairie surroundings – a whopping 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourth River!

 This dramatic butte is a mystery to many and compels countless visitors to marvel in awe and speculation.  Scientists are even unsure on how the tower came into existence, debating over multiple theories.

Legends:

The Native American legends surrounding Devil’s Tower (or “Bear Lodge Butte” as they call it) are fascinating as well.  In short, they call her Bear Lodge Butte because, as the Lakota and Kiowa legend goes, a giant bear tried to climb over the tower butte (hence the claw-like marks that run up and down) as he chased two tribal girls one day.  The Sioux have a legend of their own, too, as do others.  To read more about them, check out this site: Native American Legends Surrounding Devil’s Tower.  

Furthermore, to this day, tourists and locals report of strange and unfamiliar lights coming from the sky above Devil’s Tower.  After all, how DID this giant rock jet up from the earth!?  It’s certainly surreal and I, for one, am a sucker for all things folklore, mysterious and legendary.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#16) Alabama Hills, California

  • The Alabama hills at the base of Mt. Whitney in California

Ever heard of them?  If you’re not familiar with California or the west, chances are you haven’t. Which is fantastic!  Why?  Because that’s part of this beauty’s charm: the Alabama Hills are remote, fascinating, original and you can enjoy her all to yourself!  This vast range of hills and rock formations line the eastern base of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  As you hike amidst giant boulders and roam through natural rock arches, the largest mountain in the lower 48 (Mt. Whitney) looks majestically down on you.  She reminds you of nature’s grandeur as you breathe in unearthly surroundings.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#15) The Needles at Canyonlands National Park, Utah

most surreal destinations in the US West
Photo by: Doug Michaels

My personal favorite part of the vast Canyonlands National Park is located in the lower region and is known as the Needles.  At Needles, we did most of our hiking and hardcore exploring – including our overnight hike in the backcountry.

Once you have your permit, I totally recommend beginning your hike at Elephant Hill Trailhead.  We begun our hike here, journeying through a network of trails including Joint Trail where we encountered a crazy cool slot canyon.  We set up our camp for the night in the backcountry area known as the “Butler Flats”.

(If you don’t wish to overnight camp, you can still make a day hike out of the trails – such as hiking to Druid Arch then back, etc).

Despite the heat and mishaps, our trek throughout the Needles in Canyonlands National Park and backcountry was the best – one of my most memorable!  

A few reasons it was so surreal and memorable:

  • experienced a beautiful sunset at camp during dinner
  • admired the stars from our uncovered tent at night
  • heard coyotes roaming nearby
  • woke up before dawn to hike out
  • witnessed a stunning sunrise at an extraordinary overlook
  • climbed and wiggled through slot canyons
  • came across a herd of mule deer grazing and a few snakes slithering

Overall, it was a blast and a total highlight of my western adventures!  There’s something so wild to me about carrying everything you need on your back and letting your two feet carry you throughout the wilderness – connecting with nature and soaking in your surroundings to the fullest.  To me, it’s of the utmost soul fulfillments.  And what better place to do so than surrounded by endless red needled-monoliths, buttes and winding canyons?  Every turn creates a new and jaw-dropping scene, each one more mesmerizing than the latter.

Shop our backcountry hiking & camping gear (including our Big Agnes tent below) here.

camping in the backcountry of Canyonlands national park needles district
Our Big Agnes tent set up in Butler Flats, Canyonlands National Park

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#14) General Sherman and the Giants in Sequoia National Park, California

Our video above was shot entirely with our GoPro. Shop yours here.

Honey!  I’ve shrunk myself!  Or, did I just enter a land of GIANT trees? The impressive and imposing sequoias of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are in an entire league of their own.  Sequoia National Park even boasts the world’s largest tree, General Sherman, who demands visitors’ admiration.  The Giant Sequoias ONLY grow along a 260-mile stretch on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  There’s no denying the splendor of this forest.  Spend a winter afternoon walking among, beneath and even inside these sequoias and you’ll be transported into a miraculous wonderland.   A magnetic pull will beckon you to explore deeper and deeper into her immense kingdom.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#13) Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Of course The Grand Canyon made the list – she’s renowned all over the world for her grandeur.  However, she places at #13 because of her popularity and over-crowdedness.  Call me crazy, which I am, but as much as I am wow’ed and mesmerized by her beauty, the lack of remoteness kills my vibes and cuts the surrealism (just a smidgeon) upon my explorations.  With that being said, I’m sure I’ll change my mind once I hike the isolated and wild Rim-to-Rim trail :-).

Regardless, The Grand Canyon is an American west staple and undoubtedly deserves a visit, or MANY (I’ve seen her 3 times and it’s still not even close to being enough).  People always describe feeling small when standing beside the ocean, but I’ve never felt more small than when standing on the edge of this immense beast.   Even more than sheer size, her copious colors are glorious + brilliant.   Upon staring into the her depths, a strong visceral urge to let the canyon devour you will overwhelm your spirit – calling you forth to explore her deepest + darkest corners.   I still want more.  And once receiving more, perhaps she’ll skyrocket up my list.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#12) Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon set on Navajo land east of Page, Arizona, is a captivating attraction that draws many people every year.  Gaining in popularity due to her alluring wonder and ever-changing colors, photographers flock in hordes to this gem.  It’s no wonder the most expensive photograph ever sold was snapped here, taken by Peter Lik and titled “Phantom” – Phantom photograph by Peter Lik.  

The light dancing throughout the canyon’s openings delivers an enchanting (and surreal) experience for each go-er.  The light never graces the walls the same way twice.  Every walk through the canyon varies and every photograph taken is differing.  Each person’s experience unique to their own journey.  It’s mind-boggling that nature can create so many shapes and colors all within the boundaries of a single slot canyon.  The smoothness of the walls are a delight to feel, as well.  Everything about this place is magic!

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#11) Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

most surreal destinations in the US West
Photo by: Doug Michaels

Subscribe via the link below to receive my free Utah Travel Cheat-book along with my free video tutorial on how to best edit photos while on-the-move.

Arches National Park is FULL of, well, Arches duh!  You’ll find a multitude of massive, natural rock arches in this beautiful park right beside Moab, Utah.  Moab is a hub for adventure – at Moab Adventure Center you can rent a Jeep to do some backcountry off-roading; you can take Hummer Land Tours or Air tours over Arches National Park; you can go rafting down the Colorado River or opt to Stand-Up Paddleboard. There’s plenty of climbing and canyoneering tours along with hot air balloons, horseback riding and biking.  There’s ENDLESS adventures here so, if you’re anything like me, you will be in your GLORY in Moab and her surrounding National Parks.

With that being said, be positively sure to hike to the unbelievable Delicate Arch (as photo’d above) in Arches National Park (my personal favorite).  I highly recommend beginning this hike before sunrise so that you arrive at the arch when the sun crests the horizon.   This adds dramatic coloring to the already dramatic landscape and also helps evade the drastic, desert heat.  

About the hike:

The hike is approximately 3 miles, out and back, and is accessible year-round.  It only gains about 600 feet in elevation and is rated moderate.  Be sure to bring along plenty of water and a headlight since the better portion of your hike on the way in will be completed in the dark, early morning sky.

The fact that such a perfect and GIANT arch, made completely by nature’s hand, exists is utter surrealism at its finest.  The smooth rock bowl at its base and the mountain views between the archway only add to the myriad of reasons why this place/hike is out of this world!  GO see it!

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#10) Badlands National Park, South Dakota

  • photo of the impressive buttes in Badlands National Park
  • Best viewpoints for taking photos in badlands national park
  • Best viewpoints for taking photos in badlands national park

For starters, I wrote an ENTIRE blog post on why everyone must go explore Badlands National Park: 10 Reasons Why You Should Visit Badlands National Park.  That, alone, should tell you just how AMAZING this place is and just how special it is to me.

I think Badlands, South Dakota is a highly underrated natural beauty in the U.S. and I feel everyone should start planning a trip there ASAP!  The scenery is remarkably unearthly.  Badlands National Park looks like a completely different planet – that is the best way to describe it in one sentence.  That is probably why Hollywood decided to film scenes in the movie “Armageddon” there (the badlands act as the surface of the asteroid where their shuttles crash-land).  

Its dramatic landscape spans countless, sharply eroded buttes, steep canyons and sprawling grasslands.  There are many lookouts in the park and each one has an original and mesmerizing view of this incredible place.  Furthermore, there are a million perfect places for the best photo-ops – you can’t go wrong no matter where you point your camera.  Your jaw will be sure to hit the floor when you make your initial drive/hike into this park – I know mine did (and still does every time I go)!

Video below filmed on our first trip to Badlands National Park (by Doug Michaels and Joe Nugent).

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#9) White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

  • photo of girl in white sands national park at sunset
  • photo of white sands national park at sunset
  • photo of girl in white sands national park at sunset

Guys, this place is AH-MAZING!  Never in my life had I known such a place existed within our own country’s borders, let alone is the largest of its kind on Earth (largest gypsum dunefield).  These expansive sand dunes are PURE WHITE – they sparkle underneath the crystal clear blue skies as the circling mountains provide the most picturesque backdrop.   Uniquely, the sand is composed of gypsum crystals which do not get hot in the sun.  Yes, you read that right… you can freely walk barefoot on these dunes without melting the flesh on your poor soles.  

My husband, best friend and I played like children all day long among the wave-like sands.  We hiked up and over countless dunes, getting lost in the white abyss.  Running and jumping off the dune cliffs and rolling down the gypsum hills without a care in the world, truly living in the moment and enjoying every second.  

Go sand-sledding:

Adding to the excitement, you can even rent sleds and sand boards at the park’s visitor center (or bring your own)!  It looks like snow and you’re on a sled, however… you’re in the middle of giant sand dunes in the desert of New Mexico: talk about mind bending and surreal!  Check out this link to read more about sledding in White Sands National Monument > Plan Your Visit: Sledding on the Dunes.   Your child-like wonder is sure to pique among this pristine, glistening white expanse.

 Think that’s rad?  Wait until you experience the magic of a sunset here – all the dunes turn various shades of pink and purple.  There’s backcountry camping on the dunes, as well, so after sunset you can set up camp and hunker down under the starry sky for the night.  It’s an adventurer’s paradise.   It’s so different from every other place in the country, you can’t miss the chance to experience White Sands National Monument for yourself.  I promise you, it’s a dream.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#8) Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

To this day, I still can’t believe what my eyes saw upon visiting Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park’s Midway Geyser Basin.  Not only is she the largest hot spring in the U.S. but she’s also the third largest in the world.  Even more, the most impressive feature she boasts is her crazy vivid and dazzling colors: orange, yellow, green and blue.  JUST LOOK AT THEM!  And YES, they’re that intense and bold in person, if not more!

 In reminding me of the inside of a large jawbreaker I use to eat as a kid, I stood and gazed over her wonder for a while.  Grand Prismatic Spring is entrancing and, in my humble opinion, should be considered a world wonder.   This was one of the greatest highlights upon my time spent in this enormously grand park.  Dare I say, I enjoyed this site more than that of Old Faithful.

Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon and innumerable wildlife are another HUGE bonus of this never-ending beauty.   This park is world famous for a reason and everyone should venture here at least once in their lifetime.  Yellowstone is home to hundreds of animal species (including bears, wolves, bison, elk + more) and is an enormous volcanic hot spot full of dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, dense forests and boiling hot springs + geysers. Yellowstone is a top surreal destination in our nation, without doubt.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#7) Redwood National + State Parks, California

most surreal destinations in the US West
Photo by: Doug Michaels

Enchanted.   Enchanted is the BEST word to describe Redwood National and State Parks.   Sauntering through these forests, I felt as if I had been transported to an ethereal, fairy world where all things magic + mystical were alive and possible.   One HAS to experience this fairytale land at least once in their lifetime – no other forest is comparable.

Not only do the colossal redwoods and lush ferns delight, but these parks encompass a tree-lined coast, forested mountains and wildlife aplenty.  One can enjoy a picnic along the coast, a hike through the tall trees, creature spotting in the meadows, a good book in the groves and countless photo-ops at the many scenic overlooks.  Or, one can prance about these lands like the fairy it deserves (I may have done this).  Regardless of how you spend your time here, you will leave with a love story of your own.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#6) Grand Teton, Wyoming

  • best photo op of the grand tetons in wyoming

Known as the “three beasts“, South, Middle and Grand Teton are incredibly majestic and rugged peaks among the Teton Mountain Range and part of Grand Teton National Park (just south of Yellowstone).  As far as staggering, imposing and dramatic are concerned, these three peaks take the top spot in the United States.  As much as I completely adore Rocky Mountain National Park (and she still beats Grand Tetons overall), these peaks overrule hers.  Their uninviting sharpness is challenging and a force to be reckoned with – and, to me, there’s something magnificent in the way her mountain tops seem unobtainable.

For breathtaking views at sunset/sunrise, head to T.A. Moulton Barn among the Mormon Row Historic District in Teton County (second pic, photo’d above).  My husband and I were fortunate enough to have this place (for the better part of our time) to ourselves and enjoyed one of the most stellar evenings just watching mother nature’s grand show at the base of such grandiose mountains.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#5) Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona

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Photo by: Doug Michaels

Does this place need an explanation?  Probably not.  However, I will try my best to put to words the total surrealism of Horseshoe Bend.  

Located near the town of Page, AZ and nearby Antelope Canyon, this horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River runs at the base of encompassing thousand-foot cliffs.  I felt more in awe of Horseshoe Bend than of the Grand Canyon (insanity, I know)!  Yes, the arrant mass of the Grand Canyon is more staggering, but the surreal and perfect horseshoe that the river cuts through the canyon here creates a more simplistically stunning site.  And sometimes, simplicity is clutch.  

Though the Grand Canyon forces one to realize their scale upon this earth, Horseshoe Bend enables you to appreciate and marvel at her simple creativity – you’re able to appreciate one work of art at a time.  Where the Grand Canyon is concerned, I have difficulty focusing on just one river bend or just one crevice because she’s SO VAST. However, here, I can take her ALL in from great heights.  OR, I can opt to explore her depths via boating, kayaking, paddling etc among the Colorado River below with the immense cliffs hugging me from all sides.  

Horseshoe Bend is a true treasure and is considered by many the “intimate grand canyon experience“.  After all, it’s also considered the “beginning of the Grand Canyon” for it’s a mere 5 miles from the start of the park.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#4) Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

  • girl hiking to emerald lake in rocky mountain national park at sunset
  • view of emerald lake from above on hike up Flat Top Mountain

In all honesty, ALL of Rocky Mountain National Park should be included on this list because she’s undoubtedly in my top 3 favorite national parks in the country.  Rocky Mountain National Park has IT ALL – everything a nature-loving explorer and enthusiast could ever dream of.  She has high mountains peaks of varying shapes and sizes, countless wildlife (I’ve seen more wildlife here than I have encountered anywhere else in the nation – tied with Yellowstone), turquoise alpine lakes a plenty, fun and thrilling mountain hikes, gushing waters and streams, pristine meadows and beyond.

However, with that being said, one of my favorite and easily accessible sites amidst the park is Emerald Lake – named for her surreal emerald coloring!  Not only is this gem-colored lake a splendor to ogle, her surrounding mountain walls are divinely formidable and add to this otherworldly scene.

Here, on the rock photo’d above, I have sat many times just thinking about the limitless awe and magic of nature and this earth we inhabit.  Places like Emerald Lake make me breathe peace and tranquility – make me say to myself “this is exactly where I’m meant to be and everything is right among this slice of heaven“.  The outside world ceases to exist. Harmony exudes.

Hiking there:

The hike up to Emerald Lake is a wonder in itself – with MANY beautiful sites to stumble upon.  The trailhead begins at Bear Lake, at the end of Bear Lake Road, and is a rather elementary 3.5 mile round-trip trek.  Don’t miss it!

Feeling even more adventurous?  After your visit to Emerald Lake, hike above her (on top the cliffs you see photo’d) via Flat Top Mountain trail (which has crazy awesome views on your whole climb to the summit and can be completed within half a day). Take a look at the second photo above to see the view of Emerald Lake along the hike up Flat Top Mountain.

Get all your hiking apparel and gear at Backcountry.com (even get 15% off your first order).

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#3) Angel’s Landing, Zion National Park

Zion National Park holds a special place in my heart because of her unbelievable, magical hikes and her magnetic pull she possesses over my entire being.   I felt a remarkable connection to this park, especially while journeying up to Angel’s Landing and wandering through The Narrows (both among my favorite hikes of all time).  There’s just something sensational about these steep, red canyon walls encompassing the abundant river valley.

Trail info:

Angel’s Landing begins at Grotto Trailhead: (37.259392, -112.950038) and is rated a Class 3 difficulty with ~1,500 elevation gain.  Angel’s Landing is a rather short, half-day hike (a little over 5 miles roundtrip).  However, don’t let the length fool you – the trail is full of seemingly endless switchbacks (Walter’s Wiggles) and steep inclines.  

The dramatic, awe-inducing views that you see while hanging onto a chain bolted into the cliffs are worth every ounce of energy expended.  The adrenaline you gain from walking on a two-foot wide path with literally thousand foot, sheer vertical drops on both sides is utterly thrilling.  Thus, if you’re a risk-taking thrill seeker such as myself, this hike is SO FOR YOU.  Even if you’re not, this hike is still a MUST do – just hold on to the chain, be mindful of your steps and keep in mind the “3 points of contact” rule.  If you do this, you’ll be fine and dandy.  This trek is none other than heavenward and worth facing your fears, shall you have any.

Once at the top of Angel’s Landing, you’ll see the most beautiful, panoramic views of steep, red, rocky cliffs dating back to the triassic era and the Virgin River and valley far below (cars look like tiny black ants, thats how high you are).   The landing upon which you sit (once at the top) is like an island in the sky, floating in the middle of Zion Canyon.  Up there, you feel like an angel floating on heaven’s cloud.  Everything is right in the world and ultimate beauty encompasses you.  

Frederick Fisher once said, “Only an angel could land on it”, because from below – that is exactly how it appears.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#2) Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

One of the most outstanding features of this hike is its plethora of never-ending views every which way you turn.  The offering of boundless panoramic peaks truly spellbinds whomever steps foot on its dirt.  This is the FIRST high of the hike you will take note of – the overwhelming beauty immediately pulls you in, begging you to explore deeper with every step.

The hike follows along the Continental Divide, also known as the Garden Wall in this portion of Glacier National Park.  Thus, it continually takes its hikers along the “high line” (giving it its name).   From the trailhead onward, you are jaunting along the canyon’s ridge, high above the valley below, and you are NEVER without a jaw-dropping scene.

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than [s]he seeks.” – John Muir.

Encompassed by enormity,  I felt small and humbled.  My trivial problems were put to rest as I gained perspective amid the grandeur.   What an incredible high I felt overcoming worry and finding  peace and hope in its place.  Along with these feelings, I gained inspiration.  These scenes inspired me to overcome my mountains and challenged me to become MORE.  Nowhere else can I uncover clearer certainty that… there is MORE to this life than any one person can conceive.  And nowhere else can I find the inspiration to voraciously go searching for that something MORE.

I clearly HIGHLY recommend this trail.  It was one of the best hikes and days of my life and I can’t imagine it’d be any less for you so long as you are open and there for it.

22 MOST SURREAL DESTINATIONS IN THE US WEST

#1) Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California

  • the best photos of the tunnel view in yosemite national park
  • the best photos of the tunnel view in yosemite national park
  • the best photos of the tunnel view in yosemite national park
  • the best photos of the tunnel view in yosemite national park at sunset

My number one is undeniable. The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in all of the U.S., including Yosemite National Park.  Yosemite’s landscape is so dramatic that it brought literal tears to my eyes upon first meeting her.  Prior to this experience, I had never actually cried from over-whelming beauty.  I believe this to be testimony to how GORGEOUS Yosemite National Park really is and, indeed, a big reason why she is bestowed the coveted number one spot.   I love her something fierce.  

Standing at Tunnel View in utter awe, I thought to myself “this is what heaven looks like”.  Honestly, the feeling that consumed by entire being while falling in love with her was none other than perfection – total peace (hence, my tears).  An overwhelming gratitude and disbelief that such magic could exist ultimately resulted in tears of pure bliss.   I believe in heaven on earth AND I believe in magic and miracles because of this view.  Every doubt I ever had was banished with this site alone.  

Some people even claim a vortex lies within her bounds, and I wouldn’t doubt it.  After all, the unexplainable emotions and feelings that occurred to me here are, no doubt, the work of something greater than our comprehension.  This place is the ultimate surreal destination of the U.S. West (and all the U.S. if I’m to be honest).

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Well, there you have it folks – my list of the top 22 most surreal destinations in the U.S. West (including South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and California).  Have I missed a site you deem worthy of a top spot?  Let me know in the comments below!  OR, do you believe another destination deserves the top spot?  I’m all ears and look forward to hearing your thoughts!  After all, beauty and surrealism + are subjective.

As always,

Much love and happy travels!

-Mindy


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23 thoughts on “The 22 Most Surreal Destinations in the US West

  1. Visiti loooved this post. Thank you for inspiring some of my next travel destinations. I would say to see the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon! Very close in proximity to Zion. It’s unbeliveable. Especially if there is a bit of snow on top on the hoodoos. It felt like I was walking through Mars or something. Highly recommend!

    1. Thanks girl! There’s so many beautiful places in Utah (especially the BIG 5 like Bryce Canyon ).. I had such a hard time choosing. I didn’t want the whole list to be Utah 😂. But I concur, that is a beautiful destination and could very well fit in this! Ranked high as well ❤️❤️❤️. Thanks again for reading and commenting! Hope all is well and I look forward to seeing your future travels 🤙🏻☺️

  2. gah!!! this is amazing!! totally earmarking this page! the hubs and I plan on focusing all our travel next year on the National Parks, this is total inspiration!! <3

  3. So many places I didn’t even know existed! :O Some of them were already on my list, and some just won their place! Thanks so much for sharing them, especially with all your beautiful photos! <3

  4. I’ve been to a few of these places before, but HOLY COW I’m adding Grand Prismatic Spring to my list right now!

  5. The US has so many beautiful places, sadly I’ve only been to two of these on the list!! Time to get out there!

  6. Wow! I often forget how much beauty surrounds me in our great country! I’ve only been to a couple of places on this list-guess I better get busy! Thanks for the great post!

  7. This is incredible! So happy to come across this article because I’m planning a cross-country road trip for my 30th birthday! I’m thinking about 10 days on the road. This is giving me so much inspiration. Not sure how I’m going to narrow it down!

  8. Absolutely love this post of yours. I’ve lived in the west coast much of my life and visited most these amazing places on the west coast. But, I’ve never seen a comprehensive and beautiful post like this. It makes me want to visit them all over again.

  9. I have yet to travel out west, but my family has gone multiple times. All of these places look magical! Colorado and Utah and Wyoming -gah! I want to visit them all. Your photos are incredible!

  10. I’ve been yearning to explore more of the west and this post was perfect for a nature lover like myself! I will be saving this for later because I know I am going to hit up all of these sights!!

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