America is a land of many wonders, but some sights stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. Due to their unparalleled natural beauty or historical significance, numerous sites around the country have received special acclamation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
We've decided to pay special tribute to these tourist treasures, by highlighting our picks for the five best World Heritage Sites in America.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Ky.
The aptly named Mammoth Park is a true spectacle. The surrounding Green River Valley is already famed for its diverse array of flora and fauna, but the park's main attraction is undoubtedly the eponymous cave at its heart.
This labyrinthine network of subterranean caverns is the longest known cave system in the world, spanning some 367 surveyed miles, with more than 390 miles still unexplored. These winding caverns have been attracting visitors for over almost 200 years, with colorful wax-like rock formations and surprising indigenous inhabitants.
Redwood National Park, Calif.
The towering trees that gave Redwood National Park its name have stood for millennia. Scattered along some 40 miles of pristine coastline, magnificent redwood trees - which rank among the world's tallest - peer over the sweeping prairies, gushing rivers and lush woodlands of this awe-inspiring national park. Throughout the dark old-growth forest, thick ferns, blooming flowers and deep canyons add to the park's primeval mystery.
Independence Hall, Pa.
For the United States of America, few sites are as sacred as the country's birthplace. Independence National Park, in Philadelphia, PA, played host to a number of critical milestones in American history, and is home to some of the nation's most famous landmarks.
The park's centerpiece is Independence Hall, where the founding fathers signed the declaration of independence and gave birth to a nation. Various other ubiquitous relics from American mythology sit nearby, such as the Liberty Bell and Congress Hall, where the US congress served for the final decade of the 18th century.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
The dramatic volcanic landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provide a stark reminder of the island's explosive origins. The lava flows, steaming craters and lava tubes around the park's active volcanoes make for humbling demonstrations of nature's awesome power that, even in paradise, outshine all else.
Hikes through the desolate Devastation Trail and drives along the lava-covered highways of Chain of Craters Road showcase the park's unique natural beauty, but the main attraction is undoubtedly the otherworldly spectacle of the Halemaumau Crater spewing plumes of smoke into the atmosphere.
Chaco Culture National Historic Park, N.M.
The ruins of Chaco Canyon date back almost 1,200 years, when the site served as the center of culture and commerce for the ancient pueblo peoples. New Mexico's arid, barren desert country provides a stunning setting for the remarkably well-preserved ruins scattered throughout the remote canyon. Among the site's biggest highlights is Pueblo Bonito, the world's largest prehistoric Native American dwelling ever excavated, which contains some 800 rooms across three acres.