The Most Interesting Geographical Landmarks You Should VisitPublished on 02/25/2021 · 10 min readFrom dunes to salt flats, pink lakes to mud volcanoes, Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares her bucket-list of unique places to explore.
Photo by Kyle Hinkson
I’m eager to travel; see new things, experience new culture, and, of course, hike. Some of my favorite hikes have taken me to unusual, bizarre, and unique geographical landmarks. Here is a list of some of my favorite places I’ve been, and others I hope to hike, with interesting geographical landmarks.
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA
Salt flats have always intrigued me. Northwestern Utah holds the Bonneville Salt Flats—an ancient, great lake that dried up and left only salt that takes up 30,000 acres of desert. The salt flats range in thickness up to five feet thick and cover about 46 square miles. Drive carefully so you don’t get stuck! Pack lots of water and a hat, and enjoy walking around the vast salt flats.
Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
Speaking of salt flats, Bolivia has one of the most beautiful salt flats in the world—Salar de Uyuni. When you arrive, try to remember that though the surface can be reflective, you should not stop and take a picture of yourself lying on the ground. The surface will only become reflective when the nearby lake overflows and a thin layer of water covers the sand.
Instead, look around and enjoy the serenity this wondrous place has to offer. Taking up more than 4,000 square miles, this salt flat is the largest in the world. Be cautious of the high elevation and be aware of altitude sickness symptoms.
The Wave and Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
The Wave is an absolutely stunning red sandstone formation on the border of Utah and Arizona in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. To hike it, you will need a permit. Only twenty are given out a day, so get there early and prepare in advance. The symmetry of lines, variety of earth tones, and the quite literal gravity-defying formations are other-worldly.
While you are there, head to Antelope Canyon. It is a little more than an hour’s drive but is worth the trip and gas money. Antelope Canyon was named a Navajo Nation Park in the late 1990s; you must go with a tour due to its significance to the Navajo Nation and you must also obtain a permit.
Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
The rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon in Arizona is a challenge for any athlete. Some people choose to do it in a day, starting in the early hours of the morning and ending in the late hours of the night. If you do this, bring at least three liters of water, if not more. Others will opt to backpack it and take three to four days to enjoy all that the canyon has to offer. Either way, prepare yourself for crazy elevation gain and drops, and the magic the canyon has to offer.
Dead Sea, Israel
This interesting landmark isn’t necessarily a hike but is more of a soak. Although, there are many hiking destinations nearby! The Dead Sea is famous for being the lowest elevation spot on the planet. Maybe you have seen photos of people “sitting” in the sea or using mud to clean their skin. The water is so salt-dense that you essentially have no control over your body (read: it is very hard to move). Take it from someone who has been in the Dead Sea thrice, the salt will burn if you get it in your eye or in a cut. Use some mud on your skin before you enter to hydrate your skin before the salt dries you out. I also want to note that you may or may not (but probably will) feel like you are covered in olive oil when you get out of the sea. Take a quick rinse and all will be well.
Arches National Park, Utah, USA
Utah is known for its beautiful and gravity-defying rock formations. These arches that cover the Arches National Park are breathtaking. Some seem sturdy, while others look so delicate that a mere butterfly landing could knock them over. There are multiple trails to find the arches, so take your pick—practically any hike will give you a view of an arch. These rock formations are definitely something to add to your bucket list.
Machu Picchu, Peru
This 15th century Inca citadel—and now the ruins of it—are gorgeous and filled with history. The hike to get to it, however, is arduous and not for the faint of heart. You must use a tour to get to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are a few tours to choose from, although I recommend taking your time as the altitude and arduous trek will become exhausting. And besides, what is the rush? Always remember that heading down is harder than going up, so bring those trekking poles to save your knees.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
The Uluru rock formation in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia has long been on my to-do list. There are multiple hikes and trails you can follow, many being wheelchair-accessible or paved. There are endless vistas, interesting rock formations, rock art paintings, crevices, domes, and more; you will not get bored here. Soak up the culture and learn about history at this national park.
Old Faithful Geyser: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA
Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park is a beauty. Although it is the most famous, it isn’t the highest geyser. Discovered in the 1870s, this geyser was named for its predictable timing—hence, “old faithful.” The highest can vary from 100 to 180 feet and the eruption can last up to five minutes. There are myriad trails in the area, so take your pick and enjoy the beauty that Wyoming has to offer. I’ve heard that Fair Falls Trail is a great way to get fantastic views of the park, including forests and waterfalls.
Lake Hillier, Australia
Water is blue, right? Well, my fourth grade geography teacher did not teach me this, but the correct answer is: not always. In Western Australia sits Lake Hillier, a body of water that is actually bubblegum pink. Yes! Bubblegum pink is the color of this lake. Many believe that the color has to do with Dunaliella salina microalgae, which creates a pigment. However, the reaction of salt and sodium bicarbonate could offer another explanation to the pink color. If you happen to get a bird’s-eye view, you will see the juxtaposition of the blue Pacific Ocean right next to the pink lake.
Zhangye National Geopark, China
The Zhangye National Geopark is like no other. Set in the eastern foothills of the Qilian Mountains, this park is covered in colorful rock formations that look as though they have been painted. But fear not, no one has painted these mountains—it is a true, natural occurrence. Over 500 million years ago, this land was covered in the ocean. Tectonic plate movement created land folds and formed the mountains that rose above sea level. Red sandstone and mudstone was deposited over time, which explains the bright, pigmented mountains.
Sand Dunes: Lencois Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
Like the salt flats, sand dunes have always intrigued me. They are fun to roll down and challenging to hike up. But surprise! Come July these dunes at the Lencois Maranhenses National Park in Brazil become temporary pools of warm water. From January to June, the sand dunes collect rainwater that turns into pop-up seasonal pools. It is recommended to go with a guide as it is easy to get lost here. Beware of the non-human species in the pools! By October, the pools will disappear until the next year.
The Pamukkale Thermal Pools in Turkey are a gorgeous site. Known as the “cotton castle,” this UNESCO World Heritage Site is part of an ancient city called Hierapolis. This natural landmark is composed of natural mineral basins that have structured themselves near bright calcium bicarbonate deposits. The white deposits juxtapose the blue pools of water. It will be crowded here, but bring a bathing suit anyway and prepare for the healing properties the water holds.
Marble Caves, Chile
I have this irrational fear of caves. However, if I were to go in one, the Marble Caves in Chile would be it! Formed by 6,000 years of waves, color deposits on the walls reflect the lake’s waters. This remote, glacial lake is near the Argentina border and is constantly changing in hue depending on the time of year. The caves are only accessible by boat, and many tours operate between September and February when the ice melts. Make sure to go in the early morning for the best light and most “Instagrammable” photos.
Mud Volcanoes: Gobustan, Azerbaijan
A third of the entire world’s mud volcanoes are found here in Gobustan National Park, Azerbaijan. Ready for some messy and explosive terrain? Get your ticket! In 2001, the ground started shifting. What scientists found was not a magma eruption but mud. These mud volcanoes form when gas underground finds a weak spot in the earth and makes its way to the surface.
These volcanoes are not hot but can be very cold—most of the time just above freezing temperatures. Four hundred of over 1,000 mud volcanoes live in Azerbaijan. Thankfully, these are generally not dangerous, as they are far away from towns. However, some say that 2,000 sheep and six shepherds were killed by the mud volcanoes in Azerbaijan. Put on your hiking boots (that you don’t mind getting muddy) and cautiously make your way over to see the mud volcanoes.
Fly Geyser: Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA
Nevada’s Fly Geyser is an accidental human-made site that is covered in beautiful colors and sits over six feet tall. This geyser erupts with water five feet into the air in the middle of the desert. It is located on land that was purchased by Burning Man in 2016—sounds like a rad time to me! When residents in the early 1900s welled for water, they realized these water sources were far too hot for their needs, and so they became human-made geysers. Decades later, these are now above ground and are absolutely gorgeous, as they are covered in unique colors as a result of thermophilic algae.
Jeju Island Lava Tubes, South Korea
The Jeju Island Lava Tubes are found on Jeju Volcanic Island in South Korea. The caves have what look like towers of petrified lava. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is only accessible by boat from Busan or flight from Gimpo International Airport in Seoul. The island itself has more to offer—beautiful beaches, lots of hiking trails, as well as resorts for those wanting to stay on the island for longer amounts of time. And you should—there is much to explore.
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
The Cliffs of Moher are famous for multiple reasons, but most significantly, the movies and shows that have filmed there like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and The Princess Bride to name a few. The cliffs overlook beautiful ocean views. Run through the hills singing and frolicking—or read the poem that Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation read while there, “O were my Love yon Lilack fair.” Robert Burns’ poem made Ron Swanson weep—not an easy thing to do! The Cliffs of Moher offer so much and I cannot wait to walk across them one day.
Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
Wear your sturdy walking shoes to the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. These basalt columns that were formed by a series of volcanic eruptions now act as stepping stones (for giants, of course). Located on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, each column is symmetrical and interlocks as if a giant placed them there by hand. Years of erosion have created the smooth finish to the stones that is so aesthetically pleasing and unique. Remember as a kid when you found a perfectly round rock on the shore? Well, this is like that but a thousand times better!
Our planet has so much beauty to explore. Years of volcanic eruptions, tectonic plate shifts, erosion, and other natural happenings have formed some of our tallest mountains and lowest points on the planet. From dunes to salt flats, pink lakes to mud volcanoes, and arduous hikes to hidden worlds, there is much adventuring to do! Have I missed any natural wonder you love or have been to? Reach out through my profile and tell me all about it! And of course, stay hardcore, my friends.