Awesome Aerial Views in All 50 States
From Florida to Washington state, the United States is full of beautiful views. Whether perched on a mountaintop looking out over the natural wonders of the land or sipping a cocktail from a chic rooftop lounge with a bustling city below, every state has a stunning vantage point to offer. Here are some of the best views from above that don't cost much money to enjoy -- in fact, many are free.
(Editor's note: This story has been revised since publication.)
This stylish restaurant and club atop the capital city's W hotel offers clear views of Washington's national monuments with posh, modern ambiance. A night's stay may not be within most people's budgets, but views from POV can be enjoyed with an $8 beer or $11 glass of wine.
Related: 20 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
This historic lookout point in a state recreation area outside New Town provides a sweeping vista of Lake Sakakawea from 2,086 feet above sea level that that has barely changed since the time of explorers Lewis and Clark. The park, open daily, is free to enter.
Once used by military forces during World War II, the observation tower in this state park offers clear views of the coastline and other landscapes in every direction. The daily entry fee is $5 for state-registered vehicles, or $10 for those from out of state.
The main hike on 6,817-foot Big Mountain is the Danny On trail, which leads to a renowned view of lush land all the way to Glacier National Park. Access to the 7-mile trail is free, but it goes through bear territory, so bringing bear spray and making a lot of noise is highly recommended.
Related: Centennial Celebration: Explore One of the Best National Parks in Every State
An impressive aerial tram offers passengers 360-degree views over land spanning New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Maine, and part of Canada. It's $17 round-trip for adults, which includes a ride to and from the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain and its observation deck, cafe, bar, and walking paths.
This moderately difficult trail provides a view of Boise for most of its 3.8 miles, making it a popular hike for people of all ages. Those who prefer to skip the walk can drive to the top of the trail and enjoy the view -- although visitors should expect to see a burn scar at least through spring 2017 from a recent blaze sparked by fireworks.
Take a free 10-minute summit shuttle ride and hear stories and history of the area on the way to the view at the top of Scotts Bluff. Or do the drive in your own car, or hike 1.6 miles to enjoy the trip in solitude -- either way, you'll wind up 800 feet above the North Platte River. Entering the park costs $5 for a vehicle, or $3 for each person on foot or bicycle, both good for seven days.
This simple elevated platform in White Cloud promises views of four states at once -- Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and distant Iowa -- on clear days, and there's no missing the Missouri River below. The lookout, which dates to the 1930s, got a significant revamp and expansion in preparation for the 2004 bicentennial celebration of when Lewis and Clark floated by.
This Jasper inn and restaurant is literally perched on the side of a cliff, offering diners incredible (if scary) views of the Arkansas Grand Canyon. With sausage biscuits for less than $3 and breakfast platters for $6, the views and homemade food come at a great price.
The highest point in Mississippi, at 807 feet tall, Woodall Mountain provides sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Some locals scoff at calling the mound a mountain, though. It's also known as Yow Hill.
The mesmerizing views in Bryce Canyon are many, one seemingly greater than the next. Scenic Route 12 offers more than a dozen lookout points from which to see the shimmering, colorful rock formations known as the "Grand Staircase." Enter as a group in a car and pay $30 -- or buy an annual pass for $35.
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A four-minute ride offers spectacular views of the city on the way to the tram's upper terminal, where there are parks, cafes, and recreation areas -- including the largest enclosed sky bridge in North America -- to enjoy before heading back to the base near the Ross Island Bridge. The round trip costs less than $5.
The high point in South Carolina is the top of Sassafras Mountain, reaching 3,533 feet. Located in Pickens County, the free hiking area offers a moderate climb for those who love a challenge. There's a lookout deck off the parking area for those who just want the view.
This picturesque trail looks like something out of a fairy tale, with clear blue lakes amid green, lush mountains. Located in Uncompahgre National Forest, which is free to enter, the 8.6-mile hike leads to a 11,720-foot peak and views of three major lakes. The view from the road to the trail is equally spectacular.
The 500-foot quartzite bluffs offer vantage points overlooking the park's 360-acre lake. There are trails and hikes throughout the park at different levels of difficulty. The entrance fee for each vehicle is $5 for an hour, or $11 for a day for out-of-state license plates.
The Castle Trail in Ha Ha Tonka State Park is beloved for its view of Lake of the Ozarks (and its access to the ruins of a castle). The three scenic lookouts are reachable by a paved and handicapped-accessible trail from the parking lot. There are no fees for day use of the park.
The view from 6,643 feet is worth a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is free year-round. The highest point, known as Clingmans Dome, is reached by car and a half-mile summit trail traversible only by foot to an observation tower at the peak. On a rare clear day, there's a 100-mile view.
Elevators and stairs allow guests to scale this 284-foot commemorative tower, where observation decks reveal panoramic views of Indianapolis and surrounding sculptures below. The stairs are free. An elevator ride is $1 for children and $2 for adults -- but free for veterans.
Climb Monument Mountain in Great Barrington to the 1,642-foot summit of Squaw Peak and look out over the Housatonic River Valley, including a sprawling river and rolling mountains virtually unchanged over hundreds of years. A view as far as Mount Greylock near Vermont and the Catskills of New York is well worth the $5-a-vehicle parking fee.
Arizona is home to many must-see views, including the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam, but the incredible beauty from on high doesn't stop there. Defeat one of the Camelback Mountain trails to reach a summit of more than 2,704 feet for views of the Camelback Mountain Echo Canyon Recreation Area near Phoenix. Access and parking are free.
The waterfall cascading from nearly 200 feet at Palouse Falls State Park, near Starbuck, is best appreciated from above -- a vantage point easily reached with a mere quarter-mile, handicapped-accessible trail. A day pass for access to the parking area, facilities, and trails leading to impressive views is $10, but there are free access days Sept. 25 and Nov. 11.
Located just across the river from New York City in Hoboken, this is one of the best places to see Manhattan from a distance. It is actually the highest point in Hoboken, and part of the Stevens Institute of Technology campus, which is free to enter.
This restaurant and bar atop the Motor City Casino holds a guaranteed jackpot: spectacular views of Detroit from the 16th floor. A cocktail or appetizer is generally cheaper than what's on the menu at the 72nd-story Coach Insignia Detroit in the Renaissance Center complex. The skyscraper restaurant and bar has cheaper desserts, though.
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Move over Empire State Building: The lake- and mountain-studded panoramic view from the 1,756-foot summit of French Point Mountain on Lake George is breathtaking, and free. The 8.8-mile round-trip hike is difficult but well worth the stunning views of the surrounding natural landscape.
A difficult 10.5-mile round-trip hike leads to the highest point of Big Bend National Park, with a grand view from 7,825 feet in every direction. The $25 entrance fee is good for vehicles with up to 15 people and up to seven days. Locals may want to consider a $50 yearly pass for extra savings.