How to discover Mother Nature’s little-known gems

With a bit of research, uncover nature's little-known gems

Sure, it’s great to oooh and aaah at the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, be overwhelmed by the blistered desert floor and extinct volcanic craters in Death Valley, and hear the thunderous roar of Niagara Falls. But Mother Nature's little-known gems can be found throughout the country. While less well known, these are no less magnificent and wondrous in their ways.

No doubt, some of these natural hidden gems are within an easy automobile drive from where you live. A bit of research can reveal often overlooked places that provide a variety of environments to meet any preference.

A lot of nature's little-known gems to see in Louisiana

For example, coastal Louisiana is the setting for tours of brooding swamps where alligators like to hang out, and fishing for fresh and saltwater prey off piers, from the shore, in inland bodies of water, and at sea.

Its setting along a major migration route also provides a treasure-trove of opportunities for bird watchers. The Creole Nature Trail in Lake Charles alone is home to more than 400 species of winged life. They include waterfowl, wading birds, and raptors. (For more information, log onto

Bottlenose dolphins rather than high flyers are an attraction off Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. Kayak and other tours through the waterways of Bon Secour Bay provide close-up and personal encounters with dolphins and other resident wildlife.

Gulf State Park provides an introduction to the nine different ecosystems found in the area. A good way to experience the diversity is to walk or bike along the 28-mile backcountry trail. (

The wonder of waterfalls in South Carolina

A very different water-related experience awaits visitors to the northwestern corner of South Carolina. The area is referred to as “Upstate.” It boasts the highest concentration of waterfalls in the United States. This is another of nature's little-known gems for most of the American population.

This proliferation is caused by the Blue Ridge Escarpment, a geographical phenomenon. Here the mountains dramatically plummet more than 2,000 feet within less than a half-mile. The sheer drop creates the conditions for more than 300 waterfalls, 100 of which are accessible to the public. (

From stunning scenery to raucous rides in Branson, Missouri

Continuing to wander in search of water, we come to Table Rock, Taneycomo, and Bull Shoals lakes, nestled in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Adding to their pristine appeal is their location, just outside of the excitement and go-go entertainment of Branson.

Most people visit this popular playland for the stage performances, thrill rides, and other amusement park attractions it offers. Some in the know also take advantage of the surrounding beauty and recreation. The Ozarks are an ancient mountain range worn down by time and nature. This range is still home to verdant peaks surrounded by hardwood forests.

Without leaving the confines of Branson, visitors may experience this beauty in unusual ways. Ziplines and other adrenalin-boosting trips carry riders through a blanket of tree branches. The Runaway Mountain Coaster at the Mountain Adventure Park allows people to choose to pass by the foliage at speeds over 30 miles an hour or to use the brake to slow the descent. (

The magic of nature in Utah

Further west, Utah is known as home to five of the most magnificent and most visited national parks in the country: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion. Far fewer people make their way to another natural attraction that is as inviting as it is unique.The quaking aspens of Utah

The Fishlake National Forest is home to a grove of aspen trees that might appear normal at first glance yet are anything but. The grove is known as the Pando, a Latin word that translates to “I spread.” All of the approximately 47,000 trees are genetically identical and they share a single root system.

Estimates of the age of the grove stretch back as far as one million years. Some individual trees are over 130 years old. Another attraction is that the “quaking aspens,” as they’re known, are named for their leaves, which stir easily in even a gentle breeze. This fluttering sound, emitted by tens of thousands of trees, accounts for the nickname “Trembling Giant,” by which this unique grove is known. (

Revel in the wildlife of Oregon's coast

Fauna rather than flora is the attraction at a wildlife refuge hidden on Oregon’s coast, and unknown even to many residents of that state. The 2,940-acre Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area lives up to its name in beauty. The challenge facing visitors with a camera is how to stop shooting scene after scene.

The main attraction is a herd of some 200 Roosevelt Elk that spend the spring and summer munching on blackberries and peering back at humans who come to watch them. In June visitors see new calves, and in September rutting elk battle it out in the meadows to establish their dominance. (jewell-meadows-wildlife-area-visitors-guide)

Those magnificent animals can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. They share their habitat with many other forest creatures. Black-tail deer and coyotes scamper through the trees. Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks soar above.

If none of these natural settings spread near your home, a few clicks on a computer can result in wonderful discoveries. A selection with something-for-everyone diversity and appeal lies across our spectacular country.

Photos taken as noted. Others are courtesy of National Park Service and Local Chambers of Commerce