Understanding Scenery

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

NPS Photo

What are scenic views?

What comes to mind when you think of a scenic view at a national park? Perhaps, the first thing you envision are spectacular natural landscapes, like:

  • the view from the rim of the Grand Canyon where you can look out over a mile of air and experience the vivid patterns of geologic color stacked beneath your feet
  • the soft rolling Appalachian mountains of Great Smoky Mountains NP where layers of blue and green seem to go on forever
  • the dramatic waterfalls and sheer rock faces of Yosemite
  • old faithful blasting steaming water into the air above the geothermal basin of Yellowstone as crowds and bison watch from a distance

Scenic views can be found anywhere from cities to wilderness. When we talk about scenic views we usually mean the landscapes that are important to people. The meaning and value of views may be based on their historic or cultural significance as well as inspirational beauty. Historic sites, cemeteries, urban parks, farmsteads, ranches, archaeological sites, and battlefields are all home to important scenic views. Beyond inspiring awe, there are health and economic benefits to enjoying scenic views in parks.

A views includes everything that can be seen from a given location—mountains, rivers, forests, roads, buildings. Views can range in scale from sweeping vistas of the entire horizon to up close views of waterfalls or monuments. Many views extend well beyond parks boundaries capturing the character of the surrounding area. Whether views are completely inside the park or extend to areas outside park boundaries, the NPS is responsible for preserving important natural, cultural, and historic views into the future.

Often, we refer to views based on the viewing location or well known features in the view that others will be able to relate to. Viewing locations include viewpoints, roadside pullouts, and other well known areas. Features can be singular focal points like a historic home or larger areas like a river valley.

National parks provide countless ways to experience our country's iconic views.

Clouds moving over the peaks in Yosemite National Park
Clouds moving over the peaks in Yosemite National Park.

NPS Photo / Jamie Howard

Last updated: May 6, 2020


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