American World Heritage Sites

There are some spots in the U.S. that foundations like UNESCO think are special from an international perspective. The organization chooses sites of particular cultural or physical significance to the country or culture in which it's found. Sometimes these sites are significant not only to the country of origin but to the world at large, as landmarks to natural beauty and human history. Touring such sites is not only recommended for educational groups but for anyone with a desire to learn more about the culture, the country, and the world in which they live. Here are just a few of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in the United States. Enjoy!

Mesa Verde National Park - One of the first ever American Heritage Sites, Mesa Verde is of great cultural importance not only to the U.S. but to North America at large. Dating as far back as the 6th century, Mesa Verde is a collection of pueblo dwellings set under the rocky outcroppings in the Mesa Verde plateau in the southern part of Colorado. Over 4,400 sites/dwellings have been recorded in the park and because of its phenomenal preservation, the sites have been incredibly useful in the archaeological study and education on ancient Pueblo Native American life and culture.

Yellowstone National Park - Also one of the first American Heritage Sites - as well as the very first national park - Yellowstone is a veritable wonderland of geothermal features. Over 10,000 geothermal features exist within the park's boundaries including more than two thirds of the entire planet's geysers (more than 300 of them!). Not only is Yellowstone the premiere destination for geysers, sulfur pools and boiling mud pits but it's also famous for its concentration of native and endangered wildlife. Both are reasons for its induction into the UNESCO World Heritage program in 1978, as a top site for the study of evolutionary natural history of the earth. It's also one of the most popular national parks in the country!

Papahanaumokuakea - Though it may be hard to pronounce, this Hawaiian destination actually lies off the coast of the islands in the bright turquoise sea and in the low, ring shaped reefs found there. Papahanaumokuakea is actually the U.S.'s only designated "mixed" site of both cultural and natural significance. On a cultural standpoint, Papahanaumokuakea represents the place where human life meets nature, the place from which life originates and must return. Most of the site exists underwater though there are a couple small islands on which archaeological study uncovered pre-European settlements. However, in the underwater region you'll understand the natural aspect of the Heritage Site: it is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world with a stunningly diverse population of marine species.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park - With over 80 caverns to its name, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is significant not only for its number of known caves but for its diversity of structure and mineral formations. In these caverns, scientists have been able to directly study the evolution of geology. Even if you're not a scientist, Carlsbad Caverns is a super cool place to tour with a group, guided or otherwise, and to marvel at the massive caverns, hanging structures, and to learn about the variants of rock formations and from where they originated. Carlsbad Caverns is one of the world's most preserved, most accessible cave systems, making it a hugely important site of study.

Everglades National Park - The Everglades was fashioned into a national park as a means to protect the vast diversity of ecosystems and the animals which call it home. For similar reasons, the park was designated a Heritage Site in 1979 and remains one of the most visited national parks in the country. The largest sub-tropical ecosystem on the North American continent, the Everglades is also home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest sawgrass prairie, and is home to some of the most endangered animals in the country. Several endangered and rare animals include the Florida panther, West Indian manatee, both American alligators and crocodiles, and roughly 16 other species. It's also one of the most significant breeding habitats for wading birds and home to more than 400 species.

San Antonio Missions - One of the newest Heritage Sites, the San Antonio Missions date back to the Franciscan missions of the 18th century as part of the Spanish effort to convert and colonize the Texas natives. Five missions still stand within the park's boundaries along the San Antonio River, including Mission Valero, better known as the Alamo. The missions were chosen based on their significance of cultural interweaving between the Spanish and native Coahuiltecans, of the movement of Catholic faith and the stunning example of early Spanish architecture in Texas history. There are many things to focus on when visiting the San Antonio Missions, but your group will certainly want to take a tour of the sites on foot and discover the history and beauty for yourself.

Waterton Glacier International Peace Park - Unique and incredibly lovely, in 1932 Montana and Canada joined together to create the very first international peace park spanning the border between the two countries. Split over Waterton Lakes National Park of Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana, this international peace park has a wealth of natural beauty and scenery that both countries decided was best seen as a whole, instead of split. Aside from the glacier scenery, high mountaintops, and the stunning sloping meadows draped in wildflowers and prairie grass, Waterton Glacier is home to many threatened red-listed species of animals including the wood bison, great horned owl, wolverine, alpine larch, and several others.