10Best Readers’ Choice is out to create the ultimate guide to America’s best attractions. To do so, we’re asking our readers to vote for their favorites – region by region and state by state. Voting has now wrapped up for the Western United States.
Click on each category below to see the full list of winners, and check back on Friday, September 1 for the announcement of our Midwest winners.
Best Alaska Attraction: White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad
White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad — Photo courtesy of iStock / Chilkoot
The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad was built during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. Today the real treasures aboard this narrow gauge railroad – an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark – are the glaciers, gorges, mountains, waterfalls, tunnels and bridges on display as the vintage train climbs almost 3000 feet in just 20 miles.
Best Arizona Attraction: Kartchner Caverns State Park
Kartchner Caverns State Park — Photo courtesy of AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Christine Keith
Two local explorers stumbled upon Kartchner Caverns in 1974 and revealed the existence of the caves to the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, in 1978. Now a state park, this impressive cavern system continues to “grow” as dripping water deposits minerals on the existing formations. Features include Kubla Khan, the tallest column in Arizona, as well as one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites.
Best California Attraction: Balboa Park
Balboa Park in San Diego — Photo courtesy of iStock / f11photo
Encompassing 1,200 beautiful acres, San Diego‘s Balboa Park comprises several smaller attractions, including performing arts venues, 17 museums, numerous gardens and recreational trails. A free tram takes visitors around the complex, now listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Best Colorado Attraction: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in Colorado — Photo courtesy of Denise Chambers/Miles
One of the most authentic steam-operated railroads in existence, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad runs for 64 miles between Antonito, Colo. and Chama, N.M., passing through the San Juan Mountains and the scenic Conejos Valley along the way. This moving National Historic Landmark represents one of Colorado’s most spectacular day trips.
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Best Hawaii Attraction: Polynesian Cultural Center
Polynesian Cultural Center — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson
One of Oahu’s top attractions provides glimpses into the cultures of Polynesia (Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Fimi, New Zealand, Marquesas and Tonga). Each one maintains a separate village, where visitors are regaled with information about celebration and survival in ancient days. Demonstrations, performances, narratives, and even a luau are presented, allowing guests to immerse themselves in the spectacle and character of the past.
Best Idaho Attraction: World Center for Birds of Prey
World Center for Birds of Prey — Photo courtesy of iStock / chameleonseye
The World Center for Birds of Prey, an indoor/outdoor education center in Boise, brings visitors eye to eye with flying predators from around the world. A 1/4-mile trail winding through the surrounding restored wilderness offers opportunities to spot raptors in the wild.
Best Louisiana Attraction: Houmas House Plantation
Houmas House Plantation and Gardens — Photo courtesy of Houmas House Plantation and Gardens
Located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Houmas House Plantation is one of the best along the River Road. Surrounded by 200-year-old oaks, the meticulously restored Greek Revival mansion and connected rear house occupies 38 acres of scenic gardens filled with indigenous Louisiana plant life.
Best Montana Attraction: Makoshika State Park
Makoshika State Park — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Tbennert
Makoshika is the Lakota word for “bad land” or “bad spirits,” but visitors will find immense beauty in these pine and juniper studded badlands of Montana’s largest state park. A triceratops skull sits on display within the visitors center, and the 11,538 outdoor acres afford opportunity for hiking, biking, camping and even disc golf.
Best Nevada Attraction: Nevada Museum of Art
Nevada Museum of Art — Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Godbey/TravelNevada
The award-winning Nevada Museum of Art, situated just south of downtown Reno, displays a permanent collection of 2,000 pieces divided into four themed sections: Altered Landscape Photography, Art of the Greater West, Contemporary Art and The Work Ethic. The outdoor grounds of the museum house several pieces from the Burning Man festival.
Best New Mexico Attraction: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in New Mexico — Photo courtesy of NewMexico.org
This spectacular rail journey was nominated in Colorado and New Mexico, both states where it operates, and it won over readers to take the crown in both categories.
Best North Dakota Attraction: Scandinavian Heritage Park
Scandinavian Heritage Park — Photo courtesy of North Dakota Tourism
Strolling through Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot is like stepping across the pond to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, thanks to a series of replicas. Highlights include a 30-foot Swedish Dala horse and a replica stave church.
Best Oklahoma Attraction: Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum — Photo courtesy of EPA/LARRY W. SMITH
Somber and poignant, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum commemorates those killed (and those who were forever changed) during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The Memorial Museum recounts the story of that tragic day, while allowing visitors to hear oral histories from friends and family members of victims. The outdoor memorial includes a 318-foot reflecting pool, Survivor Tree, Rescuers Orchard and the Field of Empty Chairs, each chair representing one of the 168 lives lost.
Best Oregon Attraction: Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park — Photo courtesy of Christian Heeb / Travel Oregon
Crater Lake National Park’s main claim to fame is that it houses the deepest lake in the country (1,943 feet) – a body of water so deep and so blue that it attracts half a million visitors per year. A majority of visitors come in the summer, driving the 33-mile Rim Drive loop, snapping their photos and heading out. Visitors who hop out of the car for biking, hiking or even snowshoeing in the winter months will find trails all to themselves.
Best South Dakota Attraction: Reptile Gardens
Reptile Gardens — Photo courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism
Reptile Gardens in Rapid City holds the Guinness Book of World Records title of the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo. Opened in 1937, the botanical garden and zoological park is home to giant tortoises, prairie dogs, bald eagles and a giant saltwater crocodile, among other critters.
Best Texas Attraction: San Antonio River Walk
San Antonio River Walk — Photo courtesy of Bob Howen / Visit San Antonio
Even in terms of total visitors, the San Antonio River Walk is the most popular tourist attraction in Texas. The 3 miles of stone pathways along the San Antonio River wind through the heart of downtown, providing easy access to restaurants, bars, shops, hotels and other attractions, like Market Square, Tower of Americas and Mission San Jose.
Best Utah Attraction: Temple Square
Temple Square in Salt Lake City — Photo courtesy of 2010 Douglas Pulsipher / Utah Images
One of Utah’s most famous cultural attractions, Temple Square is home of the beautiful headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The 35-acre space contains more than a dozen attractions related to the Mormon faith, including the Church History Museum and two visitors centers. The all-volunteer Mormon Tabernacle Choir performances are free and open to the public.
Best Washington Attraction: San Juan Islands
San Juan Islands, Washington — Photo courtesy of Jim Maya / San Juan Islands
Off the northwest corner of Washington State lies an archipelago of some 400 islands and rocks, famous for stunning sunsets, pristine wilderness, sandy beaches and stellar wildlife viewing. The San Juan Islands, accessible by boat or plane, get half the amount of rain as Seattle, making them a popular escape.
Best Wyoming Attraction: Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center
Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center — Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, Matt Dillon
In the Pryor Mountains just outside of Lovell, wild horses still roam freely. This herd, derived from the horses of Portugal and Spain, have lived in the region for nearly two centuries. At the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, visitors learn about the historic significance of the horses and view live mustangs in the surrounding natural scenery.
That’s all for now, but remember to check back here on Friday, September 1 to see which attractions our readers vote the best of the Midwest.