16. Cook Inlet, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
> Closest city: Anchorage, Alaska (population: 291,247)
This is one of Alaska’s many vast, wild places designated as state or national parks, preserves, reserves and refuges, but it is closer than most to the state’s population concentrated around Anchorage. Visitors are almost guaranteed to witness astounding scenic vistas and an exciting range of wildlife, from brown and black bears to neon orange salmon.
17. Joshua Tree National Park, California
> Closest city: Palm Springs, California (population: 44,575)
Despite its proximity to Palm Springs and Palm Desert, a resort community in the Coachella Valley, home to the famous annual high-end rock concert, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the greatest unspoiled places in the United States, with its desert flora and fauna and unique landforms.
18. Carova Beach, North Carolina
> Closest city: Virginia Beach, Virginia (population: 459,470)
Just south of the Virginia line, Carova Beach is North Carolina’s northernmost barrier island community. First developed in the 1960s, and accessible only by boat, the location is attractive to tourists for its pristine beaches and wild horse population.
19. Texas Hill Country, Texas
> Closest city: San Antonio, Texas (population: 1,434,625)
Noted for its rugged hills which rise 400 to 500 feet above the surrounding flat countryside, the Hill country is known for its history of progressive politics. It is the center of the state’s wine making industry and has become a popular retirement destination. With growing suburban development, it is quickly losing its unspoiled character.
20. Caddo Lake, Texas
> Closest city: Shreveport, Louisiana (population: 187,593)
While located within the Texas state border, Caddo Lake has a decidedly Louisiana feel, with its bayou, alligators, Spanish moss and Cypress trees. Sadly, the lake is currently under serious environmental threat by an invasive species known as Salvinia molesta, a velcro-like weed that kills aquatic life below the surface.