You’ve probably seen lists of the 7 Wonders of the World or an array of offshoots of that, but these lists have one flaw: They’re limited to places. Many of these wonders are also man-made, which leaves out atmospheric wonders, under the sea treasures and even scientific wonders accessible around the world.
50 natural phenomena you must see
While some places indeed deserve recognition for their natural beauty, here we offer a list of all sorts of phenomena. Some more commonly known wonders made it, like the Grand Canyon, but there are also lesser-known beauties, like glowing beaches or Iceland’s turquoise ice caves.
1. Sun dogs
Sun dogs, or mock suns, are a meteorological phenomenon known as parhelion. It creates an optical illusion of another sun on one or both sides of the actual sun. They’re not actually all that rare, either, especially in weather conditions like a polar vortex. That means you just might see a sun dog someday soon, if you haven’t already.
2. Pictured Rocks
Pictured Rocks is a hidden gem off the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The rocks are known for their picturesque, multi-colored cliffs and unique sand formations. There are also hiking trails so you can visit shipwrecks and Au Sable Point’s lighthouse.
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3. Marble Caves
Chile’s Marble Caves are made from stunning shades of blue, green and teal. They formed over 6,000 years ago as waves crashed against calcium carbonate fixtures in Chile’s waters. The caves reflect the various colors of the water, resulting in intense color shading and beauty.
4. Volcanic lightning
Volcanic lightning, while beautiful and majestic, is often a warning sign that an eruption is going to happen. That’s because the lightning is actually a result of thick volcanic ash emitted from certain types of volcanoes. As these plumes leave the tightly compressed volcano, the change in density to light air as they’re emitted results in lightning.
5. Sky mirror
Sky mirrors are simply a reflection of the sky across a reflective surface. While this isn’t unique to Bolivia, it is home to the largest sky mirror in the world, Salar de Uyuni, which is a large salt flat. When lakes overflow onto these flats, which usually happens from December to April in Salar de Uyuni, it creates a shallow body of water, usually 20 inches deep. The sky then reflects almost perfectly across this thin, vast body of water.
6. Sailing stone
Imagine walking in a desert and suddenly seeing stones moving. In places like California’s Death Valley, that happens all the time. These sailing stones move across sand, creating a path as they do so. Why does it happen? Usually it occurs when ice in the ground breaks up and starts pushing rocks. Even when it’s not cold out, sailing stones can move as a result of erosion or slightly tilted grounds. In Death Valley, it’s been reported that some moving rocks have traveled over 1,500 feet.
7. Desert Sand Dunes
No matter where you live, chances are there’s a sand dune one road trip away from you. In the U.S., sand dunes can be desert-like in hot, dry climates, but they can also be snow-covered in the cooler months. Outside of some famously breathtaking American sand dunes, you can also find beauty in sand dunes all over the world, including those pictured here in South Africa.
8. Son Doong Cave
Vietnam’s Son Doong Cave is the largest cave in the world. Translated, the name means Moutain River Castle, and it was only discovered in 1990 by a local farmer taking refuge from a storm. However, the farmer wouldn’t be able to retrace his steps to this exact cave again until 2008.
9. Glowing beaches
Have you ever seen photos of beaches so beautiful that it looks like they’re glowing? Well, they may have actually been glowing. Many beaches are full of phytos, which are microscopic plants. Some of these, called phytoplankton, are bioluminescent, which cause beaches and the water along the shoreline to glow.
10. The Grand Canyon
This one needs little explanation. A common entry on many lists of marvels and wonders, The Grand Canyon is a vast National Park made up of red rocks that hold the stories of millions of years of geological wonders.
11. Rainbow mountains
Like other marvels, rainbow mountains can be found in a variety of locations around the world. However, perhaps no other country is as famous for them as Peruis. The rainbows are a result of erosion and weathering, showing various layers of minerals, rocks and other materials found within the mountains.
12. Rainbow eucalyptus tree
Another rainbow-inspired marvel is the rainbow eucalyptus tree. The rainbow colors are hidden until the tree starts losing its bark. Since they don’t lose their bark all at once, this creates a rainbow effect as parts of the tree that have already started aging are revealed.
13. Iguazu Falls
The Iguaza Falls are located in Argentina and Brazil. These lustrous, vast falls have 275 individual drops and divide the Iguazu River into an upper and lower portion. It also acts as a boundary between the two countries, making it asignificant historically, politically and geographically.
14. Giant’s Causeway
While Ireland is full of natural landmarks and landscapes, one often overlooked one is Giant’s Causeway. Like many unique landscapes, this one has an interesting myth behind it. A giant named Finn McCool lived there and fought a Scottish giant named Benandonner. After the Scottish giant attacked, Finn threw bits of the Antrim coastline at Benandonner and into the sea.
15. Waitomo Glowworm Caves
The Waitomoo Glowwork Caves look like something out of a Disney movie. The warm blue glow comes from arachnocampa luminosa, a glowworm species that lives there. There are other glowworm caves across the globe, but few are as populated, and therefore as bright, as this one in New Zealand.
16. Danxia landforms
While The Great Wall of China often appears on these lists, there’s plenty of natural beauty found across China. That includes Danxia landforms, such as mountains, that look like deeply colored stripes, almost like layers of cake. In reality, the stripes are layers of colored sandstone and minerals, some over 24 million years old, that have formed unique patterns through erosion and weathering.
17. Antelope Canyon
Another, more common tourist destination on the list is Arizona’s Antelope Canyon. In Navajo, the canyon is called “The Place Where Water Runs Through Rocks.” That’s because the canyon was formed over thousands of years by rushing water carving chunks out of the sandstone.
18. Lake Hillier
Off Australia’s western coast is Lake Hillier, a bright pink lake that is only accessible by air or sea. While the exact reason for its color is unknown, many believe it was caused by microscopic algae producing beta carotene. Like other pink lakes, though, it’s slowly losing its color because of human activity and decreasing salt levels. Restoration projects are being explored, although the lake isn’t open to tourism.
Moonbows are one of the many atmospheric phenomena on our list. Also known as a lunar rainbow, these moonbows are rainbows that appear at night as a result of moonlight shining on water droplets in the atmosphere.
20. Redwood National Park
The Redwood National and State Park is 131,983 acres of protected forests, beaches and grasslands in California. It’s home to the largest tree in the world, which was in danger when the park was established in 1968. That year, redwood populations decreased 90%. Globally, it’s estimated that fewer than 120,000 acres of redwoods remain, which is only 5% of the original redwood population around the world.
21. The Wave
The Wave is in the northern section of Coyote Buttes, which is in both Arizona and Utah. The Wave is a coveted hiker destination, as it’s home to some of the most spectacular sandstone formations in all of the 112,500-acre Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, where Coyote Buttes is located. In fact, if you want to visit The Wave, you’ll have to enter a lottery in the hopes of winning a hiking permit.
22. Moeraki Boulders
Dotting Moeraki, New Zealand, are mysterious spheres known now as the Moeraki Boulders. These boulders are unusually large, with a third of them ranging from 1.6 to 3.3 feet in diameter. They’re made from sea sediment that’s around 60 million years old.
23. Turquoise Ice
Turquoise ice creates a surreal scene throughout Iceland’s ice caves. The color is a result of changing temperatures and landscapes, which combine to form new shapes and shades, such as the unique turquoise pictured here. You can find turquoise ice in other locations as well, such as Russia.
24. Aurora borealis
Anyone who’s seen the Aurora borealis knows how other-worldly this light display is. Also known as the Northern Lights, this phenomenon happens when colliding particles are charged up from the sun. While you’ve probably heard of the Aurora borealis, when this light show happens in the southern hemisphere, it’s actually called Aurora australis.
25. Salt flats
Remember sky mirrors? Salt flats are responsible for most of those. But even when they’re not covered by water, these salt flats are also quite spectacular. The pure size and scope of some of these flats can be overwhelming. Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats are home to the largest salt flats west of Great Salt Lake. The flats here are about 12 miles long and five miles wide.
26. Darvaza Gas Crater
Darvaza Gas Crater is a natural gas crater. Scientists believe that it has been burning nonstop since 1971 and was the result of a drilling accident. While the first expedition of the crater didn’t happen until 2013, origin stories claim that it was formed after Soviet scientists tried burning noxious gases but underestimated how much gas was under the ground they were burning.
27. Crystal Lake Cave
Australia is home to some of the most stellar caves in the world, including Crystal Lake Cave. This is an underground wonder discovered in 1868 on a mining expedition. The cave has glittering crystals hanging from its walls and ceilings, some of which drip all the way to the cave’s floor.
28. Mount Everest
Mount Everest has been a favorite of outdoors people and adventurers for obvious reasons. It’s the highest point of the Himalayan Mountains, and it’s believed to be the highest point on Earth. Most estimate that only about 5,000 peoplehave climbed it to the summit.
29. Pamukkale Water Terraces
Turkey’s Pamukkale Water Terraces are home to Roman ruins that were built around ancient hot springs. The area’s terraces are made from travertine, a rock that’s the result of the hot spring water. Tourists can still visit these hot springs today.
30. Tunnel of Love
While Ukraine’s Tunnel of Love appears to be a beautiful garden, it’s actually part of a railway. Outside of the city of Klevan, a railway company took advantage of the area’s beautiful scenery by building their railway inside a tunnel made of tree branches and greenery. Unsurprisingly, the spot is popular for lovers young and old alike.
31. Milky Way arch
Just as romantic as the Tunnel of Love is a night stargazing under the Milky Way arch. This archway is made of stars and nebulas that can most famously be seen at Arches National Park in Utah.
32. The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher is a popular attraction made of sea cliffs at the edge of County Clare. What makes these cliffs so special is that they offer the best view of the country’s west coast, making it both a historical landmark and a geographic wonder.
33. Desert roses
Make no mistake: These aren’t botanicals! Desert roses are crystal clusters made of gypsum or baryte. In the U.S., they’re also commonly called Rose Rock. These clusters are full of sand grains and create rose-like structures in deserts across the world.
34. Frost flowers
Just as there are sand roses, you can also see frost flowers in cold climates, like Antarctica. These frosty wonders form when water vapor freezes, and they can be seen on sea or lake ice. They form boutiques across the ice, with each looking as elegant as the next.
35. Sky halos
Sun and moon halos are another optical illusion that’s bound to dazzle onlookers. These halos create a circle of light around the sun or moon. In reality, light is bouncing off ice crystals in the atmosphere, resulting in colorful or white rings around the moon or sun.
36. Midnight sun
No, we’re not talking about the book in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series. Midnight suns are just that: suns that appear at midnight. They happen most commonly during the summer either south of the Antarctic Circle or north of the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Pole sees the midnight sun for up to six months continuously. As you move south of the Pole, you can still see it in northern Norway, which sees it most often from late April until August, among other Scandinavian countries.
37. Catatumbo lightning
In Venezuela, it’s not uncommon to hear locals talk about “everlasting lightning.” Most of the time, they’re referring to Catatumbo lightning. This type of lightning is unique because it’s supercharged from humid air hitting cold air, resulting in so much electrical energy that it could light 100 million lightbulbs. That’s enough electricity to light all of South America for 10 minutes.
38. Vatnajokull Glacier
Want to see the biggest glacier in all of Europe? Visit Iceland’s Vatnajokull Glacier. This glacier spans about 8% of Iceland’s landmass, covering 3,050 square miles. It’s also got 30 outlet glaciers and a vast array of rivers, lagoons and waterfalls.
39. Frozen lake bubbles
Have you ever seen frozen spots dotting a lake? Chances are what you actually saw were frozen methane bubbles. In winter, methane freezes as bubbles within layers of ice, spotting frozen lakes with dots of all shapes and sizes. You can see these frozen bubbles practically anywhere, but Canada’s Lake Alberta, located in Banff, is perhaps one of the most popular tourist spots with dots.
40. Spotted Lake
Also in Canada is the famous Spotted Lake. At first glance, it may appear that the lake is covered with different leopard or leather prints. In reality, these spots are actually the result of the lake’s many minerals concentrating in the lake when water evaporates in the heat. The best part of this natural beauty? It’s safe to swim in.
41. Victoria Falls
Perhaps the only falls as famous as the Niagara Falls are the Victoria Falls. Like the Niagara Falls, the Victoria Falls spans two countries: Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s one of the largest falls in the world, spanning a width of 5,604 feet.
42. Devil’s Pool
On the Zambian side of Victoria Falls is Devil’s Pool. This swimming area is named since any thrill-seeker willing to wade in these waters risks getting swept into Victoria’s Falls, which is just inches away. That means you could get plummeted 354 feet. As such, visitors are only allowed to swim there with tours when the falls are in their dry period, which is normally mid-August to mid-January.
43. Murmurations of Starlings
This natural phenomenon involves a storm of birds that create eerie, tornado-like formations. Like other birds, starlings flock together. These murmurations look like aerial dances or stunts. While murmurations are a sight to see, it’s believed that starlings do them to remain safe as a flock, keep warm and even share information about good nesting and feeding areas.
44. Lenticular clouds
Another aerial marvel is lenticular clouds, most of which look a lot like UFOs. They’re the result of waves in the mountain air, much like a windy day could cause giant waves in the ocean. Like ocean waves, mountain waves can be dangerous and unstable, and lenticular clouds are often a sign that the mountain air is especially gusty.
45. Manpupuner Rock Formations
Hidden away in Russia are the Manpupuner Rock Formations, which are a series of seven natural rocks in the Northern Ural Mountains. Like the Easter Island giants, the Russian formations’ origins are a mystery, especially since the surrounding lands are flat. Locally, the pillars are known as the Seven Strong Men, although they’re relatively unknown outside of the country.
46. Great Blue Hole
Belize’s Great Blue Hole is the world’s largest known sinkhole. It measures 984 feet wide and 410 feet deep. The hole is also a marine, and it wasn’t until 2019 that expedition teams were able to explore what’s at the bottom of it. Among the discoveries found were never-before-seen mineral formations and a layer of hydrogen sulfide. Researchers hope this information will help shed light on the hole’s origins.
47. Kawachi Fuji Gardens
Like Ukraine’s Tunnel of Love, the Kawachi Fuji Gardens take advantage of naturally occurring beauty in Japan. In this case, it’s the highly bendable and decorative Wisteria plant. The flowering plant can bend into ornate shapes rather easily. The gardens take advantage of this feature by creating an arched garden with the plant so it bends to form a tunnel. The gardens are a popular spot among locals and tourists alike.
48. Grand Prismatic Springs
Tucked away in Yellowstone Park is the Grand Prismatic Springs. While not as well-known as Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic is actually the largest hot spring in the world. The heat-loving bacteria in the spring make the water rainbow-colored. While the spring is gorgeous to look at, it’s not the best place to take a swim, as the water reaches 188.6 Fahrenheit.
49. Great Barrier Reef
Another better-known marvel on the list is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s the world’s largest coral reef system, consisting of over 2,900 reefs and 900 islands. The reefs are a diverse ecosystem stretched over 134,634 square miles.
50. Nacreous clouds
Nacreous cloudsare one of the rarest cloud formations and also one of the most colorful. Often confused for the Northern Lights, these clouds only form in the stratosphere when temperatures in the sky dip below -117.4 Fahrenheit.
While the clouds are beautiful, the problem is that these clouds are responsible for much of the ozone layer’s depletion. That’s because the clouds actually help the chemical reactions that occur between the ozone layer and various air pollutants. In fact, scientists can see that in the North Pole, where these clouds most often form, the ozone layer is much thinner and used up than it is in most other areas.
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