Prepare to be wowed by the season’s awe-inspiring natural phenomena.
In this photo essay, we explore natural phenomena taking place throughout the summer. You won’t regret marking your calendar for some of the season’s most unique sights, highlighting the natural world as a place of adventure and beauty.
The Great American Solar Eclipse
On August 21, a once-in-a-blue-moon (make that black sun) astronomical event will occur: A total solar eclipse will cross the contiguous United States. The Great American Solar Eclipse, an event that last took place in 1979, can be seen in a 70-ish-mile band from Northwest Oregon to the South Carolina coast. – Hilary Sterne
A total solar eclipse is singularly spectacular. If too far away from the path (the yellow area), you’ll see only a partial solar eclipse. The Greatest Duration, and hundreds of miles from there along the path (the dashed line), offers the longest-lasting views of the eclipse.1
Read best safety practices
for viewing the eclipse. 1This information was sourced from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) Eclipse Website.
Though numbers have declined over the years due to loss of habitat and food sources, the migration of the monarch butterfly is still a sight to behold. Although it’s true the best places to see them are at their wintering grounds in California and Mexico, they can also be seen in large swaths of the United States every spring and summer. – Ben Herndon
Monarch butterflies. Photo: Marc Muench / Tandem Stills + Motion
You’ve heard of “purple mountain majesties,” but purple valley majesties? The lavender of Northwest Washington’s Sequim-Dungeness Valley, which blooms from June through August, rivals that of Provence, France. Take in the gorgeous scene and heady scent when the annual Sequim Lavender Festival takes place July 21-23. – Hilary Sterne
Sequim-Dungeness Valley in Northwest Washington. Photo: age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Ray of Light
Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico, in late June through early July have a truly unique photographic opportunity. Every year around summer solstice, the sun shines directly into the Natural Entrance of the caverns for a few minutes around closing time, 4-5 p.m. – Ben Herndon
Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Photo: Ben Herndon / Tandem Stills + Motion
Known as Thor’s Well, this collapsed sea cave off the coast of Cape Perpetua, Oregon, looks almost like a hole in the ocean, draining seawater that then bubbles up with the tide and bursts forth in a spectacular spray. The display is especially worth eyeing in a storm. – Hilary Sterne
Thor’s Well, a collapsed sea cave off the coast of Cape Perpetua, Oregon. Photo: Wollertz / Shutterstock
Currents and tidal zones bring rich marine life to the Pacific Northwest coast. Some of these small creatures are bioluminescent, providing a nocturnal show like this one in Olympic National Park. Predicting the displays is tricky, but nearby Discovery Sea Kayaks offers bioluminescence tours in summer months. – Ben Herndon
Bioluminescent algae at Olympic National Park. Photo: Ben Herndon / Tandem Stills + Motion
Some Enchanted Island
Time your stroll to Barred Island, Maine. It’s accessible only when the tide is out. From about three hours before to three hours after low tide, you can walk across the sand bar to this idyll by the sea, then scramble over slabs of granite to a mossy forest of towering spruce. If you visit during the summer, look for beautiful wild roses and other stunning flora. – Hilary Sterne
Deer Isle, Maine. Photo: apelletr / iStock.com
It’s called America’s Best Wildflower Spot: Mount Rainier boasts nearly 900 subalpine species, from stalks of purple lupine to splashes of bright pink paintbrush. Make a beeline in mid-July for Paradise Meadow, where swales of brilliant blooms undulate against the craggy backdrop of the mighty mountain. – Hilary Sterne
Mount Rainier Wildlflowers seen from Plumber Peak. Photo: Jeff McGraw / Shutterstock
Once summer winds down, the unique natural destinations and awe-inspiring adventures don’t have to end. From fall to spring, here are few suggested places to visit.
At Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, visitors can watch thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats make the nightly flight from their caves into the sunset. Stay to watch the web-winged mammals return at dawn. Same bat time, same bat channel, every day from mid-April to October. – Hilary Sterne
Due to wave erosion, this geological formation in Lake Huron is much smaller at the bottom than the top. Hence the name: Turnip Rock. In summer, rent a kayak in Port Austin, Michigan; the round-trip takes 3-6 hours. When the lake freezes, skiing or snowshoeing are your only route to the root-shaped rock. – Hilary Sterne
Turnip Rock rises from the ice of a frozen Lake Huron in winter. Photo: Craig Sterken / Shuttertock
Ice, Ice, Baby
Only if Lake Superior freezes over can intrepid travelers walk more than a mile from the shores of northern Wisconsin to the sea caves of the Apostle Islands. Once there, they’ll be dazzled by frozen waterfalls, stalactite-like icicles and ice-encrusted cliffs glistening in the bright sun. – Hilary Sterne
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore ice caves along Lake Superior in winter. Photo: critterbiz / Shutterstock
Around the second week of February in Yosemite National Park, the setting sunlight hits Horsetail Fall at just the right angle, causing a portion of the falls to glow orange and red for about 10 minutes. The occurrence varies each year depending on the amount of seasonal runoff flowing over the falls as well as the weather (clear skies in the west are essential). – Ben Herndon
The setting sun lights up Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park, only in February. Photo: Stan Moniz / Tandem Stills + Motion