WITH ALL OF THE MAJESTY and often none of the crowds, the 161 U.S. national monuments are excellent vacation destinations in their own right. Here, a handful of our all-time favorites.
GREATEST CANYON VIEWS
Grand CanyonParashant National Monument
With much of the same grandeur as Grand Canyon National Park, this 1,054,264-acre monument adjacent to the North Rim encompasses the remote lower portion of the Shivwits Plateau.
Choice Adventure: Hike the two-mile trail up 8,028-foot Mount Trumbull for sublime Grand Canyon views.
Base Camp: Stay at wilderness campsites for up to 14 days without a permit. 435-688-3246, www.az.blm.gov/parashant/parashant.htm
MOST VARIED TERRAIN
Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
This 52,947-acre monument, where the Siskiyou Mountains intersect with the Cascadesold-growth groves of Douglas fir and sugar pine meet sagebrush-dotted desertis a mélange of landscapes.
Choice Adventure: Trout-fish in Jenny Creek, surrounded by willows and ponderosas.
Base Camp: The Hyatt Lake campground (sites starting at $12 per night) even has its own fish-cleaning station. 541-618-2200, www.or.blm.gov/csnm
BIGGEST NATURAL SANDBOX
White Sands National Monument
This is the world's largest gypsum dune fielda 275-square-mile yucca-studded sea of snow-white dunes, some as high as 60 feet.
Choice Adventure: Hike the dunes on the 4.6-mile Alkali Flat Trail.
Base Camp: The Good Life Inn Bed and Breakfast (505-682-5433, www.goodlifeinn.com), near Alamogordo, has rooms for $120$170. 505-679-2599, www.nps.gov/whsa
MOST UNUSUAL WILDLIFE COLLECTION
Carrizo Plain National Monument
On the arid Carrizo Plain, this 250,000-acre monument shelters 15 plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered.
Choice Adventure: Watch for California condors and San Joaquin kit foxes as you hike the eight-mile Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail.
Base Camp: Stay at one of two free primitive campgrounds. 805-475-2131, www.ca.blm.gov/bakersfield/carrizoplain.html
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
At the center of this 750,000-acre playland for geology nuts lies the Great Rift, a 60-mile-long crack in the earth's crust with a perfectly preserved volcanic landscape.
Choice Adventure: Explore lava flows and lava tubes on the four-mile Wilderness Trail.
Base Camp: Stay at the 52-unit campground near the visitor center for $10 per site. 208-527-3257, www.nps.gov/crmo