If you’re ready for a domestic adventure throughout the U.S., be sure to include opportunities to visit the 24 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in your travel plans. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. UNESCO sites hold universal value because of their cultural or natural significance, as defined and selected by worldwide World Heritage Committee members. In addition, their locations throughout the nation make them perfect for any cross-country road trip.
It’s best to have your finances in order when planning an epic road trip to have the necessary resources to take the trip you dream of. If you avoid common money mistakes now, it could help you save money for an unforgettable trip. It might also make sense to supplement your savings with valuable rewards and benefits from the best travel credit cards. Points and miles could help mitigate your overall costs, whether you’re using them for award nights at hotels or to pay for a rental car.
Before we get into the full list of UNESCO destinations, we’ve also listed a few ways to help you save money on travel. These tips can provide insight to help you focus on adventuring more while spending less.
How to save money on travel
Travel isn’t typically cheap, so it’s important to find ways to decrease your travel expenses wherever you can. Here are a few ways you can optimize your spending and budget to increase your travel opportunities:
- Use credit cards. Credit cards can offer enormous value and savings if you use them correctly. It wouldn’t make sense to use credit cards to rack up debt and pay loads of interest, but using them for everyday purchases and big purchases you plan to pay off quickly could earn you heaps of rewards or cash back you can put toward travel. Credit cards could also discount your expenses while traveling. For example, the best credit cards for gas could help lighten your gas expenses as you drive across the country.
- Plan your trip. Heading into a trip without some sort of plan is asking for additional expenses along the way. You don’t need to plan every minute, but knowing the route you’re headed, where you’ll be staying or camping, and how much activities are going to cost could be a huge help. Otherwise, you might not budget enough money for everything you want to do, and you could spend more than you’d want.
- Pack the essentials. Part of successfully planning your trip includes packing all your road trip essentials. Think about what you’ll be spending money on while traveling, like food and drinks. If you bring your own water bottles and a cooler, you could save a lot of money on eating out. However, if you forget any essential items, you’ll have to buy them along the way, which will increase your overall travel costs.
Now that you have a few money-saving tips in mind, it’s time to see which U.S. UNESCO sites to add to your road trip itinerary.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site
A recent FinanceBuzz travel survey found that 47% of Americans were interested in taking a road trip, whereas only 12% wanted to fly somewhere. If you’re leaning toward a road trip, include the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site on your travel itinerary.
Cahokia Mounds is the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico, once covering nearly 4,000 acres of land and including around 120 mounds. Today, you can visit this site in Collinsville, Illinois, close to St. Louis, Missouri. The biggest mound, called Monks Mound, is nearly 100 feet tall and covers more than 12 acres of land.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns is both a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Eddy County, New Mexico, near the Texas border. These caverns are known for their unique rock formations, especially within Lechuguilla Cave. The entire site houses more than 120 limestone caves, though visitor access to much of the cave system is controlled by the National Park Service to limit further changes to the ecosystems located within.
The Chaco Culture World Heritage Site is also located in New Mexico, though it’s nearly in the opposite direction from Carlsbad Caverns, close to both Arizona and Colorado. This site comprises a network of individual archaeological sites, including the Aztec Ruins National Monument and the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. All the sites illustrate the importance of the Chacoan people who lived in the Southwest for more than four centuries.
Everglades National Park
You’ll find the Everglades National Park along the southernmost tip of Florida. The Everglades is one of many U.S. national parks, but it’s also included as a World Heritage Site because of its unique biological processes, ecosystems, and nod to the history of our planet. Everglades National Park comprises over 1.5 million acres of land and is a sanctuary for birds, reptiles, and other species of creatures
Grand Canyon National Park
If you’re looking for wide-open spaces filled with natural beauty, consider visiting Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon each year, though there’s more than enough room to accommodate everyone. The Grand Canyon was named a World Heritage Site because of its immense natural landscapes, including the nearly mile-long gorge formed throughout 6 million years of geological activity.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in eastern Tennessee covers nearly 500,000 acres of land and is home to over 3,500 plant species and a variety of endangered animals. This national park was named a World Heritage Site because of its incredible natural beauty, its importance in the world’s natural history, and it’s ecologically rich environment. Panoramic views of the mist-covered, or “smoky,” mountains are especially enjoyed by the park’s many visitors.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is found on the Big Island of Hawaii and contains two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Visitors to this national park can observe ongoing geological processes, including volcanic eruptions from time to time. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was named a World Heritage Site because of its unique volcanic activity. Specifically, this property shows how islands are built through ongoing volcanic processes.
In addition, the Mauna Loa volcano is the greatest volcanic mass on the planet. You may not be able to drive here from the mainland U.S., but it’s one site to mark down for the bucket list.
Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were signed in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These events are significant in American history, but also world history, as both documents have gone on to influence many lawmakers and politicians in other countries. As such, Independence Hall was named as a World Heritage Site because of its global significance in promoting universal principles of democracy and self-governance.
Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek
The four parks of Kluane, Wrangell-St. Elias, Glacier Bay, and Tatshenshini-Alsek form one World Heritage Site. These parks are spread out between Alaska in the U.S. and both the Yukon Territory and Province of British Columbia in Canada. The beautiful natural properties of the parks — including glaciers, high peaks, and inlets — are home to many types of wildlife. Within the parks, you might find grizzly bears, caribou, sheep, and plenty of marine mammals and fish.
La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico
If you’re one of the 49% of Americans who said they don’t plan to take a flight for at least a year on our recent FinanceBuzz travel survey, you’ll want to mark this World Heritage Site down for the future. Located in San Juan, Puerto Rico, La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site is a series of defensive structures built along the harbor between the 16th and 20th centuries. These fortifications, including a large portion of the San Juan City Wall, represent outstanding European military architecture in the Caribbean.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park, located in Kentucky, houses the largest network of caves and underground passageways found anywhere in the world. The nearly 300 miles of cave passageways in Mammoth Cave is home to loads of limestone formations and plenty of unique wildlife. The caves found in the park have been forming for 100 million years and they continue their processes today.
Mesa Verde National Park
You’ll find Mesa Verde National Park tucked away into the southwest corner of Colorado. This property is both a national park and World Heritage Site, but the two labels are distinctive. Mesa Verde has beautiful landscapes, but it’s a World Heritage Site for its cultural significance, not natural significance. The park displays prehistoric settlements, including cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people. Around 600 cliff dwellings have been found so far, along with many other types of structures and non-habitation sites.
Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville
The Monticello plantation home and the Academical Village at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, were both designed by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was the author of the American Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, though his works are designated a World Heritage Site primarily for his contributions to architecture and design, including the Neoclassicism movement in the 18th century.
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point
The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, or the Poverty Point World Heritage Site, is located in northeastern Louisiana, close to both the Arkansas and Mississippi borders. The site consists of a complex of five mounds that was once used for living and ceremonial purposes over 3,000 years ago by a group of hunter-fisher-gatherers. The achievement of this huge mound complex wasn’t surpassed by any other earthen construction in North America for at least 2,000 years.
Olympic National Park
You’ll easily find Olympic National Park if you drive a few hours west of Seattle, Washington. The area within the park was designated a World Heritage Site for its varied natural landscapes, including temperate rainforest, alpine meadows, mountain peaks, and coastline. The park’s unique topography contributes to a variety of diverse plants and animals not found anywhere else along the Pacific Coast.
Papahānaumokuākea is a nearly 1,200-mile-long cluster of islands, atolls, and ocean located about 155 miles northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. This property is considered both a cultural and natural World Heritage Site because of the pre-European archaeological remains on two of the islands, the living Hawaiian traditions perpetuated by Papahānaumokuākea, and multiple natural factors. This area is home to many endangered species and many types of habitats, including coral reefs, shallow lagoons, and a hypersaline lake.
Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are located north of San Francisco, along the Pacific coastline. These parks contain coastal redwood trees and many of the world’s tallest known trees grow within these parks, giving global visitors an impressive sight during their travels. The coastal redwood forest has existed for millions of years, but the forest found in the Redwood National and State Parks is one of the last in the world to remain.
San Antonio Missions
The San Antonio Missions are a cultural World Heritage Site grouping of five frontier mission complexes and a ranch located in and around San Antonio, Texas. Franciscan missionaries built the complexes in the 18th century, effectively interweaving the Spanish culture with the indigenous cultures of the Coahuiltecan and other peoples. The remaining buildings consist of residences, churches, workshops, walls, and more.
Statue of Liberty
The well-known Statue of Liberty in the New York Harbor of New York City is a huge monument gifted to the U.S. by France in 1886. The monument is a World Heritage Site because of its physical craftsmanship and construction by a sculptor and an engineer, as well as its symbolic value. The Statue of Liberty represents the alliance between France and the U.S., the principles of freedom and democracy, and the migration of peoples from different countries to the U.S. between the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Taos Pueblo lies just north of Taos, New Mexico, and features an adobe settlement built by the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. This settlement was designated a World Heritage Site for its cultural significance as a pre-Hispanic type of traditional architecture. It’s also significant as a current reminder of the modern Pueblo people and culture thriving in North America.
The 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright
Eight buildings designed by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright have been collectively designated as a World Heritage Site for their influence on the work of architects worldwide. The eight buildings are located in six states and include Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City.
Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a World Heritage Site comprising the Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, and Glacier National Park in Montana, U.S. Both national parks offer an abundance of natural diversity, including mountains, glaciers, wildlife, and wildflowers. The plant communities and ecological complexes found within the park are unique to the area, having been found nowhere else on the planet.
Yellowstone National Park
Home to the world’s largest collection of geysers, Yellowstone National Park is located in the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It’s known for its natural beauty, geothermal activity, and diverse range of wildlife. The park was in part named a World Heritage Site because of its large ecosystem that’s rarely influenced by man. This includes the wild, free-ranging bison that roam the different areas of Yellowstone.
Yosemite National Park
Located in central California, Yosemite National Park is home to many of the world’s highest waterfalls, granite domes and walls, giant sequoia trees, lakes, and much more. The granitic landforms of Half Dome and El Capitan are famous for their rock climbing, but they’re also part of why Yosemite was named a World Heritage Site. These popular climbing sites are the result of millions of years of glaciation and give great insight into the earth’s natural history.
If you’re planning a road trip to visit landmarks and other attractions nationwide, don’t forget about the 24 unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites found in the U.S. They provide a good mix of attractions with either cultural or natural significance, or both in the case of Papahānaumokuākea. Of course, not all these attractions are viable for a typical road trip, as some are across bodies of water, but you can easily drive to most of them.
Remember to get your plans in order before you head off on your trip. Knowing your route beforehand and packing all your essentials can help you save money on your journey. And for potentially big savings and benefits, be sure to bring one of the best cashback credit cards to discount your expenses along the way.