The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, has been designating natural and cultural landmarks important to the world's heritage since 1972. Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List are afforded special status, which enables them to receive international funding and assistance to preserve these treasures.
The United States has nearly two dozen natural and cultural World Heritage Sites on the UNESCO list, with at least a dozen more on the tentative list. Following are all of the United States' World Heritage Sites and links to more information about them.
Located near St. Louis, these mounds are evidence of the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico.
Numbering approximately 80 caves, Carlsbad Caverns are a major natural tourist attraction in the U.S. Southwest state of New Mexico. The caverns are situated over the Capitan Reef, a fossil complex that dates back to the Permian Period some 280-225 million years ago.
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The Chaco were a Pueblo people who lived in what is now New Mexico from 850 to 1250. The Chaco Culture is on the World Heritage List for its highly unusual pre-Columbian architecture.
The "River of Grass" at the southern tip of Florida known as Everglades National Park holds some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the United States.
One of the biggest natural tourist attractions in the United States, the Grand Canyon is a deep, massive, picturesque canyon in Arizona. According to UNESCO, "its horizontal strata retrace the geological history of the past two billion years."
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is on the UNESCO list for its diversity of animal and plant species and its largely untouched landscape. It spans from eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains Mount Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world's most active volcanoes.
This Philadelphia landmark was the site of the signing of The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The Independence Hall National Park complex also includes the Liberty Bell.
Kluane/Wrangell-St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek
Containing the largest non-polar ice field in the world, this site covers a glacier area between Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada. On the U.S. side are the national parks of Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Park.
- UNESCO listing
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Official Website
- Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Official Website
Located in Puerto Rico, La Fortaleza and San Juan are defense structures built to protect the city of San Juan and San Juan Bay. The structures date from the 15th to the 19th centuries and are examples of European-style defensive architecture in the Americas.
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Mammoth Cave in Kentucky was recognized by UNESCO in 1981 for having the world's largest underground network of caves. The cave network extends more than 285 miles underground.
Mesa Verde National Park contains some 4,000 Pueblo dwellings that date from the 6th to the 12th centuries.
Treasured because of its association with U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, Monticello (Jefferson's home) and the University of Virginia symbolize the beginning of the American Republic.
The wilderness of Olympic National Park, located in Washington State, includes everything from temperate rainforests to glacial peaks. The fact that it has the longest undeveloped coastline in the lower 48 states and is home to a number of endangered species, including the spotted owl, qualify it for World Heritage status.
Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
An ancestral environment for native Hawaiians, Papahānaumokuākea is a "mixed" World Heritage Site containing items of both natural and cultural significance. They include archeological remains from Papahānaumokuākea's Polynesian past, as well as extensive habitats for marine fauna and flora. The atolls and islands that make up Papahānaumokuākea make it one of the largest protected marine protected areas in the world.
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Pueblo de Taos
The Pueblo de Taos represents the architectural heritage of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and Arizona. The adobe settlement dates from the 13th to the 14th centuries.
- UNESCO listing
- Pueblo de Taos Official Website
The tallest tree in the world - the Redwood - populates the Redwoods National and State Parks site in northern California. These Pacific coast forests are also home to endangered species such as the bald eagle and the California brown pelican.
A veritable symbol of the United States, the Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor, where she has welcomed new immigrants and tourists since 1886. The Statue of Liberty is indeed one of the must-see attractions in the U.S. Its history and its size - to wit, the torch alone measures 150 feet in length - make this one of the most recognizable UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the USA.
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Besides being home to five unique ecosystems - alpine tundra, subalpine forest, montane forest, aspen parkland and fescue grassland - the Waterton Glacier area on the border of Montana and the Canadian province of Alberta is the world's first International Peace Park. This UNESCO site actually combines Montana's Glacier National Park and Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park.
Located primarily in Wyoming (but also in Idaho and Montana), Yellowstone National Park was the very first park to be designated a national park in the United States. The spectacular natural attractions in the park, such as the geyser "Old Faithful," make this park a universal treasure.
Like Yellowstone National Park (above), Yosemite was an early member of the National Park System and continues to be one of Ameica's best known national parks. This UNESCO site is particularly known for its geology, shaped by glaciation into granite domes, waterfalls, and awesome overhangs. Yosemite National Park lies in the heart of California.