Image: Crater Lake
The brilliant blue Crater Lake, located in southern Oregon, was formed when Mount Mazama, standing at 12,000 feet, collapsed 7,700 years ago after a massive eruption. Crater Lake is one of the world's deepest lakes at 1,943 feet.
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updated 1/13/2011 9:55:12 AM ET 2011-01-13T14:55:12

Everyone has big dreams and grand intentions. But between work, family and finances, it's easy to let stress drag you down. Even the best of us sometimes fall into a creative and emotional rut.

If you're looking for a way to raise your spirits and change your perspective on life, sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to a place that has reliably inspired others.

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Whether its awe-inspiring nature, thought-provoking history or locations rich with cultural heritage, there's no shortage of places nearby. And you don't need a week off to climb out of a valley — or into one. Many of these locations can anchor a weekend visit.

Slideshow: Inspirational Travel Destinations

In a reflective and conservationist mood? There's good reason that Massachusetts' Walden Woods provided inspiration for Henry David Thoreau to write his famous book on nature and self-reliance. "Each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest... where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession for ever, for instruction and recreation," wrote Thoreau in 1859, leading to the conservationist efforts of generations to follow. Today the Walden Woods Project provides tours and educational programs for visitors interested in the area's natural beauty.

Few natural vistas can compete with the awe-inspiring grandeur of Yosemite Valley. While it wasn't the first designated national park, the work in documenting and preserving the area's profound beauty done by naturalists like John Muir inspired the movement to preserve national parks. Stay at one of the park's campgrounds or hotels (the architecturally ambitious Ahwahnee Hotel provides a suitably dramatic setting) and as evening nears, drive up to Glacier Point to hear a park ranger discuss the history of the valley as the sunset paints the mountains around you.

Or perhaps you're run down by our contentious national political climate, and looking for a more historically nuanced frame of reference. Thomas Jefferson can help set you straight. History tends to lose its distance and increase in relevancy with visits to places such as Jefferson's home at Monticello. Redesigning and working on it for more than 40 years, Jefferson left the surprising and unique house as a living testament to his genius and contradictions.

Visits to famous Civil War sites can lead to reflection on the fragility of America's union, and what it takes to keep it whole. The "well-organized and moving" national park at Little Round Top, in Gettysburg, Pa., can do just that, says Robert Reid, Lonely Planet's USA editor. "It's easily as powerful as any military site I've visited in the world."

You may find meaning in one of America's great cultural hot spots. Rich Beattie, executive editor of Travel + Leisure, says he finds renewed inspiration in New Orleans' French Quarter. "Listening to jazz spill out from cafés and happening upon street musicians — all in the birthplace of jazz — is very inspiring," says Beattie. "It's great to see so many people with such a passion for this type of music, all surrounded by a rich history and tradition."

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The Pacific Northwest is world famous for its natural heritage, and provides no shortage of opportunities for inspirational renewal. Take a drive up the destroyed volcano called Mount Mazama in Oregon, where towering fir trees line both sides of Route 62. It's a fittingly dramatic prelude to the deep azure glow of Crater Lake, when it finally becomes visible at the rim. Stay at the stunningly beautiful Crater Lake Lodge, and take a trip into the belly of the filled-up caldera, along with a boat ride around the lake that will have cameras clicking nonstop. It is the deepest lake in the United States — 1,943 feet — with the clearest, purest rainwater and snow-melt imaginable.

Or if you're looking to finally get some work done on that novel, take the four-hour drive down to the Timberline Lodge, which provided the inspiration for exterior shots of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 version of Stephen King's "The Shining." (King himself was inspired by a stay in room 217 of the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colo.) Just don't stay for extended snowstorms.

We've collected 15 favorite inspirational locations, across America and its territories. Some have civic value, others bring us into history, and others are impressive natural locations. Each is guaranteed to lift your spirit and get creative juices flowing — even if it's in the form of great photos to share with friends.

© 2012 Forbes.com

Photos: America's national parks

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  1. Acadia

    Acadia National Park in Maine boasts the highest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and was the first national park east of the Mississippi River. Visitors beware: temperatures can vary 40 degrees -- from 45 degrees to 85 degrees in the summer and from 30 degrees to 70 degrees in the spring and fall. (Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rocky Mountain

    Bear Lake, with mountainside aspens changing colors in mid-autumn, is one of the popular attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Badlands

    The climate in South Dakota's Badlands National Park is extreme. Temperatures range from minus 40 degrees in the dead of winter to 116 degrees in the height of summer. Visitors are drawn to the park's rugged beauty as well as the area's rich fossil beds. (Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Yosemite

    One of the nation's first wilderness parks, Yosemite is known for its waterfalls, scenic valleys, meadows and giant sequoias. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. North Cascades National Park

    The North Cascades National Park complex offers something for everyone: Monstrous peaks, deep valleys, hundreds of glaciers and phenominal waterfalls. The complex includes the park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Zion

    This spectacular corner of southern Utah is a masterpiece of towering cliffs, deep red canyons, mesas, buttes and massive monoliths. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Redwood

    Created in 1968, Redwood National Park is located in Northern California. Today, visitors to the national park can enjoy the massive trees as well as an array of wildlife. (David Gotisha / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Joshua Tree

    Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeast California. The area was made a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994. Outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Great Smoky Mountains

    Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 800 square miles in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can expect mild winters and hot, humid summers, though temperatures can differ drastically as the park's elevation ranges from 800 feet to more than 6,600 feet. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Arches

    More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, many of them recognizable worldwide, are preserved in Utah's Arches National Park. Temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer and can drop to below freezing in the winter. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Grand Teton

    The Snake River flows through Grand Teton National Park, and the jagged Teton Range rises above the sage-covered valley floor. Daytime temperatures during summer months are frequently in the 70s and 80s, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. (Anthony P. Bolante / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Haleakala

    Visitors watch the sun rise at 10,000 feet in Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii. If weather permits, visitors at the top of the mountain can see three other Hawaiian islands. (The Washington Post via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Grand Canyon

    Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most recognizable national park. Nearly 5 million visitors view the mile-deep gorge every year, formed in part by erosion from the Colorado River. The North and South rims are separated by a 10-mile-wide canyon. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Yellowstone

    Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, was established in 1872. The park spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk live in the park. It is well known for Old Faithful and other geothermal features. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Mount Rainier

    Glaciers. Rainforests. Hiking trails. Mount Rainier National Park, located in Washington state, offers incredible scenery and a diverse ecology. The park aims to be carbon neutral by 2016. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Hawaii Volcanoes

    Two of the world's most active volcanoes can be found within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In 1980, the national park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve; in 1987, it was added as a World Heritage Site. (David Jordan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Everglades

    Everglades National Park covers the nation's largest subtropical wilderness. It is also a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. Visitors to the park can camp, boat, hike and find many other ways to enjoy the outdoors. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Glacier

    A view from atop the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail in Glacier National Park. With more than 700 miles of trails the park is known for its glaciers, forests, alpine meadows and beautiful lakes. (Matt McKnight / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Bryce Canyon

    Located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its distinctive geological structures called "hoodoos." (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crater Lake

    The brilliant blue Crater Lake, located in southern Oregon, was formed when Mount Mazama, standing at 12,000 feet, collapsed 7,700 years ago after a massive eruption. Crater Lake is one of the world's deepest lakes at 1,943 feet. (David Gotisha / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Olympic

    Washington state's Olympic National Park offers visitors beaches on the Pacific Ocean, glacier-capped mountain peaks and everything in between. Keep the weather in mind when visiting, though, as roads and facilities can be affected by wind, rain and snow any time of year. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Sequoia and Kings Canyon

    A woman stands among a grove of a Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park in Central California. The trees, which are native to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, are the world's largest by volume, reaching heights of 275 feet and a ground level girth of 109 feet. The oldest known Giant Sequoia based on its ring count is 3,500 years old. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Denali

    Alaska's Denali National Park spans 6 million acres and includes the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak. Many park visitors try to catch a glimpse of the "big five" -- moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bear. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Kenai Fjords National Park

    The National Park Service considers the 8.2-mile round-trip on Harding Icefield Trail in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park to be strenuous, saying hikers gain about 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile. (National Park Service via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Death Valley

    California's Death Valley encompasses more than 3.3 million acres of desert wilderness. In 1849, a group of gold rush pioneers entered the Valley, thinking it was a shortcut to California. After barely surviving the trek across the area, they named the spot "Death Valley." In the 1880s, native peoples were pushed out by mining companies who sought the riches of gold, silver, and borax. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Wind Cave

    Bison graze in Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. Millions of bison were slaughtered by white hunters who pushed them to near-extinction by the late 1800s. Recovery programs have brought the bison numbers up to nearly 250,000. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Canyonlands

    The Lower Basins Zone is outlined by the white rim edge as seen from the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Shenandoah

    Fall colors blanket the Shenandoah National Park, drawing tourists to Skyline Drive to view the scenery. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images
    Above: Slideshow (28) America's national parks
  2. Image:
    Stephen Saks / Lonely Planet Images
    Slideshow (18) America’s lesser-known national parks

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