The 15 Ugliest States In America

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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which holds true even when discussing entire states. Every state has its unique charm and appeal. However, not all destinations can rank as top-tier vacation spots or picturesque getaways.

Sometimes, certain states reveal their less flattering sides beneath the hype and glamour. Remember, the term “ugly” is highly subjective.

Ohio

Photo by Annaheina

Multiple cities in Ohio, such as Cleveland and Cincinnati, frequently rank among the worst for air pollution in the country, as noted in the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air report. City planning in Ohio suffers from considerable urban sprawl, especially visible in areas like Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. 

High industrial activity, particularly along the Ohio River (one of the most polluted rivers in the United States), contributes to air and water pollution.  However, it does have charming areas like the Hocking Hills.

Indiana

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The state has numerous coal-fired power plants, significantly contributing to air and water pollution. Many urban areas, including Indianapolis, tend to suffer from urban sprawl, which leads to a lack of architectural cohesion and limited green spaces in some regions.

Still, the state has lovely spots like Brown County State Park, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway draws thousands of visitors annually for events like the Indianapolis 500. Moreover, Indiana’s low cost of living and friendly communities make it an appealing place to settle, particularly for families.  

New Jersey

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 Industrial pollution, heavy traffic, and a dense population contribute significantly to air quality issues, placing the state, often called the “Armpit of America,” among the most polluted in the country. While it has some picturesque areas, such as the Pine Barrens and parts of the Delaware Water Gap, industrial zones and crowded shorelines often overshadow these. 

Although crowded, the Jersey Shore features beautiful beaches and coastal towns, drawing millions of visitors annually. Additionally, New Jersey’s robust public education system is frequently ranked among the top in the nation, offering excellent opportunities for its residents.

Kansas

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Known for its endless flatness and agricultural landscape, Kansas can appear monotonous. Furthermore, the American Society of Civil Engineers has rated Kansas’ infrastructure at a mediocre “C” grade, with many roads and public transportation systems needing upgrades.

The Trust for Public Land ranks Wichita 79th out of the 100 largest U.S. cities regarding access to public parks. However, the state is rich in history and culture, offering a plethora of museums and historic sites, such as the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, which showcases the natural beauty of America’s heartland. 

Delaware

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Industrial emissions and vehicular pollution contribute to poorer air quality, making breathing conditions less than ideal for residents and visitors alike, particularly in urban areas like Wilmington. The city’s (Wilmington) layout, characterized by a mix of aging industrial structures and new developments, often comes across as disjointed and lacks a unified aesthetic appeal. 

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Delaware a “D+ on its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card. However, as the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, Delaware offers numerous historical sites, including the charming colonial town of New Castle and the Dover Green. 

Nebraska

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The state is comprised mainly of flat farmlands, which, while crucial for agriculture, can appear visually unremarkable to those seeking dramatic scenery. The Environmental Protection Agency has cited that the state’s water bodies suffer from agricultural runoff, leading to algal blooms in lakes and rivers, detracting from their natural beauty.

That said, the Sandhills region is quite captivating. While much of the state’s landscape may be flat, areas such as the Sandhills and the Niobrara River Valley offer unique and picturesque scenery, breaking the mold of the otherwise uniform landscapes.

North Dakota

Photo by Greg Gjerdingen

Wide-open spaces and a harsh climate contribute to North Dakota’s “ugly reputation. Regarding city planning, North Dakota’s urban areas, including Fargo and Bismarck, suffer from urban sprawl and lack architectural diversity. The spread-out nature of these cities can create a disjointed and visually unappealing experience for visitors. 

Additionally, the state’s infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, often shows signs of neglect. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave North Dakota’s infrastructure a “C- grade. However, the state is home to the stunning Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which offers breathtaking badlands, diverse wildlife, and excellent hiking trails. 

West Virginia

Photo by CZmarlin

The state has a long history of coal mining, which has left enduring scars on its landscape. Large swathes of land have been stripped and left barren due to surface mining. The state has many roads in subpar conditions; a report from TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, revealed that 29% of the major roads in West Virginia were in poor condition as of their latest findings.

Despite these challenges, West Virginia is home to the Appalachian Mountains, providing breathtaking vistas, excellent hiking trails, and numerous outdoor recreational opportunities. 

Illinois

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Illinois, mainly in urban areas like Chicago (which ranks among the top 25 most polluted cities in the United States regarding ozone pollution), struggles with significant pollution issues. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Report Card rated the state’s infrastructure with a C—thanks to Chicago’s pothole-ridden roads and aging public transportation systems.

Yet, the Shawnee National Forest is a hidden gem. Chicago is a cultural hotspot renowned for its world-class museums, theaters, and music scene. The Art Institute of Chicago and the city’s historical architecture are significant draws.

Oklahoma

Photo by Peteer

In 2019, the Environmental Integrity Project reported that the state had one of the highest rates of industrial pollution in its waterways. The state experiences urban sprawl, especially in cities like Oklahoma City and Tulsa. 

While Oklahoma boasts some beautiful state parks, such as Beavers Bend and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, it also has vast stretches of flat, monotonous terrain that some find less appealing. The state’s infrastructure also leaves something to be desired; roads are often in poor condition, and public buildings can appear outdated and poorly maintained.

Iowa

Photo provided by James St.John

The state’s scenery is dominated by extensive farmland, which, while crucial for agriculture, can offer an unvaried visual experience. Iowa’s highest point is Hawkeye Point at just 1,670 feet above sea level, underscoring its lack of dramatic elevation changes.

The agricultural industry, a significant contributor to air and water pollution due to pesticide and fertilizer runoff, has negatively impacted Iowa’s environmental health, especially in Davenport and Des Moines. The state is consistently ranked high in livability due to its friendly communities, affordable cost of living, and relatively low crime rates. 

Mississippi

Photo provided by James St.John

The Mississippi River, one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, runs along the state’s western border, contributing to water contamination concerns (EPA). Cities like Jackson experience a high degree of urban decay, with neglected buildings and poorly maintained public spaces. 

A 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers report graded the state’s infrastructure D+ overall. While some parts of the state may lack visual variety, areas like the Natchez Trace Parkway and the coastal region along the Gulf of Mexico offer stunning landscapes and beautiful vistas. 

Arkansas

Photo by Mr. Choppers

The state’s water bodies have faced issues with contamination. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has flagged concerns about river and lake water quality, primarily due to agricultural runoff and industrial discharges.

Cities like Little Rock and Fayetteville have struggled with urban sprawl and a lack of cohesive architectural strategy. On the flip side, the Ozarks are truly beautiful. The Buffalo National River provides over 135 miles of crystal-clear water, perfect for canoeing, fishing, and hiking. 

Alabama

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Multiple counties in Alabama frequently receive poor grades for air quality, largely due to emissions from factories and heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cited numerous violations of the Clean Water Act in Alabama’s waterways, adversely affecting public health and the environment.

Despite these challenges, Alabama boasts a rich cultural history and significant contributions to civil rights movements, marked by historic sites such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Louisiana

Photo by Sicnag

Known for its industrial zones and post-Hurricane Katrina scars, Louisiana tops the list. City planning in Louisiana is often criticized for its urban sprawl and poor architectural cohesion. The sprawling wetlands and bayous are beautiful in their own right but face significant threats from pollution and ecological changes.

Moreover, public buildings, including schools and hospitals, frequently show signs of neglect and underfunding. Despite these issues, New Orleans, in particular, is renowned for its French and Creole architecture, vibrant nightlife, and cultural festivals like Mardi Gras. 

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