In need of some travel inspiration? Here are 55 unmissable things to do in the USA for your travel bucket list.
America is full of contrasting landscapes to explore: tumbleweed plains of deserts, lush hills strewn with gorgeous wineries, shell-covered coastal spaces… the list goes on
Within this kaleidoscope of natural sceneries also lies remarkable landmarks known throughout the world as phenomenal man-made structures.
It goes without saying: you’ll need a lifetime to explore the hidden depths of North America’s most impressive places, but one can surely try with a USA bucket list!
USA Bucket List: Natural Attractions
Hiking in the Colorado Rockies
The Rocky Mountains’ 191 peaks are pretty impressive wherever you see them, but the Colorado stretch deserves particular attention.
Enter via the eastern entrance at Estes Park and drive the Trail Ridge Road for dizzying views and hiking jump-off points aplenty, swinging by at the Stanley Hotel – the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining – along the way.
Plan an Incredible Colorado Road Trip with This Handy Guide
See the Northern Lights in Alaska
When night falls in the ice-speckled region of Alaska, the slumbering space comes alive with a magical occurrence.
The Northern Lights sparked countless myths and stories speculating how this almost otherworldly event exists. In reality, these lights are due to electrically charged particles reacting to various gases in the atmosphere.
Take a Trip to Antelope Canyon
A remarkable sandstone structure, Antelope Canyon becomes filled with a warm light where the walls seem to glow from within.
The canyon forms part of the Navajo Nation and is a must for any geography or photography lover. You’ll need a Navajo tour guide to navigate this sacred site.
Explore Bryce Canyon
Shaped by millions of years of wear and tear from harsh weather conditions, Bryce Canyon in Utah is a magnificent swirl of pink and white limestone structures. Make your way through the winding path to Sunset Point to spot the best views of the unique hoodoos, which are strangely shaped spires.
See the Giant Redwoods in Redwood National Park
Deep within the recesses of The Golden State, a sea of stoic giants resides, creating an oasis of solitude from the hustle and bustle of life. There are babbling brooks, foraging wildlife, and thriving plant species to see beyond the massive thicket of redwoods in Redwood National Park.
Marvel at El Capitan in Yosemite
If there was ever a destination that should go straight to the top of your North America bucket list, it’s Yosemite. Beloved by naturalist John Muir and countless photographers treading the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Yosemite is a temple to the wild.
You should spend some time hiking Yosemite’s stunning landscapes.
Only have time for a few highlights? The monolithic granite block of El Capitan is one of its most iconic spots – nothing makes you feel smaller than standing at the bottom of the largest granite rock on Earth.
See Glacier Bay in Alaska
The stunning scenery in the icy world of southeastern Alaska reaches a climax at Glacier Bay. Explore the watery wilderness by boat – if you’re lucky, catching a glimpse of the schools of humpback and orcas that ply the waters in season.
Highlights of the bay include laid-back Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park – a 65-mile fjord packed with looming glaciers.
Watch the Volcanoes in Hawaii
A picturesque setting sprinkled with a dangerous side, Hawaii is the ultimate space to have a tropical getaway with an edge.
The most active volcanoes of Hawaii, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, are on The Big Island. The former last erupted on 29 March 2021, so be sure to look out for the telltale smell of sulphur.
See the Stunning Scenery in Glacier National Park
Revered by the Blackfeet Nation as sacred ground, the stunning vistas of Glacier National Park are America’s version of the Alps – dramatic and awe-inspiring in equal measure.
Wildlife-spotting opportunities abound – moose, elk, wolves, and the majority of the US’s remaining grizzly bear population. Drive the stunning Going to the Sun Road for maximum wows.
Explore the Scorching Death Valley National Park
It’s not hard to see where Death Valley gets its name – many people must have met their untimely end in the driest and hottest spot in America, a remote enclave of the Mojave Desert.
Superlatives aside, it boasts a brutal beauty – landscapes carved out of the parched rocks. Don’t miss Artists Palette, where natural minerals have transformed the hills in rainbow colours. Other highlights include Zabriskie Point and Dante’s View.
Float along the Hudson Valley
Named after the 17th century Dutch explorer Henry Hudson who discovered it, taking in the Hudson Valley’s scenic views are one of the foremost bucket list adventures in the USA. It’s only 314 miles, but a boat ride along the untouched waters reveals a gentle pace of life you’ll miss when you leave.
Stand in Awe at the Sight of the Grand Canyon
No collection of bucket list destinations in the USA could forgo mentioning the Grand Canyon. Yes, you’ve seen it in the movies, and looked at the pictures, but nothing can prepare you for the vast views of the jagged canyon, stretching as far as the eye can see.
Do better than the 90% of tourists who never make it past the visitor centre – the day trip down to Plateau point yields plenty of views in a short space of time, or explore the quieter Northern Rim if you have the time.
See Monument Valley
The go-to background for any Western film, Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border is the ultimate place to experience the red-sand playground of deserts. A Navajo guide will need to lead you through this dry landscape at a certain point, as this place is on sacred land.
Explore Zion National Park
Situated in southwest Utah, this USA attraction is a natural wonderland filled with activities and sights to see. Zion National Park provides something for every kind of traveller — from its gorgeous canyons to its red-hued gigantic cliffs.
Take a Trip to Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park will be a peak experience of your bucket list adventures in the USA with a gorgeous mountain range, flowing rivers, and evergreen forests. From pondering the idyllic Jenny Lake to feeling the spray of water from the cascading Hidden Falls, this park has many scenic treasures to uncover.
Wander through the Yellowstone National Park
Only 31 miles away from the Grand Teton National Park is Yellowstone, the oldest national park in the world. Providing the world with the iconic Old Faithful, this park has over 10 000 unique thermal features to witness. These interesting sites include warm mud pools, fumaroles, and hot springs.
See Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is a magnificent circular-shaped crevasse in the ground and is a marvellous meander located in Arizona. Make sure you bring along a top-tier camera to capture this fantastic site in all its glory.
Go to Niagara Falls
Situated on the USA and Canada border, the cascading wonder of Niagara Falls is one of the most interesting places to visit in America. These falls can be characterised by three sections: the Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the American Falls. From its roaring waters to its misty air, a trip to this landmark is a must.
Marvel at the Painted Desert
A mosaic of colours dancing in a mix of pastel hues, the Painted Desert is a top contender for the best things you have to do in the USA. Seemingly painted by Arizona’s elements, such as volcanic eruptions and floods, this kaleidoscope of shades will leave you in awe of the rocky plains.
Leaf Peeping in New England
Nothing screams autumn quite like the warm-hued fall of shedding leaves. New England boasts some spectacular sights that become covered in festive foliage to enjoy. Whether you travel to Manchester Village or Acadia National Park, New England is a leaf-covered haven from September to October.
Visit Arches National Park
You guessed it; this national park has a seemingly unending supply of sandstone arches. Arches National Park in Utah has a vast tapestry of hikes to explore, so be ready to see some magnificent sights while walking these sand-covered terrains.
Wildlife Spotting in the Everglades
Nature lovers should make a beeline for the Everglades National Park – the extensive system of swamps and wetlands stretching across Florida’s southern tip. Spot the prolific wildlife on a kayak or canoe trip – alligators, eagles, turtles – there’s plenty to see if you pay attention.
See the Glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park
Roughly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire together, the Kenai Fjords National Park is about 125 miles from Anchorage in Alaska has some of the USA’s most stunning glaciers. With wildlife and marine life aplenty, it’s an incredible spot for that once-in-a-lifetime kayaking adventure.
Trek Oneonta Gorge, Oregon
A waterfall that plunges through a mossy structure into a crystal clear gorge, Oneonta Gorge is the ultimate hiking spot to revel in the beauty of nature. While it may have various challenges ahead, such as stray logs and rocky roads to climb, it’s well worth the effort.
Walk Through the Mendenhall Glacier Caves, Alaska
Situated in Mendenhall Valley in Juneau, a frozen network of wondrous hollow caves awaits. These aquamarine tunnels are only accessible to travellers up for the challenge of kayaking and climbing over the glacier to get to the entrance.
Go to Badlands National Park
A rugged range of rock formations in South Dakota, Badlands National Park is a geologic technicolour dreamscape of various carved-out structures. A trip to this mineral deposit landscape is a fantastic experience, filled with gorges, cones, pinnacles, and canyons.
See Multnomah Falls, Oregon
A moving masterpiece of nature, Multnomah Falls is a magnificent natural water feature situated in the Multnomah Creek area. Known as Oregon’s tallest waterfall, the striking drop of the Multnomah Falls is breathtaking.
Paddle out on Lake Tahoe
A translucent freshwater pool of tranquillity that seems to disappear on the horizon, Lake Tahoe is one of the deepest lakes in North America. An aquatic oasis in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, paddling this great body of water is a challenge but provides some sensational views of nature.
Visit Hamilton Pool, Texas
A much-visited watering hole in Central Texas, Hamilton Pool Preserve is the perfect place to rest alongside an effervescent pool of blue-green waters. Decked out with various water features and hiking trails, this area is a wonderful way to spend a hot summer’s day outdoors.
Note: Until further notice, swimming is not allowed due to falling rock.
USA Bucket List Experiences
Horse Riding at a Dude Ranch
If you desire a wild wild west experience, this is the perfect opportunity to live out your fantasy. From Wyoming to Colorado and Montana, there are various dude ranches across the US to explore.
Galloping through the vast landscapes with the wind in your hair — horse riding at a dude ranch will put a “giddy-up” in your step.
Staten Island Ferry to See Statue of Liberty
A lady that needs no introduction, the Statue of Liberty is one of the most momentous man-made marvels of North America. Located on Liberty Island in the bay area of New York, this monument is only accessible by ferry.
Glide over the waters on the Staten Island Ferry and see this speck of wonder transform into a fully-fledged masterpiece of history and artistry.
Take a Road Trip Up the West Coast
A leisurely jaunt along America’s Pacific coast is one of the classic road trips – and for a good reason.
From the rugged coastline along the short stretch of Big Sur to the Redwoods National Park and wild bluffs in Oregon, a West Coast Road trip is packed with memorable places and experiences. Take as much time as you can – there’s plenty to see.
Check out My Guide to the Ultimate West Coast Road Trip
Alcatraz is one of the most well-known prisons in history and is sure to make every bucket list of places to visit in the USA. The institute shut its doors in 1963 and is on an island in San Francisco Bay.
Today, ferries transport tourists to learn about the famous past and prisoners of “The Rock” on a guided tour.
Spot the Stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame
At this point, there are more than 2,500 terrazzo stars embedded in the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street – monuments to the people – fictional and real – who have helped shape Hollywood into the crazy caricature it is today.
Drive The Ocean Highway to the Florida Keys
Skimming its way over the East Coast, it’s almost impossible not to be impressed as you speed over the 42 bridges of the aptly-named Overseas Highway to the Florida Keys.
Connecting 51 of the Keys, spend as much time as you can hopping from island to island and soaking up the laid-back bohemian vibes. At the end of it all, eclectic Key West lures you in with the promise of margaritas, Sloppy Joes, and beautiful sunsets.
Drink Your Way Around the Wineries in the Napa Valley
An alcoholic adventure can also make bucket list experiences in the USA because wine not? In California, a sun-filled county, Napa Valley is a wine region that produces a significant amount of top-tier wine labels.
While the most popular variety is the full body of a finely crafted Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll be able to sip and savour a variety of wines.
Walk Over the Golden Gate Bridge
A globally recognisable landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge is an architectural gem on every bucket list of places to visit in the USA. This suspension bridge is a 1.7-mile walk across and generally takes around 30-40 minutes.
With its signature scarlet colour and panoramic views, the Golden Gate Bridge is the perfect place to capture photos to spark some Instagram envy.
Join the Space Race at the Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center has functioned as the nerve centre of America’s explorations into space since 1950. All of America’s iconic astronomical moments started right here – taking the first American into space and launching Apollo 11’s mission to the moon. Learn about it all at the fascinating visitor’s centre.
Hang Out on South Beach in Miami
If New York is the city that never sleeps, South Beach is the part of Miami that never stops partying. Glamorous Art Deco buildings provide the perfect backdrop for the lively (day and) nightlife that features pool parties aplenty and some of the country’s coolest restaurants.
Stroll Around Savannah’s Historic District
Tucked into a compact area of 2 ½ miles, Savannah’s grand dame Historic District pays testament to the fact that this was America’s first planned city. What a plan – towering mansions overlooking shady squares, colonial houses, and blooming azaleas – no wonder it remains a delight today.
Strike Out on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky
Bourbon – the golden glow of the south, comes into its own on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. Hop from distillery to distillery, sampling small-batch bourbons alongside larger names like Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Bonus points if you’re in town for the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival at the end of September.
Immerse Yourself in the French Quarter of New Orleans
A seductive melting pot of French, American, Creole, and Spanish cultures – New Orleans has slowly recovered its Old World charm after its devastation at the hands of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The French Quarter buzzes with life and music, framed by a backdrop of colourful (and crumbling) buildings that only add to the charm.
Gamble in the Casinos of Las Vegas
The 3.5 miles of the Las Vegas Strip is known for many things: ostentation, debauchery, and no small amount of gambling. It’s monstrous and charming at the same time, sweeping you up in its whirlwind of glitz and pleasure – only setting you down when it’s time to leave.
Don’t miss the enormous MGM Grand – with more than 5000 rooms and the host of many star-studded events.
See New York from the Top of the Empire State Building
It may be rather ugly in comparison to other New York skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building, but the Empire State Building is the one etched into New York’s soul. Whizz to the top for 360-degree views of Manhattan, the Hudson, and beyond.
Visit the Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia
A historic district in the City of Brotherly Love, the Independence National Historical Park is full of monumental sites oozing historical charm. From the Liberty Bell Center to Independence Hall, you’ll be able to visit the most significant locations in US history in one space.
See the Colonial Architecture in Charleston
One of the best-preserved colonial cities in America, Charleston is much more than a hip-twisting dance style.
From the summertime favourite of wraparound porches to the regal elegance of columns, Charleston’s historic houses are a thing of beauty.
Ready to live your cinematic daydreams? The Southern charm of Charleston features in many famous films, such as “The Notebook”.
Feel Nostalgic at Graceland and the Elvis Trail
You won’t help but feel a hunk, a hunk of burning love for this elaborate mansion of the late Elvis Presley. In Memphis, Tennessee, Graceland’s grand space commemorates the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
If you have Presley fever, you can visit the kitsch classic of the Heartbreak Hotel or make your way to the Sun Records studio, where the man himself recorded albums.
Listen to Country Music in Nashville
From tear-jerking twangs to rootin’-tootin’ songs, country music is the heart and soul of the Southern music scene. Known as the Music City, Nashville in Tennessee is the place to be to experience the jivey draw of this music genre.
There are lots of things to do in Nashville, whether you see a show at the Grand Ole Opry or visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, you’re in for a rocking time.
You can still get your kicks on Route 66 beatnik style. Overtaken by the thrumming highways that largely replaced it between the 50s and 70s, Route 66 is a throwback in time, a stretch of road filled with ghost towns, faded motels and bucket loads of Americana.
Visit Washington, D.C.
The capital city of the USA, Washington D.C has some of the finest American bucket list landmarks to visit in one setting. The White House, Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument are just some of the patriotic structures in this wonderful urban area.
See the Space Needle in Seattle
One of Seattle’s most famous attractions, the Space Needle is a 184-metre tall structure and is a must-see sight. Be sure to visit the Loupe, which is a rotating glass floor where you’ll be able to observe the city as a bird would.
Follow The Freedom Trail in Boston
Start at Boston Common to follow the Freedom Trail – eighteen Revolutionary War era landmarks that mark important places in American history. Grab a free map from the National Park Service and set off on the trail. Highlights include the USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship in the world.
Witness NASCAR in Talladega
Home to the biggest oval NASCAR track in the world, Talladega is the place to be if you’re looking to see some fast cars in their element. This speedway is around 2.66 miles and has some epic events to get you into the speed racer spirit.
Explore St Augustine, America’s Oldest Town
St Augustine provides a trip to Europe in America with the exotic embrace of Spanish colonial architecture, stunning port views, and quaint cobbled alleyways. Founded in 1565, St Augustine is a pleasure to explore and absorb the cultural vibrance of an occupied relic.
Visit Venice Beach and Santa Monica in LA
The top beaches in Los Angeles are popular bucket list destinations in the USA, filled with bronze bodies and sparkling calm waters. Venice Beach is a busy beach town, and Santa Monica is a beach city that will be sure to make your sandy getaway dreams come true.
Things to do in America: Practical Tips to Help You Explore
The Land of Opportunity is a place filled with natural and man-made wonders and provides a vast array of experiences. There is plenty to do, from kayaking to wildlife spotting, in the USA.
If you’re looking for bucket list ideas, travel to the USA to find some of the most well-known activities and landmarks. Whether you gamble in Sin City or absorb the beauty of Niagara Falls, you’re in for a treat.
You can’t go wrong with the classic sight of the Grand Canyon.
Visiting and learning about the Navajo Nation is the best way to get the full American experience.