Top 8 Bucket List Destinations in the United States
We polled our followers for their ultimate bucket list destinations within the United States and chose the eight most popular results to put in the spotlight. They ranged from tropical to arctic, east coast to west coast, but they were all visually spectacular places.
With international travel bans a more common theme than ever before, we thought it fitting to share more about the incredible places travelers can experience within our 50 states and territories. We hoped it would provide some inspiration (and optimism) about domestic travel.
Many thanks to our bucket-listers for dreaming about these places. We hope to induce a little dreaming from you too. Enjoy!
#1: Zion National Park
The nation’s 4th most visited park is most famous for the half-mile deep, 15-mile long Zion Canyon, which was cut by the Virgin River to expose the picturesque red Navajo sandstone of the area. The remarkable colors and numerous elevated lookout points make for Instagram-worthy photos from almost anywhere in the park, which is small relative to its intense popularity.
So popular that the National Park Service has implemented a shuttle system on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, prohibiting most private vehicles to combat congestion on the most popular road through the park. It has worked well in creating a more sustainable way for visitors to enjoy it, which is best done on hiking trails like the famous Narrows and Angel’s Landing hikes.
#2: Acadia National Park
The eastern-most park in our system and the 7th-most visited, Acadia is a geologic wonderland of assorted rock types that reveal a history of volcanism, erosion, and glaciation. The result is a beautiful landscape of coastlines and islands that is dotted with clear lakes, dense foliage, and scenic drives.
The highest point in the park, and the tallest mountain on the east coast, is Cadillac Mountain. From October until March it’s actually the first place in America to see the sun rise! In fact, you can also experience the famous “green flash”, a phenomenon occurring when the day’s first or last light rays bend through the atmosphere.
Consisting of six main islands, Hawaii offers a year-round tropical climate with a surprising variety of natural scenery. You’ll find snow on the high peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, lava rock fields reminiscent of the surface of Mars, tropical waterfalls cascading off cliffs, and black-sand beaches meeting the great blue Pacific ocean. Mauna Kea is actually an inactive volcano about a million years old that last erupted 4,600 years ago.
With a friendly infusion of ancient Polynesian culture and American familiarity, the draw to Hawaii extends well past the beautiful natural scenery. And the six main islands – the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Lanai – each have subtle differences that make them attractive for different travelers.
#4: Yosemite National Park
This park that John Muir called home is as special as they come. Varied elevations produce exciting weather, dramatic waterfalls, and the most canvas-worthy landscapes an artist could wish for. Throw in the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove and the picturesque alpine ecosystem of Tuolumne Meadows and it's easy to see what makes Yosemite so popular.
The 5th most visited park in our system, Yosemite’s four million annual visitors mostly stick to the famous Yosemite Valley - a one-mile-wide by seven-mile-long gorge that really belongs in a fairy tale.
#5: Bryce Canyon National Park
At only 56 square miles, the park is one of the smaller ones in our system but it packs a unique punch. The most visited area of the park is the series of natural amphitheaters made up of the alluring hoodoos - tall, sandstone spires formed by erosion. Specifically, liquid water seeps into cracks in the porous rock and expands as it freezes, crumbling away the surrounding sandstone.
Almost all of the hikes in Bryce start at the top and work their way down into the canyon, offering up stunning views of the multi-colored rock formations. There are a few accessible lookout points for sunrises and sunsets, which create exciting scenes when mixed together with the countless hoodoos and pink, red, and orange rocks.
The vast expanse of Alaska lands on so many people’s bucket lists because it offers other-worldly scenery via travel that’s relatively convenient. The sprawling landscapes can be viewed from countless scenic drives, like the Seward Highway or Denali Park Road, and they’ll give you better wildlife viewing than anywhere in the US (moose, caribou, wolves, and so many species of birds).
As for convenience, the southern gateway to Alaska is Anchorage which has many direct flights from Seattle, Minneapolis, and LAX. It grants you access to the most popular attractions, like the waters of Prince William Sound, the seaside towns of Seward and Homer, world-class national parks like Kenai Fjords, and the towering peak of Denali.
#7: Grand Canyon National Park
The 2nd-most visited park in the system is also one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Almost no other place in America is so commonly described as making one feel small and insignificant, with views that impressively demonstrate the scale of our world. As Theodore Roosevelt wisely remarked, "Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it."
Long before the Colorado River had a name, it was at work cutting deeper and deeper through the earth, exposing layers of rock 1.8 billion years old. Today, lucky visitors can float down the river and gaze up at the canyon rim a vertical mile above. Being tucked within a sliver of the earth's crust must be the closest thing to geologic time travel one could experience.
#8: Badlands National Park and the Black Hills
To me, this area encompasses the beautiful scenery of the American Great Plains with its swaying grasses and megafauna - large grazing animal species like the bison, pronghorn, and mule deer. Jutting up from the prairie land are short buttes and occasional jagged rock spires, creating a scene worthy of epic sunrises and sunsets.
The uniqueness of Badlands NP comes from its soil. Erosion played a huge role in crafting this landscape, as the soft soil deposited millions of years ago is easily worn away by storms to expose a rich collection of fossilized material.
If you're running out of time to take a trip in 2020 then now is an ideal time to begin planning your bucket list trip in 2021. With more time to plan, more flexibility of where and when to go, and more lodging inventory, this translates to better choices and better prices.
The right planning goes a long way.