May 16, 2024 | Samantha Henman

Bucket List Destinations In Every US State


Get On The Road

Sure, we all love an international vacation—but there’s also so much to see closer to home. Each US state is filled with incredible destinations and activities that everyone should experience at least once in their life.

Bd ThumbAdobe Stock

Orange Beach, Alabama

Alabama’s beaches may get overshadowed by the coastal areas of its neighbor, Florida, but it’s home to some of the most stunning coastline in the US. The turquoise waters and soft sand of Orange Beach, Alabama, are an absolutely must-see if you love the beach.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabamafritzmb, Flickr

The Northern Lights, Alaska

Any visitor to beautiful Alaska would be remiss to not center their trip around a viewing of the Northern Lights. The best city to view the lights from is Fairbanks, and the best time to visit is between mid-August and mid-April. More darkness at night = better viewing for the lights.

Northern lights in Talkeetna, AlaskaPaxson Woelber, CC-BY-2.0, Wikimedia Commons

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Yes, it’s going to appear on the Arizona entry for every “must-visit” list—but we include it for a reason. Visiting the Grand Canyon is absolutely an essential part of visiting Arizona. Sure, the photos may look amazing—but anyone who has been there will tell you that it’s so much more breathtaking in real life.

View from Hopi Point over Grand Canyon with rainbow - 2013Tuxyso, Wikimedia Commons

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

A slice of nature that feels like walking into a storybook? That’s the experience at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. This city-within-a-park isn’t your typical national park experience, which makes it all the more interesting. Beyond the natural features, it has historic spas—and it’s the only national park that contains a brewery.

Display Springs (Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas)James St. John, Flickr

Napa Valley, California

If you’re a wine-lover on a road trip, your ultimate destination is Napa Valley. It’s not only home to more than 450 wineries, many of them are the best wineries in the country. The scenery is also unbeatable.

Napa Valley in late December - 2004Josh Mazgelis, Flickr

Red Rocks, Colorado

Sure, you could see your favorite musical act in a local theater—but wouldn’t it be better to see them in the most breathtaking open-air venue in the US? If you can score a ticket, there’s no better place to see a concert than Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, about 30 minutes outside of Denver.

Red Rocks Amphitheater - 2008Flickred!, Flickr

Winvian Farm Treehouse, Connecticut

Who didn’t dream of living in a treehouse as a kid? Well, you can bring that dream to life at the incredible Winvian Farm Treehouse in Litchfield, Connecticut. Spend an evening sipping hot cocoa and looking out over the treeline before taking a bath in the soaker tub.

couple drinking hot cocoa outside.Gustavo Fring, Pexels

Dogfish Head Brewery, Delaware

It may be the smallest state—but there’s no shortage of things to do in Delaware. The state has a number of great beaches, but it also has a brewery that produces some of the most interesting beers in the US: Dogfish Head, which makes “Off-centered ales for off-centered people”.

Dogfish Head Brewery plant in Milton, Delaware. - 2010Bernt Rostad, Flickr

Drive To Key West On The Overseas Highway, Florida

Sure, we all love a visit to Disney World, but for an unforgettable experience, take a drive to Key West on the Overseas Highway in Florida. You’ll feel like you’re floating on water—and the destination is just as great as the journey.

One of the long bridges linking the keys on the overseas highway from Miami to Key West, FloridaBoston Public Library, Flickr

See The Spanish Moss, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia is filled with beautiful sights—and many of them are made all the better by the striking Spanish moss, like beautiful canopies that cover the Bonaventure Cemetery, or Jones Street—easily one of the most gorgeous streets in the US.

Spanish Moss, Savannah, GeorgiaRob Holland, Flickr

Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

The Kilauea volcano on the big island is Hawaii is actually one of the most active volcanoes on Earth—and exactly the type of thing you won’t find anywhere else in the US. Take a peek at its steaming peak (see what we did there) and glowing red lava.

Kilauea Volcano Hawaii - Aerial View October 1997Brian Snelson, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Shoshone Falls, Idaho

When we say “waterfall,” your mind might automatically go to Niagara, but Shoshone Falls, which is nicknamed “the Niagara of the West,” is actually taller than Niagara.

Shoshone Falls, Idaho - 2022James Marvin Phelps, Flickr

Spend A Day Wandering Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is a city that truly has something for everyone. From the observation decks at the Willis Tower to the Bean to both deep-dish and thin crust pizza, there’s so much to do and see in Chicago. It’s also home to one of the country’s best art museums, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a fantastic zoo.

Willis Tower Skydeck, Chicago, United StatesUnsplash, Picryl

Race Weekend, Indiana

You don’t need to love car racing to soak in the excitement of the Indianapolis 500 on race weekend. The whole city is one big party. On top of the race, there’s also a parade and fireworks every night. Just remember to bring earplugs!

Indianapolis 500 - Race Day - 2011momentcaptured1, Flickr

State Fair, Iowa

Every state fair is great in its own right—but Iowa’s rich farming heritage makes their state fair all the more special. It’s one of the oldest and largest state fairs, and takes place across 11 days in Des Moines, Iowa.

Photo from the 2016 Iowa State Fair.Phil Roeder, Flickr

Strataca, Kansas

An underground salt museum as a bucket-list destination? Believe it. To visit Strataca, the Kansas underground salt museum, you take an electric tram 650 feet below ground. There, you can explore tunnels and learn about the area’s mining history. It also contains vaults that safeguard important parts of American history—including some original negatives for Gone With the Wind. 

Kansas Underground Salt Museum - 2012Sam Wise, Flickr

Kentucky Derby, Kentucky

Like the Indianapolis 500, even if you don’t like horse racing, you’ll love Derby weekend in Kentucky. Forget the horses—From the hats to the seersucker suits, there’s no better people watching, and you get to do it all with a mint julep in hand.

Paddock area, Kentucky Derby - 2012Matthew and Heather, Flickr

Mardi Gras, Louisiana

New Orleans is fun 24/7/365—but it’s never more fun than on Mardi Gras, the celebration that attracts thousands of visitors every year. Though “fat Tuesday” is just one day, the city stretches it out into two whole weeks or parties. Check out the house band at Preservation Hall, one of the most iconic venues in the country.

Lafayette Louisiana Mardi Gras - 2012Catherine Roche-Wallace, CC-BY-SA-2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Sail The Windjammer, Maine

There’s no more quintessential East Coast experience than stepping foot on the historic Windjammer and taking part in a sailing exhibition that’ll give you sweeping views of the best that the Maine coastline has to offer.

Windjammer Days Boothbay Harbor Maine 2011Rob Kleine, Flickr

Assateague Island, Maryland

Every year in July, cowboys herd Assateague Island’s wild ponies across the channel for the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim—and if you’re an advanced planner, July 2025 will mark the 100th year of the event. If you’d rather skip the crowds, however, you can spot the ponies at any time of the year on Assateague Island.

91st Annual Pony Swim - ChincoteagueCoast Guard News, Flickr

The Freedom Trail, Massachusetts

If you’ve forgotten everything you learned in your high school history class, there’s no better crash course than grabbing a brochure and going self-guided or signing up for a guided tour of the Freedom Trail in Boston, which’ll give you a real primer on some of US history’s most important moments. Just don’t forget to grab a large Dunkin to fuel you on the 2.5 milk walk.

Boston - Freedom Trail: Faneuil Hall MarketplaceWally Gobetz, Flickr

Mackinac Island, Michigan

We have a soft spot for Detroit, one of the most underrated US cities—but for a completely different experience, travel to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, home to amazing beaches like Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the very unique and picturesque Mackinac Island, which has a population of under 1,000 and no cars. And if dinner is a little too far from your hotel? Simply hire a horse-drawn carriage for the ride.

Mackinac Island, MichiganJasperdo, Flickr

Mille-Lacs Lake, Minnesota

In the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” it only makes sense to pick a picturesque lake destination. Though, of course, there is Lake Superior, Minnesota is also home to Mille-Lacs Lake, which is large and shallow, making for a much warmer swim.

Lake Mille Lacs - MinnesotaDoug Kerr, Flickr

Mississippi Blues Trail, Mississippi

Mississippi is home of the blues—and home of the Mississippi Blues Trail, which tracks important landmarks in the history of blues music across the state, with over 200 markers in the state (and some outside, including locations in California, Maine, and even France and Norway).

Po' Monkey's Blues Trail - 2011Joseph, Flickr

Fantastic Caverns, Missouri

Missouri is home to some of the country’s most impressive mines and underground features, including the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield. It’s the only show cave in the US that offers a complete ride-through tour, in a Jeep-drawn tram that follows the path of an ancient underground river.

Fantastic Caverns near Springfield, Missouri - 2013Larry Myhre, Flickr

Grand Prismatic Spring, Montana

Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the world, and it’s located in the first national park in the US, Yellowstone. There’s so much to see and do in Yellowstone, including Old Faithful (which is technically in Wyoming…shh).

The Grand Prismatic Spring, MontanaFred Dunn, Flickr

Crane Migration, Nebraska

Sure, flora is great and all—but what about fauna? See a once-in-a-lifetime natural phenomenon by planning a trip about the sandhill crane migration, when 80% of the world’s population of the bird alights on Nebraska’s Platte River.

Sandhill Crane runway on a sandbar in the Platte RiverDiana Robinson, Flickr

Fremont Street Experience, Nevada

The Las Vegas strip is four lights of glitz, glamour, and wild sights—but it’s also taxing on the soles, and the soul. For a homier Las Vegas experience that’s more approachable and that also hearkens back to the city’s rich history, try a stroll or a stay on Fremont Street.

Experience Fremont Street Las Vegas - 2017Bernard Spragg. NZ, FlickrFlume Gorge, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is home to some of the best hikes in the US—including the 2-mile nature walk through Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park near Lincoln. It’s a natural gorge extending 800 feet horizontally at the base of Mount Liberty, and it’s stunning.

Flume Gorge hike, Franconia Notch State Park - 2010Eli Sagor, Flickr

Wildwood, New Jersey

Sure, Ocean City may have the longer boardwalk, but Wildwood has 2.5 miles of pure character. The beach is stunning, and there’s no shortage of kitschy motels to stay at—but the star is the boardwalk. It’s got amusement piers with over 100 rides, bars, restaurants, shops and arcades—including Tributes and Traditions, a retro arcade which is home to the last Fascination game in Jersey.

The Boardwalk Wildwood, NJ - 2012Jim Cagney, Flickr

International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

New Mexico is already a natural stunner—but every October, when hot air balloons fill the sky for the International Balloon Fiesta, it creates the most unforgettable sight.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta - 2015Forsaken Fotos, Flickr

New Year’s Eve In Times Square, New York

Are there more underrated things to do in New York City or state, off the beaten path? Absolutely. But spending New Year’s Eve in NYC is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As in, you may ever only want to do it once in a lifetime—but you’ll also get swept up in the big-city party atmosphere and enjoy every minute.

2014 NYE in Times Square.gigi_nyc, Flickr

Biltmore Estate, North Carolina

The Biltmore Estate is the largest private home in the country—with four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, and 75 acres of gardens. It’s real stunner—and proof that sometimes, bigger is better.

Biltmore House, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NCWarren LeMay, Flickr

Mandan Rodeo Days, North Dakota

What’s more American than going to the rodeo? Well, Mandan Rodeo Days not only takes place on Fourth of July weekend, it’s also the oldest rodeo in the US.

Mandan Rodeo Days - 1995T, Flickr

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

An underrated national park and home to over 100 waterfalls in the northern part of the park, Cuyahoga National Park is an Ohio gem, and a great destination for hikers and cyclists.

Cuyahoga Valley National ParkNiagara66, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Route 66, Oklahoma

Oklahoma contains 400 miles of the utterly iconic Route 66, and contains many landmarks that make the highway so emblematic, including kitsch motels, retro diners, and jaw-dropping roadside attractions. Additionally, it’s home to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton.

Route 66, Clinton OklahomaWallace Parry, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Powell’s City Of Books, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is home to a lot of great attractions, from restaurants to stores to music venues. It’s also home to the US’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s City of Books. The store takes up and entire city block and is home to approximately one million books.

Powell's Books in on Burnside in Portland - 2010Lindsay, Flickr

Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

Though most architecture buffs would automatically recommend Chicago, there’s a lot to love in Pennsylvania—including one of the most emblematic homes built by America’s (arguably) best architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Fallingwater is just a quick drive from Pennsylvania—and if you wanted to double down, you could book a night at the Duncan House, one of the only Wright homes where you can stay overnight.

Fallingwater is a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935Mathieu Thouvenin, Flickr

The White Horse Tavern, Rhode Island

America’s oldest bar is in Newport, Rhode Island. The White Horse Tavern was built in 1852, and it’s seen a whole lot of history—from Founding Fathers to Hessian mercenaries to British soldiers. Plan your visit around the Newport Folk Festival for an added bonus—and don’t forget to try the chowder.

The main dining room at the White Horse Tavern - 2014Matthew and Heather, Flickr

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

For a breathtaking natural wonder, visit Congaree National Park in South Carolina and check out the world’s tallest forest canopy/the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest.

Congaree National Park - 2015Blake Lewis, Flickr

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

The most American of landmarks, the sculptures depicting four presidents’ faces in Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, is an unforgettable experience for any history buff—and the sculpture has a history that’s more wildly interesting than many know.

Western Village, Nikkojbdodane, Flickr

Music City, Tennessee

Tennessee has so much for visitors to offer—but there’s a reason that thousands of tourists flock to Nashville, Tennessee every weekend. RCA’s Studio B, where artists like Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and the Everly Brothers recorded, is a must-visit for any music fan.

RCA Studio B with Historic Marker - 2015Brent Moore, Flickr

Texas Renaissance Festival, Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas—like Big Bend National Park, or their state fair, which lasts 24 days. However, Texas is also home to the largest Renaissance fair in the US, the Texas Renaissance Festival. It takes place in Todd Mission, about 50 miles from Houston, and 2024 marks their 50th year.

Texas Renaissance Festival Costume - 2008AMWRanes, Flickr

Utah

Utah is for adventurers, and there’s no shortage of breathtaking spots to hike. Perhaps one of the most unique is the Narrows within Zion National Park, where the canyon narrows and the walls of it feel like two skyscrapers reaching up to the sky. Hiking the Narrows involves wading through a river which can be ankle- or waist-deep depending on when you’re there.

The Narrows, Zion National ParkNing Tranquiligold Jin, Flickr

Leaf-Peeping, Vermont

There’s nothing quite like autumn in Vermont, and travelers can take advantage by driving through the state and checking out the vibrant, eye-catching colors of the fall leaves in towns like Waterbury, Stowe, and Burlington—all of which also have vibrant food and drink scenes.

Leaf-peeping in Vermont - 2008Doug Cadmus, Flickr

Monticello, Virginia

There’s no better place to grapple with the US’s difficult past than Monticello—a beautiful house and home to the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, but also a plantation where over 600 people were enslaved during Jefferson’s lifetime.

Summer view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home.Rob Shenk, Flickr

Christmas In Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth is a small town near the Cascade Mountains, with architecture inspired by German villages—making is absolutely picturesque and charming at Christmas time. They had a wild Oktoberfest celebration annually, and a Christmas Lighting Festival. Then, throughout December, the town is filled with Christmas-themed attractions and photo ops.

Christmas 2010 LeavenworthTracy Vierra, Flickr

Bridge Day, West Virginia

West Virginia is for thrill-seekers. It has some of the best white-water rafting in the country—as well as the annual “Bridge Day,” where BASE jumpers take a dive off the 876-foot-tall New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County, which is shut from traffic for the day.

Bridge Day 2013, Fayetteville, WVJeremy Markovich, Flickr

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

If you visit Apostle Islands in Wisconsin, you might be tempted to make another visit six months later. Why? Well, these caves are accessible by kayak in summer, and by walking on ice in winter—making for two very different yet equally breathtaking experiences.

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin - 2018NatalieMaynor, Flickr

Yellowstone In Winter, Wyoming

Yes, Yellowstone was the first—and one of the busiest—national parks in the US. But the majority of those guests are there in spring, summer, and fall, leaving it nearly deserted in winter—when it can only be accessed by snowmobile. Book a group snowmobile tour, and have the unique experience of seeing Old Faithful without the crowds.

Yellowstone Morning In Winter - 2010Howard Ignatius, Flickr


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