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20 amazing American landmarks you have to see before you die

In recent years I have focused exclusively on other continents. Peru, Japan, and Africa are all beautiful, but it really made me realize just how little I have seen of the US. When I was a little kid we traveled around North America a lot, but we were mainly visiting relatives and not so much seeing the amazing landmarks in the United States. As my 40th birthday is quickly approaching, I really felt of setting me some goals and decided to compile my personal all American bucket list.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon
Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach, Oregon | Pic: Mike McCune

Because of the sheer size of this list, I (sadly) won’t be able to see it all in one big road trip – except I win the lottery, that is. And what makes things worse: By dad gave me two books that instilled by wanderlust even further (in fact to the point where it gets unbearable. Which was probably his intention *lol*). If you can stand the utter beauty, I do recommend you to get  National Geographic Secrets of the National Parks: Beyond the Tourist Trail

The other book he gave me (and  I can recommend it from heart) is Dayton Duncans illustrated book The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. About half the sights on this list actually came from that gem. Please note, however, that these are just my personal highlights in the USA. Still, I felt like sharing them for your convenience. After all, I might not be the only person around who needs to fill some blank spots on the map, eh? 😉

Note: I get commissions for purchases made through the links above. 
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Looking for a more global approach? Here are 20 amazing places to add to your bucket list you (probably) never heard about!

1. Arches National Park

The delicate arch in Arches National Park, Utha, USA
Delicate Arch | Pic: Robbie Shade
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, at night
Delicate Arch at night | Pic: fouseyboy

Ever since I saw the first picture of Delicate Arch, I knew I had to see this wonder of mother nature. Obviously, I would love to spend a bit more time in the whole area, as the Arches Scenic Drive (43 miles long) is what really makes this bucket list worthy. I really have to stress that there is more than just one arch, beautiful as it may be.

2. Na Pali Coast State Park, Hawaii

Na Pali Coast Kauai Hawaii
Na Pali Coast Kauai Hawaii | Pic: Matt Wunderle

It’s hard to describe with words just how beautiful the Nā Pali Coast State Park is. A helicopter ride over the jaw-dropping coastal formations is very high on my American bucket list. Oh, and I won’t say no to a relaxing little Hawaii staycation either! They do have some beautiful beaches (3 of them actually made it my list of the 20 best beaches in the US).

3. Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope canyon, Arzona bucket list
Upper Antelope Canyon | Pic: Anthony Quintano
Rock formation inside Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Lower Antelope Canyon | Pic: Anthony Quintano

Who will ever be able to escape the captivating light show of the Upper Antelope Canyon? I certainly can’t. Ever since I saw the first picture (I think it was some Britney Spears video, lol!) I knew I had to visit. It might be a bit crowded, but hey – I’ll not complain when seeing the sheer pink awesomeness!

4. Yellow Stone National Park

View from the adjacent Grand Tetons National Park | Pic: Lee Coursey
The morning glory pool inside Yellowstone National Park, USA
The Morning Glory Pool | Pic: Niemand und nichts

I dunno about you, but I grew up watching Yogi Bear. Yet, I never actually made it to Yellowstone Park and the adjacent Grand Tetons National Park. Now I don’t want to track bears, but rather see the multicolored hot springs, the geysirs and above all, the beautiful landscape and wildlife.

5. Giant Forest & Sequoia National Park

The Giant forest inside the Sequoia National Park
In the land of the giant Sequoias | Pic: Justin Vidamo

I grew up high in the German alps – a region famous for pines barely reaching to your hip. When we saw whole cars passing through trees tunnels in great documentaries of our youth, it truly felt surreal. Trees just didn’t get this big. I feel like I really have to get to Sequoia National Park one day and settle my “doubts” once and for all!

6. Horseshoe Bend

Horsehoe bend at sunset in Arziona
Horseshoe Bend | Pic: Steve Harbula

Arizona is probably the place in the USA I want to visit the most. The monumental landscape is just beyond fantastic. Horseshoe Bend has always been on my bucket list, simply because it almost seems man-made. Like someone decided to condense nature’s very best in one spot. I might just go on an extended Arizona & Utah road trip like these guys.

7. Niagara Falls

the niagara falls - one of the many items on my all american bucket list
The Niagara Falls | Pic: Tony Hisgett

To be quite truthful with you, I have been to Niagra already. But I was such a little kid, and I barely remember. I just remember wearing a yellow cape, getting wet and uh..yes, that’s about it. So I really want to return and see this mighty cataract again!

8. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco, California
Golden Gate Bridge | Pic: Jeffry

I am quite ashamed to say that I have never ever been to the West Coast. So, the Golden Gate Bridge just serves as a placeholder for everything to discover between San Franciso, Los Angeles and beyond. Still, seeing the fog rise above the Golden Gate Bridge has been a long-standing wish of mine!

9. Kayaking between icebergs in Alaska

Kayaking in Alaska, USA
Kayaking in Alaska | Pic: Paxson Woelber

You probably saw it before. This lone canoe making its way through the thick icebergs of the Alaskan waters. I want to experience this. I’ve already been to the north pole, but this just feels different. I also want to go gold panning, obviously. Just like Scrooge McDuck (my childhood’s hero!).

10. Las Vegas

The Strip in Las Vegas
Las Vegas at night | Pic: Graeme Maclean

Believe it or not, I have never ever been to Las Vegas. I guess I was never really a gambling kind of guy, nor really one who likes big shows and magicians. Still, I really wanna walk down the strip once and look with jaw wide open at all the dazzling lights. Here is a wonderful guide to Las Vegas by my blogger colleague Luke Marlin, I’m sure you’ll enjoy as much as I did!

11. Thor’s Well, Oregon

Thor's Well in Oregon at the coast
Thor’s Well in Oregon | Pic: John Fowler

Oregon and its rugged natural beauty had me captivated ever since the early nineties. When I learned of the tidal pool called “Thor’s Well” I knew this state had to be on my bucket list. For me, watching the unrelenting play of the tides is almost something magical!

12. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Whites City, New Mexico
Carlsberg Caverns | Pic: Daveynin

I have always had a fascination with caves. I’ve seen lava tubes on the Galapagos Islands, Ice caves on Spitsbergen, tidal karst caves in Thailand, and the list goes on. But I haven’t been to any caves in the US, so Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico seems a safe bet on having an amazing experience!

Or well. I think we actually went to some cavern with my aunt at age 16ish? But I just remember the car museum and that place that supposedly sold the best fudge in the U.S. (but was so unbearably sweet I had to spit it out).

13. Watkins Glen State Park

Rainbow Falls Bridge in Watkins Glen State Park
Rainbow Falls Bridge | Pic: Peter Rivera

Straight out of a fairytale – there are no other words to describe Watkins Glen State Park. If there is one reason to visit Upstate New York, then this is. I have actually been there when I was 8 or 9, but really can’t remember a thing!

I wish there were some more books on this park, but as of now, I could only find A Walk Through Watkins Glen: Water’s Sculpture in Stone. Ah, well…maybe I should fill that gap with my photography? 🙂

14. Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise
Bryce Canyon at Sunrise | Pic: Al King

Bryce Canyon is one of these places that will haunt you for a lifetime. To me, it always looked a bit like some deserted soldier manufactory left behind by aliens – so precise are the single rock needles cut from the terrain. What about you?

15. Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon North-East from Hopi Point at Sunset
Grand Canyon North-East from Hopi Point at Sunset | Pic: Paul Fundenburg

Another canyon I have to add to my American bucket list the Grand Canyon. Could possibly do it as a day trip from Las Vegas, but would probably like to hike a bit around the deep gorges (just maybe not in the hottest season).

16. Hamilton Pool Preserve, Texas

The Hamilton Pool Reserve in Texas
The Hamilton Pool Reserve | Pic: Shrie Bradford Spangler

Ever heard of the Hamilton Pool Reserve in Texas? Me neither! But when I first saw a picture of the place, I knew I had to put in on my all American bucket list. It looks almost like a Mexican cenote! Just wow!

17. The Wave, Arizona

The Wave in Coyote Buttes North, Arizona
The Wave in Coyote Buttes North | Pic: BLM

When we are talking about surreal is probably doesn’t get any better than The Wave in Arizona. I don’t want to get there, to shoot the same picture a million other tourists already took home. I want to wander among the rocks and marvel at the beauty of nature!

18. Mesa Verde National Park

The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park, USA
The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park | Pic: Christian Keller

I don’t try to hide it. I was a very weird kid. While others were playing with cars and soldier toys, I was reading books. The indigenous people of the Americas were of particular interest to me. At one point in my life, I actually studied Yucatec and Cherokee. There are few permanent remains of the long, pre-European settlement tradition of the North American Continent. So, the Mesa Verde National Park is a must-see attraction for me!

19. The Badlands

Badlands at Desert View, Grand Canyon National Park
Badlands National Park | Pic: tsaiproject

Why the hell do I want to see Badland National Par in South Dakota? I already mentioned that Scrooge McDuck was my childhood hero. And there is an episode in his life & times of Scrooge McDuck where he is fighting bandits in the Badlands. And well, I just want to see it myself. And truth be told, the landscape is amazing anyhow.

20. Washington DC

The great Hall of the National Building Museum Washington DC
National Building Museum | Pic: Phil Roeder

I’ve been to Washington DC twice. But I feel it was never enough to see it all. I am a huuuuge fan of museums. I feel like coming back to highlights like the National Geographic Museum or the Air and Space Museum is never a waste of time – not only because of possible special exhibitions. You always learn something new and see things you missed on previous visits. So, I really want to return.

Over to you! What is on your American bucket list? Share your ideas with me! And pin this article if you liked it!

The great american bucket list. 20 amazing places in the USA you have to visit before you die. Click for more.

Picture credits: Robbie ShadeAnthony Quintanoniemand und nichtsJustin VidamoGraeme MacleanMatt WunderleTony HisgettJeffryPaxson WoelberSteve HarbulaJohn FowlerdaveyninPhil RoedertsaiprojectChristian KellerBureau of Land ManagementAl KingPaul Fundenburg

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20 COMMENTS

    • I’ve always wanted to see it as well. I’m just glad it’s only half way across the state from me. The Hudson Valley is also very beautiful as well. Along with the Adirondacks. All in NY

      • Not just Watkins there are so many beautiful glens in the finger lakes area. If you can spent some time there it is the land of amazing waterfalls. Many just outside of Ithaca. My new favorite is Letchworth state park. Which isn’t far from Niagra Falls, but Taghaunock near Ithaca is higher just not as wide. Enjoy it all when you get there

  1. These are all great destinations. I’ve been to most of them, and they’re all worth repeat trips. I’ve never been to Texas or Washington DC in case you were wondering. You should put Mt. Rushmore on your list, seeing as how you’ll be in the Badlands and you’ll be close. Also the coastal highway 101 between Monterey and San Simeon for some awesome scenery, though they seem to be having mudslide problems around Big Sur, so put that trip off for a couple of years until the highway reopens. Road trips are my thing so if you ever win that lottery give me a shout and I’ll be happy to tag along – on your nickel of course!

    • Hm..it’s weird. Mt. Rushmore was never something I wanted to see in person *lol* As for the rest, well, to be quite honest, it’s hard to narrow it down to one big list. The United States are just so incredibly big and there are sooo many highlights. At one point I would love to walk parts of the Appalachian Trail, and as I am fascinated by Native American culture, I’d want to visit Oklahoma and other places where a majority still speaks the language etc. But you only have so much time in one life and the world i big, eh? 😉

      • I have always wanted to see the planes. And I totally agree with you, Mt.Rushmore does Sean very boring. Heck Washington DC seamed boring to me as well. Then I turned 30 and I think of all the sacrifices the military has made for us and I think Washington DC seams really interesting.

  2. Wow – just wow. I have a board on pinterest called American Roadtrip, but seriously – where do you start? The west I think? Colorado and Nevada have been on my bucket list for ages but I think I’d need 3 months to do them properly (I know what I’m doing when the kids leave home in 15 years!) I am totally droolingover this post!

  3. Amazing places, I’ve been to a few of them. I definitely think there is another place you should add; Acadia National Park in Maine. It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. It’s tough to narrow down a list because we have so many beautiful landscapes in the U.S. but Acadia deserves to be on it ♡

    • Hey Crystal,

      yes, Acadia is beyond beautiful! It truly deserves to be on the list, but as I have already been there, it didn’t make it on my list! 🙂

  4. Shoshone Falls in Idaho would replace Niagara in my mind! It’s not a National Park, and it doesn’t have any fancy titles besides one, “The Niagara of the West”! Spring would be the best time to see it. It’s taller than Niagara, and lesser known, so there’s less tourists!!

  5. Have you been to Zion National Park in Utah? I’m doing the whole National Park thing and so far it is by far my favorite. If I could have any job in the world it would be Park Ranger in Zion – hiking the Narrows is an experience my husband & I talk about all the time years later – Angel Falls there is also incredible! I am definitely going back one day. I’ve been to the Hamilton Pool in Texas as well and it is awesome – definitely worth a trip and we also explored Austin and stayed on Lake Travis when we went to the HP – you can rent a boat and see Lake Travis even better – lots of fun. Recently we went to Alaska and stopped in Seattle on the way back to see Olympic National Park (and collect our quarter of course!) – and I have to say Ruby Beach blew me away — we had limited time but I’d love to make a return trip there to see the Hoh Rainforest and the other Pacific beaches – it was stunning!!! Love this list! Thanks for the great ideas and insight – I am currently updating my bucket list! Thor’s well was on mine too! Happy Travels!

  6. Hi! If you have time please do visit the Smithsonian Museum in DC; Boston Museum of Fine Art has incredible collection; Chicago Art Institute is a must see for Art Lover as well as Getty Museum in LA. LA has a great Art scene plus awesome Modern Art museums. NYC is an Art treasure. People miss a lot of times the Frick Collection Museum and also the Neue Gallery in NYC. ( which has one of Gustav Klimt’s masterpieces from his Golden Age). You can’t make a wrong turn in California, it is that beautiful. Death Valley is a gorgeous place and so is the Mono Lake. The Redwood NP is amazing especially when it gets covered in fog ( close proximity to the coastline) and it feels like you are lost in a fairy tale. The Antelope Valley near LA is stunning when the orange poppies bloom and as other people brought it up, the HWY 1 coastline ( and beyond) is spectacular. Also if you do make it to Yellowstone NP and have time, since you’ll be right there, start going North to the Glaciers NP in Montana and from there it will be close to gorgeous Jasper in Canada. Olympic NP is a hidden gem and SF is a foodie scene, lots of great restaurants and culture.

    • Hey Irina,
      wow thank you for taking your time and penning down so many great other destinations. Seems like i have to compile a second list! *smirk*

  7. Just a stunning list…..may I ask for those who are not in the know, can you tell me where Watkins Glen State Park…..they all look worth a visit and we would love to know where they are…thanks for sharing.

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