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.
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? ;-)
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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, Utah
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
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, Arizona
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, Wyoming
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, California
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, Arizona
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, New York
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
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
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, Nevada
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
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
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, New York
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, Utah
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, Arizona
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
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
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, Colorado
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, South Dakota
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
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!
Picture credits: Robbie Shade, Anthony Quintano, niemand und nichts, Justin Vidamo, Graeme Maclean, Matt Wunderle, Tony Hisgett, Jeffry, Paxson Woelber, Steve Harbula, John Fowler, daveynin, Phil Roeder, tsaiproject, Christian Keller, Bureau of Land Management, Al King, Paul Fundenburg
Oh wow Watkins Glen looks like some fairy territory!
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
beautiful suggestions. My aunt used to live in Ithaca and I got lots of fond memories from that place :)
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.
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!
I know the feeling. It’s feels like I will need half a lifetime to see it all – but that won’t keep me from trying! :)
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 ♡
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! :)
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!!
Thank you for this suggestion! Shoeshone Falls look certainly fantastic!
I totally agree IF you visit at the right time of year. Best in the spring – I’ve been in the fall and it’s not as impressive!
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!
Sadly I have not been to Zion National Park..but looking at the pictures and listening to your description so makes me wanna go!
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.
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*
A great list to start with! I am sure I would want to add more ?
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.
well in the age of google, I am always assuming people know where to look. It’s in Upstate New York
Im from Europe, but i really wanna go to the States again. Ive been there once but i want to see one of the Big national parks! Thats my biggest Dream. I had learned myself where all the States are placed and i just love that country!:)
This was a nice list but it would have been great if you would have listed what state each one was in. Someone mentioned Google, true, however a better written article wouldn’t require your readers to do so.
I really love your list. Could you add the state within the titles. Some have the state attached and others do not- it would help with planning.
will do so later today. Great suggestion :)
You need a bigger bucket! National Parks aside, there are “places” not contained by park boundaries – Sandhills in Nebraska, the lake shore of the Great Lakes, Ozarks in Missouri & Arkansas, the high plains crossing an area west of the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Getting off the fastest route to a destination & onto the “out in the middle of nowhere” route leads to many surprises in small places!
you are absolutely right. It’s sometimes not wise to limit yourself to places. But as my family actually is living on the lakeshore of the Great Lakes, _I_ did not include it on my bucket list. Same applies to a couple of other places! :)
Either way, I’m sure others will find your addition as helpful as I did.
Amazing posts. I am glad that my husband and I have planned a honeymoon trip to America. Thanks for sharing this post as it is very helpful to us so that we can explore all these beautiful places and make our trip memorable. Keep sharing such articles.
About four from your list we haven’t hit yet. All the NW volcanos (Mt Rainer, Mt St. Helens, Mt Hood, etc…) would be good to add also.
Please add Crater Lake to your list like a lot of places you gotta want to go there,it’s a little off the beaten path but boy is it worth it. The blue of the lake has to be seen to be believed
If you are going to Grand Canyon and Bryce, you should definitely keep going down the highway to Zion, and from there it’s a short drive to Las Vegas.
I didn’t find those rainbow colors in the Badlands. I wonder if it takes a recent rain to bring them out. The Rainbow Hills in central Oregon are quite vivid after a rain. And those are relatively near Crater Lake, OR which is well worth seeing. But be aware that “near” in the western US is definitely a relative term; check your driving times so that you don’t spend all of your trip on the road!
For kayaking among icebergs in Alaska, tours starting in Valdez, AK are accessible to all skill levels. We’ve been a couple times to a lodge-based tour but day trips (fully equipped) are also available. If you go during the pink salmon run usually late July or early August you’ll see bears and eagles in abundance close to the town itself.
thank you for your wonderful feedback. I sure am going to keep that in mind and i bet a lot of other readers will find it helpful as well!
Wow, such amazing places to visit. Thanks for sharing such a nice list.
I’m glad to see my hometown of DC on this list! We do have fantastic museums and growing up here really set my bar high, and we’ve had a lot of new ones in the past few years. We also have some lesser-known house museums you might enjoy such as Dumbarton Oaks, Tudor Place and Hillwood Estate, which I think you’d enjoy.
I also think you’d enjoy Newport, RI, which is a very undiscovered destination. It’s a beach town but it’s also where America’s wealthiest families escaped during the summers, and you can tour 10+ gilded age mansions there. I wrote about two of the houses on my blog but I’m hoping to go back as soon as all this virus stuff is over. You as a future architecture lover would probably appreciate the detail and grandeur of the mansions! They’re beautiful.
You need to add Mackinaw Island in Michigan. It is a very unusual place and does not allow cars.