The USA has some of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes in the world, to the point that it can be difficult to choose what to go and see! Here are some of the best USA outdoor bucket list ideas, from the ones famous the world over, to some slightly less well known, but no less beautiful options.
Love the outdoors? Check out the best US national parks to visit in the winter!
Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places to visit on the West Coast. Located between Carmel-by-the-Sea and San Simeon on California’s Central Coast, Big Sur is a delight for outdoor lovers. This wild stretch of coast has many state parks, soft sand beaches, hiking trails, and tall redwood trees. Some of the must-visit stops in Big Sur include McWay Falls, Lime Kiln State Park, Point Sur Lighthouse, and Big Sur Village. Stop by the photogenic Bixby Creek Bridge and see the elephant seals in San Simeon. To avoid crowds along the Pacific Coast Highway, reach the most popular attractions earlier in the day or late at sunset.
By Dotted Globe
Lake Tahoe earns its spot as the one of the most beautiful outdoor destinations in the US due to its crystal clear blue waters nestled in the basin of the stunning Sierra Nevada Mountains. Spanning the California and Nevada state border, this alpine paradise gives easy access to plenty of gorgeous landscapes. Great for swimming and camping in the summer, snow play in the winter, and hiking in all seasons, Lake Tahoe offers year-round beauty and adventure to explore.
Great spots for swimming include Meeks Bay, Camp Richardson, Sand Harbor and Crystal Bay. Emerald Bay offers a beautiful lookout of the whole lake, with an optional hike down to the Vikingsholm Mansion. Hikers will also love the Eagle Lake Trail and Fallen Leaf Lake Hike.
Summer weekends in Lake Tahoe typically draw larger crowds, so for a quieter experience, consider visiting during the off season when the waterfalls are gushing in spring or the leaves are turning in the autumn. Arriving at popular spots early in the morning on weekdays in the summer are also good options for minimizing crowds.
By Free To Travel Mama
Zion National Park
Located a short two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas in Southwestern Utah, Zion National Park may just be the United States’ most dazzling landscape, with mesmerizing red Navajo sandstone cliffs and canyons against the brilliantly-colored desert sky. As the convergence of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and Mojave Desert, Zion is a playground of unique geological wonders, from hoodoos to natural arches and vast mesas. It should be no surprise then that Zion is bursting at the seams with bucketlist-worthy adventures.
No trip to Zion is complete without a climb up to Angel’s Landing, where brave hikers cling to chains on the last half mile of this 5.4 mile hike on a narrow spine that juts out of the canyon, with sheer drops of 1200+ feet on either side. Another iconic hike is the Narrows, a 16-mile trek through the Virginia River as it snakes through the soaring red rock slot canyon. No matter which hike you choose to enjoy at this natural playground, it’s guaranteed to take your breath away (both literally and figuratively).
Zion National Park is one of my favorites and features on my list of best US winter hikes!
When traveling around the Oregon Coast, one of the must-see spots is Bandon, a city on the southern part of the coastline. To get the full wow factor of this special part of Oregon, you can’t miss going to Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint. Located off of Beach Loop Road to the southwest of Bandon’s downtown area, this incredible spot has parking right by it and a trail leading around the perimeter of the cliff.
As you walk along the cliff trail you’ll see informational signs talking about the views in front of you, including the famous Face Rock, which — you guessed it — looks like a face. From the scenic viewpoint trail, there is another path leading down to the beach. This is well worth your time, especially when the tide is out, to walk around the massive rock structures and look for starfish and sea urchins hiding among them. You’ll also find the beach much less crowded than the viewpoint trail.
By Evergreen and Salt
Havasupai in Arizona has become a go-to bucket list destination for outdoor adventure lovers. This turquoise waterfall paradise is nestled on the Havasupau Reservation next to the Grand Canyon.
It’s a 10 mile one way hike down to the first waterfall. Having permits and backpacking to Havasupai is required.
There are a series of different falls there. The first one is Havasu Falls, then Mooney Falls, then Beaver Falls, and if you’re feeling very adventurous, you can hike to the Confluence, where the turquoise water from Havasu Creek meets the brown water from the Colorado River.
For more information on Havasupai, all about how to get permits, what to bring, and more, read through this blog post.
By Campsite Vibes
North Cascades National Park
A visit to North Cascades National Park should definitely be on your USA outdoor bucket list. It’s one of the least visited national parks in the USA, but that might have something to do with the fact that it’s covered in snow for half the year. Averaging more than 600 inches of snow annually in parts of the park, it’s one of the snowiest places in the world. It’s also the most heavily glaciated area in the continental US with more than 300 glaciers. When it’s not covered in snow, it’s a wonderful place to explore without crowds of people.
North Cascades National Park is located about 2 hours from Seattle in Washington State. However, we’d encourage you to take the slightly longer and more scenic route along the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway. The Cascade Loop is a 440-mile circular drive that takes you straight through the heart of the park, in addition to other charming towns in northwest Washington, like Leavenworth and Winthrop. Within the national park are the majestic North Cascade mountains and the stunning Diablo Lake. Boat rides, hikes, and scenic drives await you in the North Cascades!
For more information about North Cascades National Park, check out Forget Someday’s post on the entire Cascade Loop Scenic Drive.
By Forget Someday
Apostle Islands, WI
The Apostle Islands National Lake Seashore in Northern Wisconsin is one of the prettiest places in the Dairy State. The 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland host a unique blend of cultural and natural resources. It’s home to the country’s largest and finest single collection of lighthouses which make all a perfect photo motive. This collection includes 8 historic towers located on 6 islands and one is in Chequamegon Bay. Several of these lighthouses have been restored and are open to the public.
The park is a haven for sailors, kayakers, cave dwellers, naturalists, fishermen and sightseers from all over the world. One of the best things to do here is to rent a kayak and discover all the beautiful caves from the seaside. The rock formations are truly intriguing. Another idea is hiking on the trail above the caves which is spectacular in any season. Apostle Islands is also perfect for a cabins getaway since it’s home to some of the most romantic cabins in Wisconsin.
By Paulina On The Road
Grand Canyon is not only one of the best natural wonders in the world, but also one of the many unique destinations in the USA to experience the great outdoors. The park offers unique hiking trails for the outdoor and adventure lovers.
Our favorite hiking trails remain the Bright Angel Trail and Havasupai Falls Trail.
Apart from hiking, the park also offers outdoor activities like rafting in the Colorado River, skydiving into the canyon, and biking. The winter months bring the opportunity to experience snowshoeing and skiing at the North Rim.
The Grand Canyon is all about breathtaking views. So, you must know where to get those awe-inspiring views. The Bright Angel Point on the North Rim, Desert View, and Yavapai Point on the South Rim offer Grand Canyon’s sweeping views.
Grand Canyon is world-famous and thus, busy during the peak season (June to August.) If you want to avoid crowds, plan to visit in spring, fall, or winter. If you insist on visiting the park during summer, you can opt to visit the North Rim over the South Rim as it sees fewer crowds because of accessibility. Another beautiful way to avoid crowds whatever the season may be is to get up super early and catch the sunrise over majestic Grand Canyon.
By Travel Melodies
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park, encompassing nearly a million acres, is considered one of the most biodiverse of all the national parks in the US. From its spectacular coastline to old-growth temperate rainforests, crashing waterfalls, glacier-capped mountains and an abundance of wildlife, Olympic Park has it all. With such a vast amount of wilderness to discover, Olympic Park should be firmly on your United States outdoor bucket list.
Olympic National Park is a photographer’s dream with a stunning variety of dramatic landscapes. While it is home to over 70 miles of wild coastline, one of the best Olympic Park photography locations is Second Beach and is a stunning place to watch sunset.
As much of the park is roadless, one of the best ways to discover its treasure is on foot. This is also a great way to avoid the crowds! There are a huge number of hikes throughout the park making it popular with backpackers. One of the most impressive hikes is the 17.4 mile Hoh River Trail taking you through a lush, rainforest to the base of Mount Olympus.
By We Dream of Travel
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a perfect place for outdoor and adventure lovers. There are more than 900 miles of hiking trails leading through incredible landscapes. The whole park sits on top of a giant supervolcano and you can find there over 60 % of all the world’s geysers and about 10,000 other geothermal features! You will be amazed to see all these colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and steam coming out of the earth. Yellowstone definitely belongs among the most fascinating places in the USA.
There are many beautiful places like the Grand Prismatic – 3rd largest hot spring in the world, the monumental Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, or the Old Faithful geyser, which erupts about every 90 minutes. Check also the full list of the things to see in Yellowstone National Park.
The best tip to avoid crowds is simply heading off to the backcountry. The main attractions are usually crowded but if you decide to hike some of the Yellowstone trails you won’t meet nearly any people. Just remember – you are in bear country so always follow bear-safety rules!
By Czech The World
Everglades National Park, Florida
Located about 1 hour away from Miami, the Everglades National Park is a must-do for any nature and wildlife lover! Even though it’s considered one of the most beautiful ecosystems in the world, only a few people actually go and explore it.
The most popular activity is to go on an airboat ride in the mangroves however, there is so much more to do! If you like walking, you can go on the Anhinga Trail, Pa-hay-okee Trail or Gumbo Limbo Trail.These trails will take you through nature and are ideal if you want to see alligators, birds and if you are lucky, bobcats.
If you are looking to discover more about the Everglades, you can go on a walk with the park rangers. These ranger-led programs are available all year round. You can book them at one of the visitor centres or online. Only a few spots are available. It’s the perfect activity to learn more about the National Park and stay away from the crowds.
Finally, the Everglades are also an amazing road trip destination! Most people take Alligator Alley to go from Miami to Tampa or St Petersburg but the real deal is US Route 41. You will get to enjoy the most beautiful and unspoilt landscapes from your car, so much better and authentic than the other roads!
By Beeloved City
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California and was the US’s third national park. It is famous for the most incredible vista as you emerge from the Tunnel to the Park, AKA Tunnel View, the glorious granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome and the incredible Bridalveil Waterfall.
Nearly 75% of visitors come to Yosemite in the months of May through October, yet the park is open all year round, so come out of season to avoid crowds. The park covers 1,189 square miles and includes thousands of acres of woodland, lakes and ponds, there is plenty of space here for everyone. There are more 240 mapped trails in Yosemite National Park from the flat circular trails around Yosemite village, to the half-mile walk to Bridalveil Falls to the extremely strenuous 14 mile round trip to Half Dome, which includes 4,800 feet of elevation gain.
Activities in Yosemite include rock climbing, cycling trails, rafting and guided nature walks, our favourite has to be heading out on the trail by ourselves, there’s certainly enough here to go around!
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a smaller national park packed with stunning views and unique trails. Watch one of the most popular (and earliest!) sunrises on the eastern coast atop Cadillac Mountain, snacking on wild blueberries as you hike around on the rocky trails nearby. Walk along Sand Beach to spot shells and sand dollars after you walk the famous Ocean Path trail, with breathtaking views of the coastline.
If you tire of craggy rocks and lush forests, you can also explore tidepools in the area, spotting wild sea-stars and crabs. A unique feature of this beautiful park is how many of the hikes and attractions are connected by a set of car-free carriage roads perfect for bicycling! Get up and in the park before 8 AM to avoid the crowds or utilize the easy, in-park shuttle to bypass traffic and parking. Before you go, read more tips about how to plan for Acadia here.
By Explore More Clean Less
Sawtooth Mountains, Idaho
Ever since a former coworker of mine mentioned the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho to me, these peaks were at the top of my bucket list, and after backpacking the Alice Toxaway Loop in the Sawtooth Mountains, I can say that visiting this area should definitely be on your USA outdoor bucket list too!
The Sawtooth Mountains absolutely took my breath away the first time my partner and I road tripped there. They are filled to the brim with adventurous escapes from hiking, backpacking and camping to fishing and river rafting. In fact, the white-water rafting on the Salmon River is home to some of the best rafting in the US.
The hike to Alice Lake was my favorite part of our visit to the Sawtooth Mountains. Hiking up to this beautiful lake rewards you with gorgeous views of the lake and surrounding mountains, often referred to as the “Dragon’s Back,” which includes Idaho’s El Capitan.
You can easily do the 12-mile trail to Alice Lake as a long day hike. But to escape the crowds, I recommend doing the whole 19-mile Alice Toxaway Loop as a 2-3 day backpacking trip and camping out closer to Twin Lakes for a little solitude. It’s likely to be one of your favorite memories in Idaho.
After the hike, treat yourself to some hearty food and a dip in the local hot springs in the town of Stanley. It’s a slice of paradise to spend time there, a hidden gem of the Pacific Northwest.
By She Dreams of Alpine
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
This is one of the most beautiful areas in the state and it’s extremely accessible. Just a mere 30 minutes drive outside of Portland, you’ll have over eighty miles of scenic road along the Columbia River. On both the Washington and the Oregon side there are heaps of adventure activities to keep you busy.
Try your hand at windsurfing, visit the Bonneville Dam, take in the views at Vista House, and see the iconic horseshoe road view at Rowena Crest. There are also quite a few hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, many leading to spectacular waterfalls!
Multnomah Falls is the state’s most famous waterfall and you won’t escape any crowds here. However, if you continue up the trail and do the Wahkeena falls loop, you’ll get even more waterfalls but the crowd thins out.
Dry Creek Falls is one of my favorite waterfall hikes to do since it’s often one of the least visited.
The best time to visit the area is during the week when everyone is at work, and even better, earlier in the morning. This will give you the best chance to escape some of the crowds but due to its close proximity to Portland, it’s still a pretty hot place to go no matter when.
By Oregon is for Adventure
The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway is widely known as one of America’s most scenic drives. While driving the section in North Carolina south towards Cherokee you’re transported back to a time where farmland covered most of the state. The rolling hills dotted with cows slowly transform into the worn-down peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains where you’re met with some of the most beautiful mountain vistas you’ll ever see.
The Parkway offers so much more than just beautiful views from behind a windshield. There are many overlooks to stop and stretch your legs and even wonderful day hikes along the Parkway. It is most crowded during the fall when the leaves are changing colors, but it has unique views to offer in every season. Check their website for closures in winter.
If you’re looking to get away from the crowds check out the Doughton Park Recreation Area (Milepost 238.5 – 241) which has a large network of trails. A few other great hikes that are less crowded: Crabtree Falls (MP 339.5), Julian Price Memorial Park (MP 296.7), or Devil’s Courthouse (MP 422.4).
By Stuck on the Go
The North Shore of Oahu
If you’re looking for one of the most fun outdoor experiences for your bucket list, check out a visit to the North Shore of Oahu. You can do this as a day trip, round the island circle tour or even break it up for a stay at various resorts or towns along the way.
The North Shore of Oahu is the real Hawaii far away from touristy Honolulu and Waikiki where you really see the quality of local life and enjoying the outdoors here. Whether you like to surf, paddle board, snorkel or just lay on the gorgeous beaches here, there’s a lot of outdoor adventure and fun in the Northshore
Well known for the Banzai Pipeline surfing competition in Hawaii, this is really the surfing capital of Hawaii but a little bit tamer in the summer months when the swells are calmer and easier to get into the ocean. You can also explore cool little towns and attractions like Haleiwa town, the Polynesian Cultural center and also the fantastic botanical garden and hike to Waimea Canyon and waterfalls which also hosts a regular luau and educational program on the site that is more local and fun to do and this also includes free entrance to the garden and park.
If you’re planning a visit to the area, check out this post on the North Shore of Oahu for more inspiration, images and cool places to visit and explore in the area. You’ll love checking out all the fun outdoor activities, landscape and easy lifestyle in Oahu island.
By This Hawaii Life
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is one of the most beautiful and extraordinary places in the United States. The national park is the home not only of dozens of dramatic arches, but also the fins and ridges that the arches erode from.
There are several key places to visit including the Windows section, where there are easy hikes to several dramatic arches; the Delicate Arch hike to the most famous arch in the park (it adorns Utah’s license plates) – aim to be there at sunset to see it glow gold; and Fiery Furnace, an extraordinary place to hike, though you can only go on ranger led hikes or with a special permit.
My favorite hike, though, is the Devil’s Garden Trail. The full-day hike goes past about a dozen arches, across the narrow ridges of fins, and through Fin Valley on a primitive trail that the adventurous-at-heart will love. The park is close to Moab, where there are plenty of places to stay. It often gets full, especially in peak season, and the only place to stay in the park is the Devil’s Garden Campground (highly recommended), so go early to avoid the crowds.
By Travel Collecting
Dry Tortugas National Park
At the southernmost tip of Florida, even beyond where the road ends, lies one of the most pristine areas of the United States to be added to your bucket list. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote US National Park sites. It is a group of islets that are located about 70 miles southwest of Key West.
To get to Dry Tortugas National Park, you can start your journey in Key West with either the Yankee Freedom III ferry or via a seaplane for a day trip.
Once you get to Dry Tortugas, you’ll find that it is simply a beautiful place. Snorkeling and beach activities are the two most attractive things to do in Dry Tortugas, as well as joining a guided tour through Ft. Jefferson. You can also plan to bring your own kayak, or arrange a scuba diving trip to Dry Tortugas through a liveaboard program in Key West.
To avoid crowds, try to arrange your visit in the early/mid spring. That way, you will beat the summer crowd, as well as avoid the potential hurricane seasons of the Southern Florida.
By The Round The World Guys
Joshua Tree National Park
There’s no place quite like Joshua Tree National Park. This southern California park has an almost prehistoric feel thanks to a surreal landscape that was shaped over millions of years of geological and weather events. Huge walls of eroded boulders enclose sandy valleys dotted with spiky, crooked Joshua Trees and other desert loving plants.
There are several trails in the park that are perfect for a short nature walk or longer hike. Depending on the trail you choose, you may find some ancient petroglyphs, a hidden palm oasis, or a rock-framed reservoir.
Walking isn’t the only way to enjoy the park’s scenery, as a drive through the park will lead to some interesting landmarks and viewpoints. Don’t miss out on the aptly named Skull Rock, Keys View (the park’s highest viewpoint), and the Cholla Cactus Garden.
Joshua Tree is very popular in the spring and fall so visiting outside of these peak seasons can help you avoid the crowds.
By Travel Yes Please
Big Pine Lakes
Big Pine Lakes is a hidden gem of outdoor adventure destinations in the US. Located about 4 hours from Los Angeles in the Eastern Sierras, Big Pine Lakes features 7 bright blue glacial-fed lakes that look like something you would see in Canada, but without the crowds.
The hike is a bit strenuous ( ~3,000ft. elevation gain), but the scenery here is incredible, especially if you go during the fall when the leaves are changing colors! You can either tackle this ~14-mile journey as a day-hike or an overnight backpacking trip. Turning this hike into a backpacking trip is a great idea, however it does require a bit more planning as you’ll need to obtain a wilderness permit from Recreation.gov.
It’s worth the extra effort to wake up to these epic views! The first 3 lakes are the most scenic and are close together (about 0.5 miles apart). One of the best spots to set up your campsite is at the second lake because it has the iconic Temple Crag in the background!
USA Outdoor Bucket List
I hope this list provided you with some inspiration for some of the best outdoor places to visit in the USA. Have you visited any? What did you think? If you love all the natural beauty that the US has to offer, check out these 13 fall foliage weekend getaway ideas!