I asked some of the best travel bloggers what are the most beautiful places to visit on the West Coast in their opinion, and this is how this epic USA Bucket List was created. Go ahead, have a scroll and most importantly, get inspired to visit this incredibly diverse and beautiful country!
Most Beautiful Places to visit on the West Coast – Cities
San Francisco is a fantastic city to visit when you’re exploring the West coast and a great stop for your Highway 1 road trip. The city is a lot easier to navigate than LA, and there is plenty to do and see. Of course, you have to visit the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most famous landmarks in the entire United States. This is a fantastic spot to take photos and enjoy some of the best views around.
Fisherman’s Wharf should be on the top of your list of places to eat in the city. Try all the local delicacies and go for a walk along the piers. Then there is Alcatraz Island which is a great place to spend an afternoon. Take a ferry over to the little island which lies in the Bay of San Francisco. You can book a tour to visit the famous prison on the island and learn all about the many jailbreaks that occurred here over the years.
No trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride in the unique cable cars. The streets here are notoriously steep, and the best way to avoid walking long distances in the sun is to hop on a cable car which will take you to all the best sightseeing spots around town. If you haven’t gotten enough ideas for your San Francisco itinerary just yet then add the Coit Tower to your list of things to see. It has a fantastic viewing deck with a 360-degree panorama of the city.
By Victoria from Guide your Travel
Las Vegas is one of the most unique places to visit in the USA. No other city provides similar experiences of lights, glam, parties, shows, great food, and more. In one word – Las Vegas is all about FUN. While the casinos are what this crazy city is famous for, there is so much more to do and see here.
The main street of Las Vegas, the strip, is where the big hotels are. Many of them are themed, like the Paris with the Eiffel Tower, the Venetian with the canals and gondolas, and more. Each one of these hotels is huge and is worth a visit. Inside the hotels, you will find unique attractions, restaurants (some offer all-you-can-eat buffets), shopping malls, and casinos. Walking between the hotels and exploring all of them can take a day or two.
Another area to visit is downtown Las Vegas, also called the old strip. The main street – Fremont, is known for the street shows and the zip line going from one side of the road to the other, above all the people.
Night activities also include many options. Shows are part of the Las Vegas experience, and you should see at least one. You can choose between live concerts, magic shows, or the unique and incredible Cirque Du Soleil show, which is one of the best things to do in Las Vegas. Besides, most of the hotels have bars and/ or clubs to spend the rest of the night, or you can take it easy in the casino.
Day trips from Las Vegas can be to the Red Rock Canyon or to Hoover Dam. The Grand Canyon is four hours away, and the city is a great starting point to explore the National Parks of the area.
By Moshe from The Top Ten Traveler
If you’re looking for a beautiful seaside city, San Diego will not disappoint. There are many great things to add to your itinerary, but even if you only have one day in San Diego, you should definitely take the trip to La Jolla for the fantastic beach where sea linos and seals chill. There are also great cafes and restaurants in the area for lunch.
San Diego’s harbour is also a hotspot. Whether you just want to wander along the seafront, eat and drink at one of the restaurants, or embark a boat trip to search for whales, it is always full of life.
You can also see the USS Midway, the world’s longest-serving aircraft carrier and now houses a museum. For more museums, make sure you head to Balboa Park, where you can visit any of the 17 museums. Some of the best ones include the San Diego Natural History Museum, Museum of US and San Diego Air & Space Museum.
Balboa Park is also perfect for a stroll in the botanical garden and to discover the Lily Pond.
San Diego’s old town is known as the birthplace of California and has many historical. Make time to get lost in the streets where you can find the oldest structure in California, the Casa de Carillo and Casa de Pedrorena, which was built in 1854.
By Linn Haglund from Brainy Backpackers
The city of Seattle tucked away in the northwest corner of the US in Washington State, is an underrated destination that is a must when visiting the US. Known as the Emerald City, the constant drizzle in the winter and spring leads to lush landscapes year-round.
Located snugly between the Puget Sound to the west, and the Cascade Mountain Range to the east, Seattle is the perfect jumping ground to explore the Pacific Northwest terrain. Activities from skiing and snowshoeing in winter to paddle-boarding and backpacking in summer make this region ideal for nature lover and novice alike.
Stay at Kimpton Hotel Monaco downtown for around $125 a night, situated only blocks away from the famous Pike Place Market and the historic Pioneer Square district.
Continue your sightseeing by taking the Monorail, built in 1962 for the world’s fair, to visit the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Museum of Pop Culture.
Learn about the history by visiting the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, then learn about the city’s pioneers by visiting the Klondike Gold Rush museum – one of many free things to do in Seattle. For a more unique experience, take a tour of the underground city and find out why a whole level of Seattle was buried and built over.
There are three national parks within a 2-3 hour drive from Seattle, so be sure to pack your hiking boots! The most famous is Mount Rainier National Park – an active volcano covered in trails and also accessible by driving through the paved roads to take in the view. Olympic National Park to the west boasts snow-capped mountains down to a lush mossy rainforest. To the north, North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited in the country – so you are sure to find smaller crowds but no less mountainous beauty if you head that way.
By Michele from Adventures Abound
Located inland from the scenic Oregon coastline is the artsy city of Portland. Well known as a hub for the quintessential ‘hipster’ lifestyle, you can find here a plethora of microbreweries, coffee roasters, farmers markets and bookstores. But, what makes Portland one of the most beautiful destinations in the USA is it’s walkable green landscapes, gardens and picturesque neighbourhoods.
If you are planning a weekend trip to Portland, start by staying at the Ace Hotel. Located downtown, this boutique hotel features vintage furniture, in-room turntables, local art and claw-foot tubs. Made for any budget, the Ace Hotel offers shared rooms to superior suites and everything in between.
Once you’ve settled in, head out to Powell’s City of Books. Covering an entire city block, this Portland landmark attracts people from far and wide and has become a microcosm of the city itself. Grab a coffee, and spend a couple hours perusing the stacks.
From here, the city is your oyster. For the foodies out there, try venturing to the food cart pod in downtown Portland, home to the famous Nong’s Khao Man Gai. Or leisurely stroll the Portland Farmers Market located at PSU. Here you can try a multitude of local treats, including fresh ground corn tortillas, mixed nut butters, or local fruits. Buy a good assortment of picnic ingredients and head over to Pioneer Square or Pittock Mansion to people-watch.
Top it all off with a visit to Salt & Straw, a Portland institution. Try their ice cream flight, with salted caramel, lavender and olive oil flavours, you won’t be disappointed.
Other enjoyable activities here include a bicycle tour of the city’s many microbreweries, a stroll through the Japanese Garden or Portland Rose Garden. Portland is known as the Rose City, after all.
By Haley Blackall from Haley Blackall
Nestled along the Pacific Coast are some of the best Southern California cities to visit, with the lovely Santa Monica towards the top of the bucket list. This coastal town, just miles away from the sunny heartbeat of downtown Los Angeles, is home to the trendy beach vibes found throughout the area. Here you’ll find a wide array of activities ranging from lounging on the beach, visiting museums and indulging in some delicious cuisine.
Start your journey at the Santa Monica Pier to visit the iconic amusement park located right next to the ocean. Spend the morning riding various thrilling ride attractions, eating fluffy cotton candy and cinnamon coated churros, all while overlooking the ocean. Make your way towards the water at the Santa Monica State Beach to dip your toes in for a refreshing afternoon swim, or try a water sport like surfing or paddleboarding. Then head over to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium to witness the lively sea animals.
If shopping is more your speed, make your way to downtown Santa Monica towards Third Street Promenade — the shopping and dining district of Santa Monica. Roam around this pedestrian mall, splurging on scrumptious dining experiences (crepes, creamy pasta dishes, spicy tacos, sushi, etc.) going to the movies theatres and shopping around the grand stores.
Some of the best hotels in the area include the Huntley Hotel Santa Monica Beach, an elegant upscale hotel, the Kinney Venice Beach, a stylish seaside hotel, and Palihouse Santa Monica, a quaint and quirky boutique hotel.
By Ciara from Wellness Travel Diaries
The beautiful town of Taos in New Mexico is well known for Taos Pueblo. The pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years.
Pueblo is the name the Spanish used describing the villages they discovered while exploring the area in the 1500s. Today, approximately 150 people live in the village, as their ancestors did, without electricity, running water or indoor plumbing.
Taos Pueblo is open to the public even though regarded as one of the most private and conservative communities. You can walk around the village on your own, but joining a group tour is highly recommended. These guided tours are led by the Taos community members who provide insight into the Taos people’s history and traditions.
Two large multi-tiered adobe structures dominate the adobe-walled village. These apartment-like buildings are estimated to have been built between 1000 CE and 1450CE. The grounds also include a cemetery, the current San Geronimo Catholic Church and the ruins of the first church built after Spanish occupation.
You can stay in the city of Taos at several lodges and B&Bs. Santa Fe, located just 1.5 hours to the south, has plenty of accommodation options to suit any budget.
By Andy Vanr from AvrexTravel
Salt Lake City
If you’re looking for a city where the skyline towers in front of a vast mountainscape, Salt Lake City is for you. Well known for holding the 2002 winter Olympics, the Mormon capital is excellent for those outdoorsy at heart who want to indulge in activities such as skiing, snowboarding, hiking and scenic drives along the mountains.
Park City, a popular year-round recreation haven just 40 minutes east of Salt Lake City, offers skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking and rafting.
A must visit in Salt Lake City is Temple Square, an extravagant 10-acre building, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The best view of Temple Square is from standing right in front of it.
The second-best view is from The Garden, a restaurant located on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building adjacent to Temple Square.
A car rental is great for getting around Salt Lake City and navigating the streets is simple. However, if renting a car isn’t an option, there are many walking and guided bus tours in the city. They will take you to tourist attractions such as the Mormon Trail, Temple Square, Old Deseret Village, the State Capitol Building, Fort Douglas and sites from the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. You can find these tours on the Airbnb app or TripAdvisor.
Airbnb or an inn is an excellent option for those on a budget. Crystal Inn Hotel & Suites and Hampton Inn West Valley are both in great locations and offer clean, worthwhile accommodations. Salt Lake City is a gem for those craving adventure and the great outdoors.
By Samah Khan from God & Wanderlust
The desert southwest is one of the most beautiful places in the USA, and Santa Fe is the perfect city to base yourself. Although it’s only a mid-sized city, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.
The downtown core of Santa Fe is nicely compact and in many parts, even walkable. Here, you’ll find the Palace of the Governors (the oldest building in the United States), the world-renowned Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the miraculous staircase inside the Loretto Chapel.
Stay at a local hotel, like Residence Inn on Inn on The Alameda, to be in easy walking distance of restaurants featuring New Mexican cuisine. You won’t want to miss the red and green chile sauces: each restaurant has their own take on the recipe.
When you want a change of scenery, you’re a quick drive away from gorgeous natural areas to explore. What makes the place so unique is the incredible diversity of day trips from Santa Fe. Within an hour, you can hike in the mountains near Taos, soak in hot springs near Jemez Springs, or learn about ancestral Puebloan history at Bandelier National Monument.
By Becky from sightDOING
Havasupai is a paradise nestled in the desert where turquoise waterfalls flow against bright red and orange canyon walls in Arizona. It’s a secret gem that has become popularized by social media and for a good reason.
There are several different waterfalls you can explore once you’re down at Havasupai, and if you go during the spring, summer, or fall months, the warm weather makes it perfect for hanging around in the river and swimming under the falls. The only way to get to this beautiful place is to backpack the 10 miles one way to the campground. Advanced permits are required and usually open up on February 1st.
The campground sits right between Havasu and Mooney Falls. Once you’re down to Mooney Falls, you can keep going further down the canyon to Beaver Falls, a 6 miles round trip from the campground. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also keep hiking to the Confluence, where Havasu Creek meets the Colorado River, this is a 16-mile round trip hike.
Get an early start on the hike down from the car! There is no water or shade along the trail, and it can get hot, so make sure to bring enough water and food with you to make it the full 10 miles.
By Jenny from Limitless Hiker
Guns, cowboys and a border crossing are the first things that come to mind when you think of Texas, right?
What if I told you there is a small town with art deco architecture and art installations that both Knowles sisters have ticked off their bucket list?
Welcome to Marfa in West Texas!
Marfa is a tiny town with a big influence in the art world, making it a popular stop on every Texas road trip itinerary.
Monday to Thursday, Marfa is a sleepy location, it becomes lively by Friday. Galleries open, road trippers pile in, Marfa is for weekend visits.
Things to do are based around art and mystery.
Ballroom Marfa is a small but powerful gallery with multiple installation spaces, including its backyard.
Planted in the Chihuahuan desert, you’ll find Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation including his concrete sculpture blocks. Sounds dull in writing but in real life it’s a magical experience walking alongside the 15 hollow blocks, watching the shadows change on the desert ground.
The showstopper has to be Prada Marfa. Gossip Girl fans, remember the sign that hung in the Van der Woodsen’s penthouse? Well, you can physically visit the art installation storefront with working lights and Prada gear just outside of Marfa.
The mysterious part? Marfa has its very own ghost lights and free viewing platform. Some have witnessed the light phenomenon. Will you?
There isn’t much in the way of accommodation in Marfa, so be sure to book ahead. The Motel Riata Inn is a budget-friendly option.
By Gemma from Two Scots Abroad
West Coast Bucket List – Regions
Olympic Peninsula is located in the Northwest region of Washington State. It is home to the Olympic National Park, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Forest and amazing beaches. If you’re looking to see all the sites check out Lake Crescent Lodge and have amazing sunset at Lake Crescent.
Lake Crescent Lodge is about an hour’s drive from Hurricane Ridge. Hurricane Ridge gives you amazing views of the Olympic Mountain Range. Driving up the twisting and turning road along this mountain while getting peak views that make you feel as though you’ve escaped to Switzerland from the views.
From there, you drive along the coast to Second Beach, which has trees and a rocky beach with the North Pacific Ocean. Walk along the beach and look for the sea urchins, starfish and other sea life.
Drive further down route 101 to be in a rainforest! Hoh National Park is a whole different experience from the mountains to the beach and finishes at the lush greenery.
There are ferns everywhere and moss covering the branches, trees, and rocks. When you come to the water, the water glows green. Hopefully, when you go, it is rainy to give the full PNW experience.
Rebecca from Rebecca Noelle Adventures
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast is a 300+ mile stretch of towering cliffs, windswept beaches, and lonely lighthouses. One of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world, it boasts photo opportunities at every bend.
The Oregon Coast is generally divided into three sections. You’ll find long sandy beaches, iconic rock monoliths, and charming fishing towns along the northern coast. The central coast is mostly characterized by rolling dunes, inland lakes, and wildlife-rich tide pools. The southern Oregon coast—considered by many to be the most enchanting stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway—is where you’ll come across hidden alcoves, offshore rock islands, and the stunning Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor.
The Oregon Coast is home to dozens of state parks that offer hiking, photographing, and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Top things to do along the coast include visiting the world’s largest sea stack at Cannon Beach, sandboarding at Honeyman State Park, and admiring the magnificent scenery at Shore Acres.
For a truly unforgettable lodging experience, consider staying at the Heceta Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast near Florence. The charming accommodation is located in a historic lighthouse keeper’s home and offers unparalleled views over the central coastline. While staying at the guesthouse, you can sit out on the porch and watch the waves roll in. At night, you can grab a flashlight and enjoy exclusive access to one of the most iconic lighthouses in the United States.
The Oregon Coast is dramatic, rugged, and wild. While it isn’t exactly a destination for sun-chasers, its twisting expanse is nothing short of breathtaking.
By Erika from Erika’s Travels
Big Sur, California
Located approximately between Carmel Highlands near Monterey to the north and San Simeon to the south, Big Sur boasts stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, towering redwoods, fantastic hiking trails, and tons of wildlife.
This scenic drive stretches for approximately 90 kilometres, and while it might be tempting to jam-pack everything into one day, you should take your time and enjoy this iconic destination simply because there is so much to do here!
Among the top spots within Big Sur are Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (with the famous McWay Waterfalls), Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and The Los Padres National Forest. Other places that are worth a stop in Big Sur are the Bixby Bridge, the Cypress Grove Trail, and Bird Island Trail.
While summer is the busiest time at Big Sur when prices at hotels are the highest; and winter can bring plenty of rainy and overcast days making it not an ideal time to visit, mid-fall and spring are perfect for visiting this destination.
That’s when the weather is mild, sunshine is plentiful, and hiking trails and scenic overlooks are not overcrowded.
Many travellers who come to California stop at Big Sur, however, some also miss out on nearby gems. One of them is San Luis Obispo, a small town located to the South of Big Sur right near Morro Bay.
Nicknamed “The Happiest City in America,” San Luis Obispo and its surrounding areas such as Pismo Beach and Montana de Oro State Park are worth a stop.
By Daria from The Discovery Nut
Lake Tahoe is one of the US places that you can’t go wrong, regardless of the season when you are visiting. The region, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains and sitting across California and Nevada, is an outdoor paradise.
During the summer months, the area around Lake Tahoe is a prime hiking destination. From short-day hikes to long-distance trails like the John Muir Trail, hikers can choose between different fitness and duration levels.
If you are into kayaking, the famous Emerald Bay should be high on your list. Be prepared to be dazzled by the incredible turquoise colours!
Biking is another popular activity around Lake Tahoe, either around the lake paved roads or for mountain biking thrills.
Come winter; the snow-covered mountains make Lake Tahoe a winter sports favourite. Over ten ski resorts around Tahoe offer fantastic downhill skiing and snowboarding opportunities. But there is more to Tahoe in winter than going down the groomed slopes. Try backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, dog sledging, and even snowkiting!
When you visit Tahoe, cities like South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, or Tahoe City are the main hubs. There you can find small restaurants and shops. Note that different roads take you to the North or the South Shore of the Lake, so plan your trip ahead of time to ensure your lodging and activities are in the same area.
By Patricia from Ze Wandering Frogs
Nestled between states renowned for their natural beauty, like Washington and Montana, Idaho flies a bit under the tourism radar, largely unexplored by the masses. However, in the Sawtooth Mountains region of central Idaho, visitors can explore a stunning mountain range, strikingly similar to the much more famous Tetons to the east, but at a much quieter pace and a lower cost.
There are a variety of outdoor activities to explore here while taking in the gorgeous scenery- for example, adventurous souls can take a whitewater rafting tour over Class IV rapids or can hike to Sawtooth Lake, a stunning alpine lake surrounded by jagged mountain peaks.
Perhaps best of all, though, visitors are treated to the dozens of hot springs the area has to offer– often situated, along the curving Payette River banks and surrounded by Idaho’s pine tree-studded hills. Local favourites include Kirkham Hot Springs, complete with a warm waterfall to bathe in, or Boat Box Hot Springs, where soakers can regulate the hot tub-like temperature in an old cauldron along the riverside.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for an action-packed adventure or a more relaxing escape, the Sawtooth area of Idaho has a little slice of heaven for every traveller.
By Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler
Recommended Hotels: Superior Ridge Resort Motel
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
One of the most beautiful places to visit in the United States is the Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is located in Juneau, Alaska, a hotspot for tourism and a busy cruise port.
The Glacier itself has activities for all ages and athletic abilities. One of the most popular things to do is Heli-Hiking on the glacier itself. The tours take you on a helicopter ride above Juneau’s outskirts and land on the Mendenhall Glacier.
While on the glacier, your tour guide leads you up ice walls and into ice caves. It is one of the most beautiful and unique things that you can see in the United States.
For those who aren’t up for a crampon and ice-axe style hike, there are helicopter options alone and easy hiking to the base of the glacier. This is a unique and beautiful experience that you won’t soon forget.
Juneau itself is also home to multiple hotels, hiking excursions, museums, and good food! Make sure that while you are visiting the glacier, you also take time to experience the beautiful and unique city of Juneau, Alaska.
By Shannon from Adventuring with Shannon
Sonoma County is one of the most beautiful destinations in the USA. It is a place that is very close to San Francisco, which could be an excellent base for exploring this stunning area.
Sonoma County is known for its wine, nature, and relaxing spas. There are many wineries and restaurants that are lovely to visit and are perfect for experiencing delicious types of wine. What’s great is that you can buy a Sonoma County Tasting Pass, which allows you to do wine tastings at several locations. If you like wine, this is a great way to experience the best of the county!
Moreover, there are more than 40 spas and other wellness facilities in the area. So if you are in need of relaxation, Sonoma County has much to offer! Many of these spas work with local products.
Another thing that is great in Sonoma County is the beautiful nature. There are many state and regional parks. This makes the place very suitable for hiking and other outdoor experiences, such as canoeing, cycling, hot air ballooning, scuba diving, and surfing.
There are many great places to stay in Sonoma County. An excellent place to stain in Santa Rosa is Hotel La Rose.
By Dymphe from Dymabroad
Flathead Lake is one of the jewels of Montana. Often overlooked by those on limited vacation time for the wonders of Glacier National Park an hour’s drive north of the lake, Flathead Lake is well worth adding a couple of days onto your Montana itinerary.
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the lower 48 states. It takes a couple of hours to drive around the whole thing, but it is still one of the top things to see.
There are six state parks located around Flathead Lake, and these are all worth taking a stop in as well. A beloved one is Wild Horse Island, a state park located right in the middle of the water on the southwest side of the lake and is home to a small herd of wild horses, which you can often see on hikes through the park. Kayaking, standup paddleboarding, boating, and fishing are other popular activities to do on Flathead Lake.
When looking for a place to stay, consider Bigfork on the northeast corner of the lake. Bigfork has an adorable downtown area and is in walking distance to Wayfarers State Park. Its location also puts you at the closest point for driving to Glacier National Park while still staying right by the lake. Bigfork’s Marina Cay Resort has rooms for everyone, with condos with a kitchen and standard hotel rooms. It also has a large outdoor common area with views of the lake and easy access to watersport rentals.
By Gina from Travel Montana Now
Most Beautiful US National Parks
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a destination that belongs on everyone’s bucket list. There’s something for every type of traveller, from hiking to scenic drives. That’s why Yosemite is one of America’s most popular national park!
To avoid crowds, visit from May to June or October to November. In the spring, waterfalls pour down the mountainsides. In the fall, leaves turn yellow and orange, completely changing the look of the park.
If it’s your first time in Yosemite, you can’t miss exploring Yosemite Valley. On a self-guided walking tour from the visitor centre, you can see Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and views of Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow.
After walking around Yosemite Valley, explore another part of the park, Glacier Point. Don’t miss El Capitan and Tunnel View along the way!
The Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop are one of the best hikes in the park for sunset. From here, you can see 360-degree views of Yosemite National Park as the sun changes from yellow to pink to purple.
If you want to stay close to the action, book a room at one of the Yosemite Valley lodges, The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Valley Lodge. For budget travellers, camping or glamping in Yosemite Valley can be a great option! The areas surrounding the park also offer plenty of affordable hotels and Airbnbs, but be prepared to drive about 1 hour into the park each day!
By Julia from Well Planned Journey
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park belongs amongst the most fascinating national parks in the USA. It’s a true natural wonder.
There is over 60% of all the world’s geysers and about 10,000 other geothermal features because the whole park sits on top of a giant supervolcano!
With an area of 3,472 square miles (8980 km²) of wilderness, it is home to bears, bison herds, wolves, coyotes, deers, and elks.
You will be amazed to see all these colourful hot springs, erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and steam coming out of the earth.
There are so many beautiful places to see in Yellowstone National Park, that you should rather plan a longer visit. It’s possible to see the best of Yellowstone during one weekend, but if you plan some hiking, you should stay for a whole week.
Yellowstone National Park highlights are the Old Faithful Geyser – a predictable geyser, which erupts about every 90 minutes, the Grand Prismatic – the 3rd largest hot spring in the world, and last but not least the monumental Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is an excellent place for all backcountry lovers – there are more than 900 miles of hiking trails! If you have spare time for hiking, go to Mt. Washburn, hike the Avalanche Peak or head to the Shoshone lake trail. Just remember that you are in the bear country so always follow bear-safety rules!
By Adriana Plotzerová from Czech the World
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. The park is centred on the Teton mountain range, which stretches the length of the park. Unlike many mountains with foothills, the Tetons rise straight up out of the Jackson Hole Valley plains.
At the base of the mountains are a series of lakes, which, when the weather is right, reflect the mountains perfectly. The most famous are the stunning Jenny Lake and the largest lake in the park, Jackson Lake.
In front of the lakes winds the appropriately named Snake River.
There are several places where you can see the best views of the Grand Tetons. The historic Mormon Barns are out on the plains and were part of a former Mormon farming community. Today, they make a perfect foreground for the classic Teton mountain views.
For Snake River views in the foreground, head to Snake River Overlook and Schwabacher Landing, where you may well see moose in the morning and evenings. The other classic Snake River view is Oxbow Bend, where a wide bend in the river is often like a mirror reflecting the mountains. For a more aerial view, drive up to the top of Signal Mountain, where you can see Jackson Lake, dotted with islands, and the mountains behind.
For more close up views, hit the trails and hike around the lakes or into the canyons between the peaks. Cascade Canyon is a classic trail, with jagged peaks, a narrow river and waterfalls.
There are plenty of other things to do, including taking a wildlife viewing tour (bison, moose and elks are common), renting a kayak or boat and heading out on to the lakes, and rafting or trout fishing in the rivers.
An excellent mid-range hotel in nearby Jackson is The Lexington at Jackson Hole.
By James Ian from Parks Collecting
White Sands National Park
Sometimes the most beautiful destinations are the ones that are the most starkly unfamiliar! That is the way it is with White Sands National Park in New Mexico. White Sands National Park is the second, and newest, National Park in the state, and its alien landscape and wealth of outdoor opportunities make it a must-see destination!
White Sands has something that few National Parks can offer – miles of dunes! These sand dunes are not only breathtaking to witness in person, but they offer many creative and unique possibilities.
In White Sands, a visitor favourite is easily sand sledging! Bring your own sledge or rent one from the Visitor’s Center to go sledging on the park’s larger and steeper dunes! The dunes also provide exceptional, one of a kind hiking, with trails ranging in difficulty from easy to challenging, and distances from a half-mile in length to the 5 miles long gruelling backcountry trek that is the Alkali Flat Trail! Other activities include camping, ranger-led “sunset strolls”, and driving the 14-mile long scenic Dunes Drive, which is packed with dune views backdropped by the purple San Andres Mountains!
White Sands National Park is located closest to Alamogordo, New Mexico, which has a handful of small hotels and vacation rentals available. If you are looking for a larger city with plenty more lodging options, the closest large city is Las Cruces, New Mexico, less than an hour away from White Sands.
By Kristen Czudak from Yonderlust Ramblings
Recommended Hotels in Alamogordo: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Alamogordo Highway 54/70 | Hampton Inn Alamogordo
Joshua Tree National Park
Spanning two deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave, the Joshua Tree National Park offers an incredibly diverse landscape over 3200 sqkm.
From the iconic Joshua trees (a variety of Yucca) to the gigantic rock formations and tiny teddy bear cactuses, there’s a lot to take in.
Wildlife thrives here too, and you’ll be lucky to see birds quenching their thirst at the Barker Dam, curious and playful dusky chipmunks, and slow-moving desert tortoises among many others.
Plan at least a day to experience some of the best walks in the park and pop into the visitor’s centre for a map before you depart. The Hidden Valley track is a popular short walk through an ethereal landscape, the Barker Dam trail is a good one to tackle if you’re visiting Joshua Tree with kids, and the Skull Rock Nature trail shouldn’t be missed for its other-worldly rock formations.
Make your way over to the Keys View lookout to take in the Coachella Valley and Mount San Jacinto in the distance, and plan a trip to the Cholla Cactus Garden at sunset.
For an affordable and convenient stay nearby, check out the family-friendly Vista Mirage Resort in Palm Springs which is just a short drive to the park entrance.
By Nadine Maffre from Le Long Weekend
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is an absolutely unmissable destination for those travelling in the US Southwest. The park is easy to reach from both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, being a couple of hours drive from both cities, so it can easily be visited as a day trip.
To make matters even better, the park is massive, so it’s very rare to find it crowded – there are many places of interest located over a large distance, so people tend to be quite spread out.
It’s best to visit Death Valley in winter and early spring/late autumn, otherwise it’s just too hot to enjoy, with temperatures topping 49°C in summer.
The main attractions of Death Valley are its vast, sprawling landscapes, incredible rock formations and desert scenery. Depending on how much time you have, don’t miss visiting Zabriskie Point, the most famous lookout over Badlands (sedimentary rocks) in the park, and Artist’s Palette, similar to Zabriskie Point but more secluded and with even more vibrant colours.
Another iconic Death Valley location is Badwater Basin, a salt plain that includes North America’s lowest point – look to the mountain just in front for a sign marking sea level, 80 meters above your head!
Since the park is so big, it’s recommended to stay within park borders to avoid having to drive back and forth for miles to get in. There are various campsites all over, or you can find midrange accommodation at Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells.
By Margherita from The Crowded Planet
Rocky Mountain National Park
There is little doubt that Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the United States. A perfect destination in the spring and summer months can be visited throughout the year although granted; your experience will vary enormously depending on when you decide to visit.
Go in the summer, and it will be hiking galore. Visit in the winter, and the powdery snow is the perfect accessory for winter sports such as snowshoeing – best enjoyed in Bear Lake, where you will find a multitude of trails, as well as Glacier Gorge and Hidden Valley – where you can also enjoy sledging. If you are looking into skiing opportunities, Eldora is your best bet – at about one hour drive from Estes Park. There you will find slopes for all levels.
Bear Lake is a good starting point to get all the way to Lake Haiyaha, where you can spot unique rock formations. The park is an excellent place to admire wildlife such as elk, mule deer, coyotes and more.
To make the most of the park, make sure to drive along Upper Beaver Meadows Road and Old Fall River Road – however, keep in mind that these will be closed to traffic if you visit in the winter.
By Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
Mount Rainier National Park
One of the most beautiful places in the USA is, of course, Mount Rainier National Park located in Washington State. This mountain is breathtaking and can even be seen from the city of Seattle. But exploring it close up is the best experience. This park includes waterfalls, old grove trees, stunning fire lookouts, rivers, and abundant mountains! It is one of the most beautiful places in this state.
One of the best places to see in Mount Rainier is the Paradise area. You don’t even need to hike to take in the glorious views! Mount Rainier and the surrounding mountains make this a stunning place for the whole family to enjoy. You can attempt the Skyline trail, which features a beautiful waterfall called Marymere Falls and 360-degree views of mountains galore! If you are lucky, you might spot a goat, bear, or marmot.
Other great hikes include the Fremont Lookout trail. This features a lovely fire lookout and is a fantastic hike for sunset. An excellent hike for sunrise is Tolmie Peak, which also features a stunning fire lookout. Comet Falls is a perfect hike for overcast days. The trail features waterfalls, rivers, and lush green trees. Anything you do at Mount Rainier National Park will be unforgettable.
By Michelle from The Wandering Queen
Zion National Park – Southern Utah
One of most scenic places in the United States, Zion National Park is known for its massive sandstone cliffs, impressively deep canyons, and picturesque red rocks that starkly contrast with the generally blue skies of the American Southwest.
Located in southern Utah, Zion draws more than 4.5 million visitors each year, making it one of the top five most visited national parks in the states and an extremely popular stop on any Southwest USA road trip.
Extremely popular with hikers, the park is home to some notable, and notoriously dangerous hiking trails, including Angel’s Landing. On this strenuous, hair-raising hike, the final half-mile takes you to points only accessible by support chains bolted into the rock.
The Narrows is another fun, but potentially hazardous hike in Zion National Park. Hiking The Narrows involves a walk through a slot canyon carved out by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Those who want to wander through this beautiful narrow canyon must commit to hiking – and at times – swimming – through a continuous stream of running water.
Many choose to stay within the park at Zion National Park Lodge to get early access to one of the limited parking spots available near the popular trailheads. However, if travelling on a tight budget, there are also numerous hotels, rustic lodges, and glamping accommodations located just outside of the national park in Springdale.
By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Arches National Park
Arches National Park absolutely needs to be on your USA bucket list. Made up of stunning, gravity-defying arches, crimson red canyons, and sweeping vistas, Arches is the epitome of the beauty of the old wild west.
Arches is located right outside the town of Moab, Utah, which is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are miles of hiking trails within Arches itself, many of them leading to magnificent arches. The most famous of these is Delicate Arch, a huge, freestanding arch formation that requires a 3-mile hike, but is absolutely worth it.
The hike to Delicate Arch is beautiful – you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the stunning landscape. Getting to see the arch up close is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and lives up to the hype.
At the Devils Garden Trail, you’ll be able to do an epic hike to see several arches in one go. At the Windows section of the park, you’ll be able to stand directly underneath several arches and take in the view.
Outside of Arches, you have another national park (Canyonlands) less than an hour away. In the town of Moab, you’ll get direct access to the Colorado River for a different way to explore. There’s a ton of hotel options in Moab, but the Hyatt is one of the closest ones to the park entrance.
Make sure you follow an Arches National Park itinerary to help plan your trip. With so much to do in the park, maximizing your time in Arches is essential!
By Ale from Sea Salt and Fog
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon, one of the greatest seven natural wonders of the world, is a natural wonder everyone should experience at least once. The massive gorge is recognized as a natural wonder due to the overall scale and size, combined with the breathtaking landscape. It stretches over 277 miles long and 4 to 18 miles wide, with a maximum depth of 6,093 feet.
Visiting the Grand Canyon is sure to be filled with amazement and wonder. The most famous part of the Grand Canyon is the South Rim, where many visitors spend the day driving and getting out to admire the views at each lookout. There are also day-long, and multiple-day hikes and mule rides through the Grand Canyon. Additionally, you could take a helicopter ride across the canyon; there are so many ways to explore the canyon!
The Grand Canyon is largely a “do it yourself” location, where you can wander and enjoy the views at your own pace. The canyon appears to change colours throughout the seasons and during the day as the sun hits the canyon walls.
Lodging inside the National Park fills up fast, so ensure you reserve ahead of time. There are also camping and RV options. Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins has a natural rustic character to it and is a National Historic Landmark. Even the surrounding cabins have a cultural history.
When you visit the Grand Canyon, do not make the rookie mistake and try to wing it. Pre-planning will help you get the most out of your visit. Ensure you put a solid day aside for exploring, and more if you have the time.
By Debbie Fettback from World Adventurists
Glacier National Park
One of the most beautiful destinations to visit in the entire United States is Glacier National Park. Glacier National Park is located in Northern Montana and is a wonderful vacation for anyone looking to experience beautiful mountain scenery, wildlife, and gorgeous hiking trails.
Glacier National Park is unique because it has the Going to the Sun Road, a spectacular two-lane road carved on the side of the mountains in the park. You can see all types of terrain along this road and even pass the continental divide at the 6,6,46 foot high Logan Pass.
Going to the Sun Road has the most spectacular views over the park and driving its windy and steep stretch, is a once in a lifetime experience. The best things to do while visiting Glacier are to drive from one side of the park to the other to check out all the views, different glacier lakes, and see the gorgeous lodges built on either side of the park.
Make sure that you get out and experience some of the best hikes in Glacier National Park such as the hike to Hidden Lake, the Highline Trail, and the hike to Avalanche Lake.
When visiting Glacier National Park, we recommend camping inside the park to get the best experience possible or staying at one of the lodges located inside the park. If camping is not your thing or the lodges are outside your budget, there are many budget Airbnbs situated just outside of the park near Glacier West.
By Jessica from Unearth The Voyage
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah is one of the best places to hit up if you’re keen to experience pure desert magic and stellar hiking. Think weird sandstone spires piercing the sky, insane rock pinnacles and hoodoos twisting their way into canyons, and landscapes that feel as though you’ve left Earth and somehow wandered into Mars.
Canyonlands is huge, and it’s divided up into districts. If you’d rather go on easy hikes or explore the area using your car to avoid breaking a sweat, you can opt to visit the popular Island in the Sky District. If you want to go all-in and do longer hikes as well as avoid big crowds, then choose to adventure in The Needles District instead (The Joint Trail and The Druid Arch hike are absolute musts!)
When it comes to lodging options, you can stay at The Aaarchway Inn in the town of Moab if you’re focusing on exploring the Island in the Sky District. If you’d rather visit The Needles District, a great option to stay at is Canyonlands Lodging in the nearby town of Monticello. Do note that Canyonlands National Park is listed as a Dark Sky Park, which means it offers some of the best night skies the United States has to offer. Camping in both districts is possible with a little planning and is highly recommended!
By Meg Atteberry from Fox in the Forest
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