The United States is made up by a colorful collection of 50 states. From Acadia National Park in the east to the Pacific in the west, you find one jaw-dropping experience after another. But where should you begin when looking for the best things to do in the USA?
Start here, we love the breathtaking mix of everything the USA has to offer, from grand national parks to those unique human creations. And just like the United States is changing, so is this list. Look back soon again, and the gem you’re missing now maybe has been added.
Are you ready? Then let’s plunge into the gobsmackingly beautiful best things to do in the USA.
1. Take in Yellowstone’s magical spirit
Wyoming // It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scope of Yellowstone National Park, a more than 2 million acres huge powerhouse within the American national park system. From soaring mountain peaks to bison-filled valleys, this is nature at its purest.
Yellowstone’s unmatched spirit is buried far below its surface. A geothermal hotspot, Yellowstone contains more than 10,000 geothermal features, including 60% of the world’s geysers.
Among all geysers, there’s one in the Upper Geyser Basin that grabs the most attention: the Old Faithful. Truly the definition of faithful, it erupts with authority once every one or two hours.
Sit back and take in the timeless Yellowstone display, over and over again.
Then head over to the bubbling Grand Prismatic Spring. Radiating vivid colors — from deep blue in its center to green, yellow and orange — that you need to see to believe, this is both the largest and most colorful hot spring in America.
Take it in: In the northwestern corner of Wyoming, 336 miles (541 km) north of Salt Lake City, it’s all about the outdoors. Fly to West Yellowstone, MT, or Jackson Hole, WY.
2. Capture the Grand Canyon wonder
Arizona // Grand Canyon, carved by the tireless Colorado River over millions of years, shows how ridiculously short a human life is in a bigger picture. Just try, even though it’s a tough task, to grasp its expanse:
- 277 miles (446 km) long.
- Up to 18 miles (29 km) wide.
- More than a mile (1.6 km) deep.
Walking up to the edge of this natural masterpiece creates special feelings. Some visitors spend their whole visit gazing out over the layered world wonder, while others choose to hike down into it.
The Bright Angel Trail, which can entertain you for days, is a bucket list hike. It takes you all the way from Grand Canyon’s rim to the distant river bed below.
Regardless if you hike into the canyon or not, the image of Grand Canyon will be with you forever. It’s one of those sights that you never forget.
Capture it: Grand Canyon is proudly presented by Arizona. Most visitors drive from Las Vegas (279 mi/449 km) or Phoenix (228 mi/367 km).
3. Tour bear-dotted Great Smoky Mountains
Tennessee / North Carolina // USA’s most visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains mysteriously line up along the Tennessee and North Carolina border. A signature feature, natural fog often covers the mountains’ tree tops.
Approach and find Cades Cove, a timeless valley where pioneers once built a community. Or for more elevated perspectives, climb Clingmans Dome — 6,643 feet (2,025 m) high — majestically towering up as the third tallest point east of the Mississippi River.
Picture this iconic Appalachian scenery in front of you. Then add furry wildlife, lots of it.
Although just one of over 60 species of mammals, the black bears are dominating the Smokies. There are about two bears per square mile, making the odds of wildlife sightings finally in your favor.
Tour it: You never know what black bears are up to. However, Cades Cove is the most iconic Smokies spot for black bear viewing.
4. Have a good old time in the French Quarter
Louisiana // Every year around Shrove Tuesday, eye-popping parades snake through the streets of New Orleans. In NOLA, there are two distinct seasons: Mardi Gras and non-Mardi Gras.
But it doesn’t really matter when you visit, New Orleans always knows how to treat visitors with a good old time.
The French Quarter, offering French, Spanish, American and Creole architecture, is a diverse cultural melting pot. Here it feels like each street has its own personality.
Come to Royal Street, lined by antique shops, art galleries and boutiques, for shopping.
Listen to the finest jazz music on Frenchmen Street — NOLA is the birthplace of jazz.
Or have a big night out on Bourbon Street. Sure, it’s a loud place, yet something would be missing without its clamor.
Have it: Louisiana’s New Orleans is a year-round destination. But if it’s not your thing, avoid Mardi Gras for more reasonable hotel rates.
5. Road trip away to Monument Valley
Arizona / Utah // There are epic road trips, and then there’s Monument Valley. Where Arizona and Utah collide, this part of of the Colorado Plateau is one that best is described as otherworldly.
Monument Valley’s red desert landscape and towering sandstone buttes, the two Mittens and Merrick Butte reach nearly 1,000 feet above the valley floor, make you feel like you have arrived on a different planet.
But you haven’t — this is the American Southwest.
Drive it: The 17-mile (27 km) Valley Drive shows off Monument Valley’s unique landscape. Also drive by Forrest Gump Point, where Forrest finally stopped his cross-country running
6. Appreciate Niagara’s massive power
New York // Niagara Falls is an American wonder, but it’s not because of its height. There are, in fact, hundreds of taller waterfalls in the USA.
So what makes Niagara Falls such a drawcard?
One word: volume. In summer, every second — yes second — 100,000 cubic feet (2,832 m3) of water go over the crest of Niagara Falls.
Envision how many bathtubs, showers or swimming pools that is!
These thundering masses create a powerful noise that you can hear from far away. Long before seeing Niagara Falls, you can hear it.
Appreciate it: The USA and Canada share the glory for Niagara Falls. For a special occasion, some hotels offer fallsview.
7. Step into Hemingway’s home
Florida // The Florida Keys is a unique world of tropical islands. At its very southern tip, where you’re closer to Havana than Miami, Key West’s Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum has a fascinating story to share.
Step into the the former home and workplace of Hemingway, celebrated American writer and Nobel Prize winner. Hemingway spent a majority of the 1930s here and produced some of his finest works, including the classic Green Hills of Africa, while he did so.
Hemingway himself stated that: “Any man’s life told truly, is a novel”. That might be true, but a guided tour at the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum reveals that his own life was more eventful than most.
Adorable Hemingway cats add something extra to the story. Still to this day, connecting the past and present, descendants of Hemingway’s cats, many with six toes, happily roam the lush Key West property.
You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy this one.
Step in: For scenic views, cruise the entire length of the Overseas Highway, 113 miles (182 km) long, from the mainland to get to Hemingway’s. Or fly in directly to Key West International Airport.
8. Don’t be lunch in the Everglades
Florida // Spanning across South Florida, the wilderness of the Everglades is its own chapter. Here, so near but yet so far away from Miami’s shining lights, ancient reptiles call the shots.
It’s, of course, the American alligator that’s in charge. Dangerous if you get too close, yet downright pleasant if enjoyed from a distance, these jaw-dropping creatures are a symbol of Florida.
So how close can you go? Well, the experts at the national park service recommend to keep a distance of 60 feet (18 m) — that is if you don’t want to become lunch.
Avoid the plate: You can approach the Everglades from either the Gulf coast or the Atlantic coast. Such a vast space, there are five different visitor centers.
9. Wind through the revolutionary Freedom Trail
Massachusetts // The United States Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, 1776. Several major events leading to independence took place in Boston, one of the oldest municipalities in the country.
Starting at Boston Common and ending at Bunker Hill Monument, the Freedom Trail is a 2.5-mile (4 km) walk exploring the roots of today’s America.
Freedom Trail markers, elegantly implanted in the sidewalk, connect 16 locations significant to the history of the United States. Lined by churches, museums, burying grounds, meeting houses, parks and even a ship, the USS Constitution — every step has a revolutionary story to tell.
Wind through it: The Freedom Trail is located in the very heart of Boston, Massachusetts. The city has changed a lot since the 1700s, but its historic spots remain the same.
10. Find inspiration at Yosemite’s jaw-dropping vistas
California // Sierra Nevada, Spanish for snowy mountain range, is home to three national parks. The most visited — with crashing waterfalls against the backdrop of granite monoliths — is Yosemite National Park.
Its roadside Tunnel View overlook, once made famous by landscape photographer Ansel Adams, captures this brilliantly.
Drive into Yosemite Valley, step out of your vehicle and have a look for yourself.
In front of you to the left, the El Capitan monolith majestically rises 3,000 feet (914 m) over the valley floor. Turn your head slightly to the right and, across the valley, find lovely Bridalveil Fall dropping 620 feet (189 m) from crest to base. Then zoom deeper into the unreal granite esplanade ahead to admire the glistening Half Dome monolith.
After the perfect Yosemite introduction, hike the park for closeups. Roaring each spring when Sierra Nevada’s snow-capped mountains thaw, Yosemite Falls is at 2,425 feet (739 m) one of America’s highest waterfalls.
Find it: It’s almost four hours by car from San Francisco to Yosemite. Stay several days for the best experience.
11. Hike through sandstone-surrounded Zion canyon
Utah // The state of Utah is home to five mighty national parks. Defined by its deep canyons dotted with lush vegetation and surrounded by reddish sandstone cliffs, Zion National Park is the crown jewel.
Many national parks offer great hiking opportunities, but no other park does it quite like Zion. Hop onto the shuttle in Springdale, or at the visitor center, and a few minutes later you’re there.
Ta-da — make acquaintance with some of the best hiking in the USA.
- Angels Landing, which requires a reservation, is a dramatic 5.4-mile (8.7 km) round-trip hike. Due to extreme drops and steepness, gaining 1,488 feet (454 m), it takes several hours to complete.
- The Narrows, Zion Canyon’s narrowest section, with walls a thousand feet tall, involves walking, wading or sometimes even swimming upstream Virgin River. Without a doubt, you will get wet!
- How about a hike along Virgin River instead of in it? The flat Riverside Walk is perfect if you prefer a casual stroll. At its turnaround point, the Narrows begins. Tip your feet in the water or head straight back.
Hike it: It’s less than 3 hours by car from Las Vegas to Zion’s entrance. Stay with top amenities in Springdale, with the national park adventure right across Virgin River.
12. Descend into the endless Mammoth Cave
Kentucky // For underground experiences, it doesn’t get bigger than Mammoth Cave. Under the rolling hills of Kentucky, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the entire world.
So far more than 400 miles (644 km) of passageways have been explored. Where Mammoth Cave really ends, no one knows.
Maybe it never ends?
Basic Mammoth Cave tours are appreciated by beginners. An hour underground on the Frozen Niagara Tour reveals some of Mammoth Cave’s main features, including stalagmites.
Much longer, the Wild Cave Tour is for cave trolls. Crawl through tight spaces on this advanced tour through the world’s longest cave.
Descend it: In a refreshingly rural area of Kentucky, the tiny Park City, Cave City and Horse Cave function as gateway cities. The closest bigger city is Bowling Green.
13. See America wake up in Acadia
Maine // Laced with meandering drives, rugged mountains and reflecting lakes, Acadia National Park is an outdoor playground. So far east, on the coast of Maine, it’s also one of the first places in the USA to see the sun rise.
This gem, New England’s only national park, offers two distinct dimensions. Calling Mount Desert Island its home, Acadia has a busier eastern and quieter western side.
In the east, Cadillac Mountain, rising high above the ocean, is the tallest point along the entire Atlantic coastline. Climb its 1,530 feet (466 m) for quintessential Acadia sunrise views.
However, make sure not to miss the highlights, such as Echo Lake for quietness and Bass Harbor Lighthouse for crashing waves, across the park. The western half of Mount Desert Island is much quieter, but at least as enjoyable.
See it: Most visitors use Bar Harbor, a cute seaside town located just outside the park, as Acadia base. If you fly in, Bangor, under 50 miles (80 km) from Acadia, provides the closest airport.
14. Align in a world of Gulf Islands
Florida / Mississippi // Not only the scene of snow-white beaches and emerald waters but also historic forts, Gulf Islands National Seashore aligns beach lovers and history buffs. Gluing the Gulf coast together, it comprises several separate coastal portions in Florida and Mississippi.
For a complete Gulf Islands package, start at the western end of Santa Rosa Island in the Florida Panhandle.
Stunning beaches are everywhere, with an overwhelming amount of access points, the warm Gulf of Mexico shifting between blue and emerald green and remarkable solitude. Make sure to bring beach gear and snacks for a full day — you’ll not want to leave before sunset.
Still if you can resist, don’t hit the dunes just yet.
Instead, first continue to the conclusion of Fort Pickens Road. Here the historic Fort Pickens, built in the 1830s to defend Pensacola Bay and retired 1947 when it had played out its role, awaits. Touring the fort, surrounded by pristine Gulf Islands nature, is a gorgeous experience.
Align it: Pensacola Beach is beautifully sandwiched between two Gulf Islands areas, including the Fort Pickens section.
15. Embrace a summer blockbuster on Martha’s Vineyard
Massachusetts // One of the most iconic summer blockbusters ever produced, the 1975 movie Jaws is about a killer shark that puts an idyllic beach community to a deadly test. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the story takes place on the fictional Amity Island.
Although Amity Island doesn’t exist in real life, the island you see in the movie certainly does. In fact, just like Amity Island is pictured, Martha’s Vineyard is a pretty summer colony off Cape Cod.
Martha’s Vineyard’s most eye-popping slice, Oak Bluffs comprises hundreds of vivid gingerbread cottages. Tour the town, preferably with an ice cream in your hand, for a summer-dream-like experience.
At the island’s eastern tip, Edgartown boasts a rare elegance. Here hundreds of historic ship captain’s homes set the stage for a refined getaway.
Want to tick off an iconic Jaws spot too? Just drive Beach Road, connecting Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Along the way you find the American Legion Memorial Bridge — also known as Jaws Bridge.
Embrace it: It’s just 35 minutes by ferry from Cape Cod’s Falmouth to Vineyard Haven. Watch Jaws before you hop on.
16. Discover Cape Hatteras’ Atlantic graveyard
North Carolina // Running for more than 70 miles along the East Coast, secluded Cape Hatteras National Seashore overlooks the Graveyard of the Atlantic. In these treacherous Outer Banks waters, many ships have sunken over the years.
Today, luckily, it’s the untouched setting that takes you by storm.
Walk Cape Hatteras’ seemingly endless shoreline and sightsee historic lighthouses — towering Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse dutifully protect the seashore. Then, as day turns into night, do as the locals do and light a bonfire on the beach.
Top off the experience the day after with a visit to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in the town of Hatteras. It’s a free museum full of stories and artifacts from Outer Banks shipwrecks, ranging from times of piracy to the Second World War.
Discover it: Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a North Carolina secret. Norfolk, 80 miles (129 km) away, is the closest airport.
Summary of the best things to do in the USA
That’s it folks, the best things to do in the USA. Look back again soon for updates. This list is constantly evolving, getting bigger and better.
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- French Quarter, New Orleans
- Monument Valley
- Niagara Falls
- Ernest Hemingway Home, Key West
- Everglades National Park
- Freedom Trail, Boston
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Acadia National Park
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Martha’s Vineyard
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
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