The three months between mid-February and my trip this past week was the longest stint I’ve gone without flying in over three years. I have to admit that I’d been getting a bit stir crazy. But…the months at home have given me time to research and dream about future trips. Much of my focus has been on domestic travel (as I expect this to rebound first), and I’ve compiled a list of U.S. bucket list destinations.
Many people will be wary of traveling internationally for a while. There are airline industry projections that we won’t return to previous levels of travel until 2022, or even later. Cruising will likely also take a hit. It’s a pretty sure bet that domestic travel is going to bounce back most quickly.
Even thought I’m bullish on the prospect of international travel this year (and currently have three trips planned), I’ve also been giving some thought to destinations here in the U.S. There is *so* much to see here in America, and this is something that I tend to overlook in favor of more “exotic” trips. So I decided to compile my own 10 personal U.S. bucket list destinations that I haven’t yet seen:
Hiking to Havasupai
Located in a spur of the Grand Canyon, Havasupai Falls truly has to be one of the most beautiful places in the country. Every photo I’ve seen of the falls is spectacular. The turquoise water and red rocks are exquisite. Seeing them in person is solidly at the top of my list of U.S. bucket list destinations.
Getting to Havasupai, however, is a bit of a trek. First, you must make reservations to either camp or stay at the lodge in the canyon. Then you must hike 10 miles in, packing in all your gear yourself if you’re camping. The cost adds up quickly as well. There is a $50 entry fee, $10 environmental fee, and $25/night camping fee, all per person. But from the spectacular photos, it’s surely more than worth it.
The other issue is actually getting a slot. The number of visitors allowed into the canyon are strictly limited, and you have to apply for a nonrefundable permit online early in the year you plan to go. So this will happen in 2021, at the earliest.
A summer trip to Maine as a family is something that I’m saving until we can devote a full two weeks or so to the excursion. I’ve long been mesmerized by the beauty of the state, the picturesque coastline, Acadia National Park, and the historic lighthouses.
The National Park certainly takes top billing, but it would also be cool to visit Portland and Kennebunk, as well as venture up into the wilderness in the northern part of the state. Ideally, we’d visit in early fall. But that would be tough to swing with kids’ school schedules.
Olympic National Park
Living at the southernmost extent of the Pacific Northwest, I’ve visited a number of places in far northern California, Oregon, and Washington. From multiple visits to Seattle, to car trips up the picturesque Oregon Coast, there is plenty to do and see. Redwood National Park and Crater Lake National Park are two gems in northern California and southern Oregon, respectively.
One area I have yet to visit, however, is Olympic National Park. Located west of Seattle, the Olympic Mountains are a bit far for us to make in a single day’s drive. But I’m still hoping to make it up to the National Park for a week-long visit sometime in the next couple years.
Of all the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is at the top of my list for a visit. I’ve been to the Big Island, albeit briefly. But that is the only piece of Hawaii I’ve seen. Kauai is the wettest Hawaiian Island by far, and the lush landscape is what interest me the most. There are spectacular waterfalls, mountains, and hiking opportunities. One of my friends spent well over a year on the island and loved it.
Kauai has many nonstop flight options from the Bay Area, so I’m hopeful we’ll make it there within the next year or so.
Key West and Dry Tortugas NP
The southernmost point in the continental U.S., Key West is known for its nightlife and Caribbean vibe. There are lots of high-end resorts to choose from, beaches to enjoy, and the historic district offers some beautiful architecture.
You can find some of those same ingredients in other U.S. cities, but Key West tops my list of trips because of the unique national park nearby: Dry Tortugas. You have to take a ferry out to the park, as it is a full 70 miles west of Key West. The park offers an historic fort, beaches, and reefs with abundant marine life. Uniquely, the only way to stay overnight on the island is to camp, which is what I’d hope to do.
Grand Teton National Park
I have a love for mountains, any mountains. Most of the international destinations on my top list of places are mountainous countries: Switzerland, Armenia, Norway, New Zealand, Kyrgyzstan, among others. Likewise, some of my favorite U.S. destinations are in the mountains, including Glacier National Park, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and areas of the Appalachians that I’ve visited.
So it should be no surprise that one of the most beautiful national parks is on my list. Rising majestically above the lakes and forest in western Wyoming, I have wanted to visit the Grand Tetons ever since I saw a photo. I’ve come close to planning a quick trip to the park a couple times, but it’s not yet worked out. We’ll probably end up visiting the Tetons sooner rather than later. However, it’s also possible I combing them with a Yellowstone trip, in which case we’ll want to have ample time for both.
Great Smoky Mountains
More mountains! I’ve yet to visit Tennessee, and the Smokies just barely edge out Nashville and Memphis for the top spot in the state that I want to see. I’ve loved exploring other sections of the Appalachian Mountains, mainly in Virginia and West Virginia. The Smokies look exquisite, especially in the autumn when the forest is bathed in gorgeous fall colors. October is my month of choice. The weather ought to be pleasant then as well.
We’d probably end up staying close to the park in Gatlinburg, although skipping the resort town would be preferred. Finding a remote cabin for our stay sounds way better.
Forgot about our territory in the Caribbean, didn’t you? Puerto Rico is probably the closest thing to an international destination you can enjoy without breaking out a passport. And the island offers so much to do and see: Old San Juan, beautiful beaches, and even a national forest!
If we have the time, getting off the beaten path on Vieques Island (just off the coast of Puerto Rico) is the most appealing. With bioluminescent Mosquito Bay, a laid-back vibe, wild horses that roam the island, and plenty of unspoiled beaches, it looks like an amazing spot. Trivia fact: Vieques Island is the filming location of the original Lord of the Flies.
After visiting Charleston, South Carolina in late 2018, I’ve wanted to head back. The southern city had such a wonderful charm. As much as I loved Charleston, though, everyone I’ve talked with has told me that Savannah is an even better city to visit. Even though it’s across the country from us, it’s one of those long weekend destinations I have on my radar. I hope Savannah lives up to the hype!
My goal would be to visit in the spring, avoiding the oppressive summer heat. Summer in the south is not something I want to experience again.
Rounding out my top 10 U.S. bucket list destinations is upper Michigan. Both the upper peninsula and the upstate part of the “mitten” (admit it, the state looks like one) have some amazing places to see. I’ve been envious of my friend Mark’s photos from their trips to northern Michigan. I’d love to visit Mackinac Island and visit any of the lovely lakeshore beaches. We’ll fit it in one of these summers!
What Are Your U.S. bucket list destinations?
There is so much to see in the United States. I’m so often dreaming about international travel that I overlook the beauty and variety right before me at home. It’s no secret than Americans are among the least traveled people in the developed world. But aside from our country being massive, there is no shortage of places to visit.
What are your own personal U.S. bucket list destinations?