The western United States is one of the top tourist regions in the country – and for good reason. With stunning mountain ranges, active volcanoes, fjords, glaciers, coastal scenery, tropical temperatures, National Parks galore, and iconic cultural landmarks you could spend a lifetime exploring these states and never run out of things to do on the West Coast (and non-contiguous states). Featuring Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, nature lovers, beach goers, and road trippers will love these amazing activities. Jump to your state of choice or browse the whole region for bucket list inspiration. It’s impossible to get through this post without wanting to hit the road. Trust me, compiling it gave me a serious case of wanderlust myself.


Note: This post contains affiliate links, and should you choose to make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Since so many of these awesome destinations are run by the National Park Service, if you’re planning a West Coast road trip, you may want to order an America the Beautiful pass. It covers admission to these sites for the full year and can save you money after just a few visits.

Bucket list things to do in Alaska

Cruise the Kenai Fjords

South-central Alaska

Kid in a colorful hat standing in front of a glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

Photo by Vanessa from Wanderlust Crew

Covering 669,984 acres on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska, near the town of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the most spectacular sites, not only in Alaska, but all of America. It’s one of the only places in the world where mountains, glaciers, and ocean meet. With nearly 40 glaciers in the park, abundant sea life, and stunning scenery, it’s easy to see why this should be on any Western USA bucket list.

The best way to see Kenai Fjords National Park is from the ocean. Taking a day cruise with one of the tour companies like Major Marine is a must. The best part of these tours is that they come with a Park Ranger on board so you can get all of your questions answered and have a much more educational and enriching experience. If you’re visiting Alaska with kids, they can participate in the Junior Ranger program while on board.

You will have the opportunity to see magnificent wildlife such as otters, humpback whales, salmon, seals, sea lions, and puffins while touring the fjords. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to witness glacial calving, when large pieces of glaciers break off and fall into the ocean. And if you’ve always wanted to have a drink with 200-year-old ice, now is your chance!

You can also spend your time in Kenai Fjords National Park hiking, camping, birding, or kayaking. It truly is an experience of a lifetime.

By Vanessa from Wanderlust Crew 

Sail the Inside Passage

Southern Alaska

Passengers on the Alaska Ferry through the Inside Passage

Photo by Corinne from Reflections Enroute

More than 1,000 miles of pristine waterways, wending through islands and near the Canadian shores, the Inside Passage is a popular cruise destination. However, I have another idea for you to try out, taking you and your car on the Alaska ferry from Bellingham to Haines or Skagway. It’s comfortable; it’s adventurous, and what’s more, it’s much cheaper than taking a cruise. For this four night sailing, you can book a 2-berth or 4-berth cabin, sleep in any of the lounges, pitch a tent on a deck, or just sleep in the Solarium. National park rangers hold talks and help you look out for wildlife. You can view and learn about whales, bears, and eagles.

Stopping along the way in some fantastic ports, like Ketchikan and Juneau, also really adds to the trip. You are let off the boat, told when to return, and usually there are a few tour buses waiting to take you around the area. We loved the Ketchikan tour led by a lady who’d been living there for a couple of decades. Not only did we learn about the town and important people, she let us in on a little local gossip as well. It was so fun. All the ports have restaurants that you can pick up some Alaska fare. Our favorite was in Juneau, where we ate reindeer sausages with our breakfast.

Grab your binoculars and jump on board. The Alaska ferry is the best kept secret to discovering the Inside Passage on your journey up to Alaska!

By Corinne from Reflections Enroute  

Take a ride on a dogsled

Throughout Alaska

View from a dogsled as a team of dogs pulls it across a snowy landscape with mountains in the background

Photo by Heather from Trimm Travels

Alaska is my favorite state. Yes, over Hawaii and yes, over California. I’ve been to all 50 states and I’m a former resident of California. Alaska is just so diverse and the only place in the United States that has its type of scenery. I can’t quite say that for any other state honestly.

On my second trip to Alaska, we finally got to properly explore the interior on a cruisetour from Anchorage to Fairbanks. One of the top highlights of our stop in Juneau was dogsledding on a glacier! We were supposed to dogsled on Mendenhall Glacier but due to weather, we ended up taking a helicopter onto Taku Glacier instead.

This was my first dogsledding experience and I fell in love instantly! The dogs are super friendly and they LOVE to go! They actually don’t like to stop and will start whining when you do so. Mushing is second nature to them and what they love to do! And seriously, how cute are they in their little booties?

After we finished sledding, we got to play with the dogs for a bit and learn about their camp and routine which I found quite interesting. I also loved seeing the United States flag flying at the camp. If you love animals and have never done this activity, I highly recommend it and a trip to Alaska in general!

By Heather from Trimm Travels

You can pre-book plenty of dog sledding options through Viator.

Drive the Denali Park Road

South-central Alaska

Car driving the Denali Park Road with mountains in the background

Photo by Jennifer from National Park Obsessed

June 15th is an exciting day for Alaskans and Denali National Park lovers. It is the day the Denali Road Lottery results are released. It is the day 1,600 people learn if they are going to get a permit to drive the full 92-mile long Denali Park Road. This road is typically closed to the public. The full road is only open to the public for 5 days in mid-September and only those with a Denali Road Lottery Permit are permitted to drive the road. In recent years, odds are about 1 in 7 for getting a permit and people spend years trying to get their permit.

During the summer, you can take a bus into the park and ride the entire road. But you are on the bus’ timetable and frankly it means between 8 and 14 hours on a school bus with 50 people you have never met. Sure, you get to spot wildlife but it isn’t the same and being on your own time table and exploring Denali at your leisure.

The lottery winners are allowed pass by mile 15 – Savage River and explore this narrow dirt road. During the lottery, they are welcome to pull over and explore the park at their own pace. Winners have 18 hours to explore the road. They can spend it however they like. They can sit in Sable Pass and see if they can spot any bears eating berries. They can head over to Wonder Lake and do some hiking. Being able to explore the Denali Park Road on your own is a truly special event that should be on every National Park lover’s bucket list and if you are really lucky Denali the mountain might put in an appearance.

By Jennifer from National Park Obsessed 

If you’re not lucky enough to win the Denali Park Road Lottery, you can still make the drive with a tour operator, like this one through Viator.

Take a whale watching boat ride

Juneau, Alaska

Whale tail above the surface of the water with Alaskan mountains in the background

Photo by my mom

While in Alaska during the month of May, we disembarked our cruise ship in Juneau. We had decided to book only one excursion, to Mendenhall Glacier, but directly in from of us was a Juneau Tours booth advertising Whale Watching trips. Since it was a sunny day and relatively warm for May in Alaska, we decided to book the trip, and we were so glad we did. Our Mendenhall Glacier stop was in the morning, so we were picked up there and transported by bus to the dock at Auke Bay Harbor. We boarded a boat with about 40-50 seats and headed out into Auke Bay, and it wasn’t long before we started seeing whales and sea lions.

We were told what to watch for, and soon we were all spotting them under the water before they breached, even me – a person who is not known for their observational skills! The first whale tail we saw made the trip worthwhile and that sight repeated itself over and over again. With snow-topped peaks as a backdrop, we watched whale after whale dive and breach, flapping their magnificent tails in the air as they dove. There were plenty of sea lions, too, and we watched them play in the water around the whales, almost teasing them into a chase. We even got to see a few sunning themselves on a bright red and green buoy bobbing in the blue water. There was not a single person on board who was ready to go back to the dock; we all wanted to keep watching the incredible whales and cute sea lions as they played in the Alaskan sun!

By my mom!

Explore the US’ largest National Park

Eastern Alaska along the Yukon border

Person climbing pale blue glacial ice in Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Photo by Nancy from We Go With Kids

Wrangell St. Elias National Park, located in south central Alaska, is America’s largest national park and definitely a bucket list destination for all those who are able to visit. Spanning 13.2 million acres – the size of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined, visitors not only get to experience the vast remoteness of Alaska, but also its incredibly wild and untouched beauty. During our visit to Wrangell, we tried our hand at ice climbing and glacier hiking, and also loved our stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge. Unlike other national parks in the United States, where you can usually drive right up to the park and then through it on your own, getting to Wrangell involved a four hour drive on a bumpy road and then a 20 minute air taxi. Due to the remoteness of the location, my family happily took advantage of the 3 day, 2 night “all inclusive” package at the Lodge, which included three square meals and the air taxi flights in and out of the park. Also unlike most national parks, Wrangell is not a place that you can explore on your own – luckily, there are a few trusted guiding companies with experience accommodating visitors of all ages. Our trip to Wrangell St. Elias definitely tops our list of Must Do experiences, although given what a wonderful time we had, we hope it is not a Once in a Lifetime experience! For those able and willing, definitely incorporate Wrangell St. Elias into your next Alaskan adventure – you will not be disappointed.

By Nancy from We Go With Kids

Go salmon fishing on the Kenai River

South central Alaska

Man holding a fishing rod in the Kenai River

Photo by Ladona from Walking the Parks

Salmon Fishing on the Kenai River is one of Alaska’s epic adventures! Even if you are not a fisherman (like me) you will be telling stories of catching the “big one” for years. For serious fishermen (like my husband) this is a trip of a lifetime.

Almost all summer, salmon run on the Kenai River with different species prominent at different times. We split our July day fishing for King Salmon in the morning and Sockeye in the afternoon. When you catch a King, you are in for quite the adrenaline rush fighting it into your boat. While King fishing is a game of patience, Sockeye fishing is fast and furious. Using specialized rods, you are continuously casting from shore or a sandbar. We laughed with excitement as we reeled in fish after fish.

Salmon fishing is best if you have the right boat and equipment. That means using a guide. Most guides are either associated with a lodge or independent. Friends stayed at a fishing lodge and they took care of all the scheduling. However, it is so easy to plan this yourself. I was surprised how easy it was to find guides by searching “salmon fishing guides Kenai Alaska.” Make sure you read all their reviews and then reach out to a couple to check availability. Not only was our guide awesome, we observed many other guides that were really invested in their client’s experience.

So what do you do with all those fish? Your guide will clean them and you can take them to one of the local processors. They will flash freeze them and either ship to your home or pack in your cooler which you can check as luggage on most airlines. Imagine serving salmon at your next party that you caught yourself!

By Ladona from Walking the Parks 

If you want to book a Kenai fishing tour in advance, you can also make reservations through Viator.

Bucket list things to do in California

See the wonders of Yosemite National Park

Central Sierra Nevada mountains

Granite cliffs of the Yosemite Valley under blue skies

Yosemite is one of the United States’ most iconic National Parks. With sheer granite cliffs and dramatic waterfalls surrounding the valley, you could spend an entire vacation just enjoying the scenery. Some of the most famous attractions in Yosemite are the unmistakable Half Dome, massive El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls, which is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. With plenty of other massive waterfalls, miles and miles of hiking trails, ancient sequoia trees, and some incredible scenic drives, there are activities for outdoor lovers of all skillsets and levels of fitness. Dining, hotels, and campgrounds are all available within Yosemite Valley, as well as in the towns outside the park. Another popular activity in the park is rock climbing, and enthusiasts here revolutionized the sport in such a way that the system of rating the difficulty of climbing routes is named after the park. Even if, like me, climbing thousands of feet up isn’t in your list of physical skills, take a look at the popular walls to see if you can spot some climbers working their way up. Start planning your visit to Yosemite with this guide and check out some of the best hikes.

Have a magical day at Disneyland

Anaheim, California

Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Park is one of the highlights of visiting Disneyland for adults

Disneyland Park was Walt Disney’s first theme park and the place that started all the magic. Located in Anaheim, just west of LA, Disneyland’s two parks make up the most magical place on earth (per their marketing, and verified by me). Disneyland is the classic “castle park” with iconic Disney attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, Space Mountain, and Dumbo. Don’t miss a chance to dine at the Blue Bayou, which has a perpetually peaceful evening atmosphere along a portion of the Pirates ride track. It’s also the only Disney park that Walt himself actually visited. California Adventure is newer and undergoing major transitions. Its gorgeous pier area was recently renovated to celebrate Pixar characters, but it’s still as pretty as ever. It’s also home to Soarin’, Grizzly Peak, the IncrediCoaster, and the Radiator Springs Racers – easily one of the best rides on Disney Property. Its old Tower of Terror was revamped to a Guardians of the Galaxy theme and a whole Marvel land is planned for the area. The two parks are connected by the Downtown Disney district full of shopping and dining (and not all of it is Disney themed if you need a break from the Mouse). Kids and adults will love Disneyland and California Adventure, so don’t miss out on a chance to visit.

Get your discounted tickets here from their official partner, Undercover Tourist. You also have an option to bundle transport from LA with your park tickets through Viator.

Road trip the Pacific Coast Highway

California’s Pacific coast

Rocky cliffs along the California Pacific Coast Highway

Photo by Michael from The World Was Here First

One of the best things to add onto your California bucket list is undoubtedly a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as the PCH or Highway 1. While the PCH stretches along most of California’s Coast and there are plenty of amazing places to add onto your California itinerary, arguably the highlights occur on the Central Coast between Santa Barbara and Monterey.

Santa Barbara and the area surrounding the city offer fantastic wine tasting and outdoor activities which makes for an ideal first stop on a PCH road trip. Following Santa Barbara, a stop at Pismo Beach is essential if you want to experience a typical California surfing town. The drive north from Pismo Beach is absolutely breathtaking and passes through Big Sur, offering visitors some amazing natural scenery to see. There are plenty of spots to stop throughout Big Sur to enjoy a coastal walk or a longer hike in one of the State Parks.

The towns of Monterey and Carmel are a great stop after Big Sur as you have the option of enjoying more amazing scenery such as the 17-mile drive and Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. You can also indulge in the great restaurant, bar, and local wine scene prevalent in both towns.

If you have more time on your PCH road trip, then there are plenty of additional stops that you can enjoy north of Monterey such as Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay or San Francisco, while south of Santa Barbara you can add time in places like Los Angeles, Malibu, or Orange County.

By Michael from The World Was Here First 

Ski Lake Tahoe

California-Nevada border

Ski runs at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe

Straddling the California-Nevada border (but in the California section here because more of the lake falls in this state) in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is home to some of the best skiing in the United States. With heavy snowfalls punctuated by days with perfect bluebird skies, hitting the slopes with views of Lake Tahoe sparkling like a sapphire as the backdrop is a dream come true. There are even lots of opportunities for beginner skiers at Lake Tahoe. There are plenty of resorts to choose from in the area, but my favorite is Squaw Valley. It was home to an Olympic games in 1960, so you know the skiing is the real deal, and you can even visit a small free museum. Other resorts in the area are Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Mt. Rose (in Nevada).  Make sure you take a break from skiing or boarding to take a scenic drive along the lake itself. It’s unbelievably beautiful year round, but especially so in winter.

You can also get free one-day lift tickets for a few of the local resorts if you fly into the Reno airport. Find out how here.

See awe-inspiring redwood trees

Northern California

Sunlight filtering through the redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument

Redwood trees are absolutely mind-boggling. I grew up traveling through National Parks, but I was an adult the first time I laid eyes on them. I’ve seen awe-inspiring natural beauty in the form of canyons, mountains, rock formations, and cliffs before, but viewing redwood trees was the first time I’ve ever been so amazed by a living thing. Their size, their beauty, and their lifespan are all incredible in their own way. Walking among them definitely gives you a sense of your own small footprint. Or, if you’re a nerd, it makes you feel like you’re walking on Endor.

The best viewing of redwoods is in Redwood National and State Parks, a collection of parks jointly managed by the National Park Service and California. Old-growth redwoods have been protected here for decades, and visitors can hike among them and enjoy their stately beauty. You can also enjoy the northern California coastline and view a variety of marine life if you’re lucky. If you can’t make it to the northern coast, you can visit Muir Woods National Monument just outside of San Francisco, this small collection of redwoods is just as beautiful, but much more easily accessible. Don’t miss a chance to enjoy the quiet of Cathedral Grove where visitors are asked to remain quiet to preserve the peaceful atmosphere. Parking and shuttle reservations are now required to visit the National Monument, so be sure to plan ahead.

Visit the hottest place in the world

Death Valley, California

Flat desert basin in Death Vallley National Park

Photo by Andy from Sleep in the Woods

Hot, dry, barren, lifeless, and hot; that is what I knew about Death Valley. Why is hot there twice? Because it is really, really hot. The rest are true too, so why would you want to go to such a place? Basically because it is really interesting. For a barren valley of rock between two mountain ranges, there is really a lot of variety in Death Valley National Park.

From a Bucket List point of view, I would put forth three spots in the park that highlight that variety. The first is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. The little pool of alkaline water and nearby salt flat are fascinatingly different than anything I had ever set foot on.

Second, up the road from the Basin is a looping road through Artist’s Palette. This area of multicolored rocks shows how diverse and beautiful the park can be. They also used some of the canyons around here to film bits of the original Star Wars movie. Geek factor, check.

The last point is Mesquite Dunes, near Stovepipe Wells. In the vast flat of rock that is the park, there is an inexplicable patch of sandy dunes. The dunes feel perhaps like they belong more in the desert or perhaps even at the beach, but here they stand. Again, bits of Star Wars were filmed here.

Even if you don’t have a ton of time in Death Valley National Park, these three are easy to get to as you pass through. If you do have more time in the area, there are plenty of other sites to experience. And remember the heat – when we were there, it was hot enough to go through a liter of water in an hour.

By Andy from Sleep in the Woods 

Visit the Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco, California

Orange towers of the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco in the background

One of the most iconic bridges in the United States, if not the world, the Golden Gate bridge spans the entrance to San Francisco Bay. Its instantly-recognizable towers painted International Orange, place it among the tallest suspension bridges in the world and have made it one of the top tourist attractions in San Francisco. The bridge can be viewed from several overlooks in Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the San Francisco side as well. There is a toll if you want to drive the bridge, but it’s worth it for the experience and the chance to explore both sides. Parking is available at each end, though it’s only free on the north side. Biking across it is another popular activity, and several bike rental companies nearby offer hourly and daily rentals. Pedestrians are also permitted on one of the bridge’s walkways. It’s well worth checking the bridge out during the day and evening to enjoy the different lighting. It’s especially gorgeous at sunset if you can catch it on a clear day.

Explore gorgeous Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Rocky shores along the California coast in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Photo by Janine from Fill My Passport

Nestled beautifully off iconic Highway 1 in Northern California, an hour south of San Francisco, is Carmel-by-the-Sea- a beautiful fairy tale village where community comes first. A town where there are few street lights, no house numbers, and locals convene at their P.O. boxes Carmel-by-the-Sea is a unique stop where Clint Eastwood was mayor so many years ago.

Enjoy a stay at one of the many bed and breakfast hotels and plan to explore the many nooks and crannies during your stay. Enjoy a coffee at one-of-a-kind shops (no Starbucks in sight) before browsing unique clothing labels, independent art galleries, and tasting wines where wineries outnumber restaurants.

If you have a car, you cannot leave this picturesque hamlet before enjoying the 17-mile scenic drive around the lake. Stop at Pebble Beach and take a gander and stop in at the exact golf course that’s hosted many PGA Tour events. Eat at a romantic restaurant near Lover’s Point, and marvel at the scenery as you head back to Carmel.

Have a furry companion? Carmel-by-the-Sea was named the most dog-friendly of all American cities. Restaurants have special dog menus, water dishes adorn each porch, patio and courtyard, and hotels encourage their stay within their property.

I recommend staying a minimum of 48 hours to enjoy the area and amenities to the fullest. It’s a perfect stop on the Pacific Coast Highway.

By Janine from Fill My Passport 

Enjoy the natural wonders at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Southern Sierra Nevada mountains

Tall sequoia tree named General Sherman

These neighboring National Parks can easily be visited together – in fact, driving into Kings Canyon requires passing through Sequoia first. As its name may suggest, Sequoia National Park is devoted to protecting the ancient giant sequoia trees that can be found in abundance within its boundaries. The Giant Forest and General Sherman Tree (the largest known living tree in the world) are two of the most popular attractions and allow you to get up close to these incredible plants. Mt. Whitney – the tallest peak in the continental US – and Moro Rock are also within the park boundaries and can be hiked.

Kings Canyon National Park is also home to stands of sequoias, and also protects a large section of Sierra Nevada wilderness. Due to its wilderness designation, park services are limited, and most of the park is only accessible via lengthy hikes or horse trails. During summer months, the road to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon is open, which allows visitors to drive deep in the park’s namesake canyon. The canyon itself is actually deeper than the Grand Canyon and from Cedar Grove, you can enjoy the stunning granite cliffs surrounding it.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are jointly managed and you can find their official site here.

Explore Point Reyes National Seashore

Marin County, California

Cypress trees arching over a road in the Marin Headlands

Photo by Halef from The Round the World Guys

Located about an hour drive north of downtown San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Bay Area. It is part of the US National Parks System. Here, you can experience miles of pristine Northern California coastline as it has been for hundreds of years, with only a little development.

Some of the highlights you shouldn’t miss include hiking down (and back up!) the 308 stairs to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. If you are a National Parks passport stamp collector, there’s a special stamp just for you if you complete this task. Join the park ranger talks to learn more about this magnificent structure, as well as several historical figures and facts about Point Reyes.

Another Point Reyes popular spot is Cypress Tree Tunnel. While this beautiful alley leads to an administrative building, the photogenic rows of cypress trees are very Instagrammable spots for visitors.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a series of several National Park sites in the area. The famous Muir Woods National Monument is also located nearby. If you want a unique experience, book a stay at the HI Marin Headlands Hostel. It is the only hostel located within the US National Park System, and a lot of people even believe that it is haunted. Whatever you believe, there’s no questioning that this hostel sits on a beautiful landscape in its Northern California setting.

By Halef from The Round the World Guys

See the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree, California

Rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park

Photo by Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles

California is home to a number of stunning desert National and State parks, and one of the most beautiful and unique is Joshua Tree National Park in the southern part of the state. Joshua Tree NP is about an hour’s drive from the Palm Springs area, and also easily accessed by road from LA or San Diego. While you will find lots of fun things to do in Joshua Tree National Park in one day, you can stay at the park campgrounds for a few nights to experience the park under night skies or at dawn.

Joshua Tree National Park is actually located not just in one desert, but two: the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. As a result, within the boundaries of one park, you can see two clearly different landscapes and ecosystems. How cool is that? Some of the more noteworthy features of the park include gigantic boulder formations, some that have actually been named, such as Skull Rock, and the Joshua trees after which the park is named. The Joshua Tree is actually a yucca, and blooms in the spring.

If you enjoy hiking, you can pick from a variety of trails in Joshua Tree National Park. Some are short and picturesque, others long and/or difficult. You can also try bouldering, which means scrambling up the huge boulders, or watch expert climbers in action as they scale vertical rock walls. I love the flora in the park too: from the cholla cactus garden to the vast stands of Joshua trees, there is a wealth of plant life to study here. if you love desert sunsets, drive up to Keys View to watch the sun set and also for great views over the Coachella Valley.

If you love nature and National Parks, you will love visiting Joshua Tree National Park!

By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles 

You can even book guided hikes and beginner rock climbing experiences in Joshua Tree through Viator.

Hike to the Hollywood sign

Los Angeles, California

Photo from behind the Hollywood sign

Photo by Sara from Our Kind of Crazy

One of the most iconic spots in California is the Hollywood sign. And you can actually hike up to it and see it up close. There are a few different paths you can take, but we recommend heading towards the back of the sign, as it’s the closest you’ll be able to get to it, and you’ll have a nice view. The hike up isn’t too strenuous, but can take a little while, since you’ll have to park down on the street. You’ll have some great views all the way up, and it’s a nice hike to do on a beautiful Southern California day. When you reach the top, you’ll see the backside of the letters, and you will be able to see how large the letters actually are. Take a picnic lunch up and enjoy the views from the top. It’s a very popular attraction, so you most likely will be with several people heading back and forth on the hike as well. It is such a fun spot to hit while on a trip to Los Angeles. We definitely recommend driving to see the front of it, but taking the hike to check it out close up!

By Sara from Our Kind of Crazy 

Take a tour of Alcatraz prison

San Francisco, California

Alcatraz Prison on an island in San Francisco Bay

No prison in the United States is more famous than Alcatraz. The Rock, as it’s known, is located on an island in San Francisco Bay, and was supposed to be impossible to escape, though three prisoners may or may not have successfully done so. Originally a fort and then a military prison, Alcatraz served as a Federal Penitentiary from 1934 until 1963. Some of the most famous inmates in US history, including Al Capone, were housed there during its years of operation. Today, the prison is operated by the National Park Service and visitors can take a boat out to explore the buildings and cell blocks. Tours include an audio guide or you can try to catch one of the free guided tours conducted by National Park Service staff on a variety of topics. There are also a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits to explore. Find out more of the highlights of Alcatraz here!

Watch sunset from the Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles, California

Dusky sky over LA from the Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory, located in Griffith Park, is one of the best free attractions in Los Angeles. Not only is the observatory filled with astronomy displays, but you can also get good views of the Hollywood sign and watch sunset over the city. You can even take a sunset yoga class nearby. Watching sunset from up there is gorgeous because you can see all the way to the water and on a clear evening, you’ll be treated to gorgeous colors in the sky. Early dusk is also great, as you can stand on the observatory’s outdoor balconies and watch the Los Angeles city lights slowly turn on. Watching the city light up below me was one of the highlights of my visit to LA, and you should definitely make time either before or after sunset to check out the exhibits inside. Beware that parking is limited and traffic can get crazy around sunset time, so be prepared to do some walking and get there early. I was two minutes away from giving up when I finally got lucky and snagged a parking spot from someone who was leaving.

Bucket list things to do in Hawaii

Visit Hawaii’s famous active volcanoes

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii (Hawaii)

View of volcanic field at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Photo by Sarah from CosmopoliClan

Visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a memorable experience and the highlight of any visit to the Big Island of Hawaii. The National Park is home to not one but two active volcanoes: the infamous Kilauea, which erupted in the spring of 2018, and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest volcano. This results in unique scenery and biodiversity, making the park a designated International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. Because of the volcanoes’ unpredictable nature, it’s recommended to make a short stop at the Kilauea Visitor Center before you start your visit to check the latest conditions and pick up a map. You can either explore the park by car – just a regular vehicle will do – or by foot. The two drives you can choose from are the Crater Rim Drive or the spectacular 18.8-mile-long Chain of Craters Road. I’d strongly recommend the latter. Do note that there’s no fuel service along the route.

There are plenty of (day) hikes to choose from in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as well, either around the Kilauea summit or along the Chain of Craters Road. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not only important for tourism on Hawaii, for native Hawaiians, the Halema‘uma‘u Crater is a sacred place since it is believed to be the home of the volcanic goddess Pele. You might even see them bring offerings to the craters. So, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not just about adventure but has an important cultural aspect as well. It’s a unique Hawaii bucket list experience!

By Sarah from CosmopoliClan

Drive the Road to Hana

Eastern Maui, Hawaii

Surfers riding waves along the Road to Hana

Photo by Danila from Travelling Dany

A road trip on the Road to Hana in Maui is definitely one of the must-do activities if you’re planning to visit Hawaii. The second largest island in the archipelago seems to have condensed all its best traits in the Hana Highway. The road that goes from Kahului to Hana is a 53-mile long paradise that you should explore at your own pace. It smells like tropical flowers…and fresh coconut milk, as there are quite a few vendors along the way.

The best way to go is to leave your hotel early in the morning, so you won’t find too much traffic. Buy lots of healthy snacks (we ate baby carrots and slices of fresh pineapple) and a fresh coconut on the way to Hana: for just a few dollars you’ll get the best of the best. Besides, it’ll be quite warm and humid so fresh snacks will be much needed!

The road to Hana allows you to hike and swim around breath-taking waterfalls, to explore lava tunnels, and even to take pictures of the rare Rainbow Eucalyptus, the most colourful tree in the world, at Keanae Arboretum! One of the most popular areas on the Hana Highway is Ohe’o Gulch, a valley known also as “Seven Sacred Pools”, part of Haleakala National Park. Make sure you spend at least 2-3 hours in this valley if you want to visit its bamboo forest (the perfect Instagrammable spot) and take pictures of the most spectacular waterfall in Maui, Waimoku Falls. There’s a 400 ft drop!

By Danila from Traveling Dany

See the sun rise over a volcanic crater

Kula, Hawaii (Maui)

Sunrise from Haleakala National Park

Photo by Katherine from Bright Lights of America

When was the last time you had the opportunity to watch the sun rise over the clouds at your feet, from the crater of a volcano? I’m betting the answer is never, or at least not for a very long time. That’s why a trip to Maui’s Haleakala volcano to watch the sunrise is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Haleakala is a dormant volcano that rises 10,032 ft above sea level, so the air is a little thin and it is cold up there, especially just before sunrise. Consider this your warning to wear as many layers as you can and bring blankets if you feel the cold. You’ll forget all about your numb fingers once the sky starts to turn a golden pink and the sun begins to illuminate the clouds and crater below you.

I’ll level with you – depending on where you’re staying on the beautiful island of Maui, you’re going to have to wake up at an ungodly hour of the day. We were in Kihei and had to wake up at 3.30am in April to get to Haleakala in time to deal with the traffic on the way up the volcano and nab a good viewing spot. Also, you need to book a Haleakala National Park Summit Sunrise reservation online early (weeks in advance) to secure your spot, otherwise you won’t get past the guards at the gate.

Our favorite part of the experience was listening to two Maui natives singing in the sunrise for us, as the golden orb rose into the sky. It threw a hush over the crowd as we listened to an ancient tradition unfold before us. Find out everything you need to know and bring with you to experience a Haleakala sunrise here.

By Katherine from Bright Lights of America

Visit the Pearl Harbor memorial

Honolulu, Hawaii (Oahu)

USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor

Photo by Helena from Through an Aussie’s Eyes

On 7 December, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on the US that resulted in them joining World War II. On this dark night in 1941, thousands of lives were lost. Pearl Harbor is known around the world as an iconic memorial and historical site situated on Oahu, Hawaii. There are five historic sites that make up Pearl Harbor today – the Pacific Aviation Museum, the WWII Valor in the Pacific (the USS Arizona Memorial), USS Oklahoma Memorial, Battleship Missouri Memorial and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. If you want to access all sites then I highly recommend purchasing the Passport to Pearl Harbor which is an all-inclusive ticket.

The USS Arizona Memorial is perhaps the most mesmerizing and somber part of Pearl Harbor. You need to reserve a time slot for the boat tour by either going online and paying a small fee (two months in advance) or they release 1,300 tickets every morning. But trust me, it is worth it. Once you watch a short film about the attack, you take a small boat shuttle out to the floating memorial which has been built over the top of the sunken hull of the Arizona. The Shrine holds the names of the men who lost their lives. You are still able to see rings of oil floating on the surface of the water from the sunken Arizona. It is a very powerful and moving. It definitely should be a place included on your bucket list.

By Helena from Through an Aussie’s Eyes

Hike Waimea Canyon

Waimea, Hawaii (Kauai)

View of Waimea Canyon with deep red gorges and green foliage

Photo by Kalena from Lost and Abroad

From world-famous surf spots to towering sea cliffs, the island of Kauaʻi is in a league of its own. One natural wonder that should be on any bucket list is Waimea Canyon, often called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The ten-mile long gorge is a brilliant maroon and burnt orange color and is draped with an 800-foot cascading waterfall. Fed from Mount Waiʻaleʻale, one of the wettest places on earth, the Waimea River continues to erode away the earth.

Visitors can marvel over the sweeping panoramic views at the Puʻu Ka Pele and Puʻu Hinahina overlooks or hike down to the canyon floor on the grueling Kukui Trail. One of the most popular routes is the short 3.2 mile Canyon Trail which has gorgeous viewpoints and ends at a close-up look at Waipoʻo Waterfall.

By Kalena from Lost and Abroad

Take a nighttime swim with manta rays

Kona, Hawaii (Hawaii)

Giant manta ray swimming

Swimming with manta rays at night should be on every Hawaii bucket list. Manta rays are the largest of the rays, with wingspans up to 20 feet wide. Every night, these enormous creatures come to an area just north of Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island to feed. Large spotlights are set up on the floor of the ocean. The light attracts micro plankton (invisible to the eye), which in turn attracts the manta rays.

You can experience this incredible sight as a diver or as a snorkeler. Divers kneel on the floor of the bay and snorkelers hang on to inflatable rafts on the surface, face down and breathing through their snorkel. The rays swoop and swerve between them, eating their fill.  They often turn upside down near the surface, skimming just below the snorkelers in order to get as much food as possible, and dive right over the divers’ heads, missing them by inches. Manta rays have enormous rectangular mouths with grills to filter the plankton, and seeing this come straight at you can be intimidating, but they are harmless and swerve away at the last second. Seeing these enormous creatures come out of the dark, glide inches from you and somersault and dance in the water is an incredible experience.

There are multiple operators in Kona, many offering diving and snorkeling from the same boat, though a few only offer snorkeling trips. They run nightly throughout the year.

By James from Travel Collecting

Take the Diamond Head Hike

Honolulu, Hawaii (Oahu)

Two women posing on an overlook at the top of the Diamond Head Hike with Honolulu in the background

Photo courtesy of Michelle from Travel After Five

The Diamond Head Hike on Oahu definitely needs to be added to your Hawaii bucket list. You start at the bottom of the Diamond Head crater, which is a part of the Honolulu Volcanic Series. The trail starts along a concrete walkway before moving onto the rocky trail that starts the ascent towards the top. Once you pass a historic lookout building, you climb two stairways that will take you to an old Fire Control Station. Past these climbs, you will reach the Observation Station, which gives you a phenomenal view of Honolulu and the surrounding ocean. If you come to this spot in the evening, you can catch the beginning of a spectacular sunset.

Diamond Head State Monument is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm every day, with the last entrance at 4:30 pm. When my friend and I arrived, we walked up right at 4:30 pm and were allowed into the park. Entrance is $1 per person or $5 per car, and is cash only. The trail path is easy to follow, with the majority of the path paved and roped off. When we completed this hike, my friend was actually in a leg brace. Even with her handicap, we were still able to complete the hike in the allotted time, and without too much physical exertion. This hike is a perfect addition to your Oahu itinerary, and is safe for even the most casual hikers.

By Michelle from Travel After Five 

Go skydiving over Oahu’s North Shore

Oahu, Hawaii

Woman and man skydiving together over Oahu

Photo courtesy of Patti from Luggage and Lipstick

With a loud screech, the side door of the tiny aircraft began to slowly rise up. A brisk gust of wind kissed my face and I questioned why I had ever made the decision to jump 14,000 feet high out of a perfectly good plane. Strapped in tight to Mario, my tandem jumpmaster from Pacific Skydiving Center, he edged us over to the door where we hovered for what seemed like an eternity. Then the decision was no longer mine…Mario launched us out of the craft and we began to freefall.

The frigid air filled my mouth, drying it out and making it difficult to smile, but not impossible. Talk about an adrenaline rush!  All too soon, he pulled the ripcord to release the parachute and our decent slowed considerably as we floated towards land. It was then that I noticed the stunning seascape of Oahu’s North Shore spread out beneath me. Views of wild crashing waves gradually gave way to dry land as I pulled my knees up while Mario gently landed us.

By Patti from Luggage and Lipstick

You can even pre-book a skydiving experience on Viator.

Hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls

Kapaa, Hawaii (Kauai)

Waves rolling in under blue skies on the hike to Hanakapiai Falls

Photo by Leah from An Adventure is Calling

The hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls deserves a spot on everyone’s U.S. bucket list! It is located in Hawaii, on the island of Kaua’i, and it is arguably one of Hawaii’s most breathtaking adventure spots. While the actual 300 foot high waterfall is amazing, the 8 mile roundtrip hike to the waterfall is just as beautiful as the waterfall itself. The hike is considered strenuous, but it is well worth it for adventure seekers who are up for a challenge!

To hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls, begin at Ke’e Beach. Arrive by 8am to secure a parking spot. Pack plenty of water and snacks, and wear comfortable shoes that you can cross through water in. Take the Kalalau Trail (from the Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park). The view from the first mile of the hike is arguably the most beautiful view of the Pacific on the island. After hiking for a total of 2 miles, you will reach Hanakapiai Beach, where you can relax and use restrooms (the beach is lovely but not safe for swimming). Many hikers turn around at this point, but you will want to keep going. When you reach a fork in the trail, go right to stay on the Kalalua Trail (along the coastline) and go left to hike inland through the jungle to get to the waterfall. You’ll hike through bamboo, banana trees, and countless streams for another two miles. Once you reach Hanakapi’ai Falls, you’ll want to relax for a long time! Keep in mind that leptospirosis (lepto) is present in the fresh water on the island, so you’ll want to pay attention to warning signs when enjoying the water. To get out, you’ll head back the way you came in. I highly recommend snorkeling at Ke’e Beach after your long hike!

By Leah from An Adventure is Calling

Learn about Polynesian cultures

Laie, Hawaii (Oahu)

Replicas of Easter Island statues at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Photo by Katy from Untold Morsels

The Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is a must-do activity when you visit Hawaii. The center has showcased the unique culture of Hawaii and the Polynesian Islands via a series of interactive shows and displays for over 50 years. It was voted one of the top attractions in the United States in 2018 and is a half-day visit full of fun on Oahu’s North Shore.

When you visit the PCC, you take a trip to 6 villages representing island nations of Polynesia. In Samoa you learn how to shimmy up a palm tree to grab a coconut, and in Aotearoa (New Zealand) you’ll discover the haka – a scary Maori war dance.  In Tahiti, learn the local drumming techniques that help tell the islanders’ stories. Apart from the cultural displays at each village, there are canoe tours and an impressive water pageant where dancers perform on boats floating along the central river. You can even get a temporary Fijian tattoo and see replicas of the famed Moai statues from Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

When it is time to eat, you can’t miss the award winning Ali’i luau. After enjoying the lei greeting ceremony, take your seats and get ready for a feast of the senses. Try the traditional poké and freshly roasted kalua pork while you watch dance performances from all the countries of Polynesia. You can’t help but be impressed by the fire dancers and grinning keiki (small children) in their national costumes.

In the evening the entertainment continues in the center’s theater show – Hā: Breath of Life. This spectacular production tells the story of the beautiful islands of Polynesia through dance and song.

By Katy from Untold Morsels  

You can purchase admission and/or a luau through Viator.

Bucket list things to do in Idaho

Wander among lava flows

Central Idaho

Panorama of rolling hills in Craters of the Moon National Park

Photo by Kelly from WanderlustByKelley

Looking for a unique nature experience? Look no further than Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. A true gem and natural wonder in the state of Idaho. The landscape is surreal, making you feel like you are in a completely different world!

Craters of the Moon is located in the Snake River Plain region of Central Idaho and represents one of the best preserved flood basalt areas in the continental US. The landscape is incredible, you walk amongst a vast ocean of lava flows! A visit to the visitor center is a must before you go exploring. Here you will learn about the volcanic history of this region through films and exhibits. Plus, you can collect your permit here to go caving! Exploring Craters of the Moon allows you to view surface volcanic features as well as walking inside dormant volcanoes! There are three major lava fields allowing you to see examples of every variety of basaltic lava.

I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to go caving. There are five cave trails to choose from, all varying in intensity. Another must is to take advantage of camping at the lava flow campground, giving you a great opportunity to camp under the outstanding night sky whilst you feel like you are on the moon! It is important to note that this area is a delicate ecosystem and home to an variety of vegetation and wildlife, so it’s vital to respect the natural surroundings and stay on the dedicated trails.

By Kelly from WanderlustByKelley

Enjoy lake life in Coeur d’Alene

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Lakeshore and docks in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho

Photo by Andrea from One Savvy Wanderer

The beautiful Northern Idaho lake town of Coeur d’Alene is located about 30 miles from Spokane, Washington, (home to the closest airport!) and is only about 15 miles from the Washington-Idaho border. Those who enjoy the outdoors, especially the lake life, should plan to visit Coeur d’Alene.

The best place to stay is the Coeur d’Alene Resort. It is located in downtown Coeur d’Alene on the water. It is centrally located so that you can enjoy both the lake activities and the downtown shopping and restaurants. The Coeur d’Alene Resort is also home to a golf course with a world-famous floating green in the middle of the lake!

When considering where to eat, Crafted Taphouse + Kitchen should be at the top of your list! They boast over 50 beers on tap which really complement the gastropub food menu. Since there is a large outdoor area for seating in the summer months, Crafted is the best place to be to grab a drink or a bite to eat.

There is also the Silverwood Theme Park & Water Park located about 15 miles north of Coeur d’Alene. This family-friendly attraction is the largest theme park in in the Pacific Northwest and is a great place to spend a day when visiting Coeur d’Alene!

By Andrea from One Savvy Wanderer 

Bucket list things to do in Nevada

Walk the Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas, Nevada

View of the Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada

The many casinos along the Las Vegas Strip have been drawing gamblers, partiers, and other kinds of tourists for decades. With glitzy casinos lining the streets full of over-the-top décor and attractions – you can find replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Trevi Fountain, a lagoon for gondola rides, a roller coaster, and more – you don’t even have to gamble to have a good time. You can easily devote a day to walking the Strip and taking pictures of the different casinos. Even if it’s your first visit, you’ll recognize lots of places from tv shows and movies. Don’t forget to catch one of the fountain shows outside of the Bellagio while you’re at it. After dark, the Strip really comes to life with neon lights and a people out and about. There are plenty of restaurants to suit every taste and budget along the way, and the hardest part might be choosing one to eat at. You can also enjoy some of the nightly entertainment, with popular acts like Cirque du Soleil performing regularly.

Visit the iconic Hoover Dam

Nevada-Arizona state line

Photo of the Hoover Dam

Photo by Lauryn from LE Travels

The Hoover Dam is one of the most iconic man-made marvels in the United States and it just happens to be a short drive from Las Vegas, Nevada. Completed in 1936, it was the largest concrete structure to be built at that time. Not only is it incredible to see, but it also serves an important purpose. The Hoover Dam generates power for public and private utilities all over California, Nevada, and Arizona. To reach the Hoover Dam from Las Vegas, it’s best to rent a car for the day. As a bonus, you’ll be able to see a few other sites near the Hoover Dam once you’ve completed your visit.

It’s important to note you cannot pre-purchase tour tickets for the Hoover Dam. All tours are first-come-first-serve, so arriving early is the key to getting the coveted Power Plant Tour tickets. Pricing for Power Plant Tour tickets as well as the visitors center can be found on the Hoover Dam website.

On your way out of the Hoover Dam, don’t forget to stop by the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge to get an incredible view of the Dam from above. There is a small parking lot for the bridge right outside the Hoover Dam exit. Once you’ve parked, follow the path up to the pedestrian walkway. If you’re brave enough, walk to the center of the bridge for the most stunning view of the Hoover Dam. For those with a fear of heights, this might be a challenge for you. The bridge sits at 890 feet above the Colorado River, so it is not for the faint of heart.

If you’re already traveling to Las Vegas, be sure to build some time into your trip for an adventure to the Hoover Dam!

By Lauryn from LE Travels

Explore Red Rock Canyon

Clark County, Nevada

Red rock formations under a bright blue sky in Red Rock Canyon

Photo by Leona from Wandermust Family

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a short drive from Vegas, a mere 12 mile drive that takes about 40 minutes in total to get to. It offers the perfect alternative day trip for those visiting Vegas who want to see something more natural!

Once you arrive, Red Rock Canyon has a 13-mile scenic drive around the park. On this drive there are plenty of places to pull over and park and then head off on hikes of different intensity. As we were traveling with a toddler, we decided not to venture off on any long hikes but just enjoyed the surroundings of each of the stops. There were plenty of great trails and photo opportunities. For the more adventurous, there are over 26 hikes on the loop! There are several hikes that are rated easy to moderate on the scenic loop including the Lost Creek – Children’s Discovery Trail however for those that are more adventurous and have more time, there are harder rated hikes and even places to climb.

For me Red Rock is the perfect tonic or accompaniment to a trip to Vegas and should be on any bucket list!

By Leona from Wandermust Family

Go hiking in Valley of Fire State Park

Clark County, Nevada

Red rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park

Photo by Megan from Red Around the World

Valley of Fire State Park is just a short drive from Las Vegas, about an hour, making it a popular day trip for people looking to take a break from The Strip. This is the home to the Fire Wave, basically a smaller, slightly less cool version of the famous Wave you see in Utah/Arizona. While it may not be quite as spectacular as the official Wave, it’s still a great hike. You can also see petroglyphs, petrified trees, tons of rock formations, and a light pastel slot canyon. It’s a short one (length and height) but it’s still a nice hike that you might not see other people on since it isn’t an official trail. If you ask at the visitor center, they can tell you which pull off is the home of Pastel Canyon.

If you plan on visiting in the summer, just remember how hot it will be. It’s called Valley of Fire for a reason (not actually because it’s hot, but it works). Even in September, it still felt like it was approximately 150 degrees. Celsius. So make sure you stay hydrated and wear sunscreen since there isn’t much shade. If you’re just passing through Vegas, this also makes a great stop on your way in or out if you’re headed towards Utah and Arizona.

By Megan from Red Around the World

See relics of Vegas history

Las Vegas, Nevada

Neon duck sign

Photo by Jonathan from JourneyMaxx

Las Vegas, its history and culture – if it can be defined as such – is certainly unique. Sin City can be described as a bit of a marmite city, eliciting all sorts of love it or hate it responses. For some, there is no better place to revel in all sorts of hedonistic pleasures. For others, the glistening city in the desert represents all that is foul about what people do when they have more money than sense. Not a guarantee on everyone’s bucket-list.

One of the great defining features of Vegas past and present is the abundance of neon lit signs across the Strip and Downtown. Yet through the years, the Vegas streets have seen many more changes than you can mention. As some of the famous casinos of vintage Vegas have closed their doors for good to make way for modernized resorts, the signs that stood out so far and high will never go to waste.

Located a short walk north of Fremont Street is the Neon Boneyard. At first glance it may appear to be nothing more than a scrapyard of old signs. The skull and crossbones from Treasure Island, taken down as that got a rebranding, the old Sahara signage and its camels, as well as other larger than life icons that once defined Vegas are all here, some of which have been revived and given a new lease of life again. For example, the horse and cowboy of the Hacienda Casino Hotel, which closed in 1996 to make way for the Mandalay Bay, now has a new location on Fremont East today. The old rotating ruby slipper of the 60s now spins further along the same street near the hipster friendly Container Park that makes for an entertaining evening venue. Even the visitor center is inside the entrance to the old La Concha motel that is firmly rooted in the Futurist architecture trend of the 1950s. It certainly is fun to play a guessing game wondering which old signs will be restored again soon and where they will fit in with contemporary Vegas.

But the most special feature of all is the aptly titled “Brilliant” exhibition that was launched in 2018. When the sun goes down, the old signs light up. Through so much careful restoration and preservation, visitors can go through a maze of dazzling signs in their full glory like they used to. As this is quite a popular event that sells out, it is highly recommended you book a time slot for this rather than turn up spontaneously. Brilliant – in more ways than one.

By Jonathan from JourneyMaxx

Bucket list things to do in Oregon

Drive the Columbia River Gorge

Oregon-Washington state line

Two tiered waterfall Multnomah Falls cascading under a bridge surrounded by green foliage

Photo by Amanda from A Dangerous Business

Fun fact for you: Did you know that the very first planned scenic roadway in the United States can be found in Oregon? It can, and the roadway is the Historic Columbia River Highway. Completed in 1922, the Historic Columbia River Highway stretches for about 75 miles from Troutdale and The Dalles in northern Oregon, following the river-carved Columbia River Gorge. The route is known for its scenic beauty (think: old forests and lots of waterfalls), along with being an engineering feat.

Visitors to the Columbia River Gorge can drive the whole Highway in a day, stopping for short hikes, pretty vistas, and of course the area’s famous waterfalls. The most famous waterfall along the highway is Multnomah Falls, which is a 620-foot two-tiered waterfall that looks impressive in any season. Nearby is the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which was built in 1925 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Columbia River Gorge was impacted by a large fire that burned much of the area in September 2017. Trails and services along the road have been reopening slowly, but the trip is still worth making – especially since it’s less than an hour from Portland. You can still stop to take in the views at Vista House, see Multnomah Falls up close, and drive sections of the historic highway.

This is definitely a must-visit on an Oregon road trip, or on any trip to the West Coast!

By Amanda from A Dangerous Business

Visit the deepest lake in the United States

Southwestern Oregon

Bright blue waters of Crater Lake

Photo by Theresa from The Local Tourist

The first view of Crater Lake will literally take your breath away. The water is such an intense blue that seeing it is a surreal experience. The reason for that azure color is because of the depth of the water: this is the deepest lake in the United States. It’s also one of the cleanest lakes in the world. The lake formed 7,700 years ago when a volcano exploded and the top crumbled. The cavity filled with rain, and to this day the water level is maintained solely through precipitation and melting snow.

There are several viewing points around the rim of the caldera, as well as hiking trails. Swimming is allowed in the lake, but the water is only accessible via a steep trail. Fishing is also allowed. Although there are no indigenous species, several fish were introduced in the late 19th century until 1941, when the fish stocking ended.

Because of its elevation, activities are very seasonal. The campgrounds are open around June through September, but it’s always best to check in advance if you’re near the beginning or end of that time period. Crater Lake Lodge and The Cabins at Mazama Village are also open seasonally. They’re both located in Rim Village, a complex of accommodations, gift shops, and dining.

Admission to Crater Lake National Park is $25 in the summer and $15 in the winter for passenger cars, or free with an America the Beautiful Annual Interagency Pass.

By Theresa from The Local Tourist

Relax on the alpine lakes of Mount Hood

North-central Oregon

Two children sitting on a rock and enjoying the view of one of Mt. Hood's blue lakes

Photo by Catherine from To & Fro Fam

You can’t get more Oregon than the alpine lakes on Mt. Hood, hands-down one of the most gorgeous areas of the Western US. Mt. Hood is less than an hour away from Portland, where you can explore during any season and any weather. What’s more, most adventures are only a $5 parks pass away.

My kids and I spend summers on the lakes of Mt. Hood hiking, catching tadpoles, swimming (even though the water is cold!) and canoeing. Up there on the mountain, you’re directly in touch with nature, no barriers to be seen. We get our hands dirty turning over stones to look for tiny frogs. We stand perfectly still amid a cloud of butterflies. We occasionally scrape our knees while scrambling over fallen logs or enormous rocks—evidence of the mountain’s volcanic past.

In the winter, we snowshoe and sled. Many trails are maintained around the lakes, and everything quiets under a blanket of snow.

The alpine lakes of Mt. Hood are one of the most breathtaking yet easily accessible spots I’ve visited in the Western US. If you count yourself lucky enough to travel in Oregon, don’t miss the chance to explore Mt. Hood. Wondering where to go? Trillium Lake and Mirror Lake have the iconic postcard-ready views but are more heavily trafficked; Twin Lakes and Frog Lake are more off the beaten path.

Wherever you explore on Mt. Hood, you won’t regret the trip.

By Catherine from To & Fro Fam

Explore the fossils at Jon Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Kimberly, Oregon

Rolling rock formations at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Photo by Lisa from TheHotFlashPacker

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a relatively undiscovered park that should be on any west coast bucket list. It’s in the eastern half of Oregon, which is a desert unlike the rainy half to the west of the Cascade mountains. This National Monument, run by the National Park System, has three separate units. The Clarno Unit contains a couple short walks amongst rocks that have fossils of ancient plants. The Sheep Rock unit contains the main visitor center, a historical ranch, and a couple great hikes. The Blue Basin Hike is a 4-mile loop that takes you up through the green, gray, and blue clay hills. The visitor center is well worth a visit – they have several videos on demand, a laboratory for examining fossils, and many fossil replicas from African-type animals that used to live in this area of Oregon. The most popular unit in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is the Painted Hills unit. This unit contains colorful clay hills. The hills are extremely photogenic. If you visit in the spring, you can see many wildflowers. The John Day area is very remote. You should make sure you go on a full tank of gas and fill before you get to a quarter tank. The Painted Hills are 2 hours from Bend, OR and 4 hours from Portland.

By Lisa from TheHotFlashPacker  

Sip your way through Oregon’s top wine region

Willamette Valley, Oregon

Man and woman posing with wine glasses in front of wine barrels

Photo courtesy of Margie from DQ Family Travel

If you’re visiting Oregon, then a stop through the Willamette Valley is a must do. This area is home to world-class pinot noir. Located just south of Portland, Oregon Wine Country has become a destination for wine lovers around the world. There are over 700 vineyards located in the Willamette Valley and more than 500 wineries. The best way to visit is by car, as many of the vineyards and wineries can be spread out. By visiting some of the smaller towns in the area like Carlton and Newberg, you could walk through the downtown area and stop in to taste local wines.

For the best experience, though, I recommend visiting the vineyards themselves. Most of the farm vineyards offer wine tastings, tours and spectacular views of the mountains and valleys. Some of my favorites include Patricia Green Cellars, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Stoller Family Estate, and Chehalem Winery. Oregon provides more of a casual atmosphere than the upscale Napa Valley area. The employees at these vineyards are not only very friendly, but they love chatting about wine. This makes it a perfect place for the beginner wine drinker. Due to the abundance of farms, the local food scene is incredible. Finding a great place to have a meal is quite easy when visiting the Willamette Valley. Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to The Willamette Valley. The Pacific Northwest has become my favorite area to visit in the U.S. not only because I love pinot noir, but because of its natural beauty, fresh food and proximity to the mountains and ocean.

By Margie from DQ Family Travel

Bucket list things to do in Washington

Hike Mount Rainier

Western Washington

Rocky peaks at Mount Rainier National Park

Photo by Christa from Expedition Wildlife

Mount Rainier is the symbol of Washington State, shining like a beacon for those who are itching to get into the stunning Cascade Mountains. The best time to hike on and around Mount Rainier is from June through September, weather depending of course, when the snow has largely melted from the lower reaches and the weather is warmer and fairer. Throughout this summer period, all varieties of alpine wildflower will be in bloom, creating a carpet of rainbow colors as the backdrop to your exploration. It is possible to snowshoe some of the trails in the park, such as up to Panorama Point from Paradise, just be sure to go with a Park Ranger, an option available during certain times of the winter, or have a trained eye for areas prone to avalanche danger. While busier, the Visitor Centers at Sunrise and Paradise are great jumping off places to have beautiful day hikes, such as the Glacier Basin Loop in the north or the easier but equally stunning Nisqually Vista Trail in the south. Even the scenic drive along glacial rivers leading into the park makes a day trip to the area worth it. Dozens of awe-inspiring trails can be found throughout Mount Rainier National Park – check out the Washington Trails Association website to find a hike that fits your needs best!

By Christa from Expedition Wildlife

You can book a variety of Mount Rainer tours featuring backpacking, hiking, snowshoeing, and flyovers through Viator.

Explore Olympic National Park

Olympic peninsula, Washington

Snow covered mountains in Olympic National Park

Photo by Amanda from Every Two Pines

Olympic National Park is one of Washington’s greatest features, and for good reason! There are not too many national parks where you can visit the high alpine, temperate rainforest and the rugged Washington coast all within the bounds of one National Park. One of the best ways to explore Olympic National Park is a road trip covering the northern end of the park. Visit in the winter when the crowds are low and the sights are in full splendor!

Start by visiting Port Angeles and driving up to Hurricane Ridge. A sea of mountain ranges extends in the distance with the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the distance. The views are phenomenal from the parking lot, but get even better if you venture up the short hike to Hurricane Hill. This area is open on the weekends in the winter and well worth the drive. After Hurricane Ridge, head to the Hoh River to see the Hall of Mosses and Washington’s quintessential temperate rainforests. These old-growth trees are absolutely dripping with lush greenery and exemplify Olympic National Park.

Lastly, follow the river to the sea by driving out to the coast! Head to Second Beach for a one-mile hike through the trees before reaching a sandy beach with huge sea stacks in the distance. This spot provides excellent opportunities to see sea creatures if there is a low tide. It is also a great place for a sunset, so if you can make it in the evening, I recommend it! After you have your fill of the beach, you can either continue back the way you came or follow the circle around the rest of the park to discover even more of this incredible National Park.

By Amanda from Every Two Pines

Hike the recovering landscapes around Mount St. Helens

Amboy, Washington

View of snow-covered Mount Saint Helens in Washington

Photo by Christa from Expedition Wildlife

In 1980, Western Washington was rocked by the violent eruption of Mount Saint Helens. The ecology of the region would also not be the same for decades to come – today, many areas are still in the various successional periods that come after an onslaught of lava and ash, and there’s much to see and explore. Hiking trails abound in the area, and excellent educational opportunities are available at the Mount Saint Helens Science and Learning Center and the Johnston Ridge Observatory, allowing visitors to learn more about the mountain and the surrounding region. Beginner and intermediate hikers can summit the top of Mount Saint Helens year-round, however, the best time to attempt this climb is in summertime, as the weather tends to be fairer. The climb is steep and filled with scree, so it is not without challenges, but for those with persistence, this isn’t a technically demanding route. Standing at the crater rim of this stunning active volcano is a must-do for adventure-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike! Keep in mind that climbing permits are required for anyone attempting to summit the mountain, and the number of permits given out in summertime is limited. For those wishing to see Mount Saint Helens without climbing to the rim, check out the Trail #1: Boundary-Hummocks trail to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Here, hikers can experience the beautiful valleys and hills of the region, leading up to the educational Observatory for the best views of Mount Saint Helens.

By Christa from Expedition Wildlife  

You can book a variety of Mount Saint Helens tours through Viator.

Get away from it all in Port Townsend

Port Townsend, Washington

Boats docked in Port Townsend, Washington

Photo by Tara from Back Road Ramblers

If ever there was a charming, must-visit waterfront town in the USA, Port Townsend, Washington has to be it. Located on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in the Puget Sound, Port Townsend is known for its year-round temperate climate, lovely Victorian architecture, and maritime heritage. While Port Townsend makes a fabulous day trip from Seattle, it’s definitely worth spending a few days to explore.

Start your journey downtown, where you’ll find dozens of restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, and coffee shops. Downtown Port Townsend is thoroughly walkable, with beautiful water views in every direction. Next, head uptown, where you’ll find many beautiful Victorian homes from the 1880s. If you fancy getting out on the water, the Port Townsend Marina can connect you with cruise ships, charter boats, or a Puget Sound whale-watching excursion.

Be sure to spend an afternoon exploring Fort Worden State Park, where you can meander through abandoned bunkers from the turn of the century, check out the Point Wilson Lighthouse, and visit the Marine Science Center. Beach and forest campsites are available year-round, and there are miles and miles of hiking trails. Port Townsend is definitely a four-season getaway, whether you’re exploring land or water, indoors or out.

By Tara from Back Road Ramblers

Want to see more bucket list activities in the United States? Check out these other regional lists:

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