Destinations,  USA

13 Unique North America Bucket List Destinations You Need to See!

Are you looking for some amazing North America Bucket List destinations? Then look no further!

North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere, ranging in the North from the Arctic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea in the south. Due to the massive size of the continent, there is an insane diversity in landscape, culture, and people to discover.

But how to find the most inspiring places to put on your North American bucket list? I have collaborated with some of the best travel bloggers out there to find the best bucket list destinations in the USA and beyond!

Not only have I included fabulous destinations – but also found the most impressive activities and adventures you need to take in North America.

Keep on reading and find out where your next adventure in North America shall take you!

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1. Grand Canyon

One of the most iconic landmarks in the United States is the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon should be a destination on everyone’s North America and USA bucket list for 2023. After all, Grand Canyon National Park is a 1.2 million-acre park in Arizona that is home to gorgeous bands of layered red rock that formed throughout millions of years. Grand Canyon is one of many amazing National Parks on the West Coast.

For the best panoramas of the area, visit the best viewpoints in the Grand Canyon, like Mather Point, Desert View Watchtower, Yavapai Point, and more. If you have the time, I suggest you do the 25-mile Desert View Drive. It begins at Grand Canyon Village in the South Rim and takes you to Navajo Point, Moran Point, and Grandview Point. Plus, if you time it just right you’ll be able to see a stunning sunset from Grandview Point. 

Also, the most iconic views along this drive are on the left-hand side. So, take it slow on the way back and set the alarm for well before sunrise to avoid the crowds.  Next, get out there and do one of the many hikes that the park is known for. Some of the best include Bright Angel Point in the North Rim and the Trail of Time in the South Rim. 

And if you’re looking for an intense hike, try the South Kaibab Trail or the Rim to Rim Trail which will take you from the South Rim to the North Rim. It’s an intense, 19.3-mile hike that requires advanced backpacking permits and that will take roughly 2 or 3 days to complete. The hike is worth it though since the farther you hike, the lighter the crowds get. 

You can also visit the Grand Canyon in winter to avoid people and to see the region covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. For a well-priced place to stay in the South Rim, book a simple but comfortable cabin at Bright Angel Lodge. This is an adventure that should be high up on your travel bucket list USA.

Picture of the Grand Canyon overlooking the Canyon, a girl in hiker clothes on top of a cliff.  USA bucket list adventure
Credit: Meg of Fox in the Forest

2. Colchuck Lake, Washington

Nestled deep in the North Cascade Mountain range in northern Washington, you’ll find the teal alpine Colchuck Lake. Known as the gateway into the ever-popular Enchantments, a hike to Colchuck gives you the chance to experience the magic of this place, without dedicating multiple days to a backpacking trip. This place should be so high up on your North America and USA adventure bucket list.

An 8-mile round-trip hike leads you through the forest, past towering mountain views, and eventually opens up to reveal the incredible lake. Colchuck Lake sits underneath Dragontail Peak, which towers above at nearly 8,900 feet. Keep an open eye for mountain goats, as these magical creatures roam the trails. 

This stunning lake is especially gorgeous as a hike during the fall when the golden larches are beginning to change colors. During the summer months, pack a swimsuit and take a dip into the chilly waters of the lake. Although it’s cold, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Be prepared to see many others along the trail, as this is one of the most popular destinations in the state. You may also see many backpackers, as they head up and over Aasgard Pass into the Enchantments Core Zone. After you’ve visited the lake, head into the small Bavarian village of Leavenworth for some shopping, eating, and a place to rest. Book a stay at the Leavenworth Village Inn to rest your head for the night.

A picture of Colchuck Lake a beautiful mountain lake with green water, big snowy mountains in the background and a beautiful forest USA bucket list adventure
Credit: Cassidy Olson, The Hiking Helper

3. Lake Louise

Lake Louise is famous for its turquoise-color water fed by glaciers in the mountains. Every year, this location brings in millions of guests worldwide to visit Alberta, Canada. While the drive up to Alberta can be quite strenuous, there are also fun things to do along the way, like making a stop in Calgary.

Although many people choose to spend a hefty amount to canoe on the lake, I highly recommend that you choose to hike on the trails instead. This hike is a perfect idea for your North America and USA adventure bucket list.

There are several hiking trails available that range from beginners to advance. A popular hike is the Lake Agnes Trail, which is a moderate hike that leads to the Lake Agnes Tea House. On the way, you will surpass Mirror Lake, where you can enjoy the view and take a break. Once you are up at Lake Agnes, you can grab a snack, rest a while and decide if you want to continue to more advanced trails such as the Big Beehive or Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.

I chose to continue on the Big Beehive, which was personally quite challenging for me. It was a total of 10.9 km and the elevation is quite steep in the final 30 minutes – 1 hour. It is also on the side of a cliff so you have breathtaking views (quite literally). Once you reach the top, you have an incredible birds-eye view of the turquoise lake and the Fairmount Lake Louise hotel! In conclusion, the effort was worth it!

4. White Sands National Park

Located in the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico you can find one of the most magnificent, yet underrated natural wonders of the world – the White Sands National Park. The White Sands National Park should definitely high up your list of USA adventure bucket list destinations.

The glistering white desert in New Mexico is consisting of 275 square miles of gypsum sand. Throughout the year you can join a guided walking tour with a park ranger in a bigger group. The tour is free and the ranger will tell you everything there is to know about the flora, the fauna, and the history of the National Park.

The closest city to the White Sands National Park is Alamogordo. If you are looking for something else to do in the area, make sure to check out Cloudcroft, a cute mountain town. What an amazing adventure bucket list destination in the USA.

5. Oaxaca for Day of the Dead

Día de los Muertos in Mexico is a stunning celebration of life that everyone should experience. And Day of the Dead in Oaxaca is one of the most authentic celebrations in the country.  Each year at the beginning of November, Mexicans believe the deceased make a long journey from the underworld to visit. This is such a great destination for your North America bucket list.

Families spend days preparing for their return. They decorate an altar in their home with photographs of their loved ones, their favorite foods and drinks, candles, and flowers. They clean the grave sites of the deceased and adorn them with candles and pungent yellow marigold flowers whose strong smell and bright color are thought to help guide the souls home. 

At night during Day of the Dead, the cemeteries in Oaxaca are awash in a golden hue of candlelight and marigold flowers. Families spend the entire night around the grave sites, singing and telling stories as they welcome the souls of their loved ones. 

To witness this celebration is a profoundly touching experience that should be on everyone’s North America bucket list. While Oaxaca City is a festive place throughout the year, Day of the Dead is one of the most anticipated festivals in Oaxaca

If you want to go, you should start planning now as hotels in the city book up quickly. It’s best to arrive at least a few days ahead to soak up the vibes as the city and its residents begin their preparations. For convenience, book a hotel in the center of Oaxaca City so that you can attend the random parades and other festivities.

day of the dead cemetery decorated in oaxaca
Credit: Julien Casanova

6. The Big Island, Hawaii

The Big Island, Hawaii should be a bucket list destination for the USA in 2023. Not only is it a beautiful tropical island but there are many adventures to be had that can’t be found in most parts of the world.

One excursion that should make it on your USA adventure bucket list is night snorkel with manta rays. Manta rays are gentle giants of the sea (not dangerous like their look-alike stingrays). After sunset, take a short boat out to the open ocean, get in the water with a lit up boogie board, and watch the manta rays swim and dance below you while they feast on plankton. You shouldn’t ever touch the manta rays, but don’t be surprised if one bumps into you!

Another one-of-a-kind experience on the Big Island is to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are few places on earth where you can visit an active volcano. During the day explore a lava tube, steam vents, sulfur banks, various volcanic craters, and a petroglyph field. At night, hike to see glowing lava, if it’s flowing.

Kilauea is an off and on volcano where you can see lava one day and the next it may stop. If it’s “on”, take a short, one-mile hike to the overlook and see hot lava coming out of the ground. The best time to see the lava glow is right before sunrise as it is still dark and there are hardly any crowds. 

These are just a fraction of the exciting adventurous things to do in Hawaii to qualify as a bucket list destination for North America in 2023.

7. Fall in New England

A great idea for your North America bucket list is experiencing fall in new England. If you love fall, you’ll adore these things to do in New England! Your route can start from any location, but consider the foliage calendar and car rental locations if you are hiring a car. For ease, this journey will begin in Boston, Massachusetts, where you can walk the Freedom Trail, dine at Quincy Market, and visit the historic Beacon Hill. 

From Boston, you’ll want to stop in Salem to learn about the Witch Trials and see the Hocus Pocus locations. It is spooky season, after all! If you have ample time, take advantage of the Maine coast, stopping at the beaches to sample lobster rolls. If you are limited on time, drive straight to New Hampshire, the more north you go at the start of the leaf-peeping season, the better chance you have of experiencing the colors. 

Fun stops in New Hampshire include the cute towns around Lake Winnipesaukee, and the famous Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which connects Conway and Lincoln and all its fall splendour. Many visitors stay around Conway or Lincoln but consider that hotel prices are at a premium during the fall. If you like to hike, head to Franconia for the (crowded) Artist Bluff or Bald Mountain, which is a little quieter. 

Hop over to Vermont to visit Montpelier and enjoy a creemee from Bragg Farm. Next is the popular Stowe and Mt Mansfield, which you can drive up or take a gondola ride. Other stops worthy of a trip include Burlington for city life, Killington for biking, and Woodstock to see the IG farmhouse. This item must definitely be included in your North America bucket list.

From Vermont, you can drive back to Boston or extend your trip through Western Massachusetts, to Connecticut, and finally to Rhode Island to see the mansions and more fall colors.

This is only one of the many great places to visit in the US on the East Coast.

Fall forest with beautiful colored trees in New England
Amanda, Hey! East Coast USA 

8. Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island is one of the most glamorous places to visit in the United States and should be on your list of bucket list destinations USA. It is located in the southwest of Los Angeles, California. The best time to visit the island is during the summer months but expect it to be crowded and a bit pricey. If you go there during winter, you can visit the same attraction with less crowds and save some money. The weather in winter is slightly cold. A good sweater should do the trick.

My favorite activity is parasailing. It is because you can enjoy the breeze of the ocean while contemplating on Avalon glamorous beauty from above. The Avalon Bay is within distance and contains several beaches that you can take a sunbath or enjoy their ample activities. The Eco Zip-lining tour is one of the hidden gems that Catalina has to offer.

Since Santa Catalina is an island, you can only get to it by sea or air. You can rent a helicopter or book a ticket for a passenger ferry at Los Angeles mainland port. Choices can be an adventure depends on your preference.

You should stay in the best-rated hotel on the island, which is Pavilion Hotel. The price rate range between $160 to $191 per night. It is a bit pricey, but worth every penny. It is located on Crescent Avenue, which is close to Avalon Bay, shopping areas, and restaurants.

Do you need travel insurance in North America? Yes, travel insurance in North America is highly recommended.
Unsafe roads, water sports accidents, and food poisoning are only a few examples of when travel insurance could come in handy. EKTA offers worldwide travel insurance with 24/7 service and no hidden fees or restrictions.

9. Winter in North Dakota

I admit, Winter in North Dakota with temperatures way below the freezing point sounds scary. However, it was also one of the most magical trips I have taken so far. There are many reasons why North Dakota in winter should be on your USA adventure bucket list for 2023.

One of my favorite things to see in North Dakota in winter is the sun halo. Sun halos, also known as 22 degree halos, are optical phenomenons that occur due to sunlight reflecting in the ice crystals of the snow in the atmosphere. It takes the form of a ring with a radius of roughly 22 degrees.

Another spectacular thing to see in North Dakota are the Northern Lights. Ribbons of green, blue and yellow lights dance across the North Dakota winter night sky. They can best be observed between November and March. Pro tip: try to get at least 20 miles outside of a city to avoid light pollution.

Lastly, I have enjoyed the destination tremendously because it was incredibly serene there. Due to the cold, we stayed inside a lot and enjoyed our hotel spa and the fabulous view of the mountains of snow outside. Also, the sunsets and sunrises are magical. This is definitely an amazing USA adventure bucket list destination.

10. Grey Whales at Baja Peninsula

At the very end of the Baja peninsula, near an unassuming small fishing village is a magical network of lagoons and protected waters known as Magdalena Bay. This sheltered space is home to many majestic and migrating pods of sea-creatures throughout the year, but perhaps the most fascinating species to make their base here is the Eastern Pacific Grey Whale.

Despite their rather uninspired name, the Grey Whales that spend their winters along the Baja Peninsula offer one of the most unique wild animal encounters humans could possibly have.

Nearly hunted into extinction in the early 20th century, Grey Whales have not only made a population comeback, but have made a name for themselves as the “Friendly Ones”.

Why? Because the Grey Whales love humans! For some unknown reason these gentle giants have an inexplicable curiosity of the top-world, and will approach tour boats to interact with the humans on them. The whales will rub against the boats, present their young, and even reach out their noses for a pet (called “sky hopping”).

This population of the Pacific Grey Whales migrate between the Arctic Ocean and the Baja Peninsula every year, so the best time of year to witness this phenomenon is in the winter when they come to birth their young in the warm, protected waters. February is the peak season to tour, but January and March also offer great opportunities to see the Grey Whales!

This is one of the most unique interactions humans can have with wild creatures, and many people are moved to tears throughout the experience. A visit to the Grey Whales is definitely worth being added to your 2023 North America travel bucket list!

Grey whale petting in Baja Peninsula, two people in a boat and one whale
Credit Antonio Romero photography

11. Sedona

One of the most beautiful USA bucket list destinations to visit in 2023 is Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is known for its gorgeous red rock buttes, incredible sunsets, energy vortexes and so much more. There are a lot of amazing things to do in Sedona, but one of people’s favorite things to do is experience the beautiful red rocks by getting out in nature and hiking.

One of the best trails to see Sedona in all of its glory is the Airport Loop Trail that is located high above Sedona and gives you great views out over the entire area. Another thing people love to do while in Sedona is set up camp among the gorgeous red rocks so you can enjoy them at all times of day.

If you’re not one for camping, there are a ton of wonderful places to stay, like this incredible Geo Dome located just outside the city. No matter what, just being in Sedona will make you happy as it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. It should definitely be high up on your adventure destinations bucket list in the USA.

Red mountain range in Sedona, Arizona in the evening with moon on the sky
Credit: Unearth the Voyage

12. Yukon, Canada

Northern Lights viewing in the Yukon, Canada:

An ideal location to watch the majestic Aurora Borealis is the Yukon, Canada. Sat below the Arctic circle, it’s a slice of winter wonderland tucked away for you to discover. 90% of the population resides in the city of Whitehorse, so you have the whole of the wilderness to experience.

The Northern Lights are best seen from September to April, and can appear as soon as the sun sets. Watch for the different types, as the ethereal glow shifts from arcs and rays, winding to coronas and back. Stand on the lake as the ice speaks beneath you, the aurora whispering above you, and create a forever memory.

A fantastic place to stay is at Southern Lakes Resort in Tagish. A 1.5 hr drive south of Whitehorse, the final 14 km snow-covered dirt road feels like a northern adventure. Until you arrive at the resort and the road opens up to Tagish Lake and the snow-capped mountains beyond. See their website here.

Watch the light show from your cozy bed, or venture out on to the frozen lake for a thrilling view. The snow seems to dampen noise and it feels serenely quiet here. The mountains loom overhead, and if you’re lucky you could also see a moose or caribou lazily crossing the lake.

Tagish is home to the Carcross Tagish First Nations people, which we acknowledge.

Another great spot to see the Northern Lights is Alaska.

Amazing capture of the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis in Yukon, Canada
Credit: Rachael Park, A Nomads Notebook

Dog sledding in the Yukon, Canada:

Nothing says adventure quite like dog sledding! Bundled up in warm clothes as a team of sled dogs pull you through snowy trails; just like how it was done during the Klondike gold rush in the late 1800’s.

The trails in the Yukon can vary from winding paths closed in by pine trees, to crossing huge frozen lakes. These exuberant dogs live for running and once they stop, they are enthusiastic to get going again. Along these trails it’s rare that you will encounter another person, but look out for wildlife. The Yukon is teeming with moose, caribou, elk, bears and wolves.

There are a whole host of dog sledding teams in the Yukon. One to consider are Tagish Lake Kennel Tours, run by the legendary Michelle Phillips and Ed Hopkins. They are veteran Yukon Quest and Iditarod long-distance mushers and have a wealth of knowledge, which shows in their dog team.

A second choice is Gypsy Kennel Adventures, run by Nathalie Claing. A strong woman who has made the Yukon her home and leading her dog team to new heights! Passionate about her vocation, her young dogs are bursting with energy and raring to show you this snowy wilderness.

Dog sledding is an adventure of a lifetime. You will discover an appreciation for the frosty north that will stay with you forever.  

Dogs with Sleigh in Yukon, Canada
Credit: Rachael Park, A Nomads Notebook

13. Edisto Island, South Carolina

Edisto Island in South Carolina is located just off the coast of Charleston and offers visitors a true escape from everyday life. The island is a beautiful little island on the Atlantic Sea in South Carolina. The majority of the island is a part of Charleston county. The island is a great day trip destination with its sandy beaches and marshlands.

It’s a one-hour drive from downtown Charleston. The island has great historical significance as it was once home to wide plantation areas and enslaved people. It became largely abandoned in the aftermath of the Civil War. Later, in the twentieth century, it was reconstructed as a tourist destination while paying respect to the original inhabitants and their heroic sacrifices. The main plantations have been reformed into a wildlife area known as Botany Bay.

Botany Bay encompasses an area of 4,000 acres of greenery. Drive on Highway 174 National Scenic Byway to witness other historically important landmarks such as Windsor Plantation, some churches with beautiful architecture and the Edisto Island Museum. The museum is mainly based on the history of the natives and accounts of the Civil War.

Enjoy your leisure time on the three-mile-long sandy beach. Have a small picnic on the picnic tables under the shades of palm and oak trees. Loggerhead turtles are sometimes seen on the beach during sunset in summer.

The salt marsh area has seven trails interlacing each other. You can walk or ride your bike through these. Fishing and boating are also allowed here on bringing your gear.

Club Wyndham Ocean Ridge, Edisto Vacay, and Change in Attitude Beach Cottage is the best option to stay in Edisto Island, Carolina.

Ruma Dey Baidya

Best National Parks in North America

If you are a nature enthusiast like me, you will love visiting some National Parks while you are in North America. Here is my list of my favorite National Parks in North America that need to be on your USA Bucket List:

  • Yellowstone National Park (United States)
  • Banff National Park (Canada)
  • Grand Canyon National Park (United States)
  • Yosemite National Park (United States)
  • Glacier National Park (United States)
  • Jasper National Park (Canada)
  • Rocky Mountain National Park (United States)
  • Zion National Park (United States)
  • Acadia National Park (United States)
  • Grand Teton National Park (United States)
  • Olympic National Park (United States)
  • Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada)
  • Everglades National Park (United States)
  • Shenandoah National Park (United States)
  • Gros Morne National Park (Canada)
  • Volcanoes National Park
  • Redwood National Park

Most Important Monuments in North America

If you are not such a big fan of hiking and National Parks, you might find visiting some important monuments in America much more fun. Here are some of the most important monuments in America that definitely need to be on your North America Bucket List:

  • Statue of Liberty (New York City, United States)
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota, United States)
  • Golden Gate Bridge (California, United States)
  • Independence National Historical Park (Pennsylvania, United States)
  • Chichen Itza (Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico)
  • Lincoln Memorial (Washington, D.C., United States)
  • Alhambra (Granada, Spain – located in the Americas)
  • National Mall and Memorial Parks (Washington, D.C., United States)
  • CN Tower (Toronto, Canada – located in the Americas)
  • Gateway Arch (Missouri, United States)
  • Mayan Ruins of Tulum (Quintana Roo, Mexico)
  • Brooklyn Bridge (New York, United States)
  • Castillo de San Marcos (Florida, United States)
  • St. Louis Cathedral (Louisiana, United States)
  • Casa Loma (Toronto, Canada – located in the Americas)
  • Santa Monica Pier
  • Liberty Bell
  • Times Square (New York City)

Conclusion: North America Bucket List

In this post, you learned about my favorite North American Bucket List Destinations. From stunning National Parks like White Sands in New Mexico to Banff National Park to fun celebrations of the Day of the Dead. There is something to see for everyone in North America.

See the fabulous Santa Monica Pier or the Northern Lights in Canada – there are so many adventures waiting for you. Of course Clearwater Beach in Florida needs to be on your bucket list as well.

Not sure if Northern America is the right place for you? If you crave a bit more heat, why not check out the most fabulous destinations in the Caribbean or in Europe?

blonde girl pink dress in front of blue door santorini

About the Author

Sabrina is a passionate travel blogger and content creator, based in the Netherlands. She spends about half of the year traveling to various destinations together with her husband.

She provides slow-paced itineraries that focus on quality over quantity. Sabrina wants to help her readers to get more out of their travel experiences – while doing less. Read more.

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