The All-American Bucket List: 50 Iconic Adventures for Each of the 50 States
If "visit all 50 states" is already on your list, here's what to do, see, and experience while you're in each one.
Alabama: Attend a space camp for adults
Harness your inner astronaut at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This Smithsonian affiliate museum has an extensive collection of space artifacts, rockets, spacecrafts, and simulators. Want more? Sign up for their two-day Adult Space Academy. You’ll construct and launch model rockets, learn the history of spaceflight, and train in an astronaut simulator and 1/6th gravity chair (essentially a bounce chair that simulates a moon walk).
Alaska: View the Northern Lights
If this isn’t one of your bucket list ideas already, we have a few questions for you. The aurora borealis is thought of by many to be the most stunning natural light show on Earth. The spectacle appears most frequently appear over Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska, in the winter months between September and early April. Go for a week-long trip to increase your chances of seeing them. Before you pack up for Alaska, make sure you follow this ultimate travel checklist.
Arizona: Hike the Grand Canyon
What would these bucket list ideas be without a trip to the Grand Canyon? Head to the popular South Rim on the Arizona side of the canyon for a quick visit, or the more secluded North Rim for a more involved trip. Don’t miss these gorgeous photos of America’s National Parks.
Arkansas: Dig for diamonds
For a small fee, you can search for precious stones at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The world’s most perfect diamond and North America’s largest diamond were both found here. If you’re lucky, you’ll leave the state with some serious bling. Before you travel the fifty states, try learning their mottos.
California: See the tallest tree on Earth
Bask in the shadows of the tallest trees on Earth at Redwood National & State Parks. The tallest tree here (and in the world) stretches 359 feet into the sky. The park also offers nearly 40 miles of stunning coastline.
Colorado: Bathe in the hot springs
If you don’t mind the 8.5-mile hike up Conundrum Creek Trail, you’re in for a treat: the 100-degree hot springs at the top. Set up camp nearby and head to the water for stunning views of the mountains during the day and the stars at night. The trailhead is located just outside of Aspen, Colorado.
Connecticut: Take a riverboat ride to the past
Experience the untouched Connecticut River Valley the way American’s did a century ago—via steam train and riverboat. This two-part tour through the countryside is especially gorgeous during fall, when the leaves reach peak color. If you can’t make it then, February and March are the months you’re most likely to spot a bald eagle. These are the most spectacular summer hikes.
Delaware: Float down the Brandywine River
In the warmer months, partake in the American pastime of floating down rivers. Delaware Today recommends parking one car at Thompson’s Bridge in Wilmington, and launching by the Brandywine River Museum. Bring along a drink or two for the calm two-hour float.
District of Columbia: Cherish the cherry blossoms
Each spring, Washington, D.C., is blanketed in pink when its thousands of cherry trees come into bloom. The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates their beauty and honors the friendship between the United States and Japan, the country that gifted us these flowering trees. The festival currently spans four weekends and brings more than 1.5 million people to the capital. Make sure you also visit these 6 other places that are beautiful in the spring.
Florida: Navigate the Everglades
Assuming you’ve already hit up Walt Disney World, use your next trip to the sunshine state to visit the Everglades. This unique ecosystem is known for its wildlife and is home to crocodiles, Florida panthers, and a host of birds. Most airboat tours will tell you everything you need to know.
Georgia: See the Spanish moss
According to Southern Living, Jones Street in Savannah, Georgia, is the “most beautiful street in North America.” Savannah itself—known for its hanging Spanish moss and historic town squares—is a worthy bucket list item in its own right. The city also has more than a few ghost stories. Make sure you check out the 22 most haunted cities in America.
Hawaii: Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor
Pay tribute to the events of December 7, 1941, by visiting the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Honolulu, Hawaii. The USS Arizona Memorial, accessible only by boat, marks the final resting spot for 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on the ship.
Idaho: Take a scenic gondola ride
Reaching the top of Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho, would ordinarily be a trek. But with the help of a gondola lift, the ascent is a bit easier. The 3.1-mile journey is the longest gondola ride in North America. Once you reach the top, you’re free to bike, eat, tube, or just breathe in the crisp mountain air. Looking for more adventure? Check out the 50 hidden gems in every state.
Illinois: Sip a drink 95 stories up
Visit the John Hancock Center in Chicago, Illinois, to get a mile-high drink at the 95th floor bar and lounge. The Signature Room is known for its stunning panoramic views of the city. By the way, one drink here is cheaper than admission to the top of the Sears Tower, the second tallest building in the country and another of Chicago’s world-renowned views.
Indiana: Visit a quirky record holder
Visit the world’s largest painted ball in Alexandria, Indiana. Michael Carmichael began the project more than 50 years ago after dropping a ball in paint. The baseball now weighs 4,000 pounds and has a 14-foot circumference.
Iowa: Ride the shortest railroad in the world
The 296-foot long Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa, is claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world. The elevator was built in 1882 for private use and opened to the public two years later. From the top you’ll see Dubuque’s historic business district, the Mississippi River, and three states. And make sure to add these best train rides to take across America to your bucket list ideas.
Kansas: Venture 65 stories below ground
The Kansas Underground Salt Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas, is built within one of the world’s largest deposits of rock salt, and happens to be one of our favorite bucket list ideas. To get there, you’ll take an electric tram 650 feet below ground. Once there, you’ll learn about Kansas’s salt beds and the history of mining. The facility is also home to underground vaults guarding the original camera negative of many movies, such as Gone with the Wind, as well as valuable documents from America and other countries.
Kentucky: Bet on some horses
Grab your hat and head to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Kentucky Derby. This historic race, also known as the greatest two minutes in sports, has been run every year since 1875 and is held annually on the first Saturday in May. If horse racing isn’t your style, the Kentucky Derby Festival, which takes place during the two weeks leading up to the race, is bound to have something up your alley.
Louisiana: Mardi Gras
Depending on the date of Easter, Mardi Gras can fall on any Tuesday between February and March. But it’s not just a one-day affair—parades and parties take place up to two weeks ahead of the big day. For a more low-key experience in New Orleans, plan your trip around the springtime festivities. Love to party like they do in NoLa? Check out the best festivals and fairs in each of the 50 states.
Maine: Eat a Maine lobster
Nosh on this coastal classic at a lobster shack by the water. Maine Today recommends The Lobster Shack at Two Lights in Portland.
Maryland: Go for a sail
What better place to go for a sail than in the sailing capital of the United States? Located in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis, Maryland, has some of the best conditions in the country. Visit one of the city’s many boat shows or book yourself on a leisurely sail around the Bay.
Massachusetts: Head to Halloweentown
In the days leading up to Halloween, Salem, Massachusetts, throws the ultimate bash. Venture to the spooky site of the Salem Witch Trials for parades, costume balls, historical tours, and haunted houses. If you’re struggling finding a nice (and cheap) place to stay, check out the top Airbnb rentals until $100 in all 50 states.
Michigan: Experience the Great Lakes
Visit the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse in Rogers City, Michigan, for beautiful views of Lake Huron. And don’t miss the century-old Joseph S. Fay shipwreck, which lays just a short trail walk from the lighthouse.
Minnesota: Ride a dogsled
Ely, Minnesota—the so-called sled dog capitol of the U.S.—is sure to ignite your inner adventurer. Bundle up and ride a dogsled across the unspoiled terrain. They’ll even let you spend the night in the great outdoors if you’re up for it. Next, read 12 more travel hot spots you definitely haven’t heard of…yet.
Mississippi: Explore the river
Learn about the history of the Mississippi River at the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals. Each of the 32 painting tells the story of the city and its river.
Missouri: Celebrate this state’s literary history
Each Fourth of July, Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, celebrates Tom Sawyer Day. The event is complete with a parade, frog jumping contest, and fence painting competition—a uniquely literary way to celebrate this American holiday and author. If you’re down for more adventure, check out these 9 best-kept secret American travel spots.
Nebraska: Become a bird watcher
About 80 percent of the world’s sandhill crane population descends upon Nebraska’s Platte River during the cranes’ spring migration. The natural event brings in thousands of bird watchers. Make yourself one of them for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’re traveling during the warmer months, take down the 15 best vacation spots for summer travel in the U.S..
Nevada: Valley of Fire State Park
Experience Nevada by visiting its oldest and largest state park. The name comes from the bright red sand dunes that look like they’re on fire when the sun hits them. More beautiful than the color of the dunes are the Aztec Sandstone formations that form intricate arches and caves.
New Hampshire: Attitash Mountain
Go for a mile-long slide (the longest of its kind in North America!) through mountains and trees at Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett, New Hampshire. The experience begins with a chairlift up the mountain and ends with a twisting and turning slide back down.
New Jersey: Walk the strip
The Jersey Shore’s iconic boardwalk is packed with rides, carnival games, and salt-water taffy. Rent a local beach house or book a room at a nearby motel. Beach games and fried Oreos await.
New Mexico: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Every October, more than 500 hot-air balloons ascend over Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the annual balloon festival. The balloons create a vibrant scene as they float up and away. In addition to the balloons, the festival offers live entertainment, concessions, and fireworks.
New York: Witness Niagara Falls
With approximately four million cubic feet of water and 173-foot drops, it’s no wonder more than eight million travelers visit Niagara Falls each year. Visit on the weekend to see the falls illuminated, or on a Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday in summer for fireworks.
North Carolina: Visit the largest home in the country
For a healthy dose of quintessential Southern charm, head to the Bilmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This 250-room residence is the largest privately owned home in the country, with more than four acres of floor space and 75 acres of formal gardens. These are the 15 most photographed tourist attractions in the Americas.
Oklahoma: Drive this historic route
Get your kicks on Oklahoma’s 400-mile stretch of Route 66. On your ride, you’ll pass historic towns, retro diners, and hundred of roadside attractions. Stop at the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum in Clinton to learn more about America’s most-famous road.
Oregon: Experience Crater Lake
Visit Oregon’s Crater Lake, the deepest lake in America (1,949 feet) and the seventh-deepest lake in the world. The national park is home one of the most untouched bodies of water in existence and has a visibility depth of 134 feet. Ride a bike or drive around its rim, take a fishing or bike tour, or just learn more about the lake’s fascinating science at the visitor’s center.
Pennsylvania: Smell the (wild) flowers
Pennsylvania’s Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve is home to nearly 800 plants and trees that are native to the state and includes more than two and a half miles of trails through the blossoms. Visit in the spring and summer months to see the most variety in flowers.
Rhode Island: Have a drink at America’s oldest bar
The White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, is said to be the oldest bar in America. The bar was built in 1652 and was a regular haunt for colonists, British soldiers, Hessian mercenaries, pirates, sailors, and founding fathers.
South Carolina: Watch a Civil War reenactment
As the state where the first battle of the Civil War took place, South Carolina takes its history seriously. Visit Aiken on February 26 to 27, 2017, for the largest war reenactment in the state. The festival includes battle reenactments, living history presentations, reproductions of medical facilities, an engineer and signal service, and civilian portrayals. Planning your vacay? Read about the cheapest months of the year to visit all 50 states.
South Dakota: See Mount Rushmore
This 75-year-old National Monument should be on every American’s bucket list ideas. The sculpture, which depicts the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, is nestled into South Dakota’s Black Hills.
Tennessee: Sing karaoke in Nashville
Grab your cowboy boots and walk in the footsteps (and sing from the microphones) of the thousands of country stars who have passed through Music City before you. If singing a country tune isn’t your style, head to Tennessee’s Lookout Mountain. On a clear day, seven states are visible from its peak. Check out more cheap U.S. cities you’ll want to visit immediately.
Texas: Visit the State Fair of Texas
To understand the history, culture, and personality of the Lone Star state, visit its state fair. The 24-day extravaganza features food, rides, an auto show, and the annual college football game between Oklahoma and Texas.
Utah: Take a full-moon hike at Bryce Canyon
Twice a month, Bryce Canyon National Park holds free full-moon hikes. The skies are some of the clearest in the country. “It is not uncommon to have somebody from Las Vegas or Los Angeles in the middle of the program say something like, ‘Oh darn, it is getting cloudy’ and they point at the cloud. I tell them it’s the Milky Way,” Patrick Wiggins, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Vermont: Taste test this iconic sundae
Take the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Waterbury, Vermont, and order the Vemonster Sundae. You’re in for 20 scoops of ice cream, four bananas, three cookies, a brownie, hot fudge, walnuts, and an array of other toppings. Go hungry and bring friends!
Virginia: Connect with America’s roots
Brush up on your American history in Virginia—arguably most influential of the 13 original colonies. The state is home to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and the Mount Vernon plantation, George Washington’s stunning home on the Potomac River.
Washington: Get in the holiday spirit in this story town
The cozy town of Leavenworth, tucked into the side of the Cascade Mountains, might be the ultimate holiday getaway. The charming neighborhood is modeled after a German village and hosts a stunning Christmas Lighting Festival, as well as one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany.
West Virginia: Experience “Bridge Day”
On the third Saturday in October, the 876-foot tall New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County shuts down to traffic and turns into a launch point for more than 800 BASE jumpers. The event brings in nearly 80,000 spectators and hundred of vendor booths. What’s more, the view of the gorge in late autumn is stunning.
Wisconsin: Tour the sea caves
Wisconsin’s Apostle Island sea caves are accessible via kayak in the summer and by foot in winter (when the lake freeze over sufficiently). Visit in summer for a secluded paddle or winter for frozen waterfalls and icicles. If you’re a beach lover, read up on the 10 best beach vacations in the U.S..
Wyoming: Experience the world’s largest rodeo
Head to Cheyenne, Wyoming, in the last week of July for the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. In addition to the rodeo, the festival features music, a cook off, art, parades and dancing. Seeing as it’s operated since 1897, we’d like to think they’ve got this Western thing down. Next, check out the best free tourist attraction in every state.