The USA boasts countless incredible and unique experiences available to travelers today, from boundless national parks that are sure to thrill outdoor enthusiasts to cultural institutions that educate and inspire. These amazing places are celebrated in the newly released second edition of Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List, our bestseller that ranks the 500 most remarkable experiences around the world in order. Of that number, 29 are based in the US. Here’s the top 10 from the list.
1. Sniff out geysers and grizzlies at Yellowstone National Park
An ever popular destination for lovers of wildlife and nature, it’s no wonder that the incredible Yellowstone National Park came out as the top pick for US destinations on Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List. This wonderful, rugged site was the first national park in America to receive its designation back in 1872, and today it welcomes around 4 million visitors every year. From wildlife watching to spotting geysers, there’s no shortage of experiences available. Nearly 1000 miles of nature trails are open to hikers and walkers, while campgrounds cater to those wishing to sleep beneath the stars.
2. Gaze into Earth’s mightiest abyss at Grand Canyon National Park
This astonishing red-rock abyss at Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic sights in the US, famous the world over, and is a popular and common bucket-list item for many people. Spanning 227 miles in length and plunging to a depth of 1857m, the immensity of the two-billion-year-old chasm has to be admired in person. Most visitors access the canyon from the South Rim, north of Flagstaff, Arizona, with the view being most spectacular at sunrise and sunset. There’s also rafting along the Colorado River, and enticing, dusty trails.
3. Get high on granite peaks in Yosemite National Park
With endless waterfalls flowing out of the mountains, giant sequoias and an abundance of wild bears, Yosemite is the beauty of raw nature on display. The rocks are the stars of the show however, with granite peaks and famous ridges like Half Dome and El Capitan that draw climbers, photographers and travelers from all over the world. A Unesco World Heritage site, the park also boasts the emerald-green Yosemite Valley, pristine pathways , winding rivers and lush forests. It's also home to hundreds of wildlife species and over 1000 plant species.
4. Commune with towering trees in Redwood National and State Parks
A glance at Ultimate Travel List is proof that the world is still enthralled by USA’s national and state parks. At Redwood National and State Parks, visitors can stroll amongst some of the tallest, most ancient trees on the planet – Sequoia sempervirens (also known as coastal redwoods), which span beautiful parkland hidden away on California’s northwestern Pacific coast. Up to 115m tall, the 2000-year-old giants stretch through one national park and three companion state parks. Together the parks comprise an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.
5. Peer through the fog at the towers of Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s signature landmark is a proud, towering marvel of art deco design that stretches for nearly 2 miles over the strait below. Beloved by photographers who chase the chance to capture its frame set against the foggy backdrop of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge can be appreciated from a few different vantage points, including Fort Point National Historic Site. It’s possible to hike and bike the entire span of the bridge, while the nearby Golden Gate Park is well worth a visit on a fine day.
6. Yeehaw! Pretend you’re in a classic Western movie in Monument Valley
Enter another world, one of sheer-walled mesas and gigantic buttes, all of which have been the stars of countless films and television series. For 50 million years wind and water eroded the land, chipping away at the surface of the plateau. The sandstone towers that make this site famous ascend to a height of 370m. Straddling the border of Arizona and Utah, this stunning 91,696 acre area has been home to the Navajo people for a very long time. A 15 mile dirt road loops through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, with the formations being visible along the route.
7. Rock into Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii isn’t exactly a hard sell, with pristine sun, sand, sea, and culture. Located on a hot spot on the Island of Hawai'i, Volcanoes National Park is a huge draw for people who love to get a first-hand glimpse at the power of nature. Visitors can follow hiking trails into thick primal land, past bubbling lava deserts, steaming craters and sulfurous black rocks, or get views of the summit of Mauna Loa, the world's largest volcano. Kilauea, the most active shield volcano on Earth has been erupting nonstop since 1983, and it’s always advised to check the conditions before visiting the park.
8. Hear untold stories at the National Museum of African American History & Culture
This Smithsonian museum in Washington, DC, celebrates and spotlights the African American experience and how it shaped the United States of America. Inspired by a Yoruban crown, the bronze-tiered building is a work of art in and of itself. Inside, six main floors tell important stories with galleries featuring early accounts of slavery and segregation, a plantation slave cabin, Harriet Tubman’s hymn book, and a shotgun shell from the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama. Interactive displays allow visitors to drive a car following the Green Book and learn how to dance in step. A welcome addition to the nation’s capital, the museum has proven extremely popular, with tickets often booking out.
9. Emulate an elk on the soaring heights of Denali
Rivalling Mt Everest for the title of world’s most imposing mountain, Alaska’s Denali dominates the skyline of the national park. A five-hour ride north of Anchorage and two hours south of Fairbanks, this stunning site enables visitors to explore vast tundra fields and ridge lines as well as look out for the odd caribou, wolf, grizzly bear, or moose. It is also renowned for conserving wildlife, supporting scientific research and ecosystems. The park’s main season is from mid-June to early September, and over 1000 climbers venture here every year in the hopes of reaching incredible heights.
10. Revel in jazz, history and voodoo in the French Quarter
With picture-perfect pastel buildings, quaint cast iron balconies and beautiful patio gardens, the French Quarter has long been heralded as the beating heart of New Orleans. While today a bustling hotspot for tourists seeking Voodoo shop souvenirs, there is still a compelling magic to be found amidst the crowds at the storied jazz clubs, restaurants and art galleries, and a feeling of deep, rich history that connects the quarter with the city as a whole.