From towering forests to buzzing city streets to the ever-changing hues of larger-than-life rock formations, the United States of America is graced with an abundance of natural wonders and historic landmarks. The sheer variety can sometimes be dizzying.

Luckily, Lonely Planet has amassed its largest compendium of the USA's best travel experiences to date.

"The Ultimate United States Travel List is a true labor of love for all of us at Lonely Planet and a source of real pride for me personally," says Piers Pickard, Managing Director of Publishing at Lonely Planet. 

The first-ever Ultimate United States Travel List collects the top 500 unmissable experiences in the USA, with Grand Canyon National Park nabbing the top spot. 

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The Grand Canyon beat out fellow national parks – Yosemite and Yellowstone, which grabbed the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively. 

"The beauty of a book highlighting 500 experiences is that it celebrates the truly iconic while highlighting unmissable places and experiences across the country," Pickard says. "So the Grand Canyon tops our list, but less-heralded alternatives like Valley of Fire State Park are firmly recommended." 

From the famous to the obscure and across all 50 states, the 2021 Ultimate United States Travel List features sites like Ellis Island, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Crater Lake and Denali National Parks

Aerial shot of dark blue waters of Crake Lake surrounded by thick green trees in Oregon. There are patches of clouds in the sky.
Crater Lake in Oregon is one of the deepest lakes in the USA © Pung / Shutterstock

The 10 most incredible travel experiences in the world, according to Lonely Planet 

"This is a vital time in the story of America, and we wanted to spotlight on some of the important and humbling cultural sights that reflect the diversity of experience of those who call this country home, including the Civil Rights Memorial Trail, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum," Pickard says.  

To get to 500, Lonely Planet began by casting a wide net – every sight, attraction and experience across every state in the United States from Alabama to Wyoming was compiled. That list contained 46,977 entries.   

From there, Lonely Planet tapped into its expansive network of travel writers who rated each place they’ve visited for research and then ranked them from one to five stars. Next, it was time to pull in the travel community, including Lonely Planet staff, editors and travel bloggers, to vote on their 20 favorite spots and experiences. Hundreds of votes were cast. 

After some mathematical alchemy (places that focused on sustainability and community were given extra points), the travel publisher ended up with a score for each of the 500 experiences in the book.

"I’m incredibly excited we can share our top 500 picks for the USA with travelers, and journey with them to both iconic and lesser-known destinations. 

"Witnessing the debates the list has already kicked off between the Lonely Planet team I’m sure many readers will let us know where they agree or disagree with us and I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks," Pickard says. 

Illuminated fountain at entrance to Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York State, USA
Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an iconic New York City experience © Joe Josephs / 500px

To take a closer look at five of the destinations in the Ultimate United States Travel List, Lonely Planet created the "Zoom in Closer" article series. Each article captures the full scope of these incredible sights and experiences by taking a bird's-eye view of the destination's history, meaning and impact, and then zooming in to the experience of both the travelers who visit and locals who live there today.

See the geological and human history on full display in the striated walls of the Grand Canyon. Learn how a Christmas present given to the city of Los Angeles became one of the world's most-visited stargazing destinations. In Memphis, discover how a roadside motel became one of the most important civil rights destinations in the country. Sticking out like a nautilus shell among a block of towering boxes, the Guggenheim Museum is a break in the otherwise uniform 5th Avenue skyline; find out why the museum's art collections continue to be just as unique as its exterior. And zooming out into the Pacific, explore how the Big Island of Hawaii keeps getting bigger.

Packed with illustrated maps and high-quality imagery, these articles provide a more intimate look at the place these destinations take in the mosaic of America today.

Lonely Planet’s Ultimate United States Travel List Top 20

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

2. Yosemite National Park, California 

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 

4. The MET, New York

5. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

6. Ellis Island, New York

7. Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i

8. National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington DC

9. Denali National Park, Alaska

10. Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawai’i

11. Joshua Tree National Park, California

12. National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Tennessee

13. Central Park, New York

14. Golden Gate Bridge, California

15. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

16. Muir Woods, California

17. Crater Lake, Oregon

18. Freedom Trail, Massachusetts

19. Glacier National Park, Montana

20. Sept 11 Memorial & Museum, New York

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