A couple stands looking up at a tree in Redwood National Forest.

Top things on America's travel bucket list

Written by:
July 5, 2019

Top things on America's travel bucket list

There are countless amazing things to see and do in America: It can be hard to know where to even start. Creating a bucket list can be a helpful tool to help tick off some of the U.S. of A.'s greatest travel destinations.

Keep in mind that the U.S. is large: the third-biggest country in the world by total land area. Within its borders are grand lakes, spectacular coastlines, soaring mountains, and lush forests. Seeing all of America's stunning natural wonders alone could take a lifetime, but the U.S. has more to offer than nature. America is also home to the biggest amusement parks, some of the greatest races, adrenaline-inducing sports, epic monuments and museums, and more than 164,000 miles of highways just waiting to be driven.

More than half of Americans say they're planning to take a road trip this summer, according to SWNS Media Group polling data that involved surveying 2,000 Americans who have previously taken a road trip; Stacker analyzed the data to create a bucket list of top responses, ranked by percentage from lowest to highest desirability.

The list is a who's who (or a what's what) of top travel destinations around the U.S. And whether it's the tallest trees, the kitschiest museums, the fastest roller coasters, or simply a dose of American history, these are the top spots for the ultimate U.S. travel bucket list.

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#28. Go to Cedar Point

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 12.85%

Those in the know have had their adrenaline pumping into overdrive at Cedar Point, the self-described roller coaster capital of the world. Those not in the know should add the shores of Lake Erie to their own bucket lists: Cedar Point boasts 72 rides, including 17 roller coasters. The park is located in Sandusky, Ohio, and was first opened in 1870. This is the perfect place to overcome acrophobia.

#27. Eat Buffalo wings in Buffalo

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 13.3%

The Buffalo wing is Americana incarnate: an unbreaded chicken wing covered in sauce. The Buffalo wing name comes from the dish's inventor, a woman named Teressa Bellissimo who served them at her family-owned establishment in Buffalo, N.Y. Making the pilgrimage to Buffalo to enjoy the tasty treat is a rite of passage for any wing enthusiast, and most end up at Anchor Bar, which is the very same restaurant where the wings were invented in 1964.

#26. Watch NASCAR at Talladega

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 14.65%

The ultimate bucket-list item for gearheads starts and ends at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Ala. The NASCAR track was first opened back in 1969, and since then has played host to countless major races. Movie buffs will also remember the track as it was prominently featured in the Will Farrell comedy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

#25. Catch a ball game at Wrigley Field

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 14.80%

For baseball fans, there are only two stadiums that trace the history of the sport to its beginnings and those are Fenway Park, which opened in Boston in 1912 and Wrigley Field, which opened in Chicago in 1914. The field earned its current name in 1927 when William Wrigley Jr. of Wrigley gum fame decided to change the name after owning the team for six years. Today, the hallowed ground with its famous vines on the outfield wall is still home to the Chicago Cubs, and fans of all stripes long to catch a foul ball or home run from the storied stadium.

#24. Go skiing in Colorado

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 15.20%

Colorado is home to 26 separate ski resorts and some of the best skiing in the entire world. Set in the Rocky Mountains, classic resorts like Aspen, Vail, Steamboat, and Crested Butte, dot the mega-range and attracts everyone from celebrities and families to professional skiers and snowboarders. The Colorado ski season runs from around Thanksgiving to April depending on snowfall throughout the winter and spring.

#23. Swim in the Great Lakes

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 15.4%

The Great Lakes border both America and Canada and consist of five interconnected lakes that are some of the biggest bodies of freshwater in the world: Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Erie. The group of lakes is so big that it makes up 84% of North America's surface freshwater and 21% of the world's supply of surface freshwater. During summer months, the lakes are packed with visitors looking for a cooldown, water sports, fishing, or just sunbathing on the beach.

#22. Walk the freedom trail in Boston

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 17.3%

American history-buffs will salivate over the epic walk that is the Freedom Trail in Boston. The 2.5-mile jaunt is filled with U.S. history, including sites like the Paul Revere House, the Old North Church, the USS Constitution, and even the Bunker Hill Monument. There are 16 sites in all and the trail was first opened to history-lovers in 1951. There are a variety of daily tours that cost anywhere from $8 to $30 and provide context to each site along the historic route.

#21. Hike Glacier National Park in Montana

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 17.4%

Set in the mountains of northwest Montana, Glacier National Park is a wilderness wonderland filled with endless trails, stunning vistas, glassy lakes, and majestic wildlife. There are more than 700 miles of mapped trails to explore the great expanse of the park where you can see everything from bats, bears, and beavers to elk, mountain lions, and wolverines. Adventure seekers have myriad experiences at hand like rafting, fishing, camping, and cross-country skiing.

#20. Visit the Alamo in San Antonio

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 18.3%

The Battle of the Alamo took place in San Antonio, Texas, in 1836 when the Mexican military overran the fort's Texan defenders in a 13-day offensive. The battle cry “remember the Alamo” was used later as Texas military men defeated the Mexican army and ended their control of the region. Today, the fort is a major tourist attraction and visitors can take guided tours to remember the battle as it was fought in the 19th century.

#19. See the Kentucky Derby

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 18.55%

The Kentucky Derby is an annual horse race that takes place at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The race is the first leg of the Triple Crown, a series of three horse races, which are considered the most prestigious and coveted in the sport. The Kentucky Derby has been raced since 1875 and is known for a bevy of traditions like drinking mint juleps, wearing large, ostentatious hats, and partying in the infield with thousands of other drunken race fans.

#18. See a show at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 19%

The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., serves as a mecca for country music fans who have flocked to the concert venue since 1925. Often referred to as the “home of American music,” the Opry seats more than 4,000 people and has hosted every legend in the business including Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, and Loretta Lynn.

#17. Visit Graceland

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 19.3%

Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., is the former home of rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley and considered a pilgrimage spot for any Elvis fan. The mansion itself features Elvis' epic wardrobe, his collection of airplanes and automobiles, and countless gold records on display. Elvis is also buried on the property next to his parents and grandmother. Tours of Graceland run anywhere from $41 to VIP access at $174.

#16. Go to the National Mall in D.C.

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 20.1%

At the very heart of Washington D.C., is the National Mall, which includes an impressive array of government buildings and monuments. The expansive park contains the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Also within the grounds are memorials to Vietnam, the Korean War, World War II, and the Smithsonian Institute museums. The Mall is equally famous for historical events including presidential inaugurations and Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech.

#15. Eat a cheesesteak in Philadelphia

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 20.15%

Whether it's Jim's, Pat's, Dalessandro's, or Geno's, there's nothing quite like eating a Philadelphia cheesesteak in Philadelphia. Connoisseurs can argue over whether the cheese should be provolone or cheese whiz, whether the steak should be sliced or chopped, whether you add onions, peppers, and mushrooms or not, and whether the bread should be a hoagie or anything else. Philly steak fanatics also argue about the origin with some claiming that Pat Olivieri of Pat's King of Steaks was first in 1930, while others claim Joe Vento of Geno's in 1966 was the originator. 

#14. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 20.95%

Opened in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was once the longest suspension bridge in the world. The structure is a San Francisco icon (known worldwide for its shiny red color) that connects San Francisco to Marin County and boasts more than 10 million annual visitors. Tourists and locals can walk across the bridge via a walkway on the east side of the structure and soak in the mesmerizing views of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.

#13. Walk along Venice Beach and the Santa Monica pier

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 21.4%

On the west side of Los Angeles, two of the most sought-after spots are the magnificent Santa Monica Pier and the wonderfully weird Venice Beach. The Pier was opened in 1909 and today features an amusement park, loads of kitschy restaurants, and the end point for the famed Route 66. Venice Beach, meanwhile, is home to Muscle Beach, local street artists, classic surf waves, and a perfect boardwalk for bikers, skaters, runners, and onlookers.

#12. See a Broadway show in New York City

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 21.45%

The Theater District in Midtown Manhattan is home to more than 40 venues that play host to a wide variety of Broadway shows, from classic hits like “Chicago” and “Phantom of the Opera” to newer fare like “Hamilton,” “The Book of Mormon,” and “Frozen.” The Broadway name was derived from the venues set along the famous New York street that runs through Times Square and welcomes millions of theater fans each year.

#11. See Cape Cod

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 21.85%

Cape Cod is an uber-popular Massachusetts haven for summer travelers, the rich and famous, and even politically dynastic families. Set on a cape on the southeast corner of Massachusetts, Cape Cod provides travelers with beautiful beaches, quaint towns, and loads of history. The most famous residents of the Cape are the Kennedys, who have a compound in Hyannis Port that was once considered the summer White House. Most tourists come to the Cape in the summer for the beaches, golf courses, and historic towns.

#10. Drive from Miami to Key West

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 21.9%

The drive from Miami to Key West is 160 miles of flat, calm, and stunning water as the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the Gulf of Mexico. Key West is the last in the chain of the Florida Keys, which is an archipelago connected by Highway 1 from the mainland. Today, Key West is known for its nightlife, food, and bevy of things to do like fishing, scuba diving, sunbathing, and a variety of water sports. The historic town is also known as a vibrant LGBTQ+ destination with bars and guest houses that cater directly to the community.

#9. See the fall foliage in New England

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 22.05%

There's nothing quite like the changing colors of the trees in New England when summer turns into fall. The fall foliage in Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire attracts thousands of visitors every year just to witness the bright colors and majestic landscapes. For foliage-finding neophytes, there are specific foliage maps that highlight all the New England areas, when the colors are peaking, and the best days to visit.

#8. Drive the Pacific Coast Highway

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 24.8%

California State Route 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, runs along the Pacific coast of California from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way down to Dana Point in Orange County. There are too many picturesque spots to list, but must-stop destinations along the road are Zuma Beach in Malibu, the Redwoods State Park, Half Moon Bay, the cliffs of Big Sur, Monterey, Hearst Castle, and so many more.

#7. Attend Mardi Gras

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 25.9%

Otherwise referred to as Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras is known for being the last night to eat, drink, and party before the traditional Lenten period starts for Catholics. Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is one of the biggest parties in the United States and consists of raucous parades where revelers dress up in wild costumes, throw beads to onlookers, and generally take over the French Quarter of the city.

#6. Go to Redwood National Park

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 27%

Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees on the planet that soar to heights of 400 feet. But there's a lot more to the park than trees. There's also 40 miles of California coastline and endless outdoor activities like kayaking, horseback riding, bicycling, and hiking. For animal lovers, there is everything from bats and foxes and coyotes to black bears, bobcats, and elk. The park itself was established as a national park in 1968.

#5. See Mount Rushmore

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 27.25%

Plans to erect Mount Rushmore started back in 1923, but the massive monument wasn't actually completed until 1941. Mount Rushmore is a monument to the greatest American presidents and features George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The figures were carved out of the Black Hills in Keystone, S.D., and average around 3 million visitors per year. The mountain itself rises up more than 5,000 feet and the sculptures stand around 60 feet high.

#4. Go to Las Vegas

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 31.45%

Today's Las Vegas can probably be traced back to 1931 when the state of Nevada officially legalized gambling. Money began pouring into the state and in the 1940s, large-scale casinos began popping up in the desert. The city has had its ups and downs, but it's now known as one of the biggest entertainment destinations in the world. Vegas is home to massive hotels, big-name restaurants, enormous nightclubs, and star-studded residencies. Tourism in Vegas is massive: More than 40 million people visit the city every year.

#3. See Niagara Falls

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 33.85%

Niagara Falls sits on the border of Canada and the United States and is one of the largest waterfalls on the planet. There are three waterfalls: Horseshoe Falls (the biggest), the American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls (the smallest). Some of the attractions (besides the natural wonder) include a Maid of the Mist boat ride at the base or a walk along wooden walkways into the Cave of the Winds behind the Bridal Veil Falls. Just don't forget to bring a raincoat.

#2. Visit Yellowstone National Park

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 35.25%

Yellowstone National Park borders Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, and is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Yellowstone is also the oldest national park in America—it was established in 1872 by president Ulysses S. Grant. The park is known for a number of geological wonders like the Old Faithful Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring. Yellowstone actually sits atop the largest volcanic system in the country and is categorized as a supervolcano, which is why the park is littered with hot springs.

#1. See the Grand Canyon

- Respondents with this on their bucket list: 36.10%

The Grand Canyon is one of the greatest geological wonders of the world that features 277 miles of river, reaches up to 18 miles wide, and is at least a mile deep. The Grand Canyon sits on the northwest side of Arizona and attracts nearly 5 million visitors per year. While there are many lookout points, the Canyon also has ample campsites and loads of outdoor activities like rafting, biking, mule rides, and guided tours. The Canyon has millions of years of history to explore, so it's worth going more than once to get a feel for it.

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