Unique US Destinations that Should Be on Your Bucket List

The US has some incredible and diverse landscapes, and if you live out west, you know exactly what I am talking about. While it is true we have some unique places on the East Coast (where I live), I have forever wanted to get out West. Seriously, some of these places just look like another planet.

Unique Destinations in the US

I have not been to all the places below, so this is very much my bucket list, as it can be yours. Get ready to see some unique places that should definitely be added to your US bucket list! Some of these are well-known places like National Parks, while others are underrated vacation spots.

This list will continue to grow as I discover more of the United States’ underrated vacation spots, and I am always happy to take recommendations. So, if you’ve been somewhere in the USA that you consider unique, let me know in the comments below!

Mesquite Sand Dunes after sunrise with one day in Death Valley
Mesquite Sand Dunes

Death Valley National Park, California

Starting off strong with the famous Death Valley National Park located in sunny California. From desert dunes and salt flats to mountains and even snow, Death Valley is one of the most unique destinations in the US.

Badwater Basin Salt Flats in Death Valley at sunset with woman in red dress

Designated as a National Park in 1994 this is the hottest and driest location in North America that was formerly populated by Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans in the 1800’s.

Some of my favorite activities to do at Death Valley include Mesquite Sand Dunes, Badwater Basin, and Zabriskie Point.

There is also Borax Works, which is a historical plant that rests beside historic buildings, machinery, and piping that is reminiscent of the extensive history of mining that this desert has.

Hiking is also quite popular. Golden Canyon Trail is a favorite and is usually recognized for being a Star Wars filming location where you can continue your hike throughout the desert.

If you’re planning on heading to Death Valley soon, make sure to check my Day Trip, What to Know Before You Go, and Packing Guide.

The nearest airport to Death Valley is the Las Vegas Airport (LAS).

Mesquite Sand Dunes day trip. Woman walking through dunes in red dress
Mesquite Sand Dunes
Artist Palette in Death Valley
Artist Palette

Yellowstone National Park, WY

The world’s first National Park, Yellowstone, is home to a multitude of unique attractions and is well worth the visit. First of all, the wildlife is so abundant here. The amount of elk and buffalo we witnessed was insane. The landscapes are also so very unique, with lots of geothermal activity.

Yellowstone National Park Bison are a top attraction

While here, stop by the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, which is the largest hot spring in the entire world (it is as deep as a 10-story building)! Then head to the Yellowstone Grand Canyon, where you will be amazed by the two waterfalls and a stunning canyon. These are two of my favorites.

There are also multiple hiking routes that will take you to different views throughout the park, including the “Artist Paint Pots Trail,” which provides the most panoramic views.

West Yellowstone Airport (WYS) is the closest airport, and you will actually see a birds-eye view of the park upon arrival. From the airport, you will need to drive around 35 minutes to the park. If you can’t get a flight here, the Bozeman Airport will be the next most popular airport.

If Yellowstone is on your bucket list, make sure to check out my 2 Day Guide for Visiting, Summer packing guide, Best things to do in Yellowstone, and Yellowstone travel tips.

Yellowstone Lower waterfall at the grand canyon

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park can be a perfect destination whether you are in town in either winter or summer. The rock formations here are just incredible, making it one of the most unique places to visit in the USA.

In winter, enjoy the peaceful surroundings and snowy views, and in summer, partake in the ranger-led hikes and campfire talks.

The most popular attractions are Hike to Delicate Arch and driving the Arches Scenic Drive. Hiking is excellent here and is an ideal activity for those with an adventure-filled spirit and who want to see more of the 2000-acre park.

Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY) is 11 miles from the entrance of the park. 

Arches National Park with Delicate Arch at sunset
credit: jose1983/depositphoto

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, located in Arizona, has been on my bucket list for some time now. It became what it is today after hundreds of years of water running through sandstone and has now created one of the most unique landscapes.

When visiting Antelope Canyon, you can select a tour that features the Upper Antelope Canyon or around the Cliffs National Monument.

The tours range from $90-$195 and provide gorgeous views. The colors of the sandstone are truly incredible, and the entire environment is something that you have likely never seen before.

Keep in mind that the hikes here can take a while, with most tours being around 5 to 8 hours long, but guests can sit back, relax, and take in the scenery as a lot of the route is done while driving.

The hiking portion of the tours can be fairly challenging, with various hills to conquer and stairs to go up and down, but with the combination of healthy endorphins and stunning scenery, it is a must-visit!

The closest airport is the Las Vegas International Airport. 

the carvings of the red rocks in Antelope Canyon

Napali Coast, Kauai Hawaii

If stunning ocean views that look fake are on your bucket list, the Napali Coast sure does deliver. The Napali Coast is a wilderness park with stunning ocean views. Here, you will find narrow valleys and beautiful waterfalls, which easily makes this the perfect location for a hike. During my hike down the coast, the views didn’t even feel real – it’s really beautiful.

Napali Coast from helicopter view of the lush valleys

This coast is 17 miles long and is a haven of natural beauty and wildlife that you can discover. It is also very popular to see the coast by boat or by helicopter.

While in Kauai, be sure to check my Detailed Kauai Itinerary (3 Days), Day Trip Kauai Itinerary (for cruisers), and guide to Secret Falls.

Napali Coast, Kauai is a must on your Itinerary with beautiful mountain and ocean views.
Napali Coast, Kauai

Mount Rainier, Washington

Mount Rainer is described as “an icon on the horizon.” At this destination, you will find rivers, ancient forests, and Meadows filled with flowers.

While here, you can hike the various routes, which, depending on which season you are visiting, will provide amazing views and opportunities to spot wildlife such as black bears, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions. You could even camp here and spend the days climbing up the surrounding mountains. The views from this snowcapped mountain look incredible, and I can’t wait to visit soon.

The closest airport to Mount Rainer is the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

Mt Rainer with the lake in the foregound and the reflection of the snow capped mountain.

Sequoia National Park, California

Situated in California, this national park has amazingly large mountains and deep canyons and is home to some of the world’s largest trees. The Sequoia National Park has been on my bucket list for years for the otherworldly towering trees you will witness here.

Some of the best things to do here include climbing Morrow Rock, which is an exquisite stone stairway, visiting the largest tree in volume, The General Sherman Tree, and sitting down in the various benched areas for a delicious picnic. Visiting during the winter can provide something a little extra special since the park will likely be covered in snow.

The closest airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport. 

giant Sequoia trees with a man standing near one is a unique US destination

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Valley of Fire gets its name from the 14,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone that resides here. At the Valley of Fire, visitors may also find petroglyphs that are over 2,000 years old. This unique landscape makes it one of the most unique destinations in the USA.

There are many hiking trails to explore, areas for camping that have grills, restrooms, and picnic areas located at various featured spots, including The Seven Sisters, The Cabins, and White Domes.

The nearest airport is the Las Vegas Airport.

Valley of Fire outside of Las Vegas
credit: zrfphoto/depositphotos

The Wave, Arizona

This location, which is commonly known as The Wave, is located in Arizona and is essentially a sandstone rock formation. The formation can be found at the Coyote Buttes, which is one of the more difficult but unique places to visit in the United States.

To preserve its unique colors and formation, you can only visit on a lottery-based system. If you get lucky enough for your name to be drawn, the location is absolutely epic. There are four trails in the area that take you to the Paria Canyon and The Wave. I am still waiting to get here myself.

That being said, in an attempt to preserve this location, there are no formal trails, just signs to show hikers where to go. 

The closest regional Airport is the Page Municipal Airport (PGA) in Arizona.

The Wave in Arizona with wave looking orange variations is one of the most unique destinations in the US

Monument Valley (Utah/Arizona)

Monument Valley was once an area that formed part of a sea floor. Over millions of years, the sandstone gradually built and left this unique destination that remains today. 

While Monument Valley does consist of multiple sightseeing attractions like the Mexican Hat and a Totem Pole, most visitors come to explore the Lower Monument Valley, which is a 17-mile loop with iconic views. Personally, I think it should be a part of a West Coast USA road trip.

Plus, Mystery Valley, which is located around the southern portion of this park, is another favorite of locals and tourists as this is where the amazing teardrop arch and sand springs are located. 

The closest airport to Monument Valley Park is Page Municipal Airport.

Monument Valley at sunset with the road in the middle of the photo looking out to the rock formations

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

The Petrified Forest National Park is deeply populated with deposits of petrified wood. Here lies over 400 species of plants and a varied amount of amphibians and other stunning wildlife. I think this park looks so cool and unique, but it is still on my bucket list. It is also one of those gem vacation spots many people don’t know about.

You can experience the park by car which is a much quicker option. Some people who visit even choose to go backpacking and hike throughout the wilderness and then camp throughout the night. This is a popular activity because this park offers unobstructed views, which make for the best sunsets and sunrises.

The nearest airport is the Albuquerque International Sunport Airport (ABQ), with Phoenix Sky Harbour International Airport (PHX) a close second.

the colorful mountains at Petrified National Park with white and brown colors
credit: MNStudio/depositphotos

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Described as like “no place else on Earth,” White Sands National Park is home to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders. The White Sands National Monument is an expansive area filled with glittering white sand. So, is it worth visiting White Sands? From what I’ve read, it is a resounding yes.

Some really fun activities that can be done here include bicycling across the flat terrain, looking out amongst the ever-changing views, camping (where you get to stay overnight in this stunning scenery), hiking through the five established trails, enjoying the complete tranquility that comes with it, and, of course, taking memorable photos.

The nearby airport is El Paso, TX, which is approximately 85 miles away from the white sands.

White Sand dunes at White Sands National Park unique Destinations US

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Formally named as the land of stone and light, the Badlands are such a unique destination to visit. The Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota and is visited by hundreds of tourists each year, although I believe most people don’t know how unique the landscapes are here. When visiting, you will witness geological deposits and fossil beds that contain ancient wildlife that used to live here. The park itself is 244 acres and is a must-visit for history lovers.

Make sure to begin at the White River visitor center to enjoy a museum exhibition and collect maps to explore the park.  

Some of the other special activities include nighttime sky viewings, which are 30 to 90 minutes of using telescopes to find objects and star constellations in the sky – which is a truly magical experience.

And daytime activities include spotting wildlife! So many unusual animals live here, including Bisons and Bighorn Sheep, which are not often seen elsewhere. 

The nearest airport to Badlands National Park is the Rapid City Regional Airport (RAP).

Green valley and colorful mountains at the Badlands in South Dakota is one of the most unique destinations in the US
credit: AndreyKr/depositphotos

Blue Ridge Park Way, NC

The Blue Ridge Mountains Parkway in North Carolina has the most outstanding scenic beauty. The parkway is 469 miles and begins in Virginia and continues throughout North Carolina, passing by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park.

There is an extensive list of things to do here, with some of my favorites being Grandfather Mountain, spending time at the stunning waterfalls, and hitting the many trails throughout the parkway. Oh, not forgetting that there are even activities such as fishing, biking, and spending the night camping while listening to music among the scenic views. – Pure bliss! The fall and spring are my favorite times to visit!

Luckily, there is no admission fee, and my Blue Ridge Parkway Itinerary ensures you see the best the parkway has to offer. Also, check out my Boone Weekend itinerary, which is along the parkway.

The nearest airport to the Parkway is Asheville Regional Airport (AVL).

View Of Linn Cove Viaduct
View Of Linn Cove Viaduct in the distance on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

No matter what time of year you visit Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes are always open with no timed entries or reservations. These sand dunes are the tallest dunes in North America, but they are also home to a gorgeous creek that people of all ages can enjoy.

A few of the featured activities include hiking, sand boarding, sand sledding, and splashing in the scenic Creek. I have been wanting to get over here for years!

The closest airport to the national park is San Luis Valley Airport, which is approximately a 45-minute drive away from the park entrance.

Sand Dunes at Sand Dunes National Park with mountains in the background at sunset
credit: PixelsAway/depositphotos

Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

A densely packed Salt pan in Tooele County is what awaits visitors at Bonneville Salt Flats. Situated in northern western Utah, this is a landscape like no other.

All throughout the salt flats, hexagon patterns have formed, which are so unique to see. The flats are approximately 12 miles long, and even just watching the sunset here is a beautiful experience. Most tourists simply visit to see the stunning landscape and take pictures.

It is important to keep in mind that large cars have gotten stuck in the mud before, so if you are able to walk to this area, it is recommended. 

The closest airport to Bonneville Salt Flats is Wendover Airport.

Bonneville white salt flats at sunset is a unique US destination

Bentonite Hills, Utah

Getting a lot of hype on Instagram lately, and famously called Mars, the Bentonite Hills are easily one of the most unique destinations in the US. They are located east of Capitol Reef National Park on the Bureau of Land Management. During the Jurassic Period, mud, silt, fine sand, and volcanic ash were deposited in lakes and swamps, forming this layer.

These rainbow-colored hills have the best colors at dawn and dusk and require you to have a high-clearance vehicle. Several of my friends have been and said it is very worth the visit.

A good airport to fly into Bentonite Hills is Bryce Canyon Airport (BCE).

Bentonite Hills during blue hour with blue and red hues on the mountain making it one of the most unique destinations in the US
Credit: Christine of Live Love Run Travel

Niagara Falls, New York

Niagara Falls State Park in New York dates back far into the ice age, where large torrents of water were released from the melting ice and in doing so, formed the famous Niagara Falls that is here today. In fact, the discovery of this powerful waterfall has quite the history.

While seeing this natural wonder is an experience in itself, Niagara Falls also has additional attractions like hiking trails, in-park dining, and Cave of the Winds.

The closest airport to access the national park is Niagara Falls International Airport (IAG).

Overhead view of Niagara Falls

Jockeys Ridge, North Carolina

Located in the iconic beach town of the Outer Banks (OBX), Jockey’s Ridge is a sand-filled state park surrounded by ocean views. Jockey’s Ridge is not only the home of the tallest living sand dune system east of the Mississippi but it is also packed with activities for all ages.

Some of the best things to do here include sandboarding, paragliding, hiking, and picnicking. Plus, the Jockey Ridge Sand Dunes are one of the best budget things to do in OBX and are dog-friendly.

A popular airport to use when traveling to North Carolina is the Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU).

Jockeys Ridge in the Outer Banks is one of the best free things to do - Woman on sand dunes in red dress with wind blowing

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree is an extremely popular National Park in California, and for good reason. The park has an extensive cultural history, geological features, and a vast variety of plants and wildlife. The park is estimated to be around 800,000 acres and, due to its popularity, sees tourists from all over the world every single day. What makes this National Park such a unique destination to visit in the US is its impressive granite boulder formations, Joshua Trees, and the mixture of two deserts.

One day in Joshua Tree - Joshua Trees National Park Road Trip itinerary
Road Trip to Joshua Tree National Park

One of my favorite short hikes in Joshua Tree is the Hidden Valley nature trail. I also love Cholla Catus Garden for sunset.

If Joshua Tree is next on your bucket list, make sure to check out my Joshua Tree Day Trip Guide, these things to know before you go, and my packing guide.

The nearest airport is around an hour away at Palm Springs Airport (PSP).

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Arch Rock Trail in Joshua Tree. Woman in white dress standing between granite boulders.

Pink Salt Flats, Puerto Rico

Have you ever heard of pink salt flats? Well, in Puerto Rico, you can find just that: natural pink salt flats, making it one of the most unique destinations in the US. The shade of the salt varies from pink to red tones depending on the amount of bacteria that has been cultivated in the pond.

The main thing to do here is take in the landscape. There are also various trails that you can bike or walk. This is super popular among the locals. After enjoying this cool phenomenon, head to the nearby beach in Cabo Rojo. I still consider the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats one of the best hidden gems in the USA.

While planning your trip to Puerto Rico, make sure to check my Puerto Rico Guide (4 Days), the best things to do, and my Puerto Rico travel tips guide.

A popular airport in Puerto Rico to use is the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, but a closer airport would be Mercedita International Airport in Ponce.

Salt flats in Cabo Rojo Puerto Rico
Pink Salt flats in Cabo Rojo Puerto Rico

Fairbanks, Alaska To See the Northern Lights

This list would not be complete without adding the Alaskan Northern Lights. Aside from the fact that Fairbanks turns into such a winter wonderland, it is one of the best places in the USA to see the Northern Lights.

The best times to see the lights are in November, December, and January, and they usually appear between the times of 9 PM and 3 AM.

While waiting for nightfall, explore the surrounding areas with many miles’ worth of trails that take you to the perfect viewing locations, or purchase a specific tour hosted by an expert to increase your chances of seeing the lights. 

The Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) will be the best airport to use when visiting.

Fairbanks Alaska Northern Lights

Mt. Haleakala Sunrise in Maui, Hawaii

Another unworldly experience in the US is experiencing the sunrise at the top of Mt. Haleakala. Located in Maui, Hawaii, this National Park was founded in 1976 and has since seen a multitude of visitors. The best feature of Mt. Haleakala National Park, in my opinion, is the sunrise. I think it may have been the best sunrise I have ever seen. However, it is also a part of the Road to Hana and has tons of hiking trails and even waterfalls.

At the top of the mountain, discover the Haleakalã Crater which is a huge 6.99 miles across that is unlike any other location. If you want to do a sunrise or sunset, just make sure to get your tickets in advance. They do not offer them in person.

If you’re visiting Maui soon, make sure to visit my Detailed Maui 5 Day Guide for more help planning an epic trip.

The nearest airport is the Kahului Airport (OGG). 

Mt. Haleakala Sunrise tips Maui Hawaii

Unique US Destinations Wrap-up

There you have it: some of the most Unique destinations to visit in the US. While I have been to most of them, some of these cool places are still on my bucket list as well, so let’s inspire each other to get out there and see the beauty America has to offer!

Are there any other truly unique US destinations or hidden vacation spots that should be added to this list or you have a questions? Let me know in the comments below!

Did you enjoy this list of Unique Destinations in the US? I’d appreciate it if you could share it below!

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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good. Learn more here: https://findloveandtravel.com/samantha-oppenheimer/

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