For better or worse, there’s a lot to see in the US of A.
Some of the best stuff is well off the beaten path, seen only by the few willing to invest the time to travel there. Other sights are… less so, especially in an RV.
But even in the world of bucket lists and heavily visited tourist attractions, there exist a few bright spots that—whether for the history, the marvel of engineering (either human or nature!), or simply the awe-inspiring beauty—are well worth braving the crowds to see with your own eyes.
These are 5 of them.
Average number of annual visitors: 4.5 million+
Why should you be one of them? How can anyone compile a list like this and not include the Great Canyon? It’s arguably the holiest of all natural formation tourist mecca holies, the great gouge in the earth that’s spurred a million family road trips.
It’s easy to see why it may feel like an overhyped destination, but once you actually make it there and take in the landscape with your own eyes, it’s suddenly not a surprise why seeing it is the top item on so many people’s bucket lists. It will blow your mind.
Average number of annual visitors: 2 million+
Why should you be one of them? Say what you will about the relatively remote location of one of America’s most recognized landmarks. But, there’s something to be said about finding your way for a glimpse of these giant presidential faces, where American spirit has turned a mountain into a monument.
For too long, SoDak has been wrongfully used as a synonym for “the middle of nowhere.” Mount Rushmore sits in the middle of South Dakota’s Black Hills, a region full of spectacular mountains and scenic drives. Take the Needles Highway near Custer through fascinating rock formations, or drive literally any stretch of the Badlands to see scenery like nowhere else in the world.
Custer State Park is one of the few places in America where a buffalo in the road can cause a traffic jam; the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place here, when thousands thunder through the park as rangers round them up for medical checks and counts.
SoDak’s roadside attractions are among the quirkiest in America. Take I-90 east from the Black Hills and you’ll pass the famous Wall Drug Store and the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell.
Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona
Average number of annual visitors: 1 million+
Why should you be one of them? Maybe it’s the glowing blue water of Lake Mead against the burnt orange desert landscape. Or maybe it’s the sheer scope of the engineering it took to build something as tall and wide as the dam.
It definitely has something to do with the vertigo-inducing view from looking way down into the Colorado River while you straddle the Arizona/Nevada state line. Or… maybe it’s just a perfect way break up that Vegas trip with something that isn’t gambling or glitz.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Average number of annual visitors: 1.3 million
Why should you be one of them? Yes, we are aware that the Coachella Music Festival has turned the concept of hitting up the Southern California desert into a hyped millennial bucket-list experience.
But a visit to Joshua Tree, which only became a national park in 1994, is probably the exact opposite experience of standing in a jam packed crowd of young people. Anyone looking for serenity, nature, or vision-quest-worthy surroundings and scenery will all find something to love.
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Average number of annual visitors: 2.5 million
Why should you be one of them? What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in bonafide historic significance, Texas pride, and plenty of nearby activities including the famed River Walk (or Paseo del Rio).
Walk, shop, dine, and enjoy the hospitality of this world-renowned urban waterway. Hop aboard a river taxi and discover for yourself why millions visit every year.
An epic project converted the Riverwalk from a congested tourist trap into 15 miles of trails that connect the city’s Spanish missions (recently named a World Heritage site) to the Pearl up north. The Pearl, once a 23-acre brewery complex, is now a neighborhood brimming with locally owned shops and acclaimed restaurants, in addition to a Culinary Institute of America campus.
“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.