No two bucket lists are the same. Many people fill their bucket with physical achievements like marathons and mountains, while others check off landmarks like Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam. There’s whale-watching and bird-spotting. There’s learning new languages and mastering new instruments. There’s Mardi Gras and Burning Man.
Whether you want to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, stand atop the Empire State Building, watch the sunset in Key West’s Mallory Square or visit every Major League Baseball stadium, what’s most important is not the actual things that populate your bucket list but the lifelong quest itself. What matters most is actually taking the time to compile and then complete your own personal set of accomplishments.
So while the following list may not meet your exact bucket list standards, let it inspire some adventures of your own. Build your personal collection of achievements and adventures you want to complete before kicking the bucket and then cross them off one at a time.
A Grand Canyon Week
Anyone can drive to the Grand Canyon and look down, but the ultimate Grand Canyon experience is a weeklong rafting journey with Western River Expeditions. The journey covers 188 miles of spectacular scenery, natural history and more than 60 thrilling whitewater rapids. Daily side hikes encounter glistening streams and tranquil pools, cascading waterfalls, lush hanging gardens, Anasazi ruins and even Havasu Falls. Camp in comfort along the river’s edge each night, and enjoy fresh and hardy guide-prepared meals throughout the day.
The Home of Haystack Rock
The 363 miles of Oregon’s coastline are crowded with dramatic oceanfront scenery, and there’s no better way to see the sights than by following Highway 101 from the Columbia River to the California line. Explore the Tillamook Cheese factory and the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and then see the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and the Umpqua Lighthouse. But for the complete Oregon Coast experience, visit Cannon Beach, home of 235-foot Haystack Rock and the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. What’s more, the area is a nesting ground for tufted puffins.
Paddling the Pictured Rocks
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretches 42 miles along Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The scenery here is filled with natural arches, waterfalls, sand dunes and the many caves and rock formations that adorn a famous 15-mile stretch of 200-foot colorful sandstone cliffs. A guided tour in a tandem sea kayak offers visitors an up-close view of the colorful sandstone cliffs with dramatic highlights like Lover’s Leap, Rainbow Caves, Chapel Cave and Battleship Row.
A Virgin River Hike
Zion National Park, Utah
During Utah’s scorching summer months, hiking ankle-deep in the Virgin River as it meanders between colorful 1,500-foot slot canyon walls is a refreshing undertaking. The trek from the Temple of Sinawava upstream to Big Spring and back is a strenuous 10-mile round trip well-compensated by turquoise waters, majestic waterfalls, quiet beaches, fairy-tale rock formations and those faint beams of sunlight showering down. Make the hike less strenuous by turning back at any time, but at least aim for “Wall Street,” the hike’s most dramatic section.
A Room at the Edge of the Sky
With four walls of windows offering a 360-degree mountaintop view, fire lookout towers have aided the search for wildfires since the early 1900s. Modern technology, however, has left many of these structures unmanned throughout the Mountain West. With the highest density of these unique architectural structures, the state of Idaho offers your best chance to experience a summit sunrise without leaving your bed. Reserve a night in the remote Arid Peak Lookout, the beautiful Shorty Peak Lookout or any of the others at recreation.gov.
Historic Harlem Jazz
New York City
Harlem in the 1920s was the epicenter of jazz music; today it’s once again a cultural destination with a host of historic venues that replay that bygone era when jazz music was in your face. Shrines to the history of jazz are plentiful here, including Minton’s Playhouse where the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday once played and Bill’s Place, Harlem’s only authentic speakeasy, where Harlem legend Bill Saxton performs every Friday and Saturday night. And don’t miss The National Jazz Museum, Harlem Heritage Tours and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in August.
The Grand Ole Opry Tour
The story of the Grand Ole Opry began in 1925 and includes names like Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette. Today an Opry performance along with the rest that Nashville offers is a prerequisite for country music fans. Opry show packages include a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry House, a tour of the Ryman Auditorium and admission to the Johnny Cash Museum.
A Mustang Ride for City Slickers
At the foot of the Big Horn Mountains, east of Yellowstone National Park, The Hideout Lodge & Guest Ranch is a working cattle ranch with 650,000 acres of land to work and explore. In addition to world-class offerings like fly-fishing and trapshooting, guests here can learn the art of working cattle, take part in horsemanship clinics and set out on beautiful trail rides across a unique diversity of terrain including wide-open prairies, hidden canyons and mountain pastures. Since 2010, The Hideout has also been adopting and training mustangs for their guests to ride on the trails.
With access to over 200 square miles of untracked terrain in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, Telluride Helitrax offers skiers the alpine adventure of a lifetime. With hundreds of helicopter drop-off locations well above tree line, advanced skiers will find plenty of dramatic ski terrain, while intermediate skiers will enjoy plenty of runs equivalent to double-blue and black runs. Warm up for this adventure on the slopes of Telluride and then relax in the town’s European-style mountain village with a host of world-class amenities and winter activities.
Fall Foliage From Above
New England’s fall foliage is legendary, but for a truly memorable autumn in New England, take to the skies. Ride a gondola to the summit of Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, New York, or view the northern Catskills from Hunter Mountain’s six-person ski lift. A canopy tour at New Hampshire’s Bretton Woods ski area consists of sky bridges and zip lines descending over 1,000 feet, while a hot air balloon ride with Berkshire Balloons soars over Connecticut’s colorful Farmington River Valley.
A Journey Through Hallowed Ground
Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area is a road trip through American history including Civil War and Revolutionary War battle sites, presidential homes and thousands of historic sites. From Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia, this 180-mile drive along U.S. Route 15 encounters historic towns like Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Waterford, Virginia. See battlefields like Antietam, Manassas and Kettle Run, and visit historic homes belonging to James Madison and George Gilmore. Travelers will also encounter 13 national parks and a ton of recreation opportunities.
Airboat Through a River of Grass
To many, Florida’s Everglades National Park is just a bunch of sawgrass and water, but the 1.5 million acres that make up the country’s largest subtropical wilderness contain nine distinct ecosystems and an assortment of flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth. A private airboat tour is the best way to experience this river of grass and have safe, up-close encounters with wildlife like the American alligator and visit islands and sites otherwise inaccessible to visitors. For a real breathtaking show, take a sunset tour of the Everglades.
Within the heart of downtown Seattle’s historic district exists a bustling year-round market unlike any other in the country. Since its early days in 1907, Pike Place Market has developed into a 9-acre spectacle of owner-operated bakeries, fish markets, butcher shops and art galleries. Here, local farmers, artisans and small businesses gather to sell fresh produce, specialty foods and unique crafts. Mixed in are tons of exceptional public art pieces including murals, sculptures and functional art, as well as some truly talented street performers.
Squares of Southern Gothic
Visiting Savannah is all about exploring its 22 public squares. From the haunted Hampton Lillibridge House at Washington Square and the slave cemetery at Calhoun Square to the Wormsloe Fountain at Columbia Square and The Olde Pink House restaurant at Reynolds Square, each one offers its own unique mix of history and beauty. Walk the squares and experience Civil War and Revolutionary War history, Southern Gothic architecture and a host of statues and monuments with their own unique stories to tell. And who could forget all those drapes of Spanish Moss?
The Lighthouse State
Maine’s 5,000 miles of rocky coastline, inlets and islands are dotted with 65 historic lighthouses. That’s more than any other state. There’s Portland Head Light, the state’s oldest; Pemaquid Point, Maine’s most photographed; Cape Neddick Lighthouse, arguably the state’s most picturesque; and Monhegan Light, one of the most remote. Many of Maine’s lighthouses offer overnight accommodations like The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse or The Keeper’s House Inn, six miles out to sea on Isle au Haut. For an exceptional lighthouse tour full of stories and exceptional views, consider a lighthouse cruise.