50 Destinations So Magical You Won’t Believe They’re in the U.S
Fairytale escapes well within reach
The world is full of destinations that look like they’re straight out of a storybook. Whether it’s the enchanted town in Holland where the streets are made of water, or the Ice Hotel in Finland modeled after Game of Thrones, there’s so much splendor that seems too beautiful to be real.
But did you know that many of the most otherworldly attractions on earth are right in your backyard? The frozen, rust-colored waves of Antelope Canyon, the towering sequoias in California, and the sculpturesque ice formations in Utah are just some of the many surreal wonders this country has to offer. Plus: you can enjoy all of them at your leisure on the freedom of the open road.
So read on to discover the most magical destinations in the United States. And for some amazing, dad-friendly adventures, check out these 30 Incredible Experiences for Dad.
Antelope Canyon; Page, Arizona
Where to fly: Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
Antelope Canyon, just east of Page, Arizona, is a rust-colored slot canyon perfect for photo ops.
Pro tip: Opt for the upper canyon tour (for the best views). The fee is $80, but the view will be worth every penny. After you take in the views, stay at the chic Amangiri retreat in Utah. And for more adventures that don’t require hiking gear, check out these 9 Life-Changing Luxury Adventures You’ll Never Forget.
Palouse Falls; LaCrosse, Washington
Where to fly: Spokane International Airport
The Palouse Falls are a part of the Palouse Falls State Park, located on the Palouse River in southeast Washington. The park offers three different views of the falls—one just as breathtaking as the next—all for only $10.
Pro tip: While you’re in the park, try your hand (or paddle) at kayaking through the falls.
Thor’s Well; Yachats, Oregon
Where to fly: Eugene Airport
Sitting on the edge of the Oregon coast, this seemingly-bottomless sinkhole is a natural wonder in itself.
Pro tip: Stay in an amazing Airbnb along the nearby seal sanctuary for panoramic views of the coast.
Bryce Canyon; Bryce, Utah
Where to fly: Salt Lake International Airport
Bryce Canyon, located in Bryce Canyon National Park, features other-worldly spire-shaped rock formations called hoodoos.
Pro tip: While you’re there, don’t miss the true desert ambiance by staying at Shooting Star RV Resort—where you’ll get to choose from eight Hollywood-themed Airstreams. And for about Earth’s natural wonders, check out these 30 Craziest Facts About Planet Earth You Never Knew.
Northern Lights; Fairbanks, Alaska
Where to fly: Fairbanks International Airport
Did you know that you could catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of the Northern Lights right here in the United States? Well, now you know. The peak-viewing season runs from mid-September to late April.
Pro tip: While you’re in Fairbanks, be sure not to miss a romp through the Pioneer Park.
Carlsbad Caverns; Carlsbad, New Mexico
Where to fly: Roswell International Air Center
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, in southern New Mexico. The park features more than 100 colorful caves nestled deep underground.
Pro tip: Skip the hotel and rough it in the Carlsbad campground—we promise the view of the stars will be worth it.
Grand Prismatic Spring; Teton County, Wyoming
Where to fly: Jackson Hole Airport
This multicolored spring is located in Yellowstone National Park. This thermal phenomenon is the largest hot spring in the United States—though you aren’t permitted to test out the waters.
Pro tip: About 26 miles from Yosemite, the Yosemite Bug promises a whimsical stay complete with your choice of bunkhouse dormitories, hand-crafted homesteader houses, or barn studio apartments. And for more travel adventures, check out these 40 Best Bucket-List Experiences for People Over 40.
Rainbow Bridge and Falls; Watkins Glen State Park, New York
Where to fly: Hancock International Airport
Watkins Glen State Park is the most popular state park in the Finger Lakes region—and for good reason. The Rainbow Bridge and Falls are not to be missed during any trip to upstate New York.
Pro tip: While you’re in the area, don’t miss a stay at the Inns of Aurora, located right on the water.
Zion Canyon; Springdale, Utah
Where to fly: McCarren International Airport
While the Zion Canyon is a must-see at the Zion Canyon National Park in southwest Utah, it’s just one of many magical detours that include the emerald pools, waterfalls, and a hanging garden.
Pro tip: Only steps away from the park, tucked into the canyons, is Cable Mountain Lodge—luxurious rustic cabins with an unforgettable dining experience.
Dry Tortugas National Park; Monroe County, Florida
Where to fly: Key West International Airport (then hop on a boat to get to the remote island)
You can only get to Dry Tortugas National Park via boat—but it’s well worth the trek. The park is home to Fort Jefferson, one of the biggest 19th-century forts. After you’re done reveling in the history, take a swim—or even try your hand at snorkeling and diving.
Pro tip: Don’t leave the island! Camping out on this beautiful island will bring closer to history and to the stars.
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness; White River National Forest, Colorado
Where to fly: Aspen/Pitkin County Airport
The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is one of the more popular attractions within the White River National Forest in Colorado. For peak floral appreciation, head to the national park in spring.
Pro Tip: For complete solitude, camp out in the Conundrum Hot Springs—only a short distance from the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
Oneonta Gorge; Ainsworth State Park, Oregon
Where to fly: Portland International Airport
Though the trail leading to the Oneonta Gorge is currently closed due to the Columbia River Gorge fire that swept through the area last year, don’t take this destination off your bucket list just yet. Before you trek to the trail, be sure to pack plenty of water and extra socks, as you will have to walk through water for a small portion of the trip.
Pro tip: More adventure is waiting just around the corner at Skamania Lodge, located in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Enjoy ziplining, rustic rooms, and world-class dining all in the same stay.
Mendenhall Glacier Caves; Juneau, Alaska
Where to fly: Juneau International Airport
The only way to truly experience the magic of the Mendenhall Glacier Caves is to book a private tour. Though this tour will cost you around $200 per person, the all-day immersive experience will provide you with an unparalleled view of the Mendenhall Glacier Caves—with a scenic paddle across the serene glacial meltwater lake followed by a walk to the glacier cave.
Pro tip: After a long trek, head to Pearson’s Pond Luxury Inn and Adventure Spa for a much-needed spa day.
White Sands National Monument; Dona Ana County, New Mexico
Where to fly: El Paso International Airport
Like many other parts of the west, there’s an ancient stillness to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. These sands extend for 275 square miles—creating the world’s largest gypsum dunefield.
Pro tip: Just 13 miles from the park, in Alamogordo, tucked in between sand dunes, is the White Sands Motel. Stay for breathtaking views, leave to hit the road and explore more of the beautiful state of New Mexico.
Porcupine Bay; Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Where to fly: Anchorage International Airport
Though every attraction within the Kenai Fjords National Park boasts killer views, none can quite compare to this one. Snag this view with a guided boat tour ($146 for adults and $73 for children) that will take you through the bay, mountains, and tidewater glaciers in the park.
Pro tip: For the best views of the park, book a room at the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge.
Multnomah Falls; Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
Where to fly: Portland International Airport
As you can deduce from the photograph, the best time to pay a visit to this attraction in the Columbia River Gorge is in the fall. Unlike other attractions on the list, you don’t have to invest in hiking shoes to get the best view. In fact, you can actually just drive into the visitor’s parking lot and walk a few hundred feet to the base of the waterfall.
Pro tip: Be sure to grab a meal at the Multnomah Falls Lodge that provides spectacular views of the falls.
Sequoia National Park; Tulare County, California
Where to fly: Fresno Yosemite International Airport
At Sequoia National Park, you’ll feel the ancient quality of the trees—stretching for hundreds of feet towards the sun.
Pro tip: After you’ve fully reveled in the beauty of the world’s largest trees, remain enamored with a stay at Silver City Mountain Resort—where luxury is surrounded by mountains and the towering groves of sequoias.
Haleakalā National Park; Maui, Hawaii
Where to fly: Kahului Airport
The best time of day to view these volcanic structures is right at sunrise, while the sun stretches over the peaks—so be sure to book your sunrise tour at least 60 days in advance.
Pro tip: Stay late enough to catch the entire milky way light up the night sky.
Angel Oak; Charleston, South Carolina
Where to fly: Charleston International Airport
The Angel Oak Tree in Charleston, South Carolina is estimated to be around 500 years old, with its canopies stretching 28 feet in each direction. Paying a visit to the tree, located in Angel Oak Park, is completely free.
Pro tip: While you’re in Charleston, get a taste of the city at Roadside Seafood—and be sure to try the crispy bites of shark.
Nā Pali coast; Kauai, Hawaii
Where to fly: Li Hu’e Airport
The rugged Nā Pali Coast State Park is located along the northwest side of Kaua’i, the oldest inhabited Hawaiian island. The crystal clear water lined with the jutting, green mountains of the Nā Pali coast makes it a must-see on your island-hopping adventures.
Pro tip: Located right against the shore is Na Pali’s chicest stay, at the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Lounge around in the spa while snapping photographs of the sweeping coastline just beyond your back door.
Atchafalaya Basin; Morgan City, Louisiana
Where to fly: Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport
The Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest river swamp, containing thousands of acres of bottomless hardwoods and bayous in Louisiana. For an unparalleled Atchafalaya Basin, book a boat tour for only $25 per person.
Pro tip: Say in this houseboat, located right on the Atchafalaya Basin for only $69 per night.
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve; Lancaster, California
Where to fly: Hollywood Burbank Airport
The wildflower season lasts from mid-February to late May in California, so plan your trip to this hidden gem accordingly. For a small fee of $10, you can enjoy the park all day.
Pro tip: Bring a picnic basket and sit amongst the wild flowers for a truly epic meal.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park; Big Island, Hawaii
Where to fly: Hilo International Airport
This once-in-a-lifetime experience allows you to be up close and personal with active volcanoes, located just inside the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Though most of the park is currently closed due to several damaging earthquakes throughout the area, for a small fee of $25, you can take multiple trails leading to active volcano sites.
Pro tip: Just a few miles away, nestled between palm trees, is the Chalet Kilauea, offering majestic views in a safe location.
Fort Williams Park; Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Where to fly: Portland International Jetport
Since 1791, this stately lighthouse has graced the shores of Cape Elizabeth in Maine—and now you can book a visit to witness the rich history of its coast for yourself. Along with the lighhouse, there are mulitple hikes along the coastline that are not to be missed.
Pro tip: Head over to Portland for a unique dining experience at Portland Lobster Company.
Willow City Bluebonnets; Willow City, Texas
Where to fly: San Antonio International Airport
For more impressive stretches of wildflowers, head to Willow City, Texas during the late Spring for a glimpse of their famous gathering of Bluebonnets. Take a drive along the Willow City Loop and be sure to stop and take a few pictures of the beautiful blooming season.
Pro tip: After your scenic drive, head over to Fredericksburg Wine Road for a (few) great glasses of wine.
Saguaro National Park; Tucson, Arizona
Where to fly: Tucson International Airport
Take a drive along Cactus Forest Drive to get the best view of these towering cactuses—even better, plan for your drive to be right around sunset—when the orange glow of the setting sun illuminates the cactuses and plants.
Pro tip: While you’re there, don’t miss a chance to visit Signal Hill Picnic Area, which offers visitors a chance to view ancient petroglyphs.
Niagara Falls; Niagara Falls, New York
Where to fly: Niagara Falls International Airport
Niagara Falls is a popular destination for a reason: the cascading falls are a breathtaking sight from any vantage point.
Pro tip: Stay at the Sheraton On the Falls for the best view of the falls after dark.
Denali National Park; Alaska
Where to fly: Fairbanks International Airport
Since you don’t want to miss any part of the 92-mile Denali Park Road that curves through the park, it’s best to book a bus tour for optimal adventuring.
Pro tip: Enjoy the views at this park with a stay at Camp Denali North Face Lodge. These cabins are actually situated within the park, close to several trailheads.
Bonaventure Cemetery; Savannah, Georgia
Where to fly: Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport
You don’t have to be seeking spirits to enjoy a trip to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. The cemetery was established in 1846, and still serves as a great meeting place for friends and family looking for a great picnic spot in Savannah. Free guided tours are held at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Pro tip: While you’re in one of the (allegedly) most haunted cities in the country, be sure to find time for the Zombie Ghost Tour—adults only.
Lake Tahoe; California and Nevada
Where to fly: Lake Tahoe Airport
Lake Tahoe, stretching across California and Nevada, offers countless adventures like hiking, skiing—and for those just looking to relax, the area also boasts amazing beaches and some of the most beautiful drives in the country.
Pro tip: Stay in the Hotel Azure in South Lake Tahoe, California for the best views of the entire lake.
Zabriskie Point; Yosemite National Park, California
Where to fly: Fresno-Yosemite International Airport
While there are many reasons to pay a visit to Death Valley National Park, Zabriskie Point should definitely top your list. Either drive to Zabriskie Point for an overhead view of the rock formations, or hike through the Golden Canyon to see them up close.
Pro tip: To escape the Death Valley heat, stay at The Oasis for desert-themed opulence.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore; Lake Superior, Wisconsin
Where to fly: John F. Kennedy Memorial Airport
The best time to visit Lake Superior’s hidden gem is during late winter when the lake has been frozen over for a few months. This way, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the Mainland Ice Caves, which are easily accessible by car.
Pro tip: After your trek through the ice, warm your hands (and your appetite) at the Victorian-themed Rittenhouse Inn.
Cannon Beach; Cannon Beach, Oregon
Where to fly: Portland International Airport
While making the trip to Cannon Beach on Oregon’s scenic coastline, be sure to stop at Haystack Rock (pictured above). These rock formations, only a few feet from the beach, provide truly breathtaking views (and Instagram pictures).
Pro tip: don’t miss a stay at Arch Cape Inn & Retreat, located right against the shoreline.
Mount Rainier; Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Where to fly: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Mount Rainer is the highest mountain in the state of Washington, and the national park that houses the natural wonder has some of the best views of its peak. Through a various number of trails, day hikers can enjoy the lakes, wildflowers, and glaciers inside the park.
Pro tip: For a truly unique stay at Mount Rainer, look no further than Alexander’s Lodge, featuring panoramic views of the park available in every room.
Glacier National Park; Columbia Falls, Montana
Where to fly: Glacier Park International Airport
The Glacier National Park is the perfect option for those travelers looking to steer clear of their fellow tourists. Due to the quiet nature of the park, the hiking trails located throughout the expanse of trees, lakes, and glaciers are great for a peaceful day hike.
Pro tip: Stay at Glacier National Park Lodges and eat at the in-house restaurant to ensure that you don’t miss any view promised by the park.
Isle Royale National Park; Keweenaw County, Michigan
Where to fly: Thunder Bay International Airport
The other beautiful park located on Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park, provides some of the best views that the state of Michigan has to offer—complete with transcendental rocky shoreline and lush forests.
Pro tip: Experience the Northwoods at the park with a stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge, situated right on the shore of Lake Superior.
Cades Cove; Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Where to fly: Knoxville McGee-Tyson Airport
While venturing through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, grab the best views of the mountains with a quick drive through Cades Cove. This sweeping valley, lined with wildflowers and sloping mountain ranges, is also a great place for a mid-afternoon picnic.
Pro-tip: If kids are inevitably involved in your bucket list escapades, don’t miss a quick jaunt to Pigeon Forge, just an hour up the road. While you’re there, return to nature with a stay at the Reserve Secret Hideaway Cabins.
Hamilton Pool Preserve; Travis County, Texas
Where to fly: Austin-Bergstrom International Airport
For just $11, the Hamilton Pool Preserve in Travis County, Texas can be your own private oasis. To reach the rocky pool, you’ll need to hike through rough terrain—so bring your hiking boots.
Pro tip: Lakeway Resort and Spa comes equipped with a swim-up bar—need we say more?
White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad; Beginning in Skagway, Alaska
Where to fly: Juneau International Airport
If you’re not the hiking type, sit back and relax on a scenic railroad tour of Alaska and Canada. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad sets off in Skagway, Alaska, and leisurely journeys through steep mountain passes and wildflower reserves of northern Alaska. Pro tip: For the best views, opt for the White Pass Summit Excursion, where you’ll get a glimpse of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, and trestles.
Bannerman Castle; Fishkill, New York
Where to fly: Stewart International Airport
Since its creation in 1851, the abandoned Bannerman Castle has been the subject of multiple ghost stories and folk legends. To truly get the most of out of your visit, schedule a guided tour and hike to the top of the castle.
Pro tip: While you’re in the neighborhood, head over to Il Barilotto for one of the best fine-dining experiences that upstate New York has to offer.
Midway Ice Castles; Midway, Utah
Where to fly: Salt Lake City International Airport
Escape your winter blues and head to Utah to experience some of the best ice formations in the country. Even the kids will appreciate the accompanying entertainment at the Midway Ice Castles, featuring fire performances and engaging light displays.
Pro tip: To give dad a break from the ice escapades, book your stay at the Francisco Grande Hotel and Golf Resort—just minutes from the ice castles.
The Water Lantern Festival; Colorado Springs, Colorado
Where to fly: Colorado Springs Airport
Once a year, on the last Saturday of June, Colorado Springs hosts their Water Lantern Festival—and it’s an experience not to be missed. Just after sunset, thousands of people set their glowing lanterns on the surface of Prospect Lake and the whole city is set aglow.
Pro tip: While you’re in Colorado Springs for the festival, make a day trip out to Garden of the Gods for spectacular views that aren’t man-made.
Serendipity House; Rodanthe, North Carolina
Where to fly: Norfolk International Airport
This sprawling, eccentric house on the coast of Rodanthe, North Carolina epitomizes the haphazard nature of architecture in this city. For most of the year, the Serendipity House (also featured in the movie Nights in Rodanthe) is completely surrounded by water on all four sides.
Pro tip: If you so choose, you can actually stay at the Serendipity House—for a healthy sum of money.
Painted Hills; Wheeler County, Oregon
Where to fly: Eastern Oregon Regional Airport
Pegged as one of the “7 wonders of Oregon,” the Painted Hills in Wheeler County, Oregon are America’s most colorful rock formations. To get there, take the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway to also check out the ghost town of Shaniko and the Kam Wah Chung and Co. Museum, a perfectly preserved drugstore from a century ago.
Pro tip: For the rugged traveler, paradise awaits at the Spoke’n Hostel, featuring vibrant rooms and chic affordability.
Skagit Valley tulip fields; Mount Vernon, Washington
Where to fly: Bellingham International Airport
While time is limited to visit these majestic tulip fields (April 1-30), this adventure is best the spring anyway, with the bloom of nature cascading all around in Mount Vernon.
Pro tip: Feel the sea salt on your skin with a stay at Anacortes Ship Harbor Inn, located just off the sea in historic downtown Anacortes.
Acadia National Park; Bar Harbor, Maine
Where to fly: Bangor International Airport
Coined as the “crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” Acadia National Park boasts incredible views along a large portion of the Atlantic coast. Whether you’re looking to visit the Bass Harbor Head Light (the park’s only lighthouse), or if you’re looking to hike up Cadillac Mountain, this park has a little bit of something for everyone.
Pro tip: After your trek through the trees, sit back and relax at the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel.
Bixby Canyon Bridge; Big Sur, California
Where to fly: Monterey Airport
For views that don’t involve exiting your vehicle, take a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway via Big Sur’s Bixby Canyon Bridge.
Pro tip: For more coastal views from a seated position, check out Sierra Mar for one of the best fine-dining experiences in Big Sur.
Seven Mile Bridge; Florida Keys, Florida
Where to fly: Miami International Airport
While this spot may not necessarily be a destination, the Seven Mile Bridge takes you where you need to be, and does so in a truly magical fashion. The bridge stretches from Knight’s Key in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys.
Pro tip: When you reach your destination in the Little Keys, be sure to take a load off at Parmer’s Resort.
Joshua Tree; Joshua Tree, California
Where to fly: Palm Springs International Airport
Come for the other-worldly desert landscapes, stay for a view of the milky way. What makes Joshua Tree National Park so appealing are the various sights to see in the expansive desert landscape—whether by car or on foot.
Pro tip: Sleep under the stars for just $15 a night.
Horseshoe Bend; Page, Arizona
Where to fly: Flagstaff Airport
Even though it may not appear so, Horseshoe Bend in Arizona is relatively easy to get to—just a 1.25-mile hike through fairly easy terrain.
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