Bucket List August 30, 2021
The 19 Most Amazing Things You’ll See Along The American Discovery Trail, An Epic Coast-To-Coast Adventure
Americans are natural born explorers. It’s what our nation was founded upon. Of course, the idea of ‘manifest destiny’ is inherently problematic; in the United States, just like so many other countries, there have been missteps along the course of history. But at its core, the United States of America is about venturing boldly into the unknown, always searching and seeking, ready to explore the wonders that await. And this is why the notion of backpacking across the U.S. is such a romantic, authentically American notion; it’s the spirit of Jack Kerouac or Cheryl Strayed. For those looking to experience the splendor of the United States of America, the American Discovery Trail is an epic coast-to-coast journey that absolutely belongs on any adventurer’s bucket list. It’s 6,800 miles of continuous, multi-use trails that stretch from Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware to Pt. Reyes National Seashore in California. What makes this trail so special is how very accessible it is: you can curate your experience to what’s closest to you or what’s on your own personal bucket list. No matter how you decide to experience the American Discovery Trail, it will undoubtedly be a memorable and epic adventure.
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
Cape Henlopen State Park - Delaware
Cape Henlopen State Park Public Beach, 15009 Cape Henlopen Dr, Lewes, DE 19958, USA
The American Discovery Trail (ADT) has its eastern terminus at
Cape Henlopen State Park
, right on the Atlantic Ocean at the Delaware Bay. It's appropriate that the ADT begins in the First State, which, on Dec. 7, 1787, was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. As you embark upon your great American adventure, remember to stop and enjoy the journey -- because that's really what the ADT is all about.
Chesapeake Bay - Maryland
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia, USA
Proceeding west from Delaware, the ADT passes through Maryland’s eastern shore, Tuckahoe State Park, and onward to the Chesapeake Bay. The bay is a historically significant place to stop and spend some time. History buffs will recognize the site of the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake (also known as the "Battle of the Capes"), during which the French fleet defeated the Royal Navy in what would be the decisive naval battle of the American Revolutionary War. Adventurers on the ADT will fight their own figurative battle with the eponymous (and
) bridge; at Stevensville, arrangements must be made for a taxi or Uber to transport hikers across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, as it's not open to pedestrian traffic.
The National Zoo - Washington D.C.
National Zoo Drive Northwest, National Zoo Dr NW, Washington, DC, USA
Onward to Washington, there are numerous must-visit places of national significance to explore along the trail. The National Zoo offers adventurers a wonderful change of pace; there are over 1,800 animals representing 300 different species at this nationally acclaimed attraction. Visitors can see almost every type of animal at the National Zoo, which is
free and open to the public 364 days a year
Harpers Ferry - West Virginia
Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, USA
Our final Maryland stop along the ADT shares the spotlight with West Virginia: Harpers Ferry. This idyllic West Virginia town is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, and is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Interestingly enough,
the most photographed view of Harpers Ferry
is actually in Maryland; you'll access Overlook Cliff from the Maryland Heights Trail. Back on the West Virginia side of Harpers Ferry, the Appalachian Trail actually crosses the ADT, so if this iconic American trail is on your bucket list, you can hop on here!
Blackwater Falls - West Virginia
Blackwater Falls, West Virginia 26260, USA
For those who've never had the pleasure of exploring West Virginia, the ADT will open your eyes. One of the most overlooked and underestimated states in the country, there's a whole world of wonder waiting in West Virginia. Blackwater Falls is one of the state's crown jewels, and a must-visit stop along the ADT. High in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, the 2,300-acre Blackwater Falls State Park is one of the most photographed spots in the state -- and for good reason. The Blackwater River has carved some amazing features out of the rock, starting with the
at the head of the gorge. In short: Blackwater Falls is absolutely worth the detour to discover.
Hocking Hills State Park - Ohio
Ash Cave, OH-56, Logan, OH 43138, USA
Hocking Hills State Park, 19852 OH-664, Logan, OH 43138, USA
Just like West Virginia, Ohio is often underrepresented in terms of
adventures. Fortunately, the ADT bisects the southern region of the Buckeye State, traversing straight through some of the most wondrous attractions in the Midwest. Hocking Hills State Park is one such place. In the rolling Appalachian hills of eastern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park is a glorious expanse of caves and waterfalls, hills and rivers. While you may be too weary to partake in the park's 25 miles of scenic trails, the awe-inspiring
is easily accessible via a quarter-mile jaunt. Ash Cave boasts both a waterfall *and* caverns, and visitors can even walk behind the trickling falls to
revel in that undeniable Buckeye State beauty.
Great Serpent Mound - Ohio
Serpent Mound Historical Site, 3850 OH-73, Peebles, OH 45660, USA
While Ohio is full of myriad mounds and earthworks of historical and cultural significance, there’s no earthwork in the world that compares to Great Serpent Mound. The largest (and most strangely shaped) effigy mound
in the world
, what’s even more intriguing about the 1,348-foot mound is its indefinite purpose, which continues to baffle archaeologists and anthropologists to this day. What we do know is this Serpent Mound was built around 1000 A.D., most likely by the Fort Ancient people, and was likely used as a place of ceremony.
Serpent Mound in Ohio
is truly unlike anything else in the world, and a must-visit stop along the ADT.
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial - Indiana
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, 3027 E S St, Lincoln City, IN 47552, USA
In Elizabethtown, Ohio, the ADT forks into two paths: the northern route and the southern route. The former runs through Indiana, Illinois
Iowa, and Nebraska; the latter journeys through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas. Both paths converge in Denver, Colorado. If you opt for the northern route, you'll venture past the
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
, a place every American should visit in their lifetime. This historic national memorial is on the grounds of the farmland where president Abraham Lincoln lived with his family from 1816 to 1830. The grounds were designated as a historic landmark in 1960, and offer visitors an immersive and interactive experience unlike any other museum or memorial in the country.
Garden of the Gods Wilderness - Illinois
Garden of the Gods Wilderness
Continuing along the northern route will lead travelers through Illinois, where the Garden of the Gods Wilderness beckons. Located within the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods Wilderness is located on over 3,000 acres of untouched, pristine Illinois land. The park is marked with incredible rock formations that seem to have been perfectly placed by a divine hand; or, as it turns out, 320 million years of rain and wind erosion on sandstone rock. It's truly one of America's
greatest hidden gems
Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge - Iowa and Nebraska
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, Omaha, NE, USA
Onward and upward along the northern portion of the ADT, hikers will come upon a true modern marvel. The
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
is the first-ever pedestrian bridge to connect two states (Nebraska and Iowa), and its route right over the Missouri River is absolutely stunning. This 3,000-foot
walk across the sky
is sure to fill and fuel your wanderlust as you continue your great American adventure.
Fort Larned National Historic Site - Kansas
Fort Larned National Historic Site, 1767 KS-156, Larned, KS 67550, USA
Let's backtrack a bit, for those explorers who opted for the southern route. In Larned, Kansas, the Fort Larned National Historic Site is a true American treasure. Known as "the Guardian of the Santa Fe Trail," this park is a piece of living history that tells of a contentious and pivotal period in U.S. history. Definitely make a point of stopping off to
this unique history museum -- it's a place that will stay with you.
St. Louis - Missouri
St. Louis, MO, USA
City Museum, 750 N 16th St, St. Louis, MO 63103, USA
Between its epic
, world-famous cuisine, and iconic Gateway Arch, St. Louis truly is a bucket-list-worthy destination. Take a break before the next leg of your journey along the ADT to explore this magical city, known as "The Gateway to the West."
The Garden of The Gods - Colorado
Garden of the Gods Road, Garden of the Gods Rd, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Both northern and southern routes converge in Colorado, for the final leg of the ADT adventure. This western state will leave you gobsmacked by its beauty, with Garden of The Gods one of the most magnificent places in the world. The park is an ecological melting pot where the grasslands of the Great Plains meet the mountains of the Southwest; this unique landscape is then drenched in the dreamy desert hues for which
is known. Photographs simply can't do it justice; Garden of the Gods is place you absolutely must
Pikes Peak Cog Railway - Colorado
Pikes Peak Cog Railway Station, Barr Trail, Cascade, CO 80809, USA
The ADT passes Pikes Peak, the highest point of the southern Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, and a bucket-list item for many. Since 1891, the
Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway
has taken millions of people on an unforgettable journey through the Colorado Rockies. At 14,115 feet, this summit is a favorite for seasoned hikers; however, for most, it's quite literally out of reach. Luckily, there's the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. This nine-mile trip takes passengers to the top of Pikes Peak, traveling along Ruxton Creek, past Minnehaha, and through Deer Park along the way. It's an immensely scenic adventure offering million-dollar views of some of the prettiest scenery in the country. It's also a welcome excuse to put up your (hiking-boot clad) feet and simply take in the surrounding scenery.
Arches National Park - Utah
Arches National Park, Utah, USA
It is no secret there are mesmerizing, stunning landscapes around the United States, but the American West seems to be especially flush with otherworldly beauty. Arches National Park is one such Western treasure. With gorgeous red rocks, thousands of natural stone arches, beautiful blue skies, and dozens of trails to explore, Arches National Park is a place of
sublime natural splendor
. This national park in Utah is marked by its ubiquitous red slickrock, the product of years and years of natural wind erosion. There are more than 2,000 natural stone arches throughout this national park, in fact -- and many of them date back more than 65 million years. The park itself is packed with incredible trails and plenty of wildlife, making for a wonderful day trip detour along the ADT.
Canyonlands National Park - Utah
Canyonlands National Park, Utah 84532, USA
Located in southeastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park is often overlooked for the state's other big-name parks, such as Arches and Zion. Yet this national treasure is certainly worth the trip, and a must-take stop along the ADT. Canyonlands National Park covers 337,598 acres of rugged Utah expanse, and its views stretch for miles. Here, you'll see how the elements have carved out canyons and shaped rock formations and buttes across the landscape over eons. One of the best spots for viewing this natural wonder is the
Grand View Point Overlook
. Easily accessible via a flat, mile-long trail, this overlook will quite literally take your breath away.
Great Basin National Park - Nevada
National Forest Development Road 448, NF-448, Nevada 89311, USA
Nevada is so much more than arid deserts and flashy casinos; it's a beautiful treasure in the American West that's hiding
and magnificent parks, like Great Basin National Park. Located beneath the 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park is 77,180 acres of pure, unadulterated natural beauty. Within this national park, you'll find stunning geological formations, pristine mountain streams and alpine lakes, wondrous caves and caverns, and some of the oldest trees in the world. And perhaps most surprisingly, Great Basin National Park also boasts some of the
in the country, making it one of the best places for stargazing in the U.S. -- and a wonderful place to camp along the ADT.
Virginia City - Nevada
Virginia City, NV 89440, USA
Located just 20 miles southeast of Reno, the town of Virginia City is a true historic gem. This Nevada town is lined with Victorian-era structures that were originally constructed during the mining boom, and you can almost
the history as you walk down its streets. If you’re looking to learn more about Virginia City's fascinating history, there's a
that's a must for visitors of this Old West town. During this experience, you'll ride around in an open-air trolley while learning all about Virginia City: its lore and legends, fascinating history, and well-known icons. Mines, mansions, cemeteries; the trolley ride explores some of the most interesting places in the West! The tour cruises past iconic sites like the Ponderosa Mine, Mackay Mansion, Haunted Washoe Club & Museum, and Piper's Opera House, offering a history lesson you won't find in the books. Virginia City is a hidden Nevada gem that's a well-preserved time capsule of America's Old West, and absolutely worth checking out along the ADT.
Muir Woods National Monument - California
Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, CA 94941, USA
California is the final state along the ADT, and it's positively bursting with natural splendor. While so many of the sites along this portion of the trail are worth stopping for, it would be criminal not to pay a visit to Muir Woods. In California, Redwood National Park and the adjacent State Parks are home to the world’s tallest trees, providing sanctuary to nearly half of the world’s old-growth redwoods. Within this region, Muir Woods National Monument is one of the most epic landscapes in the state. Situated within a canyon,
features 1,000-year old redwoods towering up to 260 feet tall. It's one of Northern California's top outdoor attractions, bringing in hundreds of visitors a day, and yet the forest's atmosphere remains incredibly serene. It's absolutely a bucket-list stop along the ADT that's sure to leave a lasting impression.
Golden Gate Bridge - California
Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, San Francisco, CA 94129, USA
One of the most recognizable icons in all of America, the Golden Gate Bridge is an undeniable symbol of hope and promise. This Bay Area bridge is one of the Wonders of the Modern World, and it has a
that continues to amaze tourists and locals alike. There are many places in San Francisco where visitors can view this stunning structure, but we recommend going the extra mile (or, in this case, 1.7 miles) and taking the pedestrian walkway across the bridge. The experience of traversing this American icon is one for your bucket list, and the perfect (almost) ending to the ADT.
Point Reyes National Seashore - California
Point Reyes National Seashore, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956, USA
This is where the journey ends, and it's most definitely a
finale. Point Reyes National Seashore is a place of spectacular natural beauty, offering some of the best coastal views in the country. Within this amazing area, the
Point Reyes Lighthouse
is a historic gem that sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each and every year, and it's the perfect place to conclude your trip along the ADT. Slowly and intentionally climb the beacon's 313 steps, and you'll be rewarded with jaw-dropping panoramas of the Pacific Coast that will fill your soul and remind you just why you decided to take the American Discovery Trail to begin with: to discover and revel in the resplendence that is America the Beautiful.
These 19 wondrous places are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you’ll find along the
American Discovery Trail. Each and every small town, major city, national and state park, historic site, and attraction along this 6,800-mile excursion is worth discovering, in fact. Because it is each and every one of these places that form the patchwork of this great American adventure. This is America, and it sure is beautiful.
For more inspiration for your bucket list, be sure to subscribe to our Bucket List Newsletter. And if your wanderlust is leading you to clear-blue waters and soft sand beaches, you’ll want to discover these 17 natural oases in America.