With COVID restrictions still in place for a lot of international destinations, now is a great time to plan a trip exploring one of the many awesome destinations right in our backyard here in the US. Check out this list of places that are so stunning, you may be surprised to learn that they’re in the United States.
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a massive expanse made up of stunning unique portions that will sometimes make you feel like you’re in another world. The western area of the flats is perfectly flat and looks like a lake covered with snow. In some other areas the flats look like dry desert covered in water.
Fly to: Salt Lake City
Best time to visit: September through October
Pro tip: Stay off the salt surface when it is covered by water. When wet, the salt surface is soft and easily damaged by vehicles. The saltwater is also highly corrosive and can “short-out” the electrical system in your vehicle. Be prepared for desert conditions. Temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and drop well below 0 in the winter. There are no facilities or services on the salt flats.
Covid restrictions: The Salt Flats are managed by the Bureau of Land Management—check their website for current guidelines and restrictions regarding COVID-19.
Na Pali Coast, Kauai
The Na Pali coast in Kauai will make you feel like you’ve left this world and stepped straight into Jurassic Park. If you’re looking for the real adventure, strap on your hiking shoes and take the 11 mile trek along the Kalalau Trail to spend the night camping on Kalalau Beach.
Fly to: Lihue (LIH) is the only major airport in Kuaui, so you’ll have to fly here either from the mainland or another Hawaiian island.
Best time to visit: September, November, April, June or early December – the weather is pleasant and prices will be cheaper when there are fewer visitors.
Pro Tip: Access to the Kalalua Trail is limited per day, make sure to book your pass in advance of your trip.
Covid restrictions: Hawaii recently launched a pre-travel testing program to allow visitors to bypass the states overall 14 days quarantine requirement. Make sure to check the details with Hawaii’s tourism authority before visiting.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is internationally recognized for its massive granite cliffs (namely the infamous El Capitan and Half Dome), waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, meadows, glaciers, and wildlife.
Fly to: Fresno is the closest airport but you can also get there by flying into San Francisco, Oakland or San Jose. The drive from the Bay Area is about 3 hours.
Best time to visit: May and September, when the park is open but less crowded
Pro Tip: Plan ahead for this one—the most popular accommodations fill up months in advance and reservations are required for car camping.
Covid restrictions: Reservations are currently required to visit the park. Make sure to check up to date information from Yosemite’s website before planning your visit.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The striking landscapes of Badlands National Park are just the beginning of wonders found here. The park is also home to an abundance of fossilized species as well as living wildlife.
Fly to: Rapid City Regional Airport is the nearest to the park.
Best time to visit: As with many parks, if you’re looking to avoid crowds and heat, the best time to visit is in spring or fall.
Pro tip: Allow yourself enough time to really explore – take a short hike or two to really see the rock formations, drive the loop road stopping to take in vistas as they come. Don’t miss the visitor’s center where you can learn about the history of the land and see where they work on the many fossils found there.
Covid restrictions: Badlands National Park is reopening in phases. Check with the park’s website for official information on openings.
Redwood National Forest, California
The world’s tallest trees are found right here in the US at Redwood National and State Parks in California.
Fly to: You can fly into tiny Arcata-Eureka Airport (ACV), but fares are expensive and flights are relatively unreliable, so most likely you’ll want to fly into San Francisco or Sacramento and rent a car.
Best time to visit: Visit in the summer when the weather is most enjoyable.
Pro Tip: While the Redwoods are truly amazing, make sure you do not miss out on hiking through Fern Canyon.
Covid restrictions: The park is currently open with some modifications. Be sure to check directly with the park’s website when planning your trip.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Looking for a great spot for insta shots? Check out the stunning rust-colored Antelope Canyon in Arizona.
Fly to: Phoenix and Las Vegas are the closest major airports, but both are still about a 4 to 5 hour drive from the canyon.
Best time to visit: March – May and September – November when there are fewer crowds and cooler temperatures.
Pro Tip: The Canyon cannot be visited without a tour guide. Book a tour that includes the upper canyon, generally known as the more photogenic of the canyons.
Covid restrictions: Antelope Canyon will remain closed to the public through the end of 2020 at least. Make sure to check the Navajo Nation website for re-opening plans.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon, in Bryce Canyon National Park, offers other-worldly spire-shaped rock formations called hoodoos. It’s a great destination for hiking, rock climbing, stargazing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Fly to: Salt Lake City, Utah
Best time to visit: May through September
Pro Tip: Plan to spend at least one night at or near the park and get up early to enjoy the park at sunrise when the views are spectacular and there are fewer crowds.
Covid restrictions: Bryce Canyon National Park is open and currently no reservations are required for entry. Make sure to check the park’s website for updated information before visiting.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the first place in the US to see the sunrise from early October to early March, making watching the sunrise from its peak a must-do at least once in your lifetime.
Fly to: Bar Harbor Airport via direct flights from Boston will get you closest by plane. You can also consider flying into Bangor (1hr drive), Portland (3hr drive), or Boston (6.5hr drive).
Best time to visit: September to early October, when the crowds have left but the temperatures are still warm enough to enjoy.
Pro tip: Buy your pass online ahead of time and skip the lines when you arrive. Also, make sure to check park and traffic alerts to see what trails and roads are open before visiting.
Covid restrictions: The park is open but also has seasonal closings, so make sure to check the park’s website when planning a visit.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion Canyon’s steep red cliffs make for spectacular views. Not to mention that the park is known for hiking trails for all levels, the world’s best canyoneering and desert waterfalls.
Fly to: Las Vegas, Nevada is the closest major airport and is about a 3 hour drive from the park.
Best time to visit: April and May and September and October when the weather is more moderate.
Pro tip: Take advantage of the UOT BOT, which will be like having a tourist expert in your pocket. To use, launch Facebook Messenger (mobile or desktop), search for and select “Visit Utah,” and click “Get Started.” From there you have a vast array of park knowledge at your fingertips separated into user-friendly categories, including answers to all the common questions tourists ask.
Covid restrictions: Zion National Park is currently open under modified operations. Be sure to check their website for updated information before visiting.
Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall of the Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon. The waterfall cascades over 620 feet down, making it a spectacular natural wonder to visit.
Fly to: Portland, Oregon
Best time to visit: Summer
Pro tip: Plan to visit during less popular times such as early morning or late afternoon on weekdays.
Covid restrictions: Multnomah Falls is currently open to a limited number of visitors on a first come first serve basis from 9 am to 6 pm daily. The falls are managed by the US Department of Agriculture, so check their website for updates on visitor access before planning your trip.
Niagra Falls, New York
Niagra Falls is actually a group of three waterfalls that span the border between Ontario in Canada and New York state in the US. The largest of the falls, Horseshoe Falls is considered the most powerful waterfall in North America due to its high flow rate.
Fly to: Buffalo, NY
Best time to visit: June to August is peak season for warm temperatures.
Pro tip: If you don’t mind being a little chilly, consider visiting in fall or spring when there are fewer people and lower prices.
Covid restrictions: Niagra Falls USA is now open. As always, be sure to check for updated information directly with official sources before visiting.
Glacier National Park, Montana
You don’t have to go all the way to Canada to experience stunning turquoise lakes and mountain views created by glacier movement, you can find these wonders at Glacier National Park. You can also see millions of stars and stargaze at the world’s first Dark Sky Park to span an international border.
Fly to: Kalispell is the main gateway to Glacier National Park, but you can also fly into nearby Bozeman. You can also consider flying into Missoula, Montana (3hr drive to the park) or Spokane, Washington (4hr drive).
Best time to visit: July and August
Pro tip: The park is also known for its wildlife, including bears. Make sure to pick up some Bear spray before entering the park (you can’t fly with it!).
Covid restrictions: Glacier National Park is open, but many areas are currently closed. Make sure to check the official website before visiting.
Bixby Creek Bridge, California
If you watched HBO’s Big Little Lies you’ll definitely recognize this landmark bridge. It’s generally considered one of the most photographed bridges in California due to its design and location. Ideally visited on a California coast road trip, you can pull off the road at numerous turnouts to get amazing views.
Fly to: For a California coast road trip you can start in the Bay Area by flying into San Jose or San Francisco. If you want to start a road trip from the south, fly into Los Angeles or Santa Barbara.
Best time to visit: Any time between late spring and early fall, but you’ll find the most tourists and highest prices in July and August.
Pro tip: Cell phone service isn’t great in the area, so download the region in google maps before leaving and then visit multiple viewpoints to get a good view of the bridge from all angles.
Covid restrictions: Current restrictions in California allow for travel and many tourist destinations have reopened, but each county may have different guidelines based on their current situation. Make sure to check in with your destinations ahead of time to learn about local restrictions.
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Horseshoe Bend’s unique architecture and beauty make it a wonder to behold and, of course, a perfect spot to snag a stunning insta shot.
Fly to: Flagstaff, Arizona
Best time to visit: March through May and September through November when there are fewer crowds and cooler temperatures
Pro tip: The hike to the overlook is a short 1.5 miles over flat terrain, but it has very little shade so make sure to bring plenty of water, wear sturdy footwear, sunscreen and bring any other hiking essentials you might need in the heat. The bend is also best viewed in the late morning or midday.
Covid restrictions: Glan Canyon National Recreation Area is currently open to visitors. Check the park’s website for updated information before visiting.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Sandboarding anyone? You don’t have to go all the way around the world to see massive sand dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to the tallest dunes in North America. The desert-like landscape creates a great spot for sandboarding, stargazing, tubing and beachside activities (yes, you read that right!) and hiking and backpacking.
Fly to: Colorado Springs Airport is a 3-hour drive from the entrance to the park.
Best time to visit: While the park has something to offer no matter when you visit, shoot for shoulder season in the fall if you can.
Pro tip: Definitely rent a sandboard or sand sled!
Covid restrictions: The park is currently open but is managed by the National Park Service, so check their website for up to date information on openings and restrictions.
So, what amazing US destination will you explore first? Wherever you want to go, we have cheap student flights and rental cars to get you there for less.