It’s that time of the year when your nose is crammed into books, photos, and guides, trying to figure out where to spend your valuable summer vacation days. Good ol’ planning your bucket list adventures! Through my travels, 99% of which have been in North America, I offer these summer bucket list destinations to help steer you toward some utterly brilliant scenery and locations.
Some of these bucket list adventures are easy to access (Mt. Rainier), while some are more distant (Pinedale and the San Juan Mountains), and others (Alaska) can be pretty costly. So whether you’re looking for budget travel or to live it up, these summer bucket list destinations offer both and plenty in between.
Summer Bucket List Destinations
Looking to book your trip to any of these incredible locations? Do it here!
Alaska (most of it)
Alaska’s big. That shouldn’t be a shock to most. Because of this, we shouldn’t focus on the entire state for your bucket list adventures. Thankfully, we can’t either because most of it doesn’t have roads. Below are four regions to focus your trip on. I recommend only choosing two of these if you have less than two weeks.
- Anchorage/Chugach Mountains
- This area has tons of established hiking trails and some fantastic scenery. But, of course, being in a city, you’ll have all your amenities and lodging.
- Kenai Peninsula
- Seward and Homer are the two biggest cities between 1.5 hours and 4 hours away from Anchorage. They offer plenty of fishing, wildlife watching, and hiking. I recommend a bear-watching trip out of Homer, a Kenai Fjords boat cruise, and hiking to Exit Glacier. Also, the Skilak Lake area is stunning as well!
- Denali National Park/Fairbanks
- Denali is five hours north of Anchorage, and Fairbanks an additional two. Denali NP has a handful of established trails near the entrance, but once you get in 15 miles, you’re hiking on the tundra and blazing your path. Keep in mind tundra hikes are slower than you’d ever expect. Additionally, you will want a transit bus to go deeper into the park. It costs $30. I’ve never been to Fairbanks, but my parents didn’t have high reviews.
- Valdez/Glennallen/Wrangell St. Elias National Park
- I highly recommend this area on the eastern side of Alaska – especially McCarthy and Wrangell St. Elias NP. This is authentic Alaska living, and I think you’ll love it! The dirt road to McCarthy gets a bad rap, but we didn’t find an issue with it (though we did go early in the year, right after it was grated). Valdez is also a cute town with good hiking and wildlife opportunities once the salmon start running.
Banff National Park, Alberta
The Canadian Rockies are a global gem, and no one who’s visited (and had decent weather) will say otherwise. I can’t speak more highly of this area, and it’s incredible that it exists. When I say Banff, I’m talking about a general destination, as there are plenty of places to visit in this zone. Also, don’t forget to hike with bear spray. Seeing a grizzly shouldn’t be a surprise. The places below are surefire bucket list adventures.
- Banff National Park
- Places to see: Lake Louise – Moraine Lake – Icefield Parkway – Johnston Canyon – Vermillion Lake
- Kananaskis Country
- Take your pick of a hike. This is about an hour from the town of Banff and 30 minutes from Canmore. This is less visited but arguably better, more remote hiking.
- Yoho National Park
- Less publicized than Banff, Yoho has some WILD places to blow your mind. I highly recommend visiting, and it’s only 25 minutes from Lake Louise.
Mount Rainier National Park
Two and a half hours outside of Seattle, Mount Rainier is an excellent summer bucket list destination for those not looking to drive too far but also wanting killer hikes and views. I have detailed some of my favorite places, so check that out if you have time! Go enjoy this bucket list of places to visit!
- Sunset Visitor Center
- Burroughs Mountain Hike
- Fremont Lookout Hike
- Dege Peak Hike
- Paradise Visitor Center
San Juan Mountains, Colorado
Hands down, these are my top five favorite places to visit. It’s popular, but not teeming with people if you visit during the week. Pick a city (Durango, Telluride, Ouray, or Silverton), and it’ll be a fantastic summer bucket list location.
Four places I recommend for your bucket list adventures:
- Blue Lakes
- Columbine Lake
- Ice Lakes Basin
- Red Mountain Pass
Eastern Sierras, California
A mountain range this vast means you have the freedom to choose! I’d suggest staying further north in the Bishop and Mammoth Lakes area in the summer to keep the temperatures down. There are more hikes than you’ll know what to do with here. My favorite in the region is Big Pine Lakes – North Fork. You need permits for overnight camping. Try to do this early in the morning as the ascent is very exposed and can be miserably hot even at 8,000 feet.
Glacier National Park, Montana
The Crown Jewel of the Continent! It’s aptly named and will blow the mind of everyone in your group. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- The road to Logan Pass opens once they’ve plowed it. On average, it seems to be mid-July. This is a big deal because it’s the quickest way to get from one side to the other, AND it’s where great hiking is. It also matters because it makes East and West Glacier more crowded.
- East Glacier (or Many Glacier) is where the best hiking is. Grinnell Glacier is a fantastic hike, especially with the flowers blooming.
- West Glacier is pretty cool, too – especially further north!
- Bear Spray is mandatory. There’s a good chance you will see a grizzly.
- There’s a hostel near two Medicine Lake that is very affordable.
Pinedale & the Wind River Range, Wyoming
An unknown gem in a state where the two National Parks get all the attention. Pinedale sits on the western side of the Wind River Mountain Range and has so many incredible hikes within a 20-60 minutes drive. You’ll realize why this was included on my bucket list adventures list if you visit. While the hikes are great, it’s the backpacking that is surreal. So if you want to ditch the modern world and find some backcountry beauty, this is the place.
I’ve made two trips to these bucket list destinations, and there are many other locations to explore as well!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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