The Ultimate Summer Bucket List: 15 Can’t-Miss Destinations, Activities, Foods and Attractions

 White seaplane floating on the crystal-clear blue waters of Dry Tortugas National Park—a picturesque nature park in The Florida Keys.

Sure, it’s technically still spring—but it's hard not to feel the excitement of summer just around the corner. The warming temperatures, the longer days filled with hours of sunshine, and the telltale sights, sounds and smells (hello, barbecue!) that signal a world spending increasingly more time outside. 

Wherever you may live, summer offers the perfect opportunity to get outdoors, explore new places you’ve always wanted to see, and indulge in a few activities you’ve always wanted to try. And while the season may be fleeting, there's still time to plan the perfect summer bucket list and accomplish the best of what the season has to offer. So stock up on your favorite sunscreen, throw on a hat for extra sun protection, and get ready to make this a summer to remember.

5 Must-Visit Destinations

A canoe on a quiet beach in dreamy Islamorada, a favorite island village located in the Florida Keys

There are countless must-visit destinations that blend natural beauty with pulse-pounding outdoor action. And as far as we’re concerned, one of the very best ways to experience the outdoors is by visiting one of the U.S. National Parks. Here are five destinations with picture-perfect parks that should be on any summer vacation bucket list. 

The Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

There are 1,700 islands and cays that make up this dreamy archipelago, with 43 of them connected via bridges and roadways. Exploring this tropical paradise is easier than you might think, thanks to the Overseas Highway, which spans Key Largo in the north to Key West in the south—the latter of which is the southernmost point in the Continental United States. Snorkel or dive in the crystal-clear waters, explore the Dry Tortugas National Park, and indulge in a variety of fresh seafood.

Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

The idea of venturing to Hawaii may feel far-fetched due to its distance from the mainland. But with a number of new daily flights and routes for 2023 and beyond, this summer may be the perfect time to discover the breathtaking beauty of Maui's beaches, waterfalls, and rainforests for yourself. Surf, paddleboard, or simply relax on the stunning shores while enjoying the warm Hawaiian breeze. And don’t forget to visit Haleakala National Park, a 33,000-acre playground on a long-dormant volcano. 

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Located in Southern California and within easy reach from Los Angeles, Palm Springs and even San Diego, Joshua Tree National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking stunning desert landscapes, dramatic rock formations, and the chance to explore one of the most diverse ecosystems in the United States. Hike, bike, or backpack your way through the sprawling landscape. And be sure to check out the park's famous night skies, which offer some of the best stargazing in the country.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Nestled in the northwest corner of Montana lies Glacier National Park, regarded as “the Crown of the Continent.” This land of snow-capped peaks, pristine alpine lakes, and rugged wilderness is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with more than 700 miles of hiking trails, endless opportunities for fishing, and some of the most jaw-dropping scenic drives in the country. Keep an eye out for an incredible array of wildlife during your visit, including grizzly bears, elk, and mountain goats. 

Acadia National Park, Maine

With over 47,000 acres of mountains, forests, and coastline, Acadia National Park offers some of the most breathtaking ocean views in the country. Hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain—the highest peak on the East Coast—and take in panoramic views of the surrounding islands and Atlantic Ocean. The park also offers a variety of outdoor activities, including biking, kayaking, and wildlife watching, as well as close proximity to the charming town of Bar Harbor.

5 Must-Do Activities

That unmistakable feeling of being one with nature, enjoying breathtaking views from a solo lake kayak.

Can’t make it to a national park this summer? No matter where you may live, there are so many other summertime diversions that beckon from closer to home. Here are five ideas for getting outside and enjoying the sunshine all summer long. 

Lake Kayaking

Even if you don’t live near the beach, it’s likely you can still soak up the sun from the open water. That’s because the U.S. is home to an estimated 3 million lakes, and there’s a good chance there’s a public one near you. For an unforgettable kayaking experience, head to the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe in California, or Jenny Lake in Wyoming. There, you can enjoy a peaceful paddle while surroundxed by stunning mountain scenery. 

Scenic Ziplining

This is one guaranteed way to feel the rush of summer. Many outfitters offer zip lining adventures in locations across the U.S., such as zipping through the lush forest canopy of the Great Smoky Mountains, or zipping down from the top of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Wherever you decide to jump, you can cool off on those hot summer days, enjoy sweeping views, and maybe even spot some local wildlife while you’re up there.

Whitewater Rafting

From many vantage points throughout Colorado and Arizona, you can embark on a thrilling whitewater rafting trip down the long and winding Colorado River—the sixth longest river in the U.S.—surrounded by breathtaking canyon scenery. Farther to the northwest, the Snake River also offers a number of thrilling stretches of whitewater in both Idaho and Wyoming. Just be sure to wear your life jacket and pay attention to those safety briefings, as the class IV, V and VI rapids aren’t for the faint of heart.

Biking the Coastline

Rent a bike and explore the charming towns, lighthouses, and beaches of Cape Cod; wind your way along the Atlantic coastline in North Carolina’s Outer Banks; pedal your way along Corpus Christi’s 11-mile Shoreline Boulevard; or simply head to the beach nearest you. Whatever your preferred ocean and starting line, you can enjoy spectacularly scenic routes, stop at local shops and restaurants, and when things really heat up, you’ll be right near the shore for a quick dip.

Urban Skydiving 

Often, adventurers select coastal or otherwise remote locations for their big jump. This summer, why not take a leap of faith and experience the thrill of skydiving over the stunning desert/urban hybrid landscape of Las Vegas? Beyond the adrenaline rush, you’ll have the opportunity to take in the bird's eye view of the glittering city. 

5 Must-Try Foods

There's nothing like a slice of authentic Key Lime Pie: such a seemingly simple recipe with such complex flavors.

Whether your idea of a summer bucket list includes pulse-pounding activities or simply spreading out a beach towel and lounging with a great summer beach read, one thing is certain: the flavors of summer are worth waiting for all year long. Here are 5 foods to add to your list.

Lobster Roll in Maine

Indulge in a classic New England lobster roll, filled with fresh lobster meat, butter, and mayonnaise, on a perfectly toasted roll. Better yet? Enjoy this seaside delicacy al fresco while taking in the ocean views.

Barbecue in Texas

Treat your taste buds to the mouthwatering flavors of Texas barbecue. From Austin to Houston to San Antonio and more, you can savor the slow-cooked meats, tangy sauces, and the wide variety of southern sides that combine to make this a truly transcendent meal.

Key Lime Pie in Florida

Cool off with a slice of the iconic key lime pie, made with fresh lime juice, homemade graham cracker crust—and a little bit of magic, or so it tastes. Head to Key West to enjoy this tart and sweet dessert the way it was truly intended, or whip up your own at home for the perfect summer treat.

Beignets in New Orleans, Louisiana

For those with a real sweet tooth, there may be nothing more satisfying than a fluffy beignet. Essentially a French doughnut dusted with powdered sugar, beignets are synonymous with New Orleans today. This delicious treat is best enjoyed in the French Quarter, along with a cup of café au lait. On particularly hot days, make it an iced one.

Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Made with thinly sliced steak, melted cheese, and grilled onions, piled high on a soft hoagie roll, the cheesesteak sandwich is a classic in its hometown of Philadelphia, and today you can enjoy it in all its glory across the U.S. Despite the fact that it’s grilled to perfection and served warm, it somehow makes an indulgent and satisfying meal even on the hottest summer days. 

What’s On Your Summer Bucket List? 

These 15 ideas will get you started, but the wonderful thing about bucket lists is that there’s no limit to what you can put on them. In the months ahead, we’ll be introducing additional bucket list ideas for summer and beyond—each designed to expand on the destinations, activities and flavors that make every season so unique. Share your favorite ideas with us on Facebook or Instagram, and let us know how your own bucket list is shaping up this summer.