While we often think of pilgrimages as synonymous with expensive flights, hours each day on a bus full of strangers, and famous destinations like Fatima or Lourdes, they don’t have to be costly, long, or travel-intensive.
The practice of pilgrimage, an ancient tradition rooted in early Christianity, serves as a physical reminder of spiritual realities. Even though we don’t see our journey with faith in the same way we can see the road ahead of us, life itself is a pilgrimage to deeper friendship with God. Pilgrimages provide opportunities to step out of the daily routine and dedicate time to diving deeper into the spiritual life.
And there are a lot of different ways and places we can do this. If you’re not able to travel across the pond, here are a few pilgrimage destinations right in the United States. Consider stopping by one of them when you’re already traveling, or make a weekend road trip out of it. Ditch the tour bus and go for a DIY pilgrimage instead!
National Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha | Fonda, NY
This shrine combines history, nature, and faith with its chapel, museum, and network of hiking trails in commemoration of Kateri Tekakwitha — the first Native American to be canonized as a saint. Located in the region where St. Kateri lived in the 17th century, the shrine features an excavated Iroquois Indian village, and the property’s trails are open year-round, which makes it an excellent destination for a nature walk or a prayerful hike.
9/11 Memorial at St. Peter’s Church | New York, NY
If you’re in the Big Apple, St. Peter’s Church offers a chance to step away from city noise, find quiet space for prayer and reflection, and encounter a piece of American history. Founded in 1785, St. Peter’s was the first Catholic Church established in the state of New York, and its historic importance grew following the events of 9/11. In the aftermath of the attacks on the Twin Towers, St. Peter’s served as a relief supply station and FEMA command station for recovery efforts down the block. Today, the events of 9/11 are commemorated at St. Peter’s through art and sculptures.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception | Washington, DC
Located on the campus of Catholic University in Washington, DC, the National Shrine is a can’t-miss destination in the nation’s capital. Dozens of side chapels showcase the diversity of the global Church through art and design in the style of local Marian apparitions across the world. And if you want a bonus pilgrimage destination, the St. John Paul II National Shrine just up the road from the basilica has a worthwhile museum about the pope’s life.
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe | La Crosse, WI
This shrine was constructed with pilgrims in mind, designating multiple places for prayer and reflection connected by a meditation trail. Visitors walk a half mile trail up to the church, which was designed in the style of European sacred architecture. Along the way, pilgrims can stop at devotional areas for St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Joseph the Workman, traverse the Way of the Cross walking loop, or pray on the Rosary Walk trail. The shrine also includes a memorial to the unborn, which serves as a place of “spiritual healing and comfort for those who have lost a baby before birth.”
Abbey of Gethsemani | Trappist, KY
Famous as the home of the contemplative and prolific writer Thomas Merton, the Abbey of Gethsemani is a monastery for Trappist monks nestled on about 1,500 acres of knobs, lakes, and forests. Visitors can pray with the monks, find silence in the chapel, or explore the miles of neighboring trails.
Mission San Juan Capistrano | San Juan Capistrano, CA
California is home to many Spanish missions, but Mission San Juan Capistrano stands out as the “Jewel of the Missions” and commemorates California’s “early multicultural history, embracing Native American, Spanish, Mexican, European, and American heritage.” Founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1776, the Serra Chapel is the only chapel still standing where St. Junipero celebrated Mass. Visitors will find a place for peaceful reflection in the mission’s gardens and enjoy exploring the mission’s historical exhibits.
Want somewhere closer to home? A nearby park or church will do!
Ultimately, pilgrimages are a way to create space in the routine of daily life for reflection, renewal, and inspiration, which means you can DIY a pilgrimage to fit your schedule and budget. Pick a nearby location that will help you step away, select a theme or intention for your reflection, and make the journey purposeful. Fill drive time with a podcast or a well-tailored playlist, or break out a rosary to turn a 25-minute walk into an opportunity for prayer. And remember — there’s no perfect way to go on a pilgrimage. Embrace mindful practices that challenge you to go deeper!
There are myriad destinations that can teach you not only about faith, but also about the history of this country and the ways people of faith have left their mark on the world. Whether venturing across the country or into your backyard, you can turn any adventure into a pilgrimage by approaching places through a lens of faith and reflection.