Places to visit in America
Make the most of your time
It’s the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’, according to its national anthem. And when you take your first step down into the Grand Canyon or up into the Rocky Mountains, for example, the sense of freedom will certainly hit you. As for being ‘home of the brave’, you really don’t want to leave it too late in life to come here. Before rafting down the Colorado River, climbing up the granite facades of Yosemite, watching grizzlies in Alaska, or dancing all night in New Orleans feels ‘daunting’. Because, if you want to really delve into the depths of the USA, its wild places and exhilarating cultures, the best way is to face your fears and do it anyway. And if you do, it will have your heart beating louder than any rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner.
A land of extraordinary national parks, including the USA’s largest, Wrangell St-Elias National Park, a giant of glacial gorgeousness which is the size of Switzerland alone. Head to Alaska for hiking on glaciers, ice climbing, kayaking through frozen fjords, and taking in the tumultuous taiga and sub-arctic tundra with its resident wildlife wonders such as orca and humpback whales, grizzly bears and wolves.
Over 3000 kms long, seek out the best stretches. Such as the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire, just 200 kms from Boston. Here you can cover over 150 kms of the Trail climbing Mt Guyot and Mt Zealand, passing elevated lakes and waterfalls. Do as locals do and stay in traditional hiking cabins which have hosted hikers along the Trail for as long as it has existed.
San Francisco ‘Bay Area’ is a good starting point with its blue skies and green planet thinking. A walking vacation is perfect, along the Pacific coast to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you can go California dreaming through coastal redwood forests. Try surfing on San Diego’s beautiful beaches, hiking through Joshua Tree National Park or explore the Mojave Desert, which feels as much like another planet as LA does.
Everywhere you go in Colorado people talk about elevation. And with the Rocky Mountains taking over vast swathes of this the state, you can soon see why. These peaks are everywhere, with four national parks protecting the wildest heights, but small skiing resorts in ex mining towns welcoming guests all year round too. You also can’t go to Colorado without rafting a river or riding a ranch.
The Deep South
Music echoes throughout any vacation here, not just for country, bluegrass or Elvis fans, but blues rules too with Memphis, Nashville and New Orleans must visits. The stories of struggle and civil rights that were, still are, the backdrop of so much of this creativity, also play a major part of visiting this area, with places like Birmingham and Memphis’ National Civil Rights Museum important wake up calls.
The Grand Canyon
This plunging desert landscape will make you realize how the expression ‘take your breath away’ came about. You will have to catch it again though when you take on one of its many hiking trails, either around the rim or escape the crowds and descend into the canyon itself. Which is 1.6km deep and 29km wide by the way.
New York State
Few people know anything beyond Manhattan, or that you can build a two week vacation of hiking, kayaking and cycling into a visit to the Big Apple. Ski or walk in the Catskill Mountains just an hour from the city, explore serious wilderness of the Adirondacks and its 46 peaks or bask in the Atlantic waves of Long Island. It’s one big green apple, ripe for the picking.
Americans like to keep North and South Carolina a secret from Europeans. With over 700 kms of coastline shared by the two states, the Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the USA’s favourites with a plethora of hiking routes through its eponymous elevations, cultural heritage heavy cities such as Charleston or Wilmington for natural, marine heritage as well as the beautiful Cape Fear River.
Shelve your oil baron preconceptions and check out Texas’ cool and carbon free personalities. Such as the guides who take you white water rafting down the great Rio Grande, hiking along the desert trails of the Big Bend National Park, or horse riding on a real ranch. Or explore the world famous live music bars of Austin, a city vying for one of USA’s coolest right now.
For many modern day pilgrims to the USA, this is heaven. Famous for its autumnal array of beauty, when every Pantone shade of green, yellow, red and brown spread throughout these New England forests. Similarities with ‘Old England’ are striking, with working farms, rolling hills, old-growth forests, and picture-perfect villages. Try it in the winter snow, spring blossom or summer freshness too, for all year round flavours of paradise.
Not to be confused with DC, this state, with super chic Seattle at its core, boasts a magical mix of North Pacific coast, Puget Sound archipelago and a plethora of national parks. Such as the mountains of the Olympic National Park, active volcanoes of Mount Rainer National Park and Mount St Helens. For slopes that slide you down to coast rather than desert, this one’s for you.
Yellowstone National Park
The mother of them all as this was America’s first national park. The thermal geysers are iconic, the most famous being Old Faithful although there are five hundred others to boot, making this the largest collection in the world. Although this extraordinary lunar landscape is revered by many, Yellowstone is not actually as packed with visitors as some parks, because it is harder to access.
Yosemite National Park
Welcome to the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. With green forests just made for camping, trekking and some wild swimming, it drives many people up the walls. Literally, as its climbers’ paradise of granite facades seem to go on forever. The Nevada Falls do too and you can follow its course on the aptly named Mist Trail. Get there early though, or the mist turns to a fog of tourists.
7 day walking itinerary in California
San Francisco ► Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park ► Monterey ► Yosemite National Park ► Lake Tahoe ► San Francisco
12 days around the Deep South:
Atlanta ► Nashville ► Memphis ► Tupelo ► Natchez ► New Orleans ► Birmingham ► Atlanta
7 day trip around south-west USA’s national parks:
Las Vegas ► Zion National Park ► Bryce Canyon National Park ► Monument Valley ► The Grand Canyon ► Route 66 ► Las Vegas
Travel times by bus/train/car/air in the USA
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in the USA.
- San Francisco – Yosemite National Park 3.5 hours by car
- Seattle – Anchorage, Alaska 3.5 hours by air
- Denver – Rocky Mountain National Park 1.5 hours by car
- Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim 5 hours by car/coach
- Route 66 from LA to Chicago, crossing eight states At least a month by car
- New York to San Francisco 3 nights by train
- Anchorage – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park 8 hours by car