Places to visit in America

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. Rafting down the Colorado River, climbing up the granite facades of Yosemite, watching grizzlies in Alaska, or dancing all night in New Orleans might seem ‘daunting’ but the USA is all about pushing your boundaries. If you want to really delve into the depths of the USA, its wild places and exhilarating cultures, the best way is to feel your fear and do it anyway. And if you do, it will have your heart beating louder than any rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner.

1. Alaska

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.
Appalachian Trail

2. Appalachian Trail

Over 3,000km long, seek out the best stretches. Such as the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire, just 200km from Boston. Here you can cover over 150km 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.

3. California

The 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.

4. Colorado

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

5. 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

6. The Grand Canyon

This plunging desert landscape will make you realise 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

7. New York State

Few people know anything of this state 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.

8. Hawaii

A land of ancient gods, fiery volcanoes and beaches that look like 3D picture postcards, America’s 50th state is an alluring mix of laidback lifestyle and thrilling adventures. You might be splashing around in the surf, admiring flowing and bubbling lava the next, sailing out into the ocean to spy whales, manta rays and dolphins, or touring the historic Pearl Harbour to learn about an infamous chapter of American history.

9. Utah

There’s more to Utah than Mormons, and what a spectacle it is. Zion National Park with its vast red cliffs that glow majestically in the sunset, the famous Emerald Pools and the iconic Angels Landing Trail; Bryce Canyon and its incredible forest of crimson hoodoos reaching up into the sky, and the painted desert of Monument Valley on the border with Arizona, a regular backdrop in classic Westerns and home to the Navajo Tribal Park.

10. Vermont

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.
Washington State

11. Washington State

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

12. 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

13. 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.
Travel Team
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usa sample itineraries

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


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
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: rayb777] [Alaska: Hari Nandakumar] [Appalachian trail: Nicholas A. Tonelli] [California: tdlucas5000] [Colarado: einalem] [The Deep South: Carl Wycoff] [The Grand Canyon: Grand Canyon National Park] [New York State: minka6] [ Hawaii: Braden Jarvis] [ Utah: Marco Bellucci] [Vermont: Joe] [Washington State: Rachel Samanyi] [Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park] [Yosemite National Park: Jordan Pulmano] [San Francisco: Joseph Barrientos]