The third largest nation in the world by land area, the United States encompasses nearly 10 million square kilometres, taking in six time zones across 50 states. There is an unparalleled variety of landscapes, ranging from Arctic wilderness to scorching desert, tropical islands to craggy mountain range. It takes five hours just to fly from the west coast to the east, without even thinking about adding in the distances to its outlying states of Hawaii and Alaska. It’s also home to some of the most exciting cities on our planet. In a country that’s famed for its fondness for super-sizing, it makes sense to take a bite-sized approach to planning your visit. Here are some of our bucket-list US experiences.
There are 59 National Parks in the United States, across 27 states. The largest, Alaska’s Wrangell-St Elias is more than thirty thousand square kilometres (about half the size of Tasmania), and the oldest is Yellowstone National Park, which was established in 1872. The parks cover all manner of terrain, from Death Valley, which is the hottest, driest and lowest point in the United States, to Sequoia, home to some of the world’s largest trees. Yosemite, Arches, Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains are also major bucket-list contenders.
Cycling is a great way to explore a new destination, setting a pace that gives you plenty of time to soak up the scenery and notice the details that could easily be missed behind the wheel of a car. There are thousands of cycle trails to choose from, ranging in distance from a few kilometres to a few weeks, but one of the best single-day cycles is the journey across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. For eighty years, this ochre-coloured suspension bridge, has linked the city to Marin County at the point where San Francisco Bay meets the Pacific Ocean. You can hire a bike from Fisherman’s Wharf and cycle around the waterfront and through Golden Gate Park to reach the bridge, cross over to the Marin County side and coast downhill all the way to the impossibly picturesque town of Sausalito, before catching the ferry back past Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf.
There are thousands of lakes in the United States, both natural and man-made, the largest of which is Lake Superior, which is the world’s third-largest freshwater lake by volume. Far smaller but still the nation’s largest alpine lake, and also arguably its most scenic, is Tahoe, which spans the border between Nevada and California and sits nestled in Sierra Nevada Mountains. One of the lake’s main attractions is its startling water clarity, but it’s also a magnet for ski bunnies thanks to its twelve surrounding ski resorts. If you visit during the summer months, you can enjoy hiking and water sports. Year-round, a great way to appreciate the setting is by taking a cruise on its paddle-steamer, the MS Dixie II.
The United States has some of the world’s great stretches of water, and there’s no better way to experience them than by taking a cruise. Sail the Inside Passage between Washington’s Puget Sound and southeast Alaska for a unique perspective on the region’s wildlife and scenery (plus a fair stretch of British Columbia while you’re at it). For a glimpse into America’s riverboat history, a paddlesteamer cruise on the Mississippi is a must: choose a shorter cruise on either the lower stretch, taking in southern gems like New Orleans, Memphis and Baton Rouge, or the upper stretch between St Louis and St Paul, or the entire river from the upper reaches all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. If you prefer something more tropical, a cruise is a great way to explore the four main islands of Hawaii. Each morning you’ll wake in a different port so you can spend your day taking a helicopter ride over Waimea Canyon, zip-lining on the Big Island or soaking up the sunshine on a quiet beach in Maui.
A road trip is one of the classic American experiences, and there are some incredibly scenic options ranging from a single day to as many days as you’ve got to spare.
Some of our favourites include the Pacific Coast Highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Overseas Highway (a 113-mile highway which links the Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West via a series of bridges) or the Hana Highway (65 miles of narrow, winding road that follows the spectacular Maui coastline and includes 59 bridges). There’s also Cascade Loop (a circuit of Washington state that includes mountain passes, ferry crossings and plenty of wildlife-spotting photo opportunities), Route 100 through Vermont (a must if you want to see the region’s famed fall colours) and of course, iconic Route 66 (close to 4,000 kilometres stretching from Los Angeles to Chicago and crossing seven states along the way).
America may not be immediately thought of as a popular destination for foodies, but there are plenty of amazing dining experiences if you’re willing to find them. From the thriving food truck scene in Portland, Oregon to a proper Texas barbecue, from a fresh slice of New York pizza to a steaming bowl of New England clam chowder, there are plenty of options to get your taste buds dancing.
There are so many other unforgettable experiences that should also be included on any US bucket list: playing a round of golf at Pebble Beach; supporting Boston’s Red Sox at a baseball match at Fenway Park; taking in a Broadway show; watching the sun rise from the summit of Maui’s Mt Haleakala.
Start compiling your own list using a mixture of our ideas and yours, then contact your local personal travel manager here who can help you build an itinerary around them.