As tomorrow is the United States’ Independence Day I thought it was only appropriate to celebrate my home country’s birthday with my top 10 favorite U.S. destinations. Last year I finally accomplished a goal of mine to visit all 50 states. It’s very hard to pick a top 10 because the U.S. has so many amazing natural sites, but I’ll try my best!
10. Havasu Canyon, Arizona
Havasu Canyon is one of those destinations that just keeps getting more and more popular and with good reason. Because you must have a permit to visit (and permits are limited) it doesn’t feel overrun with tourists. Plus, since it’s a 10 mile hike, (or donkey ride or helicopter ride in), it feels like you’ve earned this beautiful reward. The canyon is filled with multiple, massive waterfalls created by the bright turquoise Havasu Creek. They’re definitely a striking contrast to the orange-red canyon walls.
9. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is just a city that feels like a living thing. It has a soul, a personality and just feels like it breathes. There are so many amazing things to do in NOLA from great eats, to historical sites, to cocktail-fueled strolls through the French Quarter. There are so many things to see and do in the Big Easy that one trip just simply isn’t enough.
8. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii
Seeing an active volcano has been so high on my list for so long. Upon visiting Hawai’i last year, I got to make that dream come true. We were there right before the lava started really flowing, and I’m bummed that we missed that, but we did get to watch the caldera steam and glow before sunrise. It was really special. I hope to come back to see the lava flow into the ocean soon!
7. Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park is one of those places that totally took me by surprise. I found this park while trying to find the perfect father/daughter hiking destination, and it was beyond perfect. This National Park isn’t one of the most popular, but it has it all. There are hikes in the desert, in canyons and in mountains. There’s wildlife, hot springs, ghost towns, canoeing and even the opportunity to cross the Rio Grande in a johnboat. It unexpectedly made its way into my top ten and it’s one of the places I’m hoping Matt will love just as much when I take him there.
6. Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
I spent my entire life just around the corner from Ozarks National Forest. But it wasn’t until I was out of college that I really started taking advantage of all the hiking there was to do in Northwest Arkansas. The Buffalo National River cuts through this region which has created some stunning bluff lines, there are loads of waterfalls and caves galore. Explorations here can be as simple or adventurous as you want them to be. It’s a well-hidden gem that I think will become extremely popular in the next 5 years or so.
5. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Kenai Fjords was the magical spot for me in Alaska. The whole countryside is pure wilderness, however, something about this park really spoke to me. Although I’m not usually an ocean-lover there was something about the amazing wildlife I saw in this area (humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, puffins, otters and more), waterfalls that flowed into the ocean and bright blue glaciers crumbling away into the glassy waters. It was just pure magic.
4. Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park in Washington is a thing of beauty. The thing about this park is, like Big Bend, it has it all! The rugged coastline made even this non-beach-lover want to sit and watch the waves crash agains the rugged rocks. The beaches that required a bit of a hike (like my favorite, Beach 2) felt secluded and like it was your own personal spot. Then, theres the rain forest. All the trees are dripping with moss, and you can come across the awesome, but gross-looking, banana slugs. To top it all off, you can go hike in the mountains. Anyone who knows me knows that the minute I can see mountains I’m happy. I highly recommend the Hurricane Ridge Hike. At just over 3 miles, it’s a great length to get up on top of some mountains.
3. Asheville, North Carolina / Blue Ridge Mountains
I love Asheville so much that it was that after one visit, I knew it was a place that I wanted to live. This city has it all! It’s a mountain-town filled with amazing breweries, food options, coffee shops, art and more. Then, the mountains themselves are the perfect for nature-lovers to explore! I almost feel like I have to give AVL a warning: I’ve met very few people who didn’t totally fall in love after one visit. Be prepared to want to return again and again.
2. The Na Pali Coast, Kaua’i, Hawai’i
Kaua’i in general was just paradise. If it wasn’t so far away from anything else, it would be the place I would want to live forever. Instead I suppose that it will have to simply be a favorite spot. The place we returned to again and again on our week there was the Na Pali Coast. We watched many sunsets on Ke’e Beach and even hiked the amazingly stunning trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach and Falls! These gorgeous, layered cliffs are stunning from each and every angle.
1. Moab, Utah
While the town of Moab is quaint and cozy, it’s the entire Moab-region that holds the number-one spot in my heart out off all of my other favorite U.S. destinations. Edward Abbey said it perfectly when he said, “For myself, I’ll take Moab, Utah. I don’t mean the town itself, but the country which surrounds it – the canyon lands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs, and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the rocks.” There’s just something about the strange formations and Mars-like landscape that surrounds you. The Southwest in general is an incredibly special place to me, but Moab takes the cake. Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are national gems along with all the other nameless canyons, arches, petroglyphs and red-orange wonderland that holds it all.
Washington, D.C. is an awesome city filled with history, some of the world’s best museums and gorgeous monuments. Plus, this is an amazing budget destination as almost all of the major sites here are 100% free! You don’t even have to rent a car because the tram can take you just about anywhere. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming is another national park that has it all. There are geysers, mountains, canyons, waterfalls and wildlife galore. My fear of bears has kept me from exploring more, but it’s on my list to do. Chicago, Illinois is my favorite big city in the U.S.. I like that there’s so much to do. The downtown area is incredibly walkable, easy to navigate and just absolutely beautiful. Be sure to wear your walking shoes and take a slightly larger budget to make it to the top of buildings and through museums. Denali National Park, Alaska is hands down the most wild place I’ve ever been. It seems endless and holds the highest peak on the continent. It’s just amazing! Kings Canyon National Park, California feels like a hidden gem. It’s close to Yosemite, and is actually the home of the deepest canyon in North America. Hanging Lake, Colorado is just a gorgeous waterfall-fed lake that’s tucked up into a canyon in Colorado. The steep hike to the top is worth the climb.
The United States is massive, full of a wide range of cultures, foods, nature and more. I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to all 50 states, but there’s still so much more to see! I hope all of my American readers have a happy + safe 4th of July! I’m dying to know, what are your favorite U.S. destinations?
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