The USA is packed with iconic cities, picturesque small towns and the world’s best theme parks but some of the county’s most exciting sights are natural rather than manmade. Across the USA you’ll find spectacular canyons, beaches, mountains, deserts, forests and more. Head to the wilderness to celebrate US National Parks Week 2019: this year you’ll get free entry between 20 – 28 April 2019. Here’s our pick of some of the best places to get into the great outdoors in the USA.
Want more great outdoors ideas? You’ll find them in our free USA Travel Planner here
Deep dive into nature, Key West, Florida
Dive into nature in Key West, Florida. Here National Parks are on land and in the sea, right. 70 miles from Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, you’ll find Dry Tortugas National Park with its vibrant coral reefs, unique tropical fish, rare birds and its large population of sea turtles. In the Lower Keys, you’ll find inviting beaches, soft sand, warm shallow water and excellent snorkelling at Bahia Honda Key.
Coastal wilderness, San Diego
Soak up beach vibes in San Diego, then head inland to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, one of the wildest stretches of land in southern California. Located on the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach, the reserve has eight miles of hiking trails and is home to around 3,000 pinus torreyanas, the nation’s rarest pine tree.
Otherworldy landscapes, Utah
There are no less than 40 state parks in the state of Utah, including its famous 'Mighty 5' national parks
. You’ll find equally magical, lunar landscapes in the state’s lesser-known state parks, too. Try Kodachrome Basin with its multicoloured rock spires dating back 180 million years, or Goblin Valley, with its goblin-like sandstone monoliths, often compared to Mars due to its peculiar formations. Dead Horse point was the first of Utah's state parks to be designated as a Dark Sky Park - with perfect, light-pollution free conditions for watching the stars. it’s also known as the set for the iconic 'Grand Canyon' scene in Thelma & Louise.
Record breaking nature, Visalia
Set off from the gateway city of Visalia, California, and you can climb the tallest mountain, explore the deepest canyon, see the largest living things on earth at the nearby Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. In Sequoia National Park you’ll find Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous USA, and General Sherman, the largest living single-stem tree in the world. Kings Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon, with roaring waterfalls and amazing wildlife. You’ll also find the world’s largest and oldest trees - the giant sequoia trees can be over 100 feet in circumference and thousands of years old. Visalia, California makes a great home base for a trip to see these magnificent trees.
Remote islands, Virginia
You’ll find a watery wilderness in the
Assateague and Chincoteague Island National Seashore stretch along Maryland and Virginia’s Atlantic coastline. These unspoiled, remote islands are home to wild ponies, pristine beaches, and miles of undeveloped shoreline, making them perfect for camping and cycling.
Desert spectacular in Greater Palm Springs
Nature creates the best designs, and none more so than in
Joshua Tree National Park in Greater Palm Springs, with its craggy rocks and sculptural cactus. The park has two desert ecosystems – the Colorado and Mojave Deserts – which are home to a surprising number of animals. More than 44 species of reptile have been found in the park, including lizards, snakes and tortoises. In addition to wildlife spotting, the park is a fantastic place to hike, bike and camp.
Cycling and hiking in Austin, Texas
It’s easy to head into the great outdoors in the Texan city of Austin, Texas. You don’t need to leave the city limits to find a green place to go cycling, stand-up paddle boarding, hiking or kayaking. Take a sunset bat cruise on Lady Bird Lake, a stroll along the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, or a dip in Austin's beloved Barton Springs Pool. Beyond the city you’ll find incredible parks, green meadows, wide open spaces, limestone cliffs, rocky riverbeds, rivers, lakes and caves.
Lakeside beauty, Minnesota
Head out from the city of Duluth, Minnesota, and follow round Lake Superior towards the stunning North Shore. En route you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of forested hillsides, wilderness streams and waterfalls, and great views of Gooseberry Falls from the highway. Stop off at landmark 1920s Split Rock Lighthouse, a 1920s lighthouse and light keeper’s home that you can visit, before you reach the charming town of Grand Marais, an artist community, with lots of galleries, shops and restaurants. Further north is Grand Portage State Park, which leads to a spectacular view of the Pigeon River High Falls, the biggest waterfall in Minnesota.
Hit hiking goals on the Appalachian Trail
Hiking enthusiasts can meet serious hiking goals on the Appalachian Trail. Hiking enthusiasts can meet serious hiking goals on the Appalachian Trail. It’s a 2,192 mile long route across 14 states, between Maine and Georgia, across the Appalachian mountains, and much of it is inaccessible from the road. Get to it from Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, where you’ll have access to 500+ miles of hiking trails, some of which are said to be the most scenic of the Appalachian Trail. Sounds too difficult? Go by horse or pony or take the car, along the Skyline Drive
Rocky roads, Colorado
There are four national parks in Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most spectacular. Follow one of the park’s many trails on foot or by bike or horseback, and stop off to go fishing or camping under the stars. You can see herds of wild elk grazing in the meadows all year round but one of the best times to visit is between May and June when elk calves are born.
Find peak waterfall, Colorado Springs
For a serious upwards hike, head to 14,115-foot Pikes Peak, ‘America’s Mountain’, in Colorado Springs. If the hike sounds too challenging, take the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the summit or drive the iconic Pikes Peak Highway
which winds its way up the mountain, offering spectacular views along the way. Be sure to take in dramatic waterfalls to discover - the Broadmoor Seven Falls reach a total height of 181 feet. Visitors can experience it up close and personal via 224 steps on the staircase from the base of the falls to the peak. Seven Falls in Colorado Springs
is the only waterfall in Colorado to make National Geographic's list of international waterfalls. The summit is a National Historic Landmark (NHL), and the visitor centre is being rebuilt, scheduled for a 2020 opening. Want an adrenaline rush? Take a trip across the gorge at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park - you can travel 1,200 ft above the Arkansas River by zipline, gondola or skycoaster.