My Favorite Places - U.S. Edition
10. Cummins Falls, Tennessee
Looking for a hiking adventure with a picturesque reward at the end? Located in North-central Tennessee, along the Blackburn Fork State Scenic River, is this beautiful, pet-friendly, 282-acre, day-use park. With the purchase of a $6 permit (as of 2020) and the viewing of a safety video, both available online, you gain access to Cummins Falls State Park and all its sights and magic.
The base of this waterfall is only accesible by foot and you can expect about 1-1.5 miles down rugged, steep terrain and upstream over/under rocks and yes, even wading through water. Expect to get wet and wear shoes or hiking boots to plan accordingly as the hike upstream can be very slippery!
As you traverse through the gorge, hundreds of years of history is uncovered in the mountainsides carved by the flowing water. At the end of the trail sits a multi-tiered waterfall worthy of pictures and exploring. Sit alongside the watering hole, go for a swim in the deep end, or scale the first tier to take your well-deserved rinse under the falls. Feeling even more adventurous? Walk to the edge of the falls and jump into the pool below! Overall, a hike you won't forget.
9. Grand Canyon, Arizona
In Arizona, lies a valley so deep and so wide, it is no wonder they call it "grand". This canyon's South Rim is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and in the peak season when the North Rim is open there is 277 miles to explore in total. Between the millions of years of geological history on it's walls to the river below, you won't run out of things to do or sights to see. Free shuttles are available to some of the canyon's most famous points and guided/audio tours are available for adventurers of all types.
Consider hiking the Rim Trail on the South Rim for beautiful sights such as, Mather Point, Maricopa Point, Hopi Point and more! If you are considering a hike into the canyon, do your research! Hundreds of hikers are rescued every year for not being prepared and there is a difference between a fun trip to the Grand Canyon and a not-so-fun trip to the hopsital.
8. Crater Lake, Oregon
There is no doubt, the Pacific Northwest is one of the country's most scenic areas and this lake in south central Oregon does not disappoint. Naturally formed by a violent eruption, collapsing its peak, it is the deepest lake in the USA and one of the most pristine on earth. Fed by rain and snow, this lake showcases water so blue, it looks too good to be true. It is a quick drive around its rim but there are more than enough stopping points to marvel at its beauty.
On the East Rim Drive lies the entrance to the Cleetwood Cove Trail which is the only legal access point to the lake itself. This 1.1 mile, strenuous and steep, hike will take you to the lakeside where you can fish, boat or even swim. Be prepared for a cold dip as the highest tempertautres usually average 57 degrees. With any hike, do your research, know your physical ability and be safe!
7. El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is known for its sandy beaches, surfable coastlines and, of course, beautiful sunshine. But did you know, out of the sunshine, away from the shore and within the Sierra de Loquillo mountain range rests one of the smallest forests in the National Forest System, but also THE most biodiverse! El Yunque National Forest (ranging about 30,000 acres) is located in Northeastern Puerto Rico, less than an hour from San Juan.
Ample rainfall creates a jungle-like setting and allows for a plethora of streams, waterfalls, swimming holes, foliage and wildlife. The forest is filled with hikes of all kinds and each offer a different reward including a refreshing dip, stunning view or ancient petroglyph! Whatever your desire, El Yunque has something to offer for family fun or active adventure.
The trail pictured above is called "Vereda La Mina", which has since been closed down due to damage from previous hurricane, Fiona. As always when planning hikes or other adventures, check local websites first for fees (including parking or hiking), closures or safety notices.
6. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
The historic district of Old San Juan is lined with narrow cobblestone streets, flat-roofed brick and stone buildings and is filled with history dating back to the 16th century. Music funnels from every storefront, passing car and plaza and the smell of authentic Puerto Rican cuisine fills the air as you walk the social streets weaving through locals and traffic. Don't forget to take your camera on this trip!
Start at Castillo San Cristobal, the largest Spanish fort built in the New World and work your way toward the North of the city where you'll find Castillo San Felipe Del Morro, a citadel built between the 16-18th century. Here you can tour the citadel, have a picnic on the massive lawn, buy and fly a kite (the winds there offer the perfect conditions), and get up close with wild iguanas! From there, you'll find the famous Paseo Del Morro which will take you right to La Fortaleza, San Juan's first defensive fortification.
Old San Juan offers so much and no matter what you choose, do not skip out on the cuisine! Empanadas, mofongo, bacalao and arroz con pollo, just to name a few must haves and the best deals typically come from the kioskos on the roadside.
5. Redwood National & State Parks, California
If someone blindfolded you and dropped you in the middle of a Redwood forest, you'd think you were on another planet or living in another time. No where else on Earth are there such massive and neck straining trees. These natural skyscrapers are a life-changing experience and they will leave you in awe with their size and utter beauty.
Off the U.S. 101, there are many sceneic drives you can opt for including the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway which offers views of "The Big Tree" right off the main road. There are also many hikes (some pet-friendly) and opportunities for you to explore this dense area in the Pacific North West. Just don't forget to look up!
4. Glacier National Park, Montana
Montana was one of those states I had no idea I'd fall in love with. The breath taking views of tree tops, mountains and endless log cabins say a lot about the state's mostly untouched landscape. Vast spans of dense woods are broken up by small towns surrounding the various lakes while families water ski, fish and relax on the crystal clear waters.
On the U.S. and Canada border in the northwest of Montana lies over one million acres of land dedicated to Glacier National Park. Two mountain ranges, hundreds of lakes and thousands of plants and animal life will keep you busy here along with over 700 miles of hiking trails. The highly rated "Hidden Lake" can be accessed using the Hidden Lake Nature Trail and is a hot spot for fisherman, photographers looking to get stunning photos of a natural landmark and the adventurous few who decide to take a dip in the frigid waters! (Only rising to about 50 degrees during the summer).
For those not so inclined to hike, head on over to Lake McDonald where you get views of rainbow rocks, clear water and nature at it's finest. Rent a kayak, take a dip or visit one of the surrounding gift shops and restaurants! This national park should be added to your list!
3. Key West, Florida
On the southernmost tip of the United States, where island vibes and an old time homey feel create a melting pot of laid back locals and eclectic tourists, lies the island of Key West. Reachable by U.S. Route 1, the longest north-south road in the country, Key West sits at the end of one of the most beautiful drives between Miami and it's tip. It's no wonder people flock from all over the country to cross this drive off their bucket list.
Key West's Duval Street runs from end to end offering bars, restaurants, clubs, shopping and local art. From casual bar hopping to day long boat excursions, Duval Street will give you everything you're looking for and more. Try Flying Monkeys for an adult frozen beverage, the famous Sloppy Joe's for live music, The Southernmost Hotel for breakfast overlooking the beach and don't forget to stop at The Southermost landmark for your social media post!
The Florida Keys are a highly sought after location for vacations and retirement and though Key West may be the most well-known, don't sleep on the other Keys along the way. Key Largo is the dive capital of the world with the world's largest artifical reef, Islamorada is the sport fishing capital of the world, Big Pine Key has Bahia Honda State Park known as the nicest beach on the Keys and Marathon gives you an opportunity to visit the Turtle Hospital where they rescue, rehab and release sea turtles back into their natural habitat.
A family getaway, couples retreat or even a wedding party can easily be accomadated in one of the many Airbnbs, hotels or bed and breakfasts along Route 1. The Keys are a great way to cover a historic stretch of land while relaxing, exploring or a hybrid of the two for people of all ages. Whatever you decide to do, I highly recommend flying to south Florida and renting a car to drive. You won't regret it.
2. Moab, Utah
This takes the cake on one of the most adventurous places I've ever been. In eastern Utah, amidst Arches National Park, Cayonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River, the Moab Desert, hundreds of hikes, off roading trails, watering holes, (you see where this is going...?) is the audacious city of Moab. It is no wonder this hub is home to so many outdoorsy and rugged people from all walks of life. From it's incredible desert views to it's small-town city charm, this is a perfect place for those ready to explore.
A day spent in on of these National Parks is no doubt enough to widen your eyes with the incredible arches and gorges that dot the landscape. Ancient rock art, both natural and manmade, can easily be spotted along the canyon walls and peaks and the flow of rivers that carved out bridges over the course of time can be enjoyed. Find a watering hole to go swimming, a trail to go hiking or a place to set up a tripod. Rent a 4x4, bring your mountain bike or join the annual Moab Jeep Safari. The options are endless but I highly recommend a hike up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park which is one of the world's most famous geologic features.
Believe it or not, this area is more than a desert with a beautiful landscape. Don't forget to check out the downtown city area where you can find a slew of microbreweries, restaurants with southwestern cuisine, shops and galleries with unique pieces made by local artists and more. The perfect climate allows for outdoor events, festivals and activites year round and no matter when you visit, you are sure to be fascinated by this city.
1. White Mountains, New Hampshire
They say fond memories have a strong hold over certain aspects of our lives and maybe I fell in love with this area so much because of the memories I made and how much it reminds me of being home. However, that does not down play the experience of spending time in the White Mountains. Covering about a quarter of the state, this chuck of the northern Appalachian mountain range is mostly public land which means, a lot of free camping! However this area is known for more than just it's landscape.
Filled with charming towns and villages, each offering their own unique story, this area boasts fascinating "Main Streets" lined with mom and pop shops, scenic charm and locally crafted art, beers, wines, cheeses and maple syrups. Littleton, with a population of under 7,000, even offers the World's Largest Candy Counter! Bring your camera, walk across one of the covered bridges, visit one of the many museums or come in the summer to witness the Lupine Capital for yourself! These beautiful purple and sometimes pink, white or sky blue flowers attract people from far and wide to capture their breathtaking nature. Watch out for their annual "Celebration of Lupines" which brings authors, chefs, artisans and more together to present their work all over the area.
Even in these towns, there is no escaping the mountainous terrain which can be seen from almost any angle you look. With multiple different mountain ranges, each consisting of multiple peaks, you can't go anywhere in the area without feeling small in comparison to your car weaving through the valleys below. Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern U.S., is specifically frequented by tourists year round for hiking, skiing, sightseeing and even glider flying due to it's wind conditions. For the less adventurous, you may be happy to hear there are options to drive or take the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the summit! If you decide to drive, you even get a cool bumper sticker that says, "This car climbed Mt. Washington!" with your fee.
If you still can't seem to find a reason to want to go, may I also mention with these many mountains come melting snowcaps and a heavy flow of water causing stunning waterfalls, rivers and swimming holes to cover the area. They create the perfect places for cliff-jumping, fly fishing, rafting, kayaking, swimming and sun bathing. Not to mention peaceful places to sit for a picnic, work or meditation. So whether you decide to come in Winter or Summer, there are plenty of trails to hike, slopes to ski, places to cool off, breweries to try and wonderful people to meet. This New England area feels like being home away from home and I will be definitely be going back often.
It's impossible to list every single place I love, as the list would be too long to read, but I will happily include a list of honorable mentions that shouldn't go without being noticed. In no particular order:
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming - I didn't give myself enough time here and it is on my list to go back to. I will say, seeing Old Faithful erupt was the highlight of this trip and I also saw some beautiful views, rivers and pools, including the Sapphire pool, but it requires more than 24 hours to really appreciate the park.
Monterey, California - Mostly known for their wines, Monterey is a beautiful (and expensive) city to visit. Consider checking out Old Fisherman's Wharf, Cannery Row and the 17-mile drive!
Savannah, Georgia - This is a place that cannot be missed. The historical downtown area is one of the best and most beautiful offering almost everything a large city has without the hustle and bustle of a city that never sleeps. SCAD, festivals, restaurants and bars, small community vibes, water side views, museums, history and more are at your fingertips in this gorgeous city.
Johnson Shut-Ins, Missouri - This public recreational area is the perfect place to take a dip along the East Fork Black river. A shut-in is a congestion point along a river caused by rock, resistant to erosion, creating a natural water park of both shallow and deep areas between the rocks. This is a highly recommended place to visit if you're passing through the area.
If you read this and feel inspired to plan a road trip, look for free camping or go on a vacation; consider checking out some of my previous posts, linked below, to help you plan. Remember to plan ahead, be prepared and do your research so your vacation doesn't turn into a trip to the hospital.