From sea to shining sea, America is beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain and for alabaster cities that gleam – to paraphrase the patriotic song, America the Beautiful.
Its inspiring lyrics underline just how diverse the USA is. Yet they only hint at the marvels to be found across not only its contiguous states, the adjoining states often called the Lower 48, but also in Alaska and Hawaii.
Take a transatlantic holiday and you can also discover the natural riches of America’s national parks, the seasonal splendour of its autumnal leaves, the desolate magnificence of its deserts, laid-back surfing towns, memorable road trips and a cornucopia of cuisines among its many other attributes.
Canada is way more than the moose, Mounties and mountains image of old. Enjoy the vibe of multicultural cities or the quiet life in quaint towns and villages, laze by languid lakes, get adventurous on land or water, learn about the heritage of its indigenous cultures, explore its 125,567 miles (202,080km) of coastline – the longest in the world – and see wildlife spectacles from bald eagles to polar bears.
SOUTHERN US STATES
America’s Southern states are famed for their friendliness and hospitality, laying out the welcome mat for visitors like few other places – and serving up tasty fare from gumbo to grits and barbecued pulled pork.
Music-lovers can find their own beat in the clubs and bars of the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, the blues of the Mississippi Delta, country and rock ‘n roll in Tennessee’s Nashville and Memphis, where Elvis Presley’s Gracelands home is a magnet for visitors, Kentucky’s bluegrass, the musical mix of sweet home Alabama and the gospel music of Georgia and the Carolinas that originated among slaves in coastal plantations.
Places that should be on your radar include: preserved historic gems Charleston, South Carolina’s graceful and skyscraper-free Southern Belle, and Savannah in Georgia, with its moss-draped squares and parks and antebellum architecture; the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, America’s most visited national park; the grand plantation-era mansions of Louisiana and South Carolina; and the Grand Strand’s 60-mile arc of inviting sands that end in Myrtle Beach.
NORTHEAST & MID-ATLANTIC STATES
Combine a city stay with a tour of their charming hinterlands for the best of both worlds in this US region.
Take a bite out of the Big Apple for New York’s sights and febrile atmosphere before sampling New York State’s natural charms including the Finger Lakes, Long Island’s beaches and the American side of Niagara Falls. Uncover history in the nation’s first capital, Philadelphia, and Civil War battlefield Gettysburg along with Pennsylvania’s Amish customs.
Walk Boston’s Freedom Trail for Independence history then see the nature and beaches of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands or the rolling Berkshires hills.
Venture further into New England for Maine’s coastal fishing communities and Acadia National Park and the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, famed for their fall foliage displays.
Enjoy a capital stay in Washington DC, visiting its many museums and iconic sights, then go on to the restaurant-lined Maryland waterfronts of Baltimore and Annapolis and serene Chesapeake Bay or Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and historic Jamestown.
Great Lakes states Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio offer a compelling blend of vivacious cities and scenic beauty.
Dance to the blues and house music of Chicago, gazing down from skyscraper viewpoints and up at the architecture from a Chicago River Cruise, and get your kicks on Route 66, which starts in the city.
Taste craft brews in America’s one-time beer capital, Milwaukee, following the 200-mile Frank Lloyd Wright Trail across Wisconsin to see some of the architect’s finest creations.
Known as the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota’s water wonders take in the Upper Mississippi and Lake Superior, with Minneapolis offering great shopping and dining. If cars are your thing, watch exciting Indianapolis Motor Speedway races including the Indy 500 and see motoring and other heritage at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, where you can also sing along in the Motown Museum.
There’s more music in Ohio’s Cleveland, home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in Route 66 transit point St Louis you can ride to the top of the Gateway Arch.
Grab your Stetson in Lone Star State Texas to stay on a dude ranch, go to a rodeo or watch a longhorn cattle drive through Fort Worth’s Stockyards. Be a city slicker in stylish Dallas, check out the downtown venues of Austin, dubbed the Live Music Capital of the World, cruise past the bars and restaurants of San Antonio’s River Walk and see where heroes including Davy Crockett fell at the Alamo.
Arizona’s incomparable Grand Canyon will leave you awe-struck. Visit by helicopter from Las Vegas, landing by the rim or on the floor of the canyon, while also seeing man-made wonder the Hoover Dam. Drive through Monument Valley to see its towering sandstone buttes. Walk across London Bridge in Lave Havasu City, opened 50 years ago in the desert new town after being transport from London. And savour the outdoors lifestyle of Phoenix and Scottsdale, including golf, and the Tex-Mex flavours of Tucson.
After the neon lights, nightclubs, shows, restaurants and casinos of Las Vegas, experience Nevada’s desertscape in the Valley of Fire, the activities and scenery of Lake Tahoe with a stay in the so-called Biggest Little City in the World, Reno, and drive the Loneliest Road in America, Highway 50.
In New Mexico, see 1,000 years of history in the Native American communities of Taos, Acoma and other pueblos, the ancient ruins of the Anasazi people, Carlsbad Caverns and vibrant cities such as Albuquerque, where over 500 hot air balloons take part in its annual International Balloon Fiesta.
See the snow-capped Rockies in all their glory in these US states, Mile-High City Denver being just a short drive from the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Colorado has 28 ski resorts that are adventure playgrounds in summer. Utah also revels in ski resorts and national parks, with incredible rock formations in its Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks.
The Cowboy State, Wyoming, is a state of contrasts, from the Wild West heritage of towns such as Cheyenne, Laramie, Sheridan and Cody, founded by Buffalo Bill, to spectacular nature in the national parks of Grand Teton and Yellowstone, where you can watch Old Faithful spout and have close encounters of the furred kind with bison, bears and other wildlife. The imposing Devils Tower is where movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was set.
Yellowstone lies partly in Idaho and Montana, which has Glacier National Park on its border with Canada.
South Dakota’s highlights include the monumental presidents’ heads of Mount Rushmore and the ambitious Crazy Horse Memorial, still being carved from a mountain after more than 70 years, besides Custer State Park and the Badlands National Park.
Go California dreaming on a road trip along the stunning Pacific Coast Highway, heading south for the best views and turn-offs.
Visit hilly San Francisco for its streetcars, Golden Gate Bridge, lively waterfront and former prison island Alcatraz. Head on to laid-back Santa Cruz, the sea otters of Monterey and the pretty 17-mile Drive of Monterey Peninsula, the soaring cliffs of Big Sur and the vineyards and Spanish mission of Santa Barbara. Drop in on one of Los Angeles’ distinctive neighbourhoods and adjacent cities, among them glitzy Hollywood, funky Venice Beach, Santa Monica, where Route 66 ends, Long Beach, where the former liner Queen Mary is now a luxury floating hotel, and Huntington Beach – aka Surf City USA. End the coastal trip in San Diego, exploring its Gaslamp Quarter and Balboa Park.
Inland, California’s must-visit places include historic state capital Sacramento and nearby Gold Rush towns, the giant redwoods and granite cliffs of Yosemite National Park, desert oasis city Palm Springs and the stark salt flats and mountains of Death Valley.
Oregon’s temptations start with hip gateway Portland, from where you can visit Mount Hood, which looms over the city, and the lofty waterfalls and pine-clad slopes of the Columbia River Gorge. Go wine tasting in bountiful Willamette Valley’s vineyards, drive its magnificent windswept coast, circle Crater Lake, America’s deepest, and follow a craft ale trail in Central Oregon high desert town Bend.
Go sleepless in Seattle to relish the dynamic Washington State city to the full, getting back to nature in the forests of the Cascade Mountains and Olympic Peninsula and brooding volcano Mount Rainier.
Alaska is a favourite for cruise voyages, seeing majestic mountains and glaciers, islands, coastal forests and wildlife including grizzly bears and humpback whales en route. Follow in the wake of Klondike Gold Rush prospectors on a White Pass & Yukon Railroad journey from Skagway and stand below America’s highest mountain in Denali National Park.
Top draws in natural paradise Hawaii include the barren landscape of the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park, the lush vegetation of Kauai and Maui’s sweeping beaches, migrating humpbacks and Haleakala volcano, where you can ride up to watch the sunrise from its peak then cycle back down. Oahu has big city life in Honolulu and its famous Waikiki Beach, but you can also find Hawaiian culture and nature as well as surfing rollers off its North Shore.
Nestling by the sea and framed by mountains, Vancouver possesses one of the most beautiful settings of a major city. Its easy-going, cosmopolitan feel and outdoors lifestyle make British Columbia’s international gateway a great place to visit and start a holiday.
Go by ferry, floatplane or helicopter to Vancouver Island for the elegance of provincial capital Victoria and unspoilt nature of the Pacific Rim National Park.
Take the Sea to Sky Highway to year-round mountain playground Whistler. Head up the Pacific coastline to see grizzlies and spirit bears in the vast and pristine Great Bear Rainforest wilderness, the world’s largest temperate rainforest.
From Vancouver, hit the road in a car or motorhome to drive across to Calgary in Alberta, passing through the lakes, hills and vineyards of the Okanagan region and the ski and summer mountain resorts of the Kootenay Rockies. Alternatively, watch the scenery glide by on a Via Rail or Rocky Mountaineer train journey.
Alberta’s forest-covered Banff National Park bewitches with baronial hotels, adventure activities, mountain meadows, reflecting lakes and wildlife that comes right into town. The spectacular 144-mile (232km) Icefields Parkway links Banff with Jasper National Park, winding past glaciers, waterfalls and lakes.
The Calgary Stampede is a 10-day fiesta featuring the world’s largest rodeo. A two-hour drive east of Calgary you can walk in the footsteps of prehistoric giants in Dinosaur Provincial Park, while mountainous Waterton Lakes National Park lies on the US border.
Ontario embraces Canada’s capital, Ottawa, with its Rideau Canal, Gothic revival Parliament Hill buildings, museums and art galleries, and spring tulip displays, as well as its largest city, Toronto.
A world within a city, Toronto has no less than 18 neighbourhoods of different ethnic groups. It also has a wealth of cultural institutions and boasts the world’s third-largest theatre district.
Feel the raw power of Niagara Falls on a Hornblower Niagara cruise into the spray of Horseshoe Falls or on a tour behind the thundering curtain of water, taking a wine route tour of the Niagara Peninsula for tastings or a meal overlooking vineyards. Relax in a lakeside Muskoka cottage, get adventurous in the wilds of Algonquin Provincial Park or take a fly-in trip to a remote lakeside lodge.
Neighbouring Quebec is Canada with a certain je ne sais quoi. Savour the bohemian, outdoor café cultures of Montreal and Quebec City, North America’s only walled city, tying a visit in with one of their world-famous festivals. Go whale watching in the St Lawrence Estuary and ski, hike or canoe the Laurentian Mountains around year-round resort Mont-Tremblant.
Tuck into locally-caught seafood such as lobsters, scallops and oysters in Canada’s Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Visit pretty fishing villages, white and red lighthouses set on rocky shores and the fortifications of Nova Scotia capital Halifax and Louisbourg, located on the province’s Cape Breton Island partly encircled by the scenic Cabot Trail driving route. Walk on the sea floor in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy, which has the world’s highest tidal range at 38 feet (12 metres).
See massive icebergs float past the eastern coast of Newfoundland, visit the reconstructed Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows on its northern tip and the cliffs and fjords of Gros Morne National Park.
CENTRAL CANADA & THE FAR NORTH
Manitoba’s northern town of Churchill is the polar bear capital of the world, with Tundra Buggy tours allowing you to get up close and personal with the mighty mammals in October and November. You can also view them from wilderness lodges.
See the Northern Lights in the Yukon, a mountainous and forested wilderness with the Gold Rush era preserved in towns such as Dawson City, where you can try your hand at prospecting or watch the dancing girls at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s bar. From Dawson City, set off to the Arctic Circle on the unpaved Dempster Highway.
The remote mountain, forest and tundra landscape of Northwest Territories includes the Nahanni National Park Reserve, the very first UNESCO World Heritage Site with a waterfall, Virginia Falls, higher than Niagara Falls. Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut spans the traditional lands of the indigenous Inuit people and offers Arctic holiday experiences with Inuit culture and art.