Six incredible things to do outdoors in the US

From the sweeping moonscapes of Utah to the coastal temperate rainforest of Alaska.

4 mins
Written by:
Gemma Clarke

A momma bear teaches her cubs to swim in Alaska’s Katmai National Park

Photo by Paxson Woelber

Now that travel is back, there’s never been a better time to vacation in the US. With a whopping 50 states to explore – from the sweeping moonscapes of Utah to the coastal temperate rainforest of Alaska – you’re spoiled for choice here in the United States, no matter which season you hit the road in.

Chances are you’ve seen the flashing lights of New York City, and perhaps you’ve even roller skated alongside the palm-fringed beaches of Los Angeles – but have you ever watched a heard of wild bison graze amongst the wildflowers in Wyoming? Or soaked your bones in the cascading hot pools along the Umpqua River in Oregon?

As well as being home to ample natural beauty, the US also has 574 federally recognized Indian Nations – which we celebrate for their rich and varied cultures, lifestyles, traditions and histories. When you hit the road, make an effort to consider what Indigenous land you’re on – which will not only enrich your holiday experience, but will also deepen your understanding and respect for people, places and the planet. 

Whether you’re hopping on a flight or planning a cross-country roadtrip for your next holiday, be sure to add these lesser-known-places and experiences to your to-do list!

Photo by Karsten Winegeart

Spot bison, bear and moose in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Sprawling 310,000 acres across northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is a wonderland of alpine lakes, fertile valleys, mountain meadows and majestic peaks. The 42-mile scenic loop drive will take you into the heart of the park, where out the window you can expect to see elk, bison, moose, black bear and grizzlies frolicking in their native habitats. Hidden Falls and Inspiration Lake make for an epic hike, and you can get to the trailhead via a boat across Jenny Lake, which adds to the novelty! For sunrise, you can’t go past the picturesque Schwabacher Landing. Mormon Row Historic District, which was established in 1890, is also worth a visit – but watch your step, as the area is littered with prairie dog holes! You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to staying overnight, with eight sites within the park; just make sure you book a spot in advance.

Photo by Tim Peterson

Soak in the steaming waters of Umpqua Hot Springs, Oregon

Tucked away in the evergreen forests of Southern Oregon and overlooking a gushing river are the Umpqua Hot Springs: a series of terraced geothermal pools perfect for bathing in. This idyllic spot is located in Umpqua National Forest – a short detour off of North Umpqua Highway, and can be accessed via a clearly marked .8-mile-return hike. The pools attract a diverse range of people – from families with small children to hippies who like to soak in the nude, and get progressively cooler as they get lower down. The view and the setting are simply spectacular, and there are no trash cans anywhere nearby – so make sure you take out everything you bring in (even biodegradable foods!). Be aware that if you come in the winter time, the area will be dusted with snow – so you’ll need to pack your snowshoes or cross-country skis!

Photo by: Devon Hawkins

Spend the night in a Teepee in Montana

Glacier National Park’s carved valleys, craggy mountains and rolling grasslands are incredibly sacred to the Blackfeet Nation – whose one-and-a-half-million acre reservation joins on to the preserve. As well as marvelling at the breathtaking landscapes, you can also learn about Blackfeet history and customs by embarking upon a reservation tour. There, you’ll learn about how the Creator used a cliff formation called a buffalo jump to teach people to hunt, pick up on important rules of local etiquette and can spend the night snugged into a teepee, falling asleep by the fire just as Blackfeet members have done for milennia.

Photo by Andrew Neel

Stroll surreally beautiful and often bizarre botanic gardens in Georgia

Open from 9 until 7 each day, the Atlanta Botanical Garden has to be seen to be believed! Since 1976, the 30 acres of gardens have been constantly evolving, with a rotating collection of sculptures, events and classes blooming all the time. Think origami-inspired installations, a larger-than-life Alice in Wonderland exhibit and aerial art hovering above the treetops. Plant enthusiasts will revel at the amazing displays of roses, carnivorous plants, herbs, conifers and more. Special permanent features include the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory, which houses endangered desert and tropical plants; and the Children's Garden – a hands-on experience that little ones will love getting their hands dirty at. You also can’t miss the fabulous restaurant amongst the florals that offers innovative cuisine and cocktails: The Garden Room. 

Photo by: Christopher Alvarenga

Switch to island time on San Juan Island, Washington

Scattered in the centre of the Salish Sea – named for the Coast Salish people who have made their home in the region for thousands of years – is an archipelago called San Juan Islands. Covered in fir and pine forests, and with the snow-capped mountains of Canada and the mainland US on the horizon, the islands boast staggering beauty, and their waters are full to the brim with of all sorts of cool critters. Using lively Friday Harbour as your base, jump on a boat or in a kayak and you’re likely to see orcas, gray whales, minke whales, Dall’s porpoises, California seal lions, Steller Seal Lions, harbor seals and otters frolicking in the chilly waters. Back on land, there are dozens of gorgeous picnic spots, hikes and bicycling trails, as well as a bunch of great restaurants and bars that make local produce their mainstay (think oysters, halibut and salmon).  

Photo by Ryan Stone

Camp, see ancient rock art and watch the sunset in the Mojave Desert, California and Nevada

In the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountain range lies the xeric Mojave Desert, named for the indigenous Mojave people. Its haunting landscapes have formed the backdrop for everything from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Star Trek, but though it may be famous on screen, millions of visitors rush through each year getting between Vegas and LA without experiencing any of its otherworldly beauty – which is why we added it to the list! Spend a night sleeping at Hole-in-the-Wall Campground, soaking in the wildly changing colours as the sky turns from dusk to dawn. Head to Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area to wonder at ancient rock art – of which there are around 1700 different petroglyphs, mostly concentrated within Petroglyph Canyon. Park and walk through the soft sand to get to Alpine Butte Wildlife Sanctuary, where you’ll see sidewinder rattlesnakes, desert tortoises, coyotes and zebra-tailed lizards. Whether you’re into rock climbing, wildflower spotting or camping, this desert offers no shortage of activities to satiate any appetite – just ensure you pack plenty of water, as it sure is hot out there.

Photo by Will Truettner

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