This year will be a big year for me for a number of reasons, one of which is that I will visit my 50th and final state of the Union: Alaska! Â GrowingÂ up, I would sit down on the couch and memorize maps of every state. From family vacations when I was younger, to picking my own destinations starting in college, I got to visit many of the places of myÂ imaginationÂ and maps fascination. I set a goal for myself that by the time I turned 30, I would have gone to every state in the Union. Â Well, guess what? This year is my last year and luckily, I only have one (BIG) state left.
As I count down to my summer trip, I want to mention a few of the great places I have seen in the big ole country of ours. Â The plan is to split this into at least two parts, one being the Natural Wonders of the USA, and the other post being a list of the cultural highlights. So here are my top outdoor locations, with photographs, to help inspire you to get there!
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Â The National Parks often make my list of favorite places, and Great Smoky Mountains N.P. and (theÂ AppalachianÂ Trail ) makes the list because of its mystical mountaintop views, curious creatures, and old-timey feel. Â The Loudermilk clan has been living in thisÂ regionÂ for 400 years or so, and I spent many a vacationÂ traipsingÂ through these woods.
9. The OzarkÂ NationalÂ Scenic Riverways, MO. Â I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and spent nearly every other weekend in High School camping and exploring this amazing state. Many of the rivers in southern MO are spring fed by some of the largest springs in the world. Â The rock formations are wild. Â The mountains are old. Â The rivers themselves are both calming and exciting.
7.Â OkefenokeeÂ Swamp, GA. Home to the cast of my favorite comic strip of all time: Pogo Possum! Walt Kelly fell in love when he visited, and so did I. Â You can paddle floating peat islands around through bald cypress tress, pastÂ alligatorsÂ and giant birds!
6. The Northwoods and Voyageur N.P., MN. I went on a week long canoe trip with the Boy Scouts when I was in high school, and I went back to the Great Northwoods (part of the huge forest that covers most ofÂ CanadaÂ and parts of the northern US) many times while at Macalester. Â The lakes of northern Minnesota are probably the most peaceful place I have been.
5. Crater Lake, N.P., OR. Crater Lake is a place that I have been to on more than one occasion, it is always beautiful and blue â€” like planet earth! Giant volcanoes are super cool anyway, even more so when they have a lake in them. Â The surrounding areas are rainforest-like with lots of waterfalls and big trees.
4. Badlands N.P. and Black Hills, SD. I have been through the Badlands and Black Hill on two separate road trips. Â Neither time was enough to explore the endless unique scenes. Â The Badlands are just crazy â€” the eroded landscape is like a mini grand canyon that is more alien and always super colorful.
3. Kauai, Hawaii.Â Kauai was my first coolest place in the world. Â I changed my whole persona after going there so that I could be a surfer dude too. Â Of all the Islands in theÂ HawaiianÂ archipelago, Kauai is the most diverse and most beautiful. Â Home to theÂ rainiestÂ spot on earth, theÂ magnificentÂ Na Pali coast, and the “grand canyon” of Hawaii.
2. Yellowstone N.P. WY, ID, MT. Â Yellowstone has always had a somewhat mythical quality in my mind, and now that I work and study in “The Park,” I have grown to know just how diverse and amazing Yellowstone really is. Â Weird, Wild, and Wonderful (which is how I like to envision myself).
1. Canyonlands N.P., Arches N.P., and Moab, UT. This is my number one coolest place in the USA! Often, places become great in your mind because of the trips you took to visit them, and the people you were with. Â My first experience in the Moab/Canyonlands area was a backpacking trip, ending on new years day with my two best mates. Â We covered a lot of ground and explored every nook and cranny of this amazing country. Â Every timeÂ I go back, I am in awe of how beautiful and inspiring this place is.
*Special Bonus Location*
While not a US state, Puerto Rico is a territory, and is home to one of the coolestÂ phenomenonÂ in the world: the Bio-luminescent Bay of Vieques. Â The mangrove swamp surrounding the bay provide nutrients and chokes off tidal influx to provide just the perfect conditions forÂ bio-luminescentÂ diatoms to fill the bay. Â The result: The water glows! I recommend going at night to see the fullÂ effectÂ Â One of the most amazing experiences of my life was kayaking and swimming though the bay after sunset.
Have any amazing places in the US that you think I should visit? Â How about my final state â€” Alaska? Â What should I see there? Leave me a comment with your best place in the US and A!