The USA is a big country with a big population and great diversity. The country is divided into 50 states, each being unique and having at least one significant city. It can be daunting trying to understand what a typical American is or what states to visit if you decide to travel. An easy way to understand the USA is to think of it in regions. There are four regions, they are: The West, The Midwest, The North-east, and The South. Detached from the mainland are the states of Alaska and Hawaii. Each region has a distinct climate, culture, series of landscapes, and cities. Because of the size and concentration of population in the USA, it is a good idea to concentrate on one region when visiting, or a select number of places that fit into your time frame.
The USA has two land borders. In the north is the Canadian border which is the longest border with any other country in the world. To the south is the Mexican border. It also spans two oceans, the Pacific and the Atlantic. In addition, Northern Alaska is partly in the Arctic Ocean.
Most people in USA speak English followed by Spanish. Ethnicity is diverse with the biggest group being White followed by Hispanic, Black, and Asian. In addition, Polynesians are the native people of Hawaii while Inuit–Yupik are native to Alaska. The USA mainland is home to native peoples including: Navajo, Chippewa, Pueblo, Apache, and Iroquois.
The landscapes in USA are diverse. The biggest natural feature are the Rockies in the west which is the main group of mountains in North America. Some deserts and arid areas lie to the east of the Rockies. The Appalachian Mountains over in the east are smaller in size and length. They divide the densely populated eastern seaboard from the Mississippi Basin and the Great Lakes. These lakes are the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. The Great Plains lie west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the north. In their natural state it was mainly grasslands including prairies and steppe, but much of the land has been converted for use in agriculture today. In the Southeast lie subtropical forests that extend into the gulf coast where mangroves and wetlands exist, including the Everglades. The Midwest consist mostly of rolling hills and farmland which extend south to the Gulf Coast. The state of Alaska contains the 10 highest mountain peaks in North America. There are also extensive glacial sites and forests in Alaska.
The USA has two main coastlines, the eastern coast on the Atlantic and the Pacific on the western coastline. The Gulf of Mexico also has a significant coastline. The Great Lakes share a border with Canada.
Top 10 cities to visit
New York is the most populous city in the USA and one of the world's most recognisable cities. The city exerts huge influence on global trade and finance, as well as art, fashion, and research. It consists of boroughs, with Manhattan, an island between the Hudson and East Rivers being the most famous. While there are many famous landmarks, the most popular include: the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange, and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Los Angeles (LA) is the biggest city on the west coast and the second most populous in the country. Sites to visit include: Hollywood, Universal City including Universal Studios, Downtown Los Angeles, Century City, UCLA, USC, Griffith Park, and Venice Beach. Places just outside the city include: Beverley Hills (Rodeo Drive) and Santa Monica which is famous for Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica Beach, and the studios of NBC, Disney, and Warner Bros.
Chicago is the biggest city in the Midwest and third most populous in the country. The city's skyline is picturesque when viewed across the waters of Lake Michigan. There is a wealth of things to do and sites to visit. Must see places include: an ethnic neighbourhood such as Chinatown, Sears Tower – was once the tallest building in the world, or visiting beach on Lake Michigan.
Washington DC is the capital of the USA. Iconic sites here include: The White House, US Capitol Building, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, and the National Gallery of Art.
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Located between the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, the city is famous for its rain and lush green landscapes. Landmarks include: The Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and the popular Seattle Aquarium.
New Orleans is unlike anywhere in the US. Famous for its festivals and Jazz, the city is a a mix of European cultures and African American influence. Tour historic suburbs with Victorian mansions and colonial French and Spanish housing, or take a cruise down the mighty Mississippi River.
Miami in sub-tropical Florida has the largest Latin American population outside of Latin America. Must see places include Miami Beach and South Beach. You could visit the Everglades further south or head down to Key West through the Florida Keys a coral cay archipelago south of the Florida peninsula.
Las Vegas in Nevada lies in the Mojave Desert and is surrounded by arid mountains. The city is internationally recognised as a major resort city with casinos, fine restaurants, and great shopping. Las Vegas must be seen at night when the bright city lights are most visible.
San Diego is a major city situated in Southern California at the doorstep of Mexico. Things to see include: San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and miles of beaches. Being on the coast, the city is renown for sailing.
Top 10 parks in the USA
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world's seven natural wonders. Carved out by the Colorado River, the canyon is nearly 2 km (over one mile) deep and 446 km (277 mi) long. The scenery will have you spellbound.
Yosemite National Park is a huge wilderness area in the Sierra Nevada range of California. The park contains deep glacial valleys, steep cliff walls, waterfalls, scenic meadows, and giant sequoias. This park epitomizes the landscapes of the American West.
Yellowstone National Park is recognised as the first national park in the world. Located mainly in Wyoming, it covers a huge 8,983 km2 (3,468.4 miles square). Features include: mountains, lakes, rivers, canyons, and forests. The park sits on one of the world's super volcanoes and is rich in volcanic features. There are also many animal species including herds of bison.
Glacier National Park in Montana adjoins Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta Canda. Together they form world's first International Peace Park. Located in the Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park features over 700 lakes and 430 glaciers. The scenery is famous for steep mountain peaks that protrude high above above glacial lakes.
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming includes the main peaks of the Teton Range. It is located near Yellowstone and is much less crowded. The centrepiece of the park are 12 mountain peaks that rise over 3600 metres (12, 000ft) with Grand Teton being the highest.
Sequoia National Park in California surrounds Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the mainland USA. However, it is more famous for the giant sequoia trees that include the largest trees on Earth.
Arches National Park in Utah is located on the Colorado River. It has over 2000 sandstone arches including the famous 'Delicate Arch' as well as other geological formations like 'The Organ' a huge sandstone tower.
Zion National Park in Utah is renown for desert, forest, rivers, and steep-sided valleys. The main attraction is Zion Canyon which has spectacular brown to red sandstone walls. The park has a number of lookouts offering spectacular views of the valleys.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is a group of natural amphitheaters. The main feture is Bryce Canyon which has distinctive hoodoos which are tall and thin spires of rock that protrude vertically from a drainage basin. The hoodoos in this park come in red, orange, and white colors creating spectacular views.
Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah is one of the most photographed places on the planet. Rather than a defined valley the area is on a plateau that contains large sandstone buttes reaching as high as 300 metres (1,000 ft). The landscape is iconic of the American West and features in many movies, album covers, video games, and advertising.
Along with these reserves in the US mainland, both Alaska and Hawaii have a wealth of natural sites and cultural sites.
Top 3 parks in Alaska
Denali National Park in the interior of Alaska contains Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest mountain in North America. The park is a whopping 24,500 km² in area. The landscape consists of forest in the low lying areas to tundra higher up with snow, glaciers, and bare rock beyond the tundra. This park is the true definition of wilderness.
Glacier Bay National Park is west of Juneau and near the Canadian border. It contains land and marine environments where massive glaciers descend from snow capped mountains down into the bay. The park is accessible by road, but is also a popular cruise destination.
Kenai Fjords National Park on Kenai Peninsula, central Alaska is accessible by car but most of the park is boat only access. Kenai is renown for its fjords which are glacial carved valleys where the valley floor is below today's sea level. The result is long fingers of sea that penetrate deep inland being surrounded by steep cliffs, sloping mountains, and waterfalls
Top 3 parks in Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaiʻi has 2 active volcanoes: Mauna Loa and the more famous Kīlauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes.
Waimea Canyon on the western side of Kauaʻi is a large canyon about 16 (10 mi) long and up to over 900 metres (3,000 ft) deep. The walls of the canyon are a red colour with patches of lush green vegetation clinging to the canyon walls.
Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui is an area that encompasses Haleakala volcano. The landscape has sculpted desert landscapes as well as shrublands containing native birds. The rich colours of the landscape are best viewed from the summit at sunrise and sunset.