6 US States

Done Disneyland?  Wandered along Waikiki Beach?  Madly shopped Fifth Avenue in New York?  Tapped your toes to hot jazz in New Orleans? 

Like any country, the USA has its well-publicised tourism icons, and a diverse and lively lot they are.  But if you’re seeking the real America, off the beaten track, genuine and often breathtakingly lovely, try these six less-visited states:

Oregon – Coastal formation near Gold Beach

Wild rivers, rugged mountains, vast dark forests, a rocky and unpopulated coastline.  Sound like Tasmania?  Sure, but it’s the Apple Isle’s big cousin, the northwest US state of Oregon.  The one large city, Portland, is famed for its roses and relaxed lifestyle, but head south for the real gems of this astonishingly diverse state.  Top spot is Crater Lake, which 7000 years ago was Mt Mazama, until it blew up and nature created a gorgeous deep blue lake in its crater.  In winter, you can cross-country ski 51 kilometres around the rim.  Other Oregon highlights include the dramatic Twelve Apostles-like sea stacks between Brookings and Gold Beach, heart-stopping white water rafting on the Rogue River near Grants Pass, and the highly professional Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  Remarkably, there are no major cities at all along the wild Oregon coast, just spooky stands of ancient rainforest, giant dune systems, small fishing villages, and (except in late summer and early autumn) a hell of a lot of rain, mist, fog and dew. Atmospheric but rather damp.   Best seasons:  autumn or summer

North Carolina – Old Salem

North Carolina is the best of the USA all in one.  Boasting long and empty beaches, a fascinating history, authentic local music festivals and awe-inspiring forested mountain views, this east coast state remains utterly undiscovered by overseas visitors.  Spend some time at the endless dunes of Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks (where the Wright Brothers learned to fly), the superbly reconstructed colonial village of Old Salem, two stomping bluegrass music festivals at Wilkesboro and Jefferson, the outlet mall shopping bargains west of Raleigh on Interstate 40, and the traditional minor league baseball park at Durham, home of the Bulls (the team Susan Sarandon “enjoyed” in Bull Durham).   Save at least a few days for a leisurely trip through the Appalachian Mountains, with their placid lakes, cool, lush forests and welcoming little villages full of collectable arts and crafts.  The best way to see it is by driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway all the way to the Great Smoky Mountains.  Best season: spring

Maine – Rural lake in autumn

It’s been a favourite summer haunt of presidents like Franklin Roosevelt and George Bush Senior.  In America’s far northeast, Maine is where a massive lobster-burger will cost you just $7, where your bushwalk might be interrupted by a passing family of moose, and where every September, nature puts of one of her most stunning displays of wild colour.   The state’s crown jewel is Acadia National Park, full of well-graded tracks past tiny lakes through forest that turns every shade of red, yellow and burnt orange in mid-autumn.  If you are a mountain biker, birdwatcher or photographer, you’ll be using the 70 kilometres of carriage trails throughout the park, personally designed by billionaire philanthropist John D. Rockefeller.  Other must-sees of Maine include the long, clean beaches of Ogunquit and Kennebunkport, and the wild, bear-dominated forest landscape around Moosehead and Chesuncook lakes.  Best season:  autumn.

Kentucky – Harrodsburg Historic Site

Love horses, caves and bourbon?  Well, Kentucky is your state.   The Kentucky Derby is America’s equivalent of the Melbourne Cup, the one horse race that just about everyone in America has a bet on. 

Known as the Bluegrass State, Kentucky is a world of rolling hills dotted by horse studs, covered bridges and historic hamlets.  Remember Daniel Boone?  He’s commemorated at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park.  

Many of the world’s most famous whisky and bourbon distilleries are here, and thankfully they all offer tasting tours. 

Below ground is a series of remarkable decorated caves including Diamond and Mammoth caves, the latter with more than 500 kilometres of passageways. 

Best season:  late spring, including May for the Kentucky Derby.

Utah – Bryce Canyon

Whether you like your scenery hot or frozen, icy white or bone dry, Utah has the lot.  Its major national parks offer a dazzling array of scenic delights, from the wind-scoured monuments of Arches National Park and neighboring Canyonlands, to the deep, fast-flowing rivers of Zion NP and the eerie red spires of Bryce Canyon NP. 

Together they stand as an emblem of the rugged and unforgiving nature of the American West and the pioneers who met its challenges. Persevere, insisted this desert, or you will die from lack of will. 

It takes perseverance, and skill, to master the challenging ski runs on mountains like Snowbird and Powder Mountain, or you can cross country ski in the Wasatch Range.   

Visit Sundance, a town Robert Redford liked so well he set up a film festival there, or the fascinating Norwegian heritage of Spring City. 

Just barely across the border in Arizona are the sensually shaped Antelope Slot Canyons, and the movie-set majesty of Monument Valley.  

Best seasons:  Autumn or winter.

Arizona – Grand Canyon

Of all the 50 American states, there are none that are more scenically blessed than Arizona.  And sure, parts of this state get plenty of visitors, but here’s how to see it with a lot fewer arms to jostle you as you get that perfect defining photo. 

Let’s start with the utterly obvious choice: Grand Canyon in the state’s northwest gets literally millions of visitors each year but a paltry 10 per cent of them go to the North Rim, just off Highway 67 leading in from Nevada.  Why? Well, tour groups always go to the South Rim and that’s where the tourist facilities are anyway. So follow this ranger’s advice: “The North Rim is quieter, more photogenic, and boasts far more pleasant temperatures in the summer.  Give it a go.” 

Another tourist drawcard, albeit nothing like the canyon, is the utterly majestic Monument Valley, just across the border from Utah.  The backdrop for famous westerns including John Ford’s iconic Stagecoach, this Navajo reservation is a wonderous world of massive buttes and mesas.  You can choose to drive on all or parts of the 27-kilometre scenic trail or take a tour with a native American guide, probably the better choice. 

Other excellent things to do in this state are the Slot Canyons, the dramatic OK Corral and  the galleries and boutiques of Sedona, an artistic and eclectic desert oasis.  

Five more interesting but lesser-known states:  Montana (for the soaring mountains and big sky); Vermont (for the cute small towns and taciturn locals); Arkansas (for the swift rivers and Ozark Mountain scenery); New Mexico (for Spanish and Native American culture, especially in Santa Fe);  South Carolina (simply for Charleston, perhaps America’s most charming colonial town, with key Civil War site Fort Sumter just minutes away by boat).