Whether it’s cruising Route 66 or along the Great River Road, the road trip gets all the press when it comes to exploring the United States. But have you thought about boating through the country? What about hiking it? Here are three unique ways to explore the United States.
Do you love boating? Are you craving an epic adventure? Check out The Great Loop.
The Great Loop waterway connects the inland rivers of America’s heartland (like the Mississippi) to the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America’s heartland. This roughly 6,000-mile journey is the marathon of American boating, and the people who tackle it call themselves Loopers.
Committing to a journey of this length may sound daunting, but there’s no wrong way to do it. Some people go for the whole thing in one fell swoop; others tick off a section a week or two at a time. Your vessel needn’t be fancy (though I think a nice houseboat would be ideal), it just requires a sense of adventure, and the ability to go with the flow, literally and figuratively.
Those who’ve completed the loop say the journey usually takes a year, but it’s been done in as little as two months; and as long as 12 years. Loopers may jump on the route anywhere, but of course it’s best to take seasons into account since boating down a frozen river doesn’t exactly work. It’s also advised to venture counter-clockwise in order to take advantage of river currents.
A lot of people dream of visiting all 50 states. Highpointers take that goal to a whole new level: by climbing the highest point in each state.
If you’re new to hiking or mountaineering, this activity may sound intimidating, but consider the fact that over half of the “hikes” are less than a mile in length! Florida’s highpoint is only 325 feet above sea level. That said, Alaska’s Denali reaches over 20,000 feet above sea level and requires a 56-mile hike. The conditions can swing from 80 degrees and sunny, to -35 degrees and windy. Maybe you work up to that one… or check it off your list in your 20s when you have the time and energy. Some people aim to climb just the lower 48 states.
Other common types of highpointing include hiking the highest point in every US National Park; in every country; and on each continent, called the Seven Summits. Peak Bagger offers an extensive list of other highpointing challenges around the world.
Looking for an epic adventure that doesn’t require you to buy a boat or do serious endurance training? Exploring America by railway may be right up your alley.
There are so many ways to design a railway adventure. You can book a tour with a company like Vacations by Rail, whose thoughtful itineraries allow you to enjoy your train ride and head out on fun excursions along the way. They offer a few cross-country trips, including New York to San Francisco, as well as National Parks tours; fall color trips and more.
Of course, you can always design your own journey. For example, the Empire Builder runs from Oregon to Chicago; the Capital Unlimited extends from Chicago to D.C.; and the Vermonter heads straight north to Vermont (the only train that runs to the Green Mountain State). In fact, there are only four states you can’t take a train to, and each of those offers a line that runs within its borders. Travel Goal Getter offers a great high level overview of what lines go where to plan your trip.
Are you a writer? It’s worth mentioning the Amtrak Residency. This program is designed to allow creatives with a passion for train travel to work aboard Amtrak trains for free. Amtrak provides free round-trip travel along long-distance route, complete with a private sleeping roomette with a desk, a bed and a window, as well as onboard meals. Sound interesting? Apply here!