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3 Unique Ways to Explore the USA

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.


3 Unique Ways to Explore the USA

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.


3 Unique Ways to Explore the USA

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 high point 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 high pointing 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 highpoints challenges around the world.


3 Unique Ways to Explore the USA

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.


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? Why not try boating the Great Loop, highpointing or traveling via railway?

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Did a Chicago to Flagstaff Amtrak trip last year in a sleeper car. Terribly rough ride, impossible to sleep, free but awful food. I have the points for another similar trip. Not sure I will do this again. Pretty miserable ride. I think we were on an older Amtrak train too.

  2. We absolutely LOVE traveling by train. Being from one of those states with no Amtrak access we drive 2 1/2 hours to Omaha, get on board and we’re off. We’ve crossed the US both directions, and across the eastern half of Canada, and are looking forward to many more trips. Now, if Congress would get behind supporting Amtrak as they should, we would all be the better for it.

  3. I just interviewed a journalist for Passagemaker Magazine for my sailing Podcast last month. We talked about the Great Loop and doing it in a Trawler vs a Sailboat. Sailboats are by far the more affordable, but you end up having to take the rig down for the middle part down the rivers.

    One of the young female sailors I know was featured in Cruising Outpost Magazine a few years back, she did it with a friend for very cheap on a small sailboat, not for someone looking to do it in comfort, but exciting for an adventure before getting into career and family.
    The Shooting The Breeze Sailing Podcast.

  4. Lots of infrastructure and guides for making the great loop.

    The boat may seem expensive, but, if you take good care of it, you can sell it at the end of the trip. Buy the best maintained vessel you can afford. Getting stuck in an expensive marina, or, even worse, on land in a boat yard for repair, can rack up the expenses quickly.

    If you are not an experienced boater, consider taking a boating safety course. Even better would be to find a Looper forum and see if you can help someone thru some locks. Those tend to be the most “relationship challenging” parts of that journey.

    Last comment: like camping, you can spend on both ends of the scale. Overnights at anchor are cheapest. Overnights in marinas with power and water are not.

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3 Unique Ways to Explore the USA
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