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2017 is here! And with a new year comes a new set of adventures. But deciding on a new destination to visit can be a bit overwhelming. In my last seven years of solo travel, I’d like to think that I’ve experienced enough of America to confidently share some great locations with you. So, in no particular order, here are my top 7 places that I feel are worth saying hello to in 2017.
Nestled along the Tennessee River and the Appalachian foothills, Chattanooga has become a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. With world-class hiking, trail running, backpacking, climbing, paddling and biking, there’s an activity for everyone! Just a few minutes from downtown, Lookout Mountain is a must for any nature lover. Here you can take a ride on the Incline Railway, marvel at Rock City’s breathtaking “See 7 States” panoramic views, and tour Ruby Falls – America’s deepest cave and largest underground waterfall accessible to the public . I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this little Tennessee city, as I somehow had formed a negative preconceived notion. But you don’t become the only city in the world to twice win Outside magazine’s “Best Town Ever” award for no reason!
St. Louis, Missouri
Regarded as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis’ symbol of the American expansion – the Gateway Arch – is slated to re-open after a massive makeover of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. While the Arch itself has still been open to tourists during construction, the CityArchRiver project is transforming the grounds surrounding it. With biking and running trails, space for outdoor concerts and a new museum commemorating westward expansion, be one of the first to enjoy the beautiful new outdoor space when it opens in Summer 2017. As if that weren’t a good enough reason to visit, St. Louis also boasts a collection of free attractions — the St. Louis Zoo, Science Center, Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, and Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours.
This may be blasphemy, but I enjoy the Oregon Coast more than the California Coast. While the Pacific Coast Highway in California is famous for its sheer beauty, Highway 101 in Oregon features a ruggedness that can’t quite be described. A road trip along the Oregon Coast will showcase numerous lighthouses, the unique Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a bevy of coastal towns each with a distinct personality, the Sea Lion Caves, and more scenic vistas than you can count. I may not be able to accurately describe the wonder that is the Oregon Coast, so just skip that trip to California and experience the ruggedness for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.
Natchez celebrated her tricentennial last year and will undoubtedly continue to beckon travelers in 2017. Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, this beautiful city offers a history-filled Southern experience. Take a tour of the many antebellum mansions during the Spring or Fall Pilgrimages, stop at the African American History Museum, explore the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, or take a road trip up the exceptionally scenic Natchez Trace Parkway. My personal favorite experience in Natchez? A drink at the famous Under-the-Hill Saloon and then emerge to watch an unforgettable sunset over the Mississippi River!
Now that the Cubs have broken their 100+ year World Series drought, now is an especially exciting time to visit Chicago! Take in a ballgame at the iconic Wrigley Field as the Cubs aim to repeat in 2017, get your drink on at the Chicago Beer Classic, nosh on some deep-dish pizza, stroll the Magnificent Mile, and take an epic selfie at “The Bean” in Millennium Park. Just don’t forget to wear a Cubs shirt!
Rapid City, South Dakota
Though Rapid City is probably best known for the nearby Mount Rushmore National Memorial, there’s another mountain sculpture that is far more impressive and often goes overlooked. Once completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will lay claim to the title of the largest sculpture in the world. Twice a year, the Crazy Horse Volksmarch – the most popular organized hike in the United States – allows for visitors to make the 3 mile round-trip hike to the arm of the enormous sculpture, with this year marking the 5th anniversary of the autumn event. Having participated in the hike myself, I can say that it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had during my United States travels! The autumn hike on Sunday, October 1 is also held the same weekend as the Custer State Park Buffalo Round-Up. You can also enjoy the beauty of the surrounding Black Hills, the awesomeness of the scenery and wildlife at Custer State Park, make the short drive to Badlands National Park, and return to the Prohibition era at the secret Blind Lion Speakeasy in downtown. The Rapid City area is a surprisingly fun Midwest getaway!
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Just imagine 700+ hot air balloons launching over a 78-acre field on a crisp October morning. That’s the scene you’ll be treated to at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest ballooning event in the world. One of the coolest aspects of the Balloon Fiesta is the fact that its one of the only balloon events where you are actually able to walk among the balloons and talk to the pilots. Its quite an experience to be surrounded by hundreds of balloons as they inflate before your eyes and lift off into the sky. The best three ways to experience Mass Ascension: wander amongst the balloons in the launch field, view all 700+ balloons from a hill at the north end of Balloon Fiesta Park, or bring a lawn chair and watch the festivities from the edge of the field.
When you aren’t at Balloon Fiesta Park, take some time to explore Old Town in Albuquerque, ride the longest tramway in North America, take a Breaking Bad Tour, or drive what is regarded as the best stretch of Route 66. No matter what attractions you decide to see, one thing is clear: Albuquerque is a must-visit in early October. And I plan on attending again in 2017, so I’ll see you there!
There you have it, my top 7 travel recommendations for the new year. Whether you choose one of these destinations, decide to visit all seven, or venture elsewhere — just promise me you’ll make plans to say hello to America in 2017!
Ready to start planning your 2017 travel?
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