Freshen your bucket list for US travel in 2016

While we central Californians are blessed by close proximity to the American West’s incredible spaces, there is a whole world just outside our door. With a New Year, take the time to update your bucket list of US and worldly travel destinations.  Here are our favorites to whet your appetite.

Couple sits on edge of Canyonlands National Park, gazing at the Colorado and Green Rivers that intersect here.

With 2016 marking the 100th anniversary of our National Park Service and each park offering special programs, we start with national park suggestions. The US sports 59 national parks with California leading with nine parks (have you visited those?), Alaska, eight, Utah, five, Colorado, four, Arizona and Washington, three each and Wyoming, two parks.

Our short list of bucket list “musts” are the five Utah national parks, Glacier (and the Canadian Rockies just north), Yellowstone and Grand Teton and the Grand Canyon.  All of these are within a one or two day drive, and reward the inveterate traveler with lifelong memories.

Bryce Canyon National Park's mysterious Hoodoos balance precariously after eons of erosion.

Utah boasts five parks within a loop that can be navigated in a week-long trip.  Toss in a stop either in Salt Lake City or Park City, UT, and you have a marvelous travel adventure.  We started with the closest, Zion, with its towering red and yellow rock canyon. Take time to hike the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools Trail, and the Grotto Trail above the Virgin River.  The short trail to Weeping Wall offers a misty waterfall cascading over a cliff above visitor’s heads.

Our next stop was nearby Bryce Canyon, with even more dramatic rock formations. Here, traverse the Queens Garden/Navajo combination loop trail starting at Sunset Point, a 2.9 mile trek descending 600 feet from the Rim Trail down into the canyon, where you’ll be amongst hundreds of Hoodoos (strangely-shaped pillars of rock in multi-hued colors of white, red, yellow and blue, standing after millennia of erosion).

We then moved onto Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, each with their own allure and memorable scenery. Our favorite of these three was Arches, with over 2000 wind and water-eroded natural bridges, many accessible within a short walk of the park’s main road.

Author and spouse Susan stand in front of Arches' Landscape Arch, spanning 330 feet.

Landscape Arch, spanning over 330’ was a favorite, though it has lots of competition. After our tour of the five Utah national parks, we tacked on a few additional days, and toured 200 miles southwest to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, a special place and much less visited than the tourist-jammed south rim.

Equally iconic, in a different way, is Glacier National Park, on the north border of Montana abutting Canada.  Plan several days or more in Glacier, then head north up through the Canadian Rockies to Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper Parks. Glacier is hallowed for its towering peaks and glaciers; Canada gives you 700 miles more of both – and the glaciers get larger as you head further north.

Wildflowers frame a receding glacier near top of Logan Pass in Glacier National Park.

If you have time for an additional week, take in Yellowstone and its sister park, Grand Teton. Glaciers, geysers, bison, Montana and Wyoming have it all! If you are campers, generally you can book campgrounds six months out, so now is the time to reserve those hard-to-get places for summer.

Moving beyond our national parks, several other destinations should make everyone’s list.  Our nation’s capital, Washington, D. C., is near the top. I talked with recent visitor Larry White, retired Lincoln High teacher, and asked him why he and his wife recently spent two weeks there.

Arlington Cemetery is final resting place for many of America's war heroes (photo by Larry White).

Larry offered these insights: “As a former history and government teacher, I always felt that a piece of my citizenship resume was missing by not having been to DC. There are so many sites to see, museums, art galleries, national monuments, historical landmarks and popular destinations, you need a significant amount of time to take it all in. You can spend several days touring the Smithsonian museums since there are a half-dozen museums that are part of the complex.

By sitting in on a session of the House of Representatives and Senate, roaming through Arlington National Cemetery with the moving ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, cruising the Potomac and taking in the historical significance of Mount Vernon, touring the Supreme Court and The Library of Congress and so many innumerable places of our nation’s past, you get a sense of the importance of our historical past as well as your place in that history”.

Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park, Savanah, Georgia.

Another suggestion, tied to our nation’s history, is to tour the Old South (or, the New England states).  At the end of a cross-country trip to Florida, we spent a glorious week touring through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina this past March.  Savannah and Charleston are two marvelous anti-Bellum cities, rife with history, great food and gracious people. Touring old plantations outside such cities will give you a hands-on feel for why the south fought to preserve their traditions, even though they included slavery.

Beyond the US destinations: Paris, Germany, the Netherlands, the Adriatic coast, Italy? Patagonia, Russia, England and Ireland? You’ll have to pick based on your own target destinations.

But our current favorite way to tour many of these places is by an ocean or river cruise with cruise leaders such as Grand Circle Cruise Lines. Your hotel room travels with you and you are deposited each morning at an historic city on some of the world’s great rivers or ocean ports. Sightseeing is it a premium, walking tours are the mode and long bus rides are kept to a minimum.

Bled Castle towers over Lake Bled in Slovenia's Julian Alps.

In the previous two weeks, I featured the highlights of our recent Adriatic Sea cruise, where we took in Christmas Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro.  Lovely people, stunning geography and history dating back 2000 years!

So, put your heads together, get the kids (or grandkids) involved, and map out a couple of bucket-list destinations for 2016! Next week, destinations closer to home!

For more information: National Park Service Centennial,; Grand Circle Cruises,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at

Happy travels in your world!

This entry was posted in East Coast US, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, United States beyond! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

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