Update your travel bucket list for the Western US in the new year!

Kauai's Waimea Canyon, looking down from 4,500 feet into the lush and mighty "Grand Canyon of the Pacific".

Bucket list updates in the Western United States for the new year

Last week I suggested tuning up your travel bucket list with 12 ultimate destinations in California. This week, here are the first half of a dozen additional western state’s destinations, suggested month by month (next week, another six). Since we’re into the new year, I’ll start with February.

February, Kauai (and Maui): It’s not too late to plan a winter trip to Hawaii. After 16 annual trips to Maui, we finally visited Kauai this past September and it’s our new favorite. The “Garden Isle” Is the longest inhabited and oldest of the Hawaiian islands, yielding a tropical paradise of lush vegetation and rugged beauty. Tour Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific“, where a ridge-back highway takes you to 4500 feet with most marvelous views down to the mighty Pacific on one side and the canyon on the other.

The next day, hike the storied Nepali Coast on the north end of the island or take a cruise along this wild, roadless 15 mile coast. Hike to the base of Hanakapi’a Falls, a highlight of the Jurassic Park movies. Take a kayak trip up the Wailua River to the base of Opaeka’a (Secret) Falls, tumbling 125 feet into a beautiful catch basin inviting swimming and wading.

Other options include the Kauai Coffee plantation tour, with 4 million coffee trees planted in the last 30 years replacing the island’s former sugarcane industry. Find monk seals reclining on beaches near the old town of Kapa’a, a town lined with old shops and interesting eateries. To the south west, find Spouting Horn where pounding waves enter lava tubes, sending water spouting 30 feet into the air.

Saguero cactus blossom in late spring to early summer outside of Tucson.

Lodging? Try Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO.com), on Kauai and Maui we found beachfront luxury lodging for $105, average, per night.

March, Arizona desert: Stay warm in March with a tour of the Phoenix and Tucson areas. Phoenix offers golf courses and Major League Baseball’s spring training. In March it’s home to 16 MLB teams, where you can see the San Francisco Giants play the Cleveland Indians or 14 other teams. Tucson bisects halves of Saguaro National Park spotlighting the Sonoran desert. With towering Saguaro cactus, prickly pear cactus, creosote bush and electric green Palo Verde trees yielding a tall and remarkably lush desert environment like no other.

Tour to the northeast to take in Petrified Forest National Park, where millions of years ago sediments buried an ancient forest, leading to its petrification yielding hundreds of petrified, colorful logs and the formation of the stunning Painted Desert.

Azaleas frame the iconic Portland Rose Garden in spring.

April, Portland and the Columbia Gorge: Portland is arguably the most visitor-friendly big city on the West Coast (San Diego and Seattle might dispute that). Located at the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, shadowed by lovely Mount Hood, it’s known for its bicycle paths, parks and bridges, coffee houses and microbreweries.

The city offers a fine light rail system, a beautiful waterfront and pretty Washington Park. It’s a town of gourmet restaurants and down-home eateries (don’t miss Voodoo Donuts), the lush Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Portland Zoo and iconic Powell’s Bookstore. Travel east up the rugged Columbia River Gorge for lofty waterfalls tumbling from Mount Hood.

Bryce Canyon's Hoodoos balance precariously, result of eons of wind and water erosion.

May, Utah National Parks: Of Utah’s five inspiring national parks, Zion is closest to California. We suggest traveling just east and camping or moteling in Bryce Canyon National Park, where, at the North Campground you’re right on the edge of this scenic wonder. Then, take a day trip back to Zion to see the deep canyons and special places like “the Subway” and “the Narrows”, winding slot canyons carved like subway tunnels by eons of flowing water.

Continuing east you’ll find Capital Reef, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, each with their special geography and allure. Spend a few days in Moab, a town billing itself as the Utah adventure center, between Arches and Canyonlands. You’ll find Arches amazing, with 2000 natural bridges throughout the park, and the vast Canyonlands celebrating the deep canyons created by confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers.

Visitors look out from Moran Point into the Grand Canyon's majesty.

June, Grand Canyon, South Rim: Go early to beat the crowds of mid-summer. I defy you not to tear-up when to stand for the first time at Mather Point and gaze into this 5,000 foot deep canyon of red, yellow, ochre and brown hues, stretching on for miles. You can trek along the south rim, visit Native American village ruins at Tusayan, a bustling outpost 1,000 years ago, and hike into the canyon for other-worldly views. If you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon’s southerly sights, visit the North Rim for a new set of jaw-dropping vistas.

July, explore the “Loneliest Road in America”: Hwy. 50, featuring Native American history, Pony Express stops and high desert scenery, crosses Nevada and reaches Great Basin National Park. The park celebrates Wheeler Peak, towering 13,063 feet, with ancient forests of Bristlecone Pine. The park’s Lehman Cave, one of the most spectacular caves in the western United States, offers underground tours that will delight the youngest to oldest travelers.

Wheeler Peak, with Bristlecone Pines in foreground, anchors Nevada's Great Basin National Park.

For more information: Kauai visitor info, gohawaii.com/islands/Kauai; Maui, visitmaui.com, Petrified Forest National Park, nps.gov/pefo; Saguaro National Park, nps.gov/sagu; Portland, travelportland.com; Utah national parks, nps.gov/state/ut/index.htm and visitutah.com; Grand Canyon, nps.gov/grca; Great Basin National Park, nps.gov/grba.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in the west!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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