Big Bend National Park, Texas
Wedged snugly against the US–Mexico border and located hundreds of miles from Texas’s major cities, Big Bend is not for anyone seeking a conveniently located patch of desert ruggedness; this is a place that requires dedication to reach. However, your efforts are suitably rewarded with all the Chihuahuan Desert charms you can handle: sentinel rock outcroppings, small packs of low-slung javelinas scampering across hiking trails, towering canyons that seemingly threaten to swallow the muddy Rio Grande whole, international boundary intrigue, pointy ocotillo aplenty. You’d be forgiven for expecting to see Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner around the park’s dusty roads.
Best month to visit: February
The reality of Southern Louisiana is not so different from the myth of the region in the minds of Americans and foreign visitors alike. From Lafayette to Baton Rouge to New Orleans, this really is a singular place: swamps and bayous full of alligators and moss-draped cypress trees; French-speaking Cajuns squeezing age-old tunes out of accordions and mandolins; Creole sugarcane plantations just over the levee from the mighty Mississippi River; jazz clubs, festivals, and second-line parades soaked in equal parts booze and brass; end-of-the-road holiday towns on distant barrier islands; foods that will tingle your taste buds and shatter your belt. There’s nowhere quite like it.
Best month to visit: April
Image by Charles Hodgkins
Anchoring the third-most populous metropolitan area in the US, and boasting one of the most iconic skylines you’ll find anywhere, lakeside Chicago offers a smorgasbord of attractions that could keep an ambitious visitor occupied for weeks. By day, join a walking tour of downtown’s modern architecture landmarks, take your pick from an array of top-tier museums (including the world-class Art Institute of Chicago), or score an opening night ticket for the Chicago Cubs baseball game on 5 April at the so-called Friendly Confines of storied Wrigley Field. After dark, choose from almost any type of cuisine imaginable – from haute to Greek to BBQ, the City of Broad Shoulders does everything well, and more affordably than coastal culinary rivals New York and San Francisco.
Best month to visit: May
South Florida is known for many things, but a pair of particularly adversarial relationships head the list of many visitors: sodden wild lands versus the paved, built-up environment, and humans versus biting insects. The collision here between the subtropical United States and Latin America makes this one of the most culturally fascinating corners of the country, where you can stroll through Miami‘s Little Haiti and Little Havana neighbourhoods in the morning, enjoy an airboat tour through the Everglades‘ magnificent “river of grass” in the afternoon (just be sure to tote along bug repellant), and either indulge in Miami’s legendary club scene all night or make the relaxing 160-mile drive out through the Florida Keys to atmospheric Key West. Or you can just eat key lime pie all day long. Regardless of your approach, this is where summer spends the winter in the States, so pack an extra pair of shorts.
Best month to visit: December
Image by Charles Hodgkins
While beach names such as Rehoboth, Dewey, and Bethany may not stir the imagination quite the same way as Malibu, Waikiki, and Key Biscayne, don’t overlook Delaware’s abbreviated, but lovely shore. Untainted by reality television and overdevelopment – though lashed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – the First State’s 20-plus miles of land abutting the Atlantic Ocean is as glorious a strand as you’ll find anywhere on the East Coast. Runners will want to come for the flat-routed CoDel (Coastal Delaware) Marathon, which begins and ends in Dewey Beach on the first weekend in May. Walk the sands in search of gigantic, laggard horseshoe crabs, snack on salt water taffy along Rehoboth’s popular seaside boardwalk, and be thankful you won’t have to cross paths with Snooki and her costar-inebriates.
Best month to visit: June
Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
Resisting the frilly preciousness that can characterise higher-profile small towns of the region, Shelburne Falls offers a portrait of working-class New England while still drawing in plenty of visitors for its smattering of worthy sights. The humble village of 1700 residents, set along the leafy Mohawk Trail (also known as the State Route 2, a popular autumn foliage-viewing byway that’s celebrating its 101st anniversary this year), is split by the languid Deerfield River, the banks of which are linked by the marvellous, pedestrian-only Bridge of Flowers – a set of unusual, riverside glacial potholes adjacent to the small downtown area. Shelburne Falls is also home to the second-oldest bowling alley in the US, where you can try your hand at candlepin, the New England-only brand of the game that requires extra precision by using a much smaller ball and pins.
Best month to visit: October
Explore more of the States with the Rough Guide to the USA. Book hostels for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.
Top image © MaxyM/Shutterstock