USA Travel

The Top Solo Travel Destinations in the United States

By
Matt Wilson
on
October 30, 2020

The United States is an enormous country, spanning over 3,000 miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.  The US is especially known for its vast national park system where people love to go hiking and camping.  There are tons of solo travel destinations to explore.  This country is very diverse in terms of landscape and has tons of awesome cities to check out as well.  The biggest question for solo travelers is often “where to travel?”

Here is a guide with recommendations for where to travel solo in the USA with a specific focus on outdoor activities and the US National Parks: 

New England: Best in summer and autumn for the amazing fall foliage.  You can find good skiing in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont during the cold winters.  New England has tons of shorelines and inland lakes too.  Boston, Portland, and Burlington are three great cities to explore.  This area of the country is quite expensive when traveling solo, particularly the most desirable locations like Newport and Block Island, Rhode Island, Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  If you like history, there is no shortage of famous places to visit like Plymouth and Salem, Massachusetts.  

The crown jewel of New England is Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine, in our opinion.  Acadia is New England’s only official US National Park.  Don’t forget to try fish and chips, Maine lobster, and to visit Cadillac Mountain at sunrise.  Be sure to kayak Frenchman Bay off of Mount Desert Island.

portland maine light house
Lighthouse along the coast in Portland, Maine

Mid Atlantic: This region of the United States revolves around the major cities of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC.  The surrounding areas have great outdoor recreational destinations.  In New York, you have the Catskills, Adirondack Mountains, and Finger Lakes of upstate New York, and then both the north and south forks of Long Island, including the exclusive Hamptons and Montauk beach areas.  In Pennsylvania, you have lots of history in Philadelphia and the nearby Poconos Mountains with the Pennsylvania Dutch, Quaker, and Amish cultures.  The area is also rich in history, most notably Gettysburg National Battlefield.

New Jersey is most famous for its 130 miles of “Jersey Shore” which are popular summer destinations for New Yorkers and Philadelphians. Maryland and Delaware have several coastal destinations including Annapolis, a sailing town and home of the US Naval Academy, Ocean City, the ever-popular beach town, and Bethany Beach, a popular bachelor/bachelorette party destination.  Be sure to try blue crab cakes with Old Bay seasoning when in Maryland, and a walk around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, including the National Aquarium.   

Moving south you have Washington DC which is, of course, the capital of the United States. DC has tons of museums and historic government landmarks, and is best visited in late March and early April for cherry blossom season.  An hour or two outside of the Beltway area you have Shenandoah National Park, known for its black bears, Skyline Drive, and the Appalachian Trail.  Last summer I stayed at the rustic Big Meadows Lodge inside the park and really enjoyed it.

Finally, in Virginia, be sure to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy this winding drive through the Appalachian Mountains.  If you like history, there are tons of civil war battlefields and national monuments.  In West Virginia, consider a whitewater rafting trip! 

The South: Looking for warming weather, a slower pace, southern hospitality, and some good home-cookin’?  The South might be just what you were looking for.  Starting on the East Coast, you have historic coastal cities with amazing downtowns like Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.  The Outer Banks, North Carolina would be my pick for the most incredible beaches, with great sand dunes, windsurfing, kiteboarding, and surfing.  Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is another beach destination known for its touristy activities and golf.

Working our way inland, North Carolina and Tennessee offer Great Smoky Mountains National Park, usually accessed from Asheville and Bryson City from the east, and Pigeon Forge, and  Gatlinburg from the west.  There are tons of camping, hiking, and amazing North Carolina barbecue eateries in this area, a solo travelers’ dream.  Be sure to explore the hip city of Asheville, one of our favorites! 

smoky mountain national park waterfall hiking trail
Waterfall in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Some cities in this region that you might enjoy are Atlanta, Nashville, and Memphis.  ATL airport is a great hub with cheap flights on Delta all over the country. Nashville is the home of country music, with a great little town just outside of it called Franklin, Tennessee that you aught to check out. Put on your blue suede shoes to walk down Memphis’ Beale Street, the home of Elvis Presley.  Head further south to the Gulf Coast, known for its white sandy beaches.

New Orleans and the Bayou have a distinct culture of their own.  Venture out from Bourbon Street in the French Quarter to Frenchman Street, where the locals go.  Be sure to understand the French-creole influences, and go out at night to see local song and dance.  New Orleans is famous for its unique cuisine including po-boys, jambalaya, crawfish, gumbo, and red beans and rice.  Prices will be higher near Mardi Gras, peaking on Fat Tuesday in late winter.  And remember that football is religion in New Orleans… who dat? 

Finally, if you can make it out to Hot Springs, Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park is another lesser-known destination in this region, with a quaint downtown, plenty of hot pools to relax in, and nice hikes in the National Park.

solo travel destinations florida
Paddling Everglades National Park as a solo traveler

Florida: I would have put Florida in the south, but this state deserves a category of its own.  The sunshine state boasts incredible beaches on both the Atlantic (bigger waves) and the Gulf of Mexico (white sand).  Florida also has two National Parks, the Everglades, and the lesser-known Dry Tortugas, accessible only by boat or ferry.  Parts of Florida will seem like the Deep South, especially near the Panhandle, while South Florida, especially Miami, will feel more like Latin America.  Make your way all the way down the Florida Keys to Key West, eat Cuban food, snapper, and key-lime pie.  Enjoy some of the best snorkeling and fishing in the world.

austin texas solo travel
Activities around Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas are great for meeting people as a solo traveler.

Texas: If there is one thing we know about Texas, its that people love their outdoor activities, including hunting, fishing, camping, and of course, owning a pick-up truck.  Everything is bigger in Texas!  One of Texas’ most famous solo travel destinations is the dog-friendly city of Austin, a foodie city with great Tex-Mex and barbecue, as well as a focus on outdoor activities like kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake and Lake Travis.  Get outside of Austin into the Hill Country for more barbecue and starry nights.  Avoid the sweltering hot summer months, and know that prices will be inflated a couple of weeks in the fall for Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL), and a couple of weeks in the spring for South by Southwest (SXSW).  I look back fondly at my time living in Austin and especially miss all the great food trucks and healthy food options, Juiceland and the Soup Peddler being my favorites.  

Texas’ major national park is Big Bend, which borders Mexico’s Parque Nacional Cañon de Santa Elena.  Be sure to check out Rio Grande Village, Boquillos, and Chicos Basin.  And while you are in this area of the country, head into New Mexico to hit Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Carlsbad Canyons, just a short drive away.

San Antonio boasts the home of the Alamo, so be sure to take a stroll down the River Walk.  Houston and Dallas are hubs for United and American Airlines respectively, so look for cheaper flights out of these major cities.

us national parks for solo travelers
National Parks in the Southwest USA have no shortage of options for solo travelers.

Southwest: Wow, does the Southwest United States have a lot to offer in terms of outdoor activities, camping, and hiking!  Keep in mind that drive times are long in the wild west, as a lot of this part of the country is a vast desert.  For this area, I’d recommend a road trip flying into the major cities of Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Las Vegas, or Santa Fe.  

National Parks in this region include Arches and Canyonlands near Moab, Bryce Canyon and Zion in Southwest Utah, and Saguaro, near Tuscon, Arizona, and of course, the Grand Canyon.  There are tons of other national monuments, including Navajo Nation's Monument Valley Park.  There is no shortage of incredible scenery, rock outcroppings, desert sunsets and sunrises, and incredible stargazing in this area of the country.  Be sure to bring plenty of water on hikes, and remember that it gets quite cold in the desert at night, depending on elevation.  

colorado solo travel destinations
Ski towns like Telluride, Colorado are great destinations for solo travel.

Rocky Mountains: The coolest big city in the Rocky Mountains is most certainly Denver, Colorado.  It’s a great sports and music town, and most residents live lives devoted to the outdoors.  There is great food and craft beer in Denver, as well as in the neighboring hippie-college town of Boulder in the foothills of the Rockies.  These towns are packed with active young people, so they are great for solo travelers.

Just a couple of hours from Denver and Boulder you’ll find front range ski towns of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, and Winter Park, including ski resorts like Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Loveland, and Copper Mountain.  Skiing and snowboarding is a great solo traveler activity because of the ease of meeting people on the ski lift, or in the lodge.  Colorado is known for it’s “14ers”, which are the fifty-eight 14,000-foot mountains that the most adventurous hikers love to try and climb.  Further west in Colorado, you have the San Juan Skyway that includes the mountain towns of Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride.  Colorado is home to four national parks including Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes.  

North of Colorado you have the state of Wyoming with its incredible western feel.  Jackson, Wyoming is the gateway to the Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone.  This summer, I drove from Jackson, through the Tetons and Yellowstone, to Big Sky and Bozeman, Montana.  I hit Old Faithful and various other geothermal geysers hiked around Jenny Lake and spotted elk and bison.  I need to go back on Under30Experiences’s Grand Teton & Yellowstone trip to go wildlife spotting with an expert guide and see wolves and grizzly bears.

Finally, if you can get all the way north you should absolutely check out Glacier National Park which borders Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada.  Be sure to check out the Highline Trail at Logan Pass, and Lake McDonald. 

us national parks for solo travel
US National Parks like Theodore Roosevelt are great, even if you aren't camping as a solo traveler.

North and South Dakota: Making your way back east I’d recommend two under-visited states where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, in the area called the Badlands.  North and South Dakota are home to three US National Parks, the Badlands, Wind Cave, and Theodore Roosevelt.  Of course, the most famous attraction in this area is Mount Rushmore National Monument.  On my trip to North Dakota, I saw bison, prairie dogs, feral horses, and pronghorn in Theodore Roosevelt National park--more wildlife than I saw in Yellowstone! 

Midwest: While many Americans consider much of the Midwest “flyover states”, mainly known for agriculture, there is a lot to be discovered in this area of the country.  Chicago, known as “Second City” and is a great place for solo travel, especially in the summer.  I spent a summer as an intern in Chicago, and was at the beach on Lake Michigan every weekend playing volleyball, exploring the 18-mile lakefront trail, and enjoying neighborhoods where young professionals hang out like Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park.

The Great Lakes region has a ton to offer, including lots of areas designated as National Lakeshore.  Minnesota is known for its 10,000 lakes, and I was surprised to learn that Wisconsin actually has more lakes than its rival Minnesota!  Madison, Wisconsin is a great small city on a lake of their own, home to the University of Wisconsin.  Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio is one of the largest national parks in this region. More things to check out as a solo traveler in the Midwest: Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kansas City, Missouri, and Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis.

California: California is home to more national parks than any other state.  The nine national parks, in no particular order, are Redwood, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, Lassen Volcano, and Pinnacles. 

Joshua Tree National Park California
The namesake plant in Joshua Tree National Park, California

California boasts every different type of landscape, including 1700 glaciers, the Pacific Ocean, Cascade Mountain Range, some of the hottest deserts in the world, and even the border with Baja, Mexico.  There is an abundance of camping, hiking, and outdoor activities in this state.  Lake Tahoe is an incredible area, not just for skiing, but hiking, mountain biking, and stand up paddleboarding.  Rounding out your trip in the Bay Area, you should absolutely visit some vineyards in Napa and Marin County, for some world-renown wine.

California, of course, can’t be mentioned without talking about the popular tourist cities for solo travelers including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.  We highly recommend driving the Pacific Coast Highway from SF to LA, with stops in Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Santa Cruz Island, Malibu, Santa Monica, and Venice Beach.

big sur pacific coast highway
Coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur

Pacific Northwest: The four main national parks in the Pacific Northwest are Olympic, North Cascades, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake National Parks.  From gray whales to grizzly bears, this region of the country offers incredible diversity, including amazing volcanoes in the ring of fire.   Both Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon are incredible cities to visit, boasting coffee culture, temperate weather, and a laid-back west coast lifestyle.  Both places have excellent craft beer and music scenes.  Keep in mind when camping and hiking in this area that rainfall can be abundant, so be prepared!

Alaska: The Last Frontier, America’s largest state, is something that needs to be on everyone’s bucket list.  While most people see Alaska by cruise, I always try to dissuade people from participating in “big box” tourism and seek more sustainable options that allow you to get a deeper look at a place.

Alaska has eight national parks including Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Kenai Fjords, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, and Wrangell-St Elias.  Many of these parks are extremely remote and difficult to reach, so most people usually stick to a southern itinerary starting from Anchorage. 

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Alaska twice and was really impressed by how quickly you can access the great outdoors right in the city of Anchorage.  One of my favorite hikes starting downtown was the Coastal Trail in Elderberry Park.  My first stop outside of Anchorage was the town of Girdwood, home to Alyeska Ski Resort.  I continued down the Kenai Peninsula where you have the towns of Seward and Homer, Kachemak Bay State Park, and of course Kenai Fjords National Park.  Then, head up to Denali National Park and be sure to stop into the charming little town of Talkeetna. Alaska is full of charming little lodges, so be sure to stay local whenever possible! 

Hawaii: Finally, one last place on everyone’s United States bucket list is Hawaii.  Don’t be fooled by this state’s reputation and think of it as only a place where couples take honeymoons.  Solo travelers love Hawaii! 

Many people start their trip in Honolulu and get over their jet lag on Waikiki Beach.  Diamond Head is a great warm-up hike, and Waikiki is a great place to take a beginner surf lesson.  Solo travelers will have an abundance of coffee shops, breweries, yoga studios, and healthy restaurants with nice communities.  This friendly atmosphere is perfect for meeting people.  Consider visiting Pearl Harbor National Memorial.  I rented a car on Turo and drove around the island of Oahu to the famed “North Shore”.  There are tons of little beaches to choose from with enormous waves when the surf is up!

The Big Island is home to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park where you can see lava flowing straight from the source.  Keep in mind that Hilo is on the windward, or rainy, side of the island while Kona is on the leeward, or drier, side.  As the name suggests, the island is big so plan to divide your time between the two.  Both sides have a ton to offer.  The Big Island is the least expensive island and best for budget travelers. Don’t forget to try some fish poke with seaweed salad!

The island of Maui is home to Haleakalā National Park known for its incredible sunrise.  There is a lot to learn about Hawaiian history and culture, so be sure to understand that these islands were self-sufficient nations with their own food, language, music, and dance, long before American imperialism.

Finally, Kauai is a nature lover’s paradise and the backdrop for many movies set in the rainforest.  There are plenty of hiking trails including the Nounou Trails in the Sleeping Giant Mountain Range.  Kauai is also a yoga practitioner’s paradise! 

Get outside as a solo traveler 

The United States of America is filled with amazing outdoor adventures, and while this guide mainly focused on National Parks and gateway cities, there are countless other national and state forests, national monuments, wildlife preserves, national historic trails, memorials, and recreational areas. There are also over 10,000 state parks in The United States.  There is no need to wait until you have a buddy to travel with--solo travel is an incredibly liberating, freeing experience.  

Don’t want to plan the trip, don’t have all the necessary equipment, or want to meet other solo travelers?  Link up with one of our groups at Under30Experiences and check out our itineraries, including our USA hiking and camping trips

For more information on solo travel check out my book, The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, and Make Travel a Priority in Your Life.

Matt Wilson
Matt Wilson is Co-founder of Under30Experiences and Author of The Millennial Travel Guidebook: Escape More, Spend Less, & Make Travel a Priority in Your Life. He is host of the Live Different Podcast, Millennial Travel Podcast, and formerly Co-founder of Under30CEO.com. He is committed to helping people live more adventurous lives.

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