The USA and Canada both offer vibrant cities and vast, dramatic landscapes. Our specialists explain why combining urban and wild time in North America can be a rewarding experience.
St John's & Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, Canada
By Fiona, Canada specialist
The compact capital of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, St John's, punches well above its weight. For more than 500 years this harbourside city was home to a thriving trading port and fishing fleet. Despite its hilly terrain I found the city easy to explore on foot and, visiting in early summer, I was able to go whale watching and see icebergs just offshore. An evening out was a real highlight: there are reputedly more pubs here per capita than anywhere else in North America. Many offer live music so if, like me, you enjoy folk or Celtic music, St John's is a hard place to beat.
In contrast, Gros Morne National Park, in the west of Newfoundland, is a vast, isolated wilderness area and a world away from the buzz of St John's. I was totally captivated by the beauty of Gros Morne's bays, beaches, sea stacks and bare-topped, fjord-cut mountains.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers unparalleled hiking through wild uninhabited mountains (you need to be reasonably fit), and spectacular boat trips under the towering cliffs of Western Brook Pond, a glacier-carved fjord famous for cascading waterfalls and huge colonies of gulls.
Vancouver, Canada & Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
By Mike, Canada specialist
Vibrant, stylish Vancouver is one of the gateways for flights to Alaska and makes for a fantastic stopover. On my first visit I fell in love with the youthful lifestyle, cosmopolitan atmosphere and the fantastic range of things to do — everything from a cultural guided walk around Chinatown to a scenic flight over the Gulf Islands. With an excellent range of accommodation options and a great dining scene, it is the perfect complement to a foray into the wilds of Alaska.
Sitting between the Bering Sea and the expansive, rugged interior of Canada's Yukon territory, Alaska is by far the largest US state. While it spends much of the year under snow and ice, the glorious summer months reveal incredible landscapes that just beg to be explored.
I spent a week aboard a small research-style ship in the Alaskan Panhandle, exploring the fjords, inlets and small communities that punctuate this far-flung coastline. If you're seeking that sense of true wilderness, then this could well be the trip for you.
Of all the places I visited on this three-week trip, from Fairbanks (close to the Arctic Circle), to the thin Panhandle that stretches down to the border with British Columbia, few places feel wilder than Glacier Bay National Park. Floating ice creaks under the bow of the ship and the sounds of great ice slabs calving off the glaciers into the foreboding but beautiful waters reverberates all around. It's impossible not to feel humbled by the landscape that envelops you.
Seattle & Olympic National Park, the USA
By Tom, USA specialist
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region but it moves at a relatively relaxed pace. It has a strong cultural character and a renowned performing arts scene — with around 100 theatre production groups, an inspiring variety of classical performances and a highly regarded alternative music scene, it attracts an eclectic range of residents and visitors alike. I was very happy just wandering around areas such as Pike Place Market, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the folks of Seattle go about their day. In no time, I felt very at home.
Along with the sights and sounds of the city I was keen to experience the peace and quiet of Olympic National Park, just a couple of hours' drive west. At almost a million acres in size, the park offers some truly breathtaking scenery. Here, some of the USA's last remaining tracts of ancient forest are draped across mountains and reflected in shimmering lakes and rivers.
It almost looks unreal; I momentarily wondered if I'd stepped into a scene from a fantasy movie. There is also a spectacular coastal part to the national park, where miles upon miles of untouched, rugged beaches stretch along the western edge of Washington State. It's a wonderful place to explore.
New York & the Adirondack Mountains, the USA
Elisa, USA specialist
New York is one American city that requires little introduction. There is an energy here that I found captivating, and while much of it seemed familiar I tried to squeeze in as many icons as possible — taking in the Statue of Liberty, wandering around Greenwich Village, jogging through Central Park and watching an evening performance on Broadway.
With world-class museums and galleries, wonderful restaurants and great shopping, I came away thinking that it would be hard for anyone not to enjoy the Big Apple, at least for a couple of days.
Taking the road north out of the city, I found the rest of New York State to be a far more tranquil environment — in particular, the beautiful Adirondack Mountains. With tree-covered rolling hills, glassy lakes and delightful little towns, I found it easy to get off the beaten track.
It's a fabulous place for just exploring, whether by road, foot or kayak. There is also an overwhelming quietude here; I felt like I could almost hear the leaves floating down from the trees. I confess to being a 'leaf-peeper', and, while I was on my travels around the state, I was always seeking that iconic image of the beautiful autumn colours reflected in a lake — and it was in the Adirondacks that I found it.
Was this useful?