This list wasn’t particularly difficult to create as I only visited 3 national parks in my trip to the states, hence why some world-famous parks such as Yellowstone have been omitted. But anyway, here’s a brief account of my experiences at the Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks (ranked in no particular order).
Yosemite was definitely an awesome introduction to the magnitude of national parks in America. The Lower Falls were spectacular despite the lack of water and the tiring (mostly uphill) hike to Vernal Falls was a worthwhile experience as well. Don’t miss out on the Yosemite Valley lookout point which personally capped off a great day and allowed me to truly appreciate the beauty of this place.
The South Rim lookout points were incredibly crowded, even late in the afternoon and early in the morning. So in spite of the awe-inspiring nature of the Grand Canyon, my trip would have been slightly disappointing without a trek into the heart of the canyon itself. After much research, I chose the South Kaibab Trail which according to most reviews is far less crowded and offers better views than the Bright Angel Trail, despite being steeper. It certainly didn’t disappoint with ever-changing views and I basically had the whole place to myself.
First sightings of Zion are mind-blowing following a long drive through a very dark tunnel. The difficult Angel’s Landing hike is well worth it as long as you’re sure-footed and well-prepared (unlike me – I wore Vans). The view from the top was one of the best I’ve seen in my 17 years and the treacherous hike added to the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
My 6 days in Salt Lake City (following visits to Zion and the Grand Canyon – more on that later) held many Samwise Gamgee moments for me, for example, I’d never been so far from the ocean in my entire life and I’d never witnessed snowfall (or seen snow for that matter). The majority of my time in Salt Lake was spent learning to snowboard at Brighton or gingerly resting my backside after falling on it multiple times while learning to snowboard. In addition to that, I also managed to make my way to Park City, play 6 games of ten-pin bowling for just $10 (top-score of 152 – Yew!) and patriotically support fellow Aussies Dante Exum and Joe Ingles in a Utah Jazz NBA match at EnergySolutions Arena.
There are many existing stereotypes and stigmas surrounding Las Vegas that imply this city is filled with sex, strippers and over-indulgence. But there are a surprising number of things to do for those that are too young for the nightclubs and casinos. Here are my top five:
1. Walk The Strip
The Strip is surprisingly cool (and much less sleazy than it may be portrayed)! This is the only place in the world where you can visit Venice, Paris and New York all in one day. The Bellagio Fountains and the volcanic eruption at the Mirage were definitely a highlight, whilst the glowing neon lights at night are as iconic as ever.
2. Pinball Hall of Fame
This place was absolutely incredible despite the 4-5km walk through scary streets alone (I’d definitely suggest driving). At US$0.25-$0.75 per game, the Pinball HoF is incredible value. And if you do happen to visit, I implore you to play the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game as I you may see my high-score (unfortunately I clicked the wrong button so the high-score is under the name “AAA”)!!
This is where you’ll find most kids in Vegas on a daily basis. The inside is actually huge and it’s definitely worth having a look even if you don’t pay for the rides (some of which are more intense than you’d expect of an indoor amusement park).
4. Neon Museum
The Neon Museum is the place to visit if you want to experience the history of neon signs in Las Vegas with a massive neon graveyard that houses some of Las Vegas’ most famous signs from past decades. Hour-long compulsory tours cost US$18 and are run every half hour.
5. Battlefield Vegas
Battlefield was definitely right at the top of my wish list during my time in Las Vegas, however for now it must remain on my bucket list as I had both insufficient time and money. But seriously, who doesn’t want to be driven around in a military-grade Humvee before firing weapons from various eras throughout modern history.
From San Fransisco, I made my way to Las Vegas (via Yosemite – more on that later) for 2 days. My short stay consisted of a trip to the top of the Stratosphere, and a (very) long walk down The Strip (featuring the Bellagio Fountains) on my way to the incredible Pinball Hall of Fame (during which I was befriended by a homeless man). Upon returning to LA from Salt Lake City, I once again stopped by Las Vegas for an equally short stay, which included a long drive to Death Valley, a volcanic eruption at the Mirage and a stop at Las Vegas’ very own indoor amusement park, the AdventureDome.
Pinball Hall of Fame
My journey from LA to San Francisco was punctuated only by a quick visit to 17-Mile Drive, of which the seals at “Bird” Rock were a highlight. After that, it was all stations to San Francisco for a 48-hour stay. Highlights included the Golden Gate Bridge (for obvious reasons), USS Pampanito, a knee-jarring walk down Lombard Street (no way I was going back up), riding the Cable Car and a trip to the top of Coit Tower to cap it off. I was terribly disappointed to miss out on an Alcatraz tour (it was booked out for 2 weeks following my departure) and a 49ers match which was scheduled for the same day I left. However, I don’t need much more of an excuse to return to this amazing city!
Golden Gate Bridge
My first visit to LA was short and rather disappointing as was the second – not due to any lack of entertainment offered by this sprawling metropolis, but rather my inability to drive anywhere (being only 17). I did however manage to make my way to Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier for a few hours, as well as take in the magnitude of the famous Hollywood Sign from a (FREE) viewpoint. On the return trip to LA (after visiting San Francisco, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Zion and Salt Lake City), I found myself at the original Universal Studios (not as good as Universal Orlando, but I’m very keen for the opening of Harry Potter World at Universal Hollywood in 2016).
In short, hell yes! But isn’t it expensive? Well yes, it is that too – US $130 for a 1-day Park-to-Park ticket is sure to put a dent in anyone’s travel budget. However, where else in the world can you shop in Diagon Alley (and the Quik-E-Mart), sip a Butterbeer at Hogwarts, clamber aboard the Hogwarts Express, and ride world-class roller-coasters in the same place? (The answer to that question is no where by the way!) So what are you waiting for? Don’t forget, the more days you’re there, the cheaper it becomes (for example, I paid just US $190 for a 3-day Park-to-Park ticket)!
Personally, my most memorable moment was in fact when I laid eyes on the splendour of Diagon Alley for the first time. If you’ve already been, why not comment your favourite moment below, as always I’d love to hear from you.
Also, check out my video of my time spent in the Harry Potter section of Universal Orlando on Vimeo : http://vimeo.com/115741877