I’ve traveled to all 50 states, and some of my favorite ones came as a surprise.
After seeing a friend take on a challenge to visit 50 states by the time they turned 40 years old, I decided to embark on my own travel journey through the US.
I counted up all the states I’d already traveled to, the ones I needed to revisit, and the ones I’d never been to. Eventually, I made my way to all 50.
Here are the 12 states that I enjoyed the most.
Wyoming is home to Yellowstone, one of America’s most interesting national parks.
Yellowstone made me question everything I knew about our planet. The majority of the national park — 96%, to be exact — is in Wyoming, making it my favorite state.
From seeing Old Faithful, a world-famous geyser, erupt exactly at the predicted time to admiring the Grand Prismatic Spring‘s beautiful colors up close, the natural wonders within the park were unmatched.
It was quite a sight to see gas fuming from the Earth. Just be sure to read the park signage, and for your own safety, don’t get too close to the geysers’ eruptions or the hot springs’ waters.
Montana’s glaciers are just one of the state’s many chilling, thrilling sights.
Since I don’t trust my driving skills enough to navigate alongside steep cliffs, I took the Red Bus Tour, which picked me up from my hotel and took me on an eight-hour tour of the park’s east side.
We started at the Continental Divide, stopped for a bite to eat in West Glacier, and then continued our journey through the park, which closely rivals my beloved Yellowstone.
Wisconsin had some of the best lactose-based foods I’ve ever tried.
If you couldn’t tell by this point, I’m a dairy lover, so of course, Wisconsin is on my list of the best states. I knew about cheese curds ahead of time, but I’d never had an authentic version of this snack until I visited the Midwestern state.
I had two variations of cheese curds: classic deep-fried and bacon-wrapped. Both were among the best things I’d ever tasted in my life.
I was so in love with this food that I had to get another order at a second restaurant called Dairyland. It also served frozen custard, which was some of the best ice cream I’ve had.
There’s something truly special about Wisconsin’s dairy.
Oregon’s doughnuts and bookstores won me over.
I didn’t know much about Portland, Oregon, before my visit but found out that it was filled with doughnuts and books.
Powell’s City of Books in Portland looked like a supermarket full of books. It rivaled all the other amazing bookstores I’ve been to, which makes sense since it’s the largest independent one in the world.
Voodoo Doughnut is also a Portland staple.
When I was there on a Sunday morning, customers formed a line very early just to get a taste. Inside, there were carousel displays of unique doughnuts. I tried the bacon-maple bar and the limited-edition strawberry crush.
Aside from eating great food, I took a ride on a three-seater bike by the riverwalk and got ice cream in the Pearl District every night.
Minnesota’s Mall of America was massive, with a theme park and over 500 stores inside.
I visited the Mall of America, the nation’s largest shopping mall, in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Each of the mall’s four floors was over a mile long, so I couldn’t walk through the entire shopping center.
However, I did stop at the Crayola Store, the largest collection of Crayola products, to find every color crayon imaginable and, of course, the food court.
South Dakota’s Crazy Horse Memorial is unfinished, but I still got a great view of it.
Construction on the Crazy Horse Memorial, a massive tribute to the Ogalala warrior, began in the Black Hills National Forest in 1948, but issues in the rock have slowed the process. It’s still unfinished.
I was able to check out the side profile of this large mountain carving as I ate at Laughing Water Restaurant.
I ordered a Native American Taco — which had taco meat, refried beans, and other toppings on Indian fry bread — and had a taste of the Tatanka Stew, made with buffalo meat. It was my first time trying that meat.
Idaho is known for its potatoes, and the french fries there didn’t disappoint.
I love french fries, so I had to rank Idaho as one of my top states.
I ate at Boise Fry Company, which fittingly operates under the motto of “delicious friends with burgers on the side.”
The menu offered fries made from a variety of potatoes — including russet potatoes, gold potatoes, red potatoes, purple potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes — but I only ordered the Idaho potatoes. However, I got them in every available cut.
They also had 13 different sauces and a number of different seasonings.
When I was in Boise, I also walked alongside the Boise River in search of the famous blue football field at Boise State University’s Albertsons Stadium. Although the field was closed, I was still able to catch a glimpse of the colorful turf.
New Hampshire exposed me to a new side of colonial history.
In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I went on the Black Heritage Trail, which shed a different light on African American history and slavery than I was familiar with from my time in the South.
The Black Heritage Trail consists of about 24 landmarks throughout downtown Portsmouth, each with its own unique story to tell.
I visited in spring, before the popular summer season, and was still able to request a private guided tour.
The tour ended at the African Burying Ground Memorial, which paid tribute to African slave graves that people paved and built over.
Hawaii is hands down my favorite tropical destination.
I stayed on Maui, an absolutely pristine island.
During this tour, we stopped at many sites including Wai’ānapanapa State Park, a roadside cave, a waterfall, and a beach full of giant sea turtles.
Alaska is filled with action and adventure, and I’m already looking forward to my return.
Snow and hot springs may seem like an interesting combination, but that’s exactly what I saw when I visited Fairbanks, Alaska.
Although I originally went to see the Northern Lights, I wasn’t able to catch them since the clouds weren’t cooperating. Luckily, there was much more to do than just look up at the sky. For example, I ate a reindeer-sausage crepe and soaked in the Chena Hot Springs.
Alaska was the last state I visited, but I left knowing that I have to return.
Arizona has a winning combination of great food and gorgeous nature.
Scottsdale has no shortage of good eats, like Sugar Bowl, a great ice cream shop to grab a cone and cool off from the Arizona heat.
A short trek from Scottsdale, Montezuma Castle is a fascinating historic indigenous landmark.
Plus, Sedona was absolutely gorgeous. I ventured on a heart-dropping bus tour that took me high up the mountains.