North America travel guide, including map of North America
If you want epic, you’ve come to the right place. The vast territory that makes up the US and Canada is a place of mythic journeys, eye-boggling scenery, and – beyond those headline-grabbing, culture-dominating cities – raw wilderness.
The US National Parks Service oversees nearly 400 protected areas, including Yellowstone (the oldest) and Alaska’s Wrangell St-Elias (the biggest; larger than Switzerland). And north of the 49th parallel, Canada has endless emptiness, home to wolf, bear and moose, much of which can only be accessed by floatplane.
So, given the scale of the place, your first thought should be how to get around. Domestic flights are extensive and affordable (particularly if you buy an air pass), but for romance and views stick at ground level. Hire a car or a campervan, ride the Greyhound bus or take the Amtrak railway (in the US) or VIA Rail (in Canada) for a days-long trundle between cities.
Some of the best journeys are offshore, too: the ferry journey through Alaska’s Inside Passage is a gold-rush history lesson and whale-watching extravaganza rolled into one.
Once you’ve got your transport sorted, pick your highlights. You’d need months to scratch the surface of the whole continent, so instead focus on a big trip (coast to coast, Route 66, California’s Pacific Coast Highway) or a region (the Great Lakes; the ‘Four Corners’ region of the Southwest; Vancouver and the Canadian West). North America may be all about big journeys, but don’t forget to stop and linger too.
Finally, try to meet some of North America’s indigenous people. In the southern US, Native American traditions are alive and well (try New Mexico). In Canada, there’s an increasing variety of First Nations experiences from homestays to Inuit-led wildlife cruises. Their insights prove there’s far more to North American culture than Hollywood and Broadway.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to North America today...
Top 10 North American travel experiences
It would take a lifetime to do proper justice to the variety of experiences on offer in North America, but here are a few ideas for starters
- Take a great rail journey – rail travel is one of the best ways to see great swaths of North America breezing past (many of the trains even have special transparent-roofed viewing carriages for better sightseeing): you're only limited by the amount of time you have. Try an Amtrak or VIA Rail pass for the best value.
- Watch polar bears, Churchill, Manitoba – in the remote, frozen town of Churchill, Canada, nestled on the shores of Hudson Bay, having a good bear story to tell counts for a lot. The good news is it is pretty hard to leave without one of your own. Take to the tundra in a big-wheeled buggy in October/November for the best chance of a sighting.
- Hike the gold-rush trail, Yukon – hike along the Klondike River near Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. About 390 tons of the yellow stuff have been taken from the Klondike area in the century since its discovery – it's worth having a go and panning for some of your own.
- Experience New York State – hike or climb in the Catskills; canoe, kayak, raft and camp as you explore the Finger Lakes; nip into the wineries – there's more to the state than that big city. Though a stop-off in the Big Apple is fun too!
- Ride Alaska’s Marine Highway – Alaska's Marine Highway is a lifeline for remote coastal communities – luckily, it is also the best way to see Alaska's rugged wilderness, scenic beauty and abundant wildlife as the ferries run up the Inside Passage and out to the Aleutian Islands.
- Cycle Canada’s Gulf Islands – try pedal-powered island-hopping on the southern, Canadian section of the bohemian Gulf Islands archipelago: Saltspring, Pender, Saturna, Mayne and Galiano islands await.
- Explore Arctic wilderness, Nunavut, Canada – Nunavut is a land so vast and harsh that few people have even dared to explore it. Visit Nunavut and witness how the Inuit have thrived for centuries in harmony with the extreme conditions and rugged landscape.
- Gawp at the Grand Canyon, Arizona – stare, open-mouthed as nearly two billion years of geological history lays exposed at your feet. Stand on the rim for great vistas, or hike down into the canyon, camp at the bottom and hike out the next day. Perhaps the ultimate trip: raft the length of the Colorado River for the true insider's view.
- Camp with wolves, Isle Royale NP – one of the USA's remote national parks is a great place to camp out and listen for wolves at night as they call to each other across the island.
- Discover wild Hawaii – the USA's Pacific-marooned state is more than themed aloha-luaus: hike lava fields and volcanos, and spot dolphins, whales and sea turtles, wild deer and boar when you get off the beaten track.