Forests, deserts, major cities - the USA has pretty much everything a visitor could want! The varied natural landscape and hospitality of Americans also mean that one trip will probably not be enough. The USA is an ideal destination for nature lovers. The sheer size of the country makes it possible to see a variety of different landscapes and species.
The 50 states of the USA cover an area of 9,158,960 km², making it 25 times as large as Germany. The country borders Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. This enormous country boasts endless mountain ranges, peaks and mountain chains. A number of rivers wind their way through the land of opportunity. The three Great Lakes, Superior, Huron and Michigan are located in the north-east of the country. The USA can be divided into seven geographical regions: the Atlantic Plain, Appalachian Highlands, Laurentian Upland, Interior Plains, Rocky Mountains, Great Basin and Pacific Coast. The origins and topography of each region vary significantly. You can admire the beautiful landscapes formed by rivers like the Mississippi or Colorado, or take a hike through the impressive Sierra Nevada, Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges.
The Atlantic coast in the east is relatively flat and characterized by beautiful beaches and cliffs. In the southern part of the Atlantic coast the Everglades and the third largest coral reef on earth can be found. The highlands of the Appalachian Mountains run from northern Maine to southern Alabama. With a height of 2.040 m Mount Michel in North Carolina is the highest mountain of the Appalachian Mountains. The Canadian Shield is located between Lake Superior and the Adirondacks Mountains in the northeast of New York. The inner plain runs along the Mississippi River and the Missouri River. It covers an area which runs from the large lakes in Illinois and Arkansas to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. The inner plain is characterized by agricultural flats. The more than 1.500 km wide Rocky Mountains stretches across the entire North American continent. With 4.396 m Mount Elbert has the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains. In the so-called Great Basin many salt lakes in dry desert regions can be found. The Great Basin also includes the desert of Mojave, the Colorado Plateau and the famous Grand Canyon. The landscape is mainly formed by the Colorado River. The western border of the Great Basin is Sierra Nevada. Together with the Cascades it is located on the Pacific coast of the country. On the northern part of the Pacific coast the 4000 m high summits of Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens volcano can be found. In the South Mount Whitney is the highest mountain of Sierra Nevada. It is 4.418 m high.
The flora and fauna of the USA is as diverse as its landscapes. On the east coast and along the Sierra Nevada old Sequoia forests can be found. Due to its tropical temperatures the southeast of the country is known for its high biodiversity, but also the state of Alaska is home to some unique animals like dears, polar bears and moose.
Due to its size the USA are located in different climate zones. In the North temperatures are generally lower than in the South. On the seaside the air is more humid than in the center and the seasons are less extreme. The climate on the west coast is much more temperate than on the east coast. The central west (states of Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio) has a quite diverse climate. Temperatures can range from 0 °C to 30 °C. The rainfall rate is quite high, especially between spring and autumn. Besides that Iowa is known as the tornado state. Up to 48 tornados per year occur in this area. The climate in Alaska ranges from continental to subpolar. In Hawaii the temperatures are tropical.
In the USA there are six different time zones:
Eastern Standard Time (EST) UTC-5
Central Standard Time (CST) UTC-6
Mountain Standard Time (MST) UTC-7
Pacific Standard Time (PST) UTC-8
Alaskan Standard Time (AKST) UTC-10
Hawaiian Standard Time (HST) UTC-11 GMT
Arizona is the only state which does not have daylight saving time
The currency in the USA is Dollar. For the current exchange rate please visit www.oanda.com
In the US the unit Fahrenheit (F) is used to indicate the temperature. Just for you to know: 10 °C is equal to 50 °F, 28 °C is equal to 82 °F. General rule: °C = (°F – 32)/1,8
1 mile is equal to 1,6 km
1 pound (lbs) is 0,45 kg and 1 ounce is 28 gram
To recharge cameras, phones or other electronical devices you need an adapter. The voltage is at 110 Volt. Before your departure you should make sure that you can use your devices in the US.
To rent a car you must be over 21. Consider that you must pay high insurance costs as long as you are under 25. Apart from that you should always obey speed limits. If you drive too fast, you get caught very quickly.
Long distance busses are a convenient way to travel across the country. Some well-known bus companies are: https://www.greyhound.com/, http://us.megabus.com/, http://peterpanbus.com/ or https://www.boltbus.com/.
Every larger city in the US has its own airport. Going by airplane is definitely the fastest way of travelling but not the cheapest one!
The US-Americans are generally very hospitable and helpful, but there are some rules to obey:
The number of highlights and sightseeing spots are nearly endless. Every region has its own geographic specialties. If you want to get to know the different natural areas of the country, you can visit one of the 59 national parks. For further information please visit http://www.nps.gov/index.htm.
Most national parks have got own websites where you can find any information you need, e.g. entry fees, camping regulations, hiking paths etc.
National park rangers make sure, that tourists obey all rules of behavior. They are very strict in doing that but also helpful and open-minded. There are some rules that should be obeyed in every US-American national park:
California is located on the west coast of the USA and is characterized by beaches, endless mountain chains, sequoia tree forests and the Death Valley. Surfing, skiing, snowboarding, horse riding, hiking or just relaxing at the beach: California offers a lot of possibilities.
The coast of California is around 1.300 km long and runs from the state of Oregon to the Mexican border. In the east California shares borders with Nevada and Arizona. The largest cities are San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. They are located at the seaside. The capital Sacramento is located in the backcountry. In the Northwest you can find the famous Redwood forest. The North is characterized by volcanic mountain chains and forests. The east is well-known for the Sierra Nevada with its impressive waterfalls and steep cliffs made of granite. Sand dunes, dry planes and sandstones form the South of the state.
In California the climate is rather temperate. On the coast temperatures are generally lower than in the central areas. In the desert it can be extremely hot by day and very cold at night. During the summer months it rains less than during winter. Generally the rainfall rates vary a lot depending on the region. In summer temperatures rise above 20 °C, in winter they are around 10 °C.
The 411.000 km2 large state of California is located between two tectonic plates. Their clash leads to the famous San-Andreas-fault. Due to the convergent plate edges California is an area of high earthquake occurrence. Besides that it is characterized my mountainous areas and volcanos. Geomorphologically California can be divided into 12 different regions which all cause different kinds of climate conditions.
California is home to many different animals such as black bears, wolfs, squirrels, Capricorns, mountain lions, big brown bats or desert iguanas. For more information about California’s fauna, please take a look at: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/biogeodata/cwhr/cawildlife.aspx
Redwood National Park: Redwoods and Sequoia trees can reach heights of more than 100 meters. In case you want to see one of these giants you should not muss a visit at Redwood National Park.
Lassen Volcanic Park: Get an impression of California’s volcanic character and climb the Lassen Peak Volcano in a beautiful landscape comprising endless forests and crystal clear lakes.
Yosekmite National Park: The park is part of the Sierra Nevada. This is a perfect place to enjoy the untouched nature and hiking adventures.
Death Valley National Park: Experience the desert in one of the USA’s hottest places. Temperatures can rise above 50 °C (!) here, so better do not forget your sunscreen.
Information for travelers:
More than 360 sunny days make Florida the so-called Sunshine State. Long beaches give you the chance to enjoy the sea and spend your spare time. Go on a kayak ride on the Florida Keys or explore the famous Everglades.
Florida shares borders with the states of Georgia and Alabama. The east side is located at the Atlantic Ocean, the west side at the Gulf of Mexico. The largest cities are Orlando and Miami. Together with Hawaii Florida is one of the most southern states of the USA. It extends over an area of 170.000 km2. More than 1.060 km of the 1.930 km long coast are beaches. Besides that there are more than 17.000 km of waterways and a lot of lakes and rivers. With 440 km the St. Johns is the longest river of Florida.
Florida can be considered as peninsula. The high planes of the state mainly consist of limestone. The landscapes are characterized by many lakes, rivers, underground springs, caves and dolines. The beaches are made of sand. Florida’s southern peak is well known due to the tropical landscape which is formed by the Everglades.
There are two main climate zones in Florida. The Northwest as well as the central part are rather cold during winter and hot during summer. The South is warm or hot all over the year.
In Florida you have got the chance to see wild alligators, sea cows and many different bird species. Some of these animals are highly endangered, e.g. the Florida panther. The heraldic animal lives in the Everglades and is technically no panther, but a puma. Also Manatees are endangered animals. If you are lucky, you can observe them in the coastal areas around Florida. They are very peaceful animals and related to elephants. For several years the green iguana spreads over Florida. These fascinating reptiles are vegetarians and can reach lengths of over 2 meters.
Everglades National Park in the South.
Gulf Island National Park: Here you can find white beaches, lots of possibilities to do a hiking tour and beautiful nature spots.
Timucuan National Park: It is a perfect place to do a tour by kayak and explore the unique diversity of birds in this area.
Aloha and e komo mai! Welcome to Hawaii, the most southern state of the USA! This is the place of white beaches, hot summers, crystal clear sea and volcanos. No matter if it is summer or winter, in Hawaii everything happens outside. You will have the chance to learn how to surf, to observe wild whales in their natural environment, to do a hiking trip through the rainforest or to climb the summit of Mauna Loa Volcano.
Hawaii consists of more than 100 single islands. The main islands are Kaua`i, O`ahu, Moloka`i, Lana`i, Maui and Hawai`i Island. Landscapes formed by lava can be found on Hawaii Island. Kauai Island is famous for its thick rainforests and steep cliffs. Due to its isolation from the mainland, there are many endemic animals and plants in Hawaii.
Hawaii is a unique place due to its volcanic character. A so called hot spot under the pacific continental plate causes the volcanic activity in this area. Many of the Hawaiian Islands were created because of the continental drift of these plates. Furthermore Hawaii is the place of the world most active volcano, the so called Kilauea. Since 1840 it erupted more than 60 times. The volcanic activity in Hawaii makes the soil alkaline. It consists of basalts and olivine stones. Therefore the beaches are not only white but also black and green sometimes. Hawaii is one of few places in the world where the natural flow of lava can be observed. The two main kinds of lava are called Phoephoe-lava and Aa-lava.
The climate is quite hot and tropical and temperatures range from 25 °C to 30°C all over the year. At night, temperatures can cool down to 5 °C. In the highlands, e.g. on top of the Maina Kea, it even snows sometimes, so that skiing and snowboarding is a convenient way to spend your free time. If you are no big fan of winter sports, you can go for a diving trip instead. Water temperatures are temperate all over the year.
In Hawaii there are numerous bird species like the honeycreeper, which is endemic and characterized by its long beak and its shiny feathers. Furthermore the coastal areas are home to the highly endangered hawksbill turtle. It only comes to shore during the reproduction season to put its eggs into self-dug holes on the beach.
Many national parks allow you to deepen your knowledge about Hawaii’s flora and fauna. The Haleakala National Park in Maui Island is a perfect place to explore the diversity of nature on a hiking tour and to climb the summit of Haleakala. Even though English is the main language, you will hear a lot of people here speaking Hawaiian language. This language is even taught in some schools on the island.
A hui hou! See you soon in Hawaii!
North Carolina is the place of forests, mountains and long beaches along the Atlantic coast.
North Carolina can be divided into three regions: the mountainous region, the Piedmont and the Atlantic coast. In the East of the Smoky Mountains are bordering the state of Tennessee. As well as the Blue Ridge Mountains they are part of the Appalachian Mountains. Along the Atlantic coast numerous dunes and marsh landscapes are home to various bird species.
The three-part landscape of North Carolina was caused by tectonic plate drift and weather. The clash between two plates was the birth hour of the Appalachian Mountains. Over time they got eroded by rainfalls, snow and melting water. Scree and sediments were transported into eastern direction and were deposited along the coast. The Pedmont Plateau is located between the coast and the mountains.
North Carolina is the transition zone between the temperate and the subpolar climate. Summers are basically very warm and winters quite cold. Anyway it is not freezing a lot in this area.
In the Great Smoky Mountains there are many black bears, over 240 bird species, foxes, bats and many other species. The biggest mammal is the so called Wapiti, a deer which can reach heights of more than 1,50 m and weights between 230 kg and 400 kg. Since the 17th century Wapitis were almost extinct in this area but in 2001 the animals were resettled and their populations recovered.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park: To learn more about North Carolina’s plants and animals, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the best place. It comprises the largest jungle in the USA. In any case it is a special place, especially for mountain bike and winter sports fans.
Cape Hatteras: You can reach this place by car or by fairy. The dune landscapes is an ideal place to go for a hike and watching birds. Also water sports such as surfing, stand-up-paddling and kayaking are convenient ways to spend your free time.
Besides the nature spots there are lots of cultural places in North Carolina like museums and parks which give you a deeper insight into the culture of Cherokee Indians. The city of Ashville which is located in the mountainous area is an insider tip for every arts and culture lover.
Washington State, which is also called the Evergreen State, is located in the West of the USA. The state is characterized by endless forests. If you are into nature and do not mind the frequent absence of sun, you will feel very homey here.
Washington State shares borders with Idaho in the East and Oregon in the South. The Canadian border is located in the North. Washington State’s capital is Olympia. It has around 7 million citizens. The area can be divided into six geographic regions: Olympic Mountains, coast range, Puget lowlands, cascade mountains, Columbia Plateau and the Rocky Mountains. The landscapes are very diverse. They comprise coastal areas, fjords, mountain chains and semiarid basins. One of the most famous rivers of Washington State is the Columbia river.
Washington State is characterized by tectonic drift and volcanic activity which caused the high number of mountain chains. Besides that the landscape was influenced by erosions and glaciers, so that nowadays you can find many canyons, valleys and karst landscapes.
There are slight differences between East and West. The West is dominated by a temperate, humid climate, the East is colder and dryer. Temperatures range between 11 °C and 4 °C. The maximum detected temperature was at 47 °C, the lowest one at -44 °C. Washington State has high rainfall rates, especially in the West. Because of the mostly cloudy weather, it is an ideal place to grow fruits and vegetables.
A special trait of Washington State are the large forests and giant trees. Over 52 % of the total area are covered by forests, most of them in the Northern Cascades. There you can find various kinds of coniferous trees like pines and cedars.
Indigenous animals are black bears, coyotes, moose and bald eagles, which can be observed in the Skagit Bald Eagle Natural Area.
Mount Rainier National Park is the place of glaciers, lakes and thick forests. In Olympic National Park you can find the longest, continuous coast line of the USA as well as fascinating rainforests. The Northern Cascades National Park stands out due to its beautiful alpine landscapes which are a dream come true for every nature lover.
The Pasayten Wilderness Nature Conservation Area in the East of the Cascades is a place of rivers, lakes and thick forests. There you can enjoy the untouched nature. Lake Chelan is the second deepest lake of the country. It is surrounded by rocks and trees and filled with crystal clear water.
Oregon has a lot in common with ist neighbour state Washington. Go for a hike though the endless green coniferous forests or explore the small and cozy cafes in one of the big cities.
Oregon has around 3,8 million citizens. The biggest city is Portland. Salem is the capital of Oregon, which is located at the east coast. It shares borders with Washington in the North, Idaho in the West, Nevada in the Southwest and California in the South. In terms of landscapes you can find everything you can dream of: coats, mountains, forests, valleys and dry deserts.
The mountainous chains are caused by volcanic activity of the so called Juan de Fuca plate. With 3.424 m Mount Hood is the highest point of the Cascades. The wild coasts of Oregon are formed by strong winds, water and erosions. In the flat plains there are deciduous mixed forests. A lonely desert extends over the East of Oregon up to the Great Basin.
Oregon is divided into two climate zones by the Cascade range. Generally the climate is more temperate and influenced by the ocean. The East of the state is quite dry and the temperatures can vary a lot depending on the daytime. In summer temperatures can rise up to 30 °C, in winter they drop to 8 °C.
In Oregon there is thick vegetation and diverse animals. In the mixed forest you can mainly find firs like redwood trees and cedars. Animals like beavers, moose and deer feel home in these forests. It is no surprise, that the beaver is even the heraldic animal of the Oregon. In the southwestern area there are pronghorn antelopes, different squirrels, opossums and racoons. The coastal areas are home to sea lions, seals, whales and dolphins.
A special place is the so called Crater Lake National Park. Many years ago the Mount Mazama volcano erupted in this area. Its eruption caused the famous and breathtaking Crater lake. It is 589 m deep and considered as the deepest lake of the USA. It is possible to enjoy the crystal clear water by swimming.
The Columbia River is surrounded by a nature spots rich in green and mossy forests. They are the perfect place to take a rest from hiking and to have a picnic, maybe next to one of the numerus waterfalls.
The rocky, wild and untouched coast gives you an impression of how the world looked like before it was populated by humans. Especially Cannon Beach with its impressive rock formations is a must-see!
In case it is getting too humid, you can escape to the desert. In the East you can find the Painted Hills, which obtained different colours due to erosion processes. Some people say it looks like a screen which was painted by an artist.
In this central region one cannot only find tornados and cheese, but also big cities like Chicago and endless plains.
The Midwest comprises the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. It is framed by the Appalachian Mountains in the East and the Rocky Mountains in the West. The landscape is generally flat, but sometimes there are some low geographic elevations.
There is no tectonic or volcanic activity in the Midwest. The foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains make the rather flat landscape a little bit more interesting. Other topographical highlights can be found around the large lakes, in the Ozark Mountains in the South of Missouri or in the so called Driftless Area in the West of Missouri. The relief of the Driftless Area is characterized by deeply eroded river valleys with differences in height between 184 to 524 meters. The Ozark Mountains are part of a past high plateau which was strongly eroded over years and eventually dissected.
The climate is very variable. Temperatures can range from 0 °C in winter and 30 °C in summer. Rainfalls are quite frequent in this area, especially between spring and autumn. There is a rainfall gradient in East-West-direction. Apart from that the Midwest is rich in thunderstorms and tornados. Each year there occur up to 50!
Due to the differences in rainfall rates the vegetation zones in the Midwest are quite diverse. In the East there are mainly high grass plains, in the center different types of grasslands and in the West low grass plains. The thick Hardwood forests were cut completely in the late 19th century, which is why nowadays the Midwest mainly consists of urbanized and agricultural areas.
The fauna is perfectly adapted to the endless grasslands of the Midwest, that is why there are mainly grazing animals like bison. Besides that you can find rabbits, foxes, antelopes, marmots or armadillos. If you are keen-eyed you can even find snakes and lizards in the grasslands.
Chicago is a popular place to visit. The “windy city” may be a little bit colder than other places in the Midwest but this is compensated by the rich cultural offer like musicals and concerts.
Nature lovers will find a high number of different national parks such as the Isle Royale National Park in Michigan or the Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Both parks let you feel the wild North of the USA. In the Isle Royale National Park you might even see wolfs and moose.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named after the former president Roosevelt. Impressive rock formations like the Hoodoo Rock and different wildlife trekking tours make this place a must-see for every adventurer. Indigenous animals are bison, coyotes, pumas and wild horses.
In American Southwest you will not only find landscapes you know from western movies like the unique desert region of the Monument Valley tribal park, but also be able to discover the stunningly bizarre landscape of the Grand Canyon. Get to know the “Grand Canyon State” with its diverse national parks, beautiful desert settings and unique flora and fauna.
Arizona is located in the southwestern region of the USA and as a “Four Corners State” it borders on New Mexico in the east, Utah in the north and Colorado in the north east. On the other side, Arizona borders on Nevada in the north-west, California in the west and Mexico in the south. With an area of more than 295,000 km² Arizona is the sixth largest state in the USA with large areas being part of Native American reservations. The largest cities in the state is the capital city Phoenix followed by the metropolitan areas Tucson and Yuma that are all located in the lower Basin and Range Province. Compared to the higher Colorado Plateau this region offers better conditions for settlement as the water supply is good and industry as well as agriculture are better established. The landscape is mainly dominated by deserts, basins and ranges as well as canyons with a topography shaped by subduction and volcanism. Moreover, today’s landscape was majorly influenced and formed by the Colorado River that carved deep canyons into the layers of sedimentary rock.
Arizona’s climate varies widely due to the large area of the state. In general, climate in desert areas in lower elevation is hot and dry with exceptionally hot summers and mild winters. Temperatures may vary in the range of 32 to 49°C in the warmest month from June to September and range from 4 to 24°C during the coldest months from November to February with occasional frost possible. In these lower regions there are two rainy seasons. During winter and the monsoon season in summer the hot air contains relatively large amounts of water which leads to a high amount of usually brief downpour accompanied by wind, lightning and thunderstorms. In higher altitudes semiarid/arid climate is dominant. Summers are generally mild in this region and winters are cold with temperatures as low as -18°C.
Arizona’s desert landscape can be divided in the lower Basin and Range Province and the Colorado Plateau Province in higher altitudes. The geological history in this state is dominated by mountain building processes due to plate tectonics and subduction in combination with volcanism and numerous cycles of erosion. In the Colorado Plateau Province water has cut its way through nearly flat layers sedimentary rock, mainly red sandstone, and formed numerous canyons of which the Grand Canyon Region is probably the most popular one. Arizona is also known as the “Copper State” as there are numerous deposits of which some are mined in open pits in the Basin and Range Province. Besides this also other mineral deposits like copper-gold and zinc sulfide can be found in Arizona as well as energy resources like coal, uranium and oil.
As the climate in Arizona is in general quite hot and dry, the biodiversity of flora and fauna is relatively sparse. In the semiarid/arid regions of the state species of cacti are widely common as well as yuccas and the tree prosopis that are able to grow on arid soil and are resistant to drought. Largest mammals in this region like the white-tailed deer, mule deer as well as wapitis belong to the deer family. Moreover, pronghorns and bighorn sheep are common mammals in different elevations in Arizona. In more remote areas bears as well as other predators like cougars and different mustelidae species like martens and badgers can be found. Besides that the desert region is home to numerous lizards, spiders and snakes.
Grand Canyon National Park
During your stay in Arizona a visit to the Grand Canyon National Park in central north-west of the state can be recommended. This region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers fantastic impressions of the force of the Colorado River that has caved its way through numerous layers of sediment rock. The stunning canyon landscape within a desert region will definitely be a highlight that you will remember for a long time.
Petrified-Forest National Park
The Petrified-Forest National Park in the central east of Arizona on the Colorado River Plateau is also worth a visit. The National Park is located in Navajo and Apache counties and was named for its extensive deposits of petrified wood from the late Triassic that are located in a semi-desert shrub steppe and is also known for the colourful and highly eroded sedimentary rock.
Saguaro National Park
Particularly those who would like to get to know Arizona’s special desert landscape with its unique flora and fauna should definitely consider a trip to the Saguaro National Park on the southern border to Mexico. The National Park that was named after the giant tree-like saguaro cactus that can grow up to 12 m and was designated to protect this species and conserve its habitat. This slow growing cactus that is common in the Sonoran Desert can develop characteristic upwards bending arms as it ages.
The Monument Valley is another highlight in Arizona, especially for fans of western movies that were produced in this area. This region on the Colorado Plateau is characterized by several sandstone buttes of which the highest one is about 300 m high. Buttes are usually formed due to a hard caprock overlaying less resistant layers. The surrounding rock is degraded by erosion and weathering while the formation underneath the harder top layer is spared.