12 Most Extreme Places in America
In a country known for extremes, it's more than merely impressive to stand out from the crowd. From the tiniest town imaginable to one of the hottest places on earth, these twelve places embody our nation's capacity for wonder.
Get there: Round-trip flights on American Airlines from Chicago to Albuquerque start at $450. Sky City Casino and Hotel has an onsite restaurant, fitness facility, and spa (Acoma Village, skycitycasino.com, doubles from $84).
Biggest city: New York City
New York has been the most populous city in the U.S. since the first census was taken in 1790, but it wasn't until the inauguration of the Erie Canal in 1825 that its numbers really took off, nearly tripling by 1840. By connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie, the waterway ushered in a new era in trade that rocketed the city to the economic preeminence it enjoys to this day. For visitors, that prosperity translates into unparalleled art collections, theater, music, and cuisine. And while world-class museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim can come with a hefty suggested donation, New York also offers some of the choicest low-cost—or free— attractions anywhere in the world, including holiday department-store displays, the immense Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and public skating rinks in several locations, including cozy Bryant Park, right in Midtown.
Get there: Round-trip flights on Delta from Atlanta start at $254. The Jane Hotel is right on the Hudson River in the bustling, vibrant West Village; its bunk-bed "cabin" room is incredibly reasonable by NYC standards (113 Jane St., thejanenyc.com, doubles from $125).
Smallest town: Buford, WY
It doesn't get any smaller than Buford. Why? Because the town has only one resident, Don Simmons, the proprietor of The Buford Trading Post, a gas station and convenience store. If you're making a cross-country road trip on Interstate 80, it's worth stopping in Buford (between Cheyenne and Laramie) just to say hi, and to tell the folks back home that you've seen it. And since the town was purchased in an auction in September, it's not clear how long it will hold its title. Looking to do more than just pass through Buford? Nearby Vedauwoo State Park offers a breathtaking mountain landscape that flatlanders back east would die for.
Get there: Well, you're not going to fly to Wyoming just to see little Buford, but round-trip flights on Frontier from San Francisco to Cheyenne, about 30 miles away, start at $478. Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Cheyenne has an indoor pool, complimentary breakfast, and is near the historic Wyoming State Capitol (1741 Fleischli Parkway, hiexpress.com, doubles from $109).
Birthplace of the most presidents: Virginia
While most grade-school students know that four of the first five presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe) were born in Virginia, the list goes on: Harrison, Tyler, Taylor, and Wilson also entered the world in the Old Dominion. That historical density is reflected in the variety of amazing attractions you can find in Virginia, including historic downtown Richmond, the re-created colonial town of Williamsburg, Washington's estate at Mount Vernon, the home Jefferson designed for himself at Monticello, the National Cemetery at Arlington (on the grounds of what was once Confederate General Robert E. Lee's estate), and such Civil War battlefields as Manassas and Fredericksburg.
Get there: Round-trip flights on United AirTran from St. Louis to Norfolk (near Colonial Williamsburg) start at $491. Crowne Plaza Williamsburg was built on the Fort Magruder battleground and is walking distance to Colonial Williamsburg and the Jamestown Settlement; indoor and outdoor pools provide a welcome break from theme-park and historic-site frenzy (6945 Pocahontas Trail, crowneplaza.com, doubles from $99).
Biggest lake: Lake Superior
With an area of nearly 32,000 square miles, Lake Superior is not only the largest lake in the United States but also the largest freshwater lake in the world. Bounded by Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, this northernmost and westernmost of the Great Lakes was carved by glaciers 10,000 years ago and is so big (roughly the size of South Carolina) that it has its own climate, more akin to a coastal region than one so far inland. Among many beautiful parks and beaches along the lake's shores, Isle Royale National Park is perhaps the standout, with world-class canoe and kayak routes, hiking, and even scuba diving the lake's depths. Visit nps.gov/isro to start planning your visit.