14 to go: Ranking my Unvisited US States
Updated: Apr 13, 2022
As of 2022 I've visited 36 US States, with a goal of hitting the remaining 14 by my 50th birthday. I had originally aimed for 40 states by age 40, but unfortunately the clock is gonna run out on that one. The next decade should be a busy one, travel-wise!
Before giving a brief run-through of the 14 states I haven't yet set foot in, I wanted to highlight four "honorable mentions" that I've technically visited but spent extremely little time in:
Time spent: 1 full day, 2 nights (January 2008)
Places visited: Grand Canyon, Route 66, Flagstaff (overnight only)
Would return to see: Grand Canyon, Tucson/Saguaro NP, Sedona area
My lone Arizona experience was part of a 5-day southwestern road trip with Alyse, our first trip of any significance since we'd met in 2004. We spent a scant few hours at Grand Canyon National Park, and it goes without saying that a return visit with Julia is in the cards someday. This is to say nothing of the rest of the state, which I've never explored at all. At least the Route 66 road trip west to Kingman and into California for the first time was memorable!
Time spent: 1 afternoon, 1 night (June 2017)
Places visited: Bridge of the Gods, Camas, Vancouver (overnight only)
Would return to see: Seattle, Olympic NP, North Cascades NP
On postscript to the 2017 Given Latitude trip which ended in Portland, Dad and I took a drive eastward on the Columbia River Byway. After our boat tour in Cascade Locks, we crossed the bridge northward and hugged the river westbound on our way back to our accommodations in Vancouver. Have I been to Washington? Yes. Have I seen but one itty bitty corner of this magnificent state? A resounding no.
Time spent: a few hours (April 2018)
Places visited: Cloudland Canyon State Park
Would return to see: Savannah, Jekyll Island
I checked Georgia off my list four years ago, despite only spending a few hours hiking around a nearly-blooming state park in the state's extreme northwest corner. After a conference in Nashville I had overnighted in a spartan Airbnb in Huntsville, AL (literally had to make my own bed and sleep in it) before my return flight out of Chattanooga. When planning the trip I'd excitedly noticed that I could clip the corner of Georgia before heading back, so clip I did.
While Atlanta is mildly intriguing, my real desire to return to Georgia lies in the Savannah area. Taking in an early spring, perambulating precisely-planned squares and historic architecture. Visiting the nearby coastline. What's not to love?
Time spent: ~ 3 days (March 2019)
Places visited: Denver, Red Rocks, Estes Park
Would return to see: Rocky Mountain NP, other mountainy sights
Another work-related trip on which I only had a couple of half-days to sightsee with my brother Evan, I've spent more time in Colorado than in the other three listed. While we did technically drive through (and briefly exit the car in) Rocky Mountain National Park, it was like dipping a single toe in the Pacific and claiming you've experienced it. A return trip is almost inevitable, especially given that two of its adjacent states are on my "Final 14" list...
With that segue, here are the 14 states I've never visited, in order of least to greatest desirability. Before proceeding, I'll add that I'm a firm believer that there are amazing sights to see in any state. In fact, some of my best travel experiences have come in out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-track locales. Therefore, you could drop me off in any of these (or any of the other 36) and I'm confident I'd be making memories in no time...
While there's not much specific that draws me to the Sooner State, I am interested in the 98% of Route 66 I've never driven upon. The Native American culture also intrigues me.
Kansas is another one I'm not exactly banging down the door to visit. My primary interest here would be the frontier history and wide open landscapes.
I know very little about Arkansas, other than its "Natural State" moniker. Surely there are intriguing Ozark landscapes, but might much of the state resemble a southern version of New Hampshire with even smaller hills?
People rave about Las Vegas, but truth be told it holds no appeal to me. I try to run the other way from gambling, debauchery, and superficial glitz, which seem to be about 93% of the state's allure. While there are some intriguing nearby landscapes (I hear good things about Valley of Fire State Park, for instance), hundreds of thousands of square miles of desert make it a generally 'meh' place to me.
The history (musical and otherwise) puts Mississippi into 10th position. Then there's the Gulf - I'm always partial to warm places with water - especially during brutal NH winters.
9) NORTH DAKOTA / 8) MINNESOTA
Speaking of brutal winters, the next two states have it even worse than New Hampshire. The main attraction for me in North Dakota would be the wilds of Theodore Roosevelt NP in the western part of the state.
The eminently livable Twin Cities and an abundance of sparkling lakes put Minnesota into 8th place. I also have a colleague/friend I'd like to visit someday, so bonus points for that. If I'm making my way to one of these states, I'd really like to hit the other while I'm in the Upper Midwest, despite the fact they dwarf northeastern states with their massive brawn.
Brawn - another great segue to the next state on the list. Stifling humidity and ultraconservative cowboy culture aren't my jam, but then again there's San Antonio, Austin, a generous coastline, and more unique mountainous landscapes of West Texas. I also have a friend in the Dallas area, so again, it gets some bonus points for that. The sheer size of this monstrous state would ensure that on returning, saying "I've been to Texas" would garner eye rolls from anyone who's truly experienced its vastness. Then again, has anyone?
6) SOUTH CAROLINA
Now we're getting to the states I'd really love to visit. The Carolinas are the last eastern seaboard states I've never set foot in, despite having been to Virginia multiple times, as well as Tennessee and Georgia (albeit for only a few hours - see above). I'm guessing I'm not the only one for whom Charleston is the biggest bucket list place in the Palmetto State. Culture, history, beautiful winter/spring weather (again, living in NH the bar is set pretty low) make it all the more desirable.
5) NORTH CAROLINA
I ranked North Carolina slightly higher because of its more varied landscapes. While NC may have less Charleston-esque, wow-inducing cities, it has both a fantastic coastline and - hundreds of miles away - glorious Appalachian mountainscapes. There are a variety of North Carolina regions I'm keen to experience, from the Outer Banks to Asheville and the Great Smokies. In terms of unvisited states, Carolina is most definitely on my mind.
Just the name Montana conjures up images of the wild west: endless, untamed, rugged nature, very little population, and of course Glacier National Park. My daydreams of the classic American West pass squarely through this, the 4th-largest state in the Union. Don't fence me in.
Spectacular wilderness puts Utah into bronze medal position on my state bucket list. How cool is it that my most desired National Parks range from A (Arches) to Z (Zion). While I'm star-struck by the southern third of the state, the north is no flyover country either, with pristine mountain landscapes interspersed with the hoppin' Mormon stronghold of SLC.
2) NEW MEXICO
Why did I rank New Mexico second, you might be thinking, when the somewhat-similar Nevada only came in 11th? Two words: Santa Fe. This, the oldest state capital in the US, is a hotbed of arts and more layers of culture than a Super Bowl Sunday bean dip. I'd love to spend a few days here and then get out to explore the rest of the state. Culture, history, mountains, and an incredible sense of place. Where do I sign up?
I don't think anyone will be surprised by my #1 bucket list state: the impossibly exotic tropical paradise of Hawai'i. The crème de la crème of Hawai'i (in my opinion) is the island of Kauai, which puts even fantasies to shame. If photos of the waterfall-speckled, greener-than-Saint-Paddy's day mountains plunging into the teal Pacific are drool-inducing, I can't even imagine the impact of being right in the scene. Of course, I wouldn't turn down a visit to any of the islands - Hawai'i is a place where outward beauty is present at every turn.
So there you have it: 36 down, 14 to go. What will I do when I've finally seen all 50? Well, by then I'll probably be an old fart so a baggy t-shirt commemorating the occasion may be in the cards. Also, having only been to 4 of 12 Canadian Provinces (and 0 of 3 Territories), I would gladly look north if time permits...