Off the Grid: Left Side U.S. Cities That’ll Surprise You

Travel Lists

There’s a lot to see in America. By area, we sit at number four in the world. By population, we are number three. The country ranks second after France as the most visited nation; first in terms of time and money spent.

Like all stories, there are two sides to the United States. The older, more densely populated Eastern half. And the younger, wide-open Western half. Because they were voted “most popular” in high school, you’re already familiar with New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando and Las Vegas.

All deserving places. But if you want to experience something a little more enigmatic on your next trip, consider one of these Left-side bergs to offset the right side American cities we highlighted a couple months back. They might surprise you.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Behold, the largest city in the Land of Enchantment. Although overshadowed by Santa Fe, Albuquerque (pictured above) is striking, colorful and enveloped by mountains. In early October, it’s also home to largest hot-air balloon festival in the world. With the Rio Grande running through it, here you can see 500-year-old Spanish architecture, 280 days of sun each year and green chile everything.

Provo, Utah

Photo: a4gpa, CC_BY

After relocating his Mormon followers some 1,300 miles to the promised land, Brigham Young stopped and reputedly said, “This is the place,” while pointing to what would become Salt Lake City. Some, living 40 miles to the south, however, believe the recorder got it wrong and that Young was really pointing to Provo. For its nearby mountain hiking, popular canyon, famous river trail and happy residents, numerous publications regularly regard it with similar esteem.

Rapid City, South Dakota

The Dakotas don’t get much love. And if there’s one place capable of changing your opinion of them, this is it. Rapid City matters because it’s the convenient gateway to so much scenery. The haunting Black Hills, including Devil’s Tower, Mount Rushmore and “Custer State Park”: National grasslands that go on forever. And the otherworldly Badlands National Park.

Boulder, Colorado

Photo: David Stillman,CC-BY

Like Provo, Boulder is a college town that upholds active lifestyles, outdoor recreation and is the recipient of many top rankings. Unlike Provo, Boulder is a lot more secular. But that’s beside the point. Notable points of interest include the Flatirons, Chautauqua and Eldorado Canyon, primarily for hiking. Flagstaff Mountain, Boulder Creek Path and Mesa Trail are also highlights. And there’s more biking paths here than you can shake a stick at. A truly vibrant place.

Boise, Idaho

There’s Seattle and Portland. And then there’s Boise—the third-largest city in the Pacific Northwest. While not as coastal (or liberal) as either of those, Boise is rugged enough for remarkable hiking, skiing, rafting and mountain biking, while staying convenient enough for all the reasons we love cities (good food, shopping and arts). There’s also a lot of trees here. Boise River, Kathryn Albertson Park, Simplot House (which sits atop a giant hill) and Boise State’s Smurf Turf are all standouts.

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Top photo: Duncan Rawlinson, CC_BY

Off the Grid columnist Blake Snow writes epic stories for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies. Visit his website or follow @blakesnow.

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