The United States is a big place with a lot of ground to cover. So what is buzzing for travellers in the coming year? Here are our top 10 picks for US destinations that should be on your radar in 2012.

US Virgin Islands
In a year when travellers are likely to still be watching their wallets, the US Virgin Islands are our number one choice for an American tropical getaway. The US territory is eternally warm,  rimmed with white-sand beaches on turquoise water, and each of the islands has their own identity. If you want a break from the resorts, St John is nearly two-thirds lush national park, with tent cabins amid trees and hikes to secluded beaches. This sadly may be the last year for the Maho Bay Camps, a long-standing eco-resort that is the place to stay if you are watching your budget; or try the St John Inn which offers great value rooms with kitchenettes. For more action, the previously inaccessible Hassel Island, now part of Virgin Islands National Park on St Thomas, can be explored by snorkel or kayak, and the Captain Morgan Rum Distillery on St Croix will open its new visitor centre in the spring.

Hudson River Valley, New York
Any visitor to New York City should spend a day or two in the Hudson River Valley, a slice of rural Americana just north of the city. Its leafy drives, wineries and farm-to-table food options draw even spoiled-for-choice Manhattanites. A favourite spot to stay is former B-52s singer Kate Pierson’s Lazy Meadow, a renovated 1950s cabin complex near Woodstock.

Cincinnati, Ohio
This pretty city on the Ohio River (and off the main cross-country interstates) often gets bypassed by road trippers, but in the last decade, it has quietly transformed itself into a worthy weekend getaway. The narrow, twisting, steep brick roads of the Mount Adams district lead past the free Cincinnati Art Museum and 19th-century Victorian townhouses, while the emerging Over-the-Rhine neighbourhood, just north of downtown, is home to the Findlay Market and a sprawling collection of historic Italianate architecture. Best though, is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, open since 2004, on the banks of the river where many slaves escaped to freedom in the 19th Century.

Four corners region, southwestern United States
This underappreciated region where the borders of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet is a geological and archaeological wonderland. You can see the sandstone towers of Arizona’s Monument Valley, pop into one of Utah’s national parks and visit Colorado’s Mesa Verde (abandoned cliff dwellings). Then top your visit off by straddling all four states at once.

Culebra, Puerto Rico
If you are planning a beach holiday, do not forget Puerto Rico, just a short hop from the US mainland. The island is renowned for its great beaches, but the best spot -- still a secret to most visitors -- is the world-class Playa Flamenco on the offbeat, laid-back island of Culebra, 17 miles off Puerto Rico’s main island. Reached by ferry or flight, Culebra is great for beach-hopping, snorkelling or hiking. You can find affordable beachside apartments, such as Villa Flamenco Beach, while the personable, cheaper Palmetto Guesthouse offers free water-sports gear.

California Gold Country
Tahoe and Yosemite gets all the mountain love in California, but an hour closer to San Francisco is Gold Country (it is also cheaper and less crowded). Towns oozing century-old ambience are strung out along Highway 49, a fun drive that passes Jamestown’s historic train, the tiny gold town of Volcano, wineries (some even consider the region a contender to Napa and Sonoma), caves, gold-panning spots and a good overnight choice, the artsy town of Nevada City. Winter is also a treat with snow parks for kids and Bear Valley for hard-core winter sports -- plus there are sledding options galore.

Boulder, Colorado
The university town of Boulder is one of the most liveable cities in US. Locals live for the outdoors, and adventure can be found at every turn. Main roads are filled with cyclists, except for the bustling pedestrian-only Pearl Street Mall, which is lined with great eateries and brewpubs. There is also a bike path along Boulder Creek, which gets filled with tubers in summer. The Royal Arch Trail is a two-hour hike though a challenging red-rock canyon. And in winter, do not overlook Nederland’s goofy Frozen Dead Guy festival, 17 miles west of Boulder.

Hawaii, the Big Island
For too long. Hawaii has meant Honolulu, but a rise in direct flights from the US mainland to Kona on the Big Island means that getting to this magical place has never been easier. Plan to stay as long as you can as there is a wide variety of attractions on offer: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, snorkelling in Kealakekua Bay, hiking along the lava field at Hilina Pai or just relaxing on the island’s best beach at Hapuna.

The Windy City is going to be busy in 2012, with the G8 and NATO summits based here, but the city’s main attraction lies outside politics. Chicago has incredible art offerings at the Art Institute and Millennium Park, some of the country’s best restaurants, and world-class festivals like Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago. And Hyde Park, the Obamas’ old neighbourhood, is seeing more visitors for its lakeside walks and a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s “prairie style” Robie House, up this year for World Heritage site status.

Yellowstone National Park
The world’s first national park -- turning 140 this  year -- attracts nearly four million visitors each year, but just a trickle of these visit in winter. Rates are lower (the Old Faithful Snow Lodge has rooms for a fraction of summer rates), and the scenery has its own wintery majesty, when waterfalls turn to curtains of ice, geysers shoot higher and boiling rivers billow with steam. You can get around by ski shuttles, snowshoe (rangers lead free tours) or cross-country skis, as hiking trails of all levels transform into some of the country’s best trails. Why wait for summer?

The article 'The top 10 US travel destinations for 2012' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.