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The thought of jet-setting to far-off reaches of the world overwhelms travel planning while there are equally unique and unknown places to visit in the US. You’d be surprised how often travelers can forget how beautiful their own country is.
While there are so many well-known places to see, like New York City or DC, the unknown spots in the US are just as beautiful. These smaller, unique places to visit in the US are not as crowded, often far less expensive, and take a bit more exploring than popular destinations.
These lesser-known, hidden vacation spots can cater to a range of travelers who want different things from their trips. Many feature levels of accommodation, from camping to luxury hotels. Just because these are more unknown vacation spots doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to become your new favorite places to visit in the US.
- Best Unique Places to Visit in the US
- 1. Ausable Chasm, New York
- 2. Anna Maria Island, Florida
- 3. North Shore, Minnesota
- 4. Sedona, Arizona
- 5. Willamette National Forest, Oregon
- 6. Door County, Wisconsin
- 7. Devils Tower, Wyoming
- 8. Texas Hill Country
- 9. Assateague Island, Virginia
- 10. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
- 11. Mackinac Island, Michigan
- 12. Big Sky, Montana
- 13. Channel Islands National Park, California
- 14. Dewey Beach, Delaware
- 15. Solvang, California
- 16. Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
- 17. Kanab, Utah
- 18. The Finger Lakes, New York
- 19. Camden, Maine
- 20. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
- 21. Oracle, Arizona
- 22. Block Island, Rhode Island
- 23. Lookout Mountain, Georgia
- 24. The Outer Banks, North Carolina
- 25. Traverse City, Michigan
- 26. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
- 27. Leavenworth, Washington
- 28. Baxter State Park, Maine
- 29. Moloka’i, Hawaii
- 30. Jekyll Island, Georgia
- 31. Woodstock, Vermont
- 32. San Francisco, California
- 33. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
- 34. Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
- 35. Las Vegas, Nevada
- What are some of the best-hidden vacation spots in the US?
- What are the best unknown vacation spots in the US?
- Are there any lesser-known natural wonders or hidden gems worth visiting in the US?
Best Unique Places to Visit in the US
1. Ausable Chasm, New York
Ausable Chasm is truly a hidden gem and one of the natural wonders in Western New York. Although New York City tends to hoard all of the state’s glory, this spot is about five hours northwest. It’s probably a bit tough as a day trip, but once you hit the hiking trails, you’ll quickly realize why it’s so special.
Located on the opposite side of Lake Champlain, this gorge was a naturally made river from a waterfall. Basically, it’s like a mini Niagara Falls. Within the chasm are three different trails: tubing, rock climbing, rappelling, and even lantern trails.
You can book tours easily in the main building. You can even stay in the cabins behind the entrance. This rustic spot makes for a perfect weekend getaway for outdoor adventures and takes camping to a new level since you can see the gorge from all angles.
Where to Stay in Ausable Chasm
- Best Luxury Hotel: Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hampton in & Suites Plattsburgh
- Best Budget Hotel: Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Plattsburgh
See Related: Views of NYC for Free
2. Anna Maria Island, Florida
If you like feeling like you are living in a romance novel or on a reality tv show set in a beach town, Anna Maria Island is your place to go. The island is a Western facing barrier island on Florida’s Gulf coast. It’s a gorgeous place known for its unique shopping and beaches.
Ana Maria, on the namesake island, is a small resort town on an island about 45 minutes east of Tampa and 30 minutes south of Sarasota. These white sand beaches and turquoise green-blue waters will transport you to a Caribbean island.
It is common for manatees to swim right up and bump into you at some locations- in Manatee County, after all! The beach houses are easily rentable, and restaurants close by range from shacks to fine dining. You can walk down the street barefoot to a paddleboard rental place and fit in like a local.
Where to Stay Near Ana Maria Island
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Carlisle Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: Hyatt Place Sarasota Bradenton Airport
See Related: Travel Hacking 101
3. North Shore, Minnesota
Are you looking for the best-hidden vacation spots with abundant state parks, lakes, waterfalls, and charming A-Frame cabins? Look no further than the North Shore of Minnesota. This region in Cook County gets its name because of the sprawling shores along Lake Superior, aka the turning tip of Northern Minnesota.
If you are looking for things to do along the North Shore of the lake, meander through the unbelievable hiking trails at Tettegouche State Park. Or, hike to the tallest waterfalls in Minnesota at Judge C.R. Magney State Park and camp out under the stars at Gooseberry Falls State Park.
If you are looking for a road trip, this is an excellent spot to visit in the US. You’ll drive down the winding roads and have plenty of great lookout points and state parks to explore.
The best time to visit is any time of year; it depends on what you are trying to get out of your vacation. But, if you love waterfalls, go in spring when the water flows are at their peak.
Where to Stay on the North Shore
- Best Luxury Hotel: Lutsen Resort
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior
- Best Budget Hotel: AmericInn by Wyndham in Tofte
See Related: Best Christmas Vacations in the United States
4. Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets in the heart of red rock country. Like Sedona, some of the best-hidden vacation spots in the Southwest feature winding roads that take you past towering red rocks, canyons, and desert landscapes. Sedona is located about 2 hours south of the Grand Canyon and is the perfect place to stay when exploring all Arizona offers.
Plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking trails, mountain biking, horseback riding, and ATVing, keep you busy. You can also explore the town’s history by visiting the Sedona Heritage Museum or taking a Jeep tour of the Red Rocks.
Where to Stay in Sedona
- Best Luxury Hotel: L’Auberge de Sedona
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Kimpton Amara Resort & Spa
- Best Budget Hotel: Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa
See Related: Amazing Southwestern Vacation Destinations
5. Willamette National Forest, Oregon
The Oregon Coast, in general, is a beautiful spot for those trying to explore the United States. Willamette National Forest is located in Blue River, Oregon, and is part of the Cascade Range. The forest stretches over 110 miles long and is 1,675,407 acres in size.
You can follow the rivers to see three waterfalls if you are hiking. One of which is the second-tallest waterfall in Oregon. Some of the rocks on the hiking trails are lava rocks so similar to that of the moon that NASA has used them for training.
There are over 70 different campsites along the national forest for outdoorsy travelers, and the dry landscape has just as much history to offer as the waterfalls. Over a dozen conifer trees live in this forest, and over 300 fish and wildlife species. Some of which are threatened or otherwise protected species.
Where to Stay Near the Willamette National Forest
- Best Luxury Hotel: Atticus Hotel
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: River Song Cabin – Mckenzie Riverfront Log Cabin
- Best Budget Hotel: Best Western Plus Mill Creek Inn
6. Door County, Wisconsin
Door County remains one of the best-hidden gems in the Midwest. No matter how often I visit this part of Wisconsin, it amazes me. The whole area gives off a small-town vibe with more access to resort-town elements you won’t find elsewhere in the Midwest.
This is by far of the best places to visit in Wisconsin and is known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. This 64-mile peninsula offers stunning views of Lake Michigan.
It’s also a prime spot for wine, cherries (they even have a Cherry Festival in July), and apples. I highly recommend visiting the renowned von Stiehl Winery in Algoma and the famed fish boil at Pelletier’s Restaurant & Fish Boil in Fish Creek.
There’s plenty to do here, regardless of the season, though summer will be the most crowded. In the fall or winter, you can enjoy cross-country skiing, back-country skiing, ice fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, and more. And there’s swimming, kayaking, boating, golfing, fishing, and hiking in the summer.
Where to Stay in Door County
See Related: Best East Coast Vacation Spots in the US
7. Devils Tower, Wyoming
Devil’s Tower is a sacred national monument in Wyoming. Unlike any other in the United States, this monument is a vast rock conglomerate spanning 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. Also known as Bear Lodge to local Native American tribes, this is the world’s largest example of columnar jointing.
This hidden gem is a unique one to visit in the US. Devils Tower can visit and plan hikes around, climbing up, or camping along the forest. There are also options to see the monument at night with the big open Wyoming sky.
Nearby to this geological wonder, there are multiple other parks and canyons like Bighorn Canyon, Badlands National Park, and Mount Rushmore. If you are on a road trip to the Southwest, you’ll undoubtedly want to stop at Yellowstone National Park after visiting this fantastic landmark.
Where to Stay Near Devils Tower
- Best Luxury Hotel: Sawin Logs Inn
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Devils Tower Lodge
- Best Budget Hotel: The Hulett Motel
See Related: Things to Do in Norfolk, Virginia
8. Texas Hill Country
The Texas Hill Country has many hidden activities and natural beauty, making it one of the best-hidden vacation spots in the US. Hill Country is located in Central and South Texas and comprises the Southeastern part of the Edwards Plateau. Not quite Southwest, the region is considered the border between areas of the country.
Hill Country has locally-owned restaurants that people rave about, like Der Lindenbaum and Redbud Cafe & Pub. Plus, it’s right near San Antonio, so that you can make a fantastic family vacation out of it.
There are miles of Lavender Fields and even a Lavender Festival in Blanco, where you’ll find Redbud. If you go towards the end of May, you can even pick your peaches in the various fields.
Stargazing and gardening are among the top activities here. In addition, Topaz is found plentiful here – even in the dirt! You can literally find your hidden gems in Hill Country.
Where to Stay in Hill Country
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort And Spa
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott San Angelo
- Best Budget Hotel: Courtyard by Marriot San Antonio Downtown/Market Square
See Related: Things to Do in Dallas, Texas
9. Assateague Island, Virginia
Assateague Island is one of the best unknown vacation spots in the US, mainly because of the ponies. You read that right, ponies.
Wild ponies live on the island and are beloved by those who visit. An urban legend says they were brought onto the island on a crashed cargo ship.
Beachgoers can drive their cars, trucks, RVs, and motorhomes on the beach and camp. You can even have fires on the beach, which is oddly not allowed at any other beach in Maryland.
If you can stop over, try to plan it around the end of July, which is the best time to visit. This is the most excellent weather, and there is an annual pony swim.
The little horses (they’re not ponies, they’re just referred to that way) swim from one side of the island to Chincoteague, another island. There is a whole festival and farmers’ market to celebrate.
Where to Stay Near Assateague Island
- Best Luxury Hotel: Refuge Inn
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Best Western Plus Chincoteague Island
- Best Budget Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Chincoteague Waterfront
10. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park combines four different terrains in one location: dunes, forests, creeks, and mountains. What other spots in the US have as many vistas to enjoy? Dunes, some as large as mountains, look almost fake in this beautiful Colorado park.
Through the trails, you can participate in outdoor activities like sand sledding, hiking, camping, swimming in Medano Creek, and 4WD. Near this park are waterfalls and ranches where you can stay. Imagine staying on a ranch in Colorado and visiting some of the most enormous rolling dunes you may ever see.
Then, you hike through the national park, swim in the creek under a waterfall, sandboard down a small dune, and stargaze in the open sky before returning to your ranch. It sounds like one of the best-underrated vacation spots to me.
Where to Stay Near Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: Fairfield Inn & Suites Alamosa
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Great Sand Dunes Lodge
- Best Budget Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Alamosa
See Related: Best Travel Backpacks for Minimalists
11. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is among the great places to visit in the US for several reasons. First, it comprises Mackinac Island State Park, so plenty of outdoor activities exist. Second, Victorian architecture is charming and an excellent backdrop for vacation photos–not to mention the no cars rule on the island keeps it feeling the vintage aesthetic.
Third, the natural beauty of the island is undeniable. From the turquoise waters of Lake Huron to the lush forest bluffs, Mackinac Island is a feast for the senses. Fourth, this island is very accessible.
It’s only a short ferry ride from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, so consider that when looking for accommodations. Because the island is small, the hotels are more expensive than back on the mainland.
Fifth, Mackinac Island is a great place to visit any time of year. In the summer, visitors can enjoy swimming, hiking, and biking; in the fall, Mackinac Island is a popular vacation destination for leaf-peeping; and in the winter, the island transforms into a snow-covered wonderland. Midwesterners know that this is one of our most precious hidden gems.
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
- Best Luxury Hotel: Island House Hotel
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Grand Hotel
- Best Budget Hotel: Inn On Mackinac
See Related: Best Midwest Road Trips
12. Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky is a hidden gem for those wanting a resort getaway or exploring the many other unique places in Montana. Keep in mind that accommodations here tend to be on the pricier side.
This town is one of the best unknown places to visit because you can stay in a resort all weekend long and see some of the best views. Or you can spend all your time exploring the charming town.
Big Sky is known to have a small-town feel and is one of the best-hidden gems in the United States to have a romantic or cozy getaway. Make sure you integrate a stop at Yellowstone National Park as well.
You can do any snow activity possible in Big Sky, which is beautiful. You can snowshoe, snowboard, dog sled, ice skate, enjoy hot springs in Yellowstone, flyfish, or rest and relax in an elusive resort like Big Sky Resort or a rented winter home.
Where to Stay in Big Sky
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Summit Hotel at Big Sky Resort
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Rainbow Ranch Lodge
- Best Budget Rental: Big Sky Ski Condo
See Related: Things to Do in Billings, Montana
13. Channel Islands National Park, California
Channel Islands National Park comprises five stunning islands off of the West Coast. This is one of the most unique national parks in the country and probably has the highest population of resident seals.
These islands on the Pacific Ocean include Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara Island, and San Miguel Island. Some more popular activities here include snorkeling, kayaking off of Santa Cruz, or seeing the seals at Point Bennett on San Miguel. This park’s marine sanctuary makes it one of the best places to visit in the US for animal and nature lovers everywhere.
These islands are home to various plant and animal life, including some found nowhere else on Earth. The park has the highest concentration of prehistoric sites in North America. Channel Islands National Park is a great place to get away from it all and enjoy nature.
Where to Stay Near Channel Islands National Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hampton Inn Channel Islands Harbor
- Best Budget Hotel: Casa Via Mar Inn
See Related: Most Beautiful & Best Vacations in the US
14. Dewey Beach, Delaware
Dewey Beach is easily one of the most overlooked East Coast beach towns in the United States. Dewey is a small peninsula about a mile long and wide.
Water, the Atlantic Ocean, and Assawoman Bay are on either side. Dewey Beach is one of the best unknown places to visit in the United States because it is both a relaxing beachside destination and a foodie paradise.
Dewey is located between Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Ocean City, Maryland – two large beach cities that are very populated and commercialized. Despite its proximity to these well-known beach towns, Dewey is the opposite and a great easy-going town. There are easily walkable restaurants in a half-mile radius, a concert venue, a beachfront tiki bar, a cult-favorite brewery, and beautiful beaches.
You can walk to everything you want to and make each day as active or relaxing as possible. In addition, Delaware has no taxes–which adds up when you go out! Dewey is a great spot to stop and visit if you want to relax, not have too many plans and take each day spontaneously.
Where to Stay in Dewey Beach
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hyatt Place Dewey Beach
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Atlantic View Hotel
- Best Budget Hotel: Hotel Dewey
See Related: Best East Coast Vacation Spots in the US
15. Solvang, California
Solvang is a city in California best known for its Danish-style architecture and four wooden windmills. A small town in Santa Barbara County is only about 45 minutes from Santa Barbara. The town was founded in 1911 by Danish Americans who wanted to create a community that reflected their heritage.
The city is home to several Danish businesses, including a bakery, a museum, and restaurants. If you want to learn more about the city’s history and heritage, visit the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art. And motorheads will appreciate the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum.
With its unique aesthetic, Solvang is one of the more unusual places to visit in California, with many visitors visiting the city’s windmills and Danish-style buildings. Solvang is worth a trip if you’re looking for a unique place to stay in California.
Where to Stay in Solvang
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Landsby
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Svendsgaards Danish Lodge-Americas Best Value Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: Solvang Inn and Cottages
See Related: Day Trips from San Francisco, California
16. Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
For example, one of the state’s most underrated vacation spots is the Apostle Islands. This National Lakeshore is one of 28 islands in Lake Superior off the coast of Wisconsin.
These islands offer cliff diving, camping, kayaking, cave exploration, and lighthouses. They are also stunning; it is hard to believe this is a large lake, not a Caribbean ocean. You can even hail a water taxi, charter, or cruise around the magnificent islands in the warm summer months.
The best thing about this unknown hidden gem is that it is incredible to visit in the summer or winter. But for a whole different experience, you have to wait for winter.
Don’t worry; winter in Wisconsin isn’t that bad. Plus, the cold is worth it since, in the winter, you can walk around the caves, usually filled with water. The wintertime showcases these caves full of icicles!
Where to Stay in the Apostle Islands
- Best Luxury Hotel: Cobblestone Inn and Suites – Ashland
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Quality Inn Ashland – Lake Superior
- Best Budget Hotel: Super 8 by Wyndham Ashland
See Related: Best Travel Accessories
17. Kanab, Utah
Have you ever seen an orange mountain like that? Kanab, Utah – that’s where you can find it. Kanab is one of the best-hidden gems in the United States because it is simply stunning. Most people from Utah will probably know about it, but others usually do not.
Kanab is a great place to visit because you can take many different paths and hikes to see beautiful sights and surreal landscapes. You can also combine many activities in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada all in one week by planning on visiting Kanab.
Where to Stay in Kanab
- Best Luxury Hotel: Timber & Tin
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Comfort Suites Kanab National Park Area
- Best Budget Hotel: Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kanab
See Related: Cascade River State Park
18. The Finger Lakes, New York
Bigger than the state of New Jersey, the Finger Lakes region is known for its astonishing scenery, breweries, and wineries. This scenic area of upstate New York contains eleven Finger Lakes, some a mile long. The most popular of them is Canandaigua Lake which is the fourth largest.
Cayuga Lake is the largest of these lakes, followed by Seneca Lake. Keuka and Skaneateles Lakes are slightly further off the beaten path but definitely worth a visit.
Almost every lake has water houses and grape farms dotting its shores. There is a good reason that folks travel from all over, especially in the autumn, to check out this area.
The lakes are also popular with boaters and fishermen. So if you’re looking for a beautiful, peaceful, and awe-inspiring spot off the beaten path, the Finger Lakes region is worth checking out.
Where to Stay in Finger Lakes
- Best Luxury Hotel: Inns of Aurora Resort and Spa
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Geneva On The Lake Boutique Resort Hotel
- Best Budget Hotel: The Gould Hotel
See Related: Best State and National Parks in South Carolina
19. Camden, Maine
Camden is a port full of history and charm. Sailboats, yachts, and fishing boat tours meander in and out of this port.
Because of this, it makes it so easy to go on boat trips up the Penobscot Bay. Camden is a great place to go if you feel like you want to live out a Hallmark movie setting and explore the quaint town, including its many restaurants, boutiques, and antique shops.
Camden is one of the best unknown spots to visit in the US, for two reasons. One is the historic elegance throughout the town of over 230 years. Many of the homes are 19th-century buildings, the charming library is the biggest building in the town, and the local Opera House is a stunner.
Secondly, Camden has become a hub of activity for chefs and foodies. Many renowned chefs use seafood and local goods to create amazing meals at restaurants all over the town. Some of the most beloved eateries include Peter Ott’s on the Water, Marriner’s Restaurant, and the aptly named Waterfront.
Where to Stay
- Best Luxury Hotel: 16 Bay View
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Grand Harbor Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: Lord Camden Inn
See Related: Free Travel Magazines to Consider
20. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the coolest places to visit in the US that few people know about. It’s a must-see if you’re into unique landscapes and want to experience something different on your vacation. White Sands is best known for housing the largest collection of fossilized footprints from the Ice Age.
The best time to visit this off-the-beaten-path park is from September to May when the weather is milder. Besides footprints, White Sands is known for its white sands. The sands are actually made up of gypsum crystals and are super fine and soft, so it feels amazing to walk on.
The area is also lovely, with mountains in the distance and blue skies overhead – like being on another planet. White Sands should definitely be at the top of your list if you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary vacation destination.
Where to Stay Near White Sands National Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hampton Inn Alamogordo
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Alamogordo Highway 54/70
- Best Budget Hotel: The Classic Desert Aire Hotel
See Related: Best Black Sand Beaches in the World
21. Oracle, Arizona
Oracle is right outside Tucson, Arizona, and is one of the best unknown places to visit for its optimal stargazing. As an official Dark Sky Community, Oracle has some of the best aesthetics for star viewing in its pitch-black night sky. Besides, Oracle is home to one of the best-hidden gems in its incredible Biosphere 2.
Biosphere 2 is one of the world’s best environment conservatory research centers. It has a mock ocean to promote coral reef conservation and a space exploration habitat close to what Mars and the moon may be like. Even NASA has used the space exploration exhibit.
This space also has events like a musical pairing with a night stargazing show. It is truly one of the world’s most unique environmental learning experiences.
Where to Stay Near Oracle
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Loews Ventana Canyon Resort
- Best Budget Hotel: County Inn & Suites by Radisson, Tucson Air, AZ
See Related: Best Day Trips from Phoenix
22. Block Island, Rhode Island
Block Island is a hidden gem off the coast of Rhode Island that is perfect for a weekend getaway. Block Island is the perfect place to relax, from its dramatic clay, white sand beaches, and windswept dunes to its historic lighthouses and rustic agriculture. I adore Block Island and cannot praise the experience enough.
And with many day trips to or from Newport, Block Island is the perfect spot for an authentic rustic experience. Since its inception, the island has barely changed in structure or appearance. In addition to electricity, a few vehicles have been added over the years.
Block Island may be reached by air and water, with a convenient day trip path. However, you should stay overnight to observe stunning sunrises and sunsets. And eat enough delicious seafood to your heart’s content.
Where to Stay on Block Island
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Sullivan House
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Rose Farm Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: Narragansett Inn
See Related: Best States to Visit in the USA
23. Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Whether you are a hiker or not, you must agree that Lookout Mountain is an amazing sight. This mountain would probably be better to take on in the Georgia heat in the fall. The best feature of lookout mountain is the waterfall and small pond that seems to appear out of nowhere near the top.
Along the hike up, you may pass Lula Lake, one of the bluest lakes in the mountain range. Along this walk are the Fairyland Caverns, Lookout Mountain Swinging Bridge, and even see seven states at once at Rock City.
Rock City is a lookout point where Tenessee is located west, then Kentucky, a small part of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and to the east is Alabama. Lookout Mountain is undeniably one of the best-hidden gems in the state.
Where to Stay Near Lookout Mountain
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Edwin Hotel, An Autograph Collection
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Hampton Inn Chattanooga Mtn
- Best Budget Hotel: Fairfield Inn & Resorts by Marriott Chattanooga
See Related: Best Museums in Minnesota
24. The Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Outer Banks is one of the best-kept secrets regarding vacation spots in the US. This string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina is an off-the-beaten-path attraction that offers some of the best beach experiences on the East Coast.
The Outer Banks is a popular spot for fishing, surfing, and hiking, and plenty of activities keep you busy during your stay. The beaches here are some of the most beautiful in the country, and they offer a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Other beachside East Coast towns are known as kitschy vacation hot spots, but the Outer Banks is far from being one of them. You won’t find high-rise hotels, crowded touristy boardwalks, or theme parks here. Instead, you’ll find a low-key destination relying on its natural beauty.
Where to Stay in The Outer Banks
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Tar Heel Motel
- Best Budget Hotel: Island House of Wanchese
See Related: Best East Coast Vacation Spots in the US
25. Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City is a great place to unwind in Northern Michigan. Nestled among tall trees and picturesque rolling hills, Traverse City offers visitors a chance to truly enjoy the natural beauty of Michigan.
It’s home to both the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. This petite city is one of the Midwest’s most naturally gifted off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Like one of its across-the-lake neighbors Door County, the area is well-known for its cherries. Traverse City’s wineries are nationally renowned, and its oldest winery Chateau Grand Traverse is well worth visiting. With over 50 wineries dotting the landscape, Traverse City has become a mecca for wine lovers nationwide.
This gorgeous locale is famously home to several celebrities who bask in its natural beauty when they can. Chef Mario Batali has a summer home here, and even Michael Moore and Madonna spend time in Traverse City.
Where to Stay in Traverse City
- Best Luxury Hotel: Pinestead Reef Resort
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Bayshore Resort
- Best Budget Hotel: Travelodge by Wyndham Traverse City
See Related: Top Vacations with Minimal Walking
26. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park is the most visited national park in the state and houses the world’s longest cave system, 400 miles long. Did you know that? Mammoth Cave National Park is definitely one of the best unknown places to visit in the United States, not only because it is the longest cave in the world but because it boasts 70 miles of nature trails and 20 miles of river to explore.
There are 13 different camping locations, so if you want to try to hike the full 70 miles of trails–you can. The caves have cave tours that would be a great introduction to the caves, and you can learn a lot of history. You can bike the paths, raft down the river, and even ride horseback.
This massive cave attraction is considered one of the seven wonders of the new world, making it one of our internationally renowned hidden gems. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, making it one of only two dozen such sites in the country.
Where to Stay Near Mammoth Cave National Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: Hampton Inn Cave City, KY
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Comfort Inn & Suites Cave City
- Best Budget Hotel: Days Inn by Wyndham Cave City
See Related: Reed Flute Cave: An Underground Treat
27. Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth in Washington is one of the hidden gems of the Pacific North West that you could easily forget unless you’ve been there. Once you visit, this town cements itself into your brain. My sister-in-law got married here last summer, and I immediately fell in love with the German aesthetics of this mountain town.
This secret paradise attracts backpackers in summer, while in winter, the place turns into an Alpine mecca. As for Christmas markets and festivals, Leavenworth is famously among the best.
Leavenworth has excellent German cuisine. I highly recommend getting a bite at the adorable München Haus. The Bavarian-themed town has pastel buildings and authentic pubs that make visitors feel like they have entered a far-off German village.
Where to Stay in Leavenworth
- Best Luxury Hotel: Enzian Inn
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Der Ritterhof Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: Leavenworth Village Inn
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Montana & Things to Do
28. Baxter State Park, Maine
Is there a best hidden vacation spots spot in the US for trekking? Yes indeed! Find Baxter State Park near Portland, Maine, which houses a spectacular wild nature reserve along the eastern seaboard.
The state park is also home to Mount Katahdin (5,268 feet), Maine’s highest mountain. Baxter State Park is one of the best-hidden vacation spots in the US for nature lovers and outdoorsy people.
The Knife Edge hiking trail, though considered one of America’s finest walks, is a technically challenging trail, which many a hiker has been turned around on. We recommend visiting between late June to early September when the temperature is mild and fewer insects are in the state park.
When going to New England in the fall, arrive as early as possible because leaf peepers take over these vacation spots as autumn descends. This state park is one of the first areas in New England to get peak foliage. Fall colors reflect on a beautiful lake at the northern end of Maine.
Where to Stay Near Baxter State Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: Baxter Park Inn
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Katahdin Inn & Suites
- Best Budget Hotel: Gateway Inn
See Related: Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit
29. Moloka’i, Hawaii
Moloka’i might be one of our most isolated spots in the US. Molokai has no traffic lights, no luxury resorts, and no houses larger than palm trees.
Moloka’i is the fifth-largest Hawaiian island; part of it even served as a leper colony until 1969. Moloka’i has primarily been noted for its diverse culture and heritage and is lesser touristed than the other islands.
It is the most unspoiled location for visitors, with several untouched beaches. Its lack of capital development is intentional. It is the final Hawaiian island that has not been overwhelmed by tourist attractions and is struggling to maintain its cultural practices.
Home to the annual Molokaʻi Ka Hula Piko festival, Moloka’i is believed to be the birthplace of hula. While visitors are here to see authentic Hawaii cultural experiences, you should do your best to primarily support Hawaiian-owned businesses. Though the islands have strong tourist economies, native Hawaiians have decried over-tourism in recent years. Much of the economy does not go back to the people of Hawaii and instead goes to big corporations from the mainland.
Where to Stay in Moloka’i
- Best Hotel: Hotel Moloka’i
Moloka’i does not have many hotels, and this one actively gives back to the community. When staying somewhere like Hawaii, it is important to support the local community. That is the only ethical way to travel to Hawaii.
See Related: Reasons Why Traveling Is Important
30. Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island is another of our best-hidden vacation spots on the beach where you can get away from nonstop city life. The island offers beautiful beaches, lush forests, and a variety of wildlife, like dolphins. It’s home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where you can learn more about the nesting cycles on this legendary island.
Moreover, Jekyll Island is home to several historic buildings and landmarks, including the Jekyll Island Club Resort, which was once a stomping ground for some of the richest people in the world. This fantastic hotel is in the heart of the Jekyll Island Historic District, where you’ll find other historic homes and spooky tales of the past.
It was one of the best-kept secrets for the vacationing rich and has some of those features today. In addition to this, Jekyll Island is famed for being the founding location of the Federal Reserve Bank. The island features no stoplights and a natural aesthetic, making it one of the best unknown vacation spots in the Southeastern United States.
Where to Stay on Jekyll Island
- Best Luxury Hotel: Jekyll Ocean Club
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Jekyll Island Club Resort
- Best Budget Hotel: Seafarer Inn & Suites
See Related: Northern California vs Southern California
31. Woodstock, Vermont
Woodstock in Vermont (not its uber-famous same-name sister city in New York) has become one of our best secret vacation spots in the US with its quaint village charm. There are several historical buildings to check out here, like the 1880s pink sandstone Norman Williams Public Library or the 1800s Queen Anne-style mansion in the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.
The scenery in Vermont is unrivaled. This state is covered with over 4.5 million acres of forest, which is incredible given its size.
Vermont is also a top destination in the autumn, as it transitions through all the autumnal colors. Quechee Gorge is one of our favorite destinations in America, and we highly recommend it to anyone looking for a unique vacation experience.
Vermont is also known for its farm-to-home dining, and Woodstock takes it to the next level. Cloudland Farm, Red Rooster, and Worthy Kitchen are some of the best places to check out. You can’t visit Woodstock and not have one meal (or several) at some of these eateries.
Where to Stay in Woodstock
- Best Luxury Hotel: Woodstock Inn & Resort
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Kedron Valley Inn
- Best Budget Hotel: The Lincoln Inn & Restaurant At The Covered Bridge
See Related: Best Places for Fall Foliage in the US
32. San Francisco, California
Far from the most unknown vacation spots in the us, San Francisco still plays second fiddle to the larger cities in Los Angeles. The fourth largest city in the state, San Fran is often overshadowed by the other larger locales, but it has plenty of its own merits.
Zipping down the Pacific Coast Highway to experience the city of the Golden Gate Bridge, countless museums, and Alcatraz is an incredible way to spend a trip. It is an especially beloved place for the LGBTQIA+ community as a haven of art and safety.
It might not be home to any theme parks, but San Fran is a bastion of nightlife, restaurants, and the best sourdough bread you’ll ever taste. If you’re a sucker for good sourdough, you can’t miss the world-famous Boudin Bakery. A trip over to Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown will show you why San Fran has become a destination in and of itself.
Where to Stay in San Francisco
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: San Francisco Proper Hotel
- Best Budget Hotel: San Francisco Marriott Union Square
See Related: Where To Stay In Lake Tahoe
33. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Just outside Overton, Nevada, you’ll find the majestic serenity of Valley of Fire State Park. Named for its collection of red sandstone formations, this desert park is like being in another world. Though it’s similar to Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire has more types of scenery.
The oldest state park in Nevada, Valley of Fire, has arches, a slot canyon, and petroglyphs for visitors. If you want to see the slot canyon, go to the White Domes Trail. Even some bighorn sheep wander the desert, an odd sight in such a blazing place.
If you’d rather not walk through this desert park, we can’t blame you for that, there’s a scenic route. Driving the route around the park only takes 20-30 minutes, so you can still see most of the sights without suffering through the heat. One way to escape the heat and the crowds here is to visit early in the morning. It’s well worth the sunset.
Where to Stay Near Valley of Fire State Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort & Spa
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: North Shore Inn at Lake Mead
- Best Budget Hotel: Moapa Motel
See Related: Warm Places to Visit in the US During Winter
34. Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
Smith Rock State Park is a favorite among Oregon’s High Desert vacation spots, and this area alone is a hidden vacation spot, especially for rock climbers. Home to tuff and basalt cliffs, this is the birthplace of American sport climbing. Here, you’ll find all kinds of bouldering, multi-pitch climbing, traditional climbing, and even sport climbing for climbing enthusiasts.
When you’re not busy scaling walls, get to know the wildlife in the park. Mule deer, river otters, beavers, and prairie falcons are commonly spotted. For some of the best views in the park, be sure to get over to Crooked River (pictured above), a beautiful place for photos.
If you head over to the Newberry Crater National Volcanic Monument in the park, you can almost literally walk in the footsteps of astronauts. NASA sent their astronauts in training here to prepare to walk on the moon. And when you inevitably need a break from nature, Bend is only a little down the road where craft brewery is king.
Where to Stay Near Smith Rock State Park
- Best Luxury Hotel: Smith Rock Resort
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Crooked River Ranch Cabins
- Best Budget Hotel: Best Western Plus Rama Inn
35. Las Vegas, Nevada
Like San Fran, Las Vegas, on its own, isn’t an unknown place. Unique? Absolutely. But unknown? Absolutely not.
But Fremont Street, old Vegas, is a more unique place to visit in the Las Vegas Valley. This is where you’ll see Vegas in its heyday under the protective covering of the street’s dome.
The dome along Fremont Street is part of what is known as the Fremont Street Experience. Each hour on the hour from 6 pm to 2 am, the Viva Vision Light Show brings the world’s latest digital display to life. The whole area is like an all-night-long street party since the road through Fremont is not open to vehicles.
You can even stay in some iconic, old-school Vegas hotels. Like the Golden Nugget, which is one of the oldest Vegas casinos that is still in operation. While many visitors will spend an hour or two here, I highly recommend spending more time (if not most of the time) hanging out on Fremont Street.
Where to Stay in Las Vegas
- Best Luxury Hotel: Circa Resort & Casino – Adults Only
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Golden Nugget
- Best Budget Hotel: The D Las Vegas
See Related: Most Photographed Cities in the World
Some of the best-hidden gem vacation spots include national parks, underrated cities, and places loaded with local culture. Our favorites from the list include Leavenworth, San Francisco, Door County, Block Island, and the Outer Banks.
What are the best unknown vacation spots in the US?
There are plenty of great hidden gem vacation spots in the US that most people don’t know about. Our favorite underrated spots include Jekyll Island in Georgia, Mackinac Island State Park in Michigan, and Oracle in Arizona. What’s great about these places is that they offer plenty of wonderful attractions and activities, but they’re usually hardly ever overcrowded.
Some of our favorite secret vacation spots in the US that offer incredible outdoor adventure include the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin, Kanab in Utah, and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. These are fantastic places to visit so much because they tend to be less crowded than other, more popular nature-focused destinations.
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.