The most popular tourist destinations in America such as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty have earned distinction for a reason and certainly deserve a place on your American bucket list. However, certain off-the-grid places shouldn't be overlooked. Not only are many relatively unpopular destinations still just as exciting to visit, but they often also offer fewer crowds, more affordable prices and more authentic, less "touristy" experiences.
You don't have to look far from home to discover a city, charming small town or national park that offers natural beauty, culture, relaxation or fun. Explore the road less traveled and check out the most underrated tourist spot in every state.
The Gulf Coast is home to many vibrant coastal towns, but Mobile, Alabama, has something for every type of traveler. Lounge on the city's multiple white-sand beaches, stroll through squares lined with live oak trees and explore historic neighborhoods. Mobile is also home to one of the largest river deltas and wetlands in the country, nicknamed America's Amazon because of its amazing eco-diversity.
Cities like Fairbanks as well as national parks like Denali are the most visited destinations in Alaska. But this sprawling state has many hidden gems, including the charming mountain town of Girdwood. Home to a popular ski resort, Girdwood is surrounded by glaciers that can be explored by hike, kayak or even dog sled. There are hiking trails around the area for all experience levels.
Arizona is world-famous for the gorgeous Grand Canyon and Havasu Falls, one of the most stunning waterfalls in the world. But if you're planning a bucket-list trip to see this state's natural wonders, don't miss Petrified Forest National Park. On top of its namesake petrified logs, the park is filled with mesas, buttes, wildlife, wildflowers and more, which can be seen on a scenic drive or on a hiking, biking or horseback riding trail.
Also known as Hawksbill Crag, Whitaker Point is a rock formation that offers one of the most breathtaking views in the country. The ledge dramatically juts out above the beautiful rolling hills of the Ozarks below, making it the perfect place for a romantic moment or an unbelievable photograph. This view can be reached via an easy hike that passes by waterfalls and rock formations. The trail is within the Buffalo River National Area, which is about a one-hour drive from Fayetteville.
There is so much more to do in California than just Disneyland and the beach. The state's natural beauty is staggering, with people coming from across the country and even around the world to see sights like Yosemite National Park. But for a more off-the-beaten-path park, check out Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located about 90 miles northeast of San Diego. The largest of California's state parks, Anza-Borrego has a desert climate but comes alive with vibrant colors in the springtime, making it home to some of the best hikes to see spring wildflowers in the world. It's also one of the best places in the state for stargazing.
While millions of people visit Colorado's most popular national parks like Rocky Mountain National Park, ditch the crowds while still enjoying rugged beauty at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This underrated national park has a canyon 3,000 feet deep. The Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado. Besides this dramatic backdrop, the park has beautiful trails for hiking as well as opportunities for rock climbing, kayaking and rafting.
Europe might be home to many of the world's most famous castles, but there are actually majestic castles in America that you can visit, including Gillette Castle in East Haddam, Connecticut. The castle was once a fantastical private residence but now is open for tours seasonally. Outside of the castle, there are also hiking trails, rock formations and more to see.
It might be a beach destination other Americans haven't heard of, but locals know Delaware's Bethany Beach is a calm, clean and family-friendly beach escape. The 1-mile-long beach is lined with an old-fashioned pedestrian-only boardwalk and offers access to fishing, watersports and more.
Perdido means “lost” in Spanish, and it's easy to lose track of time in the picturesque beach town of Perdido Key. Located in the northwest corner of Florida, the town and Perdido Key State Park boast stunning views of white-sand dunes and Gulf waters perfect for water sports like parasailing, body surfing and kite surfing as well as swimming and fishing.
Known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” Providence Canyon is up to 150 feet deep and has colorful hued soil that causes vibrant layers of pink, orange, red and purple. The canyon and surrounding state park are home to rare plumleaf azalea trees that bloom in the summer, making it a top place to still see beautiful blooms after spring has passed.
Waipio Valley on Hawaii's Big Island is one of the most incredible places in the Aloha State. It was once home to Hawaiian royalty, but today is mostly pristine wilderness. The valley is a mile across and about 6 miles deep, and is surrounded by sea cliffs. Hawaii's tallest waterfall, Hiilawe Falls, cascades down 1,300 feet in the back of the valley. Hike past waterfalls and scenic overlooks while exploring this verdant landscape. Make sure your trek takes you past the valley's black-sand beach, one of the coolest colorful beaches in the world.
Hells Canyon, located in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, is 8,000 feet deep, making it the deepest river gorge in North America. It is about 2,000 feet deeper than a far more popular tourist destination, the Grand Canyon. Located on the border of Idaho and Oregon, the area is 650,000 acres of remote, natural playground with ample opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding and more.
Most tourists head to Chicago to enjoy the city's skyscrapers, museums, music and more. But to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and experience the state's natural beauty, head to Shawnee National Forest. The forest's most popular hiking trail is the Garden of the Gods, which features rock formations carved over millions of years as well as a spectacular bird's-eye view across southern Illinois.
Fort Wayne in northeast Indiana is the state's second-largest city, and though it's often overlooked in favor of Indianapolis, it makes for an ideal Midwestern summer getaway. Known for its robust food scene and Hoosier hospitality, Fort Wayne sits on three rivers and has over a hundred miles of hiking and biking trails. The city's minor league baseball field is considered one of the best in the country, and the Genealogy Center has one of the largest physical collections of resources in the world to help you trace your family tree.
When most people think of must-visit American man-made marvels, they often think of the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge. But one of the most impressive construction projects in American history is located within Iowa's Effigy Mounds National Monument. This site protects 2,500 acres of forested land along the Mississippi River that contain prehistoric Native American burial and ceremonial mounds that date from 500 B.C. to 1300 A.D. The 200-plus amazing animal-shaped mounds are considered sacred by many Native American tribes.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is the only unit in the U.S. National Park System that is devoted to the country's tallgrass prairie ecosystem, which used to span almost 200 million acres but today is only 4% of its original size. Though there are things to do and see in every season, the fall might be the best because the grasses are at their maximum heights.
Many people visit Kentucky to try regional dishes like hot brown, travel the Bourbon Trail or tour the famed Churchill Downs track. But one of the best museums in the country for car lovers is the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Spend a few hours admiring a collection of more than 80 vintage cars, including rare and one-of-a-kind classics. Tour the Corvette Plant next door and try your hand at a racing simulator. Or you can even take a ride in a 1966 or 2017 Corvette on select days.
Tourists who only stick to the museums and landmarks of New Orleans are missing out on amazing attractions in the rest of the state. Shreveport is home to the Gardens of the American Rose Center, which is one of the most romantic places in America. The nation’s largest park dedicated to roses, it has gardens full of 20,000 rose bushes as well as sculptures, fountains, a playground and a picnic area. Mid-April to late May and mid-September to late October are the best times of year to visit to see beautiful blooms.
Maine's Acadia National Park is famous for having some of the most beautiful sights in any of America's state and national parks. But Quoddy Head State Park includes breathtaking coastlines, whale-watching opportunities, the historic red-and-white-striped West Quoddy Head Lighthouse and one of the best spots to watch the sunrise in the world.
Considered "The Gateway to the West" by early American pioneers, Cumberland, Maryland, is known for its historic attractions alongside its arts community. The town is also a fantastic outdoor recreation destination. Nearby Rocky Gap State Park and Green Ridge State Forest offer ample opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing and more.
Not to be confused with Cape Cod, Cape Ann, located just about 30 miles away from Boston, is an underrated Massachusetts destination. It offers all the charm and loveliness you'd find in more popular New England towns, minus the crowds and for less money. Enjoy sailing, fishing, whale-watching and more in Cape Ann.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are among the largest dunes in the country, towering 400 feet above Lake Michigan below. Beyond scaling the dunes, there are miles and miles of trails for hiking and biking. Along with 65 miles of shoreline, there are also numerous lakes and streams to explore by kayak or canoe.
One of the most underrated national parks in the country is Voyageurs National Park, 40% of which is made up of the waters of four different lakes. A maze of interconnected waterways, this park is an ideal place to explore via boat or canoe tour. Along with kayaking and swimming, it's also a great place to hike and camp in the summer and cross-country ski or snowshoe in the winter.
The city of Tunica is located off Highway 61, known as the "Blues Highway," which winds through the Mississippi Delta. If you're a music lover, stop by The Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center and Museum before heading to the Mississippi River Museum to learn about the region's history. The city is also known for its casinos, nightlife and golf courses as well as events and concerts.
Montana's first and best-known state park, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is centered around one of the largest known limestone caverns in the Northwest. There are a variety of guided tour options that range in difficulty and accessibility. During the month of December, visitors can step back in time and take a holiday tour by candlelight.
Toadstool Geologic Park feels like another planet rather than northwest Nebraska. This Badlands "moonscape" can be explored via three different hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.
There is so much more to do in Las Vegas than gambling and casinos. The Neon Museum is a quirky museum that collects and preserves the historic neon signs of Sin City's world-famous skyline. Admire more than 200 signs and learn about how they were made and what their role was in the rich history of Las Vegas.
One of the newest additions to New Hampshire's state park system, Jericho Mountain State Park has miles of trails for ATV and UTV riding, mountain biking and snowmobiling. There are plenty of scenic outlooks to enjoy along the way as well as spots to swim, fish, canoe and picnic.
Many people might be familiar with the beloved coastal town of Ocean City, New Jersey. Point Pleasant Beach is a shore town within Ocean County that has its own delightful beaches and bustling boardwalk that offers all your favorite guilty-pleasure junk foods.
The deserts of New Mexico isn't where many people would expect to find some of the clearest, bluest waters in the country. Located in Santa Rosa, the Blue Hole is a hidden gem for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. It is one of seven lakes interconnected underground, and its waters sit at a constant, comfortable 62 degrees.
Located in central New York’s Finger Lakes region, Ithaca, New York, is one of the prettiest small towns in the United States. The city is home to both Cornell University and Ithaca College, which have some of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. The town lies at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, and the gorges, waterfalls and hills make a great backdrop for hiking and biking. In the autumn, this is a prime spot to enjoy fall foliage.
Asheville has become a trendy travel destination for people heading to North Carolina on vacation. But Nags Head, located in the Outer Banks, offers a much slower pace for those looking to relax on a secluded beach or take a stroll in a scenic paradise. Take in the view from Bodie Island Lighthouse, go fishing off the historic pier or learn to hang glide on the sandy dunes of Jockey's Ridge State Park. The rich list of things to do and local, family-run businesses make it one of the best coastal towns in America.
If you don't know why North Dakota's state nickname is "the Peace Garden State," it's because it is home to the International Peace Garden, which sits between North Dakota's border with Manitoba, Canada. It spans over 2,000 acres of beautiful gardens, hiking trails, waterfalls, lakes, wildflower fields and more, making for a serene, symbolic retreat.
The fourth-largest city in Ohio, Toledo is home to many family-friendly attractions, including the Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium and the National Museum of the Great Lakes. The city also has outdoor adventure opportunities at the Maumee River near Lake Erie.
The oldest park in the state, Turner Falls Park makes for a quick weekend getaway for anyone living in Oklahoma and nearby states. It's home to Oklahoma's largest waterfall at 77 feet high as well as natural swimming areas, sandy beaches, bathhouses, water slides and cool caves.
From Vista House's vantage point 733 feet above the Columbia River at Crown Point, millions of sightseers a year enjoy stepping back in time and taking in one of Oregon’s most inspiring views. The Vista House was originally built as a rest stop observatory for travelers along the Historic Columbia River Highway. It underwent a five-year, $4 million renovation that was completed in 2005 and offers multiple free exhibits about the history of the state.
Susquehannock State Forest sits among the rolling hills of the Allegheny Plateau in central Pennsylvania and is among the most remote places east of the Mississippi. Along with miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horse and ATV riding, the forest also includes Cherry Springs State Park. This park is certified as an International Dark Sky Park, meaning it’s one of the clearest, brightest and most mind-blowing places in the country to go stargazing.
If you're looking for a charming New England island destination that looks like it's stuck in time, head to Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island. This island doesn't have traffic signals or chain restaurants. Instead, it offers serene, white-sand beaches, dramatic coastal cliffs and numerous trails for biking, hiking and horseback riding.
The Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia have attracted wealthy vacationers like the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers. You might be familiar with Hilton Head or Jekyll Island, but a lesser-known retreat among the Sea Islands is Edisto Island. It's known for its historic homes, saltwater and freshwater fishing and miles of some of the best beaches in the country.
Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota is named after one of the world’s longest and most intricate cave systems, which was the first cave in the world to be designated a national park. You can explore the system's gorgeous underground formations on a variety of ranger-led tours. Above-ground, this park is also a delight for animal-lovers as you can spot native wildlife such as bison, elk and pronghorn antelope in a mixed-grass prairie.
While neighboring Kentucky might be home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world's longest known cave system, Tennessee has its own jaw-dropping underground tourist destination. The Lost Sea is located within Craighead Caverns in East Tennessee and is America’s largest underground lake. Tours of the caverns include a ride across the lake in a glass-bottom boat.
Outside the major metro destinations in Texas, there are plenty of weird, quirky and otherworldly areas to explore, including the underrated Big Bend National Park. This remote park in far West Texas highlights the state's rugged natural beauty. There are more than 200 miles of hiking trails and 100 miles of paved roads for scenic drives. You can see the area by kayak while floating down the Rio Grande River or enjoy Texas' famed big, bright night sky thanks to the least light pollution of any National Park unit in the lower 48 states.
Utah is known for its gorgeous national parks, including Arches, Canyonlands and Zion. With so many stunning natural landscapes, Valley of the Gods in southeastern Utah is often overlooked. Like nearby Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods has spectacular, mesmerizing scenery, including pinnacles, buttes and other rock formations. Unlike Monument Valley, you don't need a permit to visit Valley of the Gods.
A hidden gem that only East Coasters know about, the Northeast Kingdom (or NEK) is the nickname for the northeast corner of the state set between the Green Mountains and the White Mountains, making for perfect scenery and plenty of adventures. See the remote yet accessible area by kayak, bike or on foot. There are also thousands of miles of snowmobile trails for winter outdoor recreation.
Virginia is known for its beautiful scenery and hiking trails above ground, but there are also amazing places to explore underground. Located deep beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains, Luray Caverns are a national landmark and the largest caverns in the eastern U.S. Visitors can explore cathedral-sized rooms with formations that are 10 stories high. The caverns are also home to the world's largest musical instrument: the Stalacpipe Organ, an organ that uses stalactites as the pipes.
Located less than three hours from Seattle, North Cascades National Park feels worlds away from civilization. The amazing alpine hiking trails pass by over 100 lakes, valleys, glaciers, waterfalls and mountain peaks. The best time to go hiking in North Cascades National Park is typically April through October. The North Cascades is not among the most visited national parks, which makes it more appealing to those seeking solitude.
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While many of the monuments and museums in Washington, D.C., are conveniently located near the National Mall, there's plenty to see in the nation's capital outside this hub of history and culture. The U.S. National Arboretum, located on the northeast side of D.C., spans 446 acres and has almost 10 miles of roadways winding through its beautiful gardens and groves. One of the arboretum's highlights is its collection of more than 300 bonsai trees.
Harpers Ferry is a quaint town perfect for American history buffs. It is located within Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, which is not far from Washington, D.C. Explore the park's more than 20 miles of hiking trails that pass by mountain vistas and Civil War battlefields. The town itself also sits along the Appalachian Trail and has access to activities along the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.
The Apostle Islands are a stunning place to hike or kayak in the spring, but they're also worth visiting in the winter. The otherworldly ice caves that form here make it a truly eye-popping destination. The islands are located in Lake Superior and feature scenery including 100-year-old lighthouses and underwater shipwreck sites that you can scuba dive through.
Wyoming is an outdoor playground, with Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and Devils Tower National Monument being home to some of the most stunning sights in any of America's national or state parks. But one of its lesser-known areas is a treasure waiting to be discovered. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area straddles the border of Wyoming and Montana and boasts breathtaking scenery, countless varieties of wildlife and abundant recreational opportunities, such as boating, fishing, camping and hiking. If you're a novice hiker, there are plenty of amazing beginner hiking trails in America's national parks.
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