28 Absolute Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US
Looking for hidden getaways in the United States? Think stunning landscapes, underrated activities in a state park, or a small town with views AND with fewer crowds! In this guide, we have handpicked some of the best hidden vacation spots in the US that are worth visiting.
This list is in no particular order, but we have covered destinations for couples, families, from nature to culture lovers. You will also find information on the nearest airport to get there as well as accommodation recommendations for a smooth getaway.
These US secret vacation spots are perfect if you wish to avoid super touristy areas, and enjoy time with your loved one appreciating gorgeous landscapes, coasts, and historical sites!
28 Absolute Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US
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Statesville, North Carolina | Best vacation spots in the U.S. for couples
By Julie from More than Main Street
- Nearest airport: Charlotte Douglas International Airport (47 miles away)
- Perfect for: BallonFest, couples getaway
From beautiful beaches to picturesque mountain towns, North Carolina is full of amazing places to visit. But did you know it is also home to the “ballooning capital of the east”? That’s right! Statesville, NC is an easy day trip from both Charlotte and Raleigh and is a true North Carolina hidden gem!
There are a ton of fun things to do in Statesville, NC but the top of your list should be a hot air balloon ride. Flights are available from experienced pilots twice a day, seven days a week, year-round.
Floating amongst the clouds in a hot air balloon is an adventure definitely worthy of a spot on your USA bucket list. If you’re not quite ready to take to the skies, consider visiting during the annual BalloonFest where you can experience the magic of hot air ballooning even from the ground!
Have enough time to spend the entire weekend? Book a room at the Hilton Garden Inn and start exploring. You can’t come to Statesville without exploring the absolutely adorable and walkable downtown. Check out the shops, sculpture garden, and grab a bite at Broad Street Burger Bar.
Next, get your history fixed with a tour of Fort Dobbs Historic site or the Iredell Museums. Get outside and get active on the Statesville Greenway or explore the hiking and mountain biking trails at nearby Lake Norman State Park.
Finally round out your weekend with a visit to one of the local breweries or Southern Distilling Company.
Statesville is a great destination any time of year but especially beautiful during the fall and spring seasons. Whether you’re up for a hot air balloon adventure or just looking for an off-the-beaten-track place to visit in NC, Statesville has something for everyone!
Where to stay? Hilton Garden Inn | Best Airbnbs in North Carolina
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah | Unique vacation spots in the USA for outdoor lovers
By JJ from The Minivan Bucket List
- Nearest airport: Moab Airport
- Perfect for: Glamping, outdoors, unique landscape
Southern Utah is full of mind-boggling rock formations and Goblin Valley State Park is certainly one of the strangest. It may not be world-famous like Utah’s national parks but that’s part of its appeal – it’s a local hidden gem you can enjoy without the crowds.
The park is full of hoodoos but they’re shorter and very different from the spire hoodoos you see at Bryce Canyon – picture instead a small valley floor littered with thousands of giant mushrooms.
There isn’t a marked trail to follow, rather you simply explore the valley free range-style, which means no one person has the same experience. Goblin Valley is the perfect side trip for anyone planning to visit Utah’s national parks, so make sure to add it to your Utah Bucket List. It’s located right in between Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park.
You can easily take the thirty-minute detour off the highway to visit the park and take a couple of hours to explore it or if you want an off-the-beaten-path experience, you can camp overnight.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in Utah is glamping in a Goblin Valley yurt nestled among the hoodoos. Whether you choose a quick detour or an overnight stay, Goblin Valley is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip to Utah.
Where to stay? Goblin Valley yurt
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
By Karen from Outdoor Adventure Sampler
- Nearest airport: Marquette Airport (35 miles away)
- Perfect for: Backcountry camping, hiking trails, sea kayaking
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a hidden gem tucked in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near Munising. The Pictured Rocks are colorful sandstone cliffs on the shoreline of clear blue Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. The area can be reached by car or by flying into Marquette airport 35 miles away.
There are many ways to explore Pictured Rocks. The North Country National Scenic Trail running along the top of the cliffs is popular with hikers. Backcountry camping sites make it a spectacular overnight backpacking trip.
However, the best way to see the stunning beauty of the wild shoreline is by boat. The park is one of the most highly visited national parks for sea kayaking in the United States.
Vibrantly colored cliffs, waterfalls, sea caves, and arches beckon paddlers to explore the shore. Dangerous storms often descend on Lake Superior, therefore independent kayakers should have the advanced skills and the proper paddling gear.
National park sanctioned sea kayaking tour companies offer day trips for less experienced paddlers. These guided tours, that range from 2-8 hours long, will take kayakers along the spectacular stained rock walls and formations.
The most popular way to see Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is by a tour boat authorized by the National Park Service. These boat cruises are 2 1/2 to 3 hours long and travel a magnificent part of the 40 mile shoreline. Each boat trip departs from the Munising city dock. The tours often sell out so it’s wise to get your tickets early.
The best time to visit the Pictured Rocks is mid-summer through fall.
Where to stay? Roam Inn
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
By Claire from Claire Pins Travel
- Nearest airport: Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota, or Gillette, Wyoming with direct flights from Denver
- Perfect for: Unique rock formation, outdoor lovers, hikes
The unusual Devil’s Tower rock formation was created by molten rock millions of years ago and today rises high above the rolling landscape of the Black Hills, standing as the first designated national monument in the USA.
Located in northeastern Wyoming near the border with South Dakota, this distinctive natural wonder features hexagonal rock columns which are renowned for crack technique rock climbing.
Along with rock climbing routes, there are five hiking trails which range from 2.4 to 8 km and a popular activity is a sunset hike up the rock formation to get panoramic views of the surrounding Black Hills region.
This hidden gem is well worth adding to your itinerary on a road trip across the western United States, or a part of a journey to nearby popular destinations like Mount Rushmore or Badlands National Park. It is conveniently located just off of the Interstate 90 highway for those driving west into Wyoming or towards Yellowstone National Park.
To fully experience Devil’s Tower, consider booking at a nearby campground. The Devil’s Tower KOA has tent and RV campsites, cabins, a general store, pool, dog park, bike rentals, and a great view of the actual monument for sunrise and sunset.
The recommended and most popular time to visit is from late May to early September. Conditions for hiking and climbing will be optimal and travelers can avoid difficult winter driving conditions and road closures.
Be aware that an annual climbing closure is in place during the month of June out of respect for the significance of the rock formation to local Native American traditions.
To arrive by air, Rapid City Regional Airport in South Dakota has a limited number of daily flights from major cities like Chicago and Denver. There is also a slightly closer airport in Gillette, Wyoming with direct flights from Denver.
Where to stay? Best Western Devils Tower Inn
Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
By Daria from The Discovery Nut
- Nearest airport: McCarran International Airport. Read our 3 days in Las Vegas itinerary
- Perfect for: Outdoor lovers, hiking trails, scenic viewpoints
Cathedral Gorge State Park, is a remote and scenic natural wonder located in Central Nevada. The park is about 2. 5 hours away from Las Vegas, the nearest big city, and the remote location of this scenic place and lack of facilities, coupled with the lonely drive in the desert keeps many visitors from coming here.
This, however, can’t be said about some other state and national parks, such as Zion National Park or Valley of Fire State Park located along Interstate-70 that have had a huge increase in visitation over the last couple of years.
Their quick access to the interstate and social media fame has led to a spike in popularity that has put a significant strain on parks’ resources. Meanwhile, Cathedral Gorge State Park remains an undiscovered gem full of otherworldly views, and clear dark skies.
This state park also boasts a good variety of good hiking trails and many overlooks, and if you make your way out here, don’t forget to bring your camera, because you will want to take some photos. Many people who come here spend the night camping under the clear dark skies or stay in one of the nearby hotels.
The best time to visit Cathedral Gorge is from September through November and April through May when it’s not too hot. Although this national park is located north of Las Vegas summers here still can be a bit hot, so it’s better to plan your visit for the shoulder season.
Where to stay? Pine Tree Inn & Bakery | Stay in Las Vegas
Read: Epic west coast USA road trip itinerary
Fort Bragg, California
By Paroma from yr of the monkey
- Nearest airport: Charles M. Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa. Other options are SFO international or Oakland International airport
- Perfect for: Small town vibes, beaches, and coast views, redwoods, wines
Fort Bragg is a charming town in Mendocino county, that lies about 170 miles north of San Francisco.
Best known for access to world-famous beaches such as Glass Beach, mind-blowing views of the rugged California coast, and the Skunk train ride through the Redwoods, Fort Bragg is the sparkling hidden gem of Northern California town that you must explore as a nature lover!
Although the closest “large-ish” airport to Fort Bragg is the Charles M. Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa, I recommend flying to SFO international or Oakland International airports and starting driving northwards.
You can either drive inland along 101N or take the scenic San Francisco to Mendocino route along Highway1 to get to Fort Bragg as part of your fabulous Northern California road trip.
Since Fort Bragg is only 10 miles north of the popular coastal town of Mendocino, we recommend staying at the latter for more options. My favorite is the Blue Door Inns – the room, hospitality, and wine and cheese basket are simply superb!
Glass Beach Inn on Main Street in Fort Bragg is another good option for lodging.
Although the weather is mild (with some coastal fog in summer) year-round, December to February is the best time to visit Fort Bragg to catch the migration of the gray whales.
When in Fort Bragg, we highly recommend visiting Glass Beach so known for the shiny pieces of polished glass scattered everywhere in the sand (please don’t take them home), riding the Skunk train from downtown that chugs through the Redwoods and indulging in some serious whale watching at MacKerricher State Park.
Fort Bragg’s lone winery “Pacific Star winery” literally overlooks the coast and is a great place for wine tasting with fantastic views.
Where to stay? Blue Door Inns | Glass Beach Inn | The Beachcomber Motel
Letchworth State Park, New York | Best vacation spot in USA for fall
- Nearest airport: Rochester Airport (34.2 miles), Buffalo (43 miles)
- Perfect for: Romantic US weekend trips, drive through scenic routes and viewpoints, waterfalls, fall foliage
Letchworth State Park in the Finger Lakes region is one of the coolest spots in the USA to visit.
It is well known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” and is one of the most beautiful gems on the East Coast. The stunning Genesee River roars through the gorge, and three waterfalls flow between the cliffs, and it is as high as 600 feet.
One of the coolest things to do at the Letchworth State Park is to embark on a hot air balloon ride and soak in the views of the lush green forests from above. Being a nature’s paradise there are tons of trails – hiking and biking, snowmobiling, and skiing in the winter.
But you can enjoy a romantic weekend at Letchworth State Park. The majority of the park can be experienced by driving through, with minimal walking for viewing the falls. You will also love heritage sites and culturally immersive programs conducted at the state park.
Horse riding is also quite popular here. Plus tons of wine tasting options in the Finger Lakes region. Note that some of the activities at Letchworth Park will require a permit.
Letchworth State Park is amazing in the fall with all the lovely colors. In the winters, certain trails may be closed if you are looking for outdoorsy activities.
For accommodation, you can book any vacation rentals like an Airbnb, or a cozy cabin.
Where to stay? Cabin Creek Getaway | Letchworth Farm
Read: East coast weekend getaways | East coast USA road trips
Cumberland Island, Georgia
By Elle from 5 suitcases
- Nearest airport: Jacksonville, Florida (get to Cumberland via ferry from Fernandina Beach, Florida)
- Perfect for: Beaches, nature and history, historic ruins, wild horses
Once upon a time, Cumberland Island was a playground for the rich and famous. Today, the island is one of the most exclusive National Parks. In keeping with the VIP feel, the National Park Service limits the number of visitors to just 300 a day.
The island features stunning sugary beaches, marshland, iconic moss-draped trees, historic ruins and is known worldwide for its population of wild horses. Hundreds of wild horses call this island home, they can often be found around the Dungeness ruins, or trotting past sea turtles and horseshoe crabs on the sixteen miles of white sand beaches.
Cumberland Island is only accessible via boat. There is a ferry that departs from St. Marys, Georgia to the island.
The historic Greyfield Inn, built by the Carnegie family, offers overnight guests the epitome of sophisticated southern hospitality. If the upscale Greyfield Inn is a bit over your price range, there are also campsites available on the island.
Reservations for camping can be made up to six months in advance and a permit is required to camp.
Cumberland Island National Seashore is an amazing day trip from Savannah, Jacksonville, and the Golden Isles. It is best to visit the island during the winter months when the weather is cool and the bugs are at a minimum.
The island gets dreadfully hot and humid from June through September when the temperatures are in the 80s and above. This is also prime mosquito season and hurricane season.
Be sure to pack your own snack/lunch, beverages, sunscreen, and bug spray as amenities are limited on the island.
Cumberland Island National Seashore is definitely a place that you don’t want to miss!
Where to stay? Greyfield Inn
San Luis Obispo, California
By Ciara from Wellness Travel Diaries
- Nearest airport: San Luis Obispo County Apt (SBP) Airport or Santa Barbara (SBA)
- Perfect for: Beaches, parks, nature
Found in the Central Valley in California is the beautiful city of San Luis Obispo. It’s well-known for its wide variety of activities suitable for almost every traveler. Nearby you’ll find some of the prettiest beaches in Northern California, including the famous gigantic Morro Rock located in Morro Bay, only a 14 mile drive away.
Take a half-day trip to explore this bay, then roam around the city to witness the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a historic Spanish landmark. You’ll also find countless breweries with craft beers, nearby wineries, tasty eateries scattered, art galleries, and more.
In particular, one sweet-smelling piece of art can be found wandering downtown using your nose as a guide. Bubblegum Alley is a long alley whose walls are completely filled with chewed bubble gum. Keep your hands to yourself to avoid touching any freshly chewed bubble gum, then snap some pics of these candy-filled walls.
In addition, if you’re planning a trip to SLO, here are a couple of things to consider.
First off, the best way to get there is to fly into LAX and road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. However, if you’re short on time there the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport is located minutes away from the city center.
For accommodations consider staying at Apple Farm Inn. It’s a beautiful property located in the heart of the city and every room has a fireplace which is nice for holiday trips.
If you prefer a stay closer to the beachhead to Sycamore Canyon Springs, a resort located in a nearby beach town. Secondly, no time is a bad time to visit SLO. Although, some months are cooler than others California is the sunshine state so even during winter you can expect some sunshine.
Where to stay? Apple Farm Inn
Block Island, Rhode Island
By Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
- Nearest airport: Block Island Airport, or Westerly Airport (14.8 miles). You can also get there by ferry from New London
- Perfect for: Summer trips, beaches, lighthouses, hiking & biking trails
Not many people outside the local area have heard of Block Island, a small island 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. It’s a lovely place to spend a summer weekend.
The beaches are pristine and lovely for a morning walk. You can go in for a refreshing dip if you don’t mind the chilly water. There are also some beaches that are popular for clamming or fishing.
Seafood lovers will have plenty of choices at the different restaurants on the island. Lobster lovers will be in heaven because it is affordable and you can find it everywhere!
There are also plenty of trails for hiking or biking enthusiasts. Keep an eye out for the glass balls that are randomly hidden across Block Island as part of the Glass Float Project. You can also visit the two historic lighthouses and take in the panoramic views from the cliffs.
With all that Block Island has to offer, you will want to spend at least a night or two. The National Hotel is conveniently located in town and listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Plus, the hotel’s restaurant, The Tap & Grille, is one of the best places to eat on Block Island.
The best way to get to Block Island is by ferry. You can catch the ferry from a few different locations but it may be easiest to use the New London one as it is across the street from the train station.
While Block Island may be a bit out of the way, this hidden gem is definitely worth visiting.
Where to stay? The National Hotel
Natchez, Mississippi | Small town vibes with historic sites in the US
By Disha from Disha Discovers
- Nearest airport: Alexandria Airport (69.5 miles). Other options include Baton Rouge, Louisiana or Jackson, Mississippi
- Perfect for: Small town gems, scenic river views, historical landmarks
One of the best hidden gems to visit in the US is Natchez, Mississippi.
Natchez is worth visiting because it is rich in history and culture. Plus, you’ll find the best Southern food here. You cannot go wrong with anything you try here, from fried catfish to gumbo. Last but not least, Natchez is known for its beautiful scenery, especially along the Mississippi River.
Start your visit at the Natchez Visitors Center. Here you can find out more about what to see and do in Natchez, pick up a map, and get insider recommendations from locals. There is also a museum with some fascinating exhibits to learn more about the history of Natchez.
Also, Natchez is known for its stunning antebellum plantation homes and mansions, and there are several to visit during your stay. The most famous is probably Longwood, which was built in 1817 and is now a National Historic Landmark. Other famous plantations to visit include Stanton Hall, Magnolia Hall, Rosalie Mansion, and Melrose.
Another must-see attraction in Natchez is the mighty Mississippi River. There are several spots where you can admire the views, including the Natchez Bluffs and Fort Rosalie. You can also take a cruise down the river or go for a walk or bike ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Finally, be sure to spend a few hours walking around downtown Natchez. This picturesque area is quaint, and it’s dotted with cafes, restaurants, and antique shops.
Natchez Grand Hotel is a great place to stay, and the best way to get to Natchez is by flying into Baton Rouge, Louisiana or Jackson, Mississippi, and then renting a car to drive to Natchez. Spring is a great time to visit because the weather is beautiful.
Overall, Natchez is a beautiful town to visit for anyone looking for a charming and historic Southern getaway.
Where to stay? Natchez Grand Hotel
Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
By Jessica from Uprooted Traveler
- Nearest airport: Portland International Airport (60 miles away)
- Perfect for: Hiking and outdoors, waterfalls
Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity, Oregon may be reasonably well-known to Portlandians but remains a hidden gem amongst out-of-state visitors. Described as the “Crown Jewel” of the Oregon State Park system, Silver Falls offers the most quintessential Pacific Northwest landscape you can imagine.
In fact, the park has such a unique and mysterious beauty, it was actually used as a shooting location for the Twilight movies – think grand pine trees dusted with low-hanging clouds, dramatic basalt cliffs dripping with moss, and cascading waterfalls.
Waterfalls are what the park is most famous for, with approximately 17 beautiful falls found throughout its footprint. If you’re looking for the most bang-for-your-buck way to enjoy the park’s scenery, hike on the epic Trail of Ten Falls.
Along this 8.5-mile moderate hike, you’ll pass by (you guessed it!) ten falls, some of which reach over 170 feet in height. Even cooler, erosion has created amphitheater-like passages behind several of the falls, so the trail actually takes you behind four of the falls’ curtains of water.
To see the falls at peak flow, it’s best to plan your trip for the rainy spring or fall months (October through April) during the drier summer, a few of the falls dry up to little more than a trickle! If you’d like to immerse yourself in the park overnight, plan a stay at the Smith Creek Village, which provides rustic, yet cozy lodging inside the park’s borders.
Where to stay? Smith Creek Village
Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky
By Rebecca from Whatever Packs Your Bag
- Nearest airport: Blue Grass Airport (65 miles away)
- Perfect for: Outdoors, hiking trails, kayaking, miniature golf, fishing, canoeing
Kentucky is often overlooked and underrated, but it is full of epic gems that are begging to be explored. One of the most underrated gems in Kentucky is the Natural Bridge State Resort Park.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park is in Slade Kentucky, it is open year-round. There are tons of amenities to support your visit. There are campsites available if you are feeling outdoorsy.
There are 9 different hiking trails around the park but be warned the trail up to balancing rock involves a lot of stairs. During the summer months (April- October) you can pay a fee and take the ski lift to the top of the natural bridge.
This natural bridge is huge, you can spend the whole day just trying to get a picture. It is just so big. You can explore on top, around, and under the bridge and easily make a day of it. You can also hike the stairs at Devil’s Gulch, not for the faint of heart these stairs can be pretty steep and treacherous, but the climb is totally worth it.
Natural Bridge State Resort Park also offers kayaking, miniature golf, fishing, canoeing, and birding.
If you are staying in the area, make sure to explore the Red River Gorge area, there is an adorable Daniel Boone Coffee shop that has the basic necessities should you need a little something while in the area.
This epic gem is the perfect spot, that is off the beaten track and great for exploring on a long weekend.
Where to stay: Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Slade
Kalaupapa Peninsula, Hawaii
By Casandra from Karpiak Caravan
- Nearest airport: Kahului in Maui on Mokulele Airlines or from Hoolehua Airport in Molokai
- Perfect for: Outdoor lovers, adventure and history tours
The Kalaupapa Peninsula is located on the north side of Molokai in Hawaii. This two-mile-wide peninsula that extends out from a 2000 foot high cliff was once home to an isolated leper colony for those who were diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease.
It is now open to the public and offers hiking trails, historical tours, bird watching opportunities, and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
Tourists can visit with a special permit from their tour operator in order to explore the peninsula and learn more about this area’s history.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula in Molokai is one of the most beautiful spots on the island and it makes for a unique and fascinating day trip from Maui. There is a spectacular hike down the 2000 foot cliff but it is currently under repairs from a storm. The only way in is by airplane currently.
To get there, one would fly from Kahului in Maui on Mokulele Airlines or from Hoolehua Airport in Molokai. From there they can take an air tour to the Kalaupapa Peninsula or take the guided tour which starts at the visitor’s centre and ends with a picnic lunch at Kalawao overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The best time of year to visit the Kalaupapa Peninsula in Molokai is between the months of May and September when the weather is not too hot nor too rainy. Visitors must be 16 years of age or older to enter Kalaupapa.
There is only one hotel on the island of Molokai called Hotel Molokai but there are many vacations rentals located all over the island.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula in Molokai is a great place to visit as it offers unique activities for those looking for some adventure as well as those interested in history or culture. It has beautiful scenery and opportunities for photography lovers.
Where to stay? Hotel Molokai
Ausable Chasm, New York | Best kept secret family vacation spots
By Marianne from Journeying Giordanos
- Nearest airport: Plattsburgh Airport (10.2 miles)
- Perfect for: Nature trail, gorge, rafting, outdoor lovers, family
The Ausable Chasm is a wonderful hidden gem located in upstate New York just outside of Keeseville. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks,” the Ausable Chasm first opened to visitors back in 1870. It is now considered the oldest continuously operating natural attraction in America!
From New York City, the Ausable Chasm is a five-hour drive north on I-87. From Canada, it is approximately a two-hour drive from Montreal.
The Ausable Chasm is a 2-mile-long gorge carved from 500 million-year-old Sandstone. It was formed by glaciers, has walls as high as 175 feet, and is home to the main branch of the Ausable River.
Make sure to stop at the Visitors Center to pick up your entrance tickets and adventure passes. And while you are there, check out the displays to learn about the geological and tourist history of the Chasm.
The Ausable Chasm has a ton of things to do for the entire family. There are several hiking trails to explore that take you along the Ausable River and through lush forests.
Looking for something a little more exciting? The Ausable Chasm offers rafting tours. Climb aboard the raft, and float smoothly along the river as your guide talks about the history of the Chasm. During the summer, you also try floating down the river in a tube!
And for the adrenaline junkies, the Adventure Trail is a must-try! This Via Ferrata combines rock climbing and an obstacle course! You are harnessed to a steel cable and climb across the rock face on iron rungs, ladders, bridges, or carved steps.
And if you are planning to spend the night in the area, there are a number of hotels and campgrounds near the Ausable Chasm. Both the Best Western Plus and the La Quinta hotels are located within 8.5 miles in the town of Plattsburgh.
Where to stay? Best Western Plus | La Quinta hotels
Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota
By Kassidy from Kassidy’s Journey
- Nearest airport: Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, or Duluth International Airport
- Perfect for: Lakeside views, fall foliage (seasonal), hikes
Most think of Minnesota as just a land filled with snow. But truly, there is so much more to experience! The North Shore is home to some beautiful hidden gems in the USA, one being Tettegouche State Park.
Tettegouche State Park lies on the shore of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake!
With beautiful hikes to Minnesota’s highest waterfall and views of the lake in all directions, you surely won’t be disappointed by the beauty of this park.
Shovel Point and High Falls are the two best hikes in the park and can’t be missed.
There are a few areas within the park that allow you to walk along Lake Superior’s shoreline and experience the magic of the lake.
Palisade Head, located just outside of Tettegouche State Park is a pull-off from Highway 61 onto a cliff that offers some of the best views of Lake Superior. You even may see some people scaling the side of the cliff.
While on your way out of the park, be sure to make a stop at Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors for the best pie in the state.
Being a smaller state, Minnesota isn’t filled with tourists, and you’re able to enjoy your travels more peacefully. Summertime is typically best for visiting, as the weather is at its peak. For amazing fall foliage, plan your trip at the beginning of October!
There are plenty of options for campgrounds near Tettegouche State Park. But if you prefer a hotel, consider booking a stay at Bluefin Bay in Tofte.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport is the largest airport closest to the park, but you may also fly into the Duluth International Airport.
Tettegouche State Park makes for the perfect hidden gem for your next travels.
Where to stay? Bluefin Bay
Thurmond, West Virginia | Unforgotten & unknown places in the US
- Nearest airport: Beckley Raleigh County Memorial Airport (24 miles to Thurmond)
- Perfect for: Small town, deserted and offbeat
Thurmond is a ghost town located in West Virginia’s Fayette County. This little town was thriving and prosperous once upon a town, and now it only has five residents remain.
The economic downturn was one of the primary reasons why Thurmond was deserted in the first place. You can see the rail track and roads from those heydays. There are abandoned houses and hotels that were destroyed in fires and never rebuilt.
Thurmond is still a designated town, and most of the area is owned by the National Park Service for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Visit Thurmond to see how life was at the turn of the 21st century. You can walk freely through the ghost town, and check out the railroad that still goes through it. There are partially restored buildings, historic bridges, and a river view. Everything is like walking into a living museum.
When you visit in the fall, you will practically see no crowds, it was truly a ghost town.
Where to stay? Tru By Hilton Beckley (in Beckley)
Red Rock Canyon State Park, California
By Monica from This Rare Earth
- Nearest airport: Los Angeles Airport (126 miles)
- Perfect for: Hiking trails, rock formations, photography
Cantil, CA is a small and unknown town roughly 2 hours north of Los Angeles. The area is home to Red Rock Canyon State Park, a hidden gem that is home to towering red and orange rock formations, rugged desert hiking trails, and nearly-constant sunny skies.
This stunning park has somehow remained off the radar of most Los Angeles area natives. It is never crowded! Whether you are on a quick day trip from hectic Los Angeles or are passing through the state, Red Rock Canyon State Park is well worth a visit.
Hiking and photography are two of my favorite activities at Red Rock.
The park offers everything from a short 1-mile loop to a more than 10-mile trek, so there is a trail here for every level of hiker. The views are nothing short of spectacular.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is located within the Mojave Desert, so plan ahead and pack lots of water, food, and safety supplies. Spring and Fall are the best seasons to visit, due to the oppressive summer heat. Also, don’t forget your camera – you will definitely want to document the gorgeous landscapes.
If you enjoy camping, you can set up camp inside of the park for just $25 at the Ricardo Campground. If camping is not for you, hotels can be found in nearby California City.
After visiting Red Rock, consider checking out the nearby Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area, which is home to a native population of the desert tortoises. That’s right, turtles that live in the desert! Entry is free and the land is preserved for these reptiles.
Both attractions are within 30 minutes of each other off of Route 14 and are a spectacular and isolated escape from LA.
Where to stay? Best Western California City Inn & Suites
Put-in-Bay, Ohio | Best vacation spots for couples
By Nikki of She Saves She Travels
- Nearest airport: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (and then 2-hour drive)
- Perfect for: Water activities, small-town vibes, shopping, history
One of the best hidden gems to visit in the USA is Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Located on Lake Erie, it’s a small island that packs a punch! With a mix of small-town charm, water activities, and accommodations for visitors, it’s a great spot for families, couples, or a friends’ trip.
Put-in-Bay is an incredible destination! From shopping to kayaking, historical monuments and beaches to wineries and crystal caves, there’s a huge variety of things to do in Put-in-Bay.
Because it’s located on Lake Erie in the northern part of the US, it’s definitely a seasonal island and is best visited in the summertime. Enjoy live music, waterfront dining, swimming, and more.
You can visit Put-in-Bay as a day trip, although with so much to explore on this island on Lake Erie you’ll want at least a few nights on the island. You won’t find any high-rise or big chain hotels here, though. Try the Anchor Inn Boutique Hotel, Put-in-Bay Resort & Conference Center, or Put-in-Bay Waterfront Condos.
The closest large city to Put-in-Bay in Sandusky, Ohio. From there, you can choose to hop on a passenger ferry and rent a golf cart while on the island or take a cargo ferry with your vehicle. If flying into Ohio, you’ll want to grab flights to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Where to stay? Anchor Inn Boutique Hotel, Put-in-Bay Resort & Conference Center, or Put-in-Bay Waterfront Condos
Jekyll Island, Georgia
By Candice from CS Ginger
- Nearest airport: Brunswick Glynco Jetport (12 miles), Jacksonville (44 miles) and Savannah/Hilton Head (74 miles)
- Perfect for: History & culture, beaches, couples,
Jekyll Island is a beautiful small island off the coast of Southern Georgia. In the 1800s, Jekyll Island was a hunting club for the wealthy like the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.
The hunting club is now a hotel and is part of the historic Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District. There is lots of history on this island and beautiful Jekyll island beaches making it a great vacation destination.
The most famous beach on Jekyll Island is Driftwood Beach. It is commonly voted as one of the most romantic beaches in the United States. The entire beach is filled with large pieces of driftwood, including trees with their roots still attached. The trees have come from erosion on the island. Visiting the beach at sunset is just dreamy.
Besides spending time at the beach, you can explore the Jekyll Island Historic District, visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and eat dinner at the Historic Jekyll Wharf.
The most historic hotel on Jekyll Island is the Jekyll Island Club Resort. It is a beautiful hotel with a croquet court in front of the hotel. It is full of Southern charm and part of a picturesque neighborhood.
If you’re looking for something a little more modern with amenities like a swimming pool, Jekyll Ocean Club is a great choice.
Early summer and fall are the best times to visit Jekyll Island. You will avoid the humid and hot summer temperatures and avoid the summer crowds. From September through October the high is in the 70s with cooler mornings and evenings.
There are quite a few airports within a few hours of Jekyll Island. It is 90 minutes south of Savannah, Georgia. The closest airport is Brunswick Glynco Jetport (BQK) which is about 12 miles away. Jacksonville (JAX) is 44 miles away and Savannah/Hilton Head (SAV) is 74 miles away.
Where to stay? Jekyll Island Club Resort | Jekyll Ocean Club
Estes Park, Colorado
By Meg from Fox in the Forest
- Nearest airport: Denver International Airport
- Perfect for: Hikes, nature trails, chasing fall foliage
One of the best hidden gems in the USA is Estes Park, Colorado. It’s a quiet little mountain town that is known for being the unofficial gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.
It’s also largely overshadowed by some of the state’s bigger cities, like Denver and Colorado Springs.
So, if you would like to visit this picture-perfect, outdoor oasis for yourself then fly into Denver International Airport and grab a rental car upon arrival. Once on the road, the drive to Estes Park will take about one and a half hours.
From here, you can easily explore some of Rocky Mountain Park’s most iconic hikes, including treks to Emerald Lake, Sky Pond, and Longs Peak if you’re a more serious hiker.
Next, grab some new age, mountain cuisine amidst the warm and welcoming, rustic atmosphere of Bird & Jim restaurant. Take in the magnificent mountain views all around you while sipping on a Sunflower cocktail and devouring a delicious buffalo burger.
Afterward, grab an ice cold beer from the extensive menu at The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern, before listening to some of the awesome live music on offer.
Next, enjoy one of the best hikes in Estes Park at Lily Lake. It’s an easy, 0.8 mile loop trail around the perimeter of the lake that will take you no more than 30 minutes to complete.
If you can, time your visit for autumn – from late September through early October – so that you can appreciate all the gorgeous colors that envelope the area.
Finally, unwind for the night at the Stanley Hotel, which was famously featured in the film The Shining.
Otherwise, if you’re a true nature lover, you can’t beat a night sleeping under the stars and camping at nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
Where to stay? Huge Stanley Heights Home with Mtn View by Lake Estes
Read: Best ski resorts in Colorado for beginners
By Keri of Bon Voyage With Kids
- Nearest airport: Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell (12 miles away)
- Perfect for: Nature trips, skiing & snowshoeing, beaches & beach activities, families
One of the best-hidden gems to visit in the USA is Whitefish, Montana. This special small western town, close to Glacier National Park, is often overlooked for Bozeman, Montana, which is home to Big Sky ski resort and closer to Yellowstone, National Park.
But Whitefish is a hidden gem that should not be overlooked. Home to its own ski resort, which is large in size but much less busy and much more affordable than Big Sky, as well as a darling Western town and right near Glacier National Park, you can find all that you want in a four-season Montana destination.
Whitefish is spectacular for its mountains, lake activities, sandy beach at Whitefish lake, winter skiing, snowshoeing, and other snow activities, access to Glacier National Park, and much more.
There are ranches and horseback riding nearby, as well as brewpubs, great restaurants, shopping, coffee roasters, arts, culture, and more. Having visited in both the summer and the winter, it is notably less busy both at Glacier National Park and Whitefish Ski Resort than Big Sky Resort and Yellowstone National Park.
Its quaint town is also smaller and more manageable than many more well-known western towns.
There are great options for lodging, including Grouse Mountain Lodge, The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, and Air BnB’s. If you choose to fly into Whitefish, the closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana. Whitefish is definitely one of the best-hidden gems to add to your bucket list in the USA.
Where to stay? Grouse Mountain Lodge | The Lodge at Whitefish Lake
Keewaydin Island, Florida | Secret vacation spots in the south
By Lori from Naples Florida Travel Guide
- Nearest airport: Southwest Florida International Airport
- Perfect for: Beach lovers, coast, sea turtles
Nestled between the bustling seaside towns of Naples and Marco Island in southwest Florida is a hidden island gem that not many tourists know of, but should. Keewaydin Island in Florida as it was 100 years ago, with deserted stretches of beach and just a few residences barely noticeable amongst the foliage.
The beaches on Keewaydin are among the best beaches in Naples and because of the lack of visitors, offer premier shelling. This is the place to come to find the biggest, most perfect seashells.
It’s also a popular spot for sea turtles to come ashore from March through October to lay their eggs.
The biggest appeal of Keewaydin is its inaccessibility — the island is only accessible by boat lending a nearly deserted feel, yet it’s so close to both Naples and Marco Island.
Several local boat tour operators run daily shelling and eco-tours to the island, or you can rent a boat from Naples or Marco Island and spend the day. You can also bring your dog along as it’s one of Naples’ only dog-friendly beaches.
The best time to visit Keewaydin Island is during the summer months if you’re looking to commune with nature. The Gulf of Mexico water is sublime — calm and warm, but refreshing — and the shelling is spectacular. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a turtle or a hatchling making its way back to the sea.
Book your overnight stay on nearby Marco Island at the J.W. Marriott Beach Resort, or in Naples at the Inn on Fifth along tony Fifth Avenue South.
Where to stay? J.W. Marriott Beach Resort | Inn on Fifth
Cache River State Natural Area, Illinois
By Ladona from Walking The Parks
- Nearest airport: Southern Illinois Airport
- Perfect for: Wetland, nature trips, outdoor lovers
If you like quirky, practically untouched, natural areas, then the Cache River State Natural Area should be part of any visit to southern Illinois. Here, the Cache River meanders across 15,000 acres of rich and vast wetlands that team with wildlife and rare botanicals.
There are 3 distinct sections to visit. The Little Black Slough is home to Heron Pond, a wetland of cypress and tupelo trees. A lovely boardwalk trail winds through a swamp that feels more like Louisiana than Illinois.
The song of the treetop birds, the call of exuberant frogs, and the breathing of the swamp combine to create music like no other. It’s only a 3/4 mile hike to the State Champion Cherrybark Oak that is over 100 ft tall and estimated 300 years old.
The Lower Cache River Swamps section is best seen by water. Bring your canoe or kayak and follow the 3 to 6-mile trail on the Cacher River (aka Bottomland Swamp) through rivers, swamps, and ponds.
You’ll want your binoculars as beautiful birds, some rare, are abundant. The highlight of this section is finding the World Champion Cypress Tree that is over 1000 years old. Yes, there are a lot of unique trees here!
The 3rd section is the Glass Hill Management Unit, about 3 miles north of Bottomland Swamp. On top of this inaccessible knob is a relatively undisturbed upland forest dominated by oak and hickory.
Don’t miss the Wetlands Visitor Center. In addition to interactive displays, you’ll find a 2,600-foot handicap-accessible hiking trail overlooking wetland along the old bed of Cypress Creek. The Center is also the 48-mile Tunnel Hill State Bike Trail terminus.
The Cache River State Natural Area is located about 2 1/2 hours southeast of St. Louis near Belknap, Illinois. It’s a rural area, so while hotels are far between, you’ll find fantastic cabin rentals throughout the nearby Shawnee National Forest region.
Where to stay? Shawnee National Forest region or near Belknap like Harrah’s Metropolis
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
By Charles from McCool Travel
- Nearest airport: Gulfport-Biloxi Airport, or Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
- Perfect for: Nature lover, coast town
The impossibly adorable small beach town of Ocean Springs is one of the secret hidden gems of the Secret Coast—which is what Coastal Mississippi (aka Mississippi Gulf Coast) calls itself.
Coastal Mississippi is snuggled between New Orleans and Mobile Alabama and you can easily find the Secret Coast by leaving the I-10 highway and heading south.
When flying, Gulfport-Biloxi airport is most convenient but New Orleans is only 90 minutes away. Any month of the year is worth a visit but Spring and Autumn seasons are particularly amazing. Some favorite towns to visit include Bay St Louis, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and, of course, Ocean Springs.
Ocean Springs Mississippi is our choice to introduce visitors to the Secret Coast because it truly feels like a hidden gem secret every visit. Elvis Presley and Al Capone spent significant time in Ocean Springs and so should you.
The vibrant yet quaint downtown features amazing restaurants (like Vestige and Maison De Lu), a phenomenal museum (Walter Anderson Museum of Art), local craft shops, galleries, a 1950s soda fountain diner, and uneven sidewalks uprooted by the classic, massive, and romantic live oak trees.
A few blocks away is Front Beach, which is a convenient, inspiring, and memorable spot to witness magnificent sunsets.
Nature lovers will love Ocean Springs. Biloxi Bay and Old Fort Bayou invite you to leave land and explore by SUP, kayak, or other watercraft. Gulf Islands National Seashore headquarters is only five miles from downtown Ocean Springs.
But also take time to walk around town and savor the extraordinary oaks—head to Ruskin Avenue to see the crown jewel, Ruskin Oak.
Favorite places to stay in Ocean Springs include The Roost, The Inn at Ocean Springs, and Front Beach Cottages. All three are locally-owned small businesses and within walking distance of the gorgeous downtown and beachfront areas.
Where to stay? The Roost | The Inn at Ocean Springs | Front Beach Cottages
By Vicky from Buddy The Traveling Monkey
- Nearest airport: Orlando Sanford International Airport
- Perfect for: Warm winter destination, historic town, breweries
One of the best hidden vacation spots in the US is the city of Sanford, Florida. It’s often overshadowed by Orlando, which is about 30 minutes south of Sanford. However, there are a lot of fun things to do in Sanford, so we don’t think it should be overlooked.
Sanford has a charming and historic downtown that is filled with restaurants and cute shops.
On Saturdays, there is a farmers market, and don’t be surprised if there is live music or some kind of festival going on during your visit; Sanford always has fun events going on. If you like beer, Sanford is for you. There are four breweries in town, plus a beer garden. There is also a winery and distillery if beer isn’t your thing.
Sanford also has a beautiful Riverwalk along the southern shore of Lake Monroe. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy views of the water and the many boats. You can also walk, run, or bike along the completely paved trail. It’s almost five miles long!
Another great thing about Sanford is that it’s great to visit any time of year. Winter is especially popular, though, because of its mild temperatures. Sanford is also easy to get to. It has its own airport: Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB).
For your stay, we recommend the Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Sanford. It’s only 10 minutes from downtown Sanford and has great amenities.
Where to stay? Holiday Inn Express & Suites | SpringHill Suites by Marriott Orlando North-Sanford
Bodega Bay, California
By Cortney from Tin Can Living
- Nearest airport: Sonoma County Airport (45 minutes), or San Francisco International Airport (an hour drive)
- Perfect for: Beaches, food
Bodega Bay is a small town on the coast of Northern California, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in America. Bodega Bay has been home to some famous movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” and is known for its secluded beaches. If you’re looking for a getaway from city life, Bodega Bay is one of the best destinations!
Bodega Bay is a great hidden gem because it’s not as well known as some of the other California coastal towns. It’s also a little more affordable than places like Santa Barbara or Monterey.
Bodega Bay is home to some beautiful beaches, and there are plenty of activities to keep you busy – from fishing to hiking to wine tasting. Be sure to visit Bodega Head and Bodega Dunes while you’re in town!
The best hotel to stay at when visiting this area is the Bodega Bay Lodge. The lodge is right on the water and has some of the best views in town. If you’re looking for a place to eat, head to Bodega Harbour Yacht Club – their seafood dishes are mouth-watering!
Any time of year is a good time to visit Bodega Bay, but the town is especially beautiful in the summer when the wildflowers are in bloom. It is quite easy to find Bodega Bay on a map, and it’s close to Bodega Dunes Beach.
Bodega Bay is also the closest coastal town to Sonoma County Airport (STS). You can drive there in about 45 minutes, or you can fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and take a car ride for an hour. Bodega Bay is truly one of the most beautiful places in America!
Where to stay? Bodega Bay Lodge
By Tom from MN Trips
- Nearest airport: Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport
- Perfect for: Industrial art and history, state parks nearby
Whether you’re looking for a few days in an interesting city or just a convenient jumping-off point for some intriguing wilderness, consider Duluth in Minnesota.
If you’re going to spend just a few days in Duluth, your visit should probably center around the port, which is one of the largest in the United States.
At the very west end of the Great Lakes, Duluth has developed as a huge shipping terminus for iron ore and grain. So, when it’s not winter, you can station yourself in Canal Park and watch the big ships enter and leave the port under the iconic lift bridge.
Canal Park is also a center of the Duluth restaurant scene, with Angies’s Cantina, Bellisio’s Italian Restaurant, the Lake Avenue Restaurant, and the Northern Waters Smokehaus.
While you’re in the neighborhood, also be sure to check out the Maritime Museum for a history lesson on Great Lakes shipping, including a map of the hundreds of shipwrecks on Lake Superior.
Uphill from the lake is Skyline Drive, affording views of the city and lake below, and a special treat: Hawk Ridge Nature Center and Observatory. That point is a key spot on the route for migratory birds, and the abundant native raptor population. Bring your binoculars.
Duluth is also a convenient starting point for exploring the North Shore of Lake Superior. There are eight Minnesota state parks spaced along the shore between Duluth and the Canadian border about 160 miles away.
If a long, wilderness hike is more to your liking, the national Lake Superior Hiking Trail will take you all the way up the shore through the Lake Superior National Forest.
For a real treat, stay at the Cotton Mansion Bed and Breakfast, both for a dose of history and turn-of-the-century luxury, but also the fantastic breakfasts.
You can get to Duluth via air, or by flying into Minneapolis-Saint Paul and taking a two-hour drive to the north.
Where to stay? Courtyard by Marriott | Cotton Mansion Bed and Breakfast
Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, Texas
- Nearest airport: Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport (in Killeen, about 68 miles from the center of Hamilton)
- Perfect for: Offbeat travel, nature, hikes
One of the off the beaten path travel in the USA is to head to Central Texas (Balcones Canyonlands Preserve), which is home to the Hamilton Pool. This is a natural pool surrounded by tall cliffs and a limestone grotto.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is a historic swimming hole, that was designated as such in 1990.
It is located 3/4 mile upstream from its confluence, and it spills out a stunning 50-foot waterfall as it plunges into a canyon.
Although it is a swimming hole, at the moment, swimming is not allowed due to falling rocks.
Hiking is a popular activity here. You can embark on the moderately rated 2.90 km Hamilton Pool Park Trail that features the waterfall. The trail is accessible all year round. And the waterfall doesn’t dry up in the drought months, you can still see water trickling down.
The best time to visit Hamilton Pool Preserve is in July and August when swimming was allowed. For hikes try to head there in the morning, and then make your way to the waterfall area.
Where to stay? SpringHill Suites by Marriott Austin West/Lakeway | Hampton Inn and Suites Austin – Lakeway
So there you have it. These are some of the epic vacation spots in the USA that are worth visiting. It is possible that some of these picks may be known, and some may be completely unheard of – well, that was the purpose of compiling this list together so that you can enjoy some off-the-beaten path destinations in various parts of the U.S.
Need a list of popular cities, national parks, or stunning landscapes from sand dunes, to craters? Then read our US bucket list check list!
- USA Travel Guides