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37 Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US to Visit in 2021

January 22, 2021
Person Doing Yoga at The Wave in Kanab, Utah, USA

Looking for an epic holiday away from the crowds? There are so many incredible hidden gems in the US, from secret mountain villages and white sand beaches to mystic ice caves. All of them deserve a spot on your USA bucket list. In this article, you’ll discover some of the best hidden vacation spots in the US from the west to the east.

Get ready to explore some offbeat hiking trails on the West Coast, breathtakingly unique landscapes in the Midwest, and unexplored islands on the East Coast. You’ll also find a wide variety of vacation ideas including weeklong family vacations, honeymoon getaways, girls trips, and long weekend destinations. These best unknown places to visit in the USA also offer all kinds of activities such as stargazing, food tasting, and dolphin-watching!

Disclosure: This awesome, free article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me continue to provide helpful, free content for you.

In This Article: show

Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US: West Coast

1. Stanley, Idaho

Mountains Reflecting in the Water in Stanley, Idaho

Explored by Megan of Megan & Aram

How to get there: 2.5 hours by car from Boise, ID

Located in Custer County, beautiful Stanley, Idaho doesn’t get as much recognition as it probably should, and for that, it remains one of the best hidden gems in the US. This tiny town may only have 69 residents, but the sheer amount of activities and spots to see make it a place to keep an eye on. In fact, it is slowly climbing to the top of people’s bucket lists.

In Stanley, you can enjoy a relaxing vacation at the Mountain Village Resort, a place known for its delicious, Idaho-inspired meals and cozy accommodation. There are also a couple of notable museums to see, such as the Stanley Museum, which discusses the history of the town.

What really makes visiting Stanley an epic experience, though, is that it is the ideal base for exploring some of Idaho’s best natural spots. Sawtooth National Forest, Sawtooth Lake, and Stanley Lake are nearby and you can experience some of Idaho’s best hiking in this nationally-designated area. One of the most famous trails in the area is the Iron Creek Trail, which takes hikers to Sawtooth Lake.

Stanley also makes the perfect base for soaking in some of the famous hot springs in Idaho, such as Boat Box Hot Springs and Sunbeam Hot Springs. Spend a minimum of 2 days in this town and you’ll see that it has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a relaxing and rustic vacation or an active and adventurous one! It is definitely one of the best secret places in the USA.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Stanley High Country Inn (⭐️ 8.8) | Mountain Village Resort (⭐️ 8.0) | Bluebird Cabin (⭐️ 4.9/5)


2. San Luis Obispo, California

San Luis Obispo from Bishop Peak in California

Explored by Daria of The Discovery Nut

How to get there: 1.5 hours by car from Santa Barbara, CA and 2.5 hours by car from Big Sur, CA

Located along the Central Coast of California, San Luis Obispo bears the nickname of “The Happiest City in America.” While this town offers great outdoor opportunities and rich culture, it is often overshadowed by the glamorous Santa Barbara located south of it and the touristy Big Sur that sits just north of it. But this is exactly what makes San Luis Obispo a perfect destination for your next California trip.

Unlike other places around the Golden State that might feel overcrowded during the peak season, San Luis Obispo offers a more quiet atmosphere and authentic flair. Begin your trip by exploring the quaint downtown area and cultural landmarks such as Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, Bubblegum Alley, and Fremont Theater.

If you enjoy physical activities, spare about half a day for climbing one of the Seven Sisters, the dormant volcanic hills that surround San Luis Obispo. One of the most popular peaks is Bishop Peak, a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) round-trip hike that is considered moderate. You can easily spend 2-3 days in San Luis Obispo, and there are also tons of day trips you can take from there.

For instance, the town of Paso Robles is just about 30 miles away and is famous for its vineyards and green rolling hills. Nearby, you’ll also find Montaña de Oro, one of California’s largest state parks; a postcard-perfect destination with gorgeous beaches and blooming flowers in the spring. Finally, if you just want a chill day, take a quick trip to Pismo Beach or Avila Beach — both of these beach towns have plenty of restaurants, stores, and other amenities for visitors. 

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Quality Suites Downtown (⭐️ 8.8) | The Kinney San Luis Obispo (⭐️ 8.5) | Apple Farm Inn (⭐️ 9.1)


3. Sedona, Arizona

Rock Landscapes in Sedona, Arizona, USA

Explored by Valentina of Valentina’s Destinations

How to get there: 2 hours by car from Phoenix, AZ

Sedona is definitely one of the best unknown places to visit in USA. This tiny town is a great stopping point if you’re headed to the Grand Canyon (it’s only a 2-3 hour drive to Grand Canyon’s Southern Rim). While Sedona is a small city, there’s no shortage of attractions and entertainment here. It’s also a wonderful place for active travelers who love the great outdoors. In fact, Sedona is famous for its gorgeous red rock landscapes, canyons, scenic vistas, and unique wildlife.

Among the most exciting things to do in Sedona are hiking, mountain biking, and jeep touring. The most legendary hikes here include Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock. If you’re looking for some rest and relaxation, there are also plenty of opportunities to do yoga, meditation, healing practices, and mystic experiences in Sedona. Stay at the Enchantment Resort (the best spa in America) or one of Sedona’s many famous resorts.

Since Sedona is considered a vortex site (a place of unique energy flow), it’s a legendary place for enlightenment and spirituality. Some cool places to check out include the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. Be sure to also taste the local food and wine, which consist of Tex-Mex inspired dishes and prickly pear desserts that’ll have you drooling. Some of the best places to eat at are Elote Cafe and Che Ah Chi.

Sedona is also one of the best places to enjoy stargazing as it’s one of the few International Dark Sky Communities in the world. In fact, off-the-beaten-path activities in Sedona include UFO tours!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa (⭐️ 8.4) | Arroyo Pinion Hotel (⭐️ 8.2) | Arabella Hotel Sedona (⭐️ 8.6) | Enchantment Resort (⭐️ 4.8/5)


4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

A Photographer Standing By Lava in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Explored by Marcie of Hawaii Travel with Kids

How to get there: 45 mins by car from Hilo, HI and 2.5 hours by car from Kailua-Kona, HI

While Oahu and Maui tend to be top choices for vacations to Hawaii, the Big Island is a less-touristy option with some amazing hidden experiences. One of the coolest places to explore on the Big Island is definitely the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This underrated UNESCO World Heritage Site is the best place to see lava in Hawaii. It’s also the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes who plays a huge role in Hawaiian culture.

Your first stop should be the visitor center, where you can find out which special ranger programs are happening during your trip and which areas of the park are your best bet for seeing the lava flow. You can also get tips on which hiking trails might be a good fit for your family.

One of the most popular things to do at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is driving the Crater Rim. This driving route has tons of scenic lookouts, photo opportunities, attractions, and hiking trails. If you have time, you’ll want to spend a few minutes exploring the Thurston Lava Tube along the route. This is where lava passed through the mountain, creating a tunnel.

If you don’t have a rental car, you can easily join a day tour from Hilo or Kona. There are also tons of cool tours to take where you can get fairly close to the lava, which is especially spectacular to see at night. You can do Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as a Big Island day trip, but many people choose to spend the night so they have enough time to truly explore. While there are tons of cozy lodges inside and just outside the park, camping is also a popular option for outdoorsy people.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Volcano Village Lodge (⭐️ 9.1) | Volcano Eco Retreat (⭐️ 9.9) | Aloha Junction Bed & Breakfast (⭐️ 9.2)


5. Solvang, California — One of the Best Hidden Gems in the US

Buildings in Solvang, California

Explored by Trijit of BudgetTravelBuff

How to get there: 40 mins by car from Santa Barbara, CA and 2 hours by car from Los Angeles, CA

If you’re obsessed with Europe and want to get a European vibe in the US, look no further than Solvang, a tiny quaint city in Santa Barbara county. It is also known as the ‘Danish Capital of America’ where you can see gorgeous Danish-style architecture, beautiful wineries, and a number of Danish-inspired bakeries and restaurants. Despite being a small hidden town in California, you will find plenty of things to do in Solvang.

To discover its European ambiance, visit downtown Solvang, where you can explore the unique architecture of the Little Mermaid Fountain, the Round Tower, the red clog, and the giant wooden windmills. There are also plenty of small restaurants and cute bakeries downtown. Be sure to try the Danish waffle and Florentine cookies from Mortenson’s Danish Bakery. All their pastries are super delicious, though!

Another cool place to see in Solvang is Hans Christian Anderson Park, a must-visit if you’re visiting with kids. There, you’ll find a little playground, a climbing wall, and a music-making system that creates chimes just like in fairytales. A trip to Solvang would also be incomplete without visiting its remarkable wineries. Rusack Vineyards and Buttonwood Farm Winery are two of the best ones and you can taste some award-winning wines there.

You can also taste wine and go horseback riding at Vino Vaqueros, an experience that offers breathtaking views of the Santa Ynez Valley from the hilltop. You can visit Solvang as a day trip from either LA or Santa Barbara, but there are also plenty of gorgeous places to stay the night if you want to relax more!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Svendsgaard’s Lodge (⭐️ 8.5) | Mirabelle Inn & Restaurant (⭐️ 8.9) | Wine Valley Inn (⭐️ 8.5)


6. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park in Alaska, USA

Explored by Agnes of The Van Escape

How to get there: 2 hours by car from Valdez, AK and 3.5 hours by car from Anchorage, AK

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park in Alaska is definitely one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. At 13.2 million acres, it is the largest National Park in the country, but thanks to its remote location, it’s also one of the least crowded ones. Getting there from Anchorage or Valdez isn’t all that easy; the last 60 miles (96 km) from Chitina is a rough, gravel road, and even with a 4×4, it’s a challenging drive. It’s also possible to take a shuttle bus from Chitina or Glennallen.

This park has the nation’s largest glacial system, with glaciers covering 35% of the parklands. One of the most famous ones is Nabasena, the world’s longest valley glacier, stretching over 53 miles (85 km). You can visit the glaciers and even take a flightseeing tour to see them from above! The views are simply breathtaking. Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is also home to numerous hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty. Some of the best ones are the Root Glacier & Stairway Icefall Trail and the Bonanza Mine Trail.

At the center of the park, you’ll find the Kennecott Mines, an abandoned boomtown that used to house one of the world’s richest copper reserves in the 20th century. This national historic landmark is definitely worth visiting, and you can explore all its abandoned mine buildings and mills. The tourist season for Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is usually from June to mid-September. Spend at least 2-3 days here to enjoy this hidden gem to the fullest; the best places to stay overnight are in the charming town of McCarthy.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Wrangell Mountain Lodge | Blackburn Cabins (⭐️ 4.7/5) | Ma Johnson’s Hotel


7. North Bend, Washington

Snoqualmie Falls, Washington, USA

Explored by Agnes of The Van Escape

How to get there: 40 mins by car from Seattle, WA

North Bend is one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US thanks to its location in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. In fact, the Snoqualmie Valley area in North Bend offers many scenic views, rivers, and most of all — a wide variety of uncrowded hiking trails. This small town’s charm and serenity truly make it an amazing place for ultimate relaxation.

One of the most scenic hiking trails in North Bend is the John Wayne Pioneer Trail winding through the valley. You can also do a more challenging hike up to Mount Si, a trail that takes you up 3,100 ft (944 m). While you can find some of the best and most varied hikes in the state in North Bend, there are also plenty of things to do inside the city as well. The local Train Museum offers rides on their refurbished dining cars, which is a fantastic experience. It’s also worth stopping at the Snoqualmie Falls Brewery for some beer or cider.

North Bend is also featured in the TV series Twin Peaks, so there are plenty of awesome Twin Peaks locations to visit in this area if you’re a fan of the show. One of them is the Salish Lodge & Spa, which sits on top of the stunning Snoqualmie Falls. This lodge is also one of the best places to stay in the area. Be sure to spend at least a weekend in North Bend, but if you have more time, there are enough attractions and activities here to keep you busy for a whole week!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Salish Lodge & Spa (⭐️ 9.1) | Snoqualmie Nest (⭐️ 9.6) | Mother in Law Suite w/ Private Hot Tub — Downtown (⭐️ 9.6)


8. Lone Pine, California

Mountains in Lone Pine, California

Explored by Dhara of Roadtripping California

How to get there: 3.5 hours by car from Los Angeles, CA

The little town of Lone Pine is located at the southern end of Eastern Sierra and offers tons of spectacular scenery and adventurous activities. There are so many fun things to do in Lone Pine that once you discover them, you’ll want to visit again and again! One of the top reasons to explore Lone Pine is to climb Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States. You can do it as a backpacking adventure or as a day hike depending on your skills and experience.

Lone Pine is also situated at the entrance of the Death Valley, so it’s the perfect base from which to visit this desert national park and take in its many attractions, from sand dunes to salt flats and badlands to canyons. Also nearby is the photogenic Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, where you can see several dozen natural arches and camp for free. There are also many epic hikes around Lone Pine; some of them being high altitude hikes in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

During your time in town, be sure to visit the Museum of Western Film History and the Manzanar National Historic Site, where many people of Japanese origin were incarcerated during World War II. You can visit Lone Pine at any time of year, although higher elevations may be covered in snow in the winter. To fully experience the sights and adventures around Lone Pine, plan to spend at least 3 days here — ideally even longer. Many visitors enjoy camping or arriving in an RV so that they can enjoy the wilderness in the early and late hours of the day.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Dow Villa Motel (⭐️ 8.8) | Portal Motel (⭐️ 8.4) | Quality Inn Lone Pine near Mount Whitney (⭐️ 8.2)


9. La Conner, Washington

Purple Tulips in Skagit Valley, La Conner, Washington

Explored by Nicole of Go Far Grow Close

How to get there: 1 hour by car from Seattle and 1.5 hours by car from Vancouver Airport

La Conner is a small fishing town on the Skagit River in northwestern Washington and one of the best secret vacation spots in the US. This town is filled with quaint hotels, Bed & Breakfast Inns, and arts and crafts stores. One of the best things to do in La Conner is to go “antiquing”. In fact, there are dozens of antique shops both in the town center and a short drive into the countryside, and you can find some beautiful, funky, and crazy pieces of old-time furniture and memorabilia.

Every year, normally in April, Skagit Valley hosts the tulip festival. It is an absolutely beautiful event to see. The fields surrounding La Conner and beyond are filled with thousands and thousands of tulips in almost every color that you can possibly imagine. For a small entrance fee, you can walk the fields and purchase very inexpensive tulips.

One of the most special things that you can do either to or from La Conner is to take the scenic Chaukanut Drive. This drive is approximately 21 miles (33 km) long and for most of it, you’ll be driving along the Pacific Ocean with absolutely gorgeous views of mountains, trees, and water. There are also a few excellent seafood restaurants along this drive such as the Chuckanut Manor Restaurant and the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive, so make sure to visit during lunch or dinner.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Katys Inn (⭐️ 9.7) | The Heron Inn and Day Spa (⭐️ 9.2) | La Conner Channel Lodge (⭐️ 8.6)


10. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Point Lobos State Reserve Near Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Explored by Allison of California Crossroads

How to get there: 2 hours by car from San Francisco, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea, often simply known as “Carmel”, is a beautiful secret vacation spot in California that is beloved by Bay Area locals but not as well known outside of the state. While it has gotten some recent attention due to nearby locations being used in shots of Big Little Lies, such as the famous Bixby Creek Bridge, Carmel-by-the-Sea is still a quiet seaside town that looks almost as if out of a fairytale.

Carmel is a great vacation spot because it’s very close to many incredible tourist attractions and hikes, such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 17-Mile Drive, Garrapata State Park, and Point Lobos State Park, amongst others. With that said, it’s also a destination worth visiting in itself; full of delicious restaurants, beautiful art galleries, and a gorgeous State Beach.

Other great things to do in the area include walking down the Carmel Meadows Trail, visiting the Carmel Mission Basilica Museum, and enjoying local wines at some of the nearby wine bars and restaurants. If deciding how long to stay in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a weekend in Carmel is usually a good bet. Alternately, you could stop in Carmel for the night as you journey further down the Pacific Coast Highway or through nearby Big Sur as part of a larger California road trip.

Not sure where to stay in Carmel? There are so many great places to spend the night, but L’Auberge Carmel is a cut above the rest. It has gorgeous modern rooms with perks like bathtubs and a delicious on-site restaurant.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: L’Auberge Carmel (⭐️ 8.6) | Briarwood Inn (⭐️ 8.6) | The Colonial Terrace (⭐️ 8.6)


11. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park in Nevada, USA

Explored by Allison of She Dreams of Alpine

How to get there: 4 hours by car from Salt Lake City, UT and 5 hours by car from Las Vegas, NV

Tucked away in the corner of eastern Nevada near the Utah border, Great Basin National Park offers acres of incredible landscapes to explore, but many people have never even heard of it. About 5 hours north of Las Vegas, Great Basin is still a bit of a secret, making it the perfect place for a secluded outdoor adventure in a ruggedly gorgeous setting.

One of the highlights of Great Basin is the Lehman Caves, which were formed by water running through limestone. In order to visit the caves, you must make a reservation (for a small fee) to take a ranger-guided tour. It’s totally worth it to see the cool caverns full of stalactites and stalagmites.

You’ll also find many amazing hikes in Great Basin National Park, where you can trek across a variety of terrain. The trails include an easy hike to some alpine lakes as well as an adventure through ancient bristlecone pine trees to the foot of a glacier. You can even attempt the challenging hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the second-highest peak in Nevada.

Great Basin is quite large, so you should plan to spend at least a few days in the park to explore as much as you can. Plan to stay at one of the five developed campgrounds in the park, most of which are first-come/first serve. While visiting Great Basin in winter can be a wonderful experience, be aware that only one of the campgrounds is open year-round. You can find more accommodation options in the nearby town of Baker, Nevada.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Hidden Canyon Retreat (⭐️ 9.5) | Stargazer Inn Nevada (⭐️ 8.4) | Vintage Remodeled Trailer (⭐️ 4.9/5)


12. Redding, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park in Redding, California

Explored by Chris of California Travel Media

How to get there: 3.5 hours by car from San Francisco, CA

When you think of a trip to California, you probably think about visiting one of the well-known spots like San Francisco, Hollywood, Napa, or Yosemite. But California is a state full of interesting and surprising places. In one such place, you can visit 2 volcanos, 6 waterfalls, the largest man-made lake in the state, and some caverns. You might assume that this place is a typical tourist destination, but unless you’re from California, you may have never even heard of Redding.

Redding is at the northern end of California’s large Central Valley, just south of Shasta Lake. It can be a great base for seeing the nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen has a number of volcanos, including the majestic Mount Lassen. You can take a number of hikes there, including a trek along Kings Creek to a waterfall.

There’s an easy one-day driving loop from Redding that will take you to 5 additional waterfalls, including McArthur-Burney Falls, which was called “the Eighth Wonder of the World” by Theodore Roosevelt. While it’s not the tallest of California’s waterfalls, it might just be the most beautiful one. This driving loop will also give you views of Mount Shasta, another gorgeous dormant volcano.

An easy half-day trip from Redding will get you a tour of the beautiful Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark, which includes a boat trip on Shasta Lake. There are also plenty of other things to do in Redding, and the area definitely deserves at least a 3-day visit.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: The Oasis (⭐️ 9.6) | Sheraton Redding Hotel at the Sundial Bridge (⭐️ 9.0) | Hope Inn Redding (⭐️ 9.8)


13. Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

A Waterfall in Silver Falls State Park in Oregon, USA

Explored by Matt of Wheatless Wanderlust

How to get there: 1 hour and 15 minutes by car from Portland, OR

Oregon is known for its spectacular waterfalls, and there is no better place to see them than at Silver Falls State Park, which makes for a perfect day trip from Portland. Just an hour and 15 minutes south of Oregon’s biggest city, you’ll find an oasis of cascading waterfalls and lush greenery that is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Most visitors make it to the towering South Falls, a 177 ft (54 m) waterfall that you can walk behind because it is mere steps away from the parking lot. To see all 10 waterfalls in the park, set out on the 7.8-mile (12.5 km) loop that is fittingly named Trail of Ten Falls. It’s a moderate hike, gaining 800 feet (243 m) of elevation with plenty of options for trimming the length, although you’d be missing some of the more remote waterfalls. This hike is the crown jewel of Silver Falls State Park and the reason to make the journey from Portland. 

To tackle the Trail of Ten Falls, start at the South Falls, walk behind the waterfall, and make your way along the forested trail at the base of the falls that follows Silver Creek. Wind your way through the forest, making sure to take the quick detour to Double Falls, which at 178 ft (54 m), is the tallest waterfall in the park. Once you make it to North Falls, another waterfall that you can walk behind, loop back along the Rim Trail to your car to finish the loop. 

If you want to make it an overnight adventure, the campground at Silver Falls State Park is in a gorgeous forested setting with spacious sites, nice bathrooms, and options for tent and RV camping. Your other option would be Salem, the capital of Oregon, which has a nice downtown area that will put you 30 minutes away from the park. 

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Best Western Plus Mill Creek Inn (⭐️ 9.0) | Comfort Suites (⭐️ 8.4) | DoubleTree by Hilton North Salem (⭐️ 8.0)


14. Channel Islands National Park, California

A Rock in Channel Islands National Park, California

Explored by Michelle of The Wandering Queen

How to get there: Take a ferry from Ventura, which is 1.5 hours by car from Los Angeles, CA

Channel Islands National Park is one of the best unknown vacation spots in the US. While it’s located pretty close to Los Angeles, California, it’s still the second least visited national park in the state. In fact, you can explore these fantastic islands with almost no crowds all year long, and you only need around 1-2 days to experience this beautiful place.

The reason Channel Islands National Park remains a well-kept secret is that getting there can be a bit difficult. First, you have to drive to the village of Ventura, CA. From there, you can take a ferry ride to the islands with Island Packers Cruises.

There are no hotels on any of the islands, so you need to make sure you get back to the ferry on time and can stay overnight in Ventura. Another option is to camp on the islands, but be sure to bring lightweight backpacking gear since you have to haul them onto the ferry and hike around a mile (1.6 km) to get to your campsite.

One of the most popular islands to explore is Santa Cruz Island. There are many activities to do there, including sea kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking. You can also hire a kayaking guide on the island to take you on an exciting sea cave tour (make sure to book in advance).

The best tour company for that is Santa Barbara Adventure Co, which also lets you rent snorkeling gear. If you enjoy hiking, some of the most popular trails are Potato Harbor and Smugglers Cove. Just make sure you have plenty of time to get back to the ferry!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Waypoint Ventura (⭐️ 9.0) | Crowne Plaza Hotel Ventura Beach (⭐️ 8.4) | Crystal Lodge Motel (⭐️ 8.4)


Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US: Midwest

15. Apostle Islands Ice Caves, Wisconsin

Apostle Islands Ice Caves in Bayfield, Wisconsin

Explored by Lindsey of Have Clothes, Will Travel

How to get there: 5 hours by car from Green Bay, WI and 6 hours by car from Milwaukee, WI

The Apostle Islands Ice Caves in Bayfield, Wisconsin, are absolutely astonishing formations to see in the winter. Situated along Lake Superior, they’re formed when waves that splash against the rocks eventually freeze on the sandstone cliff. These stunning caves are typically accessible only from late January to late February, as Lake Superior needs to be frozen solid for visitors to safely walk to them. This is why they’re rarely visited — even by locals!

To reach the caves, you’ll need to hike for at least 2 miles (3.2 km) roundtrip on the ice of Lake Superior. Be sure to dress warmly and to wear winter boots that you’ll be comfortable walking in for long distances. It’s also important to dress in layers, as you’ll get warm from hiking to the caves and will likely want to shed a layer or two (even in the middle of a Wisconsin winter).

Keep in mind, though, that the lake doesn’t always freeze enough for the caves to be accessible. Unfortunately, strong winds can sometimes wreak havoc on the ice formations and make them disappear overnight. Be sure to check the conditions of the ice caves before planning your visit!

Visiting the Apostle Islands Ice Caves makes for a great weekend trip. Bayfield also has many other outdoor activities in addition to the ice caves, such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. Downtown Bayfield is home to tons of charming restaurants and shops, as well as some of the coolest Airbnbs in Wisconsin — you can find everything from gorgeous treehouses to yurts!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Boulderridge Treehouse | Lakeside Suite | Orchard Rustic Yurt & Gardens


16. Kanab, Utah

The Wave in Kanab, Utah

Explored by Andrea of BeaUTAHful World

How to get there: 3 hours by car from Las Vegas, NV

For adventure lovers, the city of Kanab in Utah is definitely one of the best hidden paradises in the USA. Because it’s located just about as south as you can get in Utah, traveling to Kanab may make you feel as though you’re headed to the middle of nowhere. However, the minute you arrive, you’ll find yourself at the center of an incredible outdoor hub.

While Kanab isn’t adjacent to any national parks, it’s not far away from them either. So if you’re on a road trip through the southwest, this city is the perfect place to set up your base camp. One of the best things to do in Kanab is to hike to The Wave (Coyote Buttes North), an incredibly breathtaking sandstone rock formation. In order to access this gorgeous attraction, you’ll need to obtain an elusive permit through a lottery at the Bureau of Land Management Office in Kanab. There are also several other beautiful hikes to do in Kanab, such as Coyote Buttes South, White Pocket, and the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch.

In addition to outdoor activities, Kanab is one of the few places in Southern Utah with an actual foodie scene. This is probably a relief if all you’ve eaten while touring the rest of Southern Utah is Subway. Kanab is also known as “Little Hollywood” because many Western movies were filmed in this town, which may pique your interest if you’re into entertainment.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Hampton Inn Kanab (⭐️ 8.7) | La Quinta by Wyndham Kanab (⭐️ 9.1) | Red Canyon Cabins (⭐️ 9.0)


17. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park in New Mexico, USA

Explored by Kay of Enchanting Texas

How to get there: 1.5 hours by car from El Paso, TX and 3.5 hours by car from Albuquerque, NM

The stunning White Sands National Park in southeastern New Mexico is definitely one of the most underrated national parks in the country. Because not many people know about its unique natural wonders, you’ll pretty much never find it crowded — making it one of the best secluded vacation spots in the US that’s perfect to visit for a day or two.

This national park is home to the largest gypsum deposits in the world, manifested by the sea of gypsum sand dunes spread all over the park, stretching as far as the eye can see. Because gypsum sand has a startling white color, these sand dunes look like an absolutely surreal and spectacular winter wonderland.

You can hike and sandboard on the sand dunes and rent sand sleds at the Visitor Center of the park. Climbing to the top of the gypsum dunes to then slide down is also great fun! Kids will especially enjoy this experience, making White Sands National Park incredibly popular with families. 

This national park is also home to several interpretative nature trails, where you can learn all about the formation of the dunes and how the nearby flora and fauna have adapted to the environment. To make your experience here even more complete, be sure to drive the Dunes Drive to see more of the park. While White Sands doesn’t offer hotel accommodations or RV camping, you can find plenty of places to stay in the nearby town of Alamogordo.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Holiday Inn Express & Suites (⭐️ 8.7) | Hampton Inn Alamogordo (⭐️ 8.7) | Fairfield Inn & Suites (⭐️ 8.4)


18. Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

Needles Highway in Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

Explored by Lotte of Beste voor Kids 

How to get there: 30 minutes by car from Rapid City, SD

The Black Hills National Forest on the border of South Dakota and Wyoming is one of those secret places in the USA you probably haven’t heard of. However, there are no less than six stunning national parks, monuments, memorials, and historic sites in the Black Hills, all within a short drive of each other.

One of the best places to see in Black Hills National Forest is Sheridan Lake, where you can enjoy lots of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and snowshoeing during winter. There are also plenty of things to do in and around the water, such as fishing, waterskiing, and boating.

At the lake, there are two campgrounds suitable for RV and tent camping so you can easily spend a couple of days there! You can also do a scenic drive on Needles Highway to witness some of the most spectacular sceneries in the Black Hills. Another very interesting site is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, where you can learn about the Cold War, the development of nuclear weapons, and the people that worked and lived at the site. You can also take a tour around the Delta-01 Launch Control Facility.

Though not off-the-beaten-path, Mount Rushmore is another must-visit during any trip to the Black Hills. Admire the carefully chiseled faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln and walk along the Avenue of Flags.  

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Howard Johnson by Wyndham (⭐️ 8.6) | Sleep Inn & Suite (⭐️ 8.8) | Radisson Country Inn & Suites (⭐️ 8.5)


19. Texas Hill Country, Texas

Sunrise on a Field of Flowers in the Texas Hill Country

Explored by Kate of Lone Star Travel Guide

How to get there: 1 hour by car from both Austin, TX and San Antonio, TX

Tucked in the center of Texas lies a place that gleams with sparkling rivers, beautiful waterfalls, hundreds of vineyards serving up delicious wine, charming small towns, legendary swimming holes, and even a turquoise lake or two. This magical place — the Texas Hill Country — is one of the best hidden gems in the USA; while the cities that lie on its edges — Austin and San Antonio — see plenty of visitors, relatively few manage to hop in the car and discover the winding back roads.

Some of the best towns to visit in the Texas Hill Country include Fredericksburg (known for its German heritage and wineries), Wimberley (known for its artistic vibes and swimming holes), Burnet (known for its incredible fields of Texas bluebonnets each spring), Lockhart (known for its barbecue), and Spicewood (known for its waterfalls, swimming holes, and location on Lake Travis).

Other popular spots include Canyon Lake for swimming and boating, Guadalupe River State Park for tubing in Texas, Lost Maples State Natural Area for fall foliage, and Enchanted Rock for enjoying one of the best hikes in Texas.

While the Texas Hill Country can be a year-round destination, the best time to visit is from late March to mid-April, when the legendary wildflowers are blooming and the intense summer heat is yet to set in. However, all of that barely scratches the surface: with hundreds of hidden corners to uncover, the Texas Hill Country is a place worth getting lost in.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Fredericksburg Inn and Suites (⭐️ 8.6) | Coyote Casita | Cypress Fairway Village (⭐️ 9.1)


20. Big Sky, Montana — One of the Best Unknown Places to Visit in USA

Mountains and Greenery in Big Sky, Montana

Explored by Allison of Eternal Arrival

How to get there: 1 hour by car from both Yellowstone National Park, WY and Bozeman, MT; 3 hours by car from Billings, MT

Big Sky is a little-known mountain village and resort in Montana and definitely one of the best unknown vacation spots in the USA. Away from the crowds of Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky offers some truly incredible sceneries.

Most people who visit Yellowstone opt to stay in Jackson, WY, which is beautiful but expensive. Big Sky is Montana’s answer to Jackson: great for hiking in the summer, incredible for skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and has easy access to both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. 

Big Sky is worthy of a visit no matter the time of year. In the winter in Big Sky, you can hike to frozen waterfalls, enjoy the après ski scene, ski and snowboard down the pistes, or enjoy cozy cabin life. In the summer, you can hike alongside the beautiful Gallatin River or in the scenic nearby mountain ranges. It’s also a great time for day trips into Yellowstone National Park, which is hard to access in the winter, when nearly the entire park is only open to snowmobiles and snow coaches and closed to passenger vehicles.

If you’re visiting Big Sky in the winter and plan to ski or snowboard, stay for at least 5 days. If you’re visiting in the summer and plan to tour other nearby national parks like Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier, make Big Sky your base for at least 3 days and up to a week.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Marriott Residence Inn (⭐️ 9.0) | Summit Hotel at Big Sky Resort (⭐️ 8.3) | Big Sky Resort Village Center (⭐️ 9.0)


21. Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Harbor at Mackinac Island in Michigan

Explored by Paulina of Paulina On The Road

How to get there: 30 minutes by ferry from St. Ignace, MI and Mackinaw City, MI, both of which are approximately 4.5 hours by car from Detroit, MI and 3.5 hours by car from Lansing, MI

Situated in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is one of the most beautiful hidden islands in the US. In fact, this destination makes for the perfect Midwest weekend getaway as it’s been honored as one of the “Best Islands in the US” in the 2018 Condé Nast Travel Readers’ Choice Awards.

During your time in Mackinac Island, you can explore its beautiful state park as well as its various trails, forests, and limestone Arch Rock formations. Founded in 1780, Fort Mackinac is one of the most important attractions on the island. You can also hike up to Fort Holmes, the highest point on Mackinac, and witness the incredible view of the island from above and the Great Lakes beyond.

Enjoy a phenomenal view of the limestone Sugar Loaf Rock from Point Lookout. This rock is surrounded by a beautiful scenery of green forests and blue waters. Other unmissable things to do on Mackinac Island include a myriad of boat tours, from kayaks to sailboats. You can also enjoy fishing on the Straits of Mackinac.

Insider tip: do not take bikes to the island as they’re prohibited and there’s also no direct way to get there by road. However, you can reach Mackinac Island by ferry and find enough things to do to fill 3-4 epic days of vacation.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Island House Hotel (⭐️ 8.4) | Harbour View Inn (⭐️ 8.7) | The Inn at Stonecliffe (⭐️ 8.5)


22. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Sunrise Over Badlands National Park in South Dakota, USA

Explored by Nikki of She Saves She Travels

How to get there: 1 hour by car from Rapid City, SD

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is one of the best hidden gem vacation spots in the US and a very underrated and unique destination in the Midwest. With jaw-dropping scenery and full of incredible adventures, this park is most often visited as part of a larger trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, including seeing Mount Rushmore.

There are so many things to do in Badlands National Park, and it’s easy to visit without long lines or packed parking lots. Its jagged cliffs and unique rock formations are begging to be explored, and to fully experience the park, 2 days is recommended. Driving the Badlands Loop Road will allow you to see some highlights of the park, but to dive deeper into the scenery, hiking is a must. From simple boardwalk trails accessible to everyone to more challenging terrains, there’s a trail for every skill level inside this park.

Combine your trip with a visit to Custer State Park in the Black Hills, Sylvan Lake, and Mount Rushmore to make a week-long trip, and stay in a lakeside cabin or in town in Rapid City. Alternatively, you can visit Badlands National Park as a full-day stop as part of a week-long national park trip that also includes Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. All of these parks are nothing short of spectacular and perfect destinations to visit in the US.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Howard Johnson by Wyndham (⭐️ 8.6) | La Quinta by Wyndham (⭐️ 8.3) | Radisson Country Inn & Suites (⭐️ 8.5)


23. Broken Bow, Oklahoma

Broken Bow Dam in Oklahoma, USA

Explored by Derek and Mike of Robe Trotting

How to get there: 3 hours by car from both Dallas, TX and Tulsa, OK

The charming small town of Broken Bow, Oklahoma is definitely one of the best hidden vacation spots in the USA. Nestled in the wilderness surrounding Beavers Bend State Park, its natural beauty is due in large part to its location at the convergence of Mountain Fork River and Broken Bow Lake.

This area has become a popular getaway for couples, families, and groups of friends looking to escape the city and has recently emerged as a glamping and camping hotspot as well. However, outside of Oklahoma, not many people know of its existence.

You can explore a wide range of outdoor activities in Broken Bow such as kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and fly fishing in the lakes. If you’re planning a visit with kids, check out the Wildlife Museum or BigFoot Speedway (a Go-Kart racing track). There’s also a geology center — the Beaver’s Bend Mining Company, where children can learn about the rocks, minerals, and mining history of the area.

There’s even more fun for adults in Broken Bow: the area is home to several wineries and breweries for those looking for an offbeat wine trail or beer tasting destination. One of the local favorites is Girls Gone Wine on Route 259. Another perfect activity is visiting the Gardner Mansion & Museum, a two-story farmhouse that was built in 1884 for the chief of the Choctaw tribe. Today, it’s a museum housing artifacts from Broken Bow’s pioneer and Native American heritage.

The best way to explore the area is by booking a cabin or Airbnb in Broken Bow to be surrounded by the forest and wildlife. Many are so luxurious that you’ll enjoy just as much time at a cabin with hot tubs, stunning views, and game rooms as you would at a five-star resort!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Authentic Barnwood Cabin w/Large Deck | Travelin Light – Hot Tub, Fire Place | Couples’ Cabin w/Secluded Deck


24. Breckenridge + Frisco + Dillon, Colorado

Skyline of Breckenridge, Colorado in the Winter

Explored by Meg of Fox in the Forest

How to get there: 1.5 hours by car from Denver, CO

The enchanting mountains of the Breckenridge region of Colorado are definitely some of the best hidden paradises in the USA. After a short drive into the mountains from Denver, Colorado, you’ll find yourself in a magical world of soaring peaks and stunning scenery. The tri-town area of Breckenridge, Frisco, and Dillon is an absolute must-see. Nestled in the mighty Tenmile Range with a beautiful reservoir, there are ample things to do.

Start with one of the best hikes in Breckenridge and surrounding areas, or go for a SUP in the Dillon Reservoir. Road bikers will be spoiled for trails. Bike over the famous Vail Pass, Hoosier Pass, or around the reservoir for a fun-filled day of cycling. Or, try your luck at hiking to the top of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s famous 14,000-foot peaks (start before dawn).

After a long day of adventure, be sure to check out the downtown Frisco area. A far cry from most touristy mountain towns, this little slice of Main Street has everything from cute shops, delicious eats, and even a waterfront.

Most people opt to spend a weekend in the Breckenridge region. Winters and summer can get crowded with local tourists, so for the best experience, visit during the week and avoid holiday weekends. You can easily be entertained with 4 to 5 full days in the area. Dillon and Frisco are excellent places to base yourself to explore even more of Colorado’s mountain beauty.

Visit in the fall for an explosion of colors. The winters are for skiing, while the summer months bring wildflower blooms like you’ve never experienced. Spring is the quietest time in the area. However, it’s still too snowy to hike and too warm to ski. No matter when you choose to visit, you’ll love enjoying the incredible beauty of the Colorado Rockies in the Breckenridge, Dillon, and Frisco area.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Welk Resorts The Ranahan (⭐️ 9.2) | Lodge at Breckenridge (⭐️ 8.6) | Marriott’s Mountain Valley Lodge (⭐️ 9.1)


25. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Bluebonnets Bloom in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Explored by Michelle of That Texas Couple

How to get there: 5 hours by car from El Paso, TX

Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas is definitely one of the best secret places in the USA. Despite being well-known, it’s still one of the least visited national parks in the country due to its remote location. Don’t let that deter you though, as the park is home to the stunning Chisos Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the majestic Rio Grande River. In fact, visiting this national park should be on everyone’s Texas bucket list.  

Once you make the drive into Big Bend, you can find lodging in several of the small towns surrounding the park or choose to camp inside the park. Plan to spend 3-5 nights in this area, which will give you an ample amount of time to explore not only the park itself but also its surroundings, including the Texas ghost town of Terlingua.

Exploring Big Bend National Park is truly a treat as it is home to so many fabulous national wonders, including more bird species than any other U.S. national park. Visitors to Big Bend can hike the 800,000 acres of desert and mountain terrain or kayak in the river. Big Bend is also a certified Dark Sky Park, making it great for stargazing!

Take note that the climate in this area can be harsh. The summer heat can be extremely hot, and the winter can get extremely cold, especially at night. Be sure to pack appropriately and always have an ample supply of water available before you set out to explore!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Lajitas Golf Resort (⭐️ 8.4) | Terlingua Ranch Lodge (⭐️ 8.3)


26. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Aerial View of Chattanooga in Tennessee, USA

Explored by Alanna of Periodic Adventures

How to get there: 2 hours by car from both Nashville, TN and Atlanta, GA

The city of Chattanooga in Tennessee is one of the best hidden vacation spots in the USA perfect for outdoor-lovers, foodies, beer enthusiasts, and history buffs. It’s best enjoyed as a nice weekend getaway and the best thing about it is that it’s a very budget-friendly destination. In fact, there are many fun and inexpensive things to do in Chattanooga.

First, taste-test a beer flight from incredible local craft breweries, such as Chattanooga Brewing Co, Oddstory Brewing Co, and Wanderlinger Brewing Co. There’s also no shortage of yummy food around town. In the Bluff View Art District, you’ll find a cute coffee shop, a bakery, a coffee roasting company, and even a pasta shop (and restaurant) where you can try locally handmade pastas!

Nature-lovers and history buffs alike will enjoy Lookout Mountain Battlefield and the Chattanooga National Military Park, two important areas of the Civil War. Chattanooga was known as the “Gateway to the Deep South” so it’s no doubt that you can feel the history that took place here.

Lastly, don’t miss all the incredible outdoor activities to do in this city. Since the Tennessee River runs through Chattanooga, there are plenty of water activities to explore as well as hiking, hang gliding, zip lining, and more on Lookout Mountain!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown (⭐️ 8.5) | The Read House (⭐️ 9.2) | DoubleTree by Hilton (⭐️ 8.9)


27. Whitefish, Montana

Mountains Behind Whitefish Lake in Whitefish, Montana

Explored by Jessica of Unearth The Voyage

How to get there: 30 minutes by car from Glacier National Park, MT

Whitefish is a charming town in Montana nestled in the mountains just outside of Glacier National Park. Although the park gets thousands of visitors every year, most people don’t know that just a short drive away lies one of the best hidden gems in the US. In fact, there are so many fun things to do in Whitefish that you can easily spend a whole week there without getting bored.

One of the top activities in Whitefish is attending the Whitefish Farmers Market that takes place every Tuesday from 5 pm to 7:30 pm. There, you’ll find live music, food trucks, drinks, and of course lots of local produce and homemade goodies. Whitefish also has a ton of different delicious restaurants to choose from as well as local breweries to sip brews while admiring mountain views.

If you enjoy water activities, you can go kayaking and SUPing on Whitefish Lake or whitewater rafting on the Middle Fork Flathead River — one of the best rivers for whitewater rafting in the entire Northwestern US.

If you’re a fan of outdoor activities, be sure to spend some time at the Whitefish Mountain Resort. This resort is perfect for skiing in the winter and lots of fun activities in the summer months, including mountain biking, zip-lining, and hiking! Make sure to take a ride up the gondola and grab a tasty drink while admiring the view from the top.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Hampton Inn & Suites (⭐️ 9.2) | Grouse Mountain Lodge (⭐️ 8.4) | The Pine Lodge on Whitefish River (⭐️ 9.1)


Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US: East Coast

28. Hudson Valley, New York

Mohonk Mountain House in Hudson Valley, New York

Explored by James of Travel Collecting

How to get there: 2-2.5 hours by car from New York City, NY

Hudson Valley in New York is often overshadowed by the glittering city to its south or other more famous national parks, but it is truly one of the most beautiful places in the US. The area is filled with farms, woods, and parks that are easy to visit.

Many of the farms in the area are open for U-pick fruit, and depending on the season, you can pick (and eat) your fill of fresh peaches, apples, and pears. Some of them, like Westwind Orchard in Accord and Stone Ridge Orchards, even serve fresh woodfire pizza and home-brewed cider in fields next to the apple trees!

Hudson Valley was also the summer playground of wealthy New Yorkers in the Gilded Age, and several huge historic mansions there offer house tours and open the trails on their grounds to the public. Although there’s usually a charge for tours, the grounds are free!

Some of the best places to hike in the Hudson Valley are Black Creek Preserve Trail, Minnewaska State Park (park at the upper parking lot for easy access to the picturesque lake), and Mohonk Preserve. If you like antiquing, you’ll be in heaven. Hudson has dozens of antique stores in town, and there are plenty of other bargains scattered around the valley. 

If you enjoy nature and want to stay in a place steeped in history, you won’t want to miss Mohonk Mountain House. This Victorian-era historic hotel looks like something out of Harry Potter and provides horseback riding, hiking, and canoeing on their private lake. Hudson Valley makes a perfect weekend getaway, but you can easily stay a week and explore the area in more detail!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Homewood Suites By Hilton Poughkeepsie (⭐️ 9.3) | Hyatt Place Poughkeepsie (⭐️ 8.6) | Mohonk Mountain House


29. Jekyll Island, Georgia

A Tree in Jekyll Island in Georgia, USA

Explored by Disha of Disha Discovers

How to get there: 1.5 hours by car from Savannah, GA and 1 hour 15 minutes by car from Jacksonville, FL

Located on the East Coast, Jekyll Island is a hidden gem in Georgia that truly has it all. It was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families as their private escape. Then, it was purchased by the State of Georgia in 1947. This island offers the perfect combination of serenity and adventure. Visitors will feel like they have the island to themselves and will leave feeling relaxed.

Jekyll Island is part of a chain of islands known as the Golden Isles and it’s the southernmost island of them all. The best part about this island is that the beaches are undeveloped, therefore providing a much more tranquil experience than Miami Beach or Myrtle Beach.

Jekyll Island has something to offer every tourist. It’s home to 10 miles of white sand beaches, 20 miles of bike trails, as well as the pristine Jekyll Island Golf Club. During your time on this island, you can also enjoy a day at the Summer Waves Water Park and visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Dolphin tours and horseback riding tours are also available. The beaches on Jekyll Island are great for shelling, especially St. Andrews Beach and Driftwood Beach.

The island also offers upscale boutiques and other small stores for shopping. Plus, the dining options on Jekyll Island are absolutely fantastic. Visitors can find fresh seafood and Southern-style food in a variety of restaurants, from the fancy ones to the more casual options. A 2-night stay on Jekyll Island is perfect, and there are several accommodation options such as family-friend hotels, world-class resorts, private villas, motels, campsites, and more.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Days Inn & Suites by Wyndham (⭐️ 8.6) | Jekyll Ocean Club Resort (⭐️ 9.5) | Holiday Inn Resort (⭐️ 8.0)


30. Frederick, Maryland

Carroll Creek in Frederick, Maryland

Explored by Constance of A Well-Read Wanderer

How to get there: 40 minutes by car from Baltimore, MD and 1 hour by car from Washington, DC

Frederick is a lovely little secret town in Maryland is that’s perfect for a weekend getaway (or longer) — there’s truly something there for everyone. The historic downtown is a destination in itself, lined with adorable novelty shops, antique stores, and delicious, locally-owned restaurants. Be sure to pop into Curious Iguana (a fun bookstore), Retro-Metro (a unique gift shop), and Lebherz Oil & Vinegar Emporium (a gourmet grocery shop), among many others.

Grab some coffee and check out live music at the Frederick Coffee Co, then grab a treat across the street at Frederick Fudge & Ice Cream Co or Glory Doughnuts. After you’ve filled up on shopping and eating, take a walk along the beautiful Carroll Creek, gazing at the beautiful lily pads, following it all the way to Baker Park, where you’ll find live music performances on summer evenings.

There are lots of bars and breweries in Frederick, too. Check out Cellar Door, Bushwallers (keep an eye out for karaoke night!), Brewer’s Alley, and Olde Towne Tavern. Beer lovers will want to check out Flying Dog Brewery and Milkhouse Brewery. Wine lovers can follow the Frederick Wine Trail, which will take them across beautiful landscapes while visiting several wineries in the area.

Outdoor lovers can find lots of hiking and mountain biking opportunities in the nearby Catoctin Mountain. Be sure to hike to the beautiful 78-foot Cunningham Falls. For history buffs, Frederick is part of the Civil War trail, so there are lots of sites to see in town, including the Monocacy National Battlefield. During the Civil War, Frederick served as a hospital site for many of the major battles, so be sure to visit the unique National Museum of Civil War Medicine right downtown.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Hollerstown Hill Bed and Breakfast (⭐️ 9.6) | 10 Clarke (⭐️ 9.6) | Residence Inn Frederick (⭐️ 9.0)


31. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

A Waterfall in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Explored by Christina of Live A Wilder Life

How to get there: 2 hours by car from Washington, DC

For anyone looking to reconnect with nature, Shenandoah National Park is a dream getaway. With over 500 miles of hiking trails and the Blue Ridge Mountains as your backdrop, Shenandoah is one of the best national parks on the East Coast. While it attracts a fair amount of visitors every year, its sheer size makes it an easy place to get away from people.

If you love waterfalls, you’ll want to hike the 6-mile (9.6 km) loop to see Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River Falls. Since Dark Hollow Falls is closer, it’s a popular waterfall hike that gets a good amount of foot traffic. If you want to drop some of the crowds, be sure to continue on to Rose River Falls. Don’t forget to bring water shoes and a bathing suit to wade in the small pools beneath the falls!

If you fancy a challenging day hike, you’ll want to do the epic 9.2-mile (14.8 km) Old Rag Mountain Trail. Be prepared to scramble, climb, and crawl through boulders. The hard work will be well worth it for the 360° view at the top of Shenandoah Valley. If a strenuous 9.2-mile hike is a bit much, the leisurely 1-mile (1.6 km) walk to Blackrock Summit is an excellent alternative with just as beautiful views of the valley.

If you’d prefer to do less hiking, a drive along the historic Skyline Drive is a must-do. The drive takes 3 hours to complete, but with scenic overlooks, you could spend an entire day stopping for photos and short hikes along the way. The best time to do this drive is in the fall when the trees are awash in vivid autumn hues. Last but not least, be sure to visit some of Shenandoah’s award-winning wineries. 2-3 days is enough time to spend in Shenandoah National Park, but you could add a few more days to explore beyond the park.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: The Mimslyn Inn (⭐️ 8.5) | Hotel Laurance (⭐️ 9.2) | Luray Caverns Motels (⭐️ 8.5)


32. Amelia Island, Florida

Birds Flying Along the Coastline of Amelia Island, Florida

Explored by Nichola of Globalmouse Travels

How to get there: 2 hours by car from Orlando, FL

Despite being so close to the fun tourist mecca of Orlando, Amelia Island in Florida is a world apart. This beautiful island was named after Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George II, and it is the perfect hidden spot for relaxation and outdoor pursuits. In fact, Amelia Island is filled with beaches — a good 13 miles (20.9 km) of sandy stretches to walk on and enjoy! There are also 1400 acres of parkland in the Fort Clinch State Park ideal for long walks or a cycle through.

There are plenty of other outdoor pursuits to enjoy on Amelia Island, from golf to kayaking. Florida is blessed with balmy sunshine in the colder months but if it does take a turn, then head to the state’s oldest lighthouse here on the island, built in 1838. While there are lots of great restaurants on Amelia Island, you can also visit the weekly farmers market in the historic downtown area to pick up local food and cook up a storm.

Some of the best family resorts in Florida can be found on Amelia Island, like the Omni Amelia Island Resort. Staying in one of these hotels will allow you to truly relax and take in the beautiful surroundings of this appealing place. Stay on the island for as long as you can; a long weekend will feel rejuvenating but if you can stay for a week or longer — Amelia Island is sure to get under your skin.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Omni Amelia Island Resort (⭐️ 8.2) | Beachside Motel (⭐️ 8.9) | Amelia Island Oceanfront 2 Master Suites (⭐️ 9.0)


33. Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania

Sunrise in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania

Explored by Maria of Maptrekking

How to get there: 2 hours by car from Pittsburgh, PA

If you’re looking to escape the crowds for some peace and relaxation, slow traveling in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania is a perfect idea. This stunning forest covers over half a million acres and is filled with waterfalls, reservoirs, lakes, hiking trails, and scenic overlooks. Since it’s quite far from any big city, most visitors are locals, even in the summer months. Plus, because the forest is massive, you’ll very easily get many places entirely to yourself.

On the eastern side of Allegheny National Forest, you’ll find Hector Falls and Bent Run Waterfall, which are especially nice after heavy rain or frozen in the winter. You can also hike the beautiful Morrison Trail and visit Rimrock Overlook and Kinzua Bridge State Park.

On the western side, stop by the stunning Tionesta Dam and the small town of Tionesta, which offers camping, canoeing, and kayaking. Some other unmissable places inside the forest are Chapman State Park and Hickory Creek Wilderness, which is great for hiking, camping, and scenic overlooks. Don’t miss the Hearts Content Recreation Area either; it’s a fascinating ‘old-growth forest’ home to 400-year-old timber!

Stay at least a week to fully enjoy Allegheny National Forest. While camping is the best way to immerse yourself in nature, you can also stay in cabins or cottages. The nearby city of Warren (the headquarters of the forest) also offers a few hotels and supermarkets.

Be sure to follow the ‘leave no trace’ forest guidelines and keep in mind that the weather can be unpredictable. Snowstorms can descend quickly and in the winter, temperatures can drop drastically from one day to the next, which can result in dangerous ice, road closures, and freezing temperatures.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Best Western Plus Executive Inn (⭐️ 8.3) | Days Inn by Wyndham (⭐️ 7.6) | Quality Inn & Suites Warren (⭐️ 8.0)


34. Eastern Shore, Virginia

Sunset Over Fishing House in Chincoteague Bay, Virginia

Explored by Megan of Virginia Travel Tips

How to get there: 40 minutes by car from Virginia Beach, VA

Rich with unique landscapes, the Eastern Shore of Virginia is definitely one of the best hidden vacation spots in the USA. This 70-mile stretch of land is home to merely 45,000 people and has a very different ecosystem compared to the rest of Virginia.

One of the most popular places to visit on the Eastern Shore is Chincoteague, a town that is renowned for its wild horses, national seashore, and the Assateague Lighthouse — one of the most famous lighthouses in Virginia. In Chincoteague, you can take a boat cruise through the salt marshes to check out the wild ponies and birds that call the area home. Alternatively, you can head there during the ‘right’ time of the year to catch a rocket launch at Wallops Flight Facility, a NASA launchpad and flight center located on the island next door.

Gorgeous Cape Charles is another town on the Eastern Shore worthy of visiting as it’s home to iconic beaches, parks, and delicious seafood. Spend a minimum of 2 days on the Eastern Shore and stay in either Cape Charles or Chincoteague (or Onancock). You’ll find many seaside cottages in all those locations.

To reach the Eastern Shore from Virginia Beach, you’ll need to head across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, one of only 11 bridge tunnels in the world. Once you get to the end of the road, you’ll be on the Eastern Shore and can stop to take in the views almost immediately. The landscapes will have turned to low-country with salt marshes ruling the land!

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Hampton Inn & Suites Waterfront (⭐️ 9.6) | Marriott Waterfront Fairfield Inn & Suites (⭐️ 9.0) | Marina Bay Hotel & Suites (⭐️ 8.8)


35. Bald Head Island, North Carolina

A Chapel in Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Explored by Ally of Ally Travels

How to get there: 3 hours and 15 minutes by car from Raleigh, NC

Just a 20-minute ferry ride across North Carolina’s Cape Fear lies Bald Head Island, the perfect destination for a weekend getaway or relaxing weeklong family beach vacation. This island is made up of 12,000 acres, 10,000 of which are home to nature preserves, local shops, charming neighborhoods, and untouched beaches. It is truly a hidden treasure that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Popular spots to explore on the island include its many beaches, spa facilities, and tennis courts. You’ll also find a championship golf course as well as Old Baldy, a historic lighthouse. Built in 1817, it is the state’s oldest standing lighthouse. Be prepared to climb a lot of steps to reach the top of it.

To taste some exquisite local food, book a table at one of the marina’s many outdoor restaurants for a magical summer night out under the stars. Delphina Coastal Cuisine is the best restaurant to indulge in fresh seafood while enjoying the splashing of the Atlantic nearby.  

The best time to visit Bald Head Island is during the summer, when it’s warm enough to enjoy the many beaches and outdoor activities. Be sure to purchase trip insurance if you’re planning to visit during the hurricane season. Keep in mind that there are no cars allowed on the island. Instead, there are golf carts and plenty of bikes available. Stay in the main part of town if you don’t want to rent a full-time golf cart.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Las Palmas | Ocean Waves – Oceanfront Condo | Whiskey Bent – Pool Access


36. Morgantown, West Virginia

West Virginia University in Morgantown

Explored by Stella of Around the World in 24 Hours

How to get there: 1.5 hours by car or 3 hours by bus from Pittsburgh, PA

West Virginia isn’t the first state people think of when imagining a dream vacation, but that’s exactly why it’s one of the best hidden gems in the US. Undoubtedly, the best city in West Virginia for a fun vacation is Morgantown, an artsy college town with an up-and-coming food scene and a gorgeous setting on the Monongahela River. It’s perfect for a long weekend getaway.

Fall is the best time to visit Morgantown. West Virginia University is there, and its school year is in full swing at this time, so there will be fun events in town for the local college students and travelers alike to enjoy, like live performances at the historic Metropolitan Theatre. If you prefer sports to the arts, take in a West Virginia University football game at the massive and conveniently located Milan Puskar Stadium.

The fall foliage in Morgantown also can’t be beaten. You can enjoy the beautiful leaves while taking a walk around West Virginia University’s 91-acre Core Arboretum. If you have a car, drive out to Cheat Lake, a stunning man-made lake that’s just 10 miles (16 km) east of Morgantown. If the weather is pleasant, it’s a perfect spot for swimming, fishing, or even tubing.

Finally, Morgantown is an excellent destination for foodies. The Morgantown Farmers Market is open on Saturdays, and it’s a great spot to try local produce and meet West Virginia farmers. Craft beer fans will love Mountain State Brewing Co, which offers West Virginia themed beers like Almost Heaven Amber Ale and Miner’s Daughter Stout. For more upscale dining, try craft cocktails and tapas at Tin 202, located right in Downtown Morgantown.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Marriott at Waterfront Place (⭐️ 8.9) | Hilton Garden Inn (⭐️ 8.5) | Residence Inn (⭐️ 8.5)


37. Matlacha & Pine Island, Florida

Colorful Buildings in Matlacha Island, Florida

Explored by Lori of Travlinmad

How to get there: 1 hour by car from Fort Myers, FL

The coast of Southwest Florida is full of salty barrier islands that still retain the rugged landscape and local vibe of Old Florida. Pine Island and the artsy Matlacha Island are two such places where visitors can hike nature trails, paddle the Calusa Blueway, grab a fish taco lunch at a local seafood cafe, and even be back in nearby Fort Myers for dinner. That’s assuming you ever want to leave.

These islands offer a quieter, more natural view of Southwest Florida. Colorful Matlacha is the first island you’ll see as you drive in from the mainland. With just one road in and out, it’s a magnet for kayakers, outdoor enthusiasts, anglers, and art lovers who love strolling fun galleries filled with local arts and crafts.

Keep driving and the road leads you to Pine Island, a remote place that’s surprisingly accessible to some of the best fishing, boating, and shelling in the world. Sanibel Island, North Captiva, and Boca Grande are all short boat rides away. Bokeelia at the northern tip of Pine Island is a fun stop for happy hour and photo ops.

If you’re looking to spend the night, Tarpon Lodge offers the island’s best waterfront hotels on Pine Island. Enjoy dinner on the veranda and take in a fiery sunset right from your table. Just across the street, pick up the Calusa Heritage Trail and hike through some of Pine Island’s most natural settings. With Pine Island as your base, exploring other parts of Southwest Florida is also easy, from Sarasota in the north to Naples, Marco Island, and the famous Everglades in the south.

🏡 WHERE TO STAY: Matlacha Cove Inn (⭐️ 8.5) | Matlacha Cottages (⭐️ 9.5) | Matlacha Tiny Village (⭐️ 8.8)


Planning Your Trip to the Hidden Gems in the US

Mobius Arch in Lone Pine, California at Night With a Sky Full of Stars
I hope these 37 best hidden vacation spots in the US have given you some inspiration!

For more travel inspiration and travel tips, discover:
🏝 24 Prettiest White Sand & Clear Water Beaches in the US
🌏 Top 32 Dream Destinations to Add to Your Bucket List
🇪🇺 28 Best Hidden Gems in Europe: Epic Secret Spots You Must Visit
💻 Best Laptops for Travelers in 2021: The Ultimate Guide + Reviews

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1 Comment

  • Alanna Koritzke January 23, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    These are all such great destinations in the US…and many I’ve never heard of. Definitely need to put them on my list! Thanks for including me.

  • Leave a Reply

    Welcome to my travel blog!

    I'm Jiayi, a Chinese-Italian photographer and writer who has no idea where to call home. What I do know is that I'm most in my element when I'm in a new country, immersed in a new culture. To me, it's one of the most humbling, educational, and valuable experiences one can have. Aside from traveling, I've also been doing photography for 15+ years. I hope my detailed guides and itineraries will be useful in helping you plan your next big trip, and that my photography tips will help you document them the way you want to! Happy travels! :)

    x Jiayi

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