13 Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US to Visit

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Imagine uncovering a slice of paradise where the footprints in the sand could be yours alone or strolling through a historic town where the echoes of the past still linger in the air, undisturbed by tourists. 

Across the United States, there are many lesser-known destinations to visit. Each offers escapes and adventures off the beaten path.

From Island retreats to valleys tucked away in the mountains, these hidden vacation spots promise an experience brimming with discovery and tranquility away from the usual bustle.

Consider linking a few of these destinations together to make an epic cross-country road trip!

A bustling street scene on a clear day. The street is lined with parked bicycles. Pedestrians are strolling along the sidewalk, and there is a mix of quaint, multistoried buildings with balconies adorned with vibrant flower baskets. It's a snapshot of everyday life in Mackinac Island.

In this post, we're stepping off the beaten path to spotlight some of America's hidden gems. Of course, if you live in that state, you might say that's not really off the beaten path, but to non-locals, it is!

You'll discover state parks ripe for exploration, where you can hike through unspoiled nature and see some incredible natural wonders.

We've selected destinations that showcase the diverse beauty of the US, perfect for anyone looking for unique travel experiences.

Whether drawn to a scenic drive along a dramatic coastline, the historical charm of a small town, or outdoor adventures under the vast sky, these places promise memorable experiences.

So, get ready to pack, ignite your love for travel, and set out to find these less-known yet captivating spots.

If 13 places aren't enough for you, consider checking out these 50+ Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US!

A sunny street view of two traditional Victorian-style houses with distinctive architectural features like a turret, dormer windows, and a wraparound porch. They are adorned with hanging flower baskets and surrounded by a well-maintained white picket fence, conveying a sense of historical charm and residential warmth. The lush green trees and clear blue sky add to the picturesque quality of the scene.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Imagine stepping off a boat and onto an island where the modern hustle fades into the gentle clip-clop of horse hooves on paved streets. You find yourself on Mackinac Island, nestled in the waters of Lake Huron.

This small island captivates visitors with its commitment to preserving a slower pace of life. Automobiles have been prohibited on the island since 1898, so transportation turns to a more nostalgic mode: horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, or simply your own two feet. 

Note: Ferries to Mackinac Island are available from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.

As you travel along the island's pathways, you'll be greeted by the tranquility only a vehicle-free environment can offer.

The air holds the light scent of fudge, a local specialty, and the sound of waves gently lapping at the shoreline. Mackinac Island offers breathtaking views and a connection to a way of life from a bygone era.

Whether you explore the historic Fort Mackinac, splurge on a stay at the Grand Hotel, take a leisurely bike ride around the island, or relax by the water's edge, Mackinac Island's charm offers an unforgettable escape from the ordinary. 

Having visited the island multiple times, I must share some of its downfalls. The use of horse-drawn carriages means you will encounter the scent of horse manure and have to do some poo pile dodging.

The island can get crowded, becoming a tourist trap in recent years. 

For a unique experience, take part in the Mackinac Island Scavenger Hunt! Or enjoy a sunset cruise from Mackinaw City.

Block Island -- paved road way gently curving along the water with a dramatic gray sky with the sun trying to break the clouds.
Photo by MOHANN on Pixabay

Block Island, Rhode Island

Block Island beckons you with its astonishing natural beauty, where scenic bluffs tower over tranquil beaches. Nestled in the waters of the Atlantic and a ferry ride from Rhode Island's coast, this island gem offers an idyllic escape.

The undisturbed landscapes here are perfect for adventure-seekers and those longing for a peaceful retreat. As you explore the island, the dramatic cliffs along the coast will unveil panoramic views that are simply breathtaking.

The soft sand and clear waters provide beachgoers with a serene setting for sunbathing and swimming.

Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy abundant opportunities, from cycling along quiet roads to world-class fishing spots that promise an exceptional catch. 

Nature trails meander through the island, inviting you to discover the diverse flora and fauna at your own pace. Wildlife observation, especially bird watching, is common on this barrier island.

Hope on the ferry for easy access to this secluded paradise. A trip to this island won't require extensive planning, making it an ideal choice for a last-minute weekend getaway.

Whether you're seeking solitude or an active day out in nature, Block Island offers many possibilities for creating unforgettable memories.

It stands out as a treasured destination where simplicity and beauty encourage you to connect with the environment and leave the mainland's hustle behind.

Note: Point Judith and Newport, RI, provide the Ferry service to Block Island. Ferries are also available from CT and NY.

Expansive view of the red sandstone formations at Valley of Fire State Park, set against a backdrop of distant mountains and blue sky, with desert shrubbery in the foreground.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Explore the vibrant red sandstone formations at Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park. Just an hour's drive from the bustle of Las Vegas, this park offers a stark contrast with its serene, otherworldly landscape.

You'll find yourself wandering among towering spires and arches that the forces of nature have shaped.

Among these fiery rocks, ancient stories await your discovery. Look for petroglyphs, the mysterious rock carvings left behind by Indigenous people thousands of years ago. 

The park is also home to diverse wildlife and provides a sanctuary for desert flora. Be prepared to capture photos of bighorn sheep scaling the rugged cliffs or vibrant wildflowers blooming in the spring.

Note: A vehicle entrance fee applies at this site.

The park's easy access and magnificent scenery make it a great day trip from Vegas.

There are plenty of hiking options, and camping is also available.

Don't want to rent a car while in Vegas – no worries! Check out one of these fantastic tours:

Jekyll Island Club building in Georgia, USA. Multi-storied historic building featuring distinctive architectural details such as a tower, balconies, and a grand entrance. The white façade of the building stands out against the clear blue sky.
Photo by 12019 on Pixabay

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island invites you to step back and marvel at the architecture of the Jekyll Island Club, once a private retreat for America's elite.

This National Historic Landmark is a testament to Victorian ingenuity and a must-see for anyone appreciating the grandeur of old-world charm.

The barrier island's coast offers miles of serene beaches. Driftwood Beach, an otherworldly landscape sculpted by nature's hand, presents a perfect backdrop for sunrise contemplation.

Its weather-worn trees create unique silhouettes against the Atlantic's gentle tide, crafting a photogenic haven for beachgoers and photographers. This beach is consistently known as one of the best beaches in North America.

You may find yourself sharing a sunset with the island's noble residents, the wild horses. Their presence adds an untamed majesty to the tranquil beaches and marshes, symbolizing the unspoiled beauty that Jekyll Island fiercely protects.

A peaceful lakeside setting with a sandy beach and gentle waves lapping the shore. The foreground shows a rocky barrier, while the well-kept grassy area. In the background, modern buildings nestled among trees with early autumn colors suggest a blend of natural beauty and urban development. Clear blue sky.

Traverse City, Michigan

Discover the charm of Traverse City, nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan. Vineyard-dotted hills create a beautiful backdrop to this peaceful escape.

Natural beauty surrounds the area, and with it comes various activities designed to showcase the best Michigan has to offer. 

Traverse City takes pride in its thriving wine culture. Tour a few for various vintages that capture the essence of the region. 

Lake Michigan is a perfect place to explore for those drawn to the refreshing embrace of the water.

The lake's crystal-clear waters are an ideal setting for boating, swimming, or sunbathing. You can lose track of time here, letting the gentle lapping of waves create a peaceful soundtrack to your day.

Your experience in Traverse City would only be complete by attending one of the numerous live music events. The city's vibrant music scene boasts genres to suit every taste, from intimate venues to sprawling outdoor concerts.

Traverse City is a prime destination where you can engage in delightful wine tasting, embrace Lake Michigan's allure, and relish the rhythms of live music.

All within the setting of an unspoiled Michigan paradise, Traverse City has also become a foodie hot spot.

If you enjoy National Park Service sites, note that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is only a short drive away!

Sunset over the water with a couple of boats.
Photo by longm1985 on Pixabay

Door County, Wisconsin

Explore maritime villages and miles of scenic shoreline in Door County. This quaint county is full of beauty and water-bound allure.

You can wake up to waves gently crashing against the rocky coastline of Lake Michigan on one side and, in the evening, witness the sun setting into the calming waters of Green Bay.

Door County is a playground for adventurers and nature enthusiasts.

Summer brings outdoor activities, from kayaking through crystal-clear waters to hiking along trails dotted with lush greenery and vibrant wildflowers.

Autumn sets the hardwood forests ablaze with brilliant hues, perfect for a peaceful drive or a brisk cycle along the winding paths.

The area's villages, each with its unique flair, are full of artisanal shops, cozy inns, and local eateries serving fresh catches of the day.

Unwind in the evening with live music at a waterfront venue, or explore the region's past with a visit to a historic lighthouse.

In Door County, you're invited to slow down, breathe in the fresh lake air, and savor the laid-back pace of life that makes this Midwestern gem stand out.

Three Hereford cows, recognizable by their reddish-brown bodies and white faces, are lying down in a tranquil field. The backdrop is a typical Texas Hill Country landscape, with sparse trees and shrubs under a cloudy sky. This peaceful setting conveys the quiet and stillness of rural life, where cattle grazing is a common sight.

Hill Country, Texas

The Texas Hill Country tempts travelers with its open vistas, hearty oak trees, and winding rivers. Journey to the heart of Texas, where vineyards sprawl across valleys. Enjoy an afternoon of wine tasting or visit one of the many golf courses.

Texas Hill Country thrives with a vibrant music scene that rivals the famed sounds of Austin. There are many live music venues to visit.

Outdoor enthusiasts have much to discover. The state parks have many hiking trails to choose from. Navigate one of the many paths that lead to breathtaking views, or saddle up for horseback riding as you traverse rugged landscapes.

Whether you wish to unwind in the serenity of nature or dive into a cultural adventure, the Texas Hill Country offers an escape that remains one of America's best-kept secrets.

This image captures the majestic Oregon coast with a veil of mist hanging over the turbulent sea. Jagged cliffs and dense coniferous trees frame the coastline, while the horizon melts into a soft, hazy blue, suggesting early morning fog or the coolness of twilight. The scattered rocks and boulders in the water add a rough, natural texture to the seascape, evoking the serene yet powerful presence of the Pacific Northwest shoreline.

Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast is notable for its rugged cliffs, stunning views, and the mighty Pacific Ocean. With its jagged edges, the coastline reveals hidden coves ready for exploration.

Walking the beaches, you'll see sea stacks emerging from the ocean and tide pools filled with marine life. It's a place to observe sea otters, bald eagles, and even migrating whales.

The Oregon Coast's secluded beaches are ideal for those seeking quiet. They provide a space to enjoy the ocean sounds and sea air away from the busy crowd.

The Oregon Coast is a haven for photographers, hikers, or anyone drawn to its untamed beauty, offering a refreshing and calming experience.

This tranquil scene from Watkins Glen State Park in New York showcases a picturesque waterfall cascading through a narrow, lush gorge. The stratified rock walls, etched by time and water, guide the waterfall's flow, while a stone staircase along the side of the gorge invites visitors to explore the natural beauty up close. Fresh green foliage sprouts where sunlight filters through, highlighting the park's vibrant, living ecosystem.

Finger Lakes Region, New York

You likely won't hear about this region as often as the bright lights of New York City's Big Apple or Niagara Falls thundering waters, but the Finger Lakes region of New York is stunning.

The series of long, shimmering lakes laid out like fingers on a hand, created from glaciers that carved the landscape thousands of years ago, are great places to sit back and relax. This area has eleven pristine lakes.

The region's wine trails are a vino's dream. With over 100 wineries along Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes, each offering guided tastings and tours, your taste buds are in for a treat.

Enjoy sipping Riesling, a local specialty, while overlooking vineyard-splashed hills that dance with the sun's golden rays.

Stepping into the small towns dotting the Finger Lakes is an enjoyable experience. Places like Skaneateles and Watkins Glen will greet you with smiles as warm as the locally produced apple cider.

Quaint shops, family-run bed and breakfasts, and farmers' markets rich with the aroma of fresh produce give you a sense of community and connection that's hard to find elsewhere.

The lakes invite you to dive into a world of water sports, while the trails are a nature lover's dream. As you explore the paths, look for tucked-away waterfalls.

This image captures the serene beauty of a Florida beach at sunset. The subdued light of the setting sun peeks through scattered clouds, casting a gentle glow over the water. Gentle waves lap at the shore, and a solitary marker stands in the distance, creating a sense of quiet solitude.

Anna Maria Island, Florida

Anna Maria Island, located on Florida's west coast, has pristine white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters.

You'll appreciate the slower pace of life here – leisurely bike rides, exploring local shops, and dining on fresh seafood as the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico.

The area is also great for wildlife watching, with opportunities to see dolphins, manatees, and a variety of birds in their natural habitat.

For those looking for quiet spots, Anna Maria Island offers serene locations to enjoy the sea breeze and the sound of waves without the crowds.

Whether you're into photography, love beach walks, or want to unwind in a beautiful setting, Anna Maria Island provides a peaceful and picturesque experience.

The image offers a framed view from the window of a ferry, showcasing a calm expanse of water with the San Juan Islands in the distance. Overcast skies and the gentle ripple of the water convey a sense of tranquility, as the ferry provides a passage through this picturesque Pacific Northwest scene. The railing and window create a natural vignette, focusing the observer’s gaze on the serene maritime landscape.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Heading to the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands offer an escape into pristine beauty. Just a few hours from Seattle, this is the perfect weekend adventure.

These islands invite you to explore their natural wonders by kayaking through serene waters, where you might be lucky enough to spot orcas swimming freely in their habitat.

Hiking enthusiasts will find the islands' lush forests a paradise, with trails that offer breathtaking views.

The San Juan Islands are home to diverse wildlife and stunning scenery. Whether you're enjoying the dense forests or the soothing sound of waves on the shore, the islands' serene environment is captivating.

Along with all the outdoor adventures, the islands boast a rich cultural scene, with local galleries, museums, and seasonal festivals reflecting the vibrant community spirit.

The farm-to-table dining experience here, emphasizing fresh, locally sourced ingredients, is a culinary delight, enhancing the overall experience of island life.

The unique landscape of Iona's Beach, known for its singing sands composed of smooth pink stones. The gentle waves from the lake wash over the pebbly shore, which contrasts with a larger, solitary rock in the foreground. In the distance, forests line the top of the reddish cliffs, and a serene blue sky with light clouds crowns the scene, creating a tranquil and picturesque natural setting.

North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota

The North Shore of Lake Superior, where rugged cliffs rise majestically over crystal-clear waters, is one of the best places to escape for a summer adventure.

This untouched stretch in Minnesota is one of the best vacation spots for outdoor enthusiasts. The area has many waterfalls, each cascading into the next. 

The scenic hiking trails along the North Shore provide an experience of the wild heart of Minnesota. As you trek these trails, you may encounter hidden vistas offering breathtaking panoramic views of the largest of the Great Lakes.

From the famous Split Rock Lighthouse State Park to the less traveled paths at Tettegouche State Park, you can uncover stunning overlooks and quiet spots to reflect and rejuvenate.

Whether craving a rigorous hike or a stroll, the North Shore's well-marked trails will accommodate your pace. Outdoor lovers enjoy the boundless opportunities to connect with nature, observe local wildlife, and lose themselves in the surrounding beauty. 

Consider staying at the Cliff Dweller Hotel in Tofte  – it's near the mid-point of the North Shore region. 

A white historical building with green-trimmed arched windows, located in Hot Springs, Arkansas. A visitor is standing in front, reading an information plaque, hinting at the building's significance, possibly part of the famous bathhouse row known for its therapeutic waters.

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Heading to Hot Springs, Arkansas, introduces you to a blend of natural beauty and historic charm.

This city, famous for its naturally heated springs, offers a unique experience with its historic bathhouses, which are now part of a national park service.

Fun fact: It's the only national park with a brewery!

Beyond the bathhouses, Hot Springs boasts a variety of outdoor activities. The area is surrounded by the Ouachita Mountains, providing ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring.

Lakes Hamilton and Catherine offer water sports, fishing, and relaxing boat tours.

The city's historic downtown area adds another layer of appeal, with art galleries, shops, and restaurants housed in beautifully preserved architecture.

Hot Springs also has a rich history in American culture, including ties to famous figures and events, which you can explore in its museums and historic sites.

For a mix of relaxation, outdoor adventure, and historical exploration, Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a destination that offers something for everyone.

Whether you soak in a thermal bath, hike scenic trails, or enjoy the local culture, your visit here promises a diverse and enriching experience.

A unique beehive-shaped red sandstone formation under clear blue skies in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, surrounded by a rugged desert landscape with distant mountains providing a picturesque backdrop.

Tips for Planning Your Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations 

You've unearthed a trove of hidden vacation spots, and now comes the thrilling part: planning your getaway. For an experience that feels personal and uninterrupted, aim for the best times to explore these gems. 

Shoulder seasons – the transitional periods between the high and low tourist seasons – offer the ideal mix of pleasant weather and fewer crowds.

For instance, late spring and early fall usually bring milder temperatures and thinner crowds in many outdoor destinations.

Secure your stay by booking a vacation rental well in advance for the best options and better rates. Online platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo are perfect for discovering unique accommodations that add to the charm of your holiday.

From cozy cabins tucked away in the woods to secluded beach houses, these rentals can provide a more authentic and homely atmosphere than hotels.

Consider visiting these quiet enclaves during the off-peak season for a more intimate connection with the locale.

You'll benefit from lower prices and more engagement with residents, often leading to insider tips on the best spots for dining or sightseeing.

If you're flexible with your travel dates, watch for last-minute deals. Occasionally, property owners offer discounts to fill vacancies, especially during slower periods.

These hidden vacation spots promise an escape from the ordinary, whichever way you plan it.

View of Lake Superior from the Cliff Dweller Hotel.

Final Thoughts: Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US

Discovering places unfrequented by the masses allows you to forge personal connections with stunning landscapes and vibrant cultures. 

Bring these unique vacation ideas into your plans and prepare for experiences that resonate long after you return home. Embrace the quiet allure of a Michigan island where the simple clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages replaces the roar of engines. 

Picture the serene beauty of the Oregon coast, a stark contrast to the well-trodden boardwalks elsewhere. 

So set your sights on these slices of paradise for a unique adventure!

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A serene coastal scene, "Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US," with a small white lighthouse crowned with a red top, perched on a rocky outcrop surrounded by calm waters. The backdrop is a forested area with a dusk or dawn sky, setting a tranquil and secluded mood.
A stunning road winding through a desert landscape glowing under the warm light of a setting or rising sun. The desert features red rock formations, typical of the American Southwest, creating a sense of adventure and exploration.
A harbor view with a ferry boat in the water, a red-roofed lighthouse on a breakwater, and waterfront buildings including the "Star Line Ferry Co." It's a serene scene that evokes the charm of a coastal town.

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