The best hidden vacation spots in the US range from secluded beach destinations and small towns to secret state parks tucked in the middle of nature. If you’re looking to discover some of the coolest hidden paradises in the USA, keep reading!
Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting popular vacation spots like Yellowstone and LA, but I feel most at home in America’s lesser-known hidden gems. The types of secret, underrated travel destinations in the US with lots of wonder and zero crowds. And of course, much lower prices. From off-the-beaten-path national and state parks to charming towns and remote beaches, here are 20 of the best hidden gems and underrated vacation spots in the US that you should visit in 2021. Note: I’ve saved my favorite for last!
How many of these underrated vacation spots in the US have you visited? Let me know in the comments at the end of the article!
20. Leavenworth, Washington
Bavarian folk culture is alive and well in Leavenworth, Washington. This mountain town is home to pastel colored buildings, authentic beer halls, and alpine lodge accommodations that look like they belong in the Bavarian Alps rather than the Pacific Northwest.
Leavenworth: One of the most unique vacation spots in the United States
In addition to its charm, Leavenworth is a popular destination for its hiking, biking, and climbing. In the summer, this hidden paradise in the US draws backpackers and in the winter, the town becomes a skiing mecca. As far as Christmas markets and festivals go, Leavenworth’s are among the best you’ll find in the US.
With its amazing German cuisine and alluring mountain spirit, Leavenworth is easily one of the best unknown vacation spots in the United States.
Read next: Coolest Cabin Rentals in Washington State
19. Mendenhall Glacier – Alaska
Want to see a cool glacier up close? Mendenhall Glacier is a gorgeous, 13-mile-long glacier with some of the country’s most untouched and unspoiled landscapes. It’s just outside of Juneau, which also happens to be a hidden gem in the US (even though it’s the capital of Alaska).
Visitors come for the colossal glacier and stay for the cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, and lush forests. It’s a popular place for spotting bears, with hiking trails even closing occasionally due to heavy bear traffic.
Though Mendenhall Glacier is stunning at the surface, much of the beauty lies below. There, you’ll find some amazing turquoise-colored, crystal ice caves, which are accessible by kayak.
If you’re up for a good hiking trail and want to reward yourself with stunning views of icebergs and snow-capped mountains, add Mendenhall Glacier to your 2021 bucket list.
18. Fredericksburg, Texas – Among the Most Underrated Vacation Spots USA
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and Fredericksburg is the whole enchilada.
What makes Fredericksburg a top hidden paradise in the USA
Not far from Austin and San Antonio, this town in Central Texas offers a little bit of everything: stunning views, amazing food, scenic vineyards, and German-inspired architecture. As its name suggests, Fredericksburg has German roots. It was made into the vibrant town it is today from German immigrants who settled here in the early 1800s. They brought with them authentic German food, great beer, and fine wines, which are front and center today.
Take advantage of the live music scene, which is a close second to that of Austin. Explore the breathtaking lavender fields that Fredericksburg is known for. Stroll the Marktplatz and German-style churches. With all its grace and personality, it’s no wonder Fredericksburg is among the best off the beaten path vacations in the USA.
17. Block Island – Rhode Island
Looking for a family vacation in the northeast that’s a bit off the beaten path? Look no further than Block Island.
Known for its idyllic scenery and Victorian charm, Block Island is one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. It’s home to everything from dramatic clay cliffs and windswept beaches to historic lighthouses and rustic farms.
Block Island is a popular day trip from Newport, but to truly experience its rustic charm, plan to spend a weekend here.
How has Block Island remained a secret?
Located just off the coast of Rhode Island, it’s surprising that Block Island has managed to evade the crowds and remain a hidden gem in the US for so long. It’s got the classic New England vibes of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket without the hordes of tourists. In fact, the island hasn’t changed much at all since the late-1800s, except for electricity and a few cars.
Block Island is connected to the mainland by plane and ferry, making it convenient for day trips. However, those who stay overnight are in for a treat, as they’ll be able to enjoy sunrises and sunsets in peace. There are no stoplights or big international chains on the entire island, so you’ll feel like you’re back in much simpler times.
Whether you’re into hiking, biking, shopping, or relaxing, you’ll find plenty of unique experiences on Block Island, one of the best unknown places to visit in the USA. It truly embodies the best that Rhode Island has to offer.
16. Smith Rock State Park – Oregon
The Pacific Northwest has many secret spots, but this one in Oregon really stands out.
Have you heard of the 7 Wonders of Oregon? Smith Rock State Park is one of them. This river canyon is the birthplace of American rock climbing and the perfect playground for those craving adventure and the outdoors.
Why Smith Rock is one of the best unknown places to visit in the US
What makes Smith Rock State Park unique is its geology. The park’s signature pointy rocks are perched high above the valley, almost resembling the spires of a Gothic cathedral. Rivers are sliced between rocky mountain terrain amid gorgeous scenery and abundant wildlife. Eagles and falcons are frequently spotted in the air, and beavers and otters by the river.
Though you’ll find lots of challenging trails and climbing spots, you don’t need to be an avid climber to visit here. The park has a trail for every difficulty level, so you’ll have no problem finding a scenic viewing platform to capture that perfect Instagram photo.
Unlike much of the Pacific Northwest, Smith Rock gets very little rainfall. It’s sunny for more than 300 days a year, ideal for mountaineering, golfing, paddle boarding, and so much more. In the rare event that the weather’s not suitable for outdoor activities, there are plenty of microbreweries nearby to enjoy a craft beer or two.
Nature lovers who enjoy hiking and rock climbing will love it here at one of America’s best hidden vacation spots.
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15. Molokai – Hawaii is Among the Best Hidden Vacation Spots in the US
Molokai is definitely one of the best secluded places to visit in the US.
On the island of Molokai, there are no traffic lights, no luxury resorts, and no buildings taller than a palm tree. Instead, you’ll find unspoiled landscapes and an authentic Hawaiian culture that’s remained remarkably in-tact. Molokai is totally unique from the rest of Hawaii, making it one of the best kept secrets and hidden gems in the US.
Molokai is where culture and natural beauty converge
Molokai is best known for its rich cultural heritage. It’s the birthplace of hula, a sacred dance and chant dating back 1,000 years.
Though visitors come for the authentic Hawaiian culture, they stay for the epic landscapes. Molokai is home to the world’s highest sea cliffs and longest fringing reef, as well as awe-inspiring waterfalls and valleys. It also has plenty of untouched and pristine beaches, making it one of the best hidden paradises in the USA.
Molokai isn’t for everyone. As one of the last Hawaiian islands that hasn’t been overrun with tourism, it’s fighting to keep its unique culture alive. So if you’re seeking a tropical oasis with lots of beach resorts and clubs, you’re better off going to Maui or Oahu instead. The locals wish to attract travelers who are eager to learn their story and experience Molokai like a local. If you’re willing to forgo modern conveniences and luxury resorts for rustic terrain and a culturally immersive experience, then Molokai is for you.
14. Devils Tower – Wyoming
Located in the least populous state of Wyoming, Devils Tower is one of the best hidden gems of the western United States. It’s a sacred place for Native Americans, and it was established as the first U.S. National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
Why Devils Tower is a hidden gem worth visiting
Hiking is one of the top things to do here. The Tower Trail is just over 2 miles long roundtrip, with stunning viewpoints of the tower from all angles. There are 8 miles of trails throughout Devils Tower National Monument.
Technical rock climbing is permitted, but must be registered in advance. According to the National Park Service, only about 1% of the monument’s visitors climb Devils Tower.
Interestingly, this protruding rock tower is the only one of its kind in the world. Though it looks like a volcano, experts haven’t agreed on what exactly it is and how it was formed. One theory suggests that Devils Tower was formed from magma millions of years ago that was subsequently pushed up to the surface. Whatever it is, it’s quite a unique natural phenomenon worthy of a visit, especially if you enjoy hiking and climbing.
While you’re visiting Devils Tower, one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US, you’ll also be close to more famous sights like Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park in neighboring South Dakota.
13. The Finger Lakes – New York
Where have the Finger Lakes been all my life?
Known for its amazing wines and precious scenery, the Finger Lakes region of New York definitely deserves more clout. It’s been one of the most underrated travel destinations in the US for too long, and it’s unclear why given all that it has to offer.
What makes the Finger Lakes among the best unknown places to visit in the USA
This scenic part of upstate New York is home to 11 finger-shaped lakes, some of which are over 30 miles long. Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes, followed by Seneca Lake. Keuka and Skaneateles Lakes are a bit more off the beaten path, but also merit a visit.
Each of these lakes contain lake houses and wineries as far as the eye can see. There seems to be more boat traffic on the lakes than car traffic on the roads that surround them. It’s truly a serene place to spend a holiday!
In addition to the lakes themselves, I also enjoyed checking out the state parks, waterfalls, and gorges that the area is known for. Watkins Glen is a must, as well as Buttermilk Falls State Park and the Grand Canyon of the East.
Tip: If you have time, continue west from the Finger Lakes until you hit Buffalo, New York. It’s definitely on the urban side, but there’s so much to see and appreciate in this part of upstate New York.
Stay at one of these amazing New York Airbnbs, and you’ll wonder why the Finger Lakes is one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US.
Read next: 11 Unique Airbnbs in the Finger Lakes
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12. Jekyll Island – Georgia
Just off the coast of Georgia lies an idyllic island escape called Jekyll Island. It’s brimming with immaculate nature and compelling history—without the crowds—making it one of the coolest places to visit in Georgia and among the best hidden gems in the US.
What makes Jekyll Island among the top hidden vacation spots in the US
During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, Jekyll Island was an exclusive retreat for the world’s wealthiest people, including William Vanderbilt, J.P. Morgan, and William Rockefeller. These influential people were members of the Jekyll Island Club, the world’s richest and most exclusive club at the time.
After World War II, the island was sold to the state of Georgia as a state park, but many of the mansions remain in-tact. If you want to see how the other side lived, you’ll love the Jekyll Island Historic District. I’d go so far as to consider it the Newport of the South.
Like Molokai, Jekyll Island doesn’t have any traffic signals. In fact, only 35% of the island has been developed due to state-protected lands. This lends itself to Jekyll Island’s laidback, unhurried lifestyle. Beaches are plentiful, but if you want to do something more active, biking is a popular activity and mode of transportation along the 20 miles of bike paths sprawled throughout.
Today, Jekyll Island welcomes all types of visitors looking for raw nature, historic architecture, and an interesting blend of old and new.
Read next: Coolest Places to Visit in Georgia
11. Broken Bow, Oklahoma
If you’re looking for a beautiful nature spot with minimal crowds, add Broken Bow to your bucket list.
In Broken Bow, you’ll have a little bit of everything: pine trees and wildlife galore, lakes, hiking trails, state parks, and so much more. Here, there are more log cabins and chalets per square mile than every outdoor destination in the US, including places in New England, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest.
Broken Bow is truly the perfect family destination, where you can go fishing, kayaking, and canoeing during the day, and curl up by the fire inside your log cabin rental at night. What more could you want in one of the best hidden gems in the US?
Read next: Coolest Vacation Rentals in Broken Bow OK
10. Half Moon Bay – California
Looking to do a road trip on Highway 1? Don’t miss Half Moon Bay, a beautiful beach destination south of San Francisco.
Home to some of the country’s most pristine coastline and gentle rolling hills, Half Moon Bay is one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. It’s tucked between California’s Golden Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
HMB is a hidden gem vacation spot like no other
Half Moon Bay, California offers a host of fun outdoor activities, including horseback and bike riding, sunbathing, camping, and fishing. HMB is also great vacation spot for its watersports, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, and surfing. Any daredevils in the house? The Mavericks is an annual surf contest where surfers compete, sometimes encountering waves over 60 feet tall!
In addition to these exciting, family-friendly activities, I was drawn to Half Moon Bay for its R&R. There are countless beachfront properties where you can stay and lounge by the beach, enjoy delicious seafood, and soak in the scenic coastal views. Luckily, it’s a year-round destination, so you can plan a trip during any month and be able to partake in any of the activities above.
Though just south of San Francisco, Half Moon Bay has somehow remained one of the best hidden gems in the US.
Looking to visit California someday soon? Stay at one of these unique Airbnbs in Southern California
9. The Berkshires – Massachusetts
Why visit the Berkshires? This rural region in Western Massachusetts is filled with so many fun, family-friendly attractions, pristine nature, and farm-to-table dining cuisine. Add to that its proximity to Boston and New York, and you’ll wonder why it’s remained one of the best underrated vacation spots in the US.
Looking for a cool vacation rental in the Berkshires? Check out this article below.
The Berkshires feels like a hidden gem
Sightseeing is among the top things to do in the Berkshires. It’s home to Massachusetts’ tallest mountain, Mount Greylock, where you can overlook five states on a clear day. Kayaking, canoeing, and zip lining are popular when the weather is warm, and skiing and snowboarding when it’s cold. The autumn is another must to see the intense foliage.
The Berkshires also offers a host of unique museums, including the Norman Rockwell Museum, Hancock Shaker Village, and Mass MoCA.
For the full Berkshires experience, you must also try its food. This region has some of the best farm-to-table dining in New England. Nothing beats comfort food from the fall harvest, that’s for sure!
Though popular amongst New Englanders, the Berkshires remains one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. It’s truly the perfect place to relax and unwind in the middle of nature.
8. Estes Park – Colorado
A list of the best hidden vacation spots in the US wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Estes Park in Colorado.
Estes Park is a hidden gem getaway like no other
Estes Park is a picturesque and romantic town tucked amid the mountains. It’s at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park, home to unspoiled wilderness and some of the best hiking that the USA has to offer.
During the warm months of the year, visitors go hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, while winter travelers get around by snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Spotting elk and bald eagles is another popular pastime, as is strolling around the downtown area. Estes Park boasts many Victorian-era buildings, including the Stanley Hotel, which inspired the hit horror film, The Shining.
Whether you’re into charming Western towns or boundless nature, you’ll love visiting Estes Park, undoubtedly one the most under the radar vacation spots in the US.
7. St. Augustine, Florida is a Hidden Gem in the USA
Many American travelers escape to Florida for its beaches, theme parks, and endless sunshine. But in the process, they overlook the charm of America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. Located on Florida’s northeast coast, it’s one of the best hidden vacations in the US and a great place for a romantic getaway.
Why St. Augustine is among the best off the beaten path vacation spots in the US
Founded by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America. This old town is home to 144 historic blocks lined with Spanish colonial architecture, public parks, and museums. St. Augustine’s colonial charm—best conveyed by the city’s 17th-century castle, horse-drawn carriages, and narrow cobblestone streets— is still on full display today.
Though it’s situated on the coast, St. Augustine is worlds apart from your typical beach destination. It’s just a 50-minute drive from Jacksonville, making it a convenient weekend getaway from Florida’s largest city.
Visit St. Augustine, and you’ll be amazed how it’s remained one of Florida’s best hidden gems for so long.
6. Door County – Wisconsin
Who doesn’t love the Midwest?
If you’re dying to visit the Great Lakes region of the US, then Door County is the place to go. This quaint county in Wisconsin is one of the best off-the-beaten-path destinations for families any time of year.
Door County feels like a secret destination
In the winter, Door County is a winter wonderland that gives you the feeling of gemütlichkeit. During spring, the region comes to life with beautiful flowers, and in the summer, heats up with sunshine and fun lake activities. When fall rolls around, the leaves turn bright red, orange, and yellow, ideal for snapping the perfect Instagram photo.
With so much beautiful nature, stunning coastline, and limitless restaurant and shopping options, there’s always something to do in Door County. It’s crazy that it’s remained one of the best secret vacation spots in the US for so long.
Planning a trip to the Midwest? Read next: Best Airbnbs in the Midwest in 2021
5. Stowe – Vermont
Stowe is a seemingly unknown vacation spot in the United States worth visiting
Stowe is known for its alpine scenery, which offers stunning backdrops for hiking, camping, and skiing. The Trapp Family Lodge, founded by the Von Trapp family — whose story was featured in the hit movie, The Sound of Music — offers a beautiful blend of Austrian architecture and Vermont views. I thoroughly enjoyed staying there and would recommend it to anyone with a similar appreciation of this Hollywood blockbuster.
Like the rest of Vermont, Stowe has a reputation for good beer, that is the Alchemist Brewery. This small, family-run brewery makes one of my favorite beers, the Heady Topper, which always merits a visit to get a free pour. Nothing beats enjoying a beer or two while soaking in the majestic mountain vistas.
Read next: Coolest Airbnb Rentals in Stowe VT
Looking to visit Vermont anytime soon? Check out these awesome vacation rentals and cabins in Vermont!
4. Grand Teton National Park
Located in Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. It’s often overshadowed by nearby Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, but it definitely deserves a spot in the limelight.
The Tetons: One of the top hidden paradises in USA
In the Tetons, adventure awaits you. This park is home to over 300,000 acres of natural beauty, including dramatic mountains, alpine lakes, endless hiking trails, and abounding wildlife. Go hiking through the mountains, and you’ll be amazed by what you see.
When you visit Grand Teton National Park, you’ll want to stay in nearby Jackson Hole or Teton Village. Both of these beautiful rustic towns embody the best that Wyoming has to offer. You won’t want to stay anywhere else than one of these best hidden gems in the USA!
Read next: Best Places to Stay in Jackson Hole WY
You may also like: Coolest Vacation Rentals in the Mountains
3. Blackwater Falls State Park – West Virginia
Looking to chase some waterfalls? This state park has you covered. West Virginia is a hidden gem in and of itself, so it’s no wonder that Blackwater Falls State Park is among the under the radar vacation spots in the US.
A state park brimming with hidden gems
At Blackwater Falls State Park, the star of the show is undoubtedly Blackwater Falls. This 57-foot waterfall offers one of the best photography spots in the state. Other must-see sights in the park include Elaka Falls, Lindy Point, and Pendleton Point Overlook.
During the warm months of the year, adventure-seekers flock to Blackwater Falls State Park for its camping, biking, hiking, and fishing. Hunting and scenic train rides are also a big hit throughout the region. Camping and lodging options are plentiful, making it one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US.
In the winter, one of the park’s most unforgettable attractions is the sled run, the longest of its kind on the East Coast. This occurs from mid-December through February, where visitors get to ride down a snow-capped mountain and soak in the beautiful winter scenery of Tucker County. Cross country skiing is also a family favorite, as there are over 10 miles of trails in the vicinity.
Home to countless outdoor attractions, including watersports, snow sports, and sightseeing, Blackwater Falls State Park is among the most underrated travel destinations in the US.
2. Gatlinburg – Tennessee
Located at the gateway of the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg definitely merits a visit in 2021. This family-friendly, mountain town in eastern Tennessee is one of the best hidden gems and vacation spots in the US.
Gatlinburg is one of the best hidden gem getaways in the United States
From precious scenery to its adrenaline-inducing activities, outdoorsy types will love everything this small town has to offer. Gatlinburg has so many fun things to do for the whole family, including whitewater rafting, biking, horseback riding, and ziplining. It’s also connected to 600 miles of hiking trails, ideal for hiking and snapping photos of some of the state’s most scenic landscapes.
For a bird’s eye view of the town and mountainous terrain, take an elevator to the top of the Gatlinburg Space Needle, an observation deck with 360° views. Nearby, there’s also a 2-mile-long cable car that brings you to Ober Gatlinburg, a popular ski area and amusement park. This cool complex has everything from indoor ice skating and water rides to wildlife encounters.
During the winter, Gatlinburg transforms into a snowy paradise with lots of tubing, snowboarding, and skiing. No matter when you decide to visit, you’ll get a taste of the country’s beautiful and rural core. No wonder it’s among the best hidden gem vacation spots in the US!
1. Valley of Fire – Nevada
Fiery landscapes: check.
Endless hiking trails: check
Crowds of tourists: nope!
Though located just an hour from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is a lesser known hidden gem in the US. It has a lot to offer in the way of precious scenery, hiking, and camping, yet it’s often overlooked for the heavy hitting attractions in nearby Arizona and Utah.
In fact, if it weren’t so close to some of the country’s most prominent national parks – like Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon – I would expect Valley of Fire to be a national park rather than a state one. It’s hard to overstate how beautiful this place is, but here’s a taste of what you can expect.
What makes this secret vacation spot so special?
As its name suggests, Valley of Fire is absolute fire. The red-hot sandstone sprawled around the park looks like it belongs on Mars. And that’s not the only draw to this magical place.
Throughout this valley, there are also slot canyons, orange and pink rock formations, and ancient petroglyphs carved into sandstone, to name a few. A day here is just enough to scratch the surface, but a couple of days is ideal to discover all the gems in one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US.
Whether you’re into hiking, camping, or snapping the perfect IG photo, Valley of Fire has you covered. It’s no wonder this otherworldly nature paradise is among the best hidden gems getaways in the United States!
Read next: Coolest Rentals in the Southwestern USA
Discovering the best hidden gems and vacation spots in the US
I hope you enjoyed my round-up of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. Like all countries, the US has lots of hidden gems that most people don’t even know exist.
Do you have a favorite hidden gem in the USA? Do you find any of these secret destinations totally out of the ordinary and unknown? Let me know in the comments below!
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Looking for more mainstream bucket-list destinations? Check out these 40 unique places to visit in the US.
Happy Travels! -Jon
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