Discovering cool and unique places in the US
From sea to shining sea, there are so many unique places in the United States. Whether you’re into snow-capped mountains, raging waterfalls, lush woodlands, or otherworldly deserts, the US has got you covered with its countless beautiful and bucket list-worthy places.
With the pandemic stifling travel abroad, 2021 looks like it will be a year of road trips and local travel. What better way to spend this spring, summer, and fall than by doing cool road trips around the US?
Buckle up and let’s take a cross-country road trip from the West Coast to the East Coast to visit many of the cool and unique places in the US.
1. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Our journey begins north of the Lower-48, in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park. This nippy national park in southern Alaska is home to 38 glaciers and numerous fjords.
It also harbors one of the largest icefields in the US—the Harding Icefield—named after former U.S. President Warren G. Harding who visited there in the 1920s.
Inside Kenai Fjords National Park, keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales, sea lions, and black bears.
2. Molokai, Hawaii
Cool places to visit in the US come in all shapes and sizes, and this one is incredibly unique. It’s also one of the world’s most breathtaking islands. Here’s why:
Molokai is a complete 180 from the rest of the Hawaiian islands. Though tropical and inviting, this rustic place has not garnered the crowds of the other islands. And that’s precisely what makes it so unique, special, and one of the best hidden gems in the US.
In Molokai, you won’t find any resorts or beach clubs (though there are plenty of beautiful beaches). You also won’t see any buildings taller than a palm tree. Instead, you’ll discover untouched nature, and an authentic culture that’s remarkably well preserved.
If you’d like to see what the rest of Hawaii looked like 100 years ago, look no further than the shores of Molokai. This incredible hidden gem awaits you.
For a more touristy Hawaiian experience, consider a visit to O’ahu. Here’s what to do: 10 Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii
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3. Big Sur, California
Just south of San Francisco, an epic road trip adventure awaits you on the Big Sur.
Driving along the Big Sur is an amazing experience. Traversing the windy, serpentine roads of Highway 1 can be daunting at times, but the staggering views certainly make up for it.
This rugged stretch of coastline extends from Carmel to San Simeon in Central California. During your road trip adventure along the Big Sur, you’ll encounter scenic cliffs, beautiful beaches, state parks, and bridges. As such, it’s considered one of the most beautiful, bucket list places in the US.
If you have time, definitely make it up to Muir Woods, which is just north of San Francisco and right off Highway 1. You won’t regret it!
4. Mount Rainier, Washington
Mount Rainier is as enormous as it is beautiful.
It’s one of the tallest mountains in the Pacific Northwest, towering 14,410 feet (4,392 m) over the Washington landscape. This magnificent mountain provides an epic backdrop to the Seattle skyline and Puget Sound that coalesce nearby.
This iconic mountain is also an active volcano, which last erupted in 1894.
Mount Rainier’s volcanic cone is camouflaged by its glaciated peaks.
On a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of Mount Rainier from Victoria, British Columbia, over 114 miles away.
Does a cozy cabin near Mt. Rainier sound good to you? Read next: 12 coolest Airbnbs in Washington State!
5. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
Who needs the Alps when you have Lake Tahoe? Kidding of course, but you definitely need to check this place out.
Located in the Sierra Nevada region between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in the US. It’s encircled by rocky mountains and lush forests, making it one of the most unique, year-round travel destinations in the USA.
Lake Tahoe is a popular spot for swimming and water sports in the summer, and skiing during the winter. Its versatility makes it one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the US.
6. The Palouse, Washington and Idaho
The Palouse is a cornucopia of gently rolling hills and prairies. Formed by wind-blown sediments, the Palouse is a unique spectacle that undulates through Washington and Idaho.
As there are no continual valleys or ridges, geologists can infer that these hills were formed by wind-blown silt rather than rivers or streams.
Its agricultural landscape is often likened to Tuscany, though you’ll find wheat fields here instead of vineyards.
7. Yosemite National Park, California
California is home to nine national parks, and Yosemite is definitely one of the best.
Located four hours east of San Francisco, Yosemite is a natural sanctuary teeming with deep valleys, gushing waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Yosemite National Park is also well-known for its granite cliffs and giant sequoia trees.
The top sight in the park is Yosemite Valley, a giant glacial valley enclosed by granite summits. At its depths, you’ll find an array of pine trees and streams.
8. Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Looking to chase waterfalls on a cool hiking trail in the Pacific Northwest? Just wait until you see Multnomah Falls.
Hydrated by underground springs and run-off from a nearby mountain, Multnomah Falls is a year-round waterfall with a 611-foot drop. It’s among the most unique sights and natural treasures in the US. Multnomah Falls is accessible by two hiking trails, which are adjoined by a pretty bridge.
This majestic waterfall is lodged in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, only a 30-minute drive from Portland.
9. Sequoia National Park, California
Tree huggers will really appreciate this one.
Sequoia National Park is known for its giant sequoia trees, canyons, and lakes. The park is home to the world’s largest tree, General Sherman Tree, which is 275 feet (83 m) tall. At its base, this tree is 36 feet (11 m) in diameter.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains within reach of San Francisco, Sequoia National Park has 14 campsites, which make for the ideal outdoor retreat. It’s also one of the most beautiful, bucket list-worthy places in the US.
10. Thor’s Well, Oregon
Choose your beaches in Oregon wisely. Along its coastline, you’ll find a natural vortex that appears to swallow the sea. This is Thor’s Well, a sinkhole driven by the powerful ocean tides.
Just shy of a 2-hour drive from the city of Eugene, Thor’s Well is conveniently located in the Siuslaw National Forest. Judging by the picture below, one would think that Thor’s Well is a bottomless pit leading to the center of the Earth. In reality, however, it’s projected to be only 20 feet (6.1 m) deep.
11. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington
Looking to add some color to your US road trip itinerary? Check this out.
During the spring, millions of tulips bloom in Washington State’s Skagit Valley Tulip Fields. This valley is comprised of hundreds of acres of gardens spanning as far as the eye can see. Similarly, the tulips seem to come in pretty much every hue imaginable on the color spectrum.
Each April, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is held, which is Washington’s largest festival. This event attracts upwards of a million visitors.
Read next: The Most Unique Airbnbs in Washington State
12. Valley of Fire, Nevada
Get off the beaten path and explore this otherworldly landscape.
Though just a short drive from Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is one of America’s best hidden gems. It’s often overlooked for the national parks in Arizona and Utah, but it shouldn’t be.
As its name suggests, Valley of Fire boasts a fiery and seemingly Martian landscape. Seriously though, the red and orange sandstone sprawled around the park looks like it belongs on Mars.
Throughout the valley, there are also slot canyons, orange and pink rock formations, and ancient petroglyphs etched into sandstone. You’ll also see lots of bighorn sheep that call this state park their home.
Many visitors come here as a day trip from Las Vegas, but I think it merits at least a couple of days to see it all.
If you love hiking and camping in epic locations, add Valley of Fire to your USA bucket list.
13. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon is something else. This surreal natural wonder is located just outside of Page, a city in northern Arizona that feels like a small town.
Known for its mystical wavy rocks, Antelope Canyon was formed by water and wind erosion over millions of years. During the day as light beams illuminate the canyon walls, this sandstone slot canyon offers a spectacular photo opportunity. This makes it one of the most beautiful, bucket list places in the US.
Antelope Canyon is a sacred space in the heart of the Navajo Nation (a Native American territory in northeastern Arizona). As such, you will need to take a guided tour with a Navajo guide. I visited Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours and loved it!
14. Bryce Canyon, Utah
Utah rocks, and Bryce is one of the reasons why.
Located in a remote area of southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon is recognized for its orange pillar-shaped rock formations called hoodoos.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Bryce Canyon. Its rocky amphitheaters were shaped by erosion over millions of years before the Colosseum.
To catch the most extraordinary views of these vibrant rocks, be sure to try a guided ATV tour or a helicopter ride. Bryce Canyon is a beautiful place to visit, with some of the most unique rock formations in the US.
15. Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
As its name suggests, Horseshoe Bend is a rock incision shaped like a giant horseshoe. It lies along the Colorado River, an extensive waterway that runs through 7 US states and 11 national parks.
Often mistaken for the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend is a few miles away from Grand Canyon National Park.
16. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park in southwestern Utah is one of the most stunning and unique places to visit in the US.
It’s best known for its red and tan-colored sandstone cliffs, which wrap around a massive verdant canyon.
Inside Zion National Park, you’ll find countless hiking and biking trails with breathtaking panoramic views of the park.
17. Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is probably the most iconic, best-known (and grandest) canyon in the world. As such, it’s definitely one of the cool and unique places to visit in the US. This colossal canyon spans 277 miles (446 km) long, 18 miles (29 km) wide, and 1 mile (1.6 km) deep.
As you gaze down its imposing walls, you can see millions of years of Earth’s geological history embedded within the rock layers.
From mule rides to whitewater rafting, the Grand Canyon offers plenty of front row seats to observe Earth’s natural beauty.
Nothing beats catching the sunrise and sunset over the Colorado River from the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon is a popular vacation spot in the southwest. Fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix, and spend a couple of weeks exploring Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.
18. The Wave, Arizona
As far as cool and unique places in the US go, this has to be one of the best.
The Wave is a rock formation made out of smooth, precious sandstone. Its unusual shape was formed by water and wind erosion over millions of years.
Due to the ecological sensitivity associated with these rocks, only 20 people are allowed to visit each day. As such, you’ll need to obtain a permit several months in advance, or get lucky with their lottery system during the morning of your visit.
19. Monument Valley, Arizona
Monument Valley is such a unique place to visit in the US.
Nestled along the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley contains a collection of exotic sandstone towers. Located inside the Navajo Nation Reservation, this valley is treasured for its red jagged rocks and panoramic views.
During the past several decades, Monument Valley has been a popular filming location; hence it’s a very recognizable spot that you’ve likely seen in movies.
20. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and Montana
Straddling the border of Wyoming and Montana, Yellowstone National Park is one of America’s best known national parks. Inside this natural treasure, you’ll find everything from dense forests and deep canyons to hot springs and geysers.
Yellowstone National Park is also home to a wide range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, bison, and moose. With its diverse geological landscape and wildlife, it’s no wonder that Yellowstone was America’s first national park.
21. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns is not your typical tourist attraction in the southwest US. This national park in New Mexico has over 119 unique caves. Its limestone chambers are embedded beneath the rocky canyons and cacti of the Chihuahuan Desert.
The principal part of the cave is called the Big Room, which extends 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long and 625 feet (191 m) wide. With its expansive limestone walls, Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most unique places to visit in the US.
22. Glacier National Park, Montana
Located among Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park is well-known for its glaciated peaks and pristine lakes. Here, you’ll encounter extensive hiking trails that lead to breathtaking glaciers and mountain vistas.
Inside Glacier National Park, you will also find vast wildlife including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and over 1,000 plant species. As such, this park is considered one of the most beautiful and unique places in the US.
23. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Looking to visit one of the coolest places in the US that doesn’t draw crazy crowds? Grand Teton National Park is definitely up there! The Tetons are home to dramatic mountains, alpine lakes, and dense forests packed with wildlife. It’s a lesser known national park, especially when compared to nearby Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. And that’s what makes it so magical!
At Grand Teton National Park, you’ll have lots of space for outdoor adventures. Hike one of the 47 hard trails in the Tetons, ranging from 5 miles to over 50 miles, or do something a bit easier with an equal pay off. Some of my favorite hikes include those to Taggart Lake and Delta Lake, the latter being around 10 miles roundtrip. Beautiful sunrise spots include Schwabacher Landing and Mormon Row. Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or a novice hiker, there’s truly something for everyone here.
During a visit to the Tetons, be sure to stay either in Jackson Hole or Teton Village in Wyoming. Both are absolutely stunning, and you’ll have a variety of cool restaurants and accommodations to choose from.
With a unique ecosystem, epic landscapes, and endless hiking trails, Grand Teton National Park is jam-packed with natural beauty. It’s no wonder this national park is among the most unique places to visit in the USA.
24. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, Colorado
Within Colorado’s White River National Forest, you’ll discover the sublime beauty of Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
This scenic wilderness is home to over 100 miles of hiking trails and 6 peaks higher than 14,000 feet (4,267 m). You’ll also find several alpine lakes and meadows of wildflowers.
Just 12 miles from Aspen, Maroon Bells is one of the most photographed places in Colorado, and the country as a whole.
25. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Located in New Mexico just 70 miles north of El Paso, Texas, is the White Sands National Monument. Inside the park, you’ll uncover exotic white sand dunes that you’d expect to find in a beach rather than a remote desert.
Interestingly, the sand dunes get their white color and soft texture from gypsum crystals, which are a special sulfate mineral. The White Sands National Monument is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. It’s also one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the US.
26. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park is known for its rugged rock formations and sharply sloping canyons. Its vibrant spires and pinnacles were formed by extreme wind and water erosion.
In addition to its intriguing geological formations, Badlands National Park is also a magnet for ancient fossils. Beneath the soil, paleontologists have unearthed the remains of rhinoceroses, camels, and saber-tooth cats.
Given its unconventional landscape and scientific significance, Badlands National Park is one of the most unique places to visit in the US.
27. Hamilton Pool Preserve, Texas is one of the best places in the USA
Just under two hours from San Antonio is an amazing oasis tucked in nature.
Hamilton Pool Preserve is a green natural pool that is fed by a 50-foot (15 m) waterfall. This pool was formerly an underground river, until the limestone ceiling collapsed thousands of years ago.
Just 30 miles (48 km) from Austin, the Hamilton Pool Preserve is a popular place for swimming during the summertime. Reservations are required to visit the pool between March and October.
Is the Hamilton Pool Preserve one of the coolest places in the US? Sure is!
28. Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park is a natural wonder that lies along the US-Mexico border. Known for its limestone cliffs and river rapids, Big Bend is a stunning spot for sightseeing, hiking, and rafting.
The Rio Grande juts through the park, contributing to its diverse ecosystem. This park is home to over 1,200 plant species and 500 animal species.
29. Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana
The Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana is the largest swamp in the US, with over 1.4 million acres of marshland. It’s even larger than Everglades National Park in Florida.
The Atchafalaya Basin spans 150 miles (241 km) from the Mississippi River Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. This wetland is home to diverse wildlife, including black bears, alligators, roseate spoonbills (resembling flamingos), and cypress trees.
30. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Is this National Lakeshore one of the coolest and most unique places to visit in the US? Probably.
Tucked in northern Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is the crown jewel of Lake Superior, America’s largest lake. It’s definitely one of the most unique sights in the US.
This lakeshore consists of 21 islands and 12 miles of coastline. The Apostle Islands were formed by glaciers that once covered this northern territory.
Along its scenic shores, you’ll find sandy beaches, sea caves, and old lighthouses. You may also stumble upon a variety of animal habitats. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is home to whitetail deer, red fox, black bears, and woodchucks.
31. Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina
Attracting 11 million visitors last year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park. This nearly doubles the number of tourists who visited the Grand Canyon, America’s second most visited national park.
Its name—“smoky”—was coined after the fog that frequently covers the mountain range, caused by chemical vapors from vegetation.
Perched in the mountains, this national park is a popular destination for hiking and camping. Surprisingly, the Smoky Mountains are a haven for 30 salamander species, and is widely considered the “Salamander Capital of the World.” Fun fact.
32. Turnip Rock, Michigan is among the coolest places in the US
Turnip Rock is a rock formation in Michigan that straddles the shores of Lake Huron. It’s definitely one of the most unique travel destinations in the USA.
Turnip Rock is bordered by private lakefront property; hence the rock is only accessible by kayak or boat. As you’d probably expect, it’s a very popular spot for kayaking and Instagramming, particularly during the summer.
There are also sea caves nearby that offer a similarly satisfying photo opportunity.
As you can see below, the top of Turnip Rock is much larger than its base, due to erosion from the waves. With its unique appearance and serene setting, Turnip Rock merits a spot among the most beautiful places to visit in the US.
33. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Located in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a cluster of 7 islands and protected coral reefs. Dry Tortugas is the westernmost part of the Florida Keys, and definitely one of the top places to visit in Southern Florida.
This archipelago is home to exotic fish, coral reefs, and shipwrecks. It is also home to Fort Jefferson, the largest brick structure in the US.
Given that the islands are only accessible by seaplane or boat, the park only attracts around 60,000 visitors each year. Together with the Florida Everglades, Dry Tortugas National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you’re planning to visit Miami, it’s definitely worth making the trek to the Florida Keys. The Overseas Highway offers stunning coastal views, and you can easily check off Dry Tortugas National Park in the same trip!
Read next: Most Unique Islands to Visit in the World
34. Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia + North Carolina
Looking to visit one of the coolest places in the US? The Blue Ridge Mountains have got you covered. They span from Georgia to Pennsylvania, with most of the tallest peaks being in North Carolina.
If there’s one part of the Blue Ridge Mountains that you need to see, it’s the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is the longest scenic parkway in the US, extending over 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia. From here, you’ll be able to visit two national parks: Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are scenic during all times of the year, but fall is the best time to go. Leaf peeping along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a must, and you’ll quickly see why it’s among the coolest and most unique places to visit in the US!
Read next: Top Airbnb Rentals in Georgia
35. Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is a group of three massive, raging waterfalls that lie on the New York-Canada border. The most powerful of the three is Horseshoe Falls, which touches both countries.
Niagara Falls is one of the most beautiful and iconic in the world. The falls have the highest flow rate in North America, making it a reliable source of hydroelectric power.
To fully soak in these powerful falls, take a boat tour on the Maid of the Mist.
While you’re at it, I also recommend checking out Buffalo, NY, which is located on the Niagara Frontier. This hidden gem in Western New York will blow your mind! The Finger Lakes, which are also nearby, is worthy of a visit (particularly for wine lovers!)
Recommended: Fun facts you didn’t know about Niagara Falls
Read next: Unique things to see and do in Buffalo
36. Central Park, New York City
Who else loves NY?
As one of the world’s largest urban parks, Central Park is a stark contrast from the concrete jungle of New York City, the largest city in the US. There are over 58 miles (93 km) of paths throughout the park, so don’t expect to cover its entirety in one visit.
In addition to its tree groves, Central Park also contains the Central Park Zoo and Belvedere Castle, two popular attractions in the city. Central Park offers some much needed breathing room from the bustling streets of Manhattan.
Whether you like scenic city views or spacious parks, you’ll find that Central Park is one of the most beautiful and unique places to visit in the US.
37. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Moreover, the Berkshires boasts a mouthwatering farm-to-table dining experience and an intriguing art scene. The Berkshires’ art and culture is on full-display in the Norman Rockwell Museum, Hancock Shaker Village, and Mass MOCA.
Read next: Top Rentals in the Berkshires
38. Newport, Rhode Island
This coastal city is known for its Gilded Age mansions and miles of epic coastline. The Breakers Mansion is the most iconic landmark of all, but there are countless other estates that deserve a visit.
Newport also has the largest collection of colonial-era homes in the US. This place brims with seaside charm and historical treasures, so be sure to spend at least a weekend soaking in all of it.
History lovers will love a weekend getaway in Newport. Beach lovers will, too.
39. Cape Cod, Massachusetts is among the most unique places in the US
The Cape is known for its beautiful beaches, quaint fishing towns, top-notch whale watching, and fresh seafood, among other cool things. It’s an immensely popular summer destination, but it’s also worth paying a visit to Cape Cod in the fall when the leaves change color and the crowds are gone.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Cape in September, and was blown away by the sheer number of fun outdoor activities you can do in the late summer and early fall. From nature walks and bike rides, to near-empty beaches and colorful cranberry bogs, there’s a whole lot you’ll want to see and do here. Cape Cod is big and small at the same time; a place you’ll want to salivate over slowly in order to fully experience the coastal charm. And don’t forget to try the clams, oysters, and lobster rolls, too! This is definitely one of the top places to visit in Massachusetts.
Related: 17 unique Airbnb rentals in Cape Cod
40. Acadia National Park, Maine
Looking for a romantic getaway tucked in nature? Acadia National Park has got you covered.
It’s mounted on the rocky headlands of the East Coast, with views of unspoiled and seemingly unexplored landscapes.
Acadia is best known for its rugged coastline, granite-covered mountains, and dense woodlands. This majestic park is also home to vast species of birds, fish, and mammals.
In the summer, Acadia National Park is a prime place for camping, hiking, and watersports. During the wintertime, you can go cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.
Submersed in natural serenity, Acadia is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and unique travel destinations to visit in the USA.
Read next: Coolest Bucket List Ideas for 2021
Most Unique Places to Visit in the USA
America’s diverse topography makes it a treasure trove of unique and unusual places. From coast to coast, there are so many natural wonders to explore and appreciate.
I hope this list of beautiful places gave you a glimpse of the unique landscapes and attractions throughout the US. Whether you’re interested in a weekend getaway or something much longer, there are countless hidden gems that you’ll need to explore, but this is a great place to start.
How many of these places have you visited so far? Are any of them new to you? I hope you get to visit each of these cool places in the US very soon!
Let me know your favorite spots in the comments below!
Read next: Most Unique Airbnb Stays in the USA
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