- Shutterstock/Kris Wiktor
The US is vast: 3.797 million square miles to be exact. Yet when it comes to choosing a vacation, we often limit ourselves to a tiny fraction of the country.
There are plenty of good reasons we would want to visit Yosemite National Park in August, along with 600,000 other people, or skiing in Vail, Colorado, in the winter, with 1.6 million others, but for those prepared to go off the beaten track, there are a lot of lesser-known places that are well worth a visit, especially if you’re looking to ditch the crowds.
We have put together a selection of our favorite underrated travel destinations – from cities to day trips and national parks, these are all places that deserve a bit more attention.
- Shutterstock/Dean Fikar
This rustic town in Central Texas was originally settled by Germans and named after a former Prussian prince.
Today it’s one of the state’s hidden gems, with a mix of unique 19th-century German architecture, a German market square, and a luxurious wine region in the surrounding Texas Hill County.
Tongue Point, Washington
- Flickr/Duane Burdick
You’ll find Tongue Point jutting out from the northern coastline of Washington State. At low tide, this is a prime place to spot sea life and birds as you walk across to the outcropping.
Conveniently, there’s a campground nearby, so you can stay and explore the stunning scenery or just swing by for a quick swim.
Topsail Island, North Carolina
Topsail is a barrier island that stretches 26 miles along the coast of North Carolina. It’s managed to stay low-key despite having some of the most beautiful beaches in the area, earning it rave reviews on TripAdvisor.
If you want to avoid the normal hustle and bustle of other seaside beaches in summer, this is the place to visit. The average cost to rent a house for four people is $276 a night on Airbnb.
Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
- Shutterstock/Joe Ferrer
There are more than 500 lakes in the Brainerd Lakes area, so there’s plenty to explore. The serene waters make the lakes a good place for kayaking, waterskiing, and paddleboarding. You’ll want to head to Lake Mille Lacs for a swim.
Lake George islands, New York
- Business Insider/Mary Hanbury
Spending the summer in Lake George is certainly not a well-kept secret, but camping on the small islands in the middle of the lake is.
These 44 state-owned islands host a combined 387 campsites. Each shoreline site has its own dock for at least one boat, a fireplace, a picnic table, and a toilet, and it costs $28 to $33 to stay a night.
The islands are accessible only by boat, so guests have the option to rent a boat for their stay or pay to be dropped off and picked up.
Ross Lake, Washington
Deep in the North Cascades National Park in Washington state, this is one of the most remote places to visit in the US.
The lake is 23 miles long and surrounded by dense forest. Along the edge of the lake are several state campsites that can be reached foot or by boat.
- Flickr/Robert Stinnett
Hermann is a picturesque town on the banks of the Missouri River. It was originally settled by German immigrants who are believed to have chosen this area because of its striking similarity to the Rhine Valley in Germany.
Today it has a thriving wine-producing scene, and wine tasting is a popular pursuit for visiting tourists.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
No cars are permitted on the island, which leaves only horses, bikes, and buggies as modes of transportation. Fortunately, there’s plenty to explore on foot, not least of which is the main street, lined with Victorian buildings and fudge shops.
Swan’s Island, Maine
- Shutterstock/Kate Sfeir
Mount Desert Island and its busy Arcadia National Park have put the northern Maine coastline on the map, but if you are looking for something a little less touristy nearby, Swan’s Island could be the answer.
The island has a year-round population of just 350 people, and its main industry is lobstering. It takes 30 minutes to get there on a ferry from Bass Harbor on Mount Desert Island.
- Shutterstock/Albert Pego
Bend’s proximity to a mountain range, volcano, and river means it offers a myriad of outdoor activities for every season. You can spend the day skiing or hiking in nearby mountains or paddleboarding through town on the river. The city was voted one of the best places to live in the US by Men’s Journal because of its incredible outdoors scene.
The main town has plenty of bars and restaurants for tourists to enjoy. There are also local breweries and wineries to explore.
Block Island, Rhode Island
- Shutterstock/Ellen McKnight
Though it’s just across the way from the Hamptons and relatively close to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Block Island manages to keep a low profile and misses out on the hordes of people heading to more popular summer spots. This means the island’s 17 miles of pristine white beaches stay almost crowd-free.
The island also has two distinctive lighthouses to explore and plenty of hiking trails for when you find yourself feeling restless on the beach.
Door County, Wisconsin
- Shutterstock/Kenneth Keifer
Door County is a picturesque peninsula sandwiched between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. It’s home to 19 communities that run along the shoreline.
Its natural beauty has made it an appealing spot for artists and writers, many of whom have set up shop here and opened galleries in farmhouses and converted barns. Many of these artists also run art workshops for visitors who want to try their hand at painting.
Door County was formerly known as “Cherryland USA,” and it grew 95% of the country’s cherry crop at its peak in the ’50s. Today you can wander through the cherry orchards and sample its cherry pie.
- Shutterstock/Brian A Smith
Bozeman is not only a great place to visit because of its proximity to Yellowstone National Park – it also has a vibrant cultural scene and is home to the state’s main university. The area is surrounded by mountains offering lots of skiing and hiking trails, and it’s known for having an abundance of fishing in the miles of blue-ribbon trout streams that run nearby.
The town is also home to the Museum of the Rockies, which has an extensive collection of dinosaur fossils and a full-size T-rex skeleton.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
- Shutterstock/Svetlana Ageeva
Just an hour’s drive from the Las Vegas Strip, this state park is a great place to escape the madness. The area is named after its dramatic bright red sandstone formations. The best time to visit is during the spring or fall – in the summer, visitors are warned not to hike because it becomes dangerously hot.
“It’s beautiful, not nearly as crowded, has great short hikes that are doable for all levels and offers a chance to see petro glyphs and historical places up close,” a TripAdvisor reviewer writes.
Taos, New Mexico
- Shutterstock/Marco Bicci
The Taos Valley has been inhabited for over 1,000 years, yet it’s still a relatively well-kept secret in the US. There are two areas: Taos, the main town where tourists can stay, and Taos Puebla, an ancient village with buildings made entirely of adobe, a mix of earth, straw, and water. The village has a population of 150 Taos Indians.
The town of Taos is a great spot to visit in its own right. Artists have flocked here thanks to the area’s dramatic landscapes and beautiful earth-colored buildings. In winter, the town transforms into a ski resort for those coming to enjoy the region’s excellent skiing terrain.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
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Hot Springs became a spa town thanks to its naturally occurring springs. There are several bathhouses along the aptly named Bathhouse Row in the main town.
These historic bathhouses became popular in the 1940s when wealthy visitors from Chicago and St. Louis came here to relax. The Buckstaff Bathhouse, one of the original bathhouses, has stayed in operation since it opened in 1912. Other buildings have been renovated to make more modern spas.
Some hot springs can also be found north of the city in Hot Springs National Park. While you can’t bathe here, visitors are invited to put their hand into the thermal pools and test out the naturally heated water, which can reach 143 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mount Bohemia, Michigan
- Flickr/Chad Johnson
The Upper Midwest isn’t known for its excellent ski resorts, but there are exceptions to the rule, and Mount Bohemia is one of them.
This ski resort averages 300 inches of snow each year, and a season pass costs just $99. It’s also a popular spot in the summer and fall, when tourists come to mountain bike and soak in the incredible views across Lake Superior toward Canada.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
- Shutterstock/Kris Wiktor
These are the tallest sand dunes in the US, and to take full advantage, visitors head here for sand-boarding and sledding.
You can’t rent boards there, so you’ll need to bring your own, but the park service lays out clear guidelines on what instrument works best when it comes to sledding.