Discovering Hidden Gems: Unveiling the Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Locations in the US
Discover the best hidden gems across America's stunning landscapes! From breathtaking natural wonders to hidden islands and quirky attractions, this article will take you on an unforgettable journey. Get ready to explore Boca Chica Park and Beach in Brownsville, soak up the charm of Mackinac Island in Michigan, and uncover the secrets of Comfort in Texas. With each destination offering its own unique allure, you won't want to miss this adventure-packed guide. So grab your sense of wanderlust and join us as we uncover the hidden treasures awaiting your discovery!
Boca Chica Park and Beach, Brownsville
Source: youtubeBoca Chica Beach
Located in Cameron County, part of Boca Chica State Park, Boca Chica Beach is a beautiful stretch of coastline situated in the Boca Chica Sub delta of the Rio Grande. Originally owned by Ygnacio Trevino as part of the Potrero de San Martin Grant, this beach has been open to the public since 1994. During the Mexican American War, a floating bridge was constructed across the bay to transport military supplies. Today, remnants of the floating bridge can still be seen at the beach.
There are plenty of activities to enjoy at this hidden corner of Texas. You can have a picnic on the beach, swim, surf, or go fishing. Don't forget to check out the dunes that spread across the beach, and if the weather permits, you can even go camping. Birdwatching is also a popular attraction, so make sure to bring your binoculars! Take a leisurely stroll along one of the park's trails or simply relax and soak up the sun on this secluded stretch of beach.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
KAREN BLEIER//Getty Images
Situated in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island offers a unique and charming experience for travelers. With no automobiles allowed on the island, the primary mode of transportation is horse-drawn carriages. The absence of cars, combined with the lush green landscape, creates a truly stunning environment to escape to.
Comfort is a picturesque town located in the Texas Hill Country that exudes a quirky charm. It is home to the eccentric Comfort Little Theater, known for its "dark-thirty" performances in April and May. The town also hosts a unique retail store called "The Elephant Story," which sells Elephant Dung Coffee for $50 per cup. During the second half of October, Comfort becomes the site of the popular Scarecrow Invasion, where various types of scarecrows fill the town.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Robert Loe//Getty Images
Jekyll Island, a self-governing and self-sustaining island off the coast of Georgia, is known for its mesmerizing driftwood beaches. These beaches give the coast a beautiful yet eerie appearance.
Kelleys Island, Ohio
Dave G Kelly//Getty Images
Situated in Lake Erie, Kelleys Island is a small island that encompasses just over four square miles. Despite its size, the island has a rich history, having served as a military rendezvous point and undergoing multiple name changes. Today, Kelleys Island offers a quaint and charming getaway for Midwesterners.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Dauphin Island, although not a luxurious vacation destination, is bursting with color and personality. Vibrant beach houses perch on stilts, Ship & Shore offers brightly-colored trinkets, and Island Rainbow serves old-school snow cones. Despite its small size, there is plenty to do on this less-than-two-mile-wide island. Explore the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, discover coastal creatures at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, or visit the pre-Civil War Historic Fort Gaines. Dauphin Island is loved for being exactly as it is and is not intended to be a tourist attraction.
Manteo, North Carolina
John Greim/Getty Images
Manteo is a picturesque town located on Roanoke Island's Shallowbag Bay, often referred to as the "gateway to the Outer Banks." With its historic architecture, local shops and restaurants, pretty inns, and picturesque lighthouse, Manteo resembles a Southern cousin to Nantucket. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum, which highlights the only all-Black lifesaving crew in the U.S., or try your hand at sailing at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
Cashiers, North Carolina
A short drive from the more well-known Highlands, the tiny town of Cashiers is perched on a plateau approximately 3,500 feet above sea level, within the Nantahala National Forest. During the summer, visitors can rent a boat on Lake Glenville, which is the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi River, or take an early-morning hike on Whiteside Mountain. In town, you can enjoy a meal at Cornucopia, also known as "Cashier's Favorite Porch," sip a beer at The Ugly Dog Pub, or browse the Farmer's Market for fresh flowers, homemade pies, and jam.
Galveston Island State Park
Source: flickrGalveston Island State Park
Stretching from West Galveston Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston Island State Park is a unique and vast nature preserve located approximately 15 miles from downtown Galveston. The park features flat, treeless terrain that offers unobstructed views of the beaches and the water. It is an ideal location for beach camping, with 150 campsites available. The park also offers over 4 miles of nature trails for day hikes, as well as barbecue pits and picnic tables. Take a bike ride through the Strand and historic district, or enjoy the lively bars along the Galveston seawall. Spend a few days being a beach bum and relaxing in this beautiful state park.
Gulf State Park
Photo by Billy Pope via Flickr/Outdoor Alabama
Gulf Shores, Alabama
While Alabama may not have any national parks, Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores more than makes up for it. Spanning across 6,150 acres, the park boasts nine different ecosystems. One of the main attractions is the two miles of pristine white sand beaches, perfect for sunbathing and swimming. Other activities include exploring the butterfly garden, hiking the 28 miles of trails, and visiting the nature center. Visitors can even stay overnight in the park's eco-friendly cottages or The Lodge at Gulf State Park.
20115 State Park Road, Gulf Shores, AL 36542, alapark.com
Palmetto State Park
Source: texas.govPalmetto State Park
Located in Gonzales County, Palmetto State Park opened in 1936 and was constructed by the Civilian Conservations Corps. The park features a water tower, refectory, and park headquarters. Named after the dwarf palmetto tree that is abundant in the park, Palmetto State Park resembles a jungle with its dense vegetation surrounding the bogs. It is home to diverse flora and fauna, including white-tailed deer, nine-banded armadillos, and various bird species.
The park features the San Marcos River, as well as Oxbow Lake. Visitors can spend an afternoon exploring the beautiful jungle-like atmosphere. Activities include swimming, tubing, fishing, and canoeing. The park also offers hiking and biking trails, as well as tent and camp sites. Don't miss the opportunity to go fishing on Oxbow Lake or canoeing down the San Marcos River for a truly relaxing day.
Oak Mountain State Park
Nellah Bailey McGough
Located just 25 minutes from Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park spans nearly 10,000 acres, making it Alabama's largest state park. The park offers 50 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and a rehab center for injured birds. Visitors can also enjoy activities such as boating, swimming, and exploring the park's extensive trail system. For those who want to explore beyond the park, splitting time between Oak Mountain and Birmingham is a great option.
200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124, alapark.com
Grayson Highlands State Park
Mouth of Wilson, Virginia
Grayson Highlands State Park, located in Southwest Virginia, offers stunning views, including 5,000-foot peaks and breathtaking waterfalls. The park is known for its section of the Appalachian Trail, where hikers can encounter wild horses and enjoy views of Mount Rogers, the tallest summit in the state. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the park's range of habitats, from grazed pastures to red spruce forests and mossy bogs. Adventurous visitors can try their hand at bouldering, which is said to be the best in Virginia.
829 Grayson Highlands Lane, Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363, dcr.virginia.gov
Source: flickrWestcave Preserve
Hidden away in Southwest Travis County, Westcave Preserve is a true Texas gem. This 30-acre preserve features a variety of wildlife in their natural habitats, including a canyon, grotto, and a beautiful cave. Access to the preserve is granted only through guided tours to protect the delicate ecosystem.
Before embarking on the tour, make sure to eat, as only water is allowed. Arrive early to explore the Warren Skaaren Environmental Learning Center and gain insights into the geology and weather of Westcave. The hike takes a few hours and covers just under a mile. Proper hiking shoes are recommended, as there will be stops along the way to learn about the trees, birds, and enjoy the stunning views. The highlight of the tour is reaching the cave and grotto, a truly magical experience. Don't forget to bring your camera to capture these unforgettable moments.
In Alabama, summer is the perfect time for floating along Cypress Creek. Unlike other popular locations that require a short hike or a truck ride to access, Cypress Creek is easily accessible. After a quick drive from downtown Florence, park your car at Wildwood Park and follow the bend in the creek. You'll discover a beautiful carved-out cliff overlooking the turquoise water. For the ultimate experience, bring two inner tubes, one for yourself and one for your cooler, and grab a few slaw dogs from Bunyan's Bar-B-Q. While you're there, don't forget to search for tumbled pieces of creek glass along the pebbly shore.
Wildwood Park Road, Florence, AL 35630, florenceal.org
Jacob's Well, Wimberley
Just north of Wimberley is Jacob's Well, a 30-foot-deep artesian spring that is considered one of the best spots for swimming in the Texas Hill Country. It is also popular among divers, as the various chambers contain unique limestone patterns and bioluminescent algae. However, exploring the caverns below can be dangerous due to false exits and fine silt that can cloud vision. Several divers have lost their lives in the past.
Robert Is Here Fruit Stand
By Robbie Caponetto
Location: Homestead, Florida
Situated just east of the Everglades National Park and west of Florida City, you'll find a large barn-like structure in the charming town of Homestead. The building proudly displays the words "Robert Is Here" on its rooftop, making it impossible to miss. And trust me, you don't want to miss it. Make sure to stop by and explore the wide range of in-season ingredients, such as tomatoes, mangoes, and squash. But that's not all – you'll also discover exotic fruits like jackfruit, sugar apples, and guanabana. Whether you're passing through or have the chance to take a detour, make sure to treat yourself to one of their delicious milkshakes before hitting the road.
Address: 19200 SW 344th Street, Homestead, FL 33034
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
This unique public art installation was created in 1974 and showcases ten sets of graffiti-covered tail fins buried at the same angle as the Great Pyramid. It stands as a tribute to the American Dream. Starting from the oldest, which is a 1949 model, to the newest 1964 model, these Cadillacs are an impressive sight. Visitors are not only allowed but encouraged to bring along their spray paint and tag the vehicles, leaving their own mark on this incredible display.
For over a century, people have reported seeing mysterious lights in the area known as "Marfa Lights." These basketball-sized spheres, which come in various colors including white, yellow, red, and orange, can be seen floating above the ground during the night, regardless of the season. The best view of these unexplained lights can be obtained by facing southwest towards the Chinati Mountains on clear nights. While some speculate that these lights may be the result of alien activity, others simply enjoy the enchanting spectacle. Whether you believe in extraterrestrial beings or not, visiting Marfa is definitely an experience worth having.
Location: Enchanted Rock, Fredericksburg
Brainard Lake, Colorado
Brad McGinley Photography//Getty Images
Located northeast of Denver, Brainard Lake offers a tranquil and pristine environment without the usual crowds of tourists. Its picturesque setting allows visitors to truly immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. The lake offers a peaceful escape, perfect for those seeking a sense of solitude.
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Willow City Loop, Willow City/Fredericksburg
This stunning 20-mile stretch of road winds through the lush, green hills of Gillespie County in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. A drive along the narrow two-lane Ranch Road offers breathtaking views and takes you through some of the oldest and most unique geological formations in the region. The best time to experience its beauty is during the spring when the fields come alive with a vibrant display of bluebonnet flowers, the official flower of Texas.
Location: Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville
Arcata, a captivating town in California, is home to towering redwoods that line its trails. These majestic trees provide a breathtaking backdrop as you explore the trails that lead to a stunning Pacific bay. Thanks to increased regulations in the logging industry, the forests in Arcata have experienced a natural renaissance, leading to renewed growth that hasn't been seen in centuries.
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Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
The Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, located on the coast of Texas, is a conservation area dedicated to the preservation of wildlife. With its wetlands situated between a bay on the Intracoastal Waterway and a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, this refuge provides a crucial habitat for over 10 species of birds. During winter, the park becomes a haven for migratory fowl, including snow geese, Canadian geese, cranes, and ducks. In the summer, herons, egrets, larks, sparrows, and other bird species can be found nesting in the area. The park offers a variety of activities, and visitors can explore the Big Slough Recreation Area to learn more about the wildlife and enjoy birdwatching opportunities.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, is a vast protected area known for its natural habitat. Spanning 98,000 acres, the refuge is primarily situated in Cameron County. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including falcons, which have been reintroduced to the preserve since 1985. With over 40 pairs of falcons now inhabiting the area, it has become a sanctuary for these magnificent birds. The refuge also provides a habitat for other endangered species, such as the Texas ocelot and the Gulf Coast Jaguarondi. Visitors can explore the numerous trails, go biking, or take an auto-tour to learn more about the wildlife. Don't forget to bring your camera to capture the incredible sights and contribute to the conservation efforts of this beautiful refuge.
With its centuries-old cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, Caddo Lake gives off the enchanting vibe of a Louisiana bayou. This lake offers a unique and immersive experience with its pristine waters, excellent fishing opportunities, and abundant wildlife. From alligators and mink to wood storks, owls, eagles, and great blue herons, the lake is teeming with diverse species. What sets Caddo Lake apart is its natural formation – it was created by a massive log jam called "The Great Raft," which formed as early as the 12th century. This makes Caddo Lake one of the few naturally-formed lakes in Texas.
Location: Jacob's Well, Wimberley
Garden of the Gods Park, Colorado
Garden of the Gods Park lives up to its name with its stunning and awe-inspiring natural beauty. Discovered in 1859 by two surveyors, it is said that one of them suggested it would be a good spot for a beer garden. However, his companion thought that description woefully understated the incredible rock formations found there. Thus, the park was given its grandiose name, paying homage to the gods. The sandstone rock formations found in the park are truly remarkable and worth a visit.
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Enchanted Rock, Fredericksburg
Enchanted Rock is an extraordinary natural wonder, with a massive pink granite dome that soars an impressive 425 feet above the ground. What sets this rock formation apart is its mysterious nature – on cool nights following warm days, the rock surface contracts, creating audible creaking noises. This phenomenon, coupled with the sparkling appearance of the rock on damp moonlit nights, has fueled legends and myths surrounding Enchanted Rock.
Location: Gorman Falls, Bend
Waco Mammoth Site, Waco
The Waco Mammoth Site is a captivating archaeological site that holds the largest known concentration of Columbian mammoths who perished in a single catastrophic event. These majestical creatures, estimated to have lived around 68,000 years ago, were mostly victims of a mudslide. Today, visitors can walk above the fossils of these giant creatures that still remain embedded in the earth. As you explore, you'll also encounter other fascinating fossils, including those of a prehistoric camel and the remains of a large cat.
Location: Palo Duro Canyon, Amarillo
Coosa River Adventures
By Tara Massouleh McCay
Location: Wetumpka, Alabama
Did you know that you can go kayaking over exhilarating whitewater rapids in Wetumpka, Alabama? This hidden gem of a town, recently featured on Ben and Erin Napier's Home Town Takeover on HGTV, is known for its unique attractions. One of the most thrilling experiences Wetumpka has to offer is the opportunity to rent kayaks and paddle boards from Coosa River Adventures. The Coosa River, famous for its adrenaline-pumping rapids, winds its way through Wetumpka. Even novice kayakers can safely navigate a seven-mile stretch of the river, complete with Class II rapids. Take advantage of this adventure and don't forget to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on one of the many scenic islands along the way.
Address: 415 Company Street, Wetumpka, AL 36092
Hueco Tanks State Park, El Paso
Hueco Tanks State Park is an extraordinary destination renowned for its unique rock formations, which make it one of the best bouldering areas in the United States. Visitors flock to this park to climb, hike, and marvel at the over 200 images of masks etched into the rocks by Native Americans who once relied on the rainwater held within the natural basins. If you're lucky enough to visit after rainfall, you'll witness numerous pools of water scattered across the rocks, adding to the park's mystique.
Location: Blue Lagoon, Huntsville
Caverns of Sonora, Sonora
The Caverns of Sonora are internationally recognized as some of the most breathtaking show caves in the world. These vast caverns were formed over one to one-and-a-half million years ago and house an extensive collection of calcite crystal formations. Visitors can embark on a guided tour to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the caves. The surrounding property also offers camping facilities, gemstone panning, hiking opportunities, and a chance to sample homemade fudge at the gift shop.
Location: Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
Andy Crawford Photography
Livingston Parish, Louisiana
Despite its tranquility, Lake Maurepas is one of the largest lakes in Louisiana. Located just west of its even larger counterpart, Lake Pontchartrain, this hidden oasis offers a serene setting away from bustling towns. The lake is surrounded by cypress trees and lush vegetation, creating a perfect backdrop for bass fishing or hosting a vibrant summer party. Whether you're in search of a peaceful fishing spot or a picturesque setting for a fun-filled gathering, Lake Maurepas has something to offer.
Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins
Discover South Carolina
Saint Helena Island, South Carolina
During colonial times, "chapels of ease" were constructed to provide a place of worship for planters who lived far from a parish church. One such example is the Anglican chapel located near Beaufort, South Carolina. Built in the 1740s, this chapel met an unfortunate fate when it was largely destroyed by a forest fire in 1886. However, the cemetery and ruins of the chapel still remain, showcasing the durability of tabby (coastal concrete) construction, which includes oyster shells as a regional addition.
Address: 17 Lands End Road, Saint Helena Island, SC 29920
Photo: Joe De Sciose
Despite its small population of around 15,000, Scottsboro attracts over a million visitors each year, thanks in large part to Unclaimed Baggage. This massive retail store spans more than a city block and is filled with over 7,000 items recovered from unclaimed luggage at airports. From designer shoes and high-end fashion to camera equipment and golf clubs, the store offers a treasure trove of discounted items. Unclaimed Baggage is a shopaholic's paradise, where you never know what hidden treasures you might discover!
Address: 509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, AL 35768
Scott's Antique Market
By Rachel Ellis
Located in Atlanta, Georgia
Every month, for four days, you have the chance to explore the vast expanse of Scott's Antique Market. With a whopping 366,000 square feet of space, you'll find antiques, art, furniture, rugs, jewelry, and more. And don't forget to check out the outdoor area as well! Make sure to mark your calendar for the second weekend of every month, starting on Thursday and ending on Sunday. Don't forget to bring a large vehicle to transport all your finds. As you browse through the market, you might even spot some interior designers picking out their own treasures. The prices are unbeatable and the experience is truly remarkable. Oh, and before you leave, be sure to stop by the veggie stand outside the North Building!
Address: 3650-3850 Jonesboro Road, Atlanta, GA 30354
By Glacier Confection
Located in Tulsa, Oklahoma
While you're in Tulsa's Brady Arts District, don't miss the chance to visit Glacier Chocolate. This delightful shop offers a wide variety of truffles, artisan chocolates, and caramels made with ingredients sourced from all over the world. One must-try item is the Tulsa Flag Caramel Box, which makes for a perfect souvenir.
Address: 1902 Utica Square, Tulsa, OK 74114
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
By Clara Haslam/Getty Images
Kiawah Island in South Carolina is known for its stunning beaches and world-class golf courses. But if you stick around until after 5 o'clock, when the crowds have departed, you'll discover a magical secret. The empty stretch of beach at sunset feels like your own private paradise. You can even take your bike for a ride on the sand and enjoy the tranquility.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
By Wynn Myers
Daufuskie Island is often overlooked because of its famous sister island, Hilton Head. However, a short ferry ride or water taxi will bring you to this hidden gem. With its untouched beauty, including dense forests, giant live oaks, palmettos, and sun-drenched Spanish moss, it's a paradise waiting to be explored. Rent a golf cart to easily navigate the island's dirt roads and visit attractions like Silver Dew Winery, the Daufuskie Blues indigo-dyeing studio, and the island's charming history museum.
By Cumberland Caverns
Located in McMinnville, Tennessee
Escape the heat by venturing into Cumberland Caverns, where the temperature remains a cool 56 degrees year-round. Take a walking tour to admire the incredible rock formations and waterfalls. For a truly unique experience, spend the night and continue exploring the caverns. Don't forget to catch a concert in the Volcano Room, a venue located 333 feet below the surface with phenomenal acoustics.
Address: 1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, TN 37110
Red Mountain Park
Located in Birmingham, Alabama
Red Mountain Park in central Alabama offers 1,500 acres of sprawling green space along the Red Mountain Ridge. The park boasts breathtaking overlooks that alone are worth the visit. What makes this park truly special is its history as the site of the area's earliest iron-ore mining community. Explore the remnants and artifacts of this fascinating past as you hike along the trails. Don't miss the Redding Hoist House, which once housed the gear used for mining operations.
Southern Entrance Address: 2011 Frankfurt Drive, Birmingham, AL 35211
With its centuries-old cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, Caddo Lake feels like a Louisiana bayou. This lake offers a truly enveloping experience, with pristine water perfect for fishing and an abundance of wildlife, including alligators, wood storks, owls, and eagles. The lake was created by the massive log jam known as "The Great Raft" and is one of the only naturally-formed lakes in Texas.
Jacob's Well, Wimberley
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is a 150-acre preserve that has been open since 1995. Its mission is to care for and rehabilitate abandoned, abused, or neglected big cats, such as lions and tigers. With over 40 magnificent creatures currently residing in the refuge, visitors can learn about the species and contribute to their conservation efforts by spending a day here. Take a walk along the paths and get up close and personal with these majestic cats. The tour guides will educate you about the animals and their individual journeys to the refuge. Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge offers an educational and enjoyable experience for all ages.
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is a hidden gem located in Westlake Hills, just west of Austin, Texas. Established in 1974, this 227-acre preserve offers 2.5 miles of hiking trails. It's the perfect destination for those seeking a true natural getaway, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and welcomes visitors who want to explore the serene beauty of the area. For a relaxed hike, start on the Easy Access Loop, which is just 0.5 miles long. Along the way, you'll encounter a small waterfall along Bee Creek and a Scenic Overlook that provides stunning photo opportunities. If you're up for a longer walk, there is also a 1.5-mile loop that takes you around the creek and back. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is an ideal destination for families with small children or for those looking for a leisurely afternoon hike.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Courtesy of Jenna Sims
Located in Spring Hill, Florida
Weeki Wachee is a must-visit destination about an hour north of Tampa. While the live mermaid shows are the park's most famous attraction, the real beauty lies in the Weeki Wachee River. The crystal-clear waters and surrounding palm, cypress, and oak trees create a breathtaking setting for kayaking. Keep an eye out for manatees, turtles, and otters as you paddle along the 5.5-mile stretch of the river. Kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent, or you can bring your own. Make sure to reserve your spot through Weeki Fresh Water Adventures.
Address: 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606
Rip Van Winkle Gardens
Courtesy of Rip Van Winkle Gardens
Located in Jefferson Island, New Iberia, Louisiana
If your kids think garden tours are boring, show them a photo of Rip Van Winkle Gardens and watch their eyes light up. This enchanting place is home to towering 350-year-old live oaks, semi-tropical plants, and waterfront views that are truly out of this world. Originally built in the 1800s as a hunting lodge by Joseph Jefferson, a theater actor famous for playing Rip Van Winkle, the gardens are now open to the public. In addition to exploring the gardens, visitors can tour Jefferson's mansion and rookery. For an unforgettable experience, consider booking a stay in one of the charming cottages on the property.
Address: 5505 Rip Van Winkle Road, New Iberia, LA 70560
MIdway Geyser Basin, Wyoming
Gary Piazza / 500px//Getty Images
While Old Faithful may steal the show, don't overlook Midway Geyser Basin, home to the largest hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. The hydro-thermal elements in the basin create stunning colors that even the best photos can't fully capture.
Even if you're not from Texas, you've likely heard of Luckenbach thanks to the classic Waylon Jennings' song. This charming small town is home to just three inhabitants and two main buildings. One houses the remnants of a post office, a working saloon, and a general store, while the other is a dancehall that hosts top Texas country artists every week. Luckenbach is the perfect place to go for an authentic Texan experience.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Los Fresnos
Willow City Loop, Willow City/Fredericksburg
This 20-mile stretch of road through the lush, green hills of Gillespie County in the Texas Hill Country is a scenic wonderland. The narrow two-lane Ranch Road winds its way through unique and ancient geological formations. In spring, the area comes alive with a dazzling display of bluebonnet flowers, the official flower of Texas.
Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville
Block Island, Rhode Island
Block Island is famous for its red brick lighthouse, which sits atop clay cliffs overlooking rocky beaches along the Atlantic coast. It's a picturesque fishing town, and the island's National Wildlife Park provides refuge for migratory birds.
Oracle is home to the renowned Biosphere 2, an earth science research facility owned by the University of Arizona. Its mission is to continue learning about our planet through long-term experiments. To this day, Biosphere 2 remains the largest enclosed system in the world.
Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
The Apostle Islands, a group of 22 islands in Lake Superior, are a nature-lover's paradise in the Midwest. The islands offer stunning views of frost-covered cliffs in winter and lush green grounds in summer, perfect for boating and fishing.
Kanab takes its name from the Paiute word for "place of the willows." Initially established as a defensive point against Native American populations, Kanab is now nicknamed "little Hollywood" due to its popularity among Western filmmakers. Its scenic sights have been featured in films like The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke.
Kodiak Island, Alaska
Located off the coast of southern Alaska, Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. Known for its mountains and dense forests, Kodiak is home to unique wildlife such as the Kodiak bear and king crab.
These are just a few of the incredible destinations across the United States that offer unforgettable experiences and breathtaking natural beauty. Whether you're in search of adventure, relaxation, or cultural exploration, there is something for everyone to discover in these hidden gems.
Galveston Island State Park
Source: flickrGalveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park stretches across Galveston Island, from West Galveston Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Located about 15 miles from downtown Galveston, the park offers a vast, flat landscape with unobstructed views of the beaches and water. It's an ideal destination for beach camping, with a total of 150 campsites available.
Don't forget to pack your swimsuit, sunscreen, and camping gear for an exciting outdoor weekend! The park features over 4 miles of nature trails for day hikes, as well as barbecue pits and picnic tables for outdoor meals. You can also explore the Strand and historic district by bike and enjoy the vibrant nightlife along the Galveston seawall. Take a break from your busy life and embrace the beach lifestyle at this stunning state park.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Source: flickrGreen Jay, Laguna Astascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is a large protected area in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, covering 98,000 acres of natural habitat. Located mostly in Cameron County, the refuge has been reintroducing captive-bred falcons since 1985, and now hosts over 40 pairs of these magnificent birds. It is also home to several other endangered species, including the Texas ocelot and the Gulf Coast Jaguarondi. Animal lovers will find this refuge to be a must-visit destination, as it is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Explore the various trails, go on a bike ride, or take an auto tour to learn more about the wildlife that is protected here. Check the refuge's website to see which wildlife-related activities are available during your visit, and be sure to bring your camera to capture the stunning creatures you encounter. If you want to extend your stay, you can camp at Adolph Thomas Jr. County Park. Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the wildlife in their natural habitats, knowing that you are contributing to their preservation.
Palmetto State Park
Source: texas.govPalmetto State Park
Located in Gonzales County, Palmetto State Park was opened in 1936 and constructed by the Civilian Conservations Corps. The park features a water tower, refectory, and park headquarters, built by these dedicated individuals. Named after the abundant dwarf palmetto tree that thrives in the park, the dense vegetation surrounding the park's bogs creates a jungle-like atmosphere. It is also home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including white-tailed deer, nine-banded armadillos, and various bird species.
The park is situated along the San Marcos River, which flows through Palmetto State Park and includes Oxbow Lake. Spend a relaxed afternoon in this picturesque jungle-like setting, indulging in activities such as swimming, tubing, fishing, or canoeing on the water. You can also explore the Palmetto Trail by foot or bike. Don't miss the opportunity to go fishing at Oxbow Lake or canoe down the San Marcos River, and make the most of your day in this beautiful park.
Cathedral of Junk
Source: flickrCathedral of Junk
Austin, Texas is known for its culture and diversity, but also has a unique, eccentric side showcased by the Cathedral of Junk. This hidden gem might be easy to miss, as it stands in the backyard of a small suburban house. Built by a local artist named Vince Hanneman, the Cathedral of Junk has been evolving since 1988 and is estimated to contain over 60 tons of miscellaneous objects!
As you explore this fascinating structure, you'll notice how nature has intertwined itself with the metal framework, creating an eerie yet awe-inspiring effect. From car bumpers to ladders and cables, the Cathedral of Junk is a testament to the creativity and vision of its creator. Interestingly, many of the items used to build this structure were brought by locals who wanted to contribute to its uniqueness. If you're lucky enough to visit when Vince is home, he enjoys giving tours and has even hosted weddings in this one-of-a-kind place!
Source: flickrCameron Park
Cameron Park, situated in Waco, Texas, is a sprawling urban park spanning 416 acres. It was dedicated in 1920 as a generous donation from lumber man William Cameron, in response to the community's request for more green space in the developing city. Over time, various private citizens donated chunks of land, ultimately forming the expansive park that exists today. Recently renovated, Cameron Park has become a popular destination for city residents and visitors alike.
When visiting, make sure not to miss Lovers Leap, a lookout point on the Cameron Park cliffs that offers two pavilions and a plaza, along with a short walking trail that provides a peaceful view. Another highlight is Mouth of the Bosque, which offers a stunning waterfront vista of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers. Additionally, Circle Point provides panoramic views that are truly breathtaking. Take a leisurely stroll to these spots and don't forget to explore the Cameron Park Zoo. For the adventurous, climb Jacob's Ladder, a zigzagging staircase that leads to a rock shelter. This park is truly an oasis in the heart of Waco and a hidden gem of Texas.
Regency Suspension Bridge
Source: flickrRegency Suspension Bridge
Known as the Swinging Bridge locally, the Regency Suspension Bridge is a one-lane bridge that spans the Colorado River where Mills County Road 433 intersects with San Saba County Road 137. Originally built in 1903, it was rebuilt in 1939 by hand and restored in 1997. Since 2005, it has been the only remaining suspension bridge in Texas that allows automobile traffic.
Take a detour to witness this bridge in person and experience its height above the water. Capture some photos of this wooden bridge and admire the view of the Colorado River, while appreciating the historical significance it holds. Just be prepared for the slight movement of the bridge as you drive across it, as it is a suspension bridge after all.
Pinto Canyon Road
Source: flickrPinto Canyon Road
Pinto Canyon Road is not for the faint of heart, as it stretches through miles of desert and can sometimes feel like it goes on forever. If you're in the mood for a road trip that takes you into the middle of nowhere, this is the route for you. Start your journey in Marfa and watch as the road gradually disappears into the tall grasses outside the town. The distant Chinati Peaks will become closer and closer as you continue driving.
The true adventure begins when the pavement ends and you find yourself on a dirt road that leads you into Pinto Canyon. As you wind through the canyon road for about ten miles, you'll witness stunning ridges adorned with scrub oak and mesquite. Along the way, you'll pass an abandoned mine before arriving at the Rio Grande floodplain. If you take a right-hand detour here, you'll end up at Kingston Hot Springs, where you can unwind in the desert for a few days before continuing your journey, whether back to Marfa or onward to Ruidosa. While it may be a solitary exploration, the vast deserts and rural scenery of Texas are truly captivating.
Cattail Falls Trail and Big Bend National Park Hike
Source: flickrCattail Falls Trail
Embark on a fantastic day trip in Big Bend National Park by taking the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and keeping an eye out for mile marker 3. Look for signs indicating the Sam Nail Ranch overlook, and take the opening among the scrub brush to follow the dirt road. Eventually, you'll reach a remote parking area where you should leave your car before continuing your adventure.
Once you're out of the car, head down the road until you reach a barricade. Go around it, keeping right when the trail branches. Hike up the hill for approximately 1.5 miles, navigating over large boulders. At the end of the trail, you'll be rewarded with the sight of Cattail Falls, a pool of water nestled at the foot of the falls. If you visit after spring rains, you'll witness the water flowing freely, creating a stunning view. Don't miss out on this lesser-known gem in Big Bend National Park and enjoy the secluded beauty it has to offer.
Stonehenge II, Ingram
This replica of England's Stonehenge, located in Ingram, Texas, is roughly two-thirds the size of the original structure. It now resides on the campus of the Hill Country Arts Foundation at 120 Point Theater Road. Stonehenge II showcases what the original structure would have looked like before the effects of erosion and weathering took their toll. The main difference, aside from its smaller size, lies in the materials used for the stones. Instead of the massive stones weighing over four tons found at Stonehenge, these stones are lighter and made of plaster applied to a wire mesh frame.
Hamilton Pool, Dripping Springs
Source: vrbo.comHamilton Pool, Dripping Springs
Museum of the Weird
Source: flickrMuseum of the Weird
The Museum of the Weird in Austin is a fascinating but lesser-known museum that strives to preserve the tradition of the "dime store museum" that originated in the late 1800s. Created by artist Steve Busti, the museum features a collection of oddities that would have been found in the original dime store museums of the past.
The exhibits in this museum are unconventional and eccentric, deviating from the typical displays found in standard museums. Among the featured items are a cyclops pig, a feejee mermaid, a two-headed chicken, mummies, and artifacts from camp horror films. While the Museum of the Weird may not appeal to everyone, it piques the curiosity of those who appreciate the unusual and embraces the spirit of "Keep Austin Weird." If you find yourself in the area, it's worth a visit.
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center
Source: flickrShangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center
Located in Orange, Texas, the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center encompasses private botanical gardens and a nature preserve. Although initially founded by H.J. Stark in 1942, the gardens were fully established and opened to the public in 1961. With over 300 plant species and a bird blind for observing nesting birds in the heronry, these expansive gardens offer a unique opportunity to appreciate the region's ecosystem.
Visit the gardens to engage with hands-on exhibits at the Nature Center and learn about how to live in harmony with nature. The Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is committed to both education and providing a retreat where visitors can renew their connection with the natural world. Explore the nine botanical exhibits, savoring the oasis of tranquility that these gardens offer.
RHONA WISE//Getty Images
Page, Arizona, is often overshadowed by the Grand Canyon's popularity, but it offers equally breathtaking views without the overwhelming crowds.
The Salton Sea, California
ROBYN BECK//Getty Images
Located in California's Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea is a shallow, saline rift lake that has experienced a resurgence in tourism. Artists with eclectic tastes have made this area their home base, using it as a backdrop for eccentric art installations.
Garden of the Gods Park, Colorado
Living up to its name, Garden of the Gods Park is a sight to behold. Discovered by two surveyors in 1859, the park's sandstone rock formations left them speechless. One of them even compared it to a beer garden, only to be rebuked by his companion, who believed the place was worthy of being called Garden of the Gods. Thus, the park was born, and visitors can now marvel at its awe-inspiring beauty.
Discover the Beauty of Door County, Wisconsin
An idyllic peninsula nestled between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, Door County, Wisconsin showcases jagged cliffs and a rocky coastline that adds to the charm of the Green Bay harbor. With its lush evergreen trees and inviting waters, this destination is a popular spot for swimming, drawing both locals and tourists during the summer months.
Experience the Charm of Fort Bragg, California
Reminiscent of the famous Laguna Beach coast further south, the seafront of Fort Bragg, California is adorned with jagged rocks. This sleepy coastal city offers a picturesque setting, complete with an inn that has been a beloved local establishment since 1902.
Visit Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs, Texas
Considered one of the best swimming holes in Texas, Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs offers a stunning oasis surrounded by giant slabs of limestone. As you hike through a lush canyon, you'll discover a magnificent grotto adorned with large stalactites hanging from the ceiling above. It's a hidden gem worth exploring.
Explore the Beauty of Caddo Lake
Located in Texas, Caddo Lake offers a serene atmosphere with its centuries-old cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss. This naturally-formed lake is home to a variety of wildlife, including alligators, wood storks, and great blue herons. It's a haven for nature enthusiasts and a perfect spot for fishing.
Experience the Beauty of Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge
Located on the coast of Texas, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge is a conservation area that provides a vital habitat for migratory birds. With its wetlands and bayou, the refuge attracts a wide variety of bird species, making it a paradise for birdwatchers. Entrance to the park is free, so come and explore the Big Slough Recreation Area for more information and great birding opportunities.
Discover the Beauty of Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Kiawah Island in South Carolina offers gorgeous beaches and world-class golf courses. However, if you venture out to the beach in the evening after the crowds have gone, you'll discover a secluded stretch of sand that feels like your own little secret. You can even take your bike for a ride along the shore, enjoying the peace and tranquility.
Visit Eudora Welty's Camellia Garden in Jackson, Mississippi
In Jackson, Mississippi, you can tour the home and gardens of legendary writer Eudora Welty. Designed in collaboration with her mother in 1925, these gardens showcase over 30 varieties of camellias, Welty's favorite flower. The vibrant colors of these beautiful blooms can be enjoyed from November through March, with the peak season in February.
Address: 1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson, MS 39202, welty.mdah.ms.gov
Explore the Wonders of Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee
Cumberland Caverns is a fascinating underground cave system that maintains a cool temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Take a walking tour to marvel at the remarkable rock formations and waterfalls within the caverns. You can even experience a unique musical performance in the Volcano Room, an underground venue with exceptional acoustics.
Address: 1437 Cumberland Caverns Road, McMinnville, TN 37110, cumberlandcaverns.com
Discover the Natural Beauty of Red Mountain Park in Birmingham, Alabama
Red Mountain Park, located in Birmingham, Alabama, offers 1,500 acres of sprawling green space along the famous Red Mountain. Apart from its breathtaking overlooks, what sets this park apart is its rich history as a former iron-ore mining community. Trail explorers can still witness the remnants and artifacts of this remarkable part of Birmingham's past, including the Redding Hoist House.
Southern Entrance: 2011 Frankfurt Drive, Birmingham, AL 35211, redmountainpark.org
Experience the Untouched Paradise of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Daufuskie Island is a hidden gem located just a ferry ride away from its famous sister island, Hilton Head. This tiny barrier island offers untouched natural beauty, including dense forests of giant live oaks, palm trees, and Spanish moss. Its pristine coastlines, scattered with driftwood and shells, create a picturesque setting. Explore the island's attractions, such as the Silver Dew Winery, the Daufuskie Blues indigo-dyeing studio, and the quaint history museum.
Witness the Beauty of Blood Mountain in Blairsville, Georgia
Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, is a legendary mountain with a mysterious name. Whether named after a historic battle or the red lichen that adorns its summit, Blood Mountain is known for its stunning sunsets that fill the sky with shades of deep orange and red. It's a perfect spot for nature lovers, especially in the fall when the hardwood trees display vibrant colors.
Byron Reece Trailhead, Blairsville GA 30512, atlantatrails.com
Enjoy the Beauty of Cypress Creek in Florence, Alabama
Cypress Creek in Alabama provides a perfect summertime escape. Accessible from downtown Florence, this serene spot offers turquoise water surrounded by towering cliffs. Whether you prefer floating in the tranquil waters or exploring the pebbled shore for hidden treasures, Cypress Creek is a must-visit destination. Don't forget to indulge in some delicious slaw dogs from Bunyan's Bar-B-Q while you're there.
Wildwood Park Road, Florence, AL 35630, florenceal.org
Savor Delicious Steaks at Nick's Original Filet House in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Nick's Original Filet House, also known as Nick's in the Sticks, is a no-frills steakhouse located on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Despite its remote location, it attracts a constant crowd of diners who are willing to wait outside for their turn. This hidden gem is famous for its juicy bacon-wrapped filet and its signature drink, the Nicodemus. Don't miss out on trying their house blue cheese-ranch dressing with your side salad and baked potato.
4018 Culver Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401, nicks-in-the-sticks.com
Experience the Delights of Peach Park in Clanton, Alabama
Peach Park in Clanton, Alabama is a hidden gem in the heart of the state's peach country. Offering a variety of peach-based products, from peach butter and cider to fresh produce, this humble establishment is a paradise for peach lovers. Don't leave without trying their famous fresh peach ice cream or a delicious fried peach pie.
2300 7th Street S, Clanton, AL 35046, facebook.com/peachparkclanton
Explore the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach, Florida
West Palm Beach, Florida
The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, located across from Palm Beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, offer a serene tropical haven filled with rare palm trees, vibrant orchids, and impressive monolithic sculptures created by the late artist Ann Weaver Norton. Explore the peaceful, shady grounds and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. You can also visit the artist's 1920s home and studio, which showcase her works.
253 Barcelona Road, West Palm Beach, FL 33401, ansg.org
Discover Georgia's Wine Country in Dahlonega, Georgia
Escape to the charming town of Dahlonega, Georgia, for a taste of Georgia's wine country. Just over an hour from Atlanta, this small town offers 12 tasting rooms and eight wineries surrounded by beautiful vineyards. Enjoy stunning views of the North Georgia mountains as you sip on local wines. During the holiday season, take a stroll through the decked-out downtown area, which has served as a filming location for several Hallmark movies.
Visit the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center in Pine Mountain, Georgia
Pine Mountain, Georgia
Tucked inside Callaway Gardens is the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, a glass-enclosed conservatory that houses over a thousand butterflies. Immerse yourself in the magical world of these graceful creatures as they flutter among the waterfalls and tropical plants. Explore the educational exhibits to learn about the life cycle of butterflies and witness their transformation. Afterward, take a walk along the trails and wildflower gardens surrounding the center.
17617 US-27, Pine Mountain, GA 31822, callawaygardens.com
Experience the Natural Beauty of Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama offers a unique opportunity to explore diverse ecosystems across its 6,150-acre expanse. The park features two miles of pristine white sand beaches, a butterfly garden, and 28 miles of trails. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy birdwatching, rent boats, or simply soak in the beauty of the surrounding nature. Stay overnight in the park's eco-friendly accommodations or The Lodge at Gulf State Park to fully experience everything it has to offer.
20115 State Park Road, Gulf Shores, AL 36542, alapark.com
Discover the Beauty of Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, Alabama
Just a short drive from Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park is Alabama's largest state park, spanning nearly 10,000 acres. It offers 50 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, an 18-hole golf course, and various outdoor activities. Explore the rehabilitative center for injured birds, rent boats, or relax by the swimming area. Whether you spend the whole day at the park or split your time between Oak Mountain and Birmingham, it's a destination worth visiting.
200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124, alapark.com
Go Kayaking in Coosa River Adventures in Wetumpka, Alabama
Experience the thrill of whitewater kayaking in Wetumpka, Alabama. Coosa River Adventures allows you to rent kayaks and paddle boards to navigate the rapids of the Coosa River. Even beginners can safely enjoy a seven-mile stretch of the river that features Class II rapids. Pack a picnic lunch and take a break on one of the many islands along the way.
415 Company Street, Wetumpka, AL 36092, coosariveradventures.com
Discover the Enchanting Beauty of Caddo Lake
Caddo Lake, located in Texas, offers a captivating atmosphere with its centuries-old cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss. This natural lake is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including alligators, wood storks, and great blue herons. Fishing enthusiasts will appreciate the top-notch fishing opportunities it provides. Explore the tranquil waters and immerse yourself in the rich ecosystem of this remarkable lake.
Explore the Charms of Cashiers, North Carolina
Located just a short drive from Highlands, Cashiers is a tiny town perched on a plateau amidst the Nantahala National Forest. In the summer, you can rent a boat and enjoy the beautiful Lake Glenville, the highest elevation lake east of the Mississippi. For a refreshing outdoor adventure, take an early-morning hike on Whiteside Mountain. In town, indulge in a delicious lunch at Cornucopia or enjoy a beer at The Ugly Dog Pub. Don't forget to explore the Farmer's Market for fresh flowers, homemade pies, and jam.
Experience the Magic of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Spring Hill, Florida
Spring Hill, Florida
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, located north of Tampa, is known for its live mermaid shows. However, there's more to this park than its underwater performances. Kayaking along the crystal-clear waters of the Weeki Wachee River is a must-do activity. Immerse yourself in nature as you encounter manatees, turtles, and otters along the way. You can rent kayaks and paddleboards or bring your own to fully enjoy this unique and beautiful natural attraction.
6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, FL 34606, floridastateparks.org
Find Hidden Treasures at Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Alabama
Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Alabama draws visitors from all over due to its unique concept. This massive retail store offers over 7,000 items each day, all recovered from unclaimed luggage at airports. From designer fashion to camera equipment, there's a treasure for everyone at heavily discounted prices. Explore the store and discover the unexpected.
509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, AL 35768, unclaimedbaggage.com
Dauphin Island, Alabama
By Robbie Caponetto
Looking for a luxurious vacation destination fit for celebrities? Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but Dauphin Island is not it. However, this small island has its own charm and personality that make it a vibrant and colorful place to visit. From the East to West End, you'll find quaint beach houses on stilts, Ship & Shore selling brightly colored trinkets, and Island Rainbow serving classic snow cones. Despite its small size, spanning less than two miles at its widest point, Dauphin Island offers plenty of activities. Explore the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, discover coastal creatures at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, or visit the pre-Civil War Historic Fort Gaines. This island has never aimed to be a tourist hotspot; instead, it embraces its natural beauty and authenticity, cherished by those who truly know and love it.
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge
Source: flickrTiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is a 150-acre preserve that has been open since 1995, dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of abandoned, abused, or neglected big cats, such as lions and tigers. This refuge is currently home to over 40 of these magnificent creatures. Take a day to visit and learn about the different species and how to help ensure their survival.
As you walk along the paths, you'll have the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with these cats. Knowledgeable tour guides will educate you about the animals and share the story of each cat's journey to the refuge. With something for all ages, a visit to Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge is both educational and enjoyable, inspiring a desire to contribute more to animal conservation.
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Source: 365thingsaustinLocated in Westlake Hills, west of Austin, Texas, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve was founded in 1974. Covering 227 acres, this preserve offers 2.5 miles of hiking trails. Access the preserve by following Bee Caves Road and turning off Loop 360, about a mile north. The preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and provides a true natural getaway, away from the hustle and bustle, without bikes or pets.
For an easy, relaxed hike, start with the Easy Access Loop, a 0.5-mile trail. Along the way, you'll come across a small waterfall by Bee Creek and the Scenic Overlook, which offers great photo opportunities. If you're up for a longer walk, there's a 1.5-mile loop that takes you to the creek and back. Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve is perfect for families with younger children or anyone seeking a leisurely afternoon hike instead of an all-day trek.
14: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Flickr/Joshua MayerCome and explore the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, located on the shores of Lake Superior. This chain of 21 islands is one of the best-kept vacation secrets in the US. You can explore them by kayaking, camping on the islands, or hiking. The islands showcase breathtaking rock formations.
Make sure to visit at least one of the six historic lighthouses on the islands. Boat tours and sailing charters are available to transport you between the Apostle Islands and the mainland. If you prefer, there's also a ferry available for those who want to bring their car along. To make the most of your experience, consider taking a guided kayak tour of the islands.
Address: 415 Washington Ave, WI 54814
15: The International Car Forest, Nevada
Flickr/Wes DickinsonIn the Nevada desert, you'll find a unique outdoor art display called The International Car Forest. Located outside Goldfield on US Highway 95, this attraction showcases 40 cars displayed either sunk deep into the ground or balanced on top of each other. Each car has been painted or decorated by different artists.
This exhibit is free to visit and provides many great photography opportunities. It's a hidden gem and a must-see for those who appreciate oddities.
Address: 1111 East, Crystal Ave, Goldfield, NV 89013
16: Thor’s Well, Oregon
Flickr/Mark GunnThor's Well is another hidden gem among the best vacation spots in the US. Located near Cape Perpetua in Oregon, Thor’s Well appears to endlessly suck water down from the ocean. During low tide, the well remains inactive, but as the tide rises, it fills up and starts draining water from the Pacific Ocean.
Although it may seem bottomless, the well is actually only about 20 feet deep. Some researchers believe that it initially started as an underwater cave along the coast. Over time, erosion caused the cave ceiling to collapse, resulting in the well we see today.
The best time to visit Thor's Well is during high tide or during a storm when the water is high. However, it's important to exercise extreme caution and avoid getting swept into the hole during these times.
Address: Highway 101, Yachats, OR 97498
17: Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
Flickr/KumweniIf you're planning to visit Juneau, take some time to explore the Mendenhall Glacier and its historic visitor center. This impressive glacier stretches over 13 miles and flows into Mendenhall Lake.
In addition to marveling at the glacier, there are numerous easy to moderate hiking trails in the area. You might even get a chance to spot black bears, bald eagles, beavers, porcupines, mountain goats, or migrant birds while exploring these trails.
The best time to visit this hidden gem in the US is during the summer, although the trails are open year-round. Please note that in the winter, the visitor center is only open Friday to Sunday.
Address: 8150 Mendenhall Loop Rd, Tongass National Forest, Juneau, AK 99801
18: Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona
Chiricahua National Monument presents visitors with unique rock formations known as hoodoos. It is considered one of the best hidden gem vacation spots in the US | Flickr/John FowlerThese fascinating rock pinnacles define the landscape of Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona. You can explore this park by taking an 8-mile paved scenic drive or by hiking the 17 miles of day-use trails available.
Take your time to look around as Chiricahua is also a premier bird-watching spot in the desert southwest. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Faraway Ranch Historic District for a tour and to learn about the area's history. Just south of the park lies an ancient volcano.
The rock pinnacles that form this unique landscape were shaped by erosion of compacted ash.
Address: E Bonita Canyon Rd, Willcox, AZ 85643
19: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretches along the southern shore of Lake Superior, encompassing magnificent multi-colored cliffs. It is undoubtedly one of the best secluded places to visit in the US | Flickr/GPA Photo ArchiveSituated along the coast of Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered year-round. This area offers a wide range of natural beauty, from sandstone cliffs, sand dunes, and wild coastlines to waterfalls, inland lakes, and dense forests.
The rugged coastline has been shaped by the powerful forces of Lake Superior. Make sure to stop by one of the visitor centers to learn about the 100 miles of trails available for exploration, and consider talking to a ranger about a guided tour. Don't forget to visit the historic maritime lighthouses and coast guard stations.
Address: Munising, MI 49862
20: Block Island, Rhode Island
Flickr/Heather KatsoulisOff the coast of Rhode Island in the Atlantic Ocean lies Block Island. This small tourist island is one of the best hidden gems in the USA, offering a peaceful and secluded getaway.
Since there are no tour buses on the island, the best way to explore everything is through a guided taxi tour. The local taxi drivers are knowledgeable about the island's history and can provide guidance on the best places to eat and visit.
On the north end of the island, you'll find the granite North Light and the Block Island Wildlife Refuge. In the south, Mohegan Bluffs rise 150 feet above sea level. During the fall, consider taking a self-guided bike tour of the island, and in the warmer months, indulge in a guided kayak tour around its shores.
Address: Block Island, RI
22: Fayetteville, West Virginia
Flickr/MikeIf you're searching for a small-town getaway that still offers exciting adventures, look no further than Fayetteville, West Virginia. Downtown Fayetteville boasts excellent dining options, shopping, and a beautiful town park.
For some added adventure, sign up for a peaceful float and fishing trip down the New River Gorge National Waterway.
Don't forget to check out the New River Gorge Bridge while you're there. Fayetteville offers plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as great rock climbing routes.
Address: Fayetteville, WV
23: Katy Trail State Park, Missouri
Flickr/MoBikeFedThe Katy Trail is the longest rail-trail in the country and attracts people of all ages with various interests. This trail is perfect for bicycling, walking, horseback riding, bird watching, and learning about rail history. It's definitely one of the best lesser-known places to visit in the USA.
Address: 101 Lewis St Machens to Clinton, Boonville, MO 65039
24: Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Flickr/Greg GjerdingenEver wondered why Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes? Explore Brainerd Lakes and find out. This region offers abundant water sports options, including water skiing lessons and guided fishing trips.
For a more relaxed experience, explore the many lakes and calm rivers in the area by kayak. If you prefer dry land activities, there are plenty of mountain biking and hiking trails to keep you entertained.
Downtown Brainerd Lakes is a hub for the arts. During the summer, don't miss the Lakes Area Music Festival, which brings renowned artists to town. If you're seeking a peaceful and calming experience, Brainerd Lakes is one of the best hidden gems in the USA to visit.
Address: Brainerd Lakes, MN
Boca Chica Beach, Texas 78521, USA
The Blue Lagoon, 649 Pinedale Rd, Huntsville, TX 77320, USA
San Felipe Springs, Del Rio, TX 78840, USA
Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site, 6900 Hueco Tanks Road No. 1, El Paso, TX 79938, USA
Claiborne West Park, I-10, Vidor, TX 77662, USA
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, 2111 W Park Ave, Orange, TX 77630, USA
Copper Breaks State Park, 777 State Hwy Park Rd 62, Quanah, TX 79252, USA
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, 805 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78746, USA
Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, 24907 FM 2004 Rd, Lake Jackson, TX 77566, USA
17552 FM14, Tyler, TX 75706, USA
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, 22688 Buena Vista Blvd, Los Fresnos, TX 78566, USA
Palmetto State Park, 78 Park Rd 11 S, Gonzales, TX 78629, USA
Riding River Ranch, 971 KENT Crk Rnch Rd, Leakey, TX 78873, USA
Lovers Leap, Waco, TX 76708, USA
441 Co Rd 433, Mullin, TX 76864, USA
Pinto Canyon Road, Pinto Canyon Rd, Texas, USA
Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, 24814 Hamilton Pool Rd, Round Mountain, TX 78663, USA
Galveston Island State Park, Farm to Market Road 3005, Galveston, TX, USA
Big Bend National Park, TX, USA
In conclusion, the United States is home to a plethora of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Whether you're seeking scenic beaches like Boca Chica Park in Brownsville or the charm of Mackinac Island in Michigan, you'll find something to capture your heart. From the natural wonders of Hood National Forest and Enchanted Rock to the unique attractions of the Caverns of Sonora and the International Car Forest, there is no shortage of unforgettable experiences to be had. So, venture off the beaten path and uncover these hidden treasures for an adventure you won't soon forget.
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