The Quick Report

20 Most Underrated Vacation Spots

If you’re looking for something different than the usual tourist traps for a memorable getaway, these spots might be just what you’re after. Flying under the radar, here are the 20 most underrated vacation spots in the USA.

20. Kaʻū District, Hawaii

aerial view of green and brown mountains and lake
Photo by Karsten Winegeart

Believed to be the first place Polynesians stepped ashore on the island chain over 1000 years ago, Kaʻū rests on the southern end of Hawaii. The district is virtually untouched by modern tourism. It’s appreciated for its dramatic green and black sand beaches, coffee farms, tropical fruit, and its popular Punalu’u Bake Shop. There’s lots to explore hiking or mountain biking. The bay offers exceptional snorkeling and kayaking.

19. Block Island, Rhode Island


Declared one of a dozen “Last Great Places” in the western hemisphere, Rhode Islanders have stalwartly preserved the natural environment of Block Island. Forty percent of the island contains wildlife refuges and protected nature areas. Trek or bike 32 miles of coastal and inland trails or enjoy its beaches. There’s a great food scene and nightlife includes several laid-back bars.

18. Ouachita Mountains, Arkansas


On the southeast edge of the Ouachita range and nestled in a valley, sits Hot Springs National Park. But you’ll find a wealth of outdoor enjoyment a little farther into the highlands of west-central Arkansas in the Ouachita Mountains. There’s hiking, camping, fishing, and abundant solitude. There’s also gnarly mountain biking and hang gliding at Magazine Mountain.

17. Lake Superior

green trees beside river under blue sky during daytime
Photo by Charlie Wollborg

There are numerous spots to escape crowds on the shores of the American half of the world’s largest freshwater lake. Lake Superior touches northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. There’s hiking and wildlife at Isle Royale National Park. Winter sports at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The lake boasts 86 species to fish for. Divers can explore scores of historic shipwrecks.

16. Southern Illinois


At the state’s southern tip between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the region boasts outdoor splendor. Hike the dark woods of the Shawnee National Forest or the 160-mile River to River trail. Shorter hikes explore the rocky outcrops of Giant City and Garden of the Gods. If you prefer man-made attractions, visit the Superman Museum and Colossal Statue in Metropolis.

15. Matanuska Valley, Alaska

snow covered mountain reflections at daytime
Photo by Rod Long

Located an hour’s drive from Anchorage, this long river valley provides outdoor activities that take less effort and time to reach. Visit Independence ghost town and learn about the lives of gold miners. Overnight on a glacier and do some ice climbing. Take Alaska Helicopter Tours at Knik River Lodge for fly-in glacier hiking, glacier lake paddleboarding, or cross-glacier dogsledding.

14. The North Dakota Badlands

a herd of buffalo grazing on a lush green hillside
Photo by Rich Martello

In the 1800s, Teddy Roosevelt ranched and lived the cowboy lifestyle in the Badlands. He inspired the region’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park where his log cabin still stands. Visit Medora for Wild West relics such as Chateau de Mores, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Maah Daah Hey Trail, and summertime outdoor musical inspired by Roosevelt’s badlands days.

13. Buffalo, New York

lighted high-rise buildings
Photo by David Groves

Preservation of the city’s classic architecture has reinvigorated Buffalo. There’s the Greek Revival Buffalo History Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright’s streamlined Martin House, Victorian glasshouses at the botanical gardens, and the Art Deco City Hall. The waterfront is alive again with entertainment, shopping, lakeside hiking and biking trails, a naval maritime museum, and more. Niagara Falls is nearby.

12. Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts


Carved by the Connecticut River, Pioneer Valley sits on the state’s eastern end. Visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield is the sport’s birthplace. Check out the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum & Sculpture Garden. Northampton offers amazing restaurants, one-off shops, and a vibrant LGBTQ scene. Cross the Connecticut River and hike the New England Trail.

11. Oklahoma


Oklahoma is one of the most underrated destinations in America. Drive along Route 66 and visit museums, old-fashioned diners, and roadside oddities. Outdoor enthusiasts will love Riversport OKC for its whitewater rafting, tubing, ziplines, and sky trails in the city center. Other must-see spots include The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and Oklahoma City National Memorial.

10. Pennsylvania Wilds


The sparsely populated Wilds along the Allegheny Plateau is the mid-Atlantic’s version of the Grand Canyon. The region encompasses the Allegheny National Forest, and 29 state parks, including two national and scenic rivers. Cherry Springs offers a world-class stargazing center and the Kinzua Bridge, which was declared the “8th Wonder of the World” at its opening in 1882.

9. Channel Islands National Park, California

brown rock formation on sea during daytime
Photo by Lisha Riabinina

Accessed through the ferry from Ventura Harbor, the park only sees around 30,000 visitors annually. Visitors often enjoy total solitude as they hike, backpack, kayak, or scuba dive. This five-island park features preserved Paleolithic digs, frontier-era ranches, and other relics of Spanish exploration. You can spot otters, sea lions, dolphins, and whales in the waters surrounding the park.

8. West Virginia

an aerial view of a town surrounded by trees
Photo by Joshua Hummell

West Virginia is heaven for Civil War history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts. Check out the Riverside town of Harpers Ferry. It’s a jumping-off point for the Appalachian Trail and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath. New River Gorge became a National Park in 2020 and offers hiking, mountain biking, whitewater sports, and Bridge Day BASE jumping 

7. West Texas

man in gray top sailing with red canoe boat during daytime
Photo by Mick Haupt

The vast region encompassing West Texas remains a sparsely populated, and wide open area that’s home to Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks. Check out the Fort Davis, a historic US Calvary post. There’s an annual chili cookoff at the Terlingua ghost town. Marfa offers Hollywood history, offbeat art, and where the mysterious “Marfa Lights” of UFO lore originated.

6. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

green plant on white sand under blue sky during daytime
Photo by Raychel Sanner

It looks like the surface of an alien planet. Living up to its name, White Sands is the world’s largest gypsum dune field. It’s truly a sight to behold. Visitors enjoy hiking and sledding down the bright-white dunes. The visitor center gift shop rents and sells plastic discs for sledding. Overnight backpack camping is allowed.

5. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia


George’s largest barrier island delivers beach fun, abundant wildlife, and outdoor adventure. Most people visit for the day, but there are overnight beachside campgrounds or the elegant Greyfield Inn. The island features an 18-mile-long beach. Sea turtles lay their eggs, wild horses romp, and alligators crawl along the wetlands of Cumberland Sound.

4. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

a group of rock formations in the desert
Photo by Mike Newbry

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSE) is the largest national monument in the continental US. Spanning nearly 1.9 million acres, it’s largely roadless. GSE offers seemingly endless hiking and mountain biking. There are also breathtaking waterfalls and Calf Creek. There is primitive camping or upscale glamping nearby in Escalante and near Lake Powell.

3. San Luis Obispo, California

a view of a city with mountains in the background
Photo by madison detwiler

Nestled halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco on scenic Highway 101, San Luis Obispo has become a remarkable tourist destination. World-class wine regions are nearby. Downtown boasts a lively social and shopping hub. You’ll find craft breweries, excellent restaurants, and boutiques. Visit the historic Spanish mission. Hike and bike along the coastal range. Morro Bay and Avila Beach are nearby.

Read More: The Coolest Small City in Every State

2. A Forgotten Coast of Florida


Located between Port St. Joe and St. Marks you’ll find abundant nature and an escape from crowds. Relax on talcum-powder-fine beaches on St. Joseph Peninsula and St. George Island. View manatees and monarch butterflies at Wakulla Springs and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy live music and fresh shellfish during St. Mark’s Stone Crab Festival and Florida Seafood Festival in Apalachicola.

Read More: The Most Scenic Drive in Each State

1. Flagstaff, Arizona

a desert landscape with mountains and clouds in the background
Photo by Alex Holt

Flagstaff is an overlooked gem. Outdoor enthusiasts should visit Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. World-renowned Lowell Observatory is a top spot for stargazers. Take the Flagstaff Brewery Trail and sample the city’s variety of cold brews. Bearizona Wildlife Park, Meteor Crater, three national monuments, and the Grand Canyon are all a short drive away.

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