Hawaii will always be paradise, and no one should miss out on the Grand Canyon…
But the United States is so packed with incredible vacation destinations, it would be a shame to limit yourself to the heavy hitters.
We reached out to travel bloggers and frequent vacationers to find out which must-see U.S. locations have slipped beneath our radar. What we discovered has us counting the minutes until our next vacation.
By all means, enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple. When you’re looking for something a little bit less hectic, though, consider one of these amazing travel destinations.
Here are natural formations that boggle the mind, towns that have scarcely changed since the 19th century, and remote islands tucked away on inland seas. Looking for the hot new place to fish? How about a relaxing spa experience without the crowds?
These vacation destinations are bound to make your favorites list. Just don’t tell too many people about them. We want to keep these all to ourselves!
1. This Hidden Culinary Hotspot In Kentucky
Nestled off of Route 65 between Lexington and Nashville, Bowling Green, Kentucky, has something for every type of traveler. It’s an ideal road trip destination with plenty to do–and even more to eat.
Ryan McWilliams helps to publicize the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and he said the city is a foodie’s paradise.
“The city boasts many home-grown, farm-to-table restaurants that serve delicious food and Southern hospitality with every helping,” McWilliams said. “Local favorites include Home Café, Hickory & Oak, and the Boyce General Store–home to Brie Golliher, the famous Pie Queen of Bowling Green.”
Stop for dessert and a tour at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, which pulls triple-duty as a real working dairy farm, a restaurant, and an ice cream shop featuring what McWilliams calls “the best ice cream in Kentucky.”
Not hungry? No problem. Spend the day exploring nearby Mammoth Cave National Park, home to the longest underground cave system ever discovered. Or take a spin in a Corvette Stingray Z51 at the National Corvette Museum’s Motorsports Park.
To unwind, sign up for the underground river cruise at Lost River Cave. The river may be lost, but you might just find your new favorite home away from home in Bowling Green.
2. This Unique Natural Bridge In Arizona
If you have a soft spot for natural wonders (and who doesn’t?), veer off the standard Arizona highways for a stop at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. That’s good advice from travel blogger Michael Rozenblit, who discovered this unique geographic marvel on a road trip across the state.
“I recently returned from a road trip in Arizona and would really recommend travellers stop at Tonto National Bridge if they want to get off the beaten path,” Rozenblit told TravelAwaits.
The centerpiece of the State Park is, of course, Tonto Natural Bridge itself. This 1,000-foot long stone formation soars above an emerald wooded valley, hiding springs, swimming holes, and tunnels. Unlike most natural bridges, Tonto is composed primarily of travertine, a particularly beautiful form of limestone popular in luxury stone and tilework.
Stop at one of four viewpoints with parking areas, or hike to the bottom along developed or natural trails. The State Park is also a popular bird-watching destination; ask for a bird list at the entrance station.
Stay in nearby Payson, Arizona, or bring a group and book the in-park Goodfellow Lodge, a fully restored 1920s-era cabin with 10 lavish bedrooms, which is also ADA accessible.
3. This Charming Pennsylvania Village
If you’ve ever driven through the Pennsylvania high country and spied a cluster of colorful, peaked roofs rising from a distant valley, you have an idea of what the town of Ligonier looks like from a distance. But nothing compares to setting foot in this historic mountain getaway.
“I’ve traveled all over the country, and Ligonier is one of my favorite places,” said Andrew Thornton, creative director of the town’s Allegory Gallery. In fact, Thornton loves Ligonier so much that he moved and “started a business and a life” there.
Ligonier has been listed in Country Living Magazine among the most charming small towns in America, and a weekend visit reveals exactly why.
“This historic town, redolent with classic Americana, has a vibrant Main Street culture dotted with independently owned businesses, perfect for a summer stroll with the family,” said Thornton.
Despite its humble population of just 1,500, Ligonier boasts an astounding number of attractions. Hit the links at the Champion Lakes Golf Course, stop in at the Compass Inn Museum to learn about the area’s rich history, or view the collection at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.
Best of all, perhaps, is to simply relax in the quiet mountain air. Ligonier is roughly equidistant from large urban centers like Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and Cleveland.
“Who needs the big cities when you’ve got Ligonier in the middle of these metropolises?” asks Thornton.
4. This Shrine To The Transcontinental Railroad In Wyoming
Anyone with an interest in U.S. history, trains, or the history of U.S. trains needs to pay a visit to the Cheyenne Depot Museum in Wyoming. The museum sits at the heart of downtown Cheyenne, the state’s capital, in a startlingly well-preserved specimen of 19th-century Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.
Even overseas visitors are caught up in the rich history of the Transcontinental Railroad. Marleen De Wael is a Belgian travel blogger who picked the Cheyenne Depot Museum out as a highlight of her Wyoming tour.
“The museum is excellent, and, as a bonus, you can watch the amazing model railway in action,” De Wael told TravelAwaits. “[It was] created by local volunteers who will passionately show you around.”
When you’re done playing engineer, Cheyenne’s quintessentially Western attractions offer plenty to do on your vacation. Check out the world’s biggest outdoor rodeo, or hunt for all 18 giant decorated cowboy boot sculptures in picturesque downtown Cheyenne.
5. This Healing Spa Town In New Mexico
In the early years of the 20th century, when New Mexico cowboys got old and their joints began to ache, they’d head to the town of Hot Springs to take the “21-day baths.”
A three-week regimen of daily soaks in the region’s natural thermal waters would cure “anything that ails you,” folks say.
While the name of the town has since been changed to Truth or Consequences (a fascinating story in its own right–and yes, it is named after a gameshow), today’s health-seekers can still enjoy the benefits of the hot water that flows from deep beneath the earth–directly into a tub in your room, if you wish.
“One of our favorite photogenic hidden gems is Truth or Consequences, New Mexico,” Dave Munson, who travels year-round promoting his business, Saddleback Leather, told TravelAwaits. “There are wide-open private hot springs just a few feet away from the Rio Grande, as well as bed and bath and breakfasts where there are hot natural baths inside your room.”
Located midway between El Paso and Albuquerque, Truth or Consequences is easy to reach. With comforts like these, though, it might not be so easy to leave.
6. This Remote Lake Huron Island
Hidden behind the jagged waves of Lake Huron lies an island getaway that whisks visitors back to a simpler time–without forgetting the comforts of the present. Quaint Mackinac Island measures less than 4 square miles–the perfect size for a truly relaxing vacation. And its size may be one of the reasons cars aren’t allowed on the island.
“This small island is only reachable by boat or small airplane,” travel blog Nomad by Trade’s Kris Morton told TravelAwaits. (There are also ferries, but you get the point.)
“Once you arrive, no motorized vehicles are allowed,” Morton said, “and all travel is via foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage.”
Highlights include gorgeous Victorian resorts, a huge assortment of bed and breakfasts, and a historic military fort. If you value your privacy, though, avoid a summertime visit.
“It’s a popular summer destination for Michigan natives,” Morton said. “[But] Mackinac Island in Lake Huron doesn’t get the kind of attention it deserves from outside the state.
We have a feeling that’s about to change.
7. This Hidden Florida Beach, Complete With Sea Turtle Encounters
Forget Miami and Orlando. Florida’s greatest attraction might be hidden in plain sight at Juno Beach.
“We are a free-admission nonprofit sea turtle hospital located seaside in Juno Beach, Florida,” Carla Mroz of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center told us. “Not only do we rehabilitate and release our sea turtle patients off Juno Beach’s azure waters, we also do research, provide educational opportunities, and offer up-close, once-in-a-lifetime sea turtle encounters and learning for all ages.”
You heard that right. Go to Juno Beach and you can meet a sea turtle. If you’re lucky enough to visit between March and October, you’ll make it for sea turtle nesting season. During this special time of the year, Loggerhead’s expert staff offer guided turtle walks along the beach.
Juno Beach is approximately 30 minutes from West Palm Beach, so a visit makes a great road-trip stop. If you ask us, though, even a full summer wouldn’t be enough time to adequately appreciate the wonder of these incredible animals.
8. The Country’s Biggest Lost-And-Found Store
Next time you find yourself driving through the northeast edge of Alabama, think back to the last time you lost your luggage. Strange as it may seem, that missing garment bag may have ended up nearby, in the Appalachian-foothill community of Scottsboro, Alabama.
The Unclaimed Baggage Center is a unique–some may even say strange, but in a good way–shopping center that sources all of its products from lost airline luggage.
“Here’s how it works,” said Jamie Scalici, account director of public relations at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. “If a suitcase gets lost on an airplane (which often stems from missing identification tags), the airlines compensate the passengers and do an exhaustive search. After 90 days, however, if the airlines cannot reunite an unclaimed bag with its owner, Unclaimed Baggage Center purchases the leftover luggage. After an efficient sorting process, merchandise designated for the retail floor is prepared for sale.”
This involves extensive cleaning and, in the case of electronic devices, wiping hard drives. If you have any doubts about how many salable items you can get from lost luggage, this place will set them to rest.
The store features 40,000 square feet of deals, at up to 80 percent off standard retail prices. Of course, that’s because it came out of someone else’s suitcase, but that jewelry still sparkles all the same!
Round out your visit to Scottsboro, Alabama, with a little golf or a sightseeing voyage along the Tennessee River. Just remember to watch your bags if you arrive by air. It’d be hard to take the irony of losing your luggage on the way to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
9. This Texas Sea-Fishing Capital
You don’t have to go to Florida or Hawaii for amazing salt-sea adventures. Instead, head south to Port Aransas, Texas.
Never heard of it? You must not be a serious deep-sea fisher. Boat U.S. magazine called Port Aransas a hot spot for hardcore anglers.
At the same time, it’s full of friendly, welcoming people who will gladly show you the ropes, whether you want to try fishing, parasailing, or simply relaxing along the shore.
Even if you don’t fish yourself, you can enjoy the fruits of the catch.
“Born of its fishing industry, Port Aransas’ fresh seafood-centric food scene features over 60 independently-owned restaurants,” Pat Burek, a town spokesperson, told us.
The Gulf Coast destination–which also includes nearby Mustang Island–has plenty more to offer the non-anglers in your group, too, said Burek.
“Set along the 18-mile stretch of beaches on Mustang Island off the Texas Gulf Coast, visitors will find bonfires, beach parties, crab boils, and plenty of golf carts,” said Burek. “Getting around Port Aransas beaches by golf cart is a key part of the island’s casual island lifestyle, as well as one of its most popular attractions.”
10. This Family-Friendly Island Community
If you plan on taking the whole brood along for your next vacation, family-focused travel bloggers Marty and Pam Whyte have a suggestion.
“We believe the best off-the-beaten-path destination is Washington Island, a ferry ride away from the popular Wisconsin destination, Door County,” the Whytes told TravelAwaits.
“Washington Island welcomes visitors all times of the year and boasts a small-town feel,” they said. “Our favorite activities on the island are biking, hiking, kayaking, and enjoying nature.”
Washington Island sits within the strait that lies between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, and is only accessible by ferry or plane. Once you arrive, kids and adults alike will have their fill of outdoor activities and plush indoor comforts.
The island is packed with beautiful beaches, parks, and, of course, fishing. The Cherry Train has been showing visitors the island from the seats of charming open-air trams since 1963.
Oh, and if you get hungry on your travels, the Whytes have a suggestion for that, too.
“We never miss getting homemade ice cream at the Albatross Drive-In,” they said.
Happy trails, wherever your adventure takes you.
Photo Credit: The Albatross Drive-In