We all know the Grand Canyon and New York. But what are the best unknown places to visit in the USA? Here are 15 fun places!
The well-known places to visit in the USA
When you travel to the USA or a certain state for the first time, you usually want to see the highlights. New York, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Yellowstone, Monument Valley, and so on. And to be fair, these places are all beautiful to see and you can walk around for hours, if not days.
Unfortunately, you are not the only tourist who visits these places during a USA road trip. Sometimes you just want to find a hidden gem. A place that’s beautiful and quiet. So, it’s time to discover the best unknown places to visit in the USA! Because it is really great to see something besides the famous highlights!
15 great unknown places to visit in the USA
During my many trips to the United States, I discovered a few amazing places, that were off the beaten path. This is an overview of 15 beautiful and lesser-known places in the United States of America:
Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho)
Idaho is not a state where everyone goes when they’re on a road trip in the US, but there some beautiful places that you can visit in this state! One of the most special landscapes in Idaho is Craters of the Moon National Monument. After a long drive between the meadows, you suddenly see the landscape change into black lava flows. Very cool to see!
In Craters of the Moon you can do a great scenic drive, visit viewpoints, discover some hiking trails and visit caves.
Adirondacks (New York State)
There are plenty of people who visit New York City, but otherwise see nothing at all in New York State. While there are so many beautiful things to see there! One of the coolest areas is the Adirondack Mountain Range, with beautiful viewpoints, forests full of hiking trails, and beautiful lakes.
One of the best things to do here is to climb to the top of Whiteface Mountain, and that’s a lot easier than you think! From here you have a great view of the Adirondacks.
There are a lot of cute villages in California that you have undoubtedly never heard of. I visited a few of them when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and my absolute favorite was the village of Idyllwild. It is located at the base of San Jacinto Peak, near Palm Springs. A village in the forest, full of wooden houses and cozy – typically American – restaurants. There are some gorgeous hiking trails in the area.
And the best thing? They are not much into politics so the mayor of Idylwilld is Max, a golden retriever. He hangs around in the village every day, so you can take a picture with him!
Scenic Byway 12 (Utah)
The USA is famous for its fantastic road trips and there are many highways worth exploring. One of the most beautiful highways is Scenic Byway 12 in Utah. If you are road tripping in Southwest USA, it is really a must to drive this road from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park. The scenery is spectacular!
Some cities in America are immensely popular and visited by many tourists, such as Miami, New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. There are some lesser-known cities also worth visiting, including Portland in Oregon.
Portland is a fun city where old buildings meet colorful street art. This is also the place to eat the most delicious donuts in the USA. The city also has a really cool industrial side, which you can see well when you take a walk along the Willamette River. Portland is a good place to start an awesome road trip in the Pacific Northwest.
Bahia Honda State Park (Florida)
Florida is best known for its theme parks, but there is so much more to do in the Sunshine State! One of the highlights in Florida is a road trip on the Overseas Highway to Key West (the southernmost point in the United States). On the way you will pass Bahia Honda State Park, where you can see a large part of the railway that used to be here. Next to it is a beautiful beach where you can enjoy yourself for an afternoon.
Ghost town Grafton (Utah)
There are quite a few ghost towns in the US and they are really fun to visit! One of my personal favorites is ghost town Grafton, which is located in Utah near Springdale and Zion National Park.
It feels like you drive straight into a western movie when you enter this town via a dirt road. In Grafton, there are a few wooden buildings to be found. They have been renovated and you can walk through them. It is also interesting to visit the cemetery, this is the place to discover why Grafton has become a ghost town.
Nevada City (Montana)
Another place to imagine yourself in another era is Nevada City in Montana (about an hour and a half drive from West Yellowstone). This used to be a place where gold was found and the town is now a museum. You can visit quite a few buildings here, including the Sheriff’s office, the school and the mayor’s house. I think this is really one of the lesser-known tourist spots in the USA, during my visit I only saw two other people here.
Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)
There are more than sixty US National Parks. Some of these are very popular, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park, but some are barely visited. Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California is one of them. While it is such a beautiful place! It is mountainous, colorful and in many places steam comes out of the earth. You can also see a lot of wildlife here. During my visit, I saw a lot of deer and there was even a bear that walked across the road!
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (Nevada)
Many people visit Las Vegas to gamble and to explore the awesome themed hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. However, there are many beautiful natural parks that you can visit as a day trip from Las Vegas. One of the most beautiful (and most peaceful) places is Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
It’s only half an hour’s drive from the Strip, but you’re in a completely different world. There is a nice scenic drive with viewpoints and nice walking routes, including the hike to Turtlehead Peak. This is actually one of my favorite hikes in the USA. From the top you can see the skyline of Las Vegas.
Bonneville Salt Flats (Utah)
The Bonneville Salt Flats is a gigantic salt flat (260 km2) and was created because Lake Bonneville dried up. It is located in the northwest of the state of Utah and very close to the border with the state of Nevada. Due to its flatness, the salt flat creates an optical illusion: it seems as if you can see the curvature of the earth and as if the mountains are floating above the landscape. This effect is enhanced when the area is wet.
The Bonneville Salt Flats is also called the Bonneville Speedway and is often used to break speed records. Speeds of up to 1000 kilometers per hour are achieved!
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)
Oregon is one of the most beautiful states in America, there are many different types of landscapes here. In the middle of the state you can find John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and I personally think this is one of the best unknown places to visit in the USA. It consists of three districts with different kinds of landscapes, and the landscape with green rocks and red hills is spectacular to see.
Highway 50: the loneliest road in America (Nevada)
Highway 50 runs right through the state of Nevada and is also known as The loneliest road in America. Why? Because you hardly encounter any villages and other traffic on the way. Why do you have to drive here once in your life? It’s a great road trip through the desert, with beautiful mountain views and the occasional tumbleweeds roll over the road. The ultimate American road trip feeling! The villages (for example Austin and Ely) that you do encounter along the way are a picture to see, it is like driving over a film set.
Big Island (Hawaii)
The state of Hawaii is certainly popular with tourists, but not everyone visits all islands. Especially Oahu (with Honolulu) is very well known and there are a lot of tourists. Big Island is the largest island in the state and it feels like the most authentic island too.
Hardly any big cities, but nice little villages full of wooden Hawaiian houses. You will also find a lot less resort hotels here than on the other islands. Highlights on the island are the many lava flows, Volcanoes National Park and Akaka Falls State Park.
Shoshone Falls (Idaho)
The Niagara Falls, which America shares with Canada, is known to almost everyone, but have you ever heard of the Shoshone Falls? These waterfalls are located in Idaho (in the town of Twin Falls) and are also called the Niagara of the West. Beautiful waterfalls and unlike Niagara Falls they are more in a nature reserve and there are no giant hotels and crazy attractions around them.
Book your USA road trip now
Would you to book a US road trip? Great idea! To plan your trip, you probably need plane tickets, car rental and accommodation. These are the websites I always use when I plan to travel to the USA.
- I usually find the cheapest flights via Skyscanner or Momondo.
- To find the cheapest rental car I compare the prices on many different websites. Usually I book through Sunny Cars, Alamo or AutoEurope, then I know for sure that I have all the right insurance (which is necessary when you travel to the US from Europe). Do you prefer traveling with an RV? Check RVshare for the best deals.
- I book all my accommodations through Booking.com (for hostels and hotels) or VRBO (for apartments or cabins with cooking utilities).
Read more about traveling in the US
Are you looking forward to a trip to the USA and would you like to read more about this beautiful holiday destination? Order one of these beautiful travel guides:
Lonely Planet USA’s Best Trips
National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, 5th Edition: The 300 Best Drives in the U.S.
Or check out one of these articles:
- Bucket list: the most beautiful places in the USA
- 5 amazing USA road trip itineraries
- Utah National Parks: nature at its best!
What do you think are the best unknown places to visit in the USA?
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