50 Beautiful, Obscure Places in the U.S. You Should Visit This Summer
From seaside sinkholes to singing boulder fields, these sites offer crowd-free fun.
Travel is a tricky thing to think about right now. But if the last few months have taught us anything, it's that any trip beyond our front door is a real treat. Sure, we can't hop on a red-eye flight and wake up in Europe or Southeast Asia, but if you have a car, a picnic lunch, and a few hours to spare, there are plenty of beautiful places to explore close to home. Whether you live in Maine, California, or somewhere in between, we've found 50 incredible spots that don't draw major crowds. Keep your sunscreen close (and your face mask even closer) and get ready for your next—potentially first?—socially-distanced adventure. And for more trip ideas, check out these 6 Easy Getaways You Can Safely Take This Weekend.
Editor's Note: We understand that travel is complicated right now and restrictions vary state to state. If you plan on visiting any of the below destinations, we recommend checking their official websites for possible closures, limited access announcements, and general safety guidelines.
Thor's Well, Oregon
Thor's Well may be notorious among Oregonians, but whether you're a local or out-of-town visitor, it's still a mysterious site to see. Also known as the Drainpipe of the Pacific, the sinkhole swallows sea water in violent gulps. The phenomenon is best caught at high tide—but don't get too close. And for more of Earth's incredible creations, check out the 23 Hidden Natural Wonders in the U.S.
Peek-a-Boo Gulch, Utah
Drive nine miles north of Kanab, along Utah's rugged Hole-in-the-Rock Road, and you'll eventually happen upon the entrance to Peek-a-Boo Gulch. The narrow slot canyon—which is often referred to as "Antelope Canyon without the crowds"—calls for a moderate 0.7-mile round-trip hike. But don't get scared—once you're inside, hand and foot cut-outs help you navigate the canyon's awe-inspiring sandstone walls.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota
Canada's borders may be closed but at this 1,090,000-acre wilderness area, visitors can canoe 150 miles along the international boundary. The primitive northern Minnesota destination also offers a number of hiking trails and more than 2,000 campsites so you can enjoy the area's rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, scenic byways, and more on an overnight trip. And for more off-the-beaten-path spots, check out This Is the Most Underrated Place in Your State.
Paint Mines Interpretive Park, Colorado
Thirty miles east of Colorado Springs lies one of El Paso County's most unique sites: a 750-acre swath of prairie, badlands, and striped hoodoos and spires. The latter—which were left with colorful bands thanks to oxidized iron—is Paint Mine's main draw, but wannabe archeologists will also enjoy the area's rich Native American history.
Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
Twenty miles of hiking trails crisscross through this rugged park in West Virginia's Allegheny Mountains. Though it's named for the amber waters of its namesake falls—which dramatically drop five stories before cascading through an eight-mile-long gorge—visitors will also want to check out the scenic Lindy Point Overlook and smaller Elakala Falls. And for more fantastic cascades, check out 15 Waterfalls So Magical You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.
The Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa, California
What could possibly cause a 700-pound stone to zigzag its way some 800 feet across a California desert? That's precisely the question scientists set out to answer after observing Death Valley National Park's Racetrack Playa. While there turned out to be a rational explanation (every winter, wind pushes them across a thin layer of ice that forms on the playa), the trails are still a fun sight to see.
Hoh Rain Forest Hall of Moss, Washington
This 1.1-mile loop through Olympic National Park's Hoh Rain Forest is like something straight out of a fairytale. The lush trail is packed with enchanting wildflowers and moss-, fern-, and lichen-covered giant maple trees. Plan your visit for Monday morning or afternoon to avoid weekend crowds.
Jarbidge Wilderness Area, Nevada
This 113,000-acre wilderness area is billed as "the most isolated area in the lower 48"—so you should have no trouble finding a secluded corner to explore. The serene landscape includes nearly a hundred miles of trail, eight 10,000-foot peaks, vast alpine forest, and an array of flora and fauna (think elk, moose, and mountain lions), which is why it's often compared to the Alps. And for more surprising sights, check out the 33 Utterly Amazing Travel Destinations in the U.S. You've Never Heard Of.
Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio
If you need a quick escape from Columbus or Cincinnati, plug Hocking Hills State Park in your GPS and hit the road. Twenty five miles of hiking trails zigzag their way around tumbling waterfalls, swirling gorges, and horseshoe-shaped caves. If you're looking to stay overnight, the park also offers cabin rentals and campsites.
Kauapea Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Despite its "Secret Beach" moniker, Kauai's Kauapea isn't all that hush-hush. What keeps visitors at bay is actually a steep, unmarked trail and a lack of proper parking. If you can get past the strenuous, 15-minute trek, though, you'll be rewarded with a near-empty 3,000-foot stretch of private, palm tree-shaded shore. Just be forewarned: Swimming conditions vary day to day so the strong surf and current isn't suitable for novices. There's also a nude section of the beach, though it's rare to run into more than a few in-the-buff sunbathers. And if you've already checked Hawaii off your list, consider visiting one of the 13 Secret Islands in the U.S. You Never Knew Existed.
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
Utah's Goblin Valley State Park often draws comparisons to Mars—and it won't take you long to figure out why. The maze of eroded sandstone formations rises out of dusty red bedrock in a surreal, movie-like manner. Take a day hike or bike down three established trails or settle in for a night at the park's remote, high desert campground.
Little River Canyon National Preserve, Alabama
With 15,288 acres to spread out, Little River Canyon is an A+ option for those in Alabama. The South Appalachian reserve offers swimming, fishing, birdwatching, hiking, and world-class whitewater paddling. If you rather observe from your car or just stop at a lookout here and there, you can also drive the scenic, 11-mile Little River Canyon Rim Parkway.
Hot Creek Geological Site, California
Neon blue pools bubble, boil, and steam at this remote creek in California's Inyo National Forest. The stream starts in the eastern Sierra Nevadas before flowing farther east into the Long Valley Caldera where magma—that lies three miles below the surface—heats the groundwater. While the water typically hovers around 68 degrees, swimming is forbidden as sudden swings in temperature are known to occur.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona
It may be hard to believe, but less than a 1,000 years ago, the earth around Flagstaff erupted and spewed molten lava for miles in every direction. What was left in its wake was the youngest cinder cone in the San Francisco volcanic field: Sunset Crater. Visit today and you can explore the 3,040-acre monument—lava and all—on foot. Or if heat has you craving your car's AC, you can also drive along Highway 89 on a 34-mile scenic loop through Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments.
Ocean Grove Beach, New Jersey
It may be impossible to avoid the throngs of sunbathers in Cape May, Atlantic City, and Ocean City, but drive roughly an hour and a half north and you'll find a quieter slice of sand. In the quaint town of Ocean Grove, wide avenues are lined with grand Victorian homes and the beach's small boardwalk is free of T-shirt stands and fast food joints. Instead, the crowds here are sparse and the sand is surprisingly white.
Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area, New Mexico
Full disclosure: The drive to New Mexico's remote Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area includes a 15-mile track of unpaved road, but if your car can hack it, it'll be worth the reward. The area is still relatively unknown (along with nearby Bisti Badlands and De-Na-Zin Wilderness), so you'll likely have the place to yourself. Take your camera and get ready for the spectacular scenery, which is dotted with water-carved clay hills, petrified tree stumps, sandstone hoodoos, and even prehistoric dinosaur bones. And for more otherworldly landscapes, check out the 100 Destinations So Magical You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.
Ringing Rocks Park, Pennsylvania
Pack a picnic and your best hammer! The boulder field at Pennsylvania's Ringing Rocks Park is a seven-acre instrument just waiting to be played. One third of the rock field's stones ring like a bell when struck—so it'll take a little trial error, but soon they'll be singing your very own tune. Once you're done, there's also a waterfall to see, so plan to explore the park's other hundred-something acres, too.
Enderts Beach, California
A truly "secret" beach is hard to come by, but Enderts, along California's Del Norte Coast, is a remote option ideal for low-key lounging. To reach the sandy, driftwood-laden shore, you'll have to trek the last 0.75 miles of the Last Chance section of the California Coastal Trail. Visit during low tide and you'll also spot a number of sea creatures in the tide pools at the southern end of the beach.
Pando, The Trembling Giant, Fishlake National Forest, Utah
Pando—one of the world's oldest and most enormous organisms—is thought to be dying, so if you live nearby, we suggest getting in a visit while you can. The 80,000-year-old colony of quaking aspens shares a single root system and each of the 40,000 (give or take) trees is genetically identical. Plan your visit for the end of summer or start of fall to catch the trees as they turn their bright autumnal yellow.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Sick of Seattle? Pack up your supplies and head two hours north to this stunning park. Though it's often passed over in favor of its siblings Olympic and Mount Rainier, North Cascades has all the beauty—we're talking conifer-covered mountains, 500 pristine alpine lakes, and more than 300 glaciers (the most of any U.S. park outside of Alaska)—and less than 39,000 visitors a year. If you want to get out in some nature sans the tourists, These Are the Least Crowded National Parks in America.
Monument Rocks, Kansas
Follow US Highway 83 south of Oakley, keep an eye out for a billboard with where to turn, and eventually you'll happen upon Monument Rocks—one the eight wonders of Kansas. The limestone outcroppings stand 70 feet tall and are the result of an eroded sea bed that formed 80 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. The site is entirely free to visit—just come by before sunset.
Roque Bluffs State Park, Maine
If the crowds at Old Orchard, Wells, and Ogunquit have you nodding your head no to a day spent on the sand, give Roque Bluffs State Park a go. The 274-acre hidden gem—which is just a 90-minute drive east of Bar Harbor—includes a half-mile crescent shore along Englishman Bay as well as a 60-acre pond for freshwater dips.
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
The Grand Canyon may see more than six million visitors a year, but Texas' miniature version (if you can call 120 miles by 20 miles mini)—Palo Duro Canyon—welcomes just a fraction of the larger monument's guests. The panhandle attraction is tucked away 25 miles from downtown Amarillo and features 30 miles of hiking and biking trails (you can descend 880 feet to the canyon floor) as well as camping and glamping sites.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Wrangell-St. Elias may be America's largest national park (according to the NPS, it's bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Switzerland combined!), but it's one of the least frequented. Last year, the vast, 13.2-million-acre Alaskan wilderness saw less than 75,000 visitors—a shame considering its concentration of volcanoes, glaciers, and diverse wildlife. While there are no campsites located within the park, there are plenty of nearby private and public campgrounds.
Hell's Backbone Scenic Byway, Utah
While it's name may not be the most inviting, Hell's Backbone Scenic Byway delivers 38 miles of must-see mountain views from Boulder to Escalante. The winding route is ideal for those looking for an adventure that doesn't even require getting out of the car; pack a picnic and slip on some sunglasses to enjoy views of deep, rugged canyons, lush pine forests, sheer cliff faces, and high-elevation lakes. And for more gorgeous drives in the region, These Are the Best Road Trips in the Southwest.
Fern Canyon, California
This lush, verdant canyon lies just a few miles within Prairie Creek Redwoods National Park. As long as you're not claustrophobic, it makes for a great hiking spot as the one-mile trail forms a natural maze with towering walls that grow closer and taller the farther you walk. Hidden within the dense leaves are also a number of amphibians including the Pacific giant salamander—so keep an eye out for trail mates underfoot.
Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia
If the name didn't already spoil it for you, this beach is known for its weathered driftwood—a remnant of the area's ancient maritime forest, which slowly (over a number of decades) eroded and became one with the sandy shore. While the Jekyll Island beauty, located just off Georgia's coast, isn't exactly a secret, recent reviews attest to the fact that crowds are much thinner than nearby St. Simons.
Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
Despite its name, Utah's remote Nine Mile Canyon actually runs for 46 miles through some of the state's most rugged stretches. Also known as the "world's longest outdoor art gallery," the canyon is famed for its tens of thousands of ancient petroglyphs and pictographs which were created by the Fremont and Ute people some 1,000 years ago.
Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, California
Just 13 miles east of Yosemite lies Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve—a park that isn't super talked about, but home to a million-year-old lake that's actually one of the oldest in North America. What really draws in-the-know visitors, however, is the lake's peculiar tufa towers—spires and knobs that spring up as a result of the water's calcium and carbonate levels.
Madame Sherri Forest, New Hampshire
Back in the 1920s, Madame Antoinette Sherri—an eccentric Broadway costume designer—built her very own castle in the woods of Chesterfield. Over the following years, she hosted glamorous Gatsby-esque fêtes that drew theater friends from near and far. After her passing in 1965, the three-story home fell into disrepair. Today, visitors to the wooded New Hampshire area will find that a grand staircase is all that remains.
Bristlecone Pines, Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Don't let their gnarled and twisted appearance fool you—the Bristlecone Pines of Great Basin National Park are thriving. Despite being exposed to such extreme conditions (high winds, off-the-charts summer heat, and freezing-cold winter temperatures), the 5,000-year-old trees have managed to outlive any other single, non-clonal organism. If you can't visit them anytime soon, don't worry—they're here to stay.
Devil's Kettle, Judge Magney State Park, Minnesota
If you're of the mind that once you've seen one waterfall you've seen them all, it's time to think again. At Devil's Kettle, in Minnesota's Judge Magney State Park, the Brule River splits into two as its eastern flow hurdles down a traditional 50-foot drop and its western flow barely descends 10 feet before disappearing into a pothole. Where exactly that second stream went eluded experts for centuries. Some thought it disappeared underground while others assumed it followed its own route to Lake Superior. But in 2016, experts came to an all-too-reasonable conclusion: It just rejoins the Brule River downstream.
Calvert Cliffs State Park, Maryland
A two-mile trek is all that separates you from this secluded Chesapeake Bay beach, so strap on your Tevas and take to the Red Trail, which leads you straight to the shore. The quarter-mile beach is flanked by 10- to 20-million-year-old cliffs and is known for its equally old fossils, so keep your eyes peeled for shark teeth, shells, and other relics (they've found rhinos, tapirs, and even mastodons, so you never know!).
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, Florida
Beaches may be a dime a dozen in the Sunshine State, but this park harbors an intriguing, hidden shore. Washington Oaks is known for its ancient live oak and formal gardens, bursting with birds of paradise, but fewer know of its Atlantic coast, which is lined with ancient coquina rock formations that come in and out of view as the tides change.
Fort Rock State Park Natural Area, Oregon
There's no missing Fort Rock. According to the area's official site, the 200-foot-tall tuff ring dramatically rises out of Oregon's barren plains like a "desert mirage." The national landmark formed in prehistoric times when blazing-hot magma shot up through the bottom of a shallow sea. Today, trails circle the 4,460-foot ring so you can get an up-close look at the natural oddity. And for more geological stunners, 15 Jaw-Dropping Natural Wonders You'll Only See in America.
Grimes Glen Park, New York
Looking for a leisurely afternoon hike near the Finger Lakes? Grimes Glen, in the scenic, folksy village of Naples (between Bath and Canandaigua), offers easy creekside trails, a handful of waterfalls that gently cascade down moss-covered rocks, and—the more you know—New York's oldest fossilized tree. Heads up: Some parts of the trail can be slippery, so you'll want to come prepared with sneakers or high-traction sandals.
Kentucky River Palisades, Kentucky
The Kentucky River Palisades have been around for an incomprehensible amount of time (think 450 million years), but we won't fault you if this is the first you're hearing of them. The dramatic shale and limestone cliffs run for nearly a hundred miles along the serene Kentucky River and shelter all types of wildlife from bobcats to peregrine falcons. You can explore the Palisades via kayak, canoe, or foot.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree may be South Carolina's only national park, but a surprising few have heard of it. The little-known gem harbors the largest swath of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S.—including some trees that are nearly as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Couple that with access to canoe- and kayak-friendly Cedar Creek as well as a 2.4-mile-long boardwalk loop that meanders through the park's most compelling corners, and you've got ample reason to head to Hopkins.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
With less than 175,000 annual visitors, Guadalupe Mountains National Park may not seem so special on paper, but the spectacular locale is home to Texas' four highest peaks as well as Capitan Reef—the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef. If either of those facts have piqued your interest, head east of El Paso and don't forget to fill your tank on the way as the closest stations—east and west—are 30 miles away, minimum.
Drive-Thru Tree Park, California
This kitschy attraction—a 315-foot-tall redwood with a six-foot by seven-foot hole in its base—has been drawing visitors since the 1930s when "tunnel trees" were all the rage. While the practice has now been halted by environmentalists, Leggett's Chandelier Tree miraculously survived its decades-old disfigurement and has been attracting motorists for the last 80 years. Swing by today for a photo op, picnic, and walk around the grounds. And before you hit the highway, check out the Best West Coast Road Trips in America.
Tettegouche State Park, Minnesota
Craggy waterfront bluffs meet calm inland lakes, tumbling cascades, and sweeping views of Lake Superior at this must-see state park. Tettegouche (that's "tet-a-gooch") offers 23 miles of hiking and biking trails, four dozen campsites, and canoe and kayak rentals so you can explore it on your own terms.
Lover's Leap State Park, Connecticut
At Lover's Leap State Park, visitors can admire the scenic beauty of New England's Housatonic Valley from the vantage of a 19th-century wrought-iron bridge. Though the bright red bridge is certainly the park's main draw, there are also 127 acres to discover on foot.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri
With sinkholes, caves, natural bridges, and the state's largest spring, Missouri's Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a sight to be seen. Geological oddities aside, though, it's the park's turn-of-the-century European castle ruins that we can't get enough of. A series of unfortunate events (an untimely death, depression, poverty, and a major fire) left the mansion in the hands of state officials, who have now preserved its crumbling walls. And for more handsome manors, check out the 23 Castles So Astonishing You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.
Schoolhouse Beach, Wisconsin
Love the beach but hate tracking sand back to your car? Wisconsin's Schoolhouse Beach, on the shores of Lake Michigan, swaps powdery dunes for smooth, glacier-polished pebbles. Since there are only five such beaches the world over, there is one strict rule to follow: Don't even think about pocketing any rocks on your way out.
Bird Island Reserve, North Carolina
You won't find high-rise condos, congested boardwalks, or hordes of people at Bird Island Reserve—the southernmost town in North Carolina and the only undeveloped barrier island. Instead, the unspoiled isle offers pristine white shores, thousands of acres of salt marsh, maritime grasslands, and an array of flora and fauna from egrets, herons, and gulls to nesting loggerhead sea turtles.
Lyman Falls State Park, Vermont
Vermont is an outdoorsman's paradise, but finding a peaceful, socially-distant swath means avoiding hotspots like Burlington, Killington, and Stowe. Instead, hop on VT Route 102 and exit in Bloomfield, where you'll land in Lyman Falls State Park. The 41-acre area is ideal for those looking to canoe, camp, and fish. In fact, the park is one of the best places in all of New England when it comes to catching trout.
Grasshopper Glacier, Custer National Forest, Montana
Grasshopper Glacier isn't your average blue-tinted chunk of ice. The mile-long landmark, in Montana's rugged Beartooth Mountains, was big news when it was discovered in 1914—and for a bizarre reason. The sediment-colored glacier entombs tens of millions of now-extinct grasshoppers in its snowy clutch. If you want to see it up close, the glacier is only accessible July through September and requires an eight-mile, round-trip hike.
East State Beach, Rhode Island
Maintaining a personal beach bubble is no easy feat—especially not at rowdy Rhode Island shores in Newport and Narragansett. Charlestown's three-mile East State Beach offers a relaxed vibe as it's the state's least-developed beach. Don't let that deter you, though; the barrier beach sits sandwiched between Ninigret Pond (and its national wildlife refuge) and the Atlantic, affording visitors ample space and a prime area to swim, kayak, fish, and soak up the sun.
Lionhead Natural Water Slides, Priest Lake State Park, Idaho
Waterparks may be out of the question this summer, but you can still get your fix (and for free!) at northern Idaho's remote Priest Lake State Park. There, tucked in the park's dense cedar, fir, and tamarack forest, you'll find multiple 100-foot-long natural slides that are slick with icy mountain water. Since reaching the granite slides calls for a 1.5-mile hike (each way), you won't have to contend with long lines, either.
Jamestown Beach Event Park, Virginia
Virginia's Jamestown Settlement may be well known, but its nearby beach has managed to fly under the radar. Situated along the James River, this year-round shorefront is touted as one of the state's best secret spots thanks to its shaded picnic areas, observation pier, and watercraft launch. Propane grills are also permitted (or you can use the park's charcoal grills), so you can fire up hamburgers and hot dogs for the whole family. And if you'd rather play it safe and stay home, you can still travel virtually; here's How to See the World's Most Beautiful Destinations From Your Couch.