The Most Remote U.S. Islands That Need to Be on Your Bucket List
You won't even need a passport to get to these far-off destinations.
The U.S. is a vast country with plenty of destinations to explore, even just within the continental mainland. But for travelers looking to head out to the actual furthest reaches of the national borders, there are plenty of small islands that lie beyond the shores of the Lower 48. From lush tropical oases to unique ecological locales, there are a number of far-flung spots that make the boat ride or flight well worth the trip—all without needing to tote along your passport. Read on to discover the remote U.S. islands experts say you should add to your bucket list.
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Even for a remote island chain, Hawai'i still welcomes plenty of visitors from around the world. Many come to relax on the state's pristine beaches and take in the natural beauty that has made it a top travel destination. But for those looking to get off the beaten path, experts say there are still corners that a handful of outsiders have ever seen.
"Few people even realize that there are actually seven inhabited Hawaiian islands. Among them is the remote, private island of Ni'ihau, which is home to less than 90 people," says Adam Marland, a travel photographer and writer for We Dream of Travel. "This private island is owned by the Robinson family. What little reputation it has is owed primarily to the rare and expensive 'Ni'ihau shells' that wash onto its shores."
"Ni'ihau is known as 'The Forbidden Island' because only members of the Robinson family or those invited by a resident are allowed to step foot on its shores," Marland explains. "However, that all changed in 2021 when Ni'ihau Helicopter Inc. began offering a one-of-a-kind, truly bucket list tour wherein guests are flown to the island and can spend three hours on one of its beaches. Those who partake will be able to say that they have been to one of the least-visited inhabited islands on our planet!"
Not all locations with top-notch natural beauty are overrun by visitors. In fact, one remote U.S. territory can be considered something of a best-kept secret for anyone looking to be wowed by scenery.
"American Samoa—the only U.S. territory south of the equator—is located just across from the International Date Line in the South Pacific," Steve Prohaska, travel expert and founder of SeeTheBestPlaces.com, tells Best Life. "A whopping 2,566 miles southwest of Hawai'i, it boasts one of the most remote national parks in the United States and offers one-of-a-kind sightseeing experiences."
"In American Samoa, you can snorkel amid the picture-perfect coral reefs of Ofu, hike through volcanic craters and a unique paleotropical rainforest, and catch superb views of Pago Pago Harbor and the white-sand beach at Cape Taputapu—which is also the last place on Earth where the sun sets each day," says Prohaska. "Military history buffs will want to check out the World War II Heritage Trail and the naval guns at Blunts Point."
Just be prepared to search a little harder for a ride there. "Be aware that flight options to American Samoa are limited: Direct flights are currently available only from Hawaii or the Independent State of Samoa," Prohaska cautions.
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Some islands are memorable for their white sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. But one hard-to-reach locale off the East Coast stands out for its serenity and unique aesthetic—even if it is a little creepy.
"For an awesome spot that's right here in the continental U.S., travelers looking to unwind should check out Bull Island in South Carolina," suggests Mandy Picchiottino, owner of travel planning company Land and See Tours. "It's only accessible by ferry, but those who are up for an adventure are quickly rewarded with its dense wildlife population, incredible beaches, amazing hikes, and shells galore. Alligators, sea turtles, and regional birds all sun themselves along the undeveloped island's coastal shores."
"The island's most impressive gem, however, is locally known as Boneyard Beach, a stretch of beach that is home to the skeletal driftwood remains of a once thriving forest of oak trees," she says. "While slightly eerie, this impressive display is a photographer's dream come true!"
Any traveler seeking out a remote island is likely willing to rough it a little bit when they arrive. According to experts, one Caribbean locale rewards such adventurous types with untouched natural beauty that few get to experience.
"Located four hours off the west coast of Puerto Rico, Mona Island doesn't have anything else to offer except nature in its most raw form," says travel writer and expert Vanessa Ramos. "Getting there is a challenge, but staying for a few days is even more so. You need a government permit to camp, and you'll have to bring everything from a camping tent to food."
"But, even if it's a hassle to get there, you're in for the adventure of a lifetime," she says. "You'll see the sky and the ocean as you've never seen them before. Remote and wild, Mona Island is so mysterious that only a few have scratched it off their travel list."
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Dry Tortugas National Park
The National Park System boasts plenty of sprawling spaces under its purview that draw in tourists year-round. But experts say one unique site takes a little more effort to experience due to its offshore position.
"Dry Tortugas National Park is an incredibly-remote U.S. island located 70 miles off the coast of Key West in Florida," says Sophie Clapton, a travel expert and writer for We Dream of Travel. "The park encompasses 100 square miles that comprise seven tiny islands, thriving coral reefs, and open water. It's famous for its spectacular blue waters, abundant marine life, and the historic coastal fortress at Fort Jefferson. Every photo looks like a postcard!"
"So why haven't more people heard of it? Of course, its remote location plays a part. But Dry Tortugas is also limited to less than 200 visitors per day and requires a seat on a scarce few planes and boats," she explains. "For those that are truly dedicated to exploring, however, a magical experience awaits."
Anyone who has cared to venture a little deeper knows that Hawai'i is a dynamic destination with a lot more going for it than beautiful beaches and world-famous surf. Experts say those who want a more secluded experience on the remote island chain have one fantastic option.
"Travelers looking to dig deep into Hawai'i's traditional roots would do well to circumvent its more famous islands like Oahu and Maui for its lesser-known cousin, Moloka'i," Picchiottino says. "Its much quieter, rural way of life offers all the pristine beauty Hawai'i is famous for without the crowds. Secluded beaches, humpback whales, and hula: what's not to love?"
"The island has very little tourist foot traffic and less infrastructure than its more popular islands, but its laid-back aloha spirit and slower pace is a nod to Hawai'i as it's truly meant to be experienced—far from the glitz, high-rise hotels, and chain restaurants," she says. "On Moloka'i, life is simpler, and if responsible travel is on your bucket list, there's nowhere better to experience a place as it's meant to be experienced than there."
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Puerto Rico is a popular destination for good reason: The Caribbean island is thriving with culture, history, and natural beauty to a degree few other places can claim. But those who venture a little further offshore will be rewarded with an equally dynamic remote island that has its own flair.
"You don't need to choose between snorkeling, diving, surfing, swimming, or kayaking on the brightest bio bay in the world on Vieques Island: You can do all of them!" says Ramos.
"Although small and somewhat hard to get to, Vieques is home to unique gastronomy, a rum distillery, and top-notch beaches. But what really attracts most people here is Mosquito Bio Bay," Ramos says. "I remember paddling in this pitch-black bay and seeing the water light up with every movement. Few things can feel more surreal in the world! Vieques is a place to unwind, slow down and reconnect with yourself."
Even the most seasoned travelers may not realize that some of the most remote and hard-to-reach islands in the U.S. aren't even in the ocean at all. In fact, anyone looking to get far offshore can do so at one unique location in the middle of the continent.
"The upper peninsula of Michigan is well-known for its wilderness areas, but just a little farther north is one of the best-kept secrets in the state: Isle Royale National Park, one of the least-visited—but most-loved—parks in the nation," says Jenny Ly, travel blogger and founder of Go Wanderly. "To get to the island, visitors can board one of three passenger ferries that leave from Minnesota or Michigan. Once there, they can kayak or hike along the coast. The island is home to wolves and moose, and campers who venture into the woods can see the Aurora Borealis. But there's no need to rough it if camping out under the stars isn't in the cards: The Rock Harbor Lodge has you covered."