13 Secret Islands in the U.S. You Never Knew Existed
Hidden coves, tranquil atolls, and more
Sure, you've heard of Maui and Oahu. But did you know a handful of secret islands can be found beyond Hawaii? In fact, all across the United States, there are lush atolls just waiting to be discovered. Between a forested lake archipelago in Vermont and a windswept chain off the coast of California, you'll have these slices of paradise all to yourself.
Little Palm Island, Florida
How to get there: Little Palm Island operates a free boat shuttle for guests from Little Torch Key. The closest airport is Key West (EYW), just 26 miles away.
Presidents, A-list celebrities, and in-the-know honeymooners have flocked to this hidden oasis in the Florida Keys for decades. Now, after two years of renovations following Hurricane Irma, the exclusive 5.5-acre private island resort is reopening in March. The 15 thatch-roofed bungalows don't have phones or TVs, so you can completely unplug. That is, when you're not blissing out at the brand new spa or lounging in a poolside cabana, sipping champagne.
Lake Champlain Islands, Vermont
How to get there: Drive US-2 north up the islands to Alburg. The closest airport is Burlington (BTV), just 17 miles away.
Lake Champlain's rocky archipelago is relatively unknown outside of New England, which makes it a dream getaway for those desperately seeking tranquility. The stretch of islands is home to quaint villages, cute country cottages, and apple orchards (like local favorite, Hackett's).
Where to stay: North Hero House was established in 1891 and has three guesthouses, where famous actors like Paul Newman, Ethan Hawke, Robert Redford, and Uma Thurman have once stayed.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
How to get there: Year-round ferries are available from St. Ignace; seasonal ferry service runs from Mackinaw City, which is 290 miles north of Detroit via I-75.
Outside of the Midwest, few travelers know about this remote piece of land in the middle of Lake Huron. Mackinac Island is the spitting image of 19th-century life, with horse buggies and general stores lining the main street. You'll also find historic B&Bs, crafts markets, and an original fudge shop, Murdick's Fudge, which opened in 1887.
Where to stay: The 18-acre Mission Point resort has plenty of amenities, including tennis courts, a movie theater, and a lakeside lawn dotted with Adirondack chairs.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
How to get there: Take the 45-minute ferry from St. Marys. Greyfield Inn also operates a private boat from Fernandina Beach, Florida. The closest airport is Jacksonville (JAX), just 30 miles away.
With wild horses trotting along its white-sand beaches, wide marshes, and maritime forests, Cumberland Island ranks high on the list of the most stunning places in Southeast. It's also hard to get to—accessible only by ferry—which has kept the place somewhat cut off from regular summer tourists.
Where to stay: Formerly a Carnegie family mansion, the 19th-century Greyfield Inn is now a resort where guests can sip tea on the veranda or stroll the 200 acres of manicured grounds.
The Channel Islands, California
How to get there: Year-round ferries and flights are available to the five national park islands. There is also an hour-long ferry to Catalina Island from San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.
Often called the "Galapagos of America," The Channel Islands are made up of eight atolls. Seven of them have no restaurants, shops, or lodging (unless you bring your own tent). But they do showcase one of the country's most unique and remote national parks. Visitors can explore sea caves, hike oceanfront trails, and kayak through kelp forests while spotting sea lions, whales, and dolphins.
Where to stay: Catalina is the only inhabited island in the archipelago. Its epicenter is the resort town of Avalon, where yachts and sailboats pull up to ritzy beach clubs. Reserve a suite at the Inn on Mt. Ada, which was William Wrigley Jr.'s villa when he owned the entire island in the 1920s.
Block Island, Rhode Island
How to get there: Year-round ferries are available from Point Judith; seasonal ferry service runs from Newport and Fall River as well as New London, Connecticut, and Montauk, New York.
The Nature Conservancy listed Block Island as one of the "Last Great Places" due to its natural beauty and quiet atmosphere. Although the town of New Shoreham can get busy in the summer, there are many secluded beaches, freshwater ponds, and picturesque lighthouses on the far side of the atoll.
Where to stay: Check into Payne's Harbor View Inn, located a mile from the main street.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
How to get there: Drive 275 miles north of Minneapolis via I-35 and US-53.
In the northernmost tip of Minnesota, you'll find Voyageurs National Park. The federally protected reserve boasts more than 500 islands, 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, and hidden waterways that are perfect for kayaking and canoeing.
Where to stay: At the lakefront Northern Lights Resort, the rustic log cabins come with fireplaces, jacuzzis, and screen porches.
Fisher Island, Florida
How to get there: Fisher Island Club operates a 24-hour private boat for guests from Terminal Island. The closest airport is Miami (MIA), just 13 miles away.
Right across the Intracoastal Waterway from bustling Miami Beach, this secret playground of the rich and famous is accessible only by helicopter or yacht—which is why it's very hush-hush. Featuring 216 acres of coconut palms and mangroves, Fisher Island was formerly the Vanderbilt family's winter estate and has since become a hangout for celebs like Oprah Winfrey, Mel Brooks, and tennis star Boris Becker.
Where to stay: Well-heeled residents take up most of the island with their palaces, but there are two resorts open to the public. Fisher Island Club is a luxurious members-only community with 15 guesthouses, a nine-hole championship golf course, two marinas, a theater, and an aviary.
St. George Island, Florida
How to get there: Drive 75 miles south of Tallahassee via US-319.
This 28-mile island just off Florida's Gulf Coast was one of the last barrier islands to develop in the state, leaving its uncrowded expanses of sand relatively unknown. Protected by low-density zoning and strict building codes, St. George Island has no high-rises or chain stores—just clear coves for swimming and fishing, pristine marshes for wildlife viewing, and all the serenity you rarely find on the mainland.
Where to stay: Take your pick of the 600 vacation rentals and Airbnbs on the island.
Anderson Island, Washington
How to get there: A 20-minute ferry is available from Steilacoom. The closest airport is Seattle-Tacoma (SEA), 40 miles away via I-5.
Anderson Island has 170 acres of wetlands, a tidal estuary, and dense forests right in the southern portion of Puget Sound. Although it's just 90 minutes away from Seattle, the island of 1,000 residents is still fairly under wraps.
Where to stay: Camping is the most popular overnight option, but for more modern lodging, The Inn at Mallard Cove is right across the water in Olympia.
Shelter Island, New York
Shelter Island is probably one of the best-kept secrets of Long Island's East End. The secluded, 12,000-square-mile island—a 10-minute ferry between North Fork and the overrun Hamptons to the south—has very little nightlife, offering vacationers a slice of serenity just three hours outside Manhattan. If you do want to be social, swing by Sunset Beach's sprawling deck for cocktails.
Where to stay: The Chequit is a 19th-century B&B that has all the trappings of a beach cottage, including cozy porches overlooking the sea.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
How to get there: A year-round ferry is available from Hilton Head. Water taxis can be chartered from Bluffton and Wilmington Island. The closest airport is Savannah (SAV).
With no stoplights and under 500 full-time residents, it's no wonder there aren't many folks who have heard of Daufuskie Island. But the sleepy island, located off the mainland between Hilton Head and Savannah, boasts remarkable nature areas and delicious Gullah cuisine, like shrimp and grits. Go horseback riding on the sand or taste some rum at the Daufuskie Island Distillery, one of only two island distilleries in America.
Madeline Island, Wisconsin
How to get there: Ferries are available from Bayfield. The closest airport is Duluth (DLH), 90 miles away via US-2.
Madeline is the largest in the chain of 22 islands that make up the Apostle archipelago (the other 21 are run by the National Park Service). It's home to Big Bay State Park, a year-round destination with more than seven miles of hiking trails. Expect to see dramatic views of the sandstone cliffs and other rock formations with very few interlopers disrupting the peace.
Where to stay: The Inn on Madeline Island has a variety of lodging options from waterfront cottages to condos. Trying to get away from the crowds on your next national park tour? Here's When You Should Visit America's 15 Most Popular National Parks.