Skip to content

16 Secret Spots in the U.S. So Stunning You Won't Believe They're Real

These lesser-known destinations are sure to take your breath away if you're able to visit.

From the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest to the jagged coastlines of Maine, the United States is home to some of the most enchanting landscapes in the entire world. But while you may be familiar with the most iconic spots, like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, there are other hidden gems you may not know about—and they can be just as breathtaking as the well-traveled destinations. These locales may leave you speechless, but you need not worry: We managed to find a few words to convey our appreciation. Read on to discover 16 stunning secret spots hidden across the U.S.

RELATED: The 8 Best Off-The-Radar Destinations in the U.S. That Need to Be on Your Bucket List.

1
Glass Beach (Fort Bragg, California)

Glass Beach Fort Bragg Surreal Places in the U.S.
Shutterstock

Fort Bragg, California, is home to one of the most unique beaches in the entire country: Glass Beach, which, like its name implies, is comprised of sea glass formed by decades of trash dumped along its coastline.

There are actually three of these glass beaches in Fort Bragg, and they're all easily accessible by foot. Visitors can search for sapphire gems left by apothecary bottles strewn about these former dump sites, now serving as a testament to the saying "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

2
Salton Sea (Imperial and Riverside Counties, California)

Desert landscape at the Salton Sea
iStock

This shallow lake is located directly on top of the San Andreas Fault in California's Imperial and Coachella valleys. The Salton Sea was created in the first decade of the 20th century, when the Colorado River burst through poorly built irrigation controls just south of Yuma, Arizona.

Now, scientists speculate that agricultural waste streaming into the lake and rising salt levels will kill nearly all of the animals dwelling within its shallow waters. But for the time being, visitors can enjoy all that the salty lake has to offer with a trip around its coastline for a chance to catch the water glistening at sunset.

RELATED: The 7 Biggest Tourist Traps to Avoid in the U.S.

3
Petrified Dunes (Snow Canyon State Park, Utah)

petrified dunes in snow canyon state park
Copyright Adam Marland

According to Adam Marland, travel photographer and blogger for We Dream of Travel, Utah holds a lesser-known spot sure to wow you.

"Most visitors of stunning Southern Utah pass right by one of the nation's true hidden gems as they make a straight line for the more famous destinations of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park," Marland tells Best Life.

The Petrified Sand Dunes are "hidden away" in Snow Canyon State Park, which is just outside of St. George, he says—and once you see what this spot has to offer, you might not even need to venture to the bigger name national parks.

"Snow Canyon is home to a variety of unique desert landscapes including colorful slot canyons and lava tubes, but the most notable and rare feature of Snow Canyon is the unbelievable petrified sand dunes," Marland shares. "Braided, twisted stone flows like ribbon in the petrified sand dunes. It looks as though a river of sand was flash-frozen and forever locked in time. In the distance, tiger-striped hills surround the canyon to create a truly otherworldly landscape."

4
Kitch-iti-kipi (Palms Book State Park, Michigan)

kitch-iti-kipi in michigan
Cristian Greger / Shutterstock

If you want to visit a truly unique spot, look no further than Kitch-iti-kipi, meaning "big spring" in the Ojibwe language. According to Atlas Obscura, you can find the crystal clear, freshwater spring in Palms Book State Park.

On TikTok, The National Park Travelers (@thenationalparktravelers) highlighted Kitch-iti-kipi as a hidden gem—and a must-see spot.

"The Upper Peninsula of Michigan exceeded our expectations during our time there, from hidden gems like [Kitchi-iti-kipi], to beautiful waterfalls and views of the Great Lakes," the caption of a May 23 video reads. "This area absolutely needs to be on your bucket list!"

While Kitch-iti-kipi does get its fair share of visitors, if you have more time to spend in Michigan and want somewhere even more serene, Pam Howard, travel blogger behind Our Adventure is Everywhere, recommends visiting another state park that's just 2.5 hours away.

"As a frequent visitor to Northern Michigan, I was well aware of the beaches at Petoskey State Park, but had no idea that they felt like an ocean beach until we spent a day there," Howard tells Best Life. "With real waves, clear water, and expansive sandy beaches, if it wasn't for the lack of salt water, you'd never realize you weren't 'at the beach.'"

RELATED: The 8 Best 3-Day Weekend Trips in the U.S.

5
The Wave (Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona)

famous firewave valley of fire
Shutterstock

This magnificently-colored sandstone, stretching across regions of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in Arizona, is without a doubt one of the most photogenic picks on this list. No matter the season, the rich colors of its walls, which were created by deposits of iron, cast a glow across the canyons. Since the average hike to and from The Wave is around six hours, it is recommended that hikers pack for a full day, and use caution in the heat.

This is truly a secret spot, as a maximum of 64 people are allowed to visit the Coyote Buttes North (where The Wave is located)—and hopeful visitors are required to apply for a permit through an online lottery system. According to new data from Bonus Finder, it's also a hidden gem that draws fewer crowds, at least judging by its Instagram location tags, which total just 24,900.

6
Thor's Well (Yachat, Oregon)

thor's well at sunset
Jun Su / Shutterstock

According to Sophie Marland, travel blogger with We Dream of Travel, the Oregon Coast is home to the hidden gem known as Thor's Well. While this area is "well-known for its dramatic seascapes," Thor's Well puts its competitors to shame.

"Standing above the large hole, it appears as if the Pacific Ocean itself has sprung a leak as water drains into what seems to be a bottomless pit!" she shares. "This incredible natural marvel was forged when the roof of a large, underwater sea cave collapsed. It has become a bucket list destination for photographers in particular."

But while photographers may seek it out, Thor's Well is the top secret spot on Bonus Finder's list, with only 15,300 Instagram location tags.

If you do visit Thor's Well, there's plenty more to see in the area, including Devil's Churn and Cape Perpetua National Forest, Marland notes.

7
Lost Sea (Sweetwater, Tennessee)

Lost Sea Tennessee Surreal Places in the U.S.
Shutterstock

Located in the Craighead Caverns in Tennessee, the Lost Sea is the United States' largest and the world's second-largest non-subglacial underground lake.

Before the caves were open to the public, the Cherokee used these underground hideaways as a meeting place. In the years that followed, Confederate soldiers mined the caves for saltpeter, an ingredient necessary to the manufacturing of gunpowder. Now, tourists can revel in the beauty of this underground sea on an unforgettable boat ride and tour, chock full of information about one of Tennessee's most hidden jewels.

8
Homestead Crater (Midway, Utah)

Homestead Crater in Midway is described as one of Utah's "best-kept secrets," and for good reason.

"Homestead Crater, or Utah Crater, is located on the luxurious Homestead Resort, about an hour outside of Provo," Taylor Beal, Europe travel blogger and content creator behind Traverse With Taylor, says. "It's the neatest underground crater—I was so shocked when I visited it. Even walking up to it, you don't realize that it's right in front of you. Then, you walk through a short tunnel, and you're in the middle of a massive cavern that has a swimming dock and a unique skylight feature at the top."

Not a fan of cold dips? The water in the crater is actually from a geothermal hot spring, Beal points out.

"You can swim, dive, snorkel, and even get scuba-certified or take a paddleboarding yoga class inside," she says. "It's one of those often-overlooked spots in Utah, but it's so fun that I visit every time I am in the area!"

RELATED: The 12 Quirkiest Small Towns in the U.S.

9
Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area (New Mexico)

Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area New Mexico Surreal Places in the U.S.
Shutterstock

This rolling landscape offers some of the most unique miles of desert in the Four Corners region. The hiking trails in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area cover around 60 square miles of remote badlands—meaning that a solitary desert hike isn't out of the question for most venturing across the ancient rock formations.

Before you set out on your hiking adventures, be sure to notice that the trails are not marked, so travelers unfamiliar with this area will need to keep track of their steps.

10
Bonneville Salt Flats (Tooele County, Utah)

Bonneville Salt Flats Utah Surreal Places in the U.S.
Shutterstock

These expansive salt flats, located west of the Great Salt Lake, were formed when Lake Bonneville dried up, leaving a large land mass of salt stretching in every direction. Tourists are provided easy access to this area via a rest stop located just outside of the flats.

Walk across the salt, or simply take in the majestic beauty of this area, surrounded by mountains and Utah desert.

11
Oneonta Gorge (Oregon)

oneonta-gorge-columbia-river-gorge
RobertCrum / iStock

Oregon is also home to the breathtaking Oneonta Gorge, which claims the number seven spot on Bonus Finder's list, with just 32,400 Instagram tag locations.

The narrow, moss-covered gorge follows the Oneonta Creek, which is an off-trail portion of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

But while the destination saw a spike in popularity in the 2010s, the Oneonta Gorge has been closed to the public since the Eagle Creek Fire in 2017. Due to public safety concerns, the U.S. Forest Service doesn't see the part opening until at least 2026, so if this green getaway is on your bucket list, bump it down for the time being.

RELATED: The 10 Most Naturally Beautiful States in the U.S., Data Shows.

12
Skagit Valley (Washington)

skagit valley in washington
Owen Whiting / Shutterstock

Skagit Valley in Washington earns the number two spot on Bonus Finder's list. Per the recent data, the area has only 18,000 Instagram location tags, which is fascinating, as it's arguably one of the most photogenic locations in the U.S.—at least during springtime.

One of the best times to visit is during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, held annually in April. When the fields are in full bloom, you may forget you're on the West Coast of Washington and not the Netherlands.

13
The Palouse Region (Idaho, Washington, and Oregon)

the palouse region in washington
Bob Pool / Shutterstock

While this region spans three states, it only has 22,300 Instagram location tags, per Bonus Finder's data.

Travel content creator Kristina Cors highlighted the region as a place you likely don't know existed, even though some call it "The Tuscany of America."

"They call this scenic farm region The Tuscany of the U.S. because of its dune-line hills: It's called the Palouse," Cors says in a Feb. 2022 TikTok video. "It's located on the Idaho-Washington border and has endless miles of rolling hills. So, if you're a photographer, you might want to move this to the top of your bucket list."

RELATED: The 12 Prettiest Small Towns in the U.S.

14
Rainbow Lake (Frisco, Colorado)

rainbow lake in colorado
Kristin Lee

According to Kristin Lee, travel expert and owner of the travel blog Global Travel Escapades, another breathtaking spot you've probably never heard of is Colorado's Rainbow Lake.

"For anyone spending time in Denver or passing through beautiful Colorado, a secret spot that receives little foot traffic and is worth visiting is Rainbow Lake! This serene lake is tucked away in the quaint town of Frisco at the end of a short and relatively easy 1.1-mile hiking trail," Lee shares. "At the lake, visitors are rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and may even be greeted by some impressive wildlife, such as giant moose wandering nearby!"

If you want to see vivid colors and foliage at this lesser-known spot, Lee suggests scheduling your visit for the fall, when the trees "transform into golden hues."

15
Horsetail Fall (Yosemite National Park, California)

Horsetail Falls Surreal Places in the U.S.
Shutterstock

Visitors can only spot this "firefall" effect from mid-to-late February—despite the short window of time, those who do know about it jump at the chance to catch a glimpse. So, planning your visit ahead of time is wise.

The Horsetail Fall flows over the edge of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, and during most sunsets in February, the waterfall actually appears to glow orange, almost resembling a lava flow.

To make this trek, you can either purchase a parking permit or hike there. Since you are arriving at sunset, the walk back will likely be dark and icy, so be prepared for those conditions.

16
The Blue Hole (Santa Rosa, New Mexico)

the blue hole in santa rosa new mexico
IrinaK / Shutterstock

Beth McCarterfamily travel blogger of The Travel Fam, recommends checking out the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The spot is a bit remote, but that's what makes it all the more interesting to visit.

"It's a super deep, super chilly cenote in the middle of nowhere," McCarter says. "It's kind of a drive to get to because there's nothing else around, but we always hit it when we drive up to Santa Fe New Mexico from Dallas."

Interestingly enough, it's one of seven sister lakes that are connected through an underground water system, formed due to a "geological phenomenon" known as the Santa Rosa sink.

Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
Filed Under
Sources referenced in this article
  1. Source: