The United States is filled with so many incredible, bucket list locations. New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego are all popular cities, and places like Miami beach, Yellowstone National Park, or Yosemite are nature spots that are very popular as well. However there are so many more cool places to visit in the US that are unique in their own way.
There is truly no end to incredible, off the beaten path locations to see in the United States, and you could spend a lifetime exploring all the nooks and crannies in the 50 states.
To get you started, I’ve compiled this list of some of the best unique places to visit in the US that you definitely need to experience. This list comprises state parks, national monuments, some underrated national parks, small American towns, cool experiences, beach destinations, and other US hidden gems to put on your bucket list.
Cool Places to Visit in the US
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Located 3 hours south of Denver, these towering sand dunes are set against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, and hosts the biggest sand dunes in the United States.
The sand dunes cover about 25 square miles, and you are free to wander among them and climb to the peaks, overlooking the valley. If you’re looking for a thrill, consider renting a sandboard from the shops just outside the park and you can sandboard or sled down the slopes.
Medano Creek runs near the sand dunes and is a popular place to wade in and play.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The Valley of Fire State Park is one of the best places to visit in the American Southwest. Just an hour north of Las Vegas is this state park, which is full of jaw-dropping, deep red, craggy rocks intermixed with multicolored sandstone striations. In the park, there are several viewpoints of the rock formations, and many hikes such as slot canyons and the Fire Wave.
Overshadowed to some degree by nearby sites like Zion National Park, Valley of Fire is truly my favorite state park in the entire United States. This unique destination is worth making a day trip for when you visit Vegas.
Grime’s Glen, New York
If you’re looking for cool places to visit in the US, look no further than Grime’s Glen. Near the popular Finger Lakes region of New York is a delightfully refreshing and beautiful hike to several waterfalls in Grime’s Glen. What sets this waterfall hike apart from the thousands of others in the US?
You can actually hike in the water of the creek! The creek bed is made up of mostly flat stone sheets, and the water is shallow – ankle or mid-shin deep in most spots. When you arrive at the different waterfalls, you can actually get in and climb up on them as well. It’s a great activity for a hot summer afternoon.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Just off the Atlantic Coast of Georgia are several barrier islands, and while they are all beautiful, Jekyll Island is just special.
Only 5500 acres big, this island has a lot to do, and includes Spanish-moss draped oak trees, historic buildings, resorts, beaches, and bike paths galore. The biggest draw to Jekyll Island is Driftwood Beach, home to dark and sometimes huge pieces of driftwood, creating a stunning effect on the beach.
Rafting on the Ocoee River, Tennessee
This Tennessee river runs through the Cherokee National Forest in southeastern Tennessee, and is famous for being an intense white water rafting course.
So much so that this river has also been used for an Olympic whitewater training course! Since most of us don’t want to do level 5 rapids, most white water rafting trips take you through milder rapids in a beautiful area with deep green pine trees everywhere.
Fallingwater is an incredible home designed by the world famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The house is designed around a river and waterfall and merges indoor living and outdoor beauty flawlessly (the waterfall goes through the house!).
Today, the house is a National Historic Monument. At only ~1.5 hours from Pittsburg, this off the beaten path destination is well worth the tour!
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Left over from the now dried up Lake Bonneville, this super flat, super white salt pan stretches for miles. Known for its stark beauty, it has been used as the site for numerous land speed records. You, too, can drive your car right on it, take some pictures, and enjoy the other-worldly scenery.
Dismals Canyon, Alabama
Located in northwest Alabama, this canyon offers a hike through big rocks, rope bridges, with numerous passages to explore, and is one of the more exciting hikes in Alabama.
What really sets it apart, though, is that at night in the spring and fall, you can see the “dismalites” – glow worms that are close cousins to rare glow worms found in New Zealand. Night tours will take you through the dark trails to see the glow worms light up the canyon like constellations – a gorgeous sight!
Biltmore, North Carolina
Rivaling any castle you can find in Europe is this incredible estate set outside the mountain town of Asheville, NC. Built by the wealthy Vanderbilt family in the 1800s, the manor, grounds, gardens, and village are open to tours.
At the Biltmore, you can spend half a day (or more) marveling at the opulent library, the soaring dining hall, and indoor conservatory, the plush studies and “smaller” gathering rooms. Stroll through the many gardens on the grounds or visit the small “village” to see reproductions of blacksmithing, coopering, and other trades.
Medora Music Festival, North Dakota
Medora is the town that sits right outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a very unique place to visit in the US. The park is known for its badland hills and amazing wildlife viewing opportunities (including wild horses and bison!), but Medora makes a name for itself outside of the national park.
Every day during the summer, the town puts on a professionally done musical that celebrates the history of the town and Theodore Roosevelt, who attributed living in the area as giving him the strength and inspiration to become president of the United States. This is an extremely well done outdoor musical, with the Badlands hills as a backdrop to the show.
Hiawatha Bike Trail, Idaho/Montana
This 15 mile railroad track-turned bike trail spans the border between Idaho and Montana. You can rent bikes and bike the length of the trail, coasting through forests, ten old train tunnels, and across seven trestles high in the sky! Gentle recreation and relaxing scenery await!
Brazos Bend State Park, Texas
One of the most unique places to visit in the US is Brazos Bend State Park in Texas. This state park has hiking trails, lakes, and marshes, but the real draw are the alligators! Hundreds of alligators live in Brazos Bend, and it’s common to see them swimming in the lake or even lying in the middle of your path.
Leave them be and you should be totally fine – thankfully, the gators don’t attack people. Still, it’s not every day that you just happen upon an alligator on your afternoon hike!
Declaration of Independence Re-enactment, Pennsylvania
Back on July 6, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud to the public at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Today, an entire re-enactment of that first reading is performed every July 6, with actors dressed in full period costume, and doing a great portrayal of the occasion and the circumstances.
Monument Rocks, Kansas
Situated in the middle of Western Kansas, the heart of the Great Plains, sits “Nature’s Stonehenge.” These 70 ft tall white pillars, arches, and buttes rise in stark contrast to the surrounding plains and are 80 million years old!
While it isn’t quite the middle of nowhere, it is a bit of a drive, though only about an hour south of I-70. That said, if this is what you can find this far off the beaten path, count me in.
Apostle Island Sea Caves, Wisconsin
Easily one of the coolest places to visit in the US the Apostle Island Sea Caves are a sight to see. Located on Lake Superior, these sea caves are located on islands in the middle of the water, and are accessible by kayak. There’s almost an otherworldly feel as you explore the passages, chambers, and arches of these incredible sea caves from the water.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota
2,000 lakes dot the landscape of the Boundary Waters, which is situated right on the border of Minnesota and Canada. This area is incredibly remote and pristine, with crystal clear water, pine trees everywhere, and beautiful sunsets.
A trip to the Boundary Waters is a multi-day adventure full of paddling across lakes, portaging your gear to the next lake, camping, and fishing. Then repeat!
Emerald Cove, Arizona
Emerald Cove is a small cove on the Colorado River, right between Arizona and Nevada. It makes for a great place to stop on any Arizona road trip! At certain times of the day, the blue water turns a vibrant green!
This natural phenomenon makes Emerald Cove one of the most unique places to visit in the US. The combination of striking green water with vibrant red canyons and bright blue skies makes for an unforgettable view.
Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
If you are looking for a spot that is a combination of whimsical and alien landscape, Goblin Valley State Park is the spot for you. Goblin Valley is made up of “goblins,” which are short, squat rock formations that almost resemble mushrooms.
While there are a few trails on the outskirts of Goblin Valley, the actual valley is just open for people to walk around and explore. You can explore all the different shapes and sizes of the goblins, and marvel at the unique views. This is a particularly fun place for kids to explore and is only 1.5 hours from Arches National Park.
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
This National Monument is home to a gorgeous canyon that has steep red walls to rival any in the southwest, along with ancient pueblo village ruins to tour, an 800 foot red rock spire, and multiple trails to hike.
It is located within the boundaries of the Hopi Indian Reservation in northeastern Arizona, so you’ll have a chance to have enriching cultural experiences, as well.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park is part of the black hills of South Dakota, and features incredible rock formations in a state that tends to be very overlooked. These rock formations are striking, with white and black cliffs jutting from dense pine forests. It makes for an incredible effect.
The Black Elk Peak Loop hike is beautiful, as is visiting Sylvan Lake, which is surrounded by trees, wildflowers, and large boulders. You can walk around the lake, hike nearby trails, swim in the water, jump off cliffs, or canoe and kayak around. This off the beaten path destination is not far from both Badlands National Park and Mt Rushmore.
Duluth is the largest port on the Great Lakes, and is a vibrant and trendy city to visit. Watch the Aerial Lift Bridge raise and lower for incoming boats, stroll the Lakewalk Promenade, visit the Lake Superior Railroad Museum to see vintage trains, or drive along the scenic North Shore.
You probably won’t want to add swimming to your list, as Lake Superior is frigid all year, but visiting the shore or watching the sunrise from the many hills of Duluth will be a view you won’t forget.
Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
This National Monument in central Idaho is made up of lava flows that are thousands of years old.
The eruptions that happened in this location occurred relatively recently (2000 years ago), and the entire area is filled with lava rocks, lava flows, lava caves, and small and large cinder cones leftover from old eruptions – making for many interesting things to do and see in Craters of the Moon. The hotspot that created all this volcanic activity is currently what is under Yellowstone National Park!
Want to experience a taste of Germany here in the United States? Like Michigan’s Frankenmuth, Helen is a quaint little “Bavarian” town nestled in the alpine hills of north Georgia. Restaurants and shops serve typical German fare.
Plus, there are the seasonal activities of Oktoberfest and, in the winter, there are German-inspired Christmas markets and Christmas parades. Visiting in summer? Don’t miss tubing down the Chattahoochee River.
Dolphin Cruise, Alabama
You can do dolphin tours in many places, but Surf’s Up dolphin tour in Orange Beach, Alabama offers a pretty unique experience. Two boats speed parallel to each other to create a big wake that dolphins love! Dolphins will jump out of the wake right by the boat for minutes at a time – it’s so fun and exciting!
Blue Hole in Wimberley, Texas
Outside of the small town of Wimberly, located between Austin and San Antonio, is this natural swimming hole, with blue-green, clear water that is refreshingly crisp on a hot Texas afternoon.
The bald cypress trees that line the shores add to the relaxing atmosphere. So when you’re ready to get out of the cities, this lesser known Texas locale is a great option.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Florida
Many people don’t know that, in addition to Disney, Key West, and spring break beaches, Florida is also home to over 700 natural springs! At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, you can float down the stream in a canoe, SUP, or kayak, while admiring the clear, turquoise water lined with oak and cypress trees.
If you visit during the wintertime, keep an eye out for manatees – they love to frequent these waters during the months of January-April!
Thank you to guest blogger, Stephanie Rytting, for contributing this article.
TRAVEL AROUND THE USA
We hope this list of cool places to visit in the US has served as inspiration for your next trip. For more travel around the US, see below.
- 20 Romantic Things to Do in NYC
- 26 Cheap Places to Travel in the USA
- 26 Best Things To Do In Sedona, Arizona
- 26 Epic Things To Do In Page
- Salt Lake City Ski Resorts: Complete Ski Bum Guide
- 25 Best Places to Visit in Michigan
Plan For Your Trip
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