From sea to shining sea, the United States is home to countless incredible hidden gems – both natural and man-made. Here at Only In Your State, we work hard every day to uncover and showcase breathtaking, one-of-a-kind destinations that remind us how stunning America truly is. Curated by our team of expert travel writers who live and work across the country, these 21 hidden gems in the US are unlike any other destinations you’ll find and are so worth exploring.
Featuring a wide variety of must-see destinations, this is the one travel guide every off-the-beaten-path adventurer needs for the new year. We will help you discover spectacular canyon waterfalls, secret tropical beaches, opulent mansions, stomach-dropping swinging bridges, fascinating geological sites, and more! So, without further ado, listed simply by geographic region and not in any way ranked, here are 21 must-visit hidden gems across the US. Which ones do you plan on visiting this year? Let us know!
Northeast 1. Salt Springs State Park PENNSYLVANIA
Salt Springs State Park, 2305 Salt Springs Rd, Montrose, PA 18801, USA
In any season,
Salt Springs State Park
is a natural wonder. The locale features 300-year old hemlock trees that tower over the rolling terrain of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Within the park's 405 acres, ample opportunities can be found to enjoy the great outdoors. Visitors here can hike the many miles of trails and visit various natural waterfalls. On their journeys, they can spot wildlife or partake in hunting or fishing. For those looking a relaxing adventure, visitors can also picnic in a number of locations, set up camp, or spend the night in a cottage.
During the winter, sledding and cross-country skiing are added to the lineup of activities. If you love the great outdoors, then a visit to Salt Springs State Park is a sure bet for satisfying the urge to reconnect with Mother Nature. For even more ways to enjoy the park, from May through September, visit the historic Wheaton House and the gift shop of the Friends of Salt Springs. The homestead features highlights of 19th-century life on the farm.
2. Assateague Island
Assateague Island, United States
Assateague Island is an unspoiled 37-mile-long barrier island located in both Maryland and Virginia. It is home to Assateague Island National Seashore, managed by the National Park Service, and Assateague State Park, managed by the state of Maryland. An oasis for nature lovers, Maryland’s portion of the island offers rustic backcountry camping, tent and RV camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, and other outdoor adventures. You can drive right along the beach with a permit and swimming and surfing are allowed along a two-mile stretch of sand. Wildlife watching may be the most popular activity on the island, as visitors are eager to spot the beautiful feral horses that roam the shores. These magnificent creatures should be admired from afar but are always a treat to photograph. Approximately 80 ponies meander freely and can often be found in marsh areas along with deer, egrets, eagles, endangered peregrine falcons, and more than 200 additional bird species. Visit and check out what makes
so unique. Have you ever seen this crown jewel in person? Share your photos with us if so!
South 3. Mile High Swinging Bridge NORTH CAROLINA
Mile High Swinging Bridge, 2050 Blowing Rock Hwy, Linville, NC 28646, USA
Cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina for a thrilling adventure the entire family will love. This locale is perched high on a mountaintop in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is only a couple of miles from the stunning Blue Ridge Parkway. Be sure to carve out enough time to explore the many trails in the park, as well as the zoo and gift shop.
For those looking for a challenge, the Profile Trail that leads from Grandfather Mountain State Park up to the top of the mountain is considered the most treacherous hike in the Tar Heel State. It includes ladders and sections navigated by ropes and takes roughly 8-10 hours to hike one way. The Mile High Swinging Bridge is open year-round, weather permitting. Hours vary by season. This
swinging bridge in North Carolina
draws visitors in from all over the nation year-round, and it's worth a gander!
4. Wekiva River
Wekiva River, Florida, USA
Though located in a state famous for its sandy ocean beaches, Florida’s Wekiva River is a truly underrated oasis. Stretching for 16 miles through Central Florida, it’s celebrated as one of the best paddling locations in the region due to the pristine waters and lush surrounding landscape. The entire river feels like an escape into the Amazon rainforest. The Wekiva River is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River and a Florida State Canoe Trail, so you’ll find several local outfitters that offer canoe and kayak rentals, as well as guided tours. However, feel free to bring your own gear and explore the meandering waterway at your own pace. You’ll find the headwater within Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, but we suggest heading a few miles north to Kelly Park-Rock Springs so you can experience the stunning Rock Springs Run as well. Keep an eye out for cool creatures along the way, including manatees, otters, and even the occasional monkey! The truly ethereal
is a hidden gem for a reason: few in the US know it exists, but it's absolutely worth the journey.
5. Dismals Canyon
Dismals Canyon, 901 County Rd 8, Phil Campbell, AL 35581, USA
Home to waterfalls, natural bridges, and more, there’s plenty to explore at Dismals Canyon. This Northwest Alabama area was named a National Natural Landmark in 1974 and it’s not hard to see why. As you meander through the scenic trails, you’ll discover two waterfalls known as Secret Falls and Rainbow Falls, and that’s only the beginning of what you can explore. Dismals Canyon also features six natural bridges and a canyon floor that's worth visiting. That’s where you’ll find a rich diversity of plant life, including old-growth virgin timber. Marvel at the magical moss that seems to coat every rock, tree, and crevice all around. Most impressive of all, Dismals Canyon is one of the few places in the world where you’ll find insects known as dismalites. When in larval form, dismalites emit a bright blue-green glow, making the canyon light up at nighttime. It’s a surreal sight in person and is absolutely bucket list-worthy. You'll want to explore this
secret canyon in Georgia
with good, sturdy shoes and an okayness with getting a little wet. It's worth it, we promise!
6. Longwood Mansion
Longwood, 140 Lower Woodville Rd, Natchez, MS 39120, USA
Touted as America’s largest octagonal house,
is easily one of the country’s most unique pieces of architecture. The original plans for this impressive antebellum mansion date back to 1859 and included six levels, 32 rooms, and an exotic Asian-inspired dome. However, the owner lost his money in the Civil War and died of pneumonia during construction. Thus, the mansion was never completed. Of the 32 rooms planned for the home, only nine were ever finished. The family lived in the home after the war, though only the basement levels and exterior were complete. Though unique in its shape, what strikes us about Longwood is the contrast between its ornately finished first-floor and the unfinished upper floors. After surviving decades of neglect and near-abandonment, Longwood Mansion has become one of Natchez’s most popular attractions. While you're Natchez, be sure to check out the rest of the town, of course - it's a hidden gem in and of itself!
7. The Lost Sea
The Lost Sea Adventure, 140 Lost Sea Rd, Sweetwater, TN 37874, USA
Hidden deep within a cavern in Tennessee, The Lost Sea is the largest underground lake in America. This fascinating hidden gem is located 140 feet below ground and has a history as vast as its size. The cavern was once used by the Cherokee and also by Confederate soldiers, who mined it for saltpeter used in the production of gunpowder. The lake itself was discovered by a 13-year-old in 1905, and today it is a tourist attraction that’s a must-visit in Tennessee. A tour includes a ¾-mile walk into and around the cavern and ends with a glass-bottom boat ride on the lake, itself. At the end of the tour, you'll have to prepare yourself for a hefty climb back out of the cave! As a family-friendly attraction in this region of our country, this boat tour belongs on your bucket list as the destination of the largest underground lake in America. Learn more about
this underground lake in Tennessee
in the best way: by paying it a visit! You won't believe this hidden wonder is in Tennessee; it feels like something out of a fantasy novel instead.
8. Sand Cave
Sand Cave, Kentucky 42127, USA
The area of the country where Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee come together is one of the most naturally beautiful parts of our nation. It’s also underrated and filled with hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. When exploring this area, be sure to take the scenic Ewing Trail that begins in Virginia, but leads to the majestic
Sand Cave in Kentucky
. This massive cave opening towers over hikers and is filled by a sandy floor that truly makes you feel as if you’re in another world. It definitely doesn’t feel like the Kentucky most people expect. The Sand Cave is located within Cumberland Gap, an area that stretches through all three states and is ideal for outdoor adventure. To reach the Sand Cave, you’ll head to the Ewing Trailhead in Virginia and then take the several mile-long trek to reach the cave. There are many scenic views along the way and the adventure is definitely worth the pay off of this fantastic hidden gem in the Bluegrass State.
9. Bluebonnet Trail
Bluebonnet Trail, Allen, TX, USA
The state flower of Texas, the bluebonnet, is named after the shape of its petals, which resemble the bonnet worn by pioneer women to shield them from the sun. These wildflowers shine brightest when they are in full bloom from March to May, and there is absolutely no better place to witness their beauty than along the Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail, which offers more than 40 miles of countryside blanketed in blue near the small town of Ennis. Tens of thousands of visitors flock to the trails every year to see the fields, and if you’re a fan of flowers of any kind, the Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail is a must-visit. When you’re in town, check the Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau for updates on where to find the best flowers at that time, as per the the Ennis Garden Club. Whether you explore
the Bluebonnet Trail in Texas
solo or with a friend, you're in for an adventure like no other. Neat.
Midwest 10. Glacial Grooves State Memorial OHIO
Glacial Grooves, 739 Division St, Kelleys Island, OH 43438, USA
When considering spots to view glaciers in the United States, you'll likely think of heading to Alaska. While our northernmost state does offer endless glacial adventures, you can visit the largest accessible glacial grooves in the entire world within the surprising state of Ohio. Glacial Grooves State Memorial on Kelleys Island attracts visitors from all over the world. These fascinating formations were created 35,000 years ago by the glacier that formed the Great Lakes and Lake Erie Islands. Guests can visit the memorial for free and wander along the walkways that offer up-close views of the glacial grooves. While exploring this
geological wonder in Ohio
, you may forget you’re in the Midwest at all, as it appears to be something from another planet and definitely not a hidden gem you’d expect to find in the Buckeye State. Measuring 400 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 15 feet deep, there’s plenty to explore at the Glacial Grooves Memorial in Ohio.
11. Kitch-iti-kipi Spring
Kitch-iti-kipi, Sawmill Rd, Manistique, MI 49854, USA
Nestled up north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,
in Palms Book State Park is about as pristine as it gets. This 200-foot-wide, 40-foot-deep sapphire pool sits atop the state’s largest natural spring, which flows at a whopping 10,000 gallons per minute and keeps a constant temperature of 45°F – meaning it never freezes over, despite Michigan’s frigid winters. Accessing Kitch-iti-kipi Spring is surprisingly easy, requiring only a brief walk through the forest to a floating observation raft that almost seems like it’s suspended over thin air –
how clear the water is here. From the self-navigated, cable-pull raft, you can float across the spring to view ancient tree trunks preserved beneath the surface and large trout hovering above the sandy floor, which appears to bubble as water flows up from the limestone below. The scenery feels as though it was pulled straight from a storybook, making this one destination you won’t soon forget.
12. Corn Palace
The World's Only Corn Palace, 604 N Main St, Mitchell, SD 57301, USA
It might surprise you that more than 500,000 annual visitors flock to the small town of Mitchell, South Dakota, but the iconic Corn Palace there is a unique tribute to the state’s number one crop. Built in 1892, the palace hosts an annual festival every August to unveil the latest elaborate designs on the outer walls of the building, which are completely made up of corn and corn husks. Every year, there’s a new theme, and you’ll see it coming to life during the summer months. The outer walls of the palace are never bare, though, so anytime you visit you’ll enjoy the one-of-a-kind murals. The best part? It’s absolutely free! Take a free guided tour between Memorial Day and August, and if basketball’s your thing, stop in for a game during the winter months. The Corn Palace hosts local, regional, and state tournaments and is one of the top 10 venues for high school basketball. This is one of those fun,
offbeat attractions in the United States
that you're sure to remember for a good, long time.
13. Toadstool Geologic Park
Toadstool Geological Park and Campground, Harrison, NE 69346, USA
Toadstool Geologic Park
challenges everything you thought you knew about Nebraska’s landscape. Far from the sweeping prairies that define much of the state, this northwestern Nebraska jewel features ancient rock formations that resemble giant toadstools. The otherworldly terrain is 38 million years in the making – and it’s still evolving today. A short, easy one-mile trail will take you through the park for an up-close look at the rock formations. If you have more time to explore, consider walking the three-mile Bison Trail which leads from Toadstool Geologic Park to the nearby Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed, another treasure of prehistoric Nebraska. Picnic areas, a nearby primitive campsite, and vault toilets are available for your use. The park is open 24 hours a day year-round, but its remote location makes it difficult to access after snow or heavy rain. There is a $3.00 day-use charge to visit the park – a small price to pay for this incredible experience. Wanna feel like you're on another planet? This is the place for you!
Southwest 14. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve COLORADO
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, USA
This one-of-a-kind national park in Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. The most magnificent, Star Dune, comes in at a whopping 750-feet tall! Hiking the dunes is quite an adventure, and visitors up to the task will enjoy scenic panoramic views. A dunes-accessible wheelchair is available for free loan at the Visitor Center. The park also offers horseback riding, picnicking, camping, challenging four-wheel drives, and a spectacular seasonal creek. The disappearing creek is ideal for wading in warmer months.
Popular daytime activities include sledding and boarding, with the towering dunes being comprised of soft, powdery sand. On clear nights, though, visitors enjoy stargazing. Great Sand Dunes is an International Dark Sky Park, affording guests breathtaking views of the Milky Way. Illuminated by a full moon, you can watch for wildlife, including coyotes, salamanders, and owls. Open all year long, this park is worthy of your travel bucket list. Did you know there are
sand dunes in Colorado
? Now you do - go see them ASAP!
15. Hunt's Mesa
Hunts Mesa, Arizona 86033, USA
When people from other parts of the country think of the Southwest, they most likely picture the stunning rock formations of Monument Valley, and rightfully so! The valley, located on the Navajo Nation Reservation, is popular with filmmakers and photographers, and its majestic beauty is hard to beat. While most visitors are content to survey the landscape from afar, you can immerse yourself in this desert paradise from the unique vantage point of
. To reach the peak, you’ll take a tour with an experienced guide. To reach the outlook, you'll travel for two hours on a four-wheel-drive adventure, traversing rocks, climbing up cliffs, and navigating sand dunes. At the end of your journey, you’ll be treated to views of Monument Valley unlike any other. Day tours are available, but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, book the 18-hour overnight trip so you can enjoy the vista at both sunset and sunrise. Don’t forget your camera – this is one experience you’ll never want to forget. Bring your bestie for the ultimate adventure!
16. Kanarraville Falls
Kanarra Falls, 385 E 100 N St, Kanarraville, UT 84742, USA
Carved out by water and wind over the course of millions of years, every slot canyon in Utah is unique, and each offers its own hiking challenges. If you’re up for an adventure, the hike to
has a pretty pay off – a series of waterfalls and pools. Be prepared to get your feet wet on this five-and-a-half-mile out-and-back hike; you’ll walk through the creek for about a half mile before reaching the first waterfall. The 15-foot waterfall tumbles into the creek, creating a little oasis in the slot canyon. Climb the ladder leaned up against the cliff walls, and you’ll emerge into an opened-up area with a series of small falls that drop from large, flat rocks to make the perfect natural waterslide. Navigate through several narrow slot canyon sections to find yet another refreshing waterfall at the top! Make sure to get your day-use permit in advance
on the official website
. Utah is amazing enough without all the waterfalls. The waterfalls only make it that much better.
West 17. Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite WYOMING
Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, Greybull, WY 82426, USA
Follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs at the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite in Big Horn County, Wyoming. This spot is relatively new (discovered twenty years ago) and is turning heads among amateur dinosaur lovers and paleontologists alike. Boardwalk trails are built throughout, but (for now) visitors can still wander off the path and step into the ancient footprints of dinosaurs. The prints are located on the one-time shore of the Sundance Sea and are estimated to be 160-180 million years old. An expansive locale, the tracksite is a fantastic place for dinosaur enthusiasts of all ages to explore the history of Wyoming and its now-extinct creatures. Plan to spend at least a few hours wandering in wonder at this newly discovered dinosaur site. While there are several dig sites in the surrounding areas, none are quite as spectacular as the
Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite
in Wyoming. Even if you're not huge on archaeology, this trip might make you feel differently in that department.
18. Palouse Falls
Palouse Falls, Washington 99143, USA
Niagara Falls may be America’s most iconic waterfall, but there are several stunning cascades in Washington that could certainly give it a run for its money. While not the tallest in the state, Palouse Falls in Eastern Washington is the official state waterfall – and it’s arguably the most beautiful. The striking, 198-foot falls is accentuated by dramatic cliffs as it plunges into a swirling pool at its base and winds its way through the Palouse River Canyon before emptying into the Snake River. The best part about this hidden gem? The viewpoints are incredibly easy to reach via a short, ADA-accessible path in Palouse Falls State Park. Don’t forget your camera! This
waterfall in Washington
is easily one of the most beautiful things you'll ever witness.
19. Gray Whale Cove
Gray Whale Cove, California, USA
Once you see
Gray Whale Cove
in person, you may never want to leave. This Northern California beach, also known as Devil’s Slide, is mostly known for its surrounding cliffs. The steep cliffs plunge into the Pacific Ocean, creating the dramatic shape of the cove. With its blue water and endless ocean views, this beach is a favorite among locals and beyond. Photographers travel from all over the globe to capture the beauty of this dreamy beach. With its pristine white sand and actual gray whales often spotted near the shore, Gray Whale Cove is one of the most photographed beaches in the state of California – and the world. Be aware that although the water looks inviting, it’s below comfortable swimming temperatures and the current is known to be dangerous. Opt to bring a picnic blanket and enjoy the views while staying safe and dry. This is an experience you'll never, ever forget.
20. Byodo-In Temple HAWAII
The Byodo-In Temple, 47-200 Kahekili Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744, USA
Located within the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park in Kaneohe at the base of the towering Ko’olau Mountains, the
is a half-size-scale replica of a famous temple in Kyoto, Japan that is more than 950 years old AND a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Hawaii replica is less than 100 years old and was dedicated in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii. As you slowly meander through the grounds, you will find stunning statues, a large reflecting pond, meditation areas, and small waterfalls throughout the lush and beautifully landscaped grounds. The temple grounds are also home to wild peacocks, swans, and hundreds of Japanese koi carp that swim freely in koi ponds that cover nearly two acres. Though not a practicing Buddhist temple, it is impossible not to feel at peace here.
21. Wrangell - St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska, USA
It’s hard to comprehend the sheer size of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park & Preserve in south-central Alaska. Despite being the country’s largest national park, it’s a rare addition to many bucket lists due to its remoteness – but that’s also what makes it so special. The wilderness area encompasses 13.2 million acres and is filled with enormous glaciers, temperate rainforests, and four towering mountain ranges that are nothing short of spectacular. In fact, 9 of the 16 tallest peaks in the U.S. are found here, including Mt. St. Elias, which ascends 18,000 feet above sea level. River float trips are a lovely way to explore the heart of the park, and other popular activities include hiking, backpacking, climbing, camping, fishing, skiing, flight tours, and wildlife-watching. There are very few roads in
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park
, making this a perfect destination for those seeking solitude. The wilderness has never been so inviting!
To view all points of interest on our travel guide, please visit our official
21 Hidden Gems in the US map.
So, tell us, how many of these incredible destinations will you be adding to your U.S. travel bucket list? Have you visited any of these destinations before? Sound off in the comments and if you know of any destinations we should check out, head on over to our
nomination form to suggest a must-see spot.
For more must-do adventures around the United States, you might want to check out the town of
Las Cruces, New Mexico, or perhaps you’d rather embark upon a hidden gems of Florida road trip. No matter what you decide you’d like to do, this country is an amazing place filled with options and wonder. Get out and enjoy it!
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More to Explore
Hidden Gems in the U.S.
What are some of the best hidden gems in the U.S.?
With 50 states to choose from, it’s almost impossible to list all of the best hidden gems in the US on even a few pages – let alone a few sentences. However, every state has some truly incredible hidden gems within including states like:
2. What are some of the most beautiful places in America?
The United States is an amazingly beautiful place to live and/or visit, and we can’t recommend it enough. Much like its hidden gems, there are too many beautiful places in America to mention here – but some of our favorites are:
3. Where should I go on a road trip in the U.S.?
With a country as large as the United States, the possibilities for road trips are endless. For the ultimate road trip in the U.S., consider adventures like: