Tourists Usually Miss These 12 U.S. Destinations
Tourists Usually Miss These 12 U.S. Destinations

Well-known landmarks and familiar destinations inevitably draw hordes of tourists, resulting in big crowds, expensive lodging, and hard-to-get reservations. Luckily, there are still plenty of amazing places in the U.S. that remain under the radar on the tourist scene, making them less busy and more affordable. Whether you’re looking to spend a night under the stars or in search of a fun city escape, there are benefits to opting for a less-crowded destination.

Taughannock Falls State Park, New York

The Falls at Taughannock Falls State Park in New York State.
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The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York is an underrated wine region, known for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Named for their narrow, finger-like shapes, these lakes were carved out by glaciers 10,000 years ago, leaving behind lakes, gorges, and waterfalls in their wake. One such waterfall is found in Taughannock Falls State Park, named for its 215-foot waterfall, framed by 400-foot cliffs. Hiking trails provide impressive viewpoints of the falls from several overlooks. The adventure doesn’t end when the snow falls. This park is open year-round, boasting cross-country skiing trails, sled riding hills, and skating ponds. Taughannock Creek feeds into Cayuga Lake, an outstanding place to camp or stay in a vacation rental while visiting the region.

Helena, Montana

Aerial of Helena, Montana and the Montana State Capitol.
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Often overshadowed by ski resort towns like Big Sky and Whitefish, Helena is one of the most underrated state capitals in the country. Touted as the “Queen of the Rockies,” Helena has been the heart of Montana ever since a mining boom in the mid-19th century. Stop by the nearby Elkhorn Ghost Town, an abandoned silver mine, for a look at what life was once like for these Western miners. Downtown, the Montana State Capitol is open for visitors to marvel at this sandstone and granite masterpiece, which was erected in 1902. Helena also boasts one of the largest city park systems in the country, comprising over 1,000 acres. Visitors can enjoy history museums, hiking trails, craft breweries, and art galleries in this mountain metropolis.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Boardwalk through trees.
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Congaree National Park is one of the South’s best-kept secrets — it was among the least visited national parks of 2022. Its former name, “Congaree Swamp National Monument,” might be partially to blame for this, but the park is not actually a swamp. It's a floodplain forest, and is the largest remaining area of Southern bottomland hardwoods in the country. This flooded forest is otherworldly, and the best way to see it is on the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail, a 15-mile marked canoe and kayak trail. See river otters, turtles, and even alligators during your adventure. For a more leisurely visit, walk the 2.6-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail among the bald cypress and tupelo trees.

Schoodic Peninsula, Maine

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Maine isn’t called “Vacationland” for nothing — in the warmer months, tourists flock to this northeastern state for fresh lobster and the rocky Atlantic coastline. Many of these tourists head straight to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island (MDI). Unfortunately, Acadia’s popularity usually results in packed campgrounds, overcrowded hiking trails, and traffic jams on park roads. A great alternative is the little-known Schoodic Peninsula, a remote section of Acadia that's an hour away from MDI. Despite its large campground, coastal and forested trails for hiking, and unspoiled views of the ocean over pink granite headlands, the Schoodic Peninsula is far less crowded, making it an ideal destination in the height of summer.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

American buffalo herd grazing in Custer State Park.
Credita: turtix/ Shutterstock

As one of the least visited states in the country, it’s no surprise that South Dakota is home to some highly underrated destinations that many travelers have yet to explore. Mount Rushmore and the nearby Badlands National Park might be the crown jewels of this state's tourism circuit, but continue southwest toward the Black Hills and you’ll find an equally impressive 71,000-acre nature preserve known as Custer State Park. Here, granite rock faces rise from rolling green hills as hiking trails meander through untamed forests. Keep your eyes peeled for native bison while out hiking or driving — around 1,300 of them live inside the park. For some of the best views of bison and other Custer Park residents (such as bighorn sheep and elk), take the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road at the southern end of the park.

Pecos National Historical Park, New Mexico

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Even though the town of Pecos is a mere 30 minutes from Santa Fe, Pecos National Historical Park is relatively unknown. But don’t let its lack of renown fool you — Pecos is a true hidden gem. In the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and bordered by Glorieta Mesa and the Pecos River, the region offers an incredible intersection of Southwestern history and Indigenous culture. Home to the spectacular ruins of a former Mission church, Pecos also features two reconstructed kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), which can be accessed via a one-mile loop through the park. And since Pecos is one of the least visited parks in the U.S., the trail and the rest of the park’s trappings are almost certain to be crowd-free.

Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia

Exterior of the Country Music Museum The Bristol Hotel.
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When you hear the phrase, “the home of country music,” what city comes to mind? Likely Nashville, or even Memphis, but according to the U.S. Congress, the answer is Bristol. This quintessential Blue Ridge Mountain town was designated as the official birthplace of country music by Congress in 1998, and you can learn all about this history at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. This Tennessee-Virginia border town is also home to the Bristol Motor Speedway which has hosted NASCAR races since the 1960s. Visitors can also take advantage of Bristol’s ample outdoor activities. Adventure-seekers might visit Bristol Caverns for a thrilling 180-foot descent through three levels of caverns leading to an underground river on the cavern floor.

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

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Since it’s more remote than the rest of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula (also known as the U.P.) is less of a tourist draw than other parts of the state. But the region’s thick forests, fresh lakes, and spectacular coastline are reason enough to make the trek up north. With the exception of Mackinac Island, much of the U.P. is blissfully devoid of crowds, making it an ideal place to explore. As it's a peninsula surrounded by three Great Lakes, many of the U.P.’s offerings are related to water, such as paddling around Les Cheneaux Islands or taking a cruise to see the iconic cliffs along Lake Superior. For a memorable wilderness experience, camping in Isle Royale National Park offers a chance to experience true solitude in this far-flung northern region.

Dead Horse Point, Utah

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With a name like Dead Horse Point, it’s no wonder that this Utah state park isn’t teeming with people. But don’t let the name fool you — both the point and the park are worth a visit, providing incredible vistas of the dramatic southern Utah landscape. Although it's a short drive from two popular national parks — Arches and CanyonlandsDead Horse State Park isn’t on most people’s travel radar. However, Dead Horse is just as beautiful as its national park counterparts, with far fewer visitors. With miles of biking and walking trails and yurts to rent overnight, the park also provides a one-of-a-kind experience for people who like to travel outside of the box.

Kansas City, Missouri/Kansas

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New York, L.A., and Miami always draw lots of people, but Missouri and Kansas aren’t typically high on most travelers' bucket lists. It's this lack of pretense that makes Kansas City so special, though. Home to phenomenal food, interesting cultural sites, and fun music venues, this Midwestern city has a lot to offer as a vacation destination. Even with world-class museums like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a lively party scene in the Power and Light District, and the best barbecue in the country, KC is affordable and underrated. And if we learned anything from the emergence of Nashville as a top-rated destination, it’s this: Kansas City may be the next big thing, so visit now before prices and crowds increase too much.

Driggs, Idaho

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Just over the Teton Pass from Jackson Hole is a tiny mountain town called Driggs, Idaho. With a charming Main Street, rustic vibe, ski resort access, and uninhibited views of the rugged Tetons, Driggs is similar in many ways to its world-renowned neighbor. But Driggs has one distinct advantage over the illustrious Jackson Hole — far fewer tourists cross the pass to visit the mountain town. Those who do make the trip to Driggs are rewarded with major perks, such as affordable lodging and easy access to the uncrowded slopes and mountains of powder at Grand Targhee Resort. Best of all, Driggs has the kind of relaxed attitude that can only be found in a mountain town that has yet to attract the masses.

Jensen Beach, Florida

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Tucked along the Treasure Coast an hour north of West Palm Beach, the quiet town of Jensen Beach is often overlooked by tourists, who usually flock instead to Florida’s big-name places. Perhaps most famous for being the one-time “Pineapple Capital of the World,” Jensen Beach is now a laid-back coastal town with white sand beaches, historic homes, and a fantastic seafood scene. The city’s biggest draws are its annual Pineapple Festival, a three-day street fest that celebrates the sweet fruit, and its weekly street party, Jammin’ Jensen, which provides live music on Thursdays. Other than that, Jensen Beach has a low-key vibe that will entice anyone looking to escape the typical hustle and bustle of touristy beach towns.

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