The Coolest Secret Location in Each State
Ready to take the trail less traveled? It may lead you to some magical destinations. Here’s the best-kept-secret place in every state.
Alabama: Natural Bridge
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“Alabama is full of so much natural beauty that it seems impossible to see it all in one lifetime,” says AL.com, but one that’s not to be missed is the Natural Bridge, a 60-foot-high, 148-foot-long naturally-occurring bridge made entirely of sandstone and iron ore. It’s the longest natural bridge east of the Rocky Mountains. “It spans scenic natural areas, forests, and wilderness,” according to Alabama Travel. It’s located in Natural Bridge, Alabama. With less than 40 residents, it’s a town so tiny that it lost its town status in the 1930s and didn’t regain it until 1997. Here’s another secret gem hiding in Alabama.
This abandoned copper mining camp was established in 1903 by Kennecott Mining Corporation, which operated five mines and became a bustling mine camp. By 1938, all known deposits had been depleted, and Kennicott became nothing more than an abandoned ghost town. Today, it’s a tourist attraction and National Historic Landmark District, according to Alaska.org. These 10 places you need to visit in 2019 will make you revise your bucket list.
Arizona: Moenkopi Wash
It’s located just east of Tuba City (on Navajo Nation lands) not far from the Four Corners, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all converge and you can be standing simultaneously in all four states. Coal Mine Canyon is a small but stunning canyon and part of the Moenkopi Wash, where you can find actual dinosaur tracks. Despite all that, it’s one of the most serene areas in the state, according to Only In Your State. Find out why this Arizona McDonald’s actually has turquoise arches.
Arkansas: The Crescent Hotel
Recognized as one of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the 1886 Crescent Hotel offers spine-tingling ghost tours that end at the hotel’s “morgue.” It’s also perched atop the Victorian town of Eureka Springs, whose Historic District is home to more than 100 restored Victorian shops, restaurants, and galleries and dotted with hundreds of Victorian cottages as well as gorgeous green spaces. If you’re into ghost tours, Airbnb has haunted places to stay.
California: El Dorado
Lush with beautiful state parks, El Dorado County is chock-full of backpacking and hiking destinations, but the can’t-miss destination here is Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. El Dorado County was the place where gold was discovered in 1848 (at Sutter Mill), kicking off the California gold rush of 1849. You can relive that time and even pan for gold yourself at the Park, according to the travel site, The Crazy Tourist. Check out these gorgeous photos of California’s “super bloom.”
Colorado: Bishop’s Castle
Off the beaten path and truly unique, Bishop’s Castle is another must-see, marketing professional Andy Curry advised Reader’s Digest. Located “deep in the mountains and kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Bishop’s Castle is a testament to beauty, glory—and perseverance, seeing that it was hand-built by one man: Jim Bishop. Admission is free, and you may get to meet the builder, himself.
Connecticut: The Fairy Doors of Putnam
Hidden in this lushly beautiful former mill town are at least 17 “intricate gateways to the fairy world,” advises Connecticut Magazine, which considers the Fairy Doors of Putnam to be one of the top tourism gems hidden in Connecticut. You’ll find them hidden along Main Street, and you can go searching for them with this Fairy Door guide. Want still more fairies? Check out this Fair Trail in New Jersey.
Delaware: Fort Delaware
A Union fortress dating back to 1859, Fort Delaware once housed Confederate prisoners of war. You can access the fort and its Confederate prison from Delaware City via a short ferry ride. The moment you arrive you’ll see the granite and brick fortress and be greeted by tour guides dressed in period costumes whose tales about life in Delaware during the Civil War will transport you back to 1864. If you love American history, you’ll appreciate the attention to detail in these Civil War battle re-enactments.
Florida: Cabbage Key
A 100-acre island off the coast of Southwestern Florida, Cabbage Key is named for its indigenous cabbage palm trees. “It’s about as cool and off the beaten path as you can get,” PR professional Jessica Wells tells Reader’s Digest. On this island, you’ll find no cars—not even a paved road. There’s no way to get there except by boat or seaplane. Whether day-tripping or overnighting, be sure to explore the nature trails and mangroves while taking in the gorgeous sunset over Pine Island Sound, the waterfront vistas, and all the wildlife, including otters, tortoises, dolphins, osprey, and ducks.
Georgia: Oglethorpe University’s secret room
Courtesy Oglethorpe University Archives
Oglethorpe University in Atlanta hides a curious mystery, reports the Crazy Tourist: A time capsule (in the form of a 20-foot by 10-foot waterproof room) that was sealed in 1940 with strict instructions to not be opened for 6,000 years. Called the Crypt of Civilization, it was inspired by the Pyramids and houses literature, newsreels, flower seeds, and dolls, among other things. Can you guess what’s inside Time‘s 60-year old time capsule?
Hawaii: Waianapanapa State Park
“A fascinating thing happens when hot lava is cooled quickly by the sea—the basaltic rock shatters and creates black sand,” explains Hawaii Magazine. That’s how this beach, Pailoa, within Waianapanapa State Park on Maui, was created. Hundreds of years ago, after the volcano, Haleakala, finally finished spewing lava, heavy rainfall turned the hardened lava into dense foliage. “Now the beach’s bright green naupaka shrubs set against the dark-black sand and deep-turquoise sea produce a landscape that dazzles new visitors every day.” Here’s a side of Hawaii you probably never knew about.
Idaho: Black Magic Canyon
In West Magic, Idaho, there sits a legitimately magical place—Black Magic Canyon, where bizarre black basalt rock formations create an alien landscape, according to the travel website, Tripping.com. But note: It’s only accessible when the water at its center dries up, usually August through February. Because the water flow is controlled by a company (the Big Wood Canal Company), be sure to call before heading over there. The closest vacation rentals are in Shoshone. But Twin Falls isn’t more than a car ride away. Looking to take a step back in time? Check out this historic place in Idaho.
“Few natural formations are as awe-inspiring or intriguing as a cave,” writes Illinois’s Department of Natural Resources. “The deep, dark recesses immediately conjure up images of adventure and mystery.” And that’s the case with Cave-In-Rock in the southern part of the state, a heavily-wooded park named that sits atop high bluffs overlooking the Ohio River, which was named for the 55-foot-wide cave that was carved out of the limestone rock by water thousands of years ago. The park features not only the cave but also hiking trails and fishing and picnic opportunities.
Indiana: City Market Catacombs
Imagine a 20,000-square foot network of hallways, pathways, and passageways, hidden beneath the streets of Indianapolis—that describes the City Market Catacombs. Created in the 1880s of limestone and brick, its entrance almost completely hidden from public view, the Catacombs purpose was to transport and store meats before the days of refrigeration. “Today, what lies under the Indianapolis City Market is one of only a few intact catacombs remaining in the United States today,” explains Caitlin Muller, a PR professional. Ho, ho, ho—guess what archaeologists think they found in these catacombs?
Iowa: Siewers Spring State Park
This park in Decorah is a treasure for fishing aficionados, particularly for those who find themselves obsessed with trout fishing. The fish hatchery is known as a state-of-the-art trout-rearing station. But there’s a secret gem within the treasure: Decorah’s favorite eagle’s nest. Weighing almost a ton, it’s an awe-inspiring opportunity for doing a little eagle-watching. Take a preview online with Decorah’s webcam.
Kansas: The Kansas State Fair
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Kansas has a museum devoted to the Wizard of Oz, a re-creation of the Little House on the Prairie, and lots of gorgeous botanical and wildlife beauty. But what you may not know is that its state fair is simply amazing. Dedicated to showcasing Kansas’s agriculture, industry, and culture, the Kansas State Fair, which takes place over 10 days in early September annually attracts approximately 350,000 people from all 105 Kansas counties and several other states. That means you’re bound to soak up some local flavor horse and livestock shows, trade shows, and flea markets. Here are the best state fairs and festivals in every state.
Kentucky: Bowling Green’s Corvette Museum
Kentucky’s most well-known tourist destination is the Kentucky Derby, which has some really impressive trivia surrounding it. But horses aren’t everyone’s thing. If you’re crazy for cars, you’ll want to head over to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. Corvette has always been “America’s Sports Car,” and Bowling Green is where they’re made. The museum features over 80 Corvettes in periodic settings, including mint classics, one-of-a-kind prototypes and modern-day wonders of engineering and design. These vintage cars will make you crave having one of your own.
Louisiana: St. Louis Cemetary No. 1
One of the most famous practitioners of voodoo, Marie Laveau was born in New Orleans in the early 1800s and became a hairdresser. But what she was really known for was her magic, which included fortune-telling and selling charms. Some said Laveau had the power to save condemned prisoners from execution. Most people believe she’s buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1., in her family’s tomb. Although this fact, itself, is in dispute, where she actually lies doesn’t matter to occultists who flock to the tomb to commune with her beyond the grave. Find out why a good meal arguably has healing powers that rival those of voodoo.
Maine: the rocky headlands of Arcadia
The U.S. National Park of Acadia includes the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States. The park contains an abundance of habitats, clean air and water, and a rich cultural heritage. There are seven peaks with elevations above 1,000 feet, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads with 16 stone bridges, but the time to go is in the middle of winter for the snowshoeing, dog sledding and other winter sports.
Maryland: Ladew Topiary Gardens
Ladew Topiary Gardens is one of the “10 incredible topiary gardens around the world,” according to Architectural Digest. “Meander through the 22 acres of Gardens, tour the historic Manor House, visit the seasonal Butterfly House, or hike along the Nature Walk,” suggests Tripping.com. The Gardens open every April for the spring/summer season and have open days throughout the year, depending on the weather. Here’s another awesome topiary garden, this one in New England.
Massachusetts: Walden Pond
Best known through Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Walden Pond was once a favorite destination of Thoreau, whose writings inspired transcendentalists as well as nature conservationists, according to NPR. Today, it’s a beautiful spot to visit, swim, take in the forest, and meditate on all that nature has to offer. It’s also an ideal place to take indulge in forest bathing.<
Michigan: Sleeping Bear
Sleeping Bear Dunes was named The Most Beautiful Place in America by “Good Morning America” in 2011. It’s got 35 miles of awe-inspiring shoreline along Lake Michigan, plus it’s home to the legend of the sleeping bear, which helps maintain its mystique.
Minnesota: Jeffers Petroglyphs
The Jeffers Petroglyphs is a spiritual and historic site about an hour west of Mankato in western Minnesota. There are more than 5,000 images of people, animals, and tools carved into the rock, some of which date back 9,000 years. When you visit, you begin at the visitor center with hands-on exhibits and a multimedia presentation to explain the history and significance of the site. You’ll follow up with a tour of the carvings, along with discussions of their meanings and their origins. A daily “Adventures in Nature” program teaches kids about American Indian games and tools as well as the ecosystem of the adjacent prairie.
Mississippi: The sugar sands of Biloxi
When her family moved from the West coast to Biloxi, Fashionfile’s Sarah Davis was utterly shocked to find over 26 miles of gorgeous white sugar sand beaches that span the Gulf coastline. The hotels are reasonable, the restaurants serve generous portions, and the leisure activities extend from sunning to water sports to casinos. “We’ve loved checking out all of the historic civil rights sites there, including a monument to the civil rights ‘wade-ins’ protesting white-only beaches,” Davis tells Reader’s Digest. “It’s an incredible stretch of sand, hidden in plain view!”
Missouri: Johnsons Shut-Ins
“Just east of Mark Twain National Park and southwest of St. Louis, you will find one of the most unique secret spots in Missouri, the Johnson’s Shut-Ins,” advises Adventures Student Travel. This series of pools, crack, and channels were created by rushing water over hard volcanic rock. You’re welcome to swim in the natural rock ponds and try out the natural water slides. Before you go, check out these 42 water safety tips from real-life lifeguards.
Montana: Makoshika State Park
When you visit Makoshika State Park, you’ll want to make sure your visit extends through sunset, which is when the sky there turns an astounding purple/pink before it goes almost completely dark but for the stars and the moon. Expect to see at least one shooting star: In the absence of artificial light, the sky here is a near-perfect observatory. Driving through the park during daylight is also a breathtaking experience, reports the travel blog, Passing Thru, which describes this park’s geographical formations as “otherworldly.”
Nebraska: Courthouse and Jail Rocks
The Courthouse and Jail Rocks stand more than 4,050 feet above sea level and are the erosional remnants of an ancient plateau that was bisected by the North Platte River. As dramatic now as they were back when pioneers were heading west, the rocks served as an important crossroads where two major where two major trunks of the Oregon and California Overland trails merged. This spot in Nebraska is one of the nicest places in America.
Nevada: Valley of Fire
With 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone nestled in gray and tan limestone, it’s no wonder the website Only In Your State refers to Valley of Fire as a Nevada-must-see. It’s not just the oldest state park in Nevada, it literally contains petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years—plus a visitor center that’s dedicated to explaining it all. Open year-round, the park has numerous campsites equipped with shaded tables, grills and water, and lots of hiking trails. If you’re in Vegas, make sure to check out these must-see attractions that don’t involve casinos.
New Hampshire: Diana’s Baths
The Diana’s Baths is a series of small waterfalls along Lucy Brook and “must see” if you’re in the North Conway area. During the summer, the baths are a wonderful place to experience the tranquility of nature, explore rocks, ledges, natural pools, and cascading waterfalls, one of which measures 75 feet in height. Dogs are allowed along the trails. Here are some other dog-friendly summer spots.
New Jersey: the Cape May-Lewes Ferry
In operation since 1964, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry is one of the oldest operating ferries in the country, providing a more direct route between New York and Washington DC. Connecting Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey, the ferry offers a delightful alternative. “Whether traveling by RV, car, motorcycle, bicycle or foot, the Ferry’s fleet offer views of historic lighthouses, picturesque harbors, oceangoing vessels, unique seabirds and, just maybe, your very own dolphin escort!” Collins says. And if New Jersey is on your list of must-see states, check out these beautiful beaches along the Jersey Shore.
New Mexico: Ghost Ranch
“With the dramatic landscape of red and yellow cliffs, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, encompasses 21,000 acres of towering rock walls, vivid colors, and vast skies,” according to NewMexico.org. The locals believe Ghost Ranch is one of New Mexico’s most stunning places to visit—and to take photographs. Ghost Ranch was once home to the painter, Georgia O’Keefe, but isn’t just for photographers and painters (although lots of folks go there to try their hand). It’s also got plenty of hiking, horseback riding, and kayaking, among other outdoor activities.
New York: The Erie Canal
“As it nears it’s 200th anniversary [in 2025], the Erie Canal is what most people think of primarily as a historic site,” Sara Wiles of Mid-Lakes Navigation tells Reader’s Digest, “but it’s so much more!” “Today, the Canal is part of a network of fully navigable waterway complete with lock and lift bridges, motor- and muscle-powered pleasure boats, tour boats, rental boats, hiking and biking trails on the old towpaths, small towns, wildlife refuges, urban areas, and verdant woodlands.”
North Carolina: Bald Head Island
If you want to leave the modern world behind, Bald Head Island is the perfect place, says Only In Your State. To get to Bald Head Island, you have to take a ferry from Southport, NC. Once there, the only way to get around the island are bicycles, golf carts, and your own two feet. Thanks to the beauty and tranquility, you welcome the simplicity.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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You know that South Dakota is the home of Mount Rushmore. But nearby is a lesser known, yet no less majestic site celebrating Theodore Roosevelt—the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which has the North Dakota Badlands as a scenic backdrop and plenty of buffalo, deer, elk, bighorn sheep, wild horses, mule deer, and prairie dogs to spy as you take the Loop Drive through the Northern section of the park. You can take self-guided nature trails through the Southern section and visit the prairie dog town, Oxbow Overlook, and the Edge of Glacier Pullout.
Ohio: The bridges of Fairfield County
Forget the Bridges of Madison County—check out the covered bridges of Fairfield County, instead. According to PR professional, Leah Eaton, Fairfield County is less than an hour’s drive from Columbus, yet it’s overlooked thanks to its more famous Ohio neighbor. Fairfield boasts 17 covered bridges (the most in the state) and museums for every interest.
Oklahoma: The Little Sahara
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If you haven’t made it to the actual Sahara, get a taste of it at Oklahoma’s Little Sahara in Waynoka. Take an ATV and explore or just take a photo. It’s one of Oklahoma’s lesser-known must-see destinations. Feel like doing something a little more old-timey? Then check out Oklahoma’s Frontier Drugstore Museum.
Oregon: Arche Cape
Native Oregonian Lance Marrs, a principal broker at Living Room Realty in Portland, told Reader’s Digest about this “gem on the Oregon Coast.” It’s a mostly deserted beach, with tide pools, a small waterfall, and caves. At low tide, you can walk on the old road from the 1900s, which was carved out of the cliffs at Hug Point. The name comes from the fact that stage-coaches had to “hug” the side of the rocks to avoid the waves and the steep cliffs. Now, find out why the beaches at Bandon are another must-see destination in Oregon.
The Pennsylvania Dutch Country refers to an area in the southeast part of the state that has traditionally been home to many Amish families. The Amish pursue a simpler way of life, and some families in and around Paradise open their doors to outsiders with bed-and-breakfasts and community and farm tours. Bear in mind, however, that most traditional of Amish families eschew electricity and photography and don’t welcome visitors into their homes. But the ones that do provide a wonderful, authentic-feeling experience and food like you’ve probably never tasted!
Rhode Island: Green Animals Topiary Garden
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All of the animals in this seven-acre park are carved out of trees. The Green Animals Topiary Garden is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the nation, and it’s worth a detour if you’re visiting the Newport Mansions.
South Carolina: Lake Jocassee
PR pro, Sara Martin, tells Reader’s Digest that this hidden gem in upstate South Carolina is located in Oconee County, named for the Cherokee word that means “land beside water.” Encompassing 9,000 acres with 90 miles of shoreline, the lake offers countless fun water activities as well as the greatest biodiversity on the East Coast. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can only access it one way: through Devils State Park in Salem.
South Dakota: Deadwood
It’s more than an HBO show: Deadwood, SD, is the town where Wild Bill Hickock was shot in the back while playing poker. It’s also where Calamity Jane is buried. Deadwood has all the makings of a Wild West ghost town, but it’s thriving these days, thanks in part to the Deadwood Historic District, which takes you back in time to Deadwood’s Golden Age— a time when everyone was rushing to dig up the gold from the Black Hills and lawlessness was pretty much the law.
Tennessee: Gatlinburg’s secret park entrance
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There’s a secret entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reveals travel site Patriot Getaways. They describe it as a “great, quick spot for you to work your way up the mountains instead of going through Pigeon Forge.” Most locals enter the park through here (known as the Wears Cove entrance), and besides being a secret gem, at least as far as out-of-staters are concerned, it comes in handy during the high seasons. “You get to see picturesque views while avoiding the crowds. On a clear, sunny day from Wears Valley, you can see Mount LeConte covered in bright, colorful leaves. An absolutely breathtaking view!”
Texas: Old Town Helotes
Courtesy Crystal Henry
“One of the best hidden gems in Texas is tucked away in the Texas Hill Country,” reveals PR pro Crystal Henry. Tucked away in Old Town Helotes are the Shops at Old Town Helotes. “This beautiful strip of shops and restaurant is actually home to Floore’s Country Store, the little honky-tonk place where Willie Nelson got his start. New shops and boutiques are opening all the time but, if nothing else, it’s worth the trip to start your morning at The Cracked Mug coffee house and end it with a glass of red at Wine 101,” Henry tells Reader’s Digest.
Utah: Singing Canyon
“Don’t be surprised if you run into a classically-trained violinist or someone making a melody on a Native American-style flute in this special place,” suggests rugged travel website, Roots Rated. “The natural acoustics are simply amazing. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself breaking into song.” The Singing Canyon is a “slot canyon off of Utah’s most scenic road, the 68-mile-long Burr Trail Road. Its walls are an incredible combination of red, purple, and pink hues, and “there’s even foliage, which makes a nice contrast to what’s otherwise barren desert beauty.”
Vermont: Dog Mountain
“You’ll need only a small pack and your favorite four-legged friend to explore Dog Mountain,” according to EagleCreek.com. This 150-acre mountain-top oasis is covered with hiking trails where dogs and their owners can roam freely—no leashes required! You’ll also find a Dog Chapel for families to pay their respects to their pets that have passed. All in all, Dog Mountain is an amazing destination. For a storybook-special Vermont destination that’s a little less off the beaten path, consider Stowe.
Virginia: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
“Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a Northern Virginia hidden gem we return to throughout the year,” reports Fun In Fairfax, a Virginia travel website. “The gardens grow, transform, and fade, but the park’s 95 acres and paved paths always offer peace and beauty.” The sights to behold include a Korean Bell Garden and a children’s garden. There’s also a gazebo and pond and lots of paths and bridges to entertain families.
Washington: Deschutes Falls Park
Near Olympia, the capital city of Washington state, visitors can encounter Washington’s “newest” waterfall at Deschutes Falls Park, 155-acres of virtually uncharted territory, never having been open to the public until the 1940s and then closing to the public in 1980. It’s recently been reopened, according to Erin Petrie-Osborne of Experience Olympia. She tells Reader’s Digest that “this unexplored natural terrain invites explorers to venture the trails framed by towering Western Red Cedars, enjoy its namesake river, pools, a 27-foot waterfall, and abundant wildlife.
West Virginia: Summersville Lake
For a true hidden gem in this state, Summersville Lake is hard to beat, according to the West Virginia Department of Commerce. It’s the largest lake in West Virginia, with 2,700 acres of water and over 60 miles of shoreline. And then it gets interesting: The lake’s depth goes down to 327 feet. Add that to the fact that it’s the cleanest, clearest freshwater lake East of the Mississippi, and you have a great place to scuba dive—or learn.
Wisconsin: Mineral Point
It’s the literal place where Wisconsin began: Mineral Point is worth a visit if you enjoy a taste of the way-back-when. Once a mining area and one of the oldest towns in the entire state, it’s now known for its adorable historic district filled with art galleries, the tiniest of tiny public libraries, and a place where you can see what life was like during the 1830s (Pendarvis). Check out some funny town names it’s hard to believe are real.
Wyoming: Ayres Natural Bridge
“Some people might make the case that Wyoming, itself, is off the beaten path,” says Jayme Sandberg of the American Heart Association, who used to live in Wyoming. Sandberg wanted Reader’s Digest to know about the Ayres Natural Bridge, a place of natural beauty where over the course of millions of years, a creek wore away at a rock wall carving out a natural bridge. Because it’s challenging to access (unless you’re adept at driving on dirt roads and narrow paths), it’s a hidden gem whose visitors tend to be locals with picnic lunches. Here are some great recipes for your next picnic.