50 Hidden Gems in Every State
Looking for a unique travel destination? From waterfalls and springs to museums and parks, these are the coolest hidden gems found in each of the 50 states worthy of your bucket list.
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The hidden gems of the United States
If you travel frequently, you probably already know about popular tourist attractions in every state. They’re crowded and never as amazing as they look in pictures. These hidden gems around the country show a little part of each state’s history and are sure to make a memorable experience. If you want to find places even more hidden, these are the coolest secret locations in every state.
Alabama: Russell Cave National Monument, Jackson County
This archeological site sheltered prehistoric people thousands of years ago. The ballroom-size cavern is also one of the oldest sites of human habitation in North America, according to the National Park Service. Visitors can experience this hidden gem via boardwalk, and they can view a display of weapons and other tools found at the site in a small museum. It is open daily except for major winter holidays. Don’t miss the 20 places travel experts recommend visiting in 2020.
Alaska: Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, Haines
The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is a state park and wildlife refuge in Haines. The Chilkat Valley, in particular, is home for 200 to 400 eagles. There is a free roadside pull-off at 19-mile Haines Highway with a short trail. In the summer, however, rafting and jet boat tours are available.
Arizona: Goldenfield Ghost Town, Apache Junction
This reconstructed 1890s town includes gold-mine tours, Old West gunfights, and a history museum. The newest attraction is a zip line, but there tons of other attractions at this hidden gem too. The town is open daily but certain attractions have specific hours.
California: Black Sands Beach, Sausalito
Yes, the sand at this California beach is black—and it’s considered one of the most beautiful black-sand beaches on the U.S. mainland. It’s not ideal for swimmers since the waves are rough, but it’s great for those who want to bird watch at a less-crowded beach. Also, keep in mind that at high tide the beach will be narrow so check tide charts before you go. Californiabeaches.com notes that some locals consider this a clothing-optional beach (consider this your warning.) Check out these other black sand beaches you never knew existed.
Colorado: Bishop Castle, Rye
This Gothic Colorado castle hides in the foothills of the San Isabel National Forest. It is complete with wrought-iron bridges, stained glass windows, and even a metallic fire-breathing dragon. The best part is that the entire castle was built by one man who gathered and set stones to create it. The castle is “always open and always free,” according to the website.
Connecticut: Cathedral Pines Preserve, Cornwall
Only some of the gorgeous old-growth white pine and hemlock trees survived the three tornadoes that devastated the area in 1989. The existing trail at Cathedral Pines is worth exploring for the trees and birdwatching. Here are the nicest places in every state. Did your town make the list?
Delaware: Trap Pond State Park, Laurel
This park is an outdoor-lovers paradise. In the peak summer season, you can rent kayaks, pedal boats, and canoes for fishing. There are also tons of trails and volleyball courts. The main attraction is the pond itself since freshwater wetlands once covered a significant portion of the area. The park is open daily until sunset. These are the places you need to visit before they get too popular.
Florida: Paynes Prairie Preserve, Micanopy
The 22,000 acres of this park is overrun with alligators, bison, horses, and more than 270 species of birds. You can hike, bike, or horse ride on any of the nine trails. There is also a 50-foot observation tower with a panoramic view of the prairie. The park is open 365 days a year from morning until sundown.
Hawaii: Byodo-In Temple, Kaneohe
This 50-year-old temple honors the anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is a smaller replica of the Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage site, in Uji, Japan. People of all faiths are welcome to worship, meditate, or simply appreciate the temple. You might also recognize the temple from shows like Lost, Hawaii Five-O, and Magnum, P.I. The grounds are open daily with admission costing no more than $5.
Idaho: Black Magic Canyon, West Magic
This small canyon is notoriously hard to get to, but it’s worth the effort to see the natural abstract sculptures and formations in the basalt rock. It is accessible in late July and August and through the winter, but you should call the Big Wood Canal Company first to make sure you don’t visit when water is scheduled to flow through. If you want to go somewhere tropical, visit these under the radar gems in the Caribbean.
Illinois: Cache River State Natural Area, Johnson County
The area is situated within a floodplain carved years ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River, made up of more than 14,000 acres and includes three distinct spots: Little Black Slough, Lower Cache River Swamps, and Glass Hill. Hikers, bikers, and nature-lovers will enjoy this site.
Indiana: The Roofless Church, New Harmony
It’s fitting that this church, or open park, exists in a town partly called harmony. The interfaith church is open to the public and is maintained by the Robert Lee Balffer Foundation. Although it does, in fact, have a roof, it is really a protective cover for a sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz. Be sure to also visit the best state fair or festival in every state.
Iowa: The Fenelon Place Elevator, Dubuque
This short and steep elevator boasts views of the historic Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River, and three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Although the creator was a senator-turned-banker in 1882, a round-trip ride costs no more than $3 today. It is, however, only open from April through November.
Kansas: The Troll, Wichita
It might seem ironic that a troll is a hidden gem, but this sculpture has been making people smile since 2007. It’s chained to pipes beneath a large sidewalk close to the Arkansas River. Check out these under-the-radar destinations that are about to get popular.
Kentucky: Lost River Cave, Bowling Green
This 70-acre gem features the only underground river cave tour in Kentucky. In addition to some cool history—the caves were a campsite for nomadic groups and a shelter for troops during the Civil War—the Lost River Cave includes meadowlands, wetlands, and trails too. Adventure seekers could also check out the new zip lines which are open mid-May through Labor Day. Tours are available seven days a week and the park is closed on major winter holidays.
Louisiana: Los Adaes State Historic Site, Robeline
The Los Adaes fort was once under Spanish rule before eventually closing down. Now, the 58-acre site has a historic hiking trail, earthen works, a timber outline of the fort, and part of the original El Camino Real de los Tejas, the major roadway to Mexico City. There is also a visitor center with displays of various artifacts. The grounds are open daily except for major winter holidays. These are the most historic landmarks in every state.
Maine: Vintage Bargain Barns, Bar Harbor
Skip the popular Freeport Mall and check out the Vintage Bargain Barns, flea markets disguised as farmhouses that dot the coast. You’ll find everything from vintage finds to unique hand-made items. The markets are off the main road that runs from Bar Harbor to Portland. Don’t miss these other best-kept travel secrets.
Maryland: The George Peabody Library, Baltimore
Book lovers rejoice! This library is both picturesque and functional. It’s a popular wedding venue, but it still operates as a library six days a week.
Massachusetts: Webster Lake, Webster
This is just a theory, but this lake might be a hidden gem simply because of the original 45-letter name. The scenic lake near the Connecticut border also goes by the longer name, Lake CHARGOGGAGOGGMANCHAUGGAGOGGCHAUBUNAGUNGAMAUGG. Have you visited the most famous house in your state yet?
Michigan: The Heidelberg Project, Detroit
The project consists of creative guerrilla-art installations featured via abandoned houses with some covered with polka dots and others with lotto numbers. Tours are offered by the group. Make sure you know these underrated travel destinations around the world.
Minnesota: Lake Harriet Elf House, Minneapolis
This hidden gem is also an adorable tradition. A small “elf door” is attached to a tree near the Lake Harriet area of Minneapolis. Both big and little kids are charmed by this elf home, mainly because the elf answers messages from the kids of Minneapolis.
Mississippi: Small Town Mississippi, Jackson
The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum runs a life-size replica of the typical small southern town. It features everything from a schoolhouse to a cotton gin and everything in-between giving you an inside look at life in the 1920s. The museum is open Monday through Saturday and is closed for most major holidays.
Montana: Havre Beneath the Streets, Havre
When a fire destroyed most of the Havre town, business owners took their shops underground until the town was rebuilt. Now, tours along the streets beneath Havre show a saloon, a Chinese laundry, an ethnic restaurant, a bordello, and an opium den. Daily tours are available, but their winter tours aren’t available on Sunday.
Nebraska: Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine, Scotia
The Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine is the only publicly accessible chalk room and pillar mine in North America. In addition to a great view of North Loup Valley, there is hiking and picnicking. Commenters on some travel sites said they were able to take a piece of chalk home. Admission to the grounds is free, but you do have to pay for the mine. Offseason tours are available by appointment. If traveling is on your bucket list, you’ll want to check out these iconic adventures in each of the 50 states.
Nevada: Great Basin National Park, White Pine County
This national park really has it all. Although it is in the Great Basin Desert, the park contains most of the South Snake mountains and the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive towards the peak—close by is one of a few ancient bristlecone pine groves and the marble Lehman Caves. The park is open year-round except for holidays.
New Hampshire: Ice Castles, Lincoln
These man-made ice castles are beautifully crafted. The creators use drip pipes to trickle out their icicles eventually forming together creating full-scale icy castles. There are additional locations in Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, and Canada. They are only open as long as the weather permits and opening day also depends on the weather by location. Tickets are available daily while the castles are open. When the summer hits, here’s the best beach in every state.
New Jersey: Diggerland, West Berlin
Average theme parks, step aside. Diggerland is a construction theme park complete with trucks, tractors, diggers, and even a zip line. Most attractions have a height requirement as well as a Diggerland ride operator to help you navigate. The hours are subject to change, but they are open mainly on Saturday and Sunday with select weekday openings throughout the year.
New York: Old City Hall Station, Manhattan
Not all subways are created equally—and the Old City Hall Station isn’t your typical 6 train station. In 1904, the inaugural subway ride left from City Hall station and its tenure ended in 1945. Now it’s part of the Transit Museum and is seen through exclusive guided tours. Spots are limited to members, and all ticket sales are final and go fast—so sign up for updates on tour availability. Don’t miss these other NYC hidden gems.
North Carolina: Vollis Simpson Whirligigs Park & Museum, Wilson
This park and museum features supersize spinning pinwheels, also called whirligigs. The installation features 30 revolving works of art as well as occasional music and film programs, a farmers market, picnicking and even Tai chi classes. The two-acre park is free and open daily, even during holidays.
North Dakota: The International Peace Garden, Rolette County
The garden offers canoeing, camping, cycling and various winter activities—but its chapel is one of the most unique aspects of this hidden gem. The chapel is open for everyone to come in, sit and contemplate “a world at peace.” The 3.65-square-mile park is adjacent to the International Peace Garden Border Crossing between Canada and the United States. The garden is open daily, and make sure to check document requirements before visiting. These are the most underrated travel destinations around the world.
Ohio: Chateau Laroche, Loveland
Ohio doesn’t seem like the place you would find an eccentric medieval castle, but nevertheless, Chateau Laroche exists thanks to Harry Andrews. He built the castle himself with an additional secret room that was discovered only years after his death. The museum Winter hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday only, but from April to October they are open every day. Check the site in the warmer months for hours changes.
Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Clinton
Although Route 66 runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, the longest stretch is actually through Oklahoma. That’s why there’s a wonderful museum in Clinton dedicated to the route with info on everything from the Dust Bowl to the Big Band era. The museum has rotating exhibits, but the all-year-round 1950s style diner at the museum is the real hidden gem. Admission hours change depending on the season. The most expensive ticket is $20 which admits a family of six.
Oregon: Terwilliger Hot Springs, Lane County
These hot springs are also called Cougar Hot Springs. With six soaking pools with temperatures ranging from 85 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit, the pools, located in the Willamette National Forest, are open year-round. They are, however, closed on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon for cleaning. Check out the strangest museum in every state.
Pennsylvania: Malcolm Gross Rose Garden, Allentown
This quaint garden is worth a visit for the pictures alone. A beautiful array of roses and other flowers are typically in peak bloom from June to July. The park is also a popular spot for walking and biking. It is open year-round from dusk until dawn. Make sure you aren’t following these popular travel “tips” that just aren’t true.
South Carolina: La Bastide des Lavandes, York
La Bastide des Lavandes is the first official lavender farm in South Carolina. The team planted 6,000 plants and trees in less than six years including 60 varieties of lavender. Now, the farm also sells lavender products made with all-natural ingredients.
South Dakota: Petrified Wood Park and Museum, Lemmon
The rock sculpture park is a sight to behold. An entire city block is entirely dedicated to petrified wood, fossils, and stone. It also features a museum, wishing well, waterfall, and castle. It’s open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If ghosts are more your thing, travel to the spookiest tourist attraction in every state.
Tennessee: The Hidden Smoky Mountain Entrance, Wears Valley
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park occupies more than 800 square miles of land—and there is a secret entrance in Wears Valley, Tennessee. This entrance is typically less crowded than others, which is why locals take this route. The park is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. There are, however, some visitor facilities that close in the winter.
Texas: McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis
Solar viewings and guided tours are available at this observatory, with “star parties” and live solar monitoring events offered as well. Visitors can use telescopes for a better look at the stars too. There are lots of tours and special viewing nights with various schedules, so be sure to check their website beforehand.
Utah: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kane County
Although the red sands shift as much as 50 feet per year, the fun activities at the dunes remain the same. (Think camping, hiking, horseback riding, and ATV riding.) It is open every day with no holiday park closures. Here are the best places to travel every month of the year.
Vermont: Bug Art at Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury
The Fairbanks Museum has an entire collection dedicated to “Bug Art.” It features mosaics created by John Hampson made using thousands of beetles, moths, and butterflies. The museum is open daily except for major holidays and the occasional private event.
Virginia: Natural Chimneys Regional Park, Mt. Solon
This scenic spot is the home of seven rock formations, a reminder of a time when an ocean covered the Shenandoah Valley. In addition to the rocks, there is an annual jousting tournament and biking trails that are open year-round. The campground opens for the season in May. If Virginia is too far from you, here’s the best park in every state.
Washington: One Square Inch of Silence, Hoh River Trail, Forks
The One Square Inch of Silence is the quietest place on earth. The mossy area was designated on Earth Day 2005 to protect the space from harsh human noise and, instead, highlight the sounds of nature. The area is part of Olympic National Park which is open 24 hours a day year-round, although some roads, campgrounds, and facilities are open seasonally.
West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis
The park’s name stems from the amber waters of Blackwater Falls—a 75-foot cascade of water “tinted by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.” The falls are accessible from various viewing platforms year-round. You’ll also want to visit the most charming small town in every state.
The quaint little town of Princeton has lots to offer visitors looking for a short and calming getaway. It’s the home to one of the largest flea markets in the state with many antique stores too. Meanwhile, nature lovers can swim, kayak, and fish in the nearby Fox and Mecan rivers.
Wyoming: Periodic Spring, Swift Creek Canyon in Star Valley, Afton
This spring is unique because it completely stops flowing for a few minutes at regular intervals. There are only a handful of similar springs in the world—and the one close to Afton is said to be the largest. The spring is part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and picnic tables are nearby. If you need to find somewhere to stay now when visiting these places, these are the best hotels in every state.