Popular spots can get busy, and there are many stunning US travel destinations that deserve your attention. Here are lesser-known American destinations you should visit instead…

States like Utah and Colorado are home to astonishing world famous attractions, and they attract an equally astonishing number of travellers. So why not escape to lesser-known American destinations that attract more locals and lesser hordes of noisy tourists?

Grand Escalante, Utah Instead of The Grand Canyon

It seems that no list of American destinations is complete without the Grand Canyon. But it can be so overrun with tourists that traffic jams- usually a scourge of city life- have begun to find their way onto the park’s small roads.

It’s true, the Grand Canyon is beautiful. But to the north sits a lesser-known but similarly beautiful and much more remote and wild destination: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah. Here you get the beautiful vistas and canyon views, a river for rafting, and more hikes, including trails that take you down into the (smaller) canyons. 

There are less amenities (if any at all), but it’s a fair trade for the authentic desert wilderness experience. Popular hikes include Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons- where you get to scramble up and twist yourself through curious, orange, zebra-striped rock formations- and the seasonally-luscious Coyote Gulch. Along this trail you can see Coyote Natural Bridge, Stevens Arch, and Jacob Hamblin Arch. Don’t worry about having to compete with crowds for these spectacular views! 

Coyote Gulch

Coyote Gulch. Photo: Matt Purciel via Flickr

Leavenworth, Washington Instead of Vail, Colorado

When people think “Colorado ski town,” Vail often springs to mind. It’s an ideal winter recreation destination, but with this popularity comes crowds, high prices, and label of the most expensive place to ski in North America.

Escape the immaculately-dressed ski bunnies and high-end fine dining (and the literally breathtaking 2,438m elevation) and head over to Leavenworth, Washington for mountains, and fresh air with none of that glitzy, planned-resort vibe. Leavenworth may only sit at 335m, which is great news for your lungs, but don’t let that height fool you. The Cascade Mountains here parallel the beauty of the Rockies.

In an effort to revitalize this struggling logging town, downtown Leavenworth was remodeled in the 1960s to resemble an Alpine Bavarian village, giving it a quaint, peaceful feel. Come for the annual Oktoberfest Celebration, the local ski hill, and the larger Stevens Pass ski resort outside of town. In the summer, venture 24km southwest of town to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and go for a hike or backpacking trip into The Enchantments- possibly one of the most aptly named mountainous regions ever. 

Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth, Washington. Photo: DavidMorgan-Mar via Flickr

Lassen Volcanic National Park Instead of Yellowstone

While Yellowstone holds an unquestionable place in the wild hearts, Lassen Volcanic National Park in California emerges as one of the coolest alternatives.

Lassen is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the area surrounding the Peak (one of the two monuments in the park) is boiling with mud pots, fumaroles and hot springs. The park is also one of the few places in the world where the four types of volcanoes are present. 

Another fun fact is that Lassen has preserved its landscape nearly intact since before the 1800s. Its different biomes include mixed conifers and subalpine areas with exposed patches of rock. Wildlife is also present in the park and travelers can spot black bears, foxes, deers, big felines, small rodents, among others.

So go pack your backpack and get ready for a hot experience with amazing scenery for hiking, camping, and sightseeing at the base (and maybe even the domes) of many volcanoes. Just remember to always check the whether conditions before you visit and make plans for a safe trip.

 Lassen Peak reflected in Manzanita Lake

Lassen Peak reflected in Manzanita Lake. Photo: Av9 via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Virgin Islands Instead of Hawaii

No, the British aren’t the only ones to have a group of virgin islands named after them. In fact, the US shares such category with Britain.

While tourist flock to the airports with flights booked to Hawaii, give yourself a different treat and book a ticket to the American archipelago instead. Located in the Caribbean, the US Virgin Islands is composed of three main islands: St. Croix, St John and St Thomas.

The quintessential Caribbean experience is embodied in the stretches of white sand shore, pristine blue water, palm trees, and locals eager to welcome visitors. The adventure options available on the islands include snorkeling the RMS Rhone, artificial ruins of a shinked ship, or snorkeling with some gigantic sea turtles and cute fish at Trunk Bay or the Buck Island National Monument.

For those interested in some fun night adventure, kayaking after dark is an experience that will certainly make for some special memories. Around the sunset, after a day of resting on the paradisiac beaches or strolling down the islands’ downtown, make some time for sailing around the archipelago and take in all the beauty this place has to offer as the day says goodbye with the promise of rising again in the next morning.

White sand, pristine blue water, green mountains, and the American territory of Trunk Bay in the US Virgin Island of St John

Trunk Bay in the US Virgin Island of St John. Photo: Jason Crotty via Flickr

Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Instead of Yosemite

Even though Yosemite is a remarkably known destination, the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area is not behind the famous national park. Natural reservation with a name that hints at the human equivalent of a throat, this scenic area gifts the visitor with canyons, rivers, and valleys usually found in irregular formations permeated by beautiful flowers, trees, and bodies of waters.

Mountain bikers, hikers, trekkers, campers of all sorts, and even windsurfers will feel right at home. The area has breathtaking views; smooth, blacktop and canyon trails; and more than 90 waterfalls with swimming and surfing natural pools nearby, including the highest fall in the state of Oregon: Multnomah Falls.

Located near Portland in the state of Oregon, the Columbia River Gorge is an attraction that could be easily classified as ecotourism. Traveling car-free is not required, but it is highly recommended. Shuttle buses, bike trails and tour services make sure the visitor enjoys the trip and explores the area without the need for a personal vehicle. Conservation and first-rate outdoor fun with charm and thrill and very little (if any) touristy crowds!

River Gorge, pinetrees, mountains, and a cloudy sky in Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area in the state of Oregon

Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area in Oregon. Photo: Bala via Wikimedia Commons

El Matador Beach, Malibu Instead of Santa Monica, Los Angeles

Take the Pacific Coast Highway and head to a killer beach instead of the overly crowded Santa Monica beach and pier. It’s a killer beach not only in the sense of its stunning views and burning orange sunsets, but also in its name! El Matador State Beach in Malibu is considered the area’s best kept secret and the place where modeling and wedding photoshoot happens.

From the main stretch all the way to the north of the beach you can find beautiful naturally formed sea caves and arches that protuberate from the Earth like living beings in their habitats. To get to them you will need to descend via trail and then a little flight of stairs.

This beach is delimited by a tall rock wall and it is considered quite an exclusive place as the designated parking lot only allows for 20 cars at a time. While it might be challenging to find space if one does not arrive early, this is almost a guarantee that there will never be too many people competing for spot to relax or simply walk by the beach.

As a side note, make sure to check the sea conditions on the day you’re planning to visit! The best time to sit, relax and enjoy is when the tide is low.

American beach in Malibu, California. Low tide, rocks, and a sunset. El Matador State Beach.

El Matador State Beach. Photo: Pacheco via Flickr

Oregon Coast, Oregon Instead of Big Sur, California

Has anyone ever planned a road trip on the West coast and not put Big Sur on the list? Very likely no. Not put Oregon Coast on the list? Ahem…very likely yes! However, underrated as it is, the Oregon Coast is still a gift to the traveler. Many lesser-known American destinations to discover!

Stopping along the rugged coastline in a quaint town to try the local brews and and eat at a nice restaurant is one of the many plans that can be made when driving up or down the coast. If possible, stay a day or two in a modern yurt in one of the many state parks to enjoy this hybrid between off the grid living and glamping.

The scenarios are already mesmerizing, but to top everything else (including Big Sur), whale watching is not a rare occasion on the Oregon Coast. In fact, gray whales use the coast to migrate, making it a nearly year-round activity that gets a lot of attention from both locals and tourists. The best place to spot them is Ecola State Park during migration peak and Depoe Bay during non-migratory times.

Lastly, the Coast is also home to several iconic lighthouses distributed along the shore like Heceta Head, and other types of marine life like sea lions. Merging activities and attractions for families, lovers, or solo adventurers, the Oregon Coast has all it takes to be the next best thing in the West.

Sand wet by the sea waves and big rock formations in one of the beaches along the Oregon Coast

Photo: stevevandever via Pixabay

We hope you enjoy these stunning lesser-known American destinations!

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