50 Hidden Gems from 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, all worthy of your bucket list.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
The hidden gems of the United States
If you travel frequently, you probably already know about popular tourist attractions in every state—but what about those smaller places that offer unique experiences? You may know about hidden gems in New York City, Los Angeles and other major cities, but what about those oh-so-cool secret locations in the heartland? Well, turns out, there are plenty of hidden gems in the U.S. that are must-see destinations.
These hidden gems around the country show a little part of each state’s history and are sure to make for a memorable experience. Some locations are also cheap to travel to, which is perfect for those traveling on a budget. Take a quick trip and enjoy the little-known parts of the country!
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more travel, humor, cleaning, tech and fun facts all week long.
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. Want to stay nearby? Learn the best time to book a hotel for great deals.
Alaska: Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, Haines
The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is a state park and wildlife refuge in Haines, and the Chilkat Valley, in particular, is home to 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. Thinking of visiting? Learn the best time to book a flight for some serious savings.
Arizona: Goldfield Ghost Town, Apache Junction
This reconstructed 1890s town includes gold-mine tours, Old West gunfights and a history museum, plus tons of other attractions at this hidden gem, including zip lining. The town is open daily, but certain attractions have specific hours. It’s makes for a great stop along a Western-themed cheap family vacation!
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. Black Sands Beach is not ideal for swimming, since the waves are rough, but it’s great for those who want to bird-watch at a less-crowded beach.
Keep in mind that at high tide the beach will be narrow, so check tide charts before you go. Oh, and also, 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. Check out these budget airlines if you’re thinking of flying out for a visit.
Connecticut: Cathedral Pines Preserve, Cornwall
Only some of the gorgeous old-growth white pine and hemlock trees here survived the three tornadoes that devastated the area in 1989, but the existing trail at Cathedral Pines is worth exploring for the trees and bird-watching.
Delaware: Trap Pond State Park, Laurel
This park is an outdoor-lover’s paradise. In the peak summer season, you can rent kayaks, pedal boats and canoes for fishing, and there are also tons of trails and volleyball courts. But 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.
Florida: Paynes Prairie Preserve, Micanopy
The 22,000 acres of this park are 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.
Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls
Tallulah Gorge State Park has a trail overlooking three waterfalls and outcrops known as Lion Rock and Lover’s Leap. The park is also a great stop to add to your road trip. While we’re on the subject, this is the best-kept secret in every state.
Hawaii: Byodo-In Temple, Kaneohe
This 55-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, and 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.
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 all 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 it was created in 1882 by a senator-turned-banker, a round-trip ride still costs no more than $4 today. It is, however, only open from April through November.
Kansas: Coronado Heights Castle, Falun
Now this looks like a site straight out of Ireland or Scotland. Located in Coronado Heights Park, Coronado Heights Castle is a Dakota limestone structure first built in the 1930s. It still stands today, and visitors can enjoy its longevity while taking in the park’s scenic views.
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. 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. If you’re into cool sites like this one, here 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 handmade items. The markets are off the main road that runs from Bar Harbor to Portland.
Maryland: Crystal Grottoes Caverns, Boonsboro
This is one of those hidden gems that, quite literally, is home to hidden gems. Unleash your inner geologist by heading underground and touring the Crystal Grottoes Caverns in Boonsboro. Founded back in 1920, this natural cave boasts breathtaking crystals and is the most naturally kept cave in the world. Tours are open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; admission is $23, but kids age 5 to 12 get in for $13; kids under 5 are free. Bring a sweater for the tour—it gets chilly down there!
Massachusetts: Lake Webster, 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 name Lake Chaubunagungamaug. Have you visited the most famous house in your state yet?
Minnesota: SPAM Museum, Austin
Yes, there is a SPAM Museum—and it’s free to tour! Located about 100 miles south of Minneapolis in the city of Austin, the museum is dedicated to the one and only SPAM brand. Learn about the history of the famous canned meat while playing interactive games—and don’t forget to stop at the impressive gift shop on the way out.
Mississippi: Small Town Mississippi, Jackson
The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum runs a life-size replica of the typical small Southern town. It features a schoolhouse, 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 closed for most major holidays.
Missouri: Castor River Shut-Ins, Fredericktown
Come to the Castor River Shut-Ins for the scenery of pinkish granite rocks and the rushing water of the Castor River, but stay for the wade-and-bank fishing. While you’re planning your trip, these are the oldest tourist attractions in every state.
Montana: Havre Beneath the Streets, Havre
When a fire destroyed most of the town of Havre, 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 in the winter tours don’t operate on Sundays.
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 bucket list ideas for each state.
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 toward the peak—and 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, which eventually form together into 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 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 Mexico: Blue Hole, Santa Rosa
This blue gem is smack in the middle of the desert and offers swimming, snorkeling and diving in 64-degree water. The crystal-clear spring is home to various fish species and is open daily. Check out these other family travel destinations too.
New York: Old City Hall Station, Manhattan
Not all subways are created equal—and the Old City Hall Station isn’t your typical 6 train stop. In 1904, the inaugural subway ride left from City Hall station, and the station’s 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.
North Carolina: Vollis Simpson Whirligig 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; just make sure to check document requirements before visiting.
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’s winter hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday only, but from April to October they’re open every day. Check the site in warmer months for time changes.
Oklahoma: The Little Sahara, Waynoka
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 to remember your visit to one of Oklahoma’s lesser-known must-see destinations.
Oregon: Arch 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 stagecoaches had to “hug” the side of the rocks to avoid the waves and the steep cliffs.
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 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, Portsmouth
All the animals in this seven-acre park are carved out of trees. The Green Animals Topiary Garden is the oldest and northernmost 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, it’s only accessible in one way: through Devils State Park in Salem.
South Dakota: Deadwood
It’s more than an HBO show: Deadwood, South Dakota, 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
There’s a secret entrance to 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
“One of the best hidden gems in Texas is tucked away in Texas Hill Country,” reveals PR pro Crystal Henry. Also tucked away are the Shops at Old Town Helotes. “This beautiful strip of shops and restaurants 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: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kanab
Although the red sands shift as much as 50 feet per year, the fun activities at the sand dunes remain the same. Think camping, hiking, horseback riding and ATV riding. It is open every day with no holiday park closures.
Vermont: Dog Mountain, St. Johnsbury
“You’ll need only a small pack and your favorite four-legged friend to explore Dog Mountain,” according to EagleCreek.com. This 150-acre mountaintop 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 pets that have passed. All in all, Dog Mountain is an amazing destination.
Virginia: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna
“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: One Square Inch of Silence, Hoh River Trail, Forks
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 only seasonally.
West Virginia: Summersville Lake, Summersville
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 more than 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 how.
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.
Wyoming: Ayres Natural Bridge, Douglas
“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 the state. Sandberg wanted Reader’s Digest to know about 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.
Additional reporting by Lauren Cahn.