These secluded locations, far removed from the fray, should top your vacation list.
Every summer, tourists flock to well-known destinations near and far, making planning a crowd-free getaway a challenge. But underrated spots with abundant natural and cultural offerings, and plenty of local charms, eclectic eateries, picturesque beaches and hiking trails abound. You just have to know where to look. If you're looking to venture beyond a popular vacation hot spot, consider visiting these emerging locales, from underappreciated national parks to beautiful seaside retreats.
Plum Island, Massachusetts
If you're a sun-seeker, you'd be remiss to skip a trip to the little-known 11-mile long Plum Island, where sandy beaches stretch for miles, seemingly untouched. Bird-watchers and plant lovers will enjoy observing and studying over 800 species of fauna and flora across the island, while sun worshipers can check out the sandy dunes and lounge along the North Shore coastline without having to worry about hordes of other beachgoers at their side. Stay on the island in a luxury retreat like Blue Inn on the Beach, a low-key seaside hideaway, and enjoy exploring nearby Newburyport for a variety of eateries and boutique shops.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
When you picture America's legendary national parks, sand dunes may not be the first feature that comes to mind. But the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado boasts the tallest sand dunes in all of North America. Here, you can try your hand at sand sledding and sandboarding, test your limits on a challenging trek along the 3.5-mile Music Pass, enjoy horseback riding and admire a mix of verdant forests, alpine lakes and wind-whipped sand dune fields. Finish the day by cooling down with a splash in Medano Creek, where a seasonal stream and sandy spot awaits.
Fairy Stone State Park, Virginia
In Stuart, Virginia, just outside the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits Fairy Stone State Park, a 4,537-acre wonderland for nature enthusiasts looking for an offbeat state park. The park's namesake cross-shaped stones are unique staurolite crystals. According to legend, the crystals were created by the tears of a fairy. Aside from digging for the enchanting rocks, you can enjoy an array of outdoor activities, including hiking, boating in the 168-acre Fairy Stone Lake, horseback riding and bird-watching. As for lodging, you can camp on the grounds in one of the rustic log cabins, in a yurt or at a campsite.
Hawaii, the Big Island
Whether you're a shutterbug or amateur scientist, there are plenty of wonders to explore at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. At the sprawling and diverse park, the two active volcanoes -- Kilauea and Mauna Loa -- are the main attractions. As you drive into the park, take advantage of the scenic view on Crater Rim Drive, which follows the perimeter of Kilauea's summit, which ascends 4,000 feet. After a picturesque drive or hike, enjoy other under-the-radar island attractions such as Waipio Valley, the farmers market in downtown Hilo and the secluded Punaluu beach, where Hawaiian green sea turtles and Hawksbill turtles can be spotted.
Perched on the country's eastern edge, Baracoa is Cuba's oldest settlement and one of its most remote areas, which has helped ensure that the area's ecosystem and local traditions are well-maintained. Aside from its storied center, which is surrounded by a craggy coastline and a blend of old and new buildings, you'll also find dramatic mountains lingering in the distance and delectable cuisine. In fact, the off-the-beaten-path area is ideal for a cucurucho (a sweet treat filled with fruits, honey, papaya and coconut). Whatever you do, don't miss strolling along Los Martries Avenue, a seaside thoroughfare overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Are you a true Corvette fan? Then you must make a pilgrimage to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green to see "America's true sports car." This nonprofit museum also hosts a performance arena, which is where new and vintage models from the 1950s are staged for viewing on a racetrack. The city also features an abundance of affordable kid-friendly amusements (hat tip: Beech Bend Amusement Park & Splash Lagoon), outdoor attractions and historical gems, including the Historic Railpark & Train Museum and the Downtown Fountain Square, which hosts free summer concerts. And no trip to Kentucky would be complete without making a stop at Corsair Distillery for top-notch, small-batch bourbon.
Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana
There aren't many plantations in the South kept in pristine condition, but at Oak Valley Plantation, the main home, living quarters, gardens and Civil War encampment are all well-maintained, affording visitors a chance to observe a well-preserved past as they explore the storied sugar plantation. If you're interested in this period of history, you won't want to miss joining a tour to explore antebellum architecture and moss-canopied 300-year-old oak trees followed by a refreshing Mint Julep at the Plantation cafe. You can stay in a cottage on the grounds or venture to nearby New Orleans, which sits just over 50 miles east of the plantation.
The Amana Colonies, Iowa
Seven unique, historic and culture-filled German villages await you in Iowa's relaxing prairies. The villages, which are more than 150 year old, boast more than 60 boutiques and shops. Watch artists perfect their craft, and visit the many wineries and wonderful restaurants in the area. The Colonies also host interesting seasonal getaways, such as a two-day yoga and meditation retreat. During your visit, you can check out a variety of museums, join art classes or for a little more activity, check out the 3.1-mile Colony Way trail.
With scenic trails, a serene coastline, old brick boutiques and rustic cobblestone streets, Portland is an underrated gem for those craving a seaside escape this summer. If you're a history buff, be sure to take a harbor cruise along Casco Bay to learn about the town's roots as a port city, and if you're a sports enthusiast, you won't want to miss catching game at Hadlock Field when the Portland Sea Dogs are in town. Other can't-miss experiences include venturing along the Eastern Prom Trail to take in sweeping sea views, and sampling classic New England staples, such as fried clams and fresh lobster rolls.
Old Salem, North Carolina
As you step into the historical Moravian Village of Old Salem, settled by German immigrants who walked from Pennsylvania in the 1700s, you might feel like you're stepping into an older time. The living-history village is full of charming shops, bakeries, gardens and a museum where costumed actors educate visitors on colonial sites and the area's rich heritage and history. You'll find a variety of lush landscapes, hands-on workshops and tours at the Old Salem Museums & Gardens. And in barely discovered downtown Winston-Salem, you can check out the vibrant Downtown Arts District and savor leisurely meals at crowd-pleasing spots such as Spring House or Mozelle's French Southern Bistro.
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