Ocracoke Lighthouse on Ocracoke, North Carolina.

10 Underrated Summer US Travel Ideas to Try in 2024

As the summer sun begins to warm the air, it's time to trade the familiar for the underrated wonders of the United States. From majestic mountains to pristine coastlines, these 10 underrated summer travel ideas promise to ignite your sense of adventure and leave you with memories to last a lifetime. Pack your bags, leave the crowds behind, and explore the road less traveled.

Taos, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico. Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Taos is nestled amidst the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States, it offers a unique opportunity to delve into centuries of heritage, from the ancient Taos Pueblo to the Spanish colonial architecture of the Historic District.

In 2024, Taos becomes a destination for authentic experiences and off-the-beaten-path adventures. Its rugged terrain offers opportunities for hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and white-water rafting. Taos Ski Valley provides slopes in the winter, while the summer months invite exploration of alpine meadows and forests.

The arts scene features an arry of talent, from traditional Native American art to contemporary works. The culinary scene reflects multicultural influences, offering a range of flavors from New Mexican cuisine to gourmet fusion dishes.

Finger Lakes, New York

Watkins Glen State Park. New York.

The Finger Lakes is a prime destination for 2024, offering natural beauty, culinary delights, and outdoor adventures. Nestled amidst rolling hills and shimmering lakes, the region boasts scenic beauty that captivates visitors year-round. Watkins Glen State Park is a notable place of interest, with trails leading past waterfalls and through lush forests. Known for its wine trails, the Finger Lakes features vineyards and wineries offering a variety of cool climate wines.

In addition to wine, the region is a paradise for water enthusiasts, with lakes offering recreational activities like boating, fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Whether enjoying wine overlooking vineyards or cruising along the lakeshore, Finger Lakes is an unforgettable getaway.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado, offers a compelling destination with its unique landscape dominated by towering sand dunes against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks. This juxtaposition of desert and mountains creates a stunning visual contrast unlike anywhere else in the country.

Enjoy sandboarding and sledding down the steep dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park, providing an adrenaline-filled experience in the tranquil surroundings. The park also offers exceptional stargazing opportunities due to its remote location and minimal light pollution. A notable attraction is Medano Creek, where seasonal snowmelt creates a shallow stream winding through the dunes, providing a refreshing respite from the desert heat. 

Olympic National Park, Washington

Hoh rainforest, Olympic National Park.

Olympic National Park stands as an underrated gem, beckoning visitors with its unparalleled natural diversity and abundance of outdoor activities. Spanning nearly one million acres in Washington state, the park encompasses lush rainforests, rugged coastline, and towering alpine peaks, offering a wealth of exploration opportunities. Hikers can traverse scenic trails leading to hidden waterfalls and breathtaking vistas, while wildlife enthusiasts can observe Roosevelt elk, black bears, and bald eagles in their natural habitats. The park's diversity makes it a must-visit destination for those seeking an immersive experience in unspoiled wilderness. 

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Horses walking on sandy beach.

The Outer Banks is a top destination for 2024, offering diverse ecosystems and outdoor adventures. Stretching along the coast, this barrier island chain features pristine beaches, maritime forests, and marshlands. Hiking trails wind through coastal forests and offer scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean, catering to hikers of all skill levels. Wildlife spotting opportunities, with birdwatching and dolphin sightings are among the areas top highlights. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, spanning 70 miles of coastline, is a notable attraction featuring historic lighthouses and tranquil salt marshes. 

Black Hills, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore.

Black Hills offers a wealth of attractions and outdoor adventures amidst its stunning natural beauty. At the heart of the region lies the iconic Mount Rushmore, where you can marvel at the towering granite faces of four American presidents carved into the mountainside. This national memorial serves as a symbol of American history and ingenuity.

Adjacent to Mount Rushmore is Custer State Park, over 71,000 acres of pristine landscapes and diverse ecosystems. Explore scenic drives, hike winding trails through forests and meadows, or encounter bison, elk, and bighorn sheep. There are opportunities for camping, fishing, and horseback riding.

Outdoor adventurers can explore the rugged beauty of the Black Hills. From rock climbing and mountain biking to kayaking and zip-lining. One notable point of interest within the Black Hills is Badlands National Park, where you can explore otherworldly landscapes of eroded buttes, spires, and canyons that showcase the region's geological diversity.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona at sunset.

Sedona is known for its stunning red rock formations, abundance of outdoor activities, and spiritual retreats. Amidst the towering sandstone cliffs of the Arizona desert, Sedona's striking landscapes provide a dramatic backdrop for exploration and adventure.

Hiking and biking enthusiasts will find abundant trails, from easy walks to challenging scrambles. Popular routes include Cathedral Rock Trail, boasting sweeping views, and Bell Rock Pathway, known for its towering rock spires. Sedona is also known for spiritual and wellness retreats, from yoga and meditation centers to vortex sites.

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

Beautiful Sea Caves on Devil's Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Apostle Islands, located on the shores of Lake Superior, are a collection of 21 islands known for its rugged beauty and abundance of outdoor adventures. One of the most iconic features of the Apostle Islands is the sea caves that dot the shoreline. Carved by wind and water, these natural wonders provide a mesmerizing backdrop for kayaking, sailing, and exploring by boat. Paddle through the caves to see the sculpted rock formations and crystal-clear waters, or embark on a sailing excursion to discover hidden coves and secluded beaches.

Several islands feature campsites where you can camp under the stars, surrounded by the serene beauty of the lake and forest. Whether for a weekend getaway or a week-long wilderness adventure, the Apostle Islands offer a chance to disconnect from everyday life and reconnect with nature.

A notable attraction in the Apostle Islands is Devil's Island, home to the historic Devil's Island Lighthouse. Erected in 1891, this picturesque lighthouse offers sweeping views of Lake Superior and the surrounding islands, serving as a beacon of maritime history. 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Market Street on Mackinac Island. Image credits: Alexey Stiop via Shutterstock

Mackinac Island is known for its Victorian charm, car-free environment, and fudge shops. Nestled in Lake Huron, the island transports you back in time with its horse-drawn carriages and architecture.

The Island is also famous for its delectable fudge, with numerous shops lining the streets offering a mouthwatering array of flavors and varieties. From traditional chocolate to unique creations like peanut butter or maple walnut. 

In addition to culinary delights, the island boasts historic sites like Fort Mackinac, offering guided tours and reenactments to explore its rich history.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

The beach at Gulf Shores.

Gulf Shores, situated along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, offers miles of soft, sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and beachcombing. Relax on the shores, soak up the sun, and enjoy the gentle sounds of the waves lapping against the shore. 

Gulf Shores offers fishing charters and dolphin cruises. Anglers can seek prized catches like red snapper and grouper in the Gulf, while dolphin cruises offer glimpses of playful dolphins in their habitat. It is a haven for seafood lovers, boasting restaurants serving fresh Gulf-caught seafood. From beachfront eateries to upscale establishments, there's ample opportunity to enjoy dishes like shrimp, oysters, and crab legs.

A notable attraction is the Gulf State Park Pier, ideal for fishing, birdwatching, and panoramic views. Extending 1,540 feet into the Gulf, the pier is a must-visit destination for Gulf Shores visitors in 2024. 

Seek the Summer Sun

As you plan your summer adventures for 2024, consider venturing off the beaten path and exploring these underrated destinations across the United States. From the majestic mountains of Taos, New Mexico, to the pristine beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, each of these hidden gems offers a unique blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and cultural experiences waiting to be discovered. Whether you're seeking solace in the wilderness, indulging in culinary delights, or embarking on adrenaline-fueled escapades, these 10 destinations promise to ignite your sense of wanderlust and leave you with memories to last a lifetime.


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