A leave of absence from the everyday routine doesn't mean your next vacation should be in a tourist trap. Even in the great outdoors, traffic seems inevitable in the hottest tourist spots. Some of the most memorable destinations in America are off the beaten path and awaiting discovery. From dark skies perfect for stargazing to historic mining towns, these out-of-the-way destinations are ideal choices for your next under-the-radar getaway. Leave the cookie-cutter vacation itinerary at home and enjoy the unfamiliar territory.
Las Vegas attracts millions of visitors a year to Nevada, but the surrounding desert contains an underrated treasure of its own. Located about an hour from The Strip, Valley of Fire State Park is a wonderland of red sandstone formations, petrified wood, and ancient petroglyphs. Enjoy an early hike on one of the colorful trails, and keep an eye out for bighorn sheep.
Classic southern charm meets modern architecture and fine art in Bentonville. Nestled in the woodlands just outside the Ozark National forest, Bentonville is the birthplace and world headquarters of Wal-Mart. Visit the original location downtown, then head for the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Bentonville is also the Mountain Biking Capital of the World, so don't be afraid to rent some wheels — there's a trail for every rider.
Durango is a charming old mining town near the New Mexico border. The historic downtown features an impressive selection of eateries, art galleries, boutique hotels, and lots of shopping. Book a ride on the 19th-century narrow-gauge railroad for stunning mountain views. If you prefer to travel by car, take the San Juan Skyway, a breathtakingly gorgeous loop of highways through the San Juan Mountains.
The Elaborate Antebellum mansions and lush greenery give way to eclectic dining and shopping in historic Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi River. Head for the Riverside district to see the Mississippi River Casino boats. Then, visit the 100-acre Natchez City Cemetery, established in 1822, to pay your respects to the region's history.
Stowe is a magical winter getaway, with world-class ski slopes, decadent cuisines, and craft beers to keep warm. In the summer, hike lush trails or engage in some retail therapy with shopping on Main street. If you're not a skier, take the Scenic Auto Toll Road and hike to the peak of Mt. Mansfield from the parking lot.
Less than 100 miles from Austin and San Antonio, Fredericksburg is a vibrant winery town first settled by German immigrants in the 1800s. Today, the underrated destination is home to a thriving music scene, with diverse restaurants, cafes, and wineries along Main Street. You'll notice the Bavarian-style architecture, which makes for some picture-perfect walks about town.
California's towering redwood forests are a sight to behold, and Avenue of the Giants is a great place to start. The 30-mile-long route runs parallel to the main highway, so you won't lose much time taking in the spectacular beauty of these majestic trees. Camp underneath the stars, or spend the night in nearby Scotia, a historic lumber town that continues to thrive.
Traverse City is an outdoor lover's playground along the shores of the Grand Traverse Bay in Michigan. Known for its cherry production and the Cherry Festival every summer, it's also in the heart of a thriving wine country. Tour the tasting rooms and some farm-to-table restaurants downtown, then burn off calories on a biking trail or at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The sleepy beach town of Cape San Blas is home to miles of uncrowded white-sand beaches kissed by shimmering turquoise waters. Get your heart racing with a day of watersports such as fishing, kayaking, or paddleboarding. Then head into town for some fresh seafood and to shop locally owned businesses. Don't leave without visiting the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
Bend isn't the Oregon you expect. Located in Central Oregon, the state's high desert region, the weather is drier and warmer. Explore downtown and sample the cuisines and craft beer selection in River West. Afterward, then head for the Old Mill District for shopping. Outdoor enthusiasts can still get their fix at the city's parks or explore the lava tubes. Drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Parkway to enjoy the landscape and find a good spot for the sunset.
Get away from it all — literally — at Medicine Rocks State Park in Southeast Montana. Big sky country is home to some of the most magnificent skylines, and it's also one of America's newest International Dark Sky Sanctuary. At over 100 miles away from the nearest big city, the night skies above Medicine Rocks are a tapestry of celestial bodies. Camp for a couple of nights to take advantage of ample hiking trails and scenery.
The Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York is a year-round, family-friendly destination. Hiking is one of the best reasons to visit and explore stunning landscapes, with over 950 miles of paths in the Finger Lakes Trail System. The region is most famous for its spirits, however. With over 130 wineries and five wine trails in the area, you're sure to find a bottle to take home.
The lush greenery of the forest and the blue waters of Lake Superior greet every visitor to Bayfield, Wisconsin. The small town is an idyllic getaway from commercial tourism and a home base for touring the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Tour the group of 21 islands by kayak, or book a camping trip to take advantage of the hiking trails and pristine shorelines.
There isn't much to do around Devil's Tower National Monument. The astounding rock formation, sacred to the Native Americans, is located in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness. Getting there is worth the trouble, though, because nothing compares to seeing this geologic phenomenon in person. Watch the sunset from the balcony of a 3-star bed and breakfast nearby, or spend the night in a tipi with a view.
The Sawtooth Range is a section of the Rocky Mountains in central Idaho — and miles away from your typical camping trip. Hundreds of hiking trails take you through the rugged wilderness, past alpine lakes, and across jagged mountain peaks near solitude. Go to Salmon River for fly fishing or find some hot springs to soak in and enjoy the scenery.