Off the beaten path vacations USA are the amazing spots like Lost Coast, Crystal River, Ape Cave, and more. Avoid overcrowded destinations by visiting these hidden gems.
The tourism industry is a crucial economic sector in the US. With over $1.2 trillion in revenue, the industry provides jobs to over 9.5 million Americans.
Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Miami are the best-known tourist hubs in the country. Similarly, Mount Rushmore, Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and the Golden Gate Bridge are some of the most visited landmarks in the US.
However, visitors often find that these traditionally famous landmarks do not live up to their hype. Instead, there are many lesser-known places that see few visitors despite providing a much-needed escape from reality.
These hidden landmarks are best for families looking to spend some peaceful time with their beloved ones.
Also, take a look at the 10 Safest Countries For Vacation.
Cheap Off The Beaten Path Vacations for Family in USA
|Name||Average Hotel Price (Per Night)|
|1. Smith Rock State Park, Oregon||$120|
|2. Block Island, Rhode Island||$139|
|3. Leavenworth, Washington||$148|
|4. Solvang, California||$153|
|5. Moab, Utah||$154|
|6. Baxter State Park||$172|
|7. Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska||$173|
|8. Devils Tower, Wyoming||$178|
|9. Fredericksburg, Texas||$186|
|10. Molokai, Hawaii||$228|
Off the Beaten Path California
California is the most popular tourist destination in the US. From Hollywood to the Golden Gate Bridge, the state has hundreds of historical landmarks.
With over 286 million visitors every year, the state is expected to earn $154 billion in tourism revenue in 2023. The major tourist attractions in California are crowded all year round. These include landmarks like the Joshua Tree National Park, Universal Studios Hollywood, Griffith Observatory, and more.
Meanwhile, several underrated places are often overlooked. Today, we take a look at three attractions in California that are off the beaten path.
Off the beaten path San Francisco includes the lesser-known wave organ in Marina Green Drive. The wave organ is a giant organ that gets activated by the waves.
The design was developed by artist Peter Richards, whereas initial funds were raised by Exploratorium founder and physicist Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, the younger brother of Robert Oppenheimer.
The inspiration for the wave organ came from Bill Fontana’s works in recording sounds coming from a vent pipe placed in a floating concrete dock.
The instrument is composed of 25 pipes located at different elevations. It plays soothing music when waves crash at the nearby rocks. The organ plays the best music during high tide. So, remember to check the tide schedule before planning your visit.
The Salton Sea is a saline lake located in Imperial and Riverside Counties in California. It is considered one of the lowest points with an elevation of -227 feet below sea level.
Once a famous tourist destination, it was frequently visited by artists like Frank Sinatra and the members of the Beach Boys.
The water body was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded and crashed the canal gates. For 18 months, the water reached the Salton Trough before the gates were repaired. By that time, the Salton Sea had formed taking up an area of approximately 889 sq. km.
As the lake started to dry up after water from the Colorado River stopped reaching there, local farmers began diverting water from their farms to the lake. However, the farm water brought many toxic chemicals into it. Today, the water contains a high level of salt, selenium, algae, arsenic, and chemicals from fertilizers.
Swimming is not allowed at the lake due to the toxins present in the water and only Tilapia fish remain. There are tons of fish bones washed up ashore.
However, you can camp an RV at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Further, you can indulge in activities like boating, jet-skiing, birdwatching, hiking, and more. The lake still attracts migratory birds like the American white pelican, Eared grebe, white-faced ibis, and more.
It’s best to avoid this location if you are planning a vacation with kids. The apocalypse-like vibe along with the strong odor in the air is enough to scar children for years.
Off the beaten path family destination list includes Lost Coast. Lost Coast is a hiking route located on the North Coast of California.
It stretches over a 75-mile long trail from Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove.
Lost Coast is mostly a remote area situated at a 5-hour drive from San Francisco. An average hiking trip can take 3-4 days to cover the 75-mile trail.
Due to the rough terrain, it is not possible to build roads at the coastline. As a result, the route is trailed primarily by experienced hikers due to the long time it takes to complete. The long walk will be worth your time as you will come across several exotic creatures like river otters, bobcats, elephant seals, sea lions, and more.
Alternatively, you can drive directly to the Mattole Loop, during which you will pass through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and Ferndale, a town filled with Victorian art and architecture.
If you are looking for a cheap vacation destination, we’ve covered 10 Affordable Family Vacations in California.
Off the Beaten Path Washington
The State of Washington welcomes nearly 100 million tourists every year. The tourism sector provides jobs to over 200 thousand people.
Washington tourism suffered a major blowback during the pandemic but has recovered significantly. In 2021, 95.3 million visited the state which generated over $17 billion in revenue. However, the numbers are significantly lower than the pre-pandemic figures.
In 2019, one year before the world shut down due to the covid pandemic, Washington had over 110 million visitors and $21.9 billion in tourism revenue.
Some of the famous tourist attractions in the State of Washington include Yakima Valley, Mount Rainier, Columbia River Gorge, and historical monuments. However, today, we are here to discuss some of the lesser-known attractions or hidden gems of the state.
Hoh Rain Forest
Good off the beaten path Hoh Rain Forest is filled with species of flora and fauna. The forest is located in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.
It lies along the Hoh River and stretches over 24 miles. The temperate forest is home to several species of animals, including river otters, black bears, Roosevelt elk, bobcats, mountain lions, and salamanders.
Likewise, it also consists of trees like Douglas fir, western red cedar, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, red alder, black cottonwood, and more.
You can explore the forest through one of the many available trails, including the Hall of Mosses Trail, the Spruce Nature Trail, and the Hoh River Trail.
If you are planning a multi-day trip to the Hoh Rain Forest, you can stay at one of the nearby hotels. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort and Hoh Valley Cabins are two hotels located near the forest.
The Ape Cave is a natural cave located inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was formed as a lava tube over 2000 years ago when the volcano at Mount St. Helens erupted.
The cave is divided into the Lower Cave and the Upper Cave. While the 0.75 miles long Lower Cave is easy to explore, exploring the 1.5-mile-long Upper Cave is a challenge. Visitors will have to go through rock piles, an 8-feet rock wall, and a small opening.
The Ape Cave has been open for the season since May 18, 2023. To visit the cave, you’ll have to make an advance reservation at Recreation.Gov.
One ticket is required per vehicle. While admission to the cave is free, you’ll have to pay a reservation fee of $2 per ticket. Each ticket is valid for two hours. Alternatively, you can buy a day pass for $5.
Green Lake Park
Off the beaten path Seattle includes the beautiful Green Lake Park. The park is located in north Seattle and covers an area of 323 acres.
The park’s main highlight is Green Lake, which was formed over 50000 years ago. You can swim, boat, or host a family picnic at the beach.
Similarly, Green Lake Park also offers a 2.8-mile-long trail for cycling, walking, and running.
Some hotels near the park include Hampton Inn & Suites, Staypineapple, Residence Inn, and more.
Off the Beaten Path Florida
Florida is the second most visited tourist destination in the US with over 137 million visitors in 2022. The coastal state is only behind California which welcomed over 286 tourists in the same year.
The tourism industry is a crucial part of Florida’s economy. In 2021, the state generated over $101.9 billion in revenue and 1.7 million jobs from tourism.
Some of the most popular destinations in Florida include Walt Disney World, Kennedy Space Center, Miami Beach, Daytona 500 International Speedway, Everglades National Park, and more. However, you might have noticed that these places are always overcrowded and don’t live up to their reputation.
Meanwhile, we have explored three off the beat vacation spots if you want to enjoy a quiet and peaceful vacation.
Amelia Island is a tourist attraction located on the Atlantic coast of Florida. The island has 13 miles of sandy beaches that attract thousands of visitors annually.
The place is best known for the Amelia Island Nature Center and the Omni Amelia Island Resort. The island was primarily famous for attracting retirees and golfers. But, in recent years, families have been visiting with their young kids as it is relatively cheap and less crowded than other neighboring cities like Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami.
The best things to do on Amelia Island include visiting the beaches, eating shrimp, exploring the local history, learning about the food culture, and more.
Crystal River is a tourist attraction in Florida that flows through Citrus County into the Gulf of Mexico.
The river is best known as a natural habitat for gentle manatees, also called sea cows. Further, it is also the only place in the US where people are legally allowed to swim alongside the manatees.
Besides swimming, other activities to do at Crystal River include a series of water sports like snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and more. Additionally, you can also indulge in other recreational activities like visiting the Coastal Heritage Museum, exploring the local art and culture, and cycling around Citrus County.
If there is a lizard enthusiast in your family, Gatorland is your ideal destination. Often called the Alligator Capital of the World, Gatorland is a tourist attraction in Orlando, Florida.
Established by Owen Godwin in 1949, it is situated on a former cattle ranch. The institute currently houses 1000s of alligators and other animals like crocodiles, wild cats, snakes, and tortoises. Similarly, it also houses a rare leucistic alligator, also called a white alligator.
Visitors can watch the staff wrestling with the alligators along with the alligators competing with each other for food. For an extra charge, you can sit on top of an alligator and take a photo.
You can also view the adorable reptiles through a zip line that is nearly 1200 long. It goes through a pool of alligators along with several attractions.
Other activities to do include feeding the alligators and riding the Gatorland Express.
Off the Beaten Path Illinois
Illinois is best known for the city of Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the US. Known for its tall skyscrapers, the state was once a national industrial hub.
As of 2023, the state has over 120 million visitors every year. The tourism industry alone generates over $43 billion in revenue.
If you are looking for a peaceful time, you may want to skip the traditionally-known attractions and visit the underrated destinations.
Mississippi Palisades State Park
The Mississippi Palisades State Park is a landmark located north of Savanna in Carroll County, Illinois. Managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, it covers an area of nearly 4 sq. miles.
As it is relatively small compared to other state parks, it is a great hiking destination for families with kids. One of the fascinating things about the park is that while hiking through the wilderness, you will be walking the same path that Native American used for thousands of years.
Likewise, you can also explore the many caves and tall cliffs, including the limestone caves that serve as sinkholes going down 100s of feet. Further, you can camp inside the park if you intend on staying overnight.
Cairo is an abandoned town in Illinois. The town gives the vibe of a classic ghost town although it is still home to nearly 1700 residents.
Cairo has been a center for racial tension and occasional flooding. After going through a period of economic depression and the eventual flood in 2011, the town was abandoned by most of the former residents.
However, there are still a few attractions that you can visit, including the Fort Defiance State Park, Cairo Custom House Museum, Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site, Wall Manor, and the Cairo Ohio River Bridge.
If you plan on staying a few days exploring the town, you can book a room at the local hotels, including Quality Inn Cairo, Days Inn, Wall Manor, and more.
But, if you want to permanently settle in the state, here are the Best Places To Live In Illinois.
Garden of the Phoenix
Off the beaten path Chicago features the beautiful Garden of the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a Japanese Garden located in Jackson Park.
Chicago is a city with rich cultural and architectural history. From its industrial boom during World War II to the financial crisis caused by the steel crisis in the 70s and 80s, the city has had its ups and downs.
Today, Chicago is home to hundreds of tourist attractions like the Art Institute of Chicago, Millenium Park, Field Museum, and Lincoln Park Zoo. However, you’ll notice that the most popular attractions in Chicago are overcrowded and often overhyped. Instead, visit the Garden of the Phoenix, a symbol of the friendship between Japan and the US.
The garden was constructed over a century ago by the Japanese government. It originally served as a pavilion during the World’s Fair in 1893. The garden is known for its cherry trees, waterfalls, ponds, bridges, and Japanese horticulture.
Off the Beaten Path DC
Washington DC, as the national capital, is always the subject of news and political discussions. The federal territory has its own cultural history that started with its establishment in 1790.
Despite its limited area, DC welcomes nearly 25 million visitors every year. Tourists mostly come to explore the national capital and its monuments.
There are also several hidden attractions many visitors are unaware of. Here, we have listed a few off-the-beaten-path attractions you will want to visit the next you are in DC.
The Catacombs of Washington DC were constructed in the early 20th century by a religious group. The main objective to build it was to recreate the famous Catacombs located in Europe.
Located beneath the Holy Land in America’s Franciscan Monastery, the catacombs have several passages along with rows of wall graves. The Franciscan monks build it as holy land for people who couldn’t afford to visit the catacombs abroad.
However, most of the graves in the catacombs are fake, except one. The only real skeleton is believed to be of an eight-year-old kid.
International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum is located in 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC. It is a museum that contains items used by real-life spies.
The museum contains several spy artifacts, including an Enigma Machine from the second world war, a Lipstick Pistol, the Trotsky Ice Axe, a shoe with heel transmitter, a pigeon camera, a rectal tool kit, and the Insectothopter.
To visit the museum, you should purchase a ticket in advance. The ticket price ranges between $15 to $30.
MLK Jr Time Capsule
The MLK Jr Time Capsule is an artifact located beneath the Freedom Plaza. If anyone is unaware of what a time capsule actually is, it is a container that contains items reflecting the art and culture of a time period. It is kept buried or in storage for decades to be opened by people in the future.
The MLK Jr Time Capsule, made of aluminum, was buried in 1988. It is set to be opened in 2088, 100 years after it was buried. The capsule contains a bible belonging to Martin Luther King Jr, a robe used by him, and his audio recordings. The container also has an American flag consisting of 51 stars. It was kept there in hopes that Washington DC will be an official state by the time the capsule is opened.