Summer is now upon us and that means that it’s time for that age old ritual: the summer vacation. You all know the usual destinations – the Jersey Shore, Disney, Hawaii, Europe, etc. But rather than deal with the indignity of running into Snooki, being smothered by some perv in a giant Mickey Mouse costume, having to fight for a single square inch on an absurdly crowded beach, or selling your first born just for the honor of spending a couple of nights being silently judged by Frenchmen who are probably spitting in your food, why not take a chance on one of these instead? They are the 50 most underrated vacation spots of them all.
Photo credit: Beach image by Shutterstock
Why go all the way to Europe when you can just go to Washington? After all, it’s where you can find Leavenworth, a Bavarian-themed village that calls itself home to all of those fun things we associate with Bavaria, you know like drinking lots of beer and… drinking lots of beer. In addition, the surrounding Alpine Lakes area is perfect for hiking and biking and all manner of outdoorsy summer fun.
Photo credit: starmist1, Flickr
Not only is Lake Oconcee a great place to go boating or fishing, it’s also home to ten world class golf courses. Halfway between Atlanta and Augusta – home of the Masters – Lake Oconcee is a great place to both unwind with the family and get hammered over a round of 18 with the boys. Truly, the best of both worlds.
Photo credit: YouTube/Del Webb
Located in Northern Lake Superior, closer to Canada than to Michigan, Isle Royale is an outpost of stunning natural beauty. It’s an excellent place to go camping with your friends, with tons of challenging wilderness trails for mountain biking. For people who want to just get away from it all and experience one of the last few unspoiled corners of the planet, it doesn’t get much better than Isle Royale.
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Breckenridge is one of the most popular skiing destinations in the country, but it’s almost just as awesome in the summer, with tons of hiking and mountain biking and climbing opportunities available. They even have gondola rides and badass slides built into the mountains that are 2,600 feet long. Sounds fun, right? Now just imagine doing all that freshly baked, thanks to Colorado’s newly chill attitude when it comes to, ahem, enjoying nature’s bounty.
Photo credit: Lee Edwin Coursey, Flickr
For the more conspiratorially minded among you, what could be better than spending a day biking Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway, home to the infamous Area 51? Sure, you might get sucked up by a giant floating cigar or chased down by black helicopters. but let’s face it, you geeks would just get off on that. If you survive, head on down to the Cathedral Gorge State Park and camp out in one of the freakiest landscapes in the entire U.S.
Photo credit: RodneyRamsey, Flickr
You don’t have to actually stay in Cleveland – that might be a little too underrated – but you can find a place to camp somewhere in the general vicinity of Lake Erie and then use that as a home base to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland one day and Sandusky’s Cedar Point the next. Cedar Point is home to several badass roller coasters and an attached water park and is an awesome way to spend a couple of days.
Photo credit: craiglloyd, Flickr
It’s not all illiteracy and college football in Alabama. There’s also the Gulf Coast, where you can do just about anything you would do at the more expensive – and crowded – Florida Gulf Coast. There’s swimming, kayaking, scuba diving and even some killer golf courses.
Photo credit: .:[ Melissa ]:., Flickr
If you have your heart set on going to Florida, try Amelia Island, a cool little out of the way resort island in the Atlantic, just off of the northeast Florida coast. It’s got the great beaches you’d expect from Florida and seven golf courses. A great way to relax without having to worry about having to crowd in between a family filled with crying children and a fat guy in a Speedo.
Photo credit: razvan.orendovici, Flickr
Yes, Idaho. Believe it or not, Idaho is home to some of the most stunning natural beauty in the country. It’s not all potatoes up there. No, it’s also one of the best places you can find for hiking, mountain biking and all that fun outdoor stuff. After all, if it was good enough for Ernest Hemingway – who loved Idaho – it’s good enough for you.
Photo credit: The Knowles Gallery, Flickr
Buffalo National River was the very first river to be declared a National Park and the result is that the area is preserved just like it was way back in the day. Aside from camping, you can ride the river and do some cave exploring nearby. A great place to just chill and do the hippie thing for a few days.
Photo credit: OakleyOriginals, Flickr
If you can’t afford the Hamptons – and really, who can these days? – head to Montauk instead, where you get the same basic scenery without all the ridiculous snobbery that goes with it. Thanks to a longstanding association with artists, the area has a laid back feel that will let you relax and have fun without having to constantly worry about your status.
Photo credit: lohit, Flickr
The only reason this one isn’t even higher on the list is because they don’t hand out free samples on account of the Lynchburg liquor laws. But still, it’s a tour of the Jack Daniels distillery!
Photo credit: nola.agent, Flickr
Snoqualmie is home to a vast wilderness perfect for all manner of outdoorsy fun. It’s also incredibly beautiful with the highlight being the 268 foot tall Snoqualmie Falls. And if you get tired of the outdoor living, take a day and head into Seattle, which is only about 20 miles away.
Photo credit: dherrera_96, Flickr
I could tell you about all the wilderness trails perfect for hiking, biking or horseback riding. Or I could tell you about the nearby lakes where you can swim or fish. But really, it’s freakin’ Deadwood aka the location of the infamous HBO show of the same name. Go just to say that you spent a week in Deadwood.
Photo credit: Madeleine_H, Flickr
Get some friends together and go white water river rafting on the Colorado River. Spend your days getting your adrenaline pumping on what is basically nature’s roller coaster and your nights partying around a campfire. Just don’t combine the two.
Photo credit: Grand Canyon NPS, Flickr
Most people don’t really think of Chicago as a premiere vacation destination but they probably should. It’s a major city with a vibrant cultural center, tons of kick-ass museums, a Six Flags amusement park nearby and oh yeah, a couple of killer Lake Michigan beaches. Take in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field while you’re there or go to the top of the Sears Tower. Seriously, there is tons of fun stuff to do.
Photo credit: vigour, Flickr
While everyone else is headed to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head, do something different and go to Kiawah Island, which has one of the best beaches in the world. And if that’s not enough for you, take a couple of days and play the five golf courses that call the island home.
Photo credit: lauren_dw, Flickr
Rugged and wild, Bighorn Canyon is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a little more rugged outdoor adventure. It’s been called “the land that time forgot” and in this environment you can hike, mountain bike, fish or do anything you want really. There’s nothing to stop you but your own imagination.
Photo credit: Rory720, Flickr
For something a little more sophisticated and cultural, head to Montreal, which gives you a taste of Europe only a short hop across the border. It’s a beautiful city with a vibrant cultural center and is home to one of the best club scenes in the world. Spend your days soaking up the artsy fartsy stuff and your nights getting wild with beautiful French speaking women.
Photo credit: Goodnight London, Flickr
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a perfect place for camping and fishing, with several awesome waterfalls and a landscape that looks like it was carved directly out of iron and ancient rock. Plus, numerous amazing beaches line the Lake Superior shore with crystal clear water and eye-popping landmarks like the Pictured Rocks, which are so awe-inspiring that they inspired the Indians who lived there back in the day to create an entire mythology based around the area’s natural beauty.
Photo credit: Danielle Walquist Lynch, Flickr
The PCH – the Pacific Coast Highway – is one of the most famous stretches of road in the world, running along almost the entire California coast. Just take your time, rent a convertible, relax and just take in the atmosphere and the ridiculously beautiful scenery. It’s like a 70’s AM radio hit come to life.
Photo credit: chascow, Flickr
Burlington has that hip college-town feel to it with a laid back cultural scene – Phish calls Burlington home – and some kickass microbreweries. Spend some time doing a crawl of the microbreweries and then chill by relaxing on the Lake Champlain waterfront. The perfect blend of relaxation and debauchery.
Photo credit: Ctwirler12, Flickr
While everyone else is busy cramming their family into Yellowstone, you should head to Wyoming’s other National Park, Grand Teton, which is less crowded, but possibly even more beautiful. It’s the perfect place for someone who wants to do some serious mountain biking and even some mountain climbing. Nearby Jackson Hole is renowned for its winter skiing but there’s just as much to do – and maybe even more – in the summer.
Photo credit: rarvesen, Flickr
The Outer Banks are a string of islands off the North Carolina coast with ridiculously beautiful beaches and tons of killer golf courses, all set in a more relaxed atmosphere than your typical crowded beach destination. There are still plenty of tourists, but lots of chill, tucked out of the way places too, like Kure Beach, where you can just relax and spend some time forgetting about all the noise back home.
Photo credit: Madeleine_H, Flickr
Over three million people head to the more famous Yosemite National Park every year, but Kings Canyon is just as beautiful, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains bordering a wonderland filled with pristine lakes and waterfalls. So if you really want to get the Northern California camping experience without having to deal with all the crowds, head to Kings Canyon with some friends, throw down a tent and get rugged like Teddy Roosevelt.
Photo credit: Miguel Vieira, Flickr
It doesn’t get much more underrated than North Dakota, but if you want to let the world just drop away for a few days (and really, isn’t that the point of a vacation) or if you want to feel like an old-fashioned cowboy, head to North Dakota. The scenery is epic and the environment is totally Old West. You’ll feel like Clint Eastwood – the badass version, not the yelling at chairs version.
Photo credit: mrbillt6, Flickr
Located in between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsula, Mackinac Island is so laid back that they don’t even allow cars. You can bike around the island or take horse-drawn carriage tours and at the end of the day you can crash in one of the many elegant hotels. It’s not exactly a party spot but it’s hard to find somewhere more relaxing and just flat-out comfortable. You’ll feel like old-school royalty.
Photo credit: CedarBendDrive, Flickr
Here’s all you need to know about Portland: it has the most per capita breweries of any city in the country. And when you’re done with some epic pub-crawling, you can explore nearby Mount Hood. Portland is everything that Seattle claims to be, with a thriving cultural scene and an environment that is ultra-friendly to people who want to bike around town and explore. But really, it’s all about those breweries.
Photo credit: StuSeeger, Flickr
Underrated beaches, some killer scenery, plenty of bed and breakfast style inns… Maine has all the ingredients for a relaxed, underrated vacation spot. You can even camp out in Acadia National Park. One cool idea is to take a few days and bike the Maine Coast. Just take your time, explore, maybe hit up some local bars at night and just soak it all in.
Photo credit: Lee Edwin Coursey, Flickr
If you’re the artistic type, try Taos, which is home to a thriving art colony and hosts several retreats designed to let you relax and just do your arty thing. And when you need a break, the local scenery is stunning – Taos is located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains - and can be explored by biking or horseback riding and they even have something called “llama trekking” which you know you want to do. Don’t even front.
Photo credit: marissabracke, Flickr
One of the premier skiing destinations in the country, Mammoth Lakes also has countless summer activities for you to do, everything from hiking and mountain biking to hot air balloon rides. And the best part is that it’s also a resort town so when you get tired of all the outdoorsy goodness, you can head into town and take in some live music or hit one of the local bars. Spend your days playing and your nights playing even harder.
Photo credit: Alaskan Dude, Flickr
Glacier National Park is just ridiculously beautiful and if you’re the outdoors type at all, it’s pretty much a must-visit. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing… you can do it all here and you can do it all surrounded by scenery that looks like something you’d put as your wallpaper on your computer monitor so you could show off its HD. I mean, there’s a reason local Indian tribes called it “the backbone of the world.”
Photo credit: backpackphotography, Flickr
If you want an island vacation without having to deal with all the crowds, head to Cumberland Island. The white sand beaches are undeveloped and pristine thanks to the island being declared a National Seashore and there are literally wild horses running around. It doesn’t get much more out of the way than that. Or more romantic if that’s your angle.
Photo credit: dougandme, Flickr
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are basically a mountain biker’s paradise with hundreds of miles of rugged trails. And when you want to wind down from that, there are also plenty of resorts and even a water park. Plus there are the golf courses, the mountain lakes, beaches… you get the picture.
Photo credit: sskennel, Flickr
Most people don’t know that the Finger Lakes region is actually the second largest wine producing area in the country. There are over 100 wineries all nestled in an idyllic setting, perfect for a romantic summer vacation or for just, you know, getting hammered in style.
Photo credit: visit~fingerlakes, Flickr
Nestled in the Smoky Mountains, there is a ton of fun stuff to do in Gatlinburg, everything from fishing to golfing to zip-lining to white water rafting. Spend the day fooling around in town and the nights fooling around in a tent in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Photo credit: cwwycoff1, Flickr
If you’re an environmentalist at heart, rather than go all the way to Brazil for the rain forest experience, head to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, home of the Hoh Rain Forest. The area is filled with gorgeous waterfalls and everything you would want from a relaxed hiking vacation. And when you’re done with that, you can take in the stunning Pacific coast.
Photo credit: Brett Holt, Flickr
Savannah is one of the most unique cities in the country. Take one of the haunted tours – the Haunted Pub Tour might be a good place to start – and then head on over to nearby Tybee Island, which boasts a beautiful beach and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s like a combination party town/beach destination, and really, what could be better than that?
Photo credit: JefferyTurner, Flickr
Aside from the badass name, Transylvania County is also a great place to go camping. Known as “the land of the waterfalls” Transylvania County has the highest waterfall cascade east of the Rockies. A great way to spend some time with nature without having to spend a whole lot of money.
Photo credit: Rodney Martin, Flickr
The San Juan Islands are crazy beautiful, nestled right in between Washington and British Columbia, Canada. You can do all the typical outdoorsy type stuff here with the added bonus of exploring the Pacific shore and if you get lucky, even doing some whale watching. The good news is you’ll have plenty of time for all this awe-inspiring exploring since in the summer the San Juan Islands get 16 hours of daylight.
Photo credit: BLMOregon, Flickr
Grab some friends and starting in Chicago take a road trip on the historic Route 66. There are plenty of stops along the way, odd little fun things to do so you won’t just be cooped up in the car the whole time, and at the end of the road, you get to bask in the Southern California sun.
Photo credit: kevincole, Flickr
The Oregon Pacific coast is one of the most awesome coastlines in the world, and one great way to enjoy it is to set up a biking tour. Stop off at local inns along the way, hit the pubs at night and take in the grandeur of the scenery during the day.
Photo credit: paulcole, Flickr
The Red Rocks area of Colorado is one of the most stunning and unique in the country, and without a doubt the coolest thing you’ll find there is the Red Rocks Amphitheater, which is built right into the rocks and hosts a bunch of cool concerts all summer long. Before and after the concert, camp out with your friends and revel in an experience you can’t find anywhere else.
Photo credit: Martin_PHX, Flickr
Believe it or not, Mississippi has a lot going for it. In the North, there’s Tunica, nestled next to the Mississippi River and home to nine world class casinos. And in the South, there’s the Mississippi Gulf Coast, home to all the fun and debauchery you would associate with the Gulf of Mexico coast.
Photo credit: edgrawes, Flickr
All up and down the Michigan shoreline are some of the best beaches in the entire world. Saugatuck, Grand Haven, Silver Lake, Ludington and many, many more are home to beautiful white sands and fresh water beaches that make you feel more like you’re at an ocean beach rather than a lake beach thanks to the expansive size of Lake Michigan. Climb the dunes that are unique to the area and then party in one of the many resort towns built around the beaches.
Photo credit: Monika Thorpe, Flickr
While everyone else is going to California’s wine country, go your own way and head up to British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley, where you can get the winery experience and take in the breathtaking beauty of British Columbia. Take a wine tour and then go river rafting on the Thompson River. Just wait a few hours in between.
Photo credit: mckaysavage, Flickr
Now we’re talking. Really, do I need to sell you on this? It’s a tour of the Kentucky Bourbon distilleries. For some of you, this would be better than vacationing in heaven.
Photo credit: Chris Breeze, Flickr
If you are the active type, then Moab is your Mecca. It’s the staging point for some of the best mountain biking in the world, along with rock climbing and everything else you can imagine doing in the stunning Utah landscape. Of course, the local Mormons frown on your preferred nightlife activities but hey, that’s why God invented the hidden flask.
Photo credit: dfbphotos, Flickr
Sure, everybody knows all about New Orleans already so how could it possibly be underrated? Simple, you can’t overrate New Orleans. It’s the party capital of the country and there is no place like it on Earth. Just go already.
Photo credit: Daquella manera, Flickr
What better time to experience Alaska than the summer, when the days are never-ending and the temperature is, well, less cold? Explore the wild interior in Denali National Park, take a whale watching cruise in the Pacific or just hang out in Anchorage and party for a week straight. It will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Photo credit: Oaktown Pete, Flickr
(Previously published on May 15, 2013.)
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