One of the best feelings as a traveller is setting out to explore those places you’ve been researching and dreaming about visiting for years… but then inadvertently stumbling across an amazing, unplanned adventure on the way. There’s something intensely satisfying and exciting about getting off the tourist trail and gathering stories from the places less travelled.
As such a huge country, you would expect the USA to be full of such places – and you’d be right. While the well worn tourist trails around New York, LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas are undoubtedly incredible (they’re the most popular American experiences for a reason after all), why not cast your net a little further a field when it comes to exploring the States, and set your sights on capturing a glimpse of some of the US’s lesser known, but equally compelling sights?
Charleston, South Carolina
While Charleston may not exactly classed as a ‘secret’ (it’s the second largest city in South Carolina), it makes this list because we believe it barely get’s the recognition it deserves as one of America’s most cosmopolitan and beautiful destinations.
It’s full of southern charm and as one of America’s oldest cities; it’s got huge historic importance thanks to its significant role in the civil war. But it’s also full of colourful architecture, blooming flowers thick along every walkway and side street and, to top it off, it has a long stretch of coast line with a clean sandy beach. To really experience the best of America’s deep south a visit here is a must.
Barringer Crater, Arizona
At 1.2km in diameter there’s no denying that the Barringer Crater in Coconino County, Arizona is impressive, but to actually see it will take your breath away.
Some 50,000 years ago a large piece of space rock crashed into earth, creating a massive, dramatic hole in the surface of the landscape. The site of the meteor collision is privately owned, and it was declared a National Natural Landmark in the 1960’s – but it’s possible to visit and stand on the edge of the deep ridge to absorb its size for around $18 admission fee.
The Heidelberg Project, Detroit
The Heidelberg Project is an awesome outdoor art project in Detroit, Michigan that started as a political protest in 1989 and has since grown into an uber creative and pretty astonishing collection of art installations made from reclaimed… well, everything.
Abandoned houses are covered in stuffed animals, polka dots and other weird and wonderful things, with the intention of portraying stories about social issues relevant to American society today. The project is created in actual impoverished communities within the city and visitors are welcome to come and wander through the community to take in the pieces of art and their messages.
Elsewhere in the Motor City, there are dozens of amazing abandoned spaces and street-art hotspots to discover. Think theatres, car plants and entire stations – but check which allow access before you go, and if possible, book yourself on a tour of them to ensure you’re seeing them all safely.
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The dramatically named Valley of Fire spans 42,000 acres and starts around 55 miles Northeast of Las Vegas. It’s a spectacular, red coloured, desert landscape that is home to thousand year old trees and evidence ancient humans including 3000 year old petroglyphs and areas of petrified wood.
The area may be vast and desolate, but that’s the draw, it’s one of America’s most deserted areas – and with a population of over 300million it’s a good idea to grab those opportunities for solitude where you can! The landscape itself is so unique and extraordinary it was chosen as the location to represent Mars in the film Total Recall.
Orange Beach, Alabama
Alabama probably isn’t the first place you think of when contemplating great beach resorts in America, but Orange Beach on the Gulf Coast sit right next to the border with Florida – somewhere much more famous for incredible beaches – and has just as much to offer.
Here, a huge stretch of clean white sand meets warm clear waters so it’s the perfect way to see a different side to America by leaving the well known, and frequently travelled states, for surfing, dolphin spotting, parasailing, hikes and some serious shopping in Alabama.
If you’ve heard of, or travelled to, Yellowstone National Park then you need to know about Boulder, Colorado. The city sits at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the Boulder Valley and is one of the USA’s most picturesque cities.
The buildings and roads are surrounded at every angle by mountain views, thick, green forests, bright flowers, lakes and wildlife. A visit here will give you the best of both worlds, a thriving university city, in a picture perfect scene with the very best example of American landscapes just outside of the city.
The new cool kid of American cities, Louisville is proving itself to be the new hipster hangout for the young and fun crowd. Crammed full of boutique hotels, classy restaurants, chic bars and cool shops this is the new place to be in the USA.
The locals are so proud of their ‘cool’ status that they’ve produced a guerrilla campaign to ‘Keep Louisville Weird’.
So how can you get off the beaten track and unearth these crazy craters, rolling country hills and red hot valleys all by yourself? In a campervan! We’ve got deals for wheels starting from £27 a day – check them out here.
Need more all-round inspiration for your travels Stateside? Check out our USA travel guide, which includes New York, California, Texas and more…