According to recent research, 95% of Americans plan to travel this year. Over 65% will travel domestically, hitting popular summer destinations within the good old U.S. of A.
No matter how you do the math, it adds up to a lot of travelers hitting the top destinations, such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Disney World. Fortunately, for travelers looking to beat the crowds, not every state will receive its fair share of vacationers, leaving some beautifully tranquil and uncrowded places to visit. If you want to dial it back this summer—or maybe you just want to enjoy your vacation without jockeying for elbow room with thousands of others vying for the perfect selfie—we’ve got some ideas for off the beaten path summer vacation destinations in the USA.
Connecticut—Blending Family Entertainment with Coastal Pleasures (Without the Crowds)
Orlando, Florida once again tops the list of summer travel destinations, and it’s no surprise. Home to two popular theme park franchises (Universal and Disney), as well as novelties such as Sea World, Orlando has cornered the market on family fun.
Given the area’s proximity to the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico, Orlando also goes above and beyond as a summer vacation destination by offering the option for a side beach excursion.
But Orlando isn’t the only locale to offer summer fun in the sun with a family flair. Connecticut, over 1,100 miles north, is the home to the longest continuously operating theme park in the world.
Lake Compounce opened in 1846 as a picnic park, offering swimming, barbecues and amusement attractions. In 1895, trolley lines were extended to the rural location, allowing visitors from nearby cities, such as Hartford, to escape the summer heat and urban grime.
“Lake Compounce”by jjbers is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Lake Compounce is now home to over 50 rides, including the world’s number-one rated wooden roller coaster, as well as a water park. This off-the-beaten path vacation spot is one of the few remaining parks that successfully combines lakeside fun with amusement attractions.
If you’re looking to expend more energy on top-speed thrills, Six Flags New England resides just over the Connecticut border and pumps up the adrenaline with 12 roller coasters. Superman, the granddaddy of them all, features a 208-foot lift hill and views of the Connecticut River. This adrenaline-soaked trip through the park traverses walkways and dives into tunnels for an experience that pleases even the most die-hard coaster fan.
Just remember, we’re talking about theme parks, where some lines are endemic to the experience, but you’re bound to feel alone when you compare it to destinations like Orlando.
Have the Ocean too—Connecticut Beaches
In Connecticut, you can travel the entire state from shore to northern border in less than two hours, so getting to any of the state’s wonders isn’t out of the question. That includes that side beach trip you’ve been thinking about.
Hammonasset Beach State Park is one of the premier summer vacation destinations in the USA. Leave the nearby city behind and stretch out on over 2 miles of sandy beach.
If you get tired of splashing in the waves, spend some time exploring the state’s plant and animal life at the hands-on nature center or try some outdoor cooking in one of the onsite pavilions or picnic areas.
Connecticut’s coast braces the Long Island Sound, a narrow stretch of water that runs between the state’s southern border and the peninsula of New York City. Because of its protected nature, the water is mostly calm. Sometimes downright flat.
If more serious wave action tickles your fancy, take a drive Rhode Island way. Within a few hours of Hartford, you can hit a series of open-water public beaches with plenty of room to throw down your towel and pitch your umbrella.
Our favorite is Misquamicut. While not exactly an off-the-beaten path vacation experience on a weekend, there is plenty of room to spread out and find a private spot or two. To experience more tranquil conditions, visit on a weekday, where you’re guaranteed plenty of space to spread out.
Aside from the vast expanse of available beach line, coin-operated showers are almost a luxury at the end of day in the surf and sand. Washing the sand and salt from your hair while feeding quarters to a coin-operated shower may not sound like heaven, but when you emerge into the cool fresh breeze off the ocean, cleaned and scrubbed of the salty residue, you’ll understand the appeal. Just don’t forget your quarters.
For side excursions, try a lighthouse cruise out of New London or tour the Thimble Islands by boat. We plan to do both this summer and will be reporting on our experience.
To reach Connecticut, convenient flights arrive regularly at either JFK or Bradly International airport (BDL), just outside of Hartford, and offer quick access to all this off-the-beaten-path summer vacation destination has to offer.
Two Major Urban Centers Nearby
New York City ranks as a top travel destination in the USA this year for many travelers, and Connecticut offers convenient access to the urban pleasurs without the cost and hassle of staying in the city. The Metro North rail line provides convenient access to Grand Central Station. From there, set out on foot, hail a cab or order a Lyft to the many experiences the city offers.
Regular tours are offered at architectural wonders such as the Empire State Building. The metropolis is also home to over 100 art museums, as well as parks, shopping and shows. When evening comes, spend a night in town or hop back on the train toward more peaceful and solitary slumber at one of Connecticut’s hotels.
Why Connecticut Makes Our List of off-the-Beaten-Path Summer Vacation Destinations
- Rural feel without leaving the amenities of city life
- It’s easy to find a hotel or rental accommodations
- Easy access to the coast and summer beach fun
- Great family family fun at either theme park: Lake Compounce or Six Flags New England
- Many day trip options while in the area
- Hiking opportunities abound for outdoor enthusiasts
- Easy jumping off point for visiting either Boston or New York City
White Mountains, New Hampshire—Join the Splendor of Nature with some Kitschy Summer Fun
While the crowds flock to the national parks for wonders such as the Great Smoky Mountains or the Grand Canyon, those in the know head to New England to beat the crowds. If you’ve never heard of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, take that as a good sign.
This off-the-beaten-path vacation destination isn’t on our list of least crowded summer vacation destinations in the USA because it’s boring or without things to do. It seems that others just haven’t discovered it yet.
If you enjoy road trips with the chance to spot amazing wildlife, including moose, head out across the Kancamagus Highway (pronounced Kan-ku-MOG-us), a stretch of Route 12 that runs from Conway in the east into the heart of the White Mountains. Designated as one of America’s five most scenic highways by a team of travel editors, the Kanc, as it is fondly called by New Hampshire residents, winds through mountain heights, by rocky streams and flies high and mighty across the 2,855-foot high Kancamagus Pass.
There are plenty of places to stop, stretch your legs and enjoy the magnificent scenery. Hiking trails take off from several stops within the White Mountain State Park as well.
As New Englanders first began to realize the pleasure of the great American road trip, the area became one of the premier travel destinations in the Northeast. As a result, you’ll see plenty of roadside motels still in operation.
Roadside attractions were also quite the rage, a tradition that continued into much of the 1960s. Clark’s Trading Post first opened in 1928, offering road trippers the chance to tour a working sled-dog facility and view wondrous artifacts curated “from the north”.
The Clark’s took the iconic status to heart, and in 1931, obtained a black bear and started the Black Bear Show. Before you start envisioning malnourished, mistreated animals locked in a small cage, know that Clark’s is not about exploiting the animals.
When not performing, bears live in large habitats and enjoy being a bear, with one small difference. The trainer at The Trading Post, Maureen Clark, is bonded to her bears. They are the children she never had and will always come first in her life.
Clark’s has grown up as an off-the-beaten-path vacation destination, adding other attractions over the years. Enjoy a short train ride, chased by a backwoods hooligan, visit the shack where gravity loses sway, explore artifacts from the past, and even take a ride on a Segway.
It’s all part of a day at Clark’s Trading Post.
Finding Solitude in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
If you’d rather explore nature, you’ll find the crowds absent from many of the back roads and highways. This is an off-the-beaten-path vacation at its best.
As you make your way around, be sure to stop at some of the small general stores for local fare. The Brick Store in Bath offers fresh smoked meats. Enjoy your purchases while rocking on the long front porch in near isolation.
Solitude begins to unwind as you reach Littleton. Maybe it’s because the town is home to Chutters and the world’s longest candy counter.
However, crowds begin to thin quickly as you leave town and the serenity of the landscape is inviting. The White Mountains offer many things to do, but you’ll find that you can enjoy most in relative seclusion.
Stop to see what’s left of the Old Man of the Mountain, zipline over rocky streams, experience the valleys and peaks from a scenic chairlift or tram, and delve into the rocky nooks and crannies that make the White Mountains unique.
Even roadside attractions are less crowded here. Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves takes you into the river canyon and lets you explore small cavelets and stunning views via a series of walkways. For a unique experience, you can opt for a guided night tour, or if you find the best solitude within yourself, take a yoga class in the woods.
Extreme Fun in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
New Hampshire is one of the few New England states that has managed to strike a balance between protecting the environment and welcoming visitors who enjoy exploring the remote corners on the back of an all-terrain vehicle. To protect native habitat, the state has established a trail system for off-road vehicles through some of the best sites.
If you don’t have your own ride, rentals are available. Head out for a day and throw down your tent trailside at night. You won’t find a more uncrowded summer vacation experience than that.
Remote and wonderful, this is one of the most off-the-beaten-path summer vacation destinations that you will find, without having to leave the small conveniences completely behind. Plan a trip today.
Why the White Mountains of New Hampshire Make Our List of Least Crowded Summer Vacation Destinations in the USA
- Rent an ATV to explore mountain solitude
- Experience a bygone era with kitschy summer fun
- Explore caves and river gorges without the crowds of larger National Parks
- Experience the charm of small-town New England, including several general stores still in operation, as well as the world’s longest candy counter
Southern Oregon–From Caves to Tall Wonders
If you’re looking to visit a National Park this summer, Crater Lake in Oregon is one of the least crowded summer vacation destinations in the lineup, despite a view into the bluest water you’ll find anywhere.
This ancient volcano collapsed 7,700 years ago to create a caldera that, over the eons, filled with water. The brilliant blue depths of Crater Lake lure a small group of travelers each summer, but it’s remote location within the state have left it as an off-the-beaten-path vacation destination.
The rim road circling the top of the Caldera sees the most traffic, though you’ll rarely feel pressed for space. The one and only official trail down to the water also sees its share of fellow-travelers, but the presence is benign, more an enjoyable way to reconnect with the world again before heading into more primitive silence.
Crater Lake was designated a National Park in 1902, and while the number of visitors enjoying the area has been on the rise, traffic is still half that of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the nation’s two most visited parks. Each of these parks welcomes over 10 million travelers a year, while Crater Lake nestles peacefully beneath a million.
Onsite accommodations include the Civilian Conservation Corp-era lodge and not much else. If you want to stay nearby, we recommend Grants Pass. You’ll run into more vacationers here, but it’s a convenient basecamp for exploring the region. Check out VRBO for more out-of-the way vacation rentals. You can also feel free to contact us for booking asssistance.
Heading South From Crater Lake into Uncrowded Bliss
While in the area, take time to head south to explore another uncrowded National Park. Oregon Caves are buried deep within the Siskiyou Mountains, with passages that have never seen the light of day. You can take excursions into the “marble caverns” with a trained guide and explore the underworld of the Oregon mountains.
From there, head further south into Northern California. While the crowds are fighting for space at more coveted attractions, such as Redwood National Park, you can soak up the majesty of the forest’s great giants at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park just over the Oregon border. We spent an August afternoon here and saw only a single car.
There are no words to describe the splendor and magnificence of the giant redwoods and no better way to commune with them than in the relative seclusion offered at Jedediah State Park.
For accommodations, we rented a house for the night in Crescent City, California, a convenient starting point for the next day’s adventure up the Oregon Coast along famed Route 101. While there are a multitude of places to stop and explore, we made a pretty fast track up to Gold Beach, where we ended our journey skimming the water of the Rogue River on a jet boat.
We arrived at Jerry’s Rogue Jets with only ten minutes to spare before the last trip of the day departed the harbor and were able to get right on a boat.
As off-the-beaten-path vacation destinations go, you can’t go wrong by heading into the wild and scenic protected section of the Rogue River Valley. In 1968, the The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act offered protection to the Rogue, shielding it from development and ensuring habitat for the species that call the corridor home. When you’re flying across the water on a jet boat, you’ll see little in the way of habitation. Aside from your fellow passengers on the boat, you’ll be alone with the wildlife. For the best sightings, take the morning boat as animals tend to be more active before the heat of the day.
Why Southern Oregon Makes Our List of Least Crowded Summer Vacation Destinations
- Snap a photo of some of the country’s largest redwoods in near solitude, without having to leave the main road
- Visit one of the country’s most unique National Parks without the crowds
- Delve underground and explore the marble halls of Oregon Caves
Find Your Uncrowded Summer Vacation Destination in the USA
Here are three great off-the-beaten-path vacation destinations, if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, but the truth is, uncrowded summer vacation destinations abound across the U.S. Pick a state and Get Out. Explore.