You’ve heard tell of the wonderful destinations in the United States of America, but there are several nooks and crannies that are often unsung, and equate to affordable road trips or vacation destinations. We’re not talking spotlighted cities like New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. You’re all well aware of those. This is a little something for people who love to get off the beaten path, unplug from the manufactured electricity, and dig back into a stellar, generally unpaved, visceral experience. Here are seven wonderful American destinations you probably don’t know about.
7. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Have you heard of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho? If you have, it’s likely because you’re from Idaho, the American West or have vacationed there before. There is something quite magical about Coeur d’Alene, and the lake sharing the same name. If you can approach the small city from west to east, you’ll be able to come down from elevation toward the water level, with the mountainous surroundings and some of the most breathtaking panoramas the United States has to offer. What’s great about Coeur d’Alene? It’s a small town feel. It’s a real community. When you’re a visitor there, you’re treated with great respect and gratitude for offering your tourist patronage to the Idaho panhandle. Hiking, biking, boating, water activities, great little restaurants and as much seclusion as you’d desire. It’s that type of joint. Geographically speaking, it’s a day trip from Glacier National Park in Montana. It’s win-win.
6. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
A BBQ joint? No. Not a BBQ joint. The BBQ joint in the greatest barbecue city in the world. Joe’s is housed inside an operational Shamrock fueling station. People can claim a lot of things, but there’s something about the humidity in great barbecue cities that hasn’t been researched enough. Ever noticed that? The world’s best barbecue is in Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee; and the Carolinas. Back to Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. As mentioned, it is housed in an old gas station—accept no substitute—and if you show up on a Sunday afternoon during football season, prepare to wait in line for an hour or so. Is it worth the wait? This ain’t no five minute roller coaster. It does not get better than Kansas City style burnt ends. And yes, Kansas City is one of the most underrated cities in the union.
5. Southwestern Colorado
This warrants several honorable mentions. Regarding the Rocky Mountain family, there is something terrifyingly beautiful about the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. We’ll begin in the city of Durango, which is one of the coolest cities in all of the United States. If you stick around long enough, you’ll end up living there for a time period. Moving up the road through Mordor—seriously, the mountains are that jagged, but there is no town named for Tolkien’s fantastical, spiritual metaphor—you’ll come to the town of Silverton. Much of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was shot in this area, and they used the still-operational narrow gauge railroad for scene work. Venturing further north…one of the best kept secrets in the U.S.: Ouray, Colorado. Two words: Hot. Springs. Further north and west: Telluride, Colorado. Do it all. Catch it in the fall when the aspens change—you’ll be changed.
4. Buffalo National River, Arkansas
Looking for great adventure on a budget? Look no further than Arkansas: The Natural State. This is an under-trafficked area for adventurists, but everything in the region is incredibly affordable. And that includes multi-day canoe or kayak trips on the Buffalo National River. The networks of caves and freshwater springs are just a couple gems of the Ozark Mountains. It is the worn down, oldest mountain range of the entire continent. The Buffalo River is lined with campgrounds and offers fishing, floating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming—be mindful of water moccasin snakes—and more photo ops than you can possible get to. The best thing about canoeing the river…? The companies providing the rentals put you in, then deliver your car to the take out spot miles down the river, or shuttle you, for a mere $40-50.
3. Bourbon Trail, Kentucky
For those who love Bourbon whiskey, or simply having a great time with friends, there is nothing quite like touring Kentucky with an agenda. The state of Kentucky rests on a limestone bedrock that gives way to bluegrass in the east, and there is something quite magical about what they can make from the water running across the limestone in this region. Did you know that Bourbon is a unique, American spirit? Like real Champagne being a product of the Champagne region in France, real bourbon is from Kentucky. How does this “trail” work? However you prefer. Start southeast and work toward Louisville, or fly into Louisville, rent a car and get to work. It’s not hard to find the distilleries in Kentucky, there are maps dedicated to them.
2. Havasupai Falls, Arizona
The final two entries are a toss up. Both offer life-changing experiences, and both seem otherworldly. Havasupai Falls—also referred to as Havasu Falls—is a natural waterfall pouring from the mineral rich Havasu Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, as it runs through the Grand Canyon. Located in northwest Arizona, the series of waterfalls, including the grand fall into the pool of aqua blue water, is not something you can drive to and witness. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, the reward of seeing these waterfalls is something that must be earned. You’re gonna hike in and hike out. It’s something even children and novice hikers can pull off, but it will take some time if tottering at a slow pace. The greatest thing about hiking into the Havasu Creek canyon…? You get far from the things of man.
1. Avenue of The Giants, California
Everyone has heard of Redwood trees and the Redwood forests located in the Northern California. The Coastal Redwoods, of the Sequoioideae family, are remnants of our ancient world. They are some of the oldest living entities on planet earth. They can live for thousands of years. While there are several places to see them, there is one spectacular stretch in Northern California, breaking off the famed 101 Freeway, onto the Avenue of The Giants. Spending time in this forest, on a stretch of two-lane roadway is cause for pause. As in, you’ll stop several times, and frolic through the forest looking for woodland pixies. Seriously, if there is any kid left in you, it’ll come tearing out of your flesh when you venture into these giants. Your imagination will go wild with wonder, and curiosity for planet earth thousands of years ago.