From gorgeous scenery to historically significant sites, the United States offers a variety of intriguing places. Unless you live near one of these unique destinations, though, you likely haven’t visited any of them — and you may not even have heard of them. Here are 19 fascinating places in the U.S. you probably never knew existed.
Miami Beach is a bustling tropical metropolis where fashionistas, celebs, tourists, and jet-setters shop, soak in the sun, party until dawn, and zoom around in high-speed boats. Just a few miles offshore in Biscayne Bay’s shallow waters, however, sits an abandoned community of homes built on stilts. Local fishermen built the first houses here in the 1920s, and at one point, 27 structures perched above the water. Accessible only by boat and far enough offshore to be somewhat immune to gambling and alcohol regulations, Stiltsville had a reputation for wild parties and overindulgence. Multiple hurricanes have since destroyed many structures, but a few still exist.
You can visit by permit only, but many boat tours pass by the remaining structures. Stiltsville sits just south of Key Biscayne, which is accessible via the Rickenbacker Causeway from Miami. This quiet, five-mile-long barrier island is well worth a visit since it’s home to spectacular beaches and two large parks, Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. You also can climb the nearly 200-year-old Cape Florida Lighthouse, which offers panoramic views of Stiltsville, Biscayne Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and Miami.
Loveland Castle, Ohio
If you ignore the cars and portable toilets, you might think you’ve landed in medieval Europe as you gaze up at Loveland Castle. Situated on the banks of the Little Miami River about 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, Loveland Castle is the work of one man. The castle’s founder, Sir Harry Andrews, spent more than 50 years building the fortress himself using handmade bricks. Andrews served as a medic in World War I and was also a professor, Sunday school teacher, author, notary public, and Boy Scout leader.
In the early 1920s, Andrews met regularly with a group of Boy Scouts who called themselves the Knights of the Golden Trail (KOGT). The boys engaged in a variety of outdoor adventures, including camping. Andrews built a couple of stone structures to make camping easier for the KOGT, but he eventually decided his knights needed a real castle, so he spent the next 50 years building an authentic fortress — complete with a bell tower, moat, dungeon, garden, trick stairs, and a battle deck. Today, members of the KOGT maintain the castle, stand guard, and offer tours.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
You might have heard of Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, but the sparkling, white dunes in the United States’ newest national park offer a different experience. Instead of being surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the 275-square-mile White Sand Dunes National Park sits in the Tularosa Basin. Formerly known as the White Sands National Monument, the area was officially designated a national park in December 2019.
The dunes, which are made of gypsum, began forming around 7,000 to 10,000 years ago as a lake dried up. You’ll find plenty of things to do if you visit, including biking, driving the scenic eight-mile Dunes Drive, hiking, horseback riding, and even sledding. The white gypsum looks and feels like snow, so thrill-seekers will love sliding down the slopes — no snow boots required.
Garden of the Gods, Colorado
When we think of Colorado, we tend to envision rugged, majestic mountains covered in snow. However, there’s an entirely different (yet equally stunning) landscape at Garden of the Gods. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the 300-foot, red sandstone formations at this National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs. The location earned its name in 1859 when two surveyors discovered the dramatic structures and declared it a “fit place for the Gods to assemble.” In addition to wearing out your camera, you can stop by the visitor center to learn about how the rocks formed, and tour the gardens by segway, Jeep, electric bike, or trolley.
This town’s nickname is the “Biggest Little Town in Southeast Minnesota.” It’s part of what’s known as “Bluff Country,” because it’s located between high wooded bluffs at the southern end of the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail System, an 18-mile, picturesque trail that connects with the Root River State Trail. Visitors can drive along nearby Historic Bluff Country Scenic Byway and hike fabulous trails overlooking the Mississippi River, where birders and non-birders alike will enjoy spotting bald eagles, hawks, and migratory birds. Once you’re done exploring the trails, check out Niagara Cave, a 200-foot-deep limestone cave with underground waterfalls, fossils, streams, stalagmites, and stalactites.
Harmony’s countryside is also home to Minnesota’s largest Old Order Amish community, so Amish buggies are familiar sights along area roads. You can learn about Amish history and culture on a tour, or shop for homemade baked goods, furniture, baskets, quilts, and more.
Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
The United States’ first national preserve was almost the world’s largest jetport, which builders planned to construct in the heart of Big Cypress Swamp adjacent to the Florida Everglades in the 1960s. In a rare collaboration, environmentalists, sportsmen, conservationists, politicians, and local Native American tribes combined forces to protect Big Cypress Swamp. Many felt that national parks were too restrictive and would prevent some of the activities swamp enthusiasts enjoyed, so instead of adding the swamp to the nearby Everglades National Park, supporters created a new land management concept — a national preserve.
In 1974, the 729,000-acre area officially became the Big Cypress National Preserve, which offers biking, off-roading, kayaking, hunting, fishing, and canoeing in the secluded wetlands. You’re almost sure to spot an alligator, seabirds, and possibly even the highly endangered Florida panther. One of the best ways to explore the area is by swamp buggy. You can also attend a night sky event since Big Cypress is known for having some of the darkest skies in the eastern U.S.
Old City Hall Subway Station, New York
Gracefully vaulted tile ceilings, elegant chandeliers, and intricately leaded skylights are not part of the typical New York City subway experience. But you’ll find all of that, and more, in the abandoned old City Hall Station. Architects Heins and LaFarge designed City Hall Station in 1900 as part of the City Beautiful movement. The very first NYC subway ride began there in 1904, with much fanfare. It was later shut down in 1945 after nearby stations became more popular. No. 6 trains still use the track as a turnaround, but if you want to see it in its full grandeur, it’s best to book a tour with the New York Transit Museum. Museum members receive priority for the 90-minute tours, which begin above ground with a historical walk.
Tillamook Coast, Oregon
It’s difficult not to be distracted by the breathtaking scenery as you drive Oregon’s “Three Capes Scenic Route,” a 40-mile byway that passes majestic coastal landscapes. Among the more notable stops is Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, where you can check out one of North America’s most populous colonies of nesting seabirds, including common murres, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons.
From May through September, you can also tour the historic Cape Meares lighthouse. Take a break from driving and embark on a 90-minute, round-trip ride on the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, which operates regularly scheduled trains between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach during summer months. If you’re an outdoor adventurist, you’ll also enjoy horseback riding, biking, clamming, kayaking, and more along one of the U.S.’s most dramatically beautiful coastlines. You can even hike — one trail passes an oddly shaped tree known as the Octopus Tree.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Western legends such as Wild Bill Hickok, Sheriff Seth Bullock, and Calamity Jane once called this historic Gold Rush town home. Built on land owned by the Lakota-Sioux, Deadwood was named for the many dead trees that lined the canyon. Under General George A. Custer, the U.S. military tried to prevent people from swarming the Black Hills region and violating the Treaty of Fort Laramie, but after a miner struck gold in the Northern Black Hills in 1875, prospectors flocked to the area by the thousands.
Today, you can try your hand at gold panning, learn about the town’s colorful history and its infamous inhabitants on one of many tours, and take in the scenery on a vintage steam-train ride. In summer, Wild West re-enactors roam the streets and perform. You’ll also find quite a variety of wineries, wine bars, breweries, and pubs — no surprise, given Deadwood’s long history of saloons.
Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, West Virginia
As you come upon an ornamental structure topped by a gold dome and surrounded by a luscious garden and a magnificent fountain, you might feel like you’ve wandered into a temple in India. The founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) began building the palace, which is also known as America’s Taj Mahal, for their teacher A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in 1968. Prabhupada came to the U.S. in 1965 from India and began missionary work in New York City. He frequently traveled to an old farmhouse on 133 acres in West Virginia’s Appalachian countryside, where he established New Vrindaban — the first ISKCON community.
His devotees decided he deserved a better home and started building a simple foundation. Over time, ISKCON members added features to expand the structure and make it more elaborate. You can tour Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold and its expansive grounds, which include Swan Lake. There you’ll find 30-foot-tall Gaur Nitai statues and an ornate boathouse.
Settled in 1654, this historic seaside community is split in two by the Mystic River. A bustling shipbuilding village long hailed as a safe harbor for tall ships during storms, Mystic is steeped in seafaring history and New England charm. It’s technically not a town — it’s a village within the towns of Stonington and Groton. A great place to visit if you’re interested in learning about maritime history, Mystic houses the Mystic Seaport Museum, the nation’s largest maritime museum. It includes more than 60 meticulously restored buildings, a working waterfront, a preservation shipyard, and the Charles W. Morgan — the last wooden whaleship in the world. You can even ride aboard or pilot one of the museum’s boats!
Fly Geyser, Nevada
Unlike Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Fly Geyser resulted from an accidental man-made event. In 1964, a geothermal power company drilled a test well about two hours north of Reno. The company either left the well uncapped or improperly plugged it. Scalding hot, 200-degree water began shooting from the geothermal water pocket deposit underneath, and over time, calcium carbonate deposits formed into three mounds around the geyser. Today, multiple geysers sprout from the alien-shaped piles. Thermophilic algae cover the mounds, creating various hues of red and green, which further adds to the otherworldly appearance.
The geysers shoot water continuously about five to six feet in the air from the roughly six-foot mounds. Surrounding the formations are several travertine terraces with dozens of pools across 74 acres. Fans of the Burning Man event might be familiar with Fly Geyser since it sits on Fly Ranch, a 3,800-acre ranch owned by the nonprofit Burning Man Project. But the only way to see Fly Geyser and witness its magic is by booking a three-hour nature walk with Friends of Black Rock-High Rock.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
Located about 150 miles northwest of Albuquerque, this area in a remote part of northwest New Mexico has multiple claims to fame. For one thing, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is an officially designated International Dark Sky Park, meaning the night sky blazes to life against an inky black backdrop. The region is also listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for “its monumental public and ceremonial buildings and distinctive architecture.” (The UNESCO listing includes both Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Aztec Ruins National Monument.)
The attention is justified, as the area contains the largest, most architecturally advanced, and best-preserved village of the ancestral Puebloan people. From about 850 to 1250, inhabitants constructed a variety of monumental, multistoried complexes — the most massive structures built in North America before the 19th century. The compounds were used for trade, governance, and ceremonies, and were linked by a sophisticated system of carefully engineered roads. What makes these engineering feats even more impressive is the harsh desert climate, the 6,200-foot elevation, and the area’s remoteness.
Isla Royale, Michigan
Accessible only by ferry, private boat, or seaplane, Isla Royale sits in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, only a few miles away from the Canadian border. The entire island is a national park. In fact, Isla Royale National Park is the least visited U.S. national park outside of Alaska, with only about 26,000 annual visitors. By contrast, the most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains, receives more than 12 million visitors annually. It’s not a lack of beauty that keeps visitation low, though — it’s the inaccessibility. Most visitors reach the island by three- to four-hour ferry rides, which depart from ports in Michigan or Minnesota in summer. Once you’re on the island, the unparalleled solitude and stunning beauty will take your breath away. The park — which also includes the 450 smaller islands that surround Isla Royale — prohibits all wheeled vehicles (except wheelchairs), so the only way to get around is by foot or boat. Hiking and paddling enthusiasts will love the opportunity to explore and hopefully spot wildlife such as moose, eagles, and ospreys.
Nevada City, California
This California Gold Rush town, located about 60 miles northeast of Sacramento, once boasted a population of 10,000 during its peak in the mid-1800s. Few people call Nevada City home today, but visitors continue to flock to the area for its old-fashioned charm. The town’s well-preserved historic district and its 93 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and while you won’t find any chain restaurants here, you can fuel up at one of the many independently owned eateries, pubs, and cafes. You’ll also see attractive Victorian-era homes, peaceful tree-lined streets, and California’s oldest still-operating performing arts structure, the Nevada Theater. There's plenty to do if you enjoy the outdoors, too: Popular activities include hiking, kayaking, road and mountain biking, fishing, and off-roading.
Boldt Castle, New York
In 1900, millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt envisioned constructing a European castle-style summer mansion for his beloved wife, Louise. However, when Louise died suddenly in 1904, the brokenhearted Boldt halted work and left the structure unfinished. For 73 years, the castle sat vacant on lovely Heart Island in the St. Lawrence River. Then, in 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and invested several million dollars into restoring and finishing it.
Today, beautiful gardens surround the castle structures, which include a gazebo, two towers, and a picturesque, medieval power house and clock tower. The landmark’s dramatic beauty and historical love story have made it both a popular wedding venue and a tourist attraction, and although you can’t stay overnight, you can tour the castle, gardens, and yacht house. Tour boats provide passenger service from Alexandria Bay, New York, and from Ontario, Canada. (Boldt Castle is an Official Port of Entry into the United States.)
The Wave, Arizona
Microsoft made this incredible geological formation famous in 2009, when it used an image of what is now known as “The Wave” as a desktop background for its Windows 7 operating system. Before then, only locals and avid backpackers knew about this secret hiking spot on the Arizona-Utah border. After its introduction to the masses, however, a deluge of people added The Wave to their bucket list of adventures and descended upon the site. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quickly recognized that the ecologically sensitive area would be irrevocably damaged unless access was limited.
The Wave, which is hidden within the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, is still on many people’s bucket lists. However, only a select few get to trek the 5.2-mile round-trip hike to admire its ethereal beauty. The BLM issues just 20 permits per day — 10 via an online lottery four months in advance and 10 via a same-day permit from the BLM Kanab Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. Your chances of obtaining a permit are pretty slim, but there are plenty of other equally incredible areas nearby, such as Antelope Canyon.
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Before you could purchase synthetic kitchen sponges at your supermarket, the only sponges available came from the sea. Greeks have been harvesting these aquatic animals from the warm Mediterranean seabed for centuries. They even used weighted dive suits to make it easier to stay underwater and rake the sponges free.
In the early 1900s, a Greek named John Corcoris recognized that the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters were home to similar aquatic sponges. In 1905, he recruited 500 Greek divers to come to Tarpon Springs, a town about 30 miles north of Tampa. Soon, a bustling community sprung up around the docks where the sponge divers unloaded their harvests. Tarpon Springs became known as the “Sponge Capital of the World.” Today, it's still home to a thriving Greek community, and more than 100 restaurants and shops line the Tarpon Springs sponge docks. In addition to filling up on authentic Greek cuisine, you can visit Spongeorama, an eclectic little museum that tells the history of Tarpon Springs’ sponge-diving industry.
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, Louisiana
Little is known about the ancient people who created this marvel of earthen construction, but archaeologists have discovered millions of artifacts that could help fill in the blanks. Built between 1700 and 1100 B.C.E. and named for a nearby plantation in the Lower Mississippi Valley, the 400-acre complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national monument. It includes five large mounds, six enormous concentric semi-elliptical ridges, and a central plaza — all located around 180 miles north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Without modern tools, the hunter-fisher-gatherers who built these earthworks had to move approximately 53 million cubic feet of soil using woven baskets. They also transported several tons of stones from as far as 1,000 miles away. Historians believe the site was part of a vast trading network and possibly a capital for this ancient population. Today, you can tour Poverty Point and learn more about its history and significance at the interpretive museum, which includes artifacts such as ceramic figurines and clay vessels.