10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US

February 28, 2024

While summer can be the best time of year for traveling and unforgettable experiences, it can also mean that popular tourist destinations will be more crowded and more expensive than usual. The summer months in the US can also mean higher airfare prices and hotel rates. But with these underrated summer travel ideas (including some of the best national parks in the summer), you can still check off some pretty cool places from your bucket list, all while avoiding the crowds and price surges. 

Whether you are looking for lush forests, majestic mountains, sandy beaches, or stunning landscapes with natural wonders, the US has plenty of underrated destinations to offer in the summer months.

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Below I’m sharing 10 of the most underrated summer travel destination ideas in the US: 

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Big Bear Lake, California | 10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US

Underrated Summer Travel Ideas: Mountain Destinations

1. Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake in California is a great underrated summer travel idea for all kinds of visitors. Adventure enthusiasts can enjoy water sports such as boating, fishing, and paddleboarding on Big Bear Lake, as well as nearby outdoor activities such as mountain biking and hiking trails. While the Big Bear Alpine Zoo and Alpine Slide are great attractions for families.

And with its close proximity to Los Angeles, it’s a convenient and underrated summer travel idea for those seeking a quick escape from the city.

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2. Jackson Hole, Wyoming

While Jackson Hole, Wyoming is also the entry point into Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, the town itself offers an array of activities and attractions that make it a great underrated summer travel idea. The area is known for its stunning hiking trails, such as the popular Cascade Canyon Trail offering picturesque views of Teton Range. Kayaking on the Snake River is another must-do activity, providing an opportunity to see the local wildlife from a different perspective.

In addition to outdoor adventures, Jackson Hole’s quaint downtown area is a charming and historic place to explore, and offers a variety of art galleries, boutique shops, and dining options. You can also enjoy live music and street performances during the summer months.

Pagosa Springs, Colorado | 10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US

3. Pagosa Springs, Colorado

This quaint Colorado mountain town along the San Juan Mountains is another great underrated summer travel idea for outdoor enthusiasts. Pagosa Springs is home to a variety of hot springs, including the World’s Deepest Hot Spring, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records!

Pagosa Springs also sits along the San Juan National Forest and offers a variety of camping and nearby hiking trails, making it an ideal spot for a great summer vacation and peaceful retreat.

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4. Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky, Montana is another town near Yellowstone National Park that is mostly known as a ski town during the winter months. However, during the summer this ideal destination has a lot to offer even outside of the national park.

In the summer months, Big Sky hosts events such as live music concerts, farmers markets, and outdoor festivals. Big Sky also offers other outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, and horseback riding.

5. The Black Hills, South Dakota

The Black Hills in South Dakota is a small mountain range in the Black Hills National Forest that is largely known for being home to Mount Rushmore. Although certain parts of The Black Hills can get busier during the summer months, especially with Badlands and Wind Cave National Parks nearby, this area has quite a lot of underrated hidden gems to offer.

Some of the lesser-known destinations in The Black Hills includes hiking in Spearfish Canyon, and hidden caves in Custer State Park. 

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah | 10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah | 10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas in the US

Underrated Summer Travel Ideas: Best National Parks

6. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

While many of the other national parks can get crowded during this time of year, Capitol Reef National Park is one of Southern Utah’s more underrated summer travel ideas. It’s part of Utah’s Mighty 5 that often gets overlooked by some of the other popular destinations nearby, such as Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Which means that you can take in some of Utah’s most scenic views and impressive rock formations without the summer crowds.

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7. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

If you are looking for an overlooked national park to travel to this summer, then Great Basin National Park should be on your list. Great Basin National Park in Nevada is actually one of the United States’ least-visited national parks – Which makes it a great addition to this post.

This national park is much more remote, regardless of which direction you are coming from, making it one of the most underrated summer travel ideas in the country. But Great Basin is a beautiful park that is best experienced during the summer months when wildflowers are in bloom and the weather is ideal for outdoor activities.

Thanks to its dark skies and minimal light pollution, Great Basin is also the perfect spot for stargazing and offers guided tours so you can explore the park at night.

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8. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas 

Hot Springs, Arkansas is home to Hot Springs National Park (the second smallest national park in the US), and is famous for its ancient thermal springs and historic bathhouses. What makes this national park unique is that it is set right in the middle of the town, which makes this underrated destination a great option for a peaceful retreat.

The centerpiece of this national park is the 8 bathhouses that were built as far back as the late-1800’s. Hot Springs National Park is also the only national park that has a brewery – The Superior Bathhouse. 

Outside of the bathhouses, the park also offers a variety of hiking trails for the outdoor enthusiasts looking for the typical national park experience. 

Underrated Summer Travel Ideas: Beaches & Island Destinations

9. San Juan Islands, Washington

If you’re looking for more underrated summer travel ideas on the West Coast, then the San Juan Islands are a great destination. These islands off the coast of Washington are recognized for their moderate climate, scenic landscapes, and diverse wildlife. Summer is also known as the prime season for whale watching in the area. 

The islands each have charming towns with their own unique character – With plenty of local shops and restaurants to enjoy.

You can hop between the islands on ferries while taking in the stunning views of the water and surrounding mountains.

10. Clearwater, Florida

While Florida is a popular summer destination, Clearwater often gets overlooked in favor of more well-known spots like Miami or Orlando. However, this hidden gem has so much to offer for those looking for a relaxing beach getaway.

Clearwater, Florida is located right outside of Tampa and is known for its white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

Clearwater is also home to several nearby State Parks. Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park are both a quick island hop away for the adventure-seekers.

Have any more underrated summer travel ideas in the US? Share with me what should be added to the list in the comments below!

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The Gal Behind the Blog

Hi I’m Rylie – Welcome to my corner of the internet!

I’m a solo traveler & photographer turned full-time corporate travel agent – born and raised in Southern California but now based in Colorado.