Waterfalls, Caves, and Lakes — 50 Hidden Gems Across America

Our fifty states offer so much to see and do that we often forget to step off the beaten path. In reality, there’s some astonishing scenery, towns, and attractions that you’re surely missing. At Yahoo Travel we firmly believe you can see it all—the big amazing attractions, as well as the cool stuff hidden just around the bend —so we went in search of the places you may not know about. 

Alabama

Frank Jackson State Park has a 1,000-acre lake for picnicking and camping. There’s a cool boardwalk over to an island and miles of hiking trails.

Alaska

Alaska’s Lake George is home to some seriously cool icebergs. (Photo: Getty Images)

Lake George is a National Natural Landmark, best known for its beautiful icebergs that break off the Knick Glacier. You can even touch one where they come to shore.

Arizona

Like some hidden gems, Emerald Cave is not easy to access; it involves a 3-hour kayak tour down the Colorado River. Once you arrive, fatigued muscles fade into the background as the cool green waters envelope you.      

Arkansas

Mirror Lake is a tiny fishing lake with waterfalls fed by Blanchard Springs Caverns. It’s hidden away in northern Arkansas with camping and hiking facilities available nearby.

California

The crazy cool tufa towers of Mono Lake. (Photo: Sanjay/Flickr)

Mono Lake has freakish spires of minerals called “tufa towers.” The lake is popular with photographers, birding enthusiasts, and kayakers.  

Colorado

It was had to choose from the huge number of hidden gems in this state, but we loveHanging Lake for its beauty and its proximity to the cool town of Glenwood Springs, where you can soak away you after-hiking soreness in the world’s largest mineral hot springs swimming pool.

Related: The World’s Hottest Hidden Beaches

Connecticut

Castle Craig is a stone observation tower in the 1,800 acre Hubbard Park in Meriden. On a clear day, you may even glimpse Long Island Sound.

Delaware

Mount Cuba Center “takes gardening to a new level.” We think they take scenic beauty to a new level.

Florida

Bok Tower may be one of the coolest things in the state that most people don’t know about. It stands 205 feet tall, has a 60-bell carillon, and artwork in its massive tile grills that incorporate images sea life and other Florida nature scenes. Just, wow!

Georgia

Talululah Gorge in Georgia. (Photo: Alexander Lerch/Flickr)

Tallulah Gorge State Park has camping, picnicking, hiking, and a spectacular suspension footbridge 80-feet above the gorge.                

Hawaii

Waipi'o Valley on the Big Island is best known for its stunning 2,000 foot-cliffs rising straight out of the Pacific. There is a paved one-mile, one-lane road, but four-wheel drive vehicles are strongly recommended. At the bottom, there’s a black sand beach and a glimpse of one of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii — Hi’ilawe Falls, deep within the valley on private property.

Idaho

Beaches and mountain scenery greet you at Payette Lake in McCall. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Illinois

Tunnel Hill State Trail extends 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak across wooden trestles and across the Trail of Tears.

Indiana

Turkey Run State Park is Indiana as you never imagined it: lush forests, sandstone gorges carved by the river, topped off with an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Iowa

The Fenelon Place Elevator is one of the shortest, steepest railroads in the world. (Photo: minnemom/Flickr)

The Fenelon Place Elevator is a scenic railway 296 feet in length, but with a vertical rise of 189 feet. Now that’s steep! You can see three states and the Mississippi River from the top on Fenelon Place in the Dubuque business district.

Kansas

Geary County State Park includes the beauty of Geary Falls. There are picnic tables, fireplace grills, and campsites.

Kentucky

Buckhorn Lake State Park is a resort park featuring a 36-room lodge plus two and three-bedroom cottages to help you enjoy the beauty of the 1,200-acre lake.

Louisiana

Hodges Garden State Park is 700 acres of gardens, some cultivated by man, others by nature. There are hidden cabins tucked in the gardens for rent, or bring your own gear and camp.

Maine

Beautiful beaches and blue water in Biddeford Pool. (Photo: Ian Bruce/Flickr)

Biddeford Pool is a tide pool jutting into the ocean from a delightful stretch of beach. Bring your chairs and enjoy the serenity or explore the shallows by kayak.

Related: Secret Maine Beaches You Need to Know About

Maryland

C&O Canal Lockhouse 28 lets you step back in time by renting the most remote canal keeper’s quarters on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was built to carry industrial products and agricultural goods between communities along the Potomac.

Massachusetts

The 244-acre peninsula known as Worlds End, is part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. Its meandering paths and gardens were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, making it both a retreat from the city and a historical adventure.

Michigan

South Manitou Island is one of the islands that extend into the Straits of Mackinac. It has a lighthouse to explore, a shipwreck you can see from shore, and miles of hiking trails.

Minnesota

Boundary Waters Canoe Area encompasses over a million acres of Lake Superior shoreline, with more than a thousand miles of canoe routes, plus hiking trails, and campsites.

Mississippi

Tanglefoot Trail is the state’s longest Rails to Trails conversion, covering 43 miles through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Missouri

Crooked Creek Falls proves that big beauty can come in small falls. (Photo: Cletus Lee/Flickr)

Crooked Creek Falls is a small, and often overlooked sampling of the beauty of the Ozarks.

Montana 

How about sleeping in a cabin perched on a lookout tower on a mountain with a 7,700-foot elevation? Gird Point Lookout is just that. Hiking, sunset watching, and relaxing are the top activities here.

Nebraska 

The little town of Hebron is a hidden gem in the southern part of the state, and they have the World’s Largest Porch Swing here, which is the perfect place for a group photo stop.

Nevada

Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the continental U.S., and it’s one of the darkest, making it perfect for stargazing.

New Hampshire

Thompson Falls is a rarely visited scenic spot in the White Mountain National Forest. The trail is a mere half-mile long, and the pool at the bottom of the falls safe enough for a swim.

New Jersey

Sea Girt Lighthouse is one of only eleven lighthouses on the Jersey Shore open to the public. It was the last live-in lighthouse built in the Atlantic Coast.

New Mexico

The Soda Dam waterfall and mineral springs. (Photo: monica.orchard/Flickr)

Jemez Springs lies west of the Rockies, far from the crowds of Santa Fe. The tiny community offers hot mineral baths for the weary, secluded camping opportunities, and some of the state’s best fishing.

Related: Off the Beaten Path: 6 Hidden Gems Along New Mexico’s Turquoise Trail

New York

Dutchess County Rail Trail is tucked away in the Hudson Valley, from Poughkeepsie to Hopewell Junction. The 13-mile trail passes through lush forest, old rail tunnels, and across wooden trestles.

North Carolina

Lake Lure is a lovely 720-acre lake set in the mountains in the western portion of the state. Nearby Chimney Rock Park offers waterfalls, hiking, and a stunning view of the lake.

North Dakota

The Fairview Lift Bridge allows hikers to cross the Yellowstone River and pass through the only rail tunnel in the state—the Cartwright Tunnel.

Ohio

Great Circle Earthworks features one of several mounds in the region that make up the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. The mounds were built more than 2,000 years ago as gathering places of the ancient people.

Oklahoma

Alabaster Caverns features the largest natural gypsum cavern in the world. Guided tours take place in the newly-lighted cave daily.

Oregon

Thor’s Well is so hypnotic, you could easily stand here and watch the water rush and flow for hours…but then you’d miss all the rest Cape Perpetua has to offer! (Photo: Bill Young/Flickr)

Cape Perpetua Scenic Area offers tide pools, astonishing overlooks, and the mesmerizing Thors Well, where the ocean churns up through the rocks like a giant whirlpool tub, before sucking back to the sea.  

Pennsylvania

Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area has more than 100 miles of hiking trails, 100 miles of scenic roads, and encompasses 27 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The trails take you past streams, falls, and river valleys.

Rhode Island

St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center in Woonsocket, houses the largest collection of Fresco Paintings in North America. Afternoon tours are available on Sundays throughout the summer.                            

South Carolina

Reedy Branch Falls is only 30 feet high, but its close proximity to U.S. Highway 76—just 300 yards from the road, make it a readily accessible hidden treasure.

Related: The Most Amazing Outdoor Adventures in Asheville, North Carolina

South Dakota

Historic Prairie Village has something for everyone. We especially love the chapel rail car that traveled throughout the western states, stopping at frontier towns for church services on the rails.

Tennessee

Explore some seriously cool caves in Tennessee. (Photo: TripAdvisor)

Tuckaleechee Caverns is hidden away at the foot of the Smokey Mountains. The beautiful cave system is privately operated, with tours available daily March to November.

Texas

Operated by the University of Texas, the McDonald Observatory is well off the beaten path, perched above the quaint town of Fort Davis. In addition to nightly star-watching programs, self-guided tours of the 362-inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope are available daily.

Utah

The Wedge is fondly called “Little Grand Canyon.” The 1,200-foot drop to the San Rafael River has the same palette of colors as its larger namesake. There’s an overlook, but even that is a well-hidden gem. The Utah State Geological Survey offers detailed directions.

Vermont

Osmore Pond is one of the hidden gems developed by the CCC in the 1930’s. The picnic and camping areas feature charming stone fireplaces, log shelters, and picnic tables. Hiking trails surround the lake.

Virginia

Wooden path through the marshlands of Huntley Meadows Park. (Photo: 殷杨/Flickr)

Often the most amazing things hide in plain sight, as is the case with Huntley Meadows Park. Located just outside the Beltway, its healthy wetlands offer some of the best wildlife viewing in the D.C. metro area.

Washington

Wallace Falls State Park has a 265-foot waterfall, streams, rivers, miles of trails, and adorable cabins you can rent.

West Virginia

Our list would not be complete without a covered bridge. We love Dents Run Covered Bridge, built in 1889. It is well hidden, but worth the effort to find. We found detailed directions to this and several other bridges on the Tour Morgantown website.

Wisconsin

Iron County has multiple campgrounds, several waterfalls, and an extensive ATV trail system. Fun for all!

Wyoming

We wrap up our list with a journey back in time. When you step through the doors of the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, you can almost hear the jingle of spurs. The list of previous guests includes Butch Cassidy, Teddy Roosevelt, and Calamity Jane.

WATCH: Iceland — The Most Magical Layover Ever

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.  Watch Yahoo Travel’s original series “A Broad Abroad.”