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50 Hidden Gems in Every State

Looking for a unique travel destination? From waterfalls and springs to museums and parks, these are the coolest hidden gems found in each of the 50 states worthy of your bucket list.

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KeithBinns/Getty Images

The hidden gems of the United States

If you travel frequently, you probably already know about popular tourist attractions in every state. They’re crowded and never as amazing as they look in pictures. These hidden gems around the country show a little part of each state’s history and are sure to make a memorable experience. If you want to find places even more hidden, these are the coolest secret locations in every state.

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Russell Cave, ancient home to indian tribes and others for over 10,000 years, can now only be viewed from a distance as erosion has made it unsafe to enter.
Donna Pickering/Shutterstock

Alabama: Russell Cave National Monument, Jackson County

This archeological site sheltered prehistoric people thousands of years ago. The ballroom-size cavern is also one of the oldest sites of human habitation in North America, according to the National Park Service. Visitors can experience this hidden gem via boardwalk, and they can view a display of weapons and other tools found at the site in a small museum. It is open daily except for major winter holidays.

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Four bald eagles hanging out in shallow water in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve on a sunny winter day.
M. Cornelius/Shutterstock

Alaska: Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, Haines

The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is a state park and wildlife refuge in Haines. The Chilkat Valley, in particular, is home for 200 to 400 eagles. There is a free roadside pull-off at 19-mile Haines Highway with a short trail. In the summer, however, rafting and jet boat tours are available.

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USA Arizona Apache Trail Goldfield Ghost Town Superstition Mountains

Arizona: Goldenfield Ghost Town, Apache Junction

This reconstructed 1890s town includes gold-mine tours, Old West gunfights, and a history museum. The newest attraction is a zip line, but there tons of other attractions at this hidden gem too. The town is open daily but certain attractions have specific hours.

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Sculpture of men lined up during US Depression at USA, Arkansas, Bentonville, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 8-24-2017

Arkansas: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville

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Black Sand Beach in Northern California

California: Black Sands Beach, Sausalito

Yes, the sand at this California beach is black—and it’s considered one of the most beautiful black-sand beaches on the U.S. mainland. It’s not ideal for swimmers since the waves are rough, but it’s great for those who want to bird watch at a less-crowded beach. Also, keep in mind that at high tide the beach will be narrow so check tide charts before you go. Californiabeaches.com notes that some locals consider this a clothing-optional beach (consider this your warning.) Check out these other black sand beaches you never knew existed.

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Bishop Castle

Colorado: Bishop Castle, Rye

This Gothic Colorado castle hides in the foothills of the San Isabel National Forest. It is complete with wrought-iron bridges, stained glass windows, and even a metallic fire-breathing dragon. The best part is that the entire castle was built by one man who gathered and set stones to create it. The castle is “always open and always free,” according to the website.

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evergreen coniferous tree hemlock colorful natural background in backlit

Connecticut: Cathedral Pines Preserve, Cornwall

Only some of the gorgeous old-growth white pine and hemlock trees survived the three tornadoes that devastated the area in 1989. The existing trail at Cathedral Pines is worth exploring for the trees and birdwatching. Here are the nicest places in every state. Did your town make the list?

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Cypress, pine, and other trees along the banks of Trap Pond in Delaware, USA.
Teresa Levite/Shutterstock

Delaware: Trap Pond State Park, Laurel

This park is an outdoor-lovers paradise. In the peak summer season, you can rent kayaks, pedal boats, and canoes for fishing. There are also tons of trails and volleyball courts. The main attraction is the pond itself since freshwater wetlands once covered a significant portion of the area. The park is open daily until sunset.

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American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) - among lily pads - partly submerged - Paynes Prairie State Preserve Park, Florida
J. Norman Reid/Shutterstock

Florida: Paynes Prairie Preserve, Micanopy

The 22,000 acres of this park is overrun with alligators, bison, horses, and more than 270 species of birds. You can hike, bike, or horse ride on any of the nine trails. There is also a 50-foot observation tower with a panoramic view of the prairie. The park is open 365 days a year from morning until sundown.

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Pool at the base of Hurricane Falls at Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia.

Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls

Tallulah Gorge State Park has a trail overlooking three waterfalls and outcrops known as Lion Rock and Lover’s Leap. The park is also a great stop to add to your road trip. This is the best-kept secret in every state.

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Byodo in temple
Courtesy Landis Communications Inc.

Hawaii: Byodo-In Temple, Kaneohe

This 50-year-old temple honors the anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is a smaller replica of the Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage site, in Uji, Japan. People of all faiths are welcome to worship, meditate, or simply appreciate the temple. You might also recognize the temple from shows like Lost, Hawaii Five-O, and Magnum, P.I. The grounds are open daily with admission costing no more than $5.

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Potholes in Black Magic Canyon, Idaho
DM Larson/Shutterstock

Idaho: Black Magic Canyon, West Magic

This small canyon is notoriously hard to get to, but it’s worth the effort to see the natural abstract sculptures and formations in the basalt rock. It is accessible in late July and August and through the winter, but you should call the Big Wood Canal Company first to make sure you don’t visit when water is scheduled to flow through.

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Cypress Swamp in Heron Pond in the Cache River Natural Area in Southern Illinois

Illinois: Cache River State Natural Area, Johnson County

The area is situated within a floodplain carved years ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River, made up of more than 14,000 acres and includes three distinct spots: Little Black Slough, Lower Cache River Swamps, and Glass Hill. Hikers, bikers, and nature-lovers will enjoy this site.

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courtesy @doughutch/instagaram

Indiana: The Roofless Church, New Harmony

It’s fitting that this church, or open park, exists in a town partly called harmony. The interfaith church is open to the public and is maintained by the Robert Lee Balffer Foundation. Although it does, in fact, have a roof, it is really a protective cover for a sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz. Be sure to also visit the best state fair or festival in every state.

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DUBUQUE, IOWA - MAY 5, 2016: The Fenelon Place Elevator / a narrow gauge funicular railway located in Dubuque, Iowa.

Iowa: The Fenelon Place Elevator,  Dubuque

This short and steep elevator boasts views of the historic Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River, and three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Although the creator was a senator-turned-banker in 1882, a round-trip ride costs no more than $3 today. It is, however, only open from April through November.

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kansas troll
courtesy silvershoesrabbitholes/instagram

Kansas: The Troll, Wichita

It might seem ironic that a troll is a hidden gem, but this sculpture has been making people smile since 2007. It’s chained to pipes beneath a large sidewalk close to the Arkansas River. Check out these under-the-radar destinations that are about to get popular.

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lost river cave
courtesy @nealalfano/instagram

Kentucky: Lost River Cave, Bowling Green

This 70-acre gem features the only underground river cave tour in Kentucky. In addition to some cool history—the caves were a campsite for nomadic groups and a shelter for troops during the Civil War—the Lost River Cave includes meadowlands, wetlands, and trails too. Adventure seekers could also check out the new zip lines which are open mid-May through Labor Day. Tours are available seven days a week and the park is closed on major winter holidays.

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Lake Fausse Pointe State Park
Zack Frank/Shutterstock

Louisiana: Los Adaes State Historic Site, Robeline

The Los Adaes fort was once under Spanish rule before eventually closing down. Now, the 58-acre site has a historic hiking trail, earthen works, a timber outline of the fort, and part of the original El Camino Real de los Tejas, the major roadway to Mexico City. There is also a visitor center with displays of various artifacts. The grounds are open daily except for major winter holidays. These are the most historic landmarks in every state.

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old objects for sale at a flea market

Maine: Vintage Bargain Barns, Bar Harbor

Skip the popular Freeport Mall and check out the Vintage Bargain Barns, flea markets disguised as farmhouses that dot the coast. You’ll find everything from vintage finds to unique hand-made items. The markets are off the main road that runs from Bar Harbor to Portland.

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BALTIMORE, USA - JUNE 23, 2016 Bookshelf inside Peabody Library a research library for John Hopkins University
Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

Maryland: The George Peabody Library, Baltimore

Book lovers rejoice! This library is both picturesque and functional. It’s a popular wedding venue, but it still operates as a library six days a week.

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mass lake
Courtesy @bry_guy_/instagram

Massachusetts: Webster Lake, Webster

This is just a theory, but this lake might be a hidden gem simply because of the original 45-letter name. The scenic lake near the Connecticut border also goes by the longer name, Lake CHARGOGGAGOGGMANCHAUGGAGOGGCHAUBUNAGUNGAMAUGG. Have you visited the most famous house in your state yet?

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DETROIT, USA - June 21, 2016: The Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan, USA. The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor art project in Detroit, Michigan which found by Tyree Guyton in 1986.

Michigan: The Heidelberg Project, Detroit

The project consists of creative guerrilla-art installations featured via abandoned houses with some covered with polka dots and others with lotto numbers. Tours are offered by the group. Make sure you know these underrated travel destinations around the world.

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elf house

Minnesota: Lake Harriet Elf House, Minneapolis

This hidden gem is also an adorable tradition. A small “elf door” is attached to a tree near the Lake Harriet area of Minneapolis. Both big and little kids are charmed by this elf home, mainly because the elf answers messages from the kids of Minneapolis.

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General store sign
Dario Racane/Shutterstock

Mississippi: Small Town Mississippi, Jackson

The Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum runs a life-size replica of the typical small southern town. It features everything from a schoolhouse to a cotton gin and everything in-between giving you an inside look at life in the 1920s. The museum is open Monday through Saturday and is closed for most major holidays.

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James Lu/Shutterstock

Missouri: Castor River Shut-Ins, Fredericktown

Come for the scenery of pinkish granite rocks and the rushing water of the Castor River, but stay for the wade and bank fishing. These are the oldest tourist attractions in every state.

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Vintage and rustic wooden bar stools on wooden floor in front of wooden bar with handbag hook hanger

Montana: Havre Beneath the Streets, Havre

When a fire destroyed most of the Havre town, business owners took their shops underground until the town was rebuilt. Now, tours along the streets beneath Havre show a saloon, a Chinese laundry, an ethnic restaurant, a bordello, and an opium den. Daily tours are available, but their winter tours aren’t available on Sunday.

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The collapse in the chalk mine, tunnel with traces of drilling machine
Vladimir Mulder/Shutterstock

Nebraska: Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine, Scotia

The Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine is the only publicly accessible chalk room and pillar mine in North America. In addition to a great view of North Loup Valley, there is hiking and picnicking. Commenters on some travel sites said they were able to take a piece of chalk home. Admission to the grounds is free, but you do have to pay for the mine. Offseason tours are available by appointment. If traveling is on your bucket list, you’ll want to check out these iconic adventures in each of the 50 states.

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Nevada-Great Basin National Park-Alpine Lakes Trail. Autumn in Great Basin is a most colorful event, which makes the spectacular scenery even more magnificent.
Arlene Treiber Waller/Shutterstock

Nevada: Great Basin National Park, White Pine County

This national park really has it all. Although it is in the Great Basin Desert, the park contains most of the South Snake mountains and the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive towards the peak—close by is one of a few ancient bristlecone pine groves and the marble Lehman Caves. The park is open year-round except for holidays.

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Winter ice cave with frozen icicles at sunset.
Jeff Baumgart/Shutterstock

New Hampshire: Ice Castles, Lincoln

These man-made ice castles are beautifully crafted. The creators use drip pipes to trickle out their icicles eventually forming together creating full-scale icy castles. There are additional locations in Utah, Colorado, Minnesota, and Canada. They are only open as long as the weather permits and opening day also depends on the weather by location. Tickets are available daily while the castles are open. When the summer hits, here’s the best beach in every state.

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WEST BERLIN, NJ - MAY 28: Diggerland USA, the only construction themed adventure park in North America where children and families can operate actual machinery on May 28, 2017
Kelleher Photography/Shutterstock

New Jersey: Diggerland, West Berlin

Average theme parks, step aside. Diggerland is a construction theme park complete with trucks, tractors, diggers, and even a zip line. Most attractions have a height requirement as well as a Diggerland ride operator to help you navigate. The hours are subject to change, but they are open mainly on Saturday and Sunday with select weekday openings throughout the year.

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At 80 feet deep with clear blue water, the Blue Hole on Route 66 in Santa Rosa, NM, attracts divers and others. One person just jumped into the pool creating the rings of ripples.
Sue Smith/Shutterstock

New Mexico: Blue Hole, Santa Rosa

This blue gem is smack in the middle of the desert and offers swimming, snorkeling, and diving in 64°F water. The crystal-clear spring is home to various fish species and is open daily. Check out these other family travel destinations.

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New York, USA - January 30, 2016: City Hall Subway Station in Manhattan. Landmark station built in 1904 to inaugurate the NYC Subway system.
Felix Lipov/Shutterstock

New York: Old City Hall Station, Manhattan

Not all subways are created equally—and the Old City Hall Station isn’t your typical 6 train station. In 1904, the inaugural subway ride left from City Hall station and its tenure ended in 1945. Now it’s part of the Transit Museum and is seen through exclusive guided tours. Spots are limited to members, and all ticket sales are final and go fast—so sign up for updates on tour availability. Don’t miss these other NYC hidden gems.

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WILSON, NC - FEBRUARY 2, 2017: Whirlgigs spin at night in the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC. The whirligigs are a restoration project celebrating the folk art of the late Vollis Simpson.
William Howard/Shutterstock

North Carolina: Vollis Simpson Whirligigs Park & Museum, Wilson

This park and museum features supersize spinning pinwheels, also called whirligigs. The installation features 30 revolving works of art as well as occasional music and film programs, a farmers market, picnicking and even Tai chi classes. The two-acre park is free and open daily, even during holidays.

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International peace gardens
Courtesy @tyrone.sluymers/instagram

North Dakota: The International Peace Garden, Rolette County

The garden offers canoeing, camping, cycling and various winter activities—but its chapel is one of the most unique aspects of this hidden gem. The chapel is open for everyone to come in, sit and contemplate “a world at peace.” The 3.65-square-mile park is adjacent to the International Peace Garden Border Crossing between Canada and the United States. The garden is open daily, and make sure to check document requirements before visiting. These are the most underrated travel destinations around the world.

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A castle in Loveland Ohio during winter
Stephanie A Sellers/Shutterstock

Ohio: Chateau Laroche, Loveland

Ohio doesn’t seem like the place you would find an eccentric medieval castle, but nevertheless, Chateau Laroche exists thanks to Harry Andrews. He built the castle himself with an additional secret room that was discovered only years after his death. The museum Winter hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday only, but from April to October they are open every day. Check the site in the warmer months for hours changes.

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Street sign on historic route 66
Nick Fox/Shutterstock

Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Clinton

Although Route 66 runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, the longest stretch is actually through Oklahoma. That’s why there’s a wonderful museum in Clinton dedicated to the route with info on everything from the Dust Bowl to the Big Band era. The museum has rotating exhibits, but the all-year-round 1950s style diner at the museum is the real hidden gem. Admission hours change depending on the season. The most expensive ticket is $20 which admits a family of six.

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Terwilliger Hot Springs waterfall, Oregon, USA

Oregon: Terwilliger Hot Springs, Lane County

These hot springs are also called Cougar Hot Springs. With six soaking pools with temperatures ranging from 85 to 112 degrees Fahrenheit, the pools, located in the Willamette National Forest, are open year-round. They are, however, closed on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon for cleaning. Check out the strangest museum in every state.

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allentown rose garden
courtesy @lauraaaxmarie:instagram

Pennsylvania: Malcolm Gross Rose Garden, Allentown

This quaint garden is worth a visit for the pictures alone. A beautiful array of roses and other flowers are typically in peak bloom from June to July. The park is also a popular spot for walking and biking. It is open year-round from dusk until dawn. Make sure you aren’t following these popular travel “tips” that just aren’t true.

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This is a warm colorful sunset seascape of the Prudence Island ferry landing from Bristol in Rhode Island, USA. / Sunset Ferry Dock Landscape
JJM Photography/Shutterstock

Rhode Island: Prudence Island, Narragansett Bay

This island isn’t for the faint of heart—people used to amenities like restaurants and supermarkets beware! This simple island is only accessible by boat and has a whopping population of 88, making it a cool off-the-grid day-trip.

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Lavender meadow background with instagram style filter
Daniel Gale/Shutterstock

South Carolina: La Bastide des Lavandes, York

La Bastide des Lavandes is the first official lavender farm in South Carolina. The team planted 6,000 plants and trees in less than six years including 60 varieties of lavender. Now, the farm also sells lavender products made with all-natural ingredients.

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petrified wood park
courtesy @sodakmagazine/instagram

South Dakota: Petrified Wood Park and Museum, Lemmon

The rock sculpture park is a sight to behold. An entire city block is entirely dedicated to petrified wood, fossils, and stone. It also features a museum, wishing well, waterfall, and castle. It’s open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day. If ghosts are more your thing, travel to the spookiest tourist attraction in every state.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Courtesy hungryhungryhiker_wnc/instagram

Tennessee: The Hidden Smoky Mountain Entrance, Wears Valley

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park occupies more than 800 square miles of land—and there is a secret entrance in Wears Valley, Tennessee. This entrance is typically less crowded than others, which is why locals take this route. The park is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. There are, however, some visitor facilities that close in the winter.

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Observatory Stars Telescope
Fairooz Imaging/Shutterstock

Texas: McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis

Solar viewings and guided tours are available at this observatory, with “star parties” and live solar monitoring events offered as well. Visitors can use telescopes for a better look at the stars too. There are lots of tours and special viewing nights with various schedules, so be sure to check their website beforehand.

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Utah: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kane County

Although the red sands shift as much as 50 feet per year, the fun activities at the dunes remain the same. (Think camping, hiking, horseback riding, and ATV riding.) It is open every day with no holiday park closures.

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courtesy @stephanielkemp/instagram

Vermont: Bug Art at Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, St. Johnsbury

The Fairbanks Museum has an entire collection dedicated to “Bug Art.” It features mosaics created by John Hampson made using thousands of beetles, moths, and butterflies. The museum is open daily except for major holidays and the occasional private event.

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natural chimneys
courtesy @cinny87/instagram

Virginia: Natural Chimneys Regional Park, Mt. Solon

This scenic spot is the home of seven rock formations, a reminder of a time when an ocean covered the Shenandoah Valley. In addition to the rocks, there is an annual jousting tournament and biking trails that are open year-round. The campground opens for the season in May. If Virginia is too far from you, here’s the best park in every state.

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Hoh River Trail

Washington: One Square Inch of Silence, Hoh River Trail, Forks

The One Square Inch of Silence is the quietest place on earth. The mossy area was designated on Earth Day 2005 to protect the space from harsh human noise and, instead, highlight the sounds of nature. The area is part of Olympic National Park which is open 24 hours a day year-round, although some roads, campgrounds, and facilities are open seasonally.

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Blackwater Falls State Park, WVa.
Breck P. Kent/Shutterstock

West Virginia: Blackwater Falls State Park, Davis

The park’s name stems from the amber waters of Blackwater Falls—a 75-foot cascade of water “tinted by the tannic acid of fallen hemlock and red spruce needles.” The falls are accessible from various viewing platforms year-round. You’ll also want to visit the most charming small town in every state.

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Old books on a Parisian flea market
Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

Wisconsin: Princeton

The quaint little town of Princeton has lots to offer visitors looking for a short and calming getaway. It’s the home to one of the largest flea markets in the state with many antique stores too. Meanwhile, nature lovers can swim, kayak, and fish in the nearby Fox and Mecan rivers.

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periodic spring
courtesy @focusonlifeaz/instagram

Wyoming: Periodic Spring, Swift Creek Canyon in Star Valley, Afton

This spring is unique because it completely stops flowing for a few minutes at regular intervals. There are only a handful of similar springs in the world—and the one close to Afton is said to be the largest. The spring is part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and picnic tables are nearby. If you need to find somewhere to stay now when visiting these places, these are the best hotels in every state.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is a former staff writer at Reader’s Digest. There’s a 90% chance Emily is drinking tea right now, but when she’s not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts and liking one too many astrology memes.