10 Underrated Domestic Travel Ideas for a Fun and Carefree Summer

Summertime means summer vacations, and whether you’re 13 or 30, the warm months still hold that magical feeling of endless possibilities. But instead of catching fireflies in your backyard or bundling into your parents’ car for a family road trip, you now have the power to chart your own course. And if you want to make this summer one to remember, then forget the tried-and-true summer vacation destinations splashed across every travel magazine. Instead of following in the crowded footsteps of the summer masses, discard your standard vacation ideas and discover the hidden gems and underrated summer travel spots that will sweep you off your feet and into boundless, uncrowded adventures. 

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The 10 Best Places to Travel This Summer

It’s time to boldly go where only a few have gone before—or at least, where the masses have yet to descend. This summer, don’t let your ideas of where you should be keep you from planning a trip to these underrated travel destinations that offer fun, sun, and uncrowded paths to explore. 

Santa Catalina Island, California

If heaven is a place on Earth, it may just be Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California. With other popular summer getaways like sunny San Diego and enchanting Carmel Beach, it’s no surprise this charming island flies under the radar. But a quick ferry ride from Long Beach, San Pedro, or Dana Point will take you from California’s familiar hustle and bustle to an island that feels a world away. Santa Catalina’s pristine beaches provide the perfect escape from the mainland’s crowded shores. Spend an afternoon diving in the crystal clear waters or venture inland for thrills like ziplining down Descanso Canyon while taking in gorgeous ocean vistas. Like the finest of wines, Avalon’s big-time excitement is paired with plenty of small-town charms, from boutique shops to local restaurant eats, that embody the laidback essence of island time. 

Must-Do Experience: Explore the island’s interior at El Rancho Escondido, the world-class Arabian horse ranch and home to the Rusack vineyards.

Les Cheneaux Islands, Michigan

Want a classic cottage summer? Look no further than the Les Cheneaux Islands bordering Lake Huron. Mackinac Island gets a lot of the Michigan love, and rightfully so, but for those looking to leave reality behind and escape into nature, then be sure to stop off here at Michigan’s best-kept secret. Les Cheneaux is a cluster of 36 islands, most of which are only accessible by boat. Between the lush forests and the serene waters, visitors have their choice of paradise: cruise around the islands on a boat, explore the outdoors on Government Island, or rent a cabin on the shoreline for a taste of lake living. 

For some underrated excursion ideas on your underrated summer travel vacation, picnic at the Hessel Marina to watch the antique boats out on the water or hike the Narnia Trail for an otherworldly experience that’s just as enchanting as the fictional world of C.S. Lewis. Whether you’re in the mood for a relaxing summer retreat or an exciting exploration of nature, Les Cheneaux delivers on all fronts.

Must-Do Experience: Head out on the Cheneaux Lighthouse Cruise for an insider’s peak at the 36-island archipelago and six spectacular lighthouses overlooking Lake Huron.

Sedona, Arizona

Spring claims Sedona’s biggest crowds, leaving the summer ripe for adventuring. Rather than contending with the masses of tourists that flock to the Grand Canyon to explore its colorful landscape or the mountains to escape the summer heat, chart a course for the quieter, mild-mannered city of Sedona to enjoy nature and the arts. This desert town is more than meets the eye—and when what meets the eye are fiery red rocks and canyons, that’s saying something.

Sedona offers a little something for everyone, from family fun to romantic getaways. Hide from the sun with a shaded hike of Fay Canyon before emerging to sweeping views of Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock. If taking it slow is more your speed, Sedona sits in the middle of Arizona’s wine country. Sit back and sip wine while taking in the spectacular vineyard vistas from the DA Ranch porch. Lauded as a land of healing, Sedona also boasts hills and valleys dotted with spas and energy vortexes to restore your body and mind, should you lose them amid the summer heat.

Must-Do Experience: Take in the sights of Sedona aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad, with jaw-dropping views of the Arizona desert and Verde River.

Telluride, Colorado

Summer or winter, Colorado is the perfect escape, and for escaping the crowds, look no further than Telluride. This old Victorian mining town has everything—from Old West charm in the city to resort-style comforts in cozy alpine cabins. And it’s here, we take your ideas of underrated summer travel destinations to new heights—literally. Telluride’s Mountain peaks tower 14,000 feet in the air, offering 360-degree views of jaw-dropping beauty. Flower-filled meadows entice you to stop and smell the roses. Ziplines and canopy tours dare you to discover your wild side. And floating down the San Miguel River in a tube immediately calls to mind sweet childhood memories. Whether you opt for adventures off-roading and biking alpine trails or lazy days boating on the river and chilling in hot springs, Telluride promises an unmatched summer vacation. 

Must-Do Experience: Get your adrenaline pumping with a white water rafting adventure along the San Miguel River and appreciate the beauty of Telluride.

San Juan Islands, Washington

When you’re in the mood for laidback living, nothing beats the island life. And while San Juan may immediately make you think of the sunny shores of Puerto Rico, leave that for the flocks of tourists this summer and head instead to the San Juan Islands in Washington state. Dotting the coast off of Washington like a constellation of stars are 400 islands perfect for a Pacific Northwest getaway. Frolick through fields of lavender and pet alpacas on San Juan. Meander through scenic forests, wander by old fruit barns, and pop into art studios on Orcas. And on the “Friendly Isle” of Lopez, biking along the 63 miles of shore unveils breathtaking views of forests, farms, and beaches.  

Must-Do Experience: The big three are just where the adventure begins. The true gem of the San Juan Islands is orca whale watching, a pastime not to be missed during any visit. 

Helen, Georgia

Hours from the hustle and bustle of downtown Atlanta lies a little slice of Bavarian bliss. Helen may be a small mountain town in northeast Georgia, but big-time charms supplement the small-town atmosphere. The buildings look like something straight out of a fairytale. The food bears the heavenly smells of a quaint German village. The views are something only the Blue Ridge Mountains could offer. And, best of all, summer here promises a break from the heat. Keep it cool tubing down the Chattahoochee River or chill with a glass of wine at one of the family-owned wineries sprinkled throughout Helen. The Chattahoochee National Forest awaits more active adventurers, with beautiful forest trekking and picturesque views from the top of Preacher’s Rock to the base of Helton Creek Falls.

Must-Do Experience: Start your trip to Helen with a cultural tour that will take you through the art, culture, and history of this enchanting Bavarian town.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Answer the call of the wild with a trip to North Cascades National Park. Though summer is the park’s busiest time, you won’t find yourself dodging other visitors here—only 40,000 people visited in 2023, making it one of the least visited parks in the United States. But don’t let the number of visitors, or lack thereof, fool you. North Cascades is a hidden pearl. From its sweeping views to its sprawling glaciers, the splendor of this park calls to mind more exotic destinations than the Pacific Northwest but gives credence to its nickname, the American Alps.

The park has its creature comforts, but it’s all about living on the wild side here, from hiking forested trails to spots like Blue Lake to picnicking beside stunning glacier lakes like Diablo Lake. This is the crown jewel of underrated summer travel destinations and the perfect place to let your ideas and your spirit run wild.

Must-Do Experience: Take a private, full-day North Cascades National Park tour. Hikes are tailored to your fitness level and include a gourmet picnic lunch amid the beauty of alpine wonders.

Bend, Oregon

Spectacular scenery, heart-pounding adventures, and even lively city vibes—these only scratch the surface of what Bend has in store. This small town has built its reputation as an outdoor paradise, but whether you spend your days in town or out in nature, Bend will take you for a ride. Wind your way along the Bend Ale Trail for a taste of the city’s finest craft breweries before catching a live show at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater. And you can’t miss a trip back in time, stepping into the Last Blockbuster on Earth. But once the nostalgia fades, it’s time to play. Whether it’s tubing and white water rafting down Deschutes River, swimming in the Blue Pool of Tamolitch Falls, or sailing through the air over Mt. Bachelor on a zip line, the fun never has to end—until your trip is over at least.

Must-Do Experience: Dive headfirst into the outdoors on this Oregon Outback Adventure and experience Bend in all its rugged glory from the back of an ATV.

Mendocino County, California

For those dreaming of leaving the city behind and stepping into simpler times, Mendocino County awaits. A few hours outside San Francisco, Mendocino isn’t just a different place. It feels like a different time. Towering redwoods replace skyscrapers. The beeping and honking of horns is traded out for the sounds of crashing waves and barking seals. Mendocino’s landscape is ever-changing, from quaint valleys to peaceful harbors and rolling hills to lapping shores. Visit Glass Beach to see the light turn the beach stones into a kaleidoscope of colors, and picnic on the shores of Van Damme State Beach for a meal with a view. Or, trade out the ocean for the river, the Big River, in fact, and sail over the water on an outrigger canoe. Further inland, hop aboard the Skunk Train for an enchanting ride through the redwood trees of Mendicino County 

Must-Do Experience: Embark on a magical railbike journey through Mendocino’s redwood forest for an up-close look at these ancient wonders.

The Finger Lakes, New York

The East Coast isn’t without its own underrated summer travel destinations, and if you’re looking for ideas on where to set your sights, look no further than the Finger Lakes. Located in upstate New York, the Finger Lakes boast scenic lakes, stunning waterfalls, and over 130 wineries spread throughout the region. The Finger Lakes are the East Coast’s answer to Napa Valley, and it comes without the crowds, California prices, or West Coast heat. With wine trails aplenty, you can choose an itinerary to fit your tastes, from the rolling hills of Seneca Lake to the heart of New York’s wine country in Lake Cayuga. Wind your way through small towns and along narrow lakes for a dreamy summer getaway you won’t soon forget.

Must-Do Experience: Venture into New York’s wine country on a guided tour of Seneca Lake to sip on Riesling and soak in the spectacular views.

Let Next Vacay Spirit You Away on Your Perfect Summer Getaway

Summer is almost here, and with it, blue skies, sunny days, and a boatload of adventure. It also means unbelievable crowds and sky-high prices. By visiting less-traveled summer destinations, you’ll undoubtedly avoid the first. But for the second, there’s Next Vacay.

Instead of spending hours looking for ways to save a few dollars on your summer travel, Next Vacay can do all the searching for you. With a dedicated team of experienced deal hunters, you can get hand-vetted flight deals with hundreds of dollars in savings delivered right to your inbox. Make your summer travel convenient, affordable, and, best of all, easy. Welcome summer the right way with your Next Vacay.

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