You’ve been stuck in a rut lately and desperately need an escape. The usual beach getaway or big city trip isn’t going to cut it this summer. You crave something new, different, and off the beaten path. Well, have we got some underrated summer travel ideas for you. Forget everything you thought you knew about summer vacations and open your mind to some undiscovered gems.
We’re talking secluded beaches, quirky road trips, laid-back lake towns, and adventure in the great outdoors. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds and create lasting memories doing things you’ve never done before, one of these under-the-radar destinations is calling your name. The summer travel adventure you’ve been dreaming of awaits. All you have to do is choose your own path.
Discover unique and underrated summer travel ideas to explore this season. From hidden gems to off-the-beaten-path destinations, plan your next adventure now.
10 Underrated Summer Travel Ideas You Haven’t Considered
What Makes a Destination Underrated for Summer Travel?
A destination is underrated for summer travel when it ticks a few key boxes.
First, it’s budget-friendly. We’re talking affordable accommodations, food, and activities that won’t break the bank. Somewhere you can actually relax without worrying about the cost.
Second, it’s crowd-free. The fewer tourists the better, so you can experience the authentic vibe of the place. Think spots that haven’t quite made it onto the radar of the masses yet.
Finally, there’s plenty to see and do. From natural attractions like beaches, lakes and hiking trails to cultural pursuits like historic sites, museums and food tours. An underrated gem has it all without the big crowds.
Some examples that check these boxes include:
- The Azores, Portugal. This secluded archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean has stunning natural scenery, quaint towns, and prices that are a fraction of mainland Europe.
- Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Ringed by volcanoes and indigenous villages, this deep blue lake in the Guatemalan highlands is a peaceful alternative to other Central American destinations.
- The Kakadu and Kimberley regions, Australia. Aboriginal culture, ancient rock art, wetlands teeming with wildlife—Australia’s Top End dazzles without the big city price tag.
- Bratislava, Slovakia. Straddling the Danube, the Slovak capital charms with baroque palaces, art nouveau cafes and a postcard-perfect old town. All at a cost that will make your wallet smile.
So if you want an unforgettable summer getaway, look for spots with natural beauty, cultural charm and budget-friendly appeal. The road less traveled often leads to the most rewarding destinations.
Visit a National Park During the Off-Season
Visit a National Park During the Off-Season
There’s nothing quite like visiting one of America’s stunning national parks in the summer, but the crowds can be stifling. For an underrated experience, head to a park during the off-season in the spring or fall. You’ll miss the blistering heat and enjoy smaller crowds, cheaper lodging rates, and wildlife that’s more active.
In the spring, national parks like Yellowstone and Glacier come alive with baby animals, wildflowers in bloom, and rushing meltwater rivers. Fall is also gorgeous, with autumn colors setting mountain vistas ablaze. Some parks like Zion even allow certain trails to be accessed only by permit during peak summer, but they’re open to all in the spring and fall.
Accommodation rates also plummet by up to 60% outside of summer. You can often find great deals on everything from campsites to luxury lodges. It’s the perfect time for a cozy getaway.
If you want to avoid snow, aim for late spring or early fall. But for the ultimate peaceful solitude, don some snowshoes or cross-country skis and head into a snow-covered park. Just check which roads and trails are open since some close for winter.
Visiting America’s national parks during the off-season is an underrated way to experience their beauty without big crowds and save money. You may get chilly, but the smaller size of other tourists braving the cooler weather means you’ll have more opportunities to connect with like-minded nature lovers. Create cherished memories exploring gorgeous vistas and spotting wildlife with new friends.
Explore Small Towns and Rural Areas
Exploring small towns and rural areas in the summer is a charming way to experience a region. Rather than fighting crowds at popular tourist destinations, you’ll discover the heart of a place at an unhurried pace.
Discover Local Flavor
In small communities, you’ll find homegrown eateries, shops, and attractions run by lifelong residents. Strike up a conversation and you’ll get an insider’s perspective of the area. Try signature dishes made from regional ingredients at diners, bakeries, and ice cream parlors. Browse main street stores selling handcrafted goods and antiques. Check event listings for county fairs, food festivals, and small-town celebrations where you can mix with locals.
Rural places offer easy access to natural surroundings perfect for summer recreation. Go hiking, biking, boating or fishing with fewer people vying for the same trails and waters. National and state parks often have secluded spots despite their popularity. Ask locals for directions to their favorite swimming hole, scenic overlook or campground. With more open space, the stargazing is unparalleled if you’re there at night.
Small towns typically have lower costs of living, so your travel dollars will go further. Find good value lodging at mom-and-pop motels, cabins, B&Bs and campgrounds. Check if the town has a free visitor’s center with area info and coupons. Buy produce, snacks and souvenirs at a discount from roadside farm stands and flea markets. With fewer big attractions, you can keep entrance fees and activity costs minimal.
Escape the Heat
If summer heat and humidity are getting you down, head to rural mountain towns and valleys where the temperatures are more comfortable. Higher elevations also mean opportunities for outdoor recreation in pine forests and meadows without overheating. Pack a jacket for cool summer nights. Historic mining and mill towns in the mountains offer a glimpse into the region’s heritage.
Exploring rural places in the summer gives you a chance to unwind surrounded by natural beauty. For an underrated vacation, go off the beaten path to discover small town charm.
Take a Food Tour in an Unexpected City
A food tour is a great way to dive into a city’s culture in an unexpected way. Rather than the usual tourist traps, you’ll discover the local food scene guided by an expert. Some underrated cities with amazing food that are perfect for a culinary tour include:
Providence, Rhode Island
This small city packs a big punch when it comes to food. On a tour with Rhode Island Red Food Tours, you’ll sample everything from authentic Italian fare to innovative fare from up-and-coming chefs. Stops may include historic Federal Hill, the “Little Italy” neighborhood, and trendy Westminster Street. You’ll taste beloved RI specialties like coffee milk, clam cakes, and Del’s frozen lemonade along the way.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is renowned for Lowcountry cuisine like she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and hoppin’ John. To experience the city through its food, Charleston Culinary Tours offers several options, like a Downtown Cocktail and Culinary Tour or Chef’s Kitchen Tour. You’ll wander through Charleston’s historic streets, ducking into acclaimed restaurants and getting a behind-the-scenes look at kitchens. It’s a delicious way to understand why Charleston is called the “Food City of the South.”
The desert city of Tucson is an emerging culinary destination, influenced by nearby Mexico as well as indigenous Tohono O’odham cuisine. On a Sonoran Food Tour with Tucson Food Tours, you’ll learn about the city’s history through its spice. Stops include family-run taquerias, a tortilla factory, a craft brewery, and a historic diner. You’ll taste Sonoran hot dogs, cheese crisps, prickly pear margaritas, and other regional specialties. It’s the perfect introduction to Tucson’s vibrant and varied food scene.
A food tour in an unexpected city is a delicious way to support local businesses, discover cultural heritage, and create lasting food memories. Rather than following the tourist herd, you’ll be guided by locals in the know for an authentic taste of place. Satisfy your inner foodie and your sense of adventure—take a culinary tour in a city that surprises you.
Go Camping and Hiking Somewhere New
Summertime is perfect for getting outside and exploring somewhere new. Rather than the usual beach trip or tour of national parks, consider going camping and hiking in an underrated location. There are hidden gems waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to venture off the beaten path.
One under-the-radar spot is the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. Covering over 500,000 acres, this forest has scenic campsites, hiking trails for all skill levels, and opportunities for wildlife viewing. You can see black bears, river otters, and over 200 species of birds. The forest has over 600 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail. There are also options for canoeing, kayaking, fishing and horseback riding.
Another underrated destination is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This scenic area on Lake Superior features colorful sandstone cliffs, secluded beaches and waterfalls. You can camp at one of three campgrounds, then spend your days hiking the 42-mile Pictured Rocks Trail, kayaking to hidden coves or learning about the area’s history at the Pictured Rocks Visitor Center. The best way to experience the park is by boat or kayak, allowing you to see the cliffs from an unobstructed view on the lake.
A third option is the Ozark – St. Francis National Forest in Arkansas. This lesser-known forest spans over 1.2 million acres in the Ozark Mountains. It offers scenic spots for camping amidst oak and hickory forests, with trails leading to stunning overlooks and waterfalls. You can go hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing and rock climbing. One of the most scenic drives is the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, especially in fall when the autumn colors are vibrant.
Exploring underrated natural areas like these national forests allows you to escape the crowds and experience the beauty of nature at your own pace. Make this the summer you discover your own hidden gem.
Check Out a Quirky Museum Under the Radar
Check Out a Quirky Museum Under the Radar
When planning your summer getaway, consider visiting some lesser-known, offbeat museums. They offer a glimpse into amusing or thought-provoking aspects of culture and history you won’t find in mainstream museums.
For example, check out the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts. This museum celebrates awful art in all its forms. Or visit the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota, dedicated to the iconic canned meat product. You’ll see SPAM paraphernalia and learn about its history.
In Seattle, the Gum Wall is an unusual attraction where people have been sticking used gum for decades. Not technically a museum but still bizarrely fascinating. In Washington, D.C., the National Museum of Health and Medicine contains a rather macabre collection of human remains and medical oddities.
Quirky museums provide an eccentric escape from everyday life. They highlight the weird, wacky and downright strange parts of the human experience in an amusing, lighthearted way. You’re sure to discover something completely unexpected and off-the-wall.
When planning your summer vacation, think outside the box. Rather than the usual art or science museums, scout out peculiar little places that pique your curiosity. Not only will you beat the crowds, you’ll come away with stories no one else has. Memorable adventures don’t have to be expensive or far away. Some of the most amusing ones are in your own backyard, if you just know where to look.
So this summer, veer off the beaten path and indulge your quirky side. Check out an unusual museum dedicated to something obscure or bizarre. You’ll gain a new appreciation for the odd little corners of culture that make humanity so endlessly fascinating.
Take a Road Trip on Scenic Byways
Take a Road Trip on Scenic Byways
One of the best ways to experience an area’s natural scenery and culture is to hop in the car and explore scenic byways. Scenic byways, parkways and heritage routes wind through stunning landscapes and charming small towns. They offer opportunities for outdoor recreation and glimpses into local history. You’ll find scenic roads all across the U.S., many leading to hidden gems and bucket list destinations.
A few scenic roads to consider for an epic summer road trip include:
- Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina and Virginia): Meandering 469 miles through the Appalachian Mountains, this parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Stop at overlooks to gaze at rolling hills and hike to waterfalls.
- Pacific Coast Highway (California): This epic highway hugs the California coastline for over 600 miles. You’ll cruise by beaches, redwood forests, wineries and Hearst Castle. Keep your camera ready for whales, sunsets and the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Route 66 (Midwest): Get your kicks on Route 66, one of America’s first highways spanning Illinois to California. While much of the Mother Road has been decommissioned, you can still drive sections and stop at retro diners, motels and roadside attractions along the way.
- Going-to-the-Sun Road (Montana): Cross the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park on this 50-mile alpine road. Snow-capped peaks, pristine lakes and wildlife viewing opportunities will make you want to pull over at every turnout. The road is only open seasonally, so summer is the perfect time to experience it.
A scenic road trip adventure allows you to set your own itinerary and schedule. You can make as many stops as you like to soak in the surroundings, capture photos or partake in activities that pique your interest along the journey. Turn up the tunes, roll down the windows and enjoy discovering the open road. An underrated summer travel experience you’ll never forget!
Rent a Houseboat for a New Perspective
Rent a Houseboat for a New Perspective
Ever consider a houseboat vacation? Renting a houseboat is an underrated way to gain a new perspective on a locale while enjoying a relaxed summer trip. You’ll travel at your own pace without the restrictions of a schedule.
A houseboat rental allows you to explore secluded waterways and natural surroundings not easily accessed otherwise. Wake up to beautiful views, then stop where and when you want. Many rental houseboats come fully equipped with kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and outdoor decks so you can disconnect from the daily grind.
Popular houseboating destinations include:
- Lake Powell in Arizona, with red rock canyons and sandy beaches.
- Shasta Lake in Northern California, offering opportunities for watersports surrounded by pine forests.
- The Thousand Islands region along the U.S.-Canada border, with granite islands and historic sights.
- The backwaters of Kerala in southern India, a lush tropical paradise.
When renting a houseboat, consider the size based on the number of people in your group. Houseboats often sleep 2 to 12 people comfortably. Think about what additional amenities are important like a waterslide, hot tub or kayaks. Check if bed linens, towels, kitchen supplies and water toys are included or if you need to bring your own.
Once aboard your floating vacation home, unwind! Read a book, sunbathe on the deck, go swimming or bird watching. At the end of the day, anchor in a quiet cove, make dinner in the galley and gaze at the stars while gently rocking to sleep.
A houseboating trip offers a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. And the best part? Every window has a view unlike any hotel. For an underrated way to spend your summer that you’ll never forget, consider renting a houseboat for a new perspective on travel.
Learn a New Skill on a Summer Retreat
A skill-focused summer retreat is a great way to pick up a new hobby or improve an existing one. Rather than the usual beach vacation or tour of European cities, consider dedicating a few days to developing a new talent or honing a craft.
Learn to Cook Like a Pro
Food and wine retreats offer hands-on cooking classes with skilled chefs. You’ll learn professional techniques to make you a master in the kitchen. Many are set in stunning locations like Tuscany or the French countryside. Stay in a charming villa, shop at local markets, and enjoy long lunches with great wine. It’s a delicious way to spend a summer week.
A photography workshop is ideal for any skill level. Beginners can learn the basics of composition and lighting while more advanced photographers can focus on areas like night sky or landscape photography. Look for workshops led by renowned professional photographers in awe-inspiring natural settings. You’ll get plenty of guidance to help capture stunning images and advice for improving your technique.
Learn a Language Immersively
What better way to learn a new language than by immersing yourself in it? Language retreats offer the chance to study with native speakers while experiencing the local culture. Stay with a host family, learn through engaging conversation and real-world interactions, not just textbooks. Many programs focus on Spanish, French or Italian and take place in Spain, Costa Rica or Italy. By the end of your retreat, you’ll be conversing comfortably in your new language.
A summer retreat is the perfect opportunity to gain a new skill or passion that will enrich your life for years to come. While a beach vacation is relaxing, a skill-building getaway can be deeply rewarding. You’ll return home with new talents, inspiration and wonderful memories from an experience unlike any other.
Underrated Summer Travel Ideas FAQ
So you want to get away this summer but don’t want the usual crowded hotspots and tourist traps. Check out these underrated summer travel ideas for your next vacation.
What’s the weather like?
The summer season means warm, sunny days for most of these locations. Pack light, breathable clothing, sunglasses, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Some spots may see occasional summer rain showers, so check the forecast for your destination before you go.
Are these places budget-friendly?
Absolutely! The great thing about underrated spots is that they’re usually much more affordable than major tourist destinations. You’ll find lower prices on everything from hotels and vacation rentals to food, drinks, and activities. Some locations, like Eastern Europe or Central America, offer a very low cost of living and budget-friendly travel overall.
What types of activities are there?
Even though these places fly under the radar, there’s still plenty to see and do. Options include:
- Exploring historic towns, architecture, and cultural attractions.
- Relaxing on quiet beaches and trying watersports.
- Hiking scenic trails in natural surroundings.
- Sampling delicious local cuisine and handcrafted drinks.
- Learning about traditional crafts and interacting with local artisans.
- Taking part in annual summer festivals, events, and celebrations.
- Photographing picturesque scenery and colorful details.
The opportunities for memorable experiences are endless if you’re looking to get off the beaten path this summer. Pack your sense of adventure and go discover something new!
So there you have it, 10 underrated summer travel ideas to inspire your wanderlust. While the usual spots will always draw big crowds, thinking outside the box and venturing to one of these overlooked destinations will reward you with an unforgettable trip. You’ll get to experience the thrill of discovery in places not yet ruined by mass tourism. And you’ll have bragging rights for being one of the first in the know. This summer, take a chance on the road less traveled. You never know what hidden gems you might uncover or the lasting memories you’ll make. The world is filled with adventures waiting to be had for those willing to seek them out. Why not start now? Pack your bags, pick a destination from our list and go explore. The perfect summer getaway awaits!