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Go Off the Beaten Path with These 17 Unique Vacation Ideas

Wondering where to go for a vacation? Throw away the guidebook and say goodbye to packed tourist spots with these unique, affordable, and cool vacation spots that are perfect for families, couples, and solo travelers alike!

Road Trip to Carhenge

Rock Sculptures of Cars Stacked on Top of Each Other and Buried in Ground at Carhenge. Photo by Instagram user @jes.scott

Photo via @jes.scott

  • Location: Alliance, NE
  • Price: Free to visit

For a truly unique vacation experience, pack up the car and take a trip to see more cars! Located in Western Nebraska, Carhenge is modeled after the Scottish wonder Stonehenge. However, each “stone” in this display is a classic American car. Though it’s not an overseas destination, Carhenge delivers its own sense of wonder and amusement. Along the edge of the Carhenge display are more sculptures made out of car parts, promising a summer vacation experience you’ll never forget. Make sure you stop by Ken and Dale’s Restaurant for a steak dinner.

Take a Gamble in a Haunted Hotel

Old-Time Bullock Motel in Deadwood, South Dakota. Photo by Instagram user @cindy_rippe

Photo via @cindy_rippe

  • Location: Deadwood, SD
  • Price: Around $129-$169 per night

Tucked into the Black Hills, Deadwood is a unique vacation spot filled with shopping, live entertainment, breweries, fine dining, and more. The city has a wild history rooted in Gold Rush fever, so it’s easy to find a gold mine tour or a hot table at one of several local casinos. Though if you’re a true gambler, you should spend the night in Deadwood’s haunted hotel! Founded by sheriff Seth Bullock in 1895, Bullock Hotel was featured on Unsolved Mysteries, and it’s even said the spirit of Bullock himself roams the halls.

Spend the Weekend in a Yurt

Yurt by a Pond on a Wide-Open Ranch. Photo by Instagram user @wahito83

Photo via @wahito83

  • Location: Quincy, WA
  • Price: Around $139-$439 per night

Looking to change up your annual camping trip? Stay in a yurt! Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, Cave B Inn & Spa Resort offers an awesome vacation experience with their Desert Yurts. Enjoy the modern amenities of a hotel while staying in the great outdoors! You can find tons of activities near these luxurious tents, too, such as wine tasting at Cave B Estate Winery, a horseshoe pit, hiking paths, and a swimming pool. Head over to the on-site Tendrils Restaurant to dig into some artisanal cheeses. And when you’re ready to turn in, you can gaze at the stars through your yurt’s skydome!

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Drive Along Mount Evans

Moutain View of Snowy Mount Evans in Colorado. Photo by Instagram user @kali.kuzma

Photo via @kali.kuzma

  • Location: Idaho Springs, CO
  • Price: Free to visit; $15 to visit the summit platform for photos

When you drive along the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, the views won’t be the only thing that takes your breath away. As the highest paved road in the U.S., the elevation maxes out at 14,130 feet above sea level! But the views are worth the journey. Alpine lakes, gorgeous tree-lined slopes, and the Rocky Mountains are wonders to behold. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and mountain goats! Stop at the summit platform to snap some beautiful pictures and smell that sweet mountain air. For a longer stay, spend some time in Idaho Springs and soak in the relaxing hot springs at the Indian Springs Resort.

Explore the Colorado Rockies by Train

Passenger Train Moving Along Elevated Tracks Through the Rocky Mountains. Photo by Instagram user @xmolinavalos

Photo via @xmolinavalos

  • Location: Denver, CO
  • Price: Around $1,985 per person

Traversing through six incredible sights in the Rockies, this eight-day Colorado Rail Adventure is an awesome vacation idea you’ll never forget. See summits as high as 14,000 feet above sea level throughout Garden of the Gods, Durango, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and more while enjoying seven nights of hotel accommodations, meals, and all the beauty Colorado has to offer. Looking to spend time in Denver before or after your trip? There are tons of unique hidden gems and attractions to discover!

Watch Wild Horses at Assateague Island

Three Wild Horses Standing by the Seashore on Assateague Island. Photo by Instagram user @ajhannifin

Photo via @ajhannifin

  • Location: Assateague Island National Seashore, MD
  • Price: Varies during season; $20 vehicle pass for 7 days

One of the best vacations spots in the U.S. is Assateague Island—and it’s one of the best-kept secrets! Tucked between Maryland and Virginia, the island is a beautiful nature preserve that contains nearly 40 miles of beaches. Along with being a major bird-watching destination, the island has more than 300 wild ponies that roam the beaches, salt marshes, and forests. Other popular recreational activities in the area include camping, wildlife tours, seashell collecting, four-wheeling, horseback riding, and hiking.

Go Snorkeling with Leopard Sharks

Aerial View of People Scuba Diving Among Leopard Sharks. Photo by Instagram user @monifhabib

Photo via @monifhabib

  • Location: La Jolla, CA
  • Price: Free to swim; $30 per person for guided tour

Each year, the famous leopard sharks of La Jolla head to warm waters to hatch their young. Visitors and residents alike can snorkel beside these beautiful creatures, making for wonderful memories and an incredible summer vacation. Wade out into the shallow La Jolla Shores and swim, or rent some snorkel gear and take a guided tour. You can also explore the tide pools, go scuba diving, or spend the day kayaking. When you’ve finished your day in the sun, order some tasty shrimp tacos from The Taco Stand, or grab a crisp Sunny Jim’s IPA from La Jolla Brewing Company.

Hop Aboard the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel

Exterior of the Brick Chatanooga Choo Choo Hotel. Photo by Instagram user @sarahkmc

Photo via @sarahkmc

  • Location: Chattanooga, TN
  • Price: Around $139-$145 per night

What started as a catchy 1941 tune by Glenn Miller sparked one of the coolest hotels in the U.S. Housed in the old Terminal Station, which was saved from demolition by a group of businessmen who were inspired by the song, you can stay at Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel in The MacArthur or the uniquely-designed Pullman Train Cars. The MacArthur offers a more traditional hotel stay, but the Pullman suites are housed inside train cars that date as far back as the 1930s. While you’re visiting, be sure to check out Glenn Miller Gardens, experience a show at The Comedy Catch, and grab a craft brew at American Draft.

Explore an Island in Lake Huron

  • Location: Mackinac Island, MI
  • Price: Around $323-$497 per person per night

Located in Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Lower Peninsula, Mackinac Island is a one-of-a-kind vacation spot for families, couples, and solo travelers. Visitors can take a ferry or a small plane to the island and then explore the area by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. Stay in the iconic Grand Hotel, where you can stroll through gardens, participate in lawn games, and experience the traditional Afternoon Tea. Of course, you can also venture out across the island for other adventures like parasailinghorseback ridinggolfing, festivals, and more.

Spend the Weekend in a Waterfront Cottage

  • Location: Nantucket, MA
  • Price: Around $185-$885 per night

The Cottages at the Nantucket Boat Basin offer waterfront views, fantastic amenities, and a relaxing, romantic summer vacation for couples. Enjoy the harbor views from your cottage deck, or take a bicycle ride to the nearby shops and restaurants. The free Beach Bus takes guests right to the sandy Nantucket beach line for lounging or boogie boarding, and there’s even complimentary gear! Take a 15-minute walk to eat at local favorite Brand Point Grill. Or play a game of golf at Miacomet Golf Course. No matter your interests, Nantucket is a wonderful vacation idea for couples and families alike!

Stand in Four States at Once

Marker on Ground Where People Can Stand in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico at Once. Photo by Instagram user @5280aperture

Photo via @5280aperture

  • Location: Teec Nos Pos, AZ
  • Price: Around $5 for adults; free for children 6 and under

The Four Corners Monument is a quirky roadside attraction and a cheap vacation idea that makes it easy to be in several places at once—four to be exact. In the late 1800s, territorial disputes between Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona kept formal borders from being drawn. Finally in 1912, borders were established and a four-point marker was laid out to establish the boundary. Owned by the Navajo Nation, visitors can shop in the Visitors Center for handmade Navajo jewelry and even camp in nearby grounds. If you have extra time, you can always venture about an hour northeast to see Mesa Verde National Park.

Stay on a Wildlife Reserve

Camel and Goats on the Road at The Exotic Resort Zoo. Photo by Instagram user @wildwoodtravel

Photo via @wildwoodtravel

  • Location: Johnson City, TX
  • Price: Around $130 per night and up

Voted a top Texas family vacation spot, Safari Cabins at the Exotic Resort Zoo promises an unusual overnight stay with extraordinary fun! This zoo resort has over 700 species of animals that roam on the property for guests to experience up close. Each of the six safari cabins promises incredible views of bison, emus, camels, zebras, and more! They’re also outfitted with modern amenities like free WiFi and flatscreen televisions but with the rustic charm you want from a cabin. Guests can take a look at the nearby kangaroo and wallaby exhibit, or go fishing in the nearby lake. Tours of the 137-acre wildlife preserve are led daily, and you can even feed and pet some of the animals!

Go Stargazing at an Astronomy Festival

Spires Underneath the Stars at Night at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo by Instagram user @edubs3191

Photo via @edubs3191

  • Location: Bryce Canyon, UT
  • Price: Around $20-$30 per night for camping; $30 vehicle pass

Bryce Canyon National Park is a gorgeous national park with jaw-dropping views of natural rock formations and the stars. In fact, the park hosts an Annual Astronomy Festival that celebrates all things space. From rocket building to solar viewing, this unique vacation spot is perfect for families and adults alike. Evening stargazing with park-provided telescopes and night-time constellation tours are worth staying up for. Set up camp at nearby Ruby’s Inn Campground to enjoy an affordable, beautiful vacation under the stars!

Explore the Birthplace of Mardi Gras

  • Location: Mobile, AL
  • Price: $5 for adults; $2 for children

For a cool vacation idea that’s off the beaten path, head to Mobile, where you can learn about the birthplace of Mardi Gras at the Mobile Carnival Museum! This colorful building has 14 rooms filled with displays on the history of Mardi Gras, including scepters, crowns, and beautifully-made robes. Walk through the exhibits to see parade floats from the past and learn all about costume design! A gift shop is also available for those who want to grab a memento for their time spent at this Alabama attraction. If you’re looking for more exciting things to do in Mobile, check out the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park or Mobile Museum of Art.

Stay the Weekend in a Treehouse

  • Location: Eureka Springs, AR
  • Price: Around $160 per night and up

One of the most unique getaways for couples is a weekend at the The Treehouse Cottages. This Eureka Springs attraction has been a favorite of locals and visitors alike for the diverse cottage options. These aren’t the treehouses you played in as a kid, though! Indulge in modern amenities like a heart-shaped jacuzzi, enjoy the views from a wrap-around porch, and let the relaxation take you away!

Vacation in a Victorian Mountain House

  • Location: New Paltz, NY
  • Price: Around $544-$2,890 per night

If you’re looking to splurge on a summer vacation, consider the gorgeous Mohonk Mountain House. Located in Upstate New York, this beautiful resort is nestled in 40,000 acres of forest. Guests have the chance to experience more than 85 miles of hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, and kayaking at the nearby glacial lake. Accommodations range from traditional guests rooms to entire suites or cottages. Relax with a facial or massage at the Spa at Mohonk Mountain House, or enjoy a farm-to-table meal from the Main Dining Room overlooking the Catskills Mountains.

Plan a Staycation

Overhead View of Six Different Alcoholic Drinks with Flowers and Herbs on Top. Photo by Instagram user @roofatparksouth

Photo via @roofatparksouth

  • Location: Wherever you are!
  • Price: Whatever you want to spend!

A staycation may seem like the opposite of a summer vacation, but hear us out! Staycations are the ultimate cheap vacation idea because they allow you to explore your own city and are incredibly cost-effective. Since you won’t have to spend as much money on travel, you can splurge on a night at a fancy hotel, at an expensive restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, or booking a massage appointment at a local spa. Explore the forests, national parks, or museums in your city, or take a trip to some hidden gems in your state. And be sure to check out sites like Groupon for great deals on dining, activities, and hotels!

With these unique, exciting, and affordable vacation ideas, you can make this summer vacation one you’ll enjoy for years to come. If you’re looking for more vacation spots, check out this list of the best RV road trips in the U.S. or these family-friendly vacation ideas!

Off the Beaten Path Vacations

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