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21 Unique Vacation Ideas in the U.S.

Wondering where to go for a unique vacation? Throw away the guidebook and say goodbye to packed tourist spots and hello to these 21 unique, affordable, and cool vacation spots that are perfect for families, couples, and solo travelers alike!

Blaze into Your Vacation at the Valley of Fire

Dark road leading into red rock mountains. Photo by Instagram user @mo.shotss

Photo via @mo.shotss

  • Location: Clark County, NV
  • Price: $10; $15 for vehicles with non-Nevada plates

Tired of the usual state and national park vacation recommendations and want a unique getaway for your next trip? Visit the Valley of Fire State Park! The pet-friendly park is open daily from sunrise to sunset with 24-hour access to the campgrounds. Spend your day hiking the more than 42,000 acres of preserved land and admire petrified trees, petroglyphs, and Aztec sandstone outcroppings. The Fire Wave trail is one of the most populated paths in the park, where visitors can view a red, white, and pink sandstone formation that resembles an ocean wave. The park even hosts events like the Annual Atlatl Competition where participants can attempt to use replicas of ancient spears. If you’re up for a drive, Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a short 45-minute drive away and encompasses 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, and valleys for exploration, too!

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 South England wonder Stonehenge—except each “stone” in Nebraska’s 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 or Newberry’s for a sparkler. And don’t forget to check out the other Nebraska attractions in Alliance! Experience where pioneer memorabilia, Native American artifacts, and railroad history combine at the Knight Museum & Sandhills Center. Or step into the Wild West and see what it was like to live in a small pioneer settlement when you visit Dobby’s Frontier Town.

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 $104-$169 per night

Tucked into the Black Hills, Deadwood is an unusual vacation destination 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 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 said the spirit of Bullock himself roams the halls.

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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 $249-$499 per night

Looking to change up your annual camping trip? Stay in a yurt! Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, Sagecliffe Resort & Spa offers an awesome vacation experience with their Desert Yurts. Enjoy the modern amenities of a hotel while staying in the great outdoors! Head over to the on-site Tendrils Restaurant to dig into some artisanal cheeses. Relax under a “constellation ceiling,” enjoy a massage, or receive a facial at the Spa at Sagecliffe. Chip the day away at any of the three local golf courses like Colockum Ridge Golf Course, an 18-hole, valued-priced course. 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. Marvel at Washington’s state gem, petrified wood, by visiting Ginkgo Petrified Forest & Wanapum Recreation Area. When you’re ready to turn in, you can gaze at the stars through your yurt’s skydome!

Live with the Fish at Jules’ Undersea Lodge

  • Location: Key Largo, FL
  • Price: $1,350 per couple/$900 individual; Scuba Diving Course is $125

Started as La Chalupa Research Laboratory, Jules’ Undersea Lodge is now one of the best-hidden vacation spots in the U.S. The undersea lodge is completely submerged underwater and is located in a natural nursery for many reef fish. Guests must be certified divers to take the trek to their lodgings, but don’t worry—the lagoon offers diving lessons. Overnight guests are treated to plenty of water, snacks, and WiFi during their ocean stay. If that wasn’t enough, pizza is delivered underwater for a fanta-sea dinner! Don’t miss out on the lodge’s Eco Excursion, where you’ll be guided through the above-water facility and the underwater history of the lagoon’s four decorative cannons, two anchors, an old filtering system, and fish and plant populations.

Drive Through 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: $15 for a 3-day personal vehicle pass

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. This one-of-a-kind vacation offers wonders to behold, like Alpine lakes, gorgeous tree-lined slopes, and the Rocky Mountains. 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 exploring all the things to do in Idaho Springs! Take a dip in the relaxing hot springs at Indian Springs Resort, where pure mineral water flows directly into their pool and baths at 125°. Go on an Upper Colorado Raft Float or an ATV Two-Seater Tour at Lawson Adventure Park & Resort. Or take a short walk over Clear Creek and some of Colorado’s historical mining adits to visit the Charlie Taylor Waterwheel.

Get a Little Corn-y in Mitchell

  • Location: Mitchell, SD
  • Price: Free!

Mitchell, SD may not be your first thought for a vacation destination, but don’t ignore this quirky getaway! The World’s Only Corn Palace has made Mitchell a household name in the Midwest. The outside murals are redecorated each year and currently designed by Dakota Wesleyan University students, bringing local art to the eyes of more than 500,000 annual visitors. More than just a corny structure, the palace is also used as an event center for proms, graduations, basketball, and more. Are you a local for more things to do in Mitchell, South Dakota? Take some weekend trips to the palace and find the weekly Palace City Farmers Market offering home-cooked, homemade, and homegrown items for sale. Or enjoy live music, food, drink, furry friends, and family activities during 1st Fridays on Main in the palace green space!

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 $2,695 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 and all the beauty Colorado has to offer. Eleven meals are included with the trip, including lunch on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Looking to spend time in Denver before or after your trip? There are tons of unique hidden gems and attractions to discover throughout the Denver metro!

Rest Your Caboose at the Red Moose

  • Location: Strasburg, PA
  • Price: $90-$150 per night

If you’re looking for an unconventional hotel experience, the Red Caboose Motel & Restaurant offers just that! With 38 cabooses ready to be occupied, there’s no denying this makes a great vacation spot for all. Cabooses fit anywhere from two to six guests, and the Red Caboose crew offers activities like movies, Amish buggy rides, property tours, an arcade, and a petting zoo for all-age fun! Not to mention, Casey Jones’ Restaurant is open year-round for dining and special events while serving up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including plates like stuffed french toast called The Maine Central, Shady Rest Shepard’s Pie, and Fish & Chips.

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 $129-$159 per night

Chattanooga, or Scenic City, is home to important settings in history, especially those relating to the Civil War and the railroad industry. Downtown Chatt is now home to one of the coolest hotels in the U.S., the idea of which was originally sparked by a catchy 1941 tune by Glenn Miller. Now, guests can stay in the old Terminal Station at Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel within The MacArthur building or the uniquely-designed Pullman Train Cars. The MacArthur offers a more traditional hotel stay, though 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.

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 the season; $25 vehicle pass for 7 days

Looking for an East Coast vacation spot? One of the best vacation 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 is home to 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. Take top-notch wildlife photographs of natural fauna, including the wild horses and seals while in the park. Explore several miles of bike paths in the park, or bike on paved trails to Assateague from both Maryland and Virginia. Or try your hand at crabbing and see just how many blue crabs you can catch!

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 a guided tour

Each year, the famous leopard sharks of La Jolla head to warm waters to hatch their young. This West Coast vacation idea has visitors and residents alike snorkeling beside these beautiful creatures, making for wonderful memories and an incredible summer vacation destination. Wade out into the shallows of La Jolla shores, 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 Lagunitas “Hazy Wonder” Hazy IPA from Public House.

Marvel at the Ocean’s Well

Thors Well in Oregon where the ocean seems to disappear into a hole. Photo by Instagram user @emilyeveryday

Photo via @emilyeveryday

  • Location: Yachats, OR
  • Price: Free to visit

Whether you believe Thor’s Well is draining the ocean little by little or it’s simply a collapsed sea cave, the natural wonder is a sight for all eyes. Located off the shores of Cape Perpetua, the seemingly bottomless curiosity is actually only around 20 feet (or 6 meters) deep. Photographers, nature lovers, and tourists continue to flock to this crazy vacation spot. For the best views, park at the Thor’s Well Trailhead and follow the designated route! Of course, you can find more vacation fun in Yachats, Oregon—catch a natural show at Spouting Horn when water and air are funneled into a deep hole and explode as an “ocean geyser” at Cook’s Chasm. Or stand in awe while gazing at the more-than 80-foot-wide chasm standing open in the ocean at Devil’s Churn.

Explore an Island in Lake Huron

  • Location: Mackinac Island, MI
  • Price: Around $594-$810 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. Try your hand at parasailing and see the Straits of Mackinac from a bird’s-eye view. Explore the island on horseback with Cindy’s Riding Stable. Swing some clubs and play through the 18-hole course built on the grounds of the Battle of 1814 at Wawashkamo Golf Club. Stroll through the historical homes and grounds of Mackinac Island and Mackinac Island State Park with a guided walking tour of the town. Or taste-test world-famous Mackinac Island fudge from and of the downtown fudge shops!

Chill Out at Ben & Jerry’s Factory

Waffle cone ice cream in front of Ben and Jerry's factory doors. Photo by Instagram user @lavanya.tr

Photo via @lavanya.tr

  • Location: Waterbury, VA
  • Price: Factory tours are $4/adult or free for those 12 and under

Talk about unique places to travel, the original Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, VA is still dishing out interesting ice cream flavors! Daily factory tours—where guests are walked through the manufacturing and pinting process inside the factory—are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Don’t forget to visit the Ben & Jerry’s flavor graveyard, which commemorates “dearly de-pinted” flavors like Turtle Soup, This is Nuts, Peanut Butter & Jelly, and Wavy Gravy that no longer see shelf time. Chow down on your favorite ice cream flavors in a waffle cone, shake, sundae, and more at the factory’s Scoop Shop! And pick up a souvenir t-shirt, sticker, pencil, or Ben and Jerry’s engraved ice cream scoop at the Gift Shop! If you’re interested in spending more time in the area, there are plenty of nearby things to do in Stowe, VT! Hike to the top of the tallest mountain in Vermont, Mount Mansfield, and see the peak’s “face” that looks into the sky. Or plan a family vacation during the winter months and visit Smuggler’s Notch Resort where skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing are all popular past times!

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 unique roadside attraction and a budget-friendly 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 U.S. 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 purchase native artwork directly from the artisans. 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 $200 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 animal species that roam on the property for guests to experience up close, including a kangaroo and wallaby exhibit! Tours of the 137-acre wildlife preserve are led daily, and you can even feed and pet some of the animals at the resort’s petting zoo. 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, yet keep their cabin aesthetic with charming rustic decor.

Cool Down at Mendenhall Glacier

  • Location: Juneau, AK
  • Price: $5 day-use pass; $15 season pass

While the Ice Age may be a thing of the past, it left behind massive glaciers perfect for study and exploration. The Mendenhall Glacier, situated in the Juneau Icefield, is a simple drive or shuttle ride away from Downtown Juneau, AK. The 13-mile-long “river of ice” is also surrounded by hiking trails, waterfalls, and salmon streams. While glacier tours are a popular Alaskan vacation getaway, the area is also open to hiking, kayaking, and helicopter tours. Be sure to stop by the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to learn more about the icefield and take a photo from the Photo Point Trail overlook!

Hang Out in a Treehouse

  • Location: Eureka Springs, AR
  • Price: Around $199+ per night

One of the most unique getaways for couples is a weekend at The Treehouse Cottages. This Eureka Springs attraction has been a favorite of locals and visitors alike for the diverse cottage options. Choose between eight different cottage options including the ground-level Hillside Haven Cottages or the Hidden Oak Treehouse, which is a real treehouse found 26 feet in the air. 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!

Cascade into Bavarian Life

  • Location: Leavenworth, WA
  • Price: Free to visit, but attraction prices vary!

Leavenworth, WA is not your normal “tourist trap.” Established in a Cascade Mountain valley, this mountain town has embraced the feel of Bavaria and its alpine hills. Visit eateries like JJ Hills Fresh Grill for a taste of Jägerschnitzel, a Bavarian favorite. Experience or purchase authentic wood toys and hats from the family-owned Wood Shop Hat Shop. For family fun, the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm offers a unique experience to pet and feed a herd of Woodland Caribou. Leavenworth is also home to many festivals, including the Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival. Around the holiday season, Leavenworth becomes the “Village of Lights-Christmastown,” and kicks off almost three months of lit Christmas lights during the Christmas Lighting Festival.

Vacation in a Victorian Mountain House

  • Location: New Paltz, NY
  • Price: Around $655-$3,200 per night

If you’re looking to splurge on a summer vacation, consider staying at 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, Lake Mohonk. Visit with a certified instructor and leave your vacation with introductory archery skills. Participate in a private tennis lesson from pros at one of the Top World Tennis Resorts. Winter doesn’t slow down the fun here—guests can explore more than 30 miles of cross country skiing trails! Accommodations range from traditional guest 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 Shawangunk Ridge and the distant Catskill Mountains.


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About Mike Beutler

Mike Beutler is a writer and digital content specialist who transitioned to self storage in 2020 after several years in the airline industry. His travels cultivated a passion for exploring cities across the U.S. and abroad and inspired him to learn more about practical insights for urban living. With 14 moves under his belt, both locally and cross-country, he also has a passion for minimalism and organization, and sharing tips to help others make any space feel like home while staying organized.