Why America’s Least Popular States Deserve a Spot on Your Bucket List
They don't call it the Badlands for nothing.
The pandemic showed just how much we have to explore right here in the US, as we hit the interstate in search of wide-open spaces, desert expanses, serene beaches, stunning mountain vistas, and near-empty trails when foreign borders were closed. And even though travel across the country is definitely on the rise in 2022, not every state is feeling the love. While states like Florida are always going to be a favorite, and Arizona and New York surprisingly tied as third-highest, others continue to be passed over—and most of us have no idea what we’re missing out on.
With the help of a survey from millennial-focused travel company Fifty Grande, we’re counting down the 20 states travelers are least interested in visiting by percentage ranking. Here are the roads—and states—less traveled and why they should be next on your list.
20. New Hampshire
Annual visitors: 12.8 million
Travel survey interest: 7.9%
Why you should visit: New Hampshire may be one of the smallest states in the nation, but it packs a pretty mighty punch. Think historic river valleys, some of the highest peaks in the Northeast, those New England villages we all love to fawn over, and outdoor adventure that includes moose safaris (yes, you read that correctly). This is a state that practically screams “nature”—and every season is as good as the next. In summer, go climbing, tubing, or bask on the beautiful beaches in Rye, just an hour from Boston. The White Mountains (which are more than 100 million years old) also have some of the best hikes in the region. In the fall, go pumpkin patch hopping, pausing at one of the mills along the way for a mug of warm, freshly made apple cider (the official state drink and popular donut flavor), and in winter, you’ve got everything you need for a fairytale wonderland—sleigh rides and dog sledding included.
Yes, the scenery is postcard-perfect in every way, and the drives just add to the beauty. The state’s 54 covered bridges make it popular for road trippers as they cruise around winding roads lined by maple, beech, and birch trees (particularly worth the drive during leaf-peeping season). And if you thought the New England charm stopped there, just hop aboard the Cog Railway, the world’s first-ever mountain-climbing cog railway that will cart you up New England’s highest mountain for some of the best views in the state.
Annual visitors: 66.7 million
Travel survey interest: 7.9%
Why you should visit: The better question: Why haven’t you visited? Between Bloomington’s slick world-class music scene, global gastronomic makeup, and laid-back college town vibes, Indianapolis’s booming craft booze industry and sports-centric dance card, and northern Indiana’s gorgeous dune-filled lakefront and recent National Park status, the Hoosier State is ripe for exploration all year-round.
Kick back on the beach or set out on a rugged hike at Indiana Dunes National Park, located just over the border from both Michigan and Illinois. The landscape is breathtaking—as are the restaurant, bar, shopping, and lodging options nearby. Further south, Indianapolis beckons, with its burgeoning chef-driven culinary movement, proliferation of breweries and distilleries, and prime live sports action, whether you’re looking for NFL thrills, auto racing greatness, NBA and WNBA fun, or all things college ball. There’s also plenty of art to enjoy, between a bounty of pristinely preserved Frank Lloyd Wright buildings to Newfields, the 152-acre creative wonderland that houses the Indianapolis Museum of Art. And that's just scratching the surface.
Annual Visitors: 37 million
Travel survey interest: 7.5%
Why you should visit: For some ungodly reason, Idaho is forever associated with its primary agricultural product. And look, we love tater tots as much as the next person. But find yourself on the shores of Redfish Lake with the snow-capped peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains reflecting in clear waters, and you won't be thinking about school lunch snacks, you'll be thinking about how Idaho is damn-near perfect—and wondering where all the people are.
It’s got all the jagged mountains, wild whitewater, and pristine lakes of places like Colorado, Utah, or California, but it doesn’t pack in the off-putting numbers of tourists. While everyone else is clogging up Jackson Hole, an easy jaunt over the Tetons and Wyoming state line will drop you at the two best small towns in the state, Driggs and Victor. Spots like Stanley and Coeur d’Alene are also cool resort towns that don’t feel too cool for you, with friendly people and spectacular scenery. And, of course, there’s brewery-packed Boise, an outdoorsy Denver/Portland hybrid at a fraction of the cost that’s one of the most underrated places to live in the United States.
Annual visitors: 70.5 million
Travel survey interest: 7.5%
Why you should visit: There’s so much more to the Bluegrass State than ponies and hooch (though, there’s certainly plenty of that to be found). There’s breathtaking mountain vistas out east and buzzy urban centers up north, rowdy college bars and some of the best late-night dives around, top-tier sports teams and world-renowned music festivals, and a culinary heritage that spans everything from fluffy drop biscuits and steamy Hot Brown to elevated tasting menus.
Get up close and personal with Louisville’s beloved food scene by chomping your way through its many quirky neighborhoods. Downtown’s Whiskey Row is lined with modern operations and traditional mainstays alike, with highlights including the award-winning Proof on Main inside the always amazing 21C Museum Hotel as well as the sky-high 8 Up. NuLu and Butchertown are the hipster enclaves, home to trendsetters like craft giants West Sixth Brewing, brandy specialist Copper & Kings, and Cuban favorite La Bodeguita De Mima (don’t miss the upstairs cigar bar). Head to Clifton and Crescent Hill for even more good eats (The Silver Dollar is the stuff of legends) plus access to the waterfront Lynn Family Stadium of NWSL Racing Louisville fame.
Elsewhere, Lexington is the place to be for all things UK sports and an exciting, up-and-coming food and drink landscape (not to mention horses, horses, horses), Bardstown is Bourbon Country, USA, and down south, Bowling Green quietly holds court as one of the spookiest destinations on the map. All that plus indie sleeper hits in Eastern Kentucky that’ll have you rethinking everything you’ve heard about Appalachia, and you’ve got a state fit for a visit.
Annual visitors: 36.3 million
Travel survey interest: 7.3%
Why you should visit: People need to move past this connotation of the Midwest as being one giant cornfield (and Chicago serving as the only cosmopolitan city). Towns aren’t quite as sleepy as you’d think—and culture extends far more than farming. Missouri is the perfect example—and St. Louis in particular. Sure, you’ve got waterfront darling Gateway Arch National Park, the tallest national monument in the country. But there’s also dancing to be had at the many jazz and blues joints; Route 66 nostalgia; and more than 50 state parks—oh, and the slow-cooked barbecue is definitely a draw we can’t leave out.
Cruise the nearly 300-mile-long “Mother Road,” checking off historic sites and caverns (yes, caverns) along the way. You can’t get much more classic Americana than an ice cream soda or float at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis, and while Budweiser is a hit here, too, don’t discount the dining scene just yet. Veggie-forward Vicia is the brainchild of Blue Hill at Stone Barns alums—and every bit as much of a destination.
15. Rhode Island
Annual visitors: 26.2 million
Travel survey interest: 7%
Why you should visit: Get some inspiration for your plan to bring down the 1% by taking the cliff walk through Newport's historic mansions. During the summer, you can ironically dress up like F. Scott Fitzgerald and tailgate at the weekly polo matches (seriously, it's a scene).
Rhode Island boasts 400 miles of coastline (it's not called the Ocean State for nothing), and some of the warmest water in New England. If you're still hanging in Newport, Second Beach is your move for a day on the water. To round things out, you've got the Pawtucket Red Sox (or Pawsox)—a fun minor-league alternative to Fenway—way more breweries and distilleries than a state its size needs, and a burgeoning, underrated restaurant scene in Providence. Oh yeah, and Del’s Lemonade. Do NOT leave without trying a frozen lemonade. We're not saying it's the reason that tourists vastly outnumber residents, but we're not denying it either.
Annual visitors: 28.7 million
Travel survey interest: 6.9%
Why you should visit: In Alabama, you can drink in two states at once at the Flora-Bama bar near Orange Beach, or participate in its infamous annual mullet toss (fish, not hair). If you're not into throwing fish and/or drinking on the beach, you can explore 35 miles of gorgeous coastline, most notably, Gulf Shores, the prettiest place in the state and home to the annual Hangout Music Festival. Truly, this is a state that at once embraces its stereotypes ("roll Tide!!") and shatters them.
There are landmark historical sites from the Civil Rights movement all across the state, including the Civil Rights Institute and the landmark 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, plus the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. There's also baseball history (the oldest stadium in America is Rickwood Field in Birmingham). Finally, any idea where the largest space museum in America is? Cape Canaveral, Houston, Washington, DC? Nope—it's in Huntsville! The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, home to the famous space camp, is the best attraction in the state.
Annual visitors: 40 million
Travel survey interest: 6.5%
Why you should visit: You wouldn’t necessarily think of Minnesota as being a lake state, but not only does it border the largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, it’s dotted with 10,000 of its own (Lake Itasca, the main source of the Mississippi River, being one). This is the place, after all, that the Dakota Indians first called “minisota,” or “land of sky-tinted water.” Walk the stone path across the source of the Mississippi for a Minnesota version of the Fountain of Youth (but in this case, legend says you’ll have a long and happy life). Along Lake Superior’s coastline, Highway 61 gives you a taster of the best of Minnesota’s nature: state parks, waterfalls, and scenic trails. Even breweries can be found near the lakes in harbor towns like Duluth, where hiking trails crisscross cliffs and valleys, showing off sweeping shots of waterfalls and rapids.
Then, of course, you’ve got the infamous Twin Cities: Minneapolis and state capital Saint Paul. A hotbed of culture, the duo offer up some of the country’s best in terms of modern art institutes: Don’t miss the sculpture garden at the contemporary Walker Art Center or the stainless steel-clad Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum, which houses more than 25,000 works and spotlights American art from the first half of the twentieth century. Music fans can also geek out at the many murals, landmarks, and attractions honoring some of the state’s homegrown superstars, Bob Dylan and Prince being among them.
Annual visitors: 13 million
Travel survey interest: 6.5%
Why you should visit: More or less everything you've heard about Vermont is true: This is a state that takes tremendous pride in its artisan everything, so much so that if you sit down for a meal at one of Burlington'sfantastic restaurants, you'll likely discover everything from the garnish to the cheese to the chair you're sitting on was made by some master craftsperson in the same zip code. The craft beer scene is unparalleled—it’s a true destination for beer nerds where hazy IPA pioneers The Alchemist hold court alongside legends like Hill Farmstead and the actual Von Trapp family, who ensure the hills are alive with lagers.
It's a land of general stores, covered bridges, sugar shacks, ski towns, and vast wildernesses. There is no place where the leaf-peeping is as vivid. It's exactly what you’d expect, yet somehow so much more.
11. West Virginia
Annual visitors: 15.9 million
Travel survey interest: 5.8%
Why you should visit: They don’t call the Mountaineer State “almost heaven” because of the strip clubs—though the state does boast the most per capita of any state in the Union (eat your heart out, Oregon). It’s because of stunning outdoor attractions like the 25-mile North Fork Mountain Trail—one of the few trails labeled as “epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association—where you can ride backcountry ridges whilst soaking up the views over Seneca Rocks.
If you’re into water sports, brave the Gauley River, one of the five best whitewater rivers in the world and home to a 14-foot raftable waterfall. If you’re into land sports, catching a football game at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown (especially at night) is a must.
10. South Dakota
Annual visitors: 13.5 million
Travel survey interest: 5.2%
Why you should visit: South Dakota is one of the country's most beautiful states. It's also one of its most misunderstood. But once you're here, you'll discover why all those Smash Mouth fans keep coming to Sturgis every summer. Take a drive along the Needles Highway near Custer through fascinating rock formations, or drive literally any stretch of the Badlands to see scenery like nowhere else in the world. Custer State Park is one of the few places in America where a buffalo in the road can cause a traffic jam; the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place here, when thousands thunder through the park as rangers round them up for medical checks and counts.
SD's roadside attractions are also among the quirkiest in America. Take I-90 east from the Black Hills and you’ll pass ghost towns, a dinosaur sculpture park, the famous Wall Drug, and the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. You’ll end up in Sioux Falls, one of those small cities that feels a hell of a lot bigger than it is, which makes it a great place to spend a weekend.
Annual visitors: 9.2 million
Travel survey interest: 5.2%
Why you should visit: Maybe you're just here for the tax-free shopping. But if you are, you're missing out on the excellent beaches, routinely ranked the cleanest in the country (presumably because people skip them to go outlet shopping). There’s the party-heavy Dewey Beach, the infamous Rehoboth Beach, the scenic Delaware Seashore State Park—plus rad beach towns.
Get a taste of historical America on the cobblestone streets of Old New Castle and amid the miles of Revolutionary War battlefields. Sports fans can find tailgates for University of Delaware football games that are more like family picnics than enormous frat parties, or catch a NASCAR race at Dover. Although as a Delaware-native friend wisely put, “It might come as a shock, but Delaware does have more to offer than a venue for stock cars to drive around in a very large circle, and water for Dogfish Head to brew its beers with.”
Annual visitors: 41 million
Travel survey interest: 5%
Why you should visit: Historic Helena on the Mississippi Delta was occupied by Union soldiers and was the site of an 1863 battle, but it was also a safe haven for people fleeing slavery. Little Rock High School was home to the first public school integration in 1957. There's a lot of complex history to be had across the state, which saw a whopping increase in visitors in 2021, up more than 10 million the year before.
But since Arkansas is the Natural State, the biggest reason to visit is the outdoors. Hot Springs National Park is one of the 20 most visited in the country and home to Bathhouse Row, where you can get your aromatherapy on in a natural hot spring. Past that, there’s America's first national river, the Buffalo, where you can whitewater raft through limestone bluffs, as well as the caverns at Devil’s Den and Blanchard Springs. The state is also a magnet for mountain bikers: Bentonville is courting two-wheeled adventurers via the Razorback Regional Greenway, the pet project of a Walmart heir seemingly intent on making the region a more accessible playground.
Annual visitors: 2.4 million
Travel survey interest: 5%
Why you should visit: If only Alaska was anywhere closer than “next to Russia.” It’s a long, cold trek to reach the last frontier, but absolutely worth the effort. Half the state's visitors come via cruise ship, but you needn't be living the lido deck life amid the towering fjords and blue glaciers. In this expansive land full of majestic wilderness and wildlife, exploration happens by car, plane, train, snowmobile, and even dog sled.
Juneau has a big-league food scene for such a small city, and the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is the best in the nation to see polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. And if you can brave the dead of winter, Alaska is lucky to be the only place in our great nation with a seat for the northern lights.
Annual visitors: 16 million
Travel survey interest: 4.9%
Why you should visit: The Hawkeye State is so, so much more than mugging politicians, fair food, and ghostly baseball players. If you’re a novice snowboarder and don’t feel like learning on the side of a black diamond, the gentle slopes of Sundown Mountain near Dubuque are an inexpensive alternative to big ski states. Yep, we just told you about skiing! In Iowa!
The lake party scene in the Midwest is legendary, and it’s not just limited to Minnesota. Outside Iowa City you can visit Coralville Lake and Devonian Fossil Gorge (a 1993 flood washed away tons of soil and exposed an ancient ocean floor and all the cool fossils that come with it). For the active traveler, there’s also RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Race Across Iowa), where you start with your back wheel in the Missouri River and end one week and 468 miles later in the Mississippi. For a cyclist, it’s one of the most sought-after rides in the country.
Annual visitors: 23.4 million
Travel survey interest: 4.8%
Why you should visit: This is the birthplace of American music. Start your sonic education in Tupelo (Elvis did), where you can walk up three different music trails—through cotton fields, churches, train depots, and nightclubs—to learn about the roots of blues and country music. Mississippi is also home to three of the five driving trails on the Americana Music Triangle, a 1,500-mile highway route through five states with historical stops related to countless types of music from the region, including blues, jazz, country, rock & roll, R&B/soul, gospel, Southern gospel, Cajun/zydeco, and bluegrass.
When you can't talk about Buddy Guy anymore, there are also 26 miles of pristine water and white-sand beaches here without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you'd find in Florida. And unlike other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi and Gulfport have casinos. While you're there, hit the Beau Rivage for the best nightlife in the state, or head to the Walter Anderson Art Museum in nearby Ocean Springs.
Annual visitors: 21.5 million
Travel survey interest: 4.4%
Why you should visit: Tulsa is one of America’s most underrated weekend destinations—it’s a city built on old oil money that’s filling in with young people working in healthcare and technology. Due to the aforementioned old money, Tulsa has its own philharmonic, ballet, and two of the country’s best art museums at the Philbrook and Gilcrease There’s even a growing nest of hipsters in the Brady Arts District.
Down in Oklahoma City, you’ll find a thriving, modern metro that still embraces its cow-town roots but has also emerged as a booming culinary destination in its own right. Outside the cities, Route 66 runs through the entire state and offers funky roadside attractions like the Blue Whale of Catoosa. This state might be windy, landlocked, and at times a bit empty-feeling, but a trip through is a true experience of the American West.
Annual visitors: 31.4 million
Travel survey interest: 3.7%
Why you should visit: For starters, to scope out the territory, Kansas will pay you to move there. Relocate to one of its rural areas and the state will cover your income tax for the next five years. This is not a bad deal, because Kansas’ rural areas are—and this truly does not get said enough—stunning. And some of them are really, really weird in the best possible way. Case in point: Lucas, the Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas.
Few things beat a solitary morning spent among the state’s quiet fishing lakes or its protected marshes filled with migratory birds. But don’t get it into your head that the best reasons to visit (or, like, buy a home) in Kansas are only about having quiet time in nature. Wichita is home to celebrated breweries, art galleries, urban murals, exciting new food trucks, and botanical gardens. Kansas is in that rare sweet spot—it’s got everything you need.
Annual visitors: 20 million
Travel survey interest: 3.7%
Why you should visit: You can't exit Nebraska without a visit to Chimney Rock or Scotts Bluff National Monument, stone monuments millions of years old that were created when prairie winds carved away the natural rock. In the springtime, Nebraska is home to one of the last great migrations on Earth—600,000 sandhill cranes making their way through the middle of the state. You should also time your visit when the weather is warm, because that means it’s time to go tanking.
Those prairie lands are also a globally recognized destination for quail and pheasant hunters—the annual One Box Hunt in Broken Bow draws celebrities and top hunters every October for one of the most revered hunts in the country. But, if you prefer to keep your kill count down, the state is also home to something a little more mystical: Carhenge, one of the world's greatest roadside attractions, which rises from these lands, too.
1. North Dakota
Annual visitors: 21 million
Travel survey interest: 3.2%
Why you should visit: Teddy Roosevelt loved North Dakota so much that he bought a ranch here, then made it a national park. Today, North Dakota has 63 national wildlife refuges and 13 state parks, and offers visitors the chance to see not only an albino buffalo, but the world’s largest buffalo in general—Dakota Thunder—at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.
But it's not all rural land and Bull Moose. Fargo's one of America's most underrated cities tucked into an overlooked state. Amid its highly walkable streets, you'll find a food scene that goes beyond hot dishes and into fine dining and international fare, plus a vibrant brewing community in the midst of a beer boom. The music scene carries a surprising punk undercurrent, while bars range from gloriously dive-y Empire Tavern to farm-to-glass cider-y Wild Terra. In a place that defies expectation, there's some things that you can absolutely bank on—you can bet the wood chipper from Fargo is on display in the visitor center.