Why America’s Least-Visited States Deserve a Spot on Your Bucket List

You're likely missing out on some of the most beautiful places in the US.

least visited states in America
Glacier National Park, Montana | Heath Korvola/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Glacier National Park, Montana | Heath Korvola/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Note: We know COVID-19 is impacting travel plans right now. For a little inspiration, we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places around the world so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

Even the most well-traveled American has inevitable gaps on their “where I’ve been” map. It's a big country out there, and clocking all 50 states is a fairly universal bucket list accomplishment. Still, some of the less "glamorous” states are inevitably passed over—which is a shame. Now more than ever, we’re daydreaming about hitting the interstate in search of wide-open spaces, desert expanses, serene beaches, stunning mountain vistas, and near-empty trails.

After crunching the most recently available tourism information from each state (spreadsheets were involved!) we identified the 20 least-visited states in the country, many of which were obvious, some of which were absolutely shocking. We drilled deep to find out what makes each a destination in its own right: small-town charm, surprising food,fantastic beer, and sweeping landscapes. If you're feeling cooped up make a plan to visit these roads less traveled.

The Keeper of the Plains statue overlooking Wichita, Kansas | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

20. Kansas

Annual visitors: 36.5 million
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 throwing live music shows when the weather’s nice. Kansas is in that rare sweet spot; it’s got everything you need.  

Idaho is a camper's paradise | Patrick Orton/Getty Images

19. Idaho

Annual visitors: 34.3 million
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 offputting numbers of tourists. While everyone else is clogging up Jackson Hole, an easy jaunt over the Tetons and the Wyoming state line will drop you by 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 these United States.

Hawksbill Crag, Arkansas | Brandon Alms/Shutterstock.com

18. Arkansas

Annual visitors: 36 million
Why you should visit: Historic Helena on the Mississippi Delta was occupied by Union soldiers and was the site of an 1863 battle; 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 10.2% increase in visitors between 2018 and 2019. 

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. 

Rockport, Massachusetts | FotoRequest/Shutterstock.com

17. Massachusetts

Annual visitors: 29.3 million
Why you should visit: There’s sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston, but it’s the boatloads (puns!) of seaside towns that make shockingly under-touristed Massachusetts such a gem. Amble around little Cape Ann fishing villages like Rockport, where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh, fresh seafood. Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are the more well-known escapes, with spectacular seal- and shark-watching opportunities along the National Seashore. For a whirlwind tour, hop on a train from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay on the Cape Cod Central Railroad: It’s one of the most beautiful in the country, an oceanside journey that ambles through cool little towns and cranberry bogs.

In the fall, the colors in the Berkshires are the stuff of romantic weekend fantasies; cute B&Bs, apple picking, and top-notch hiking trails make it one of New England’s most scenic destinations. The town of Salem is extra fun to visit around Halloween; history nerds should also visit Plimoth Plantation or Old Sturbridge Village, two living museums from the colonial era.

Multnomah Falls
Multnomah Falls, Oregon | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

16. Oregon

Annual visitors: 29.1 million
Why you should visit: Chances are you've heard somebody prattle on about ultra-hip Portland—The food! The beer and wine! The weirdos!—to the point that you feel like you've visited by proxy. But Oregon's presence on this list proves that many still have yet to discover this Pacific Northwest dreamland... and even those who know Portland likely have no clue the scope of the state's wonders. 

Oregon packs a massive diversity of ecosystems into its borders, from an ethereal coast overflowing with natural oddities and Goonies-approved shorelines to the dense forests blanketing the land. Here, the Columbia River Gorge forms a border with Washington made of sheer cliffs and vertiginous waterfalls. Mountains like Hood, Bachelor, and the Three Sisters cast long shadows over verdant valleys, roaring rivers, and high-desert landscapes seemingly painted by the gods. You’ll find the continent’s deepest lake at Crater Lake National Park, a stone’s throw from the winding mountains outside hippie haven Ashland. And through it all, you’ll find all the great beer, wine, food, adventure and high spirits that you’ve heard all about. Time to experience them firsthand. 

the world-famous Flora-Bama | Courtesy of Flora-Bama

15. Alabama

Annual visitors: 28.7 million
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 famous 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 famous 16th St 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.

Downtown Providence | Providence Warwick CVB

14. Rhode Island

Annual visitors: 26.2 million
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. If you want. 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 distillaries than a state its size needs, and a burgeoning, underrated restaurant scene in Providence. Oh yeah, and Del’s Frozen Lemonade. Do NOT leave without trying a Del's Frozen Lemonade. We're not saying it's the reason that tourists vastly outnumber residents, but we're not denying it either.

Biloxi, Mississippi's famous pier | Donovan Reese/Photodisc/Getty

13. Mississippi

Annual visitors:  24.7 million
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.

North dakota
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota | Mark Newman/The Image Bank/Getty Images

12. North Dakota

Annual visitors: 22.6 million
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 dish 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 divey Empire to the farm-to-glass cidery Wild Terra. In a place that defies expectation, though, there's some things that you can absolutely bank on: You betcha the wood chipper from Fargo is on display in the visitor center. 

Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma | Val Lawless/Shutterstock.com

11. Oklahoma

Annual visitors: 21.5 million
Why you should visit: Tulsa is one of America’s most underrated weekend destinations, 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 and 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 buy has also emerged as a booming culinary destination in its own right. Outside the cities, Route 66 runs through the entire state with 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 it is a true experience of the American West.

Arches National Park, Utah | Unsplash/Stephen Leonardi

10. Utah

Annual visitors: 20.7 million
Why you should visit: While it's east to make a case for Utah being America’s most stunning state, it remains criminally under-visited. Yet it's been at the forefront of pandemic daydreams thanks to its otherworldly landscapes, unmatched stargazing, and relative isolation. Time to pack up the RV and see what the fuss is about. 

Utah's open landscapes can be tackled a number of ways, whether it’s via a slot-canyon journey through the state's five national parks— Zion and Bryce among them—hiking its equally mind-blowing state parks, or cruising a scenic stretch of road like the Million Dollar Highway. For a more metropolitan experience, the cities are stereotype-smashers: Against the backdrop of its gorgeous namesake, Salt Lake City has emerged as a preeminent western destination for food, beer, and art, placing it on the top tier of relocation wishlists. Park City, meanwhile, is so much more than Sundance: a world-class ski destination and postcard-perfect mountain town. Regardless of where you land, one thing remains constant: Wander in any direction, and you’ll likely be greeted by an image that will sear itself into your memories.

Chimney Rock, Nebraska | Posnov/Moment Open/Getty Images

9. Nebraska

Annual visitors: 20 million
Why you should visit: You can't exit Nebraska without a visit to Chimney Rock or Scotts Bluff National Monument, both million-years-old stone monuments 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 endeavor to visit when the weather is warm, because that means it’s time to go tanking.

Those prairie lands are also a globally lauded 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, rises from these lands, too.

The Iowa State Capital in Des Moines | Monte Goodyk/Moment/Getty

8. Iowa

Annual visitors: 16 million
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 the RAGBRAI—the 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.

west virginia
Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia | Brett Maurer/Moment Open/Getty Images

7. West Virginia

Annual visitors: 15.9 million
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 one of the most unique experiences in college football.

south dakota
Badlands National Park, South Dakota | Don Fink/Shutterstock

6. South Dakota

Annual visitors: 14.5 million
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, and a great place to spend a weekend.

East Topsham, Vermont | Tom Narwid/Moment/Getty Images

5. Vermont

Annual visitors: 13 million
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 in was made by some master craftsman in the same zip code. The craft beer scene is unparalleled, 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, and sugar shacks, ski towns and vast wildernesses. There is no place where the leaf-peeping is as vivid. It's exactly what you expect, yet somehow so much more. 

Whitefish, Montana | Jordan Siemens/DigitalVision/Getty Images

4. Montana

Annual visitors: 12.6 million
Why you should visit: Montana? The state with Glacier AND Yellowstone national parks is the fourth LEAST-visited state? Yep. We really shouldn’t need to sell you on why you should visit Montana; the aforementioned national parks and Big Sky country are reason enough to make the trip.

Nevertheless, we encourage you to check out Whitefish, which has become a trendy resort town outside of Glacier with first-rate skiing; or Livingston, a town that wears its rowdy past and thirst for adventure on its surprisingly artsy sleeve. If you’re into fly fishing, there’s no better place to do it than Missoula, where the Blackfoot River was made famous in A River Runs Through It and the beer scene punches way above its weight. And if you're into literally any other outdoor activity—stargazing, hiking, biking, mountaineering, bear cosplay, hunting, snowshoeing, rafting... we could do this all day—you'll probably find the best possible version of it a stone's throw from wherever you are at any given moment. 

Rehoboth Beach | Jukie Bot/flickr

3. Delaware

Annual visitors: 9.2 million
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 very famous Rehoboth Beach, the scenic Delaware Seashore State Park … Delaware’s got beaches, and with them 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 thing, “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.”

Unknown mountain lake, Wyoming | Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

2. Wyoming

Annual visitors: 9.2 million
Why you should visit: The state with one of the best national parks in America somehow can’t get anyone to visit for anything else. Yellowstone brings in 4 million people a year (even though it covers three different states), but it's not the only draw in this wide-open space. 

Jackson might just be the second-biggest draw here—it's one of the most challenging ski areas in the nation and a popular luxury vacation alternative for the wealthy who are tired of Aspen. It also attracts extreme skiers and snowboarders, and is adjacent to Grand Teton National Park. Even if you’re not so big on nature, there’s Cheyenne Frontier Days, which locals describe as a kind of Mardi Gras for cowboys. And if that event is just a little too played out for you, there’s the Laramie Jubilee the weekend before.

Valdez, Alaska | Naphat Photography/Moment/Getty Images

1. Alaska

Annual visitors: 2.53 million
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. Given that half the state's visitors come via cruise ship, we're guessing that Alaska's tourism numbers are going to dip even further in the immediate future. 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.

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Matt MeltzerKastalia MedranoLiz Provencher, and Andy Kryza contributed to this story.
Liz Provencher and Andy Kryza contributed to this story.