It’s a huge country, so let’s see what you might be missing
In 2018, the five least-visited states in the US had a combined 46.5 million visitors. To put that into context, in the same year, New York City alone welcomed over 65 million visitors, just over 13 million of whom were from outside of the US. To be fair, New York is one of the greatest cities on the planet, but today we’re looking at those states that are overlooked and why you should consider giving them more of your time.
Rugged and forested, criss-crossed with hiking trails and with more than its fair share of plaid shirts and pick-up trucks, Vermont can also be quaint and homely through covered bridges, antique shops and maple syrup.
It’s an all-year-round kind of state, with skiing at places like Stowe, Manchester, and the creatively named Mount Snow in the winter, and summer spent by the lakes and swimming holes. Fall is when the foliage has its annual explosion of reds and golds, and spring is bracing and healthy.
Bennington County is the place to see the best of the aforementioned bridges, where every creek and stream seems to be crossed by a bit of wooden Victoriana. They include the 88-foot-long Silk Road Bridge which crosses the Walloomsac River and dates from 1840.
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If you’re up for some hiking, camping or fishing, Vermont is a great destination for these as well, with 75% of the state covered by forest. Get into the woods for a day or two and live like a real explorer, trekking between settlements and startling the moose. Check out the beautiful Quechee Gorge, Vermont’s “Little Grand Canyon”, and feel like it’s just you and nature in all the world.
When you’re done with the outdoors and deserve a treat, head to Burlington for a craft beer tour, stopping at local breweries and pubs across the bustling little city, or to the world-famous Ben & Jerry’s factory for a look around and an ice-cream made up of any flavors you like!
Okay, let’s get the cliches out of the way first: Big Sky Country, wilderness, cowboys, etc. Yes, all true, and yes, all excellent reasons to visit. Montana is simply spectacular, one of the states that we reckon millions of people see photos of, say “I need to go there”, and never, ever do.
Don’t make that mistake. Montana is home to two national parks — Glacier to the north, Yellowstone to the south — and 55 state parks, 15 wilderness areas, and thousands more square miles of mountains and forest. Rafting and kayaking on the rushing rivers or fly-fishing on the vast calm of Flathead Lake, cycling, trekking, skiing, and dog-sledding in winter mean there’s an awful lot going on.
It’s a great place to explore the vastness of, well… life, both in terms of distance and time. The lack of any big cities (the largest, Billings, is only just over 100,000 people) means very little light pollution, so it’s one of the best places on the planet for stargazing. It’s also good for dinosaur hunting; okay, so you won’t see herds of velociraptors sweeping majestically across the plains, but the Montana Dinosaur Trail, with its 14 dinosaur-focused museums, state parks and field digs, is a great way to bring these incredible creatures back to life.
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You can go further into Montana’s more modern heritage by visiting the World Museum of Mining in Butte, climbing into a cage and heading underground for a glimpse into the brutal world of 19th-century mining. Virginia City is a living museum of frontier life, letting you pan for gold, ride a stagecoach, or hop on a steam train to live out your Wild West fantasies.
It’s also home to some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. Due to its expansive nature and its singular way of life, you’ll meet people from the first nations (Montana is home to seven reservations and 12 tribes), ranchers, independent traders, cafe and bar owners, writers, artists, archaeologists, guides, and scores more people who simply love the Montana way of life.
What did Delaware, boy, what did Delaware? So goes the song, and, according to general consensus, the answer would seem not to be a “brand New Jersey”, but a coat of indifference, mild ridicule, and generally being overlooked. Just see Wayne Campbell’s awkwardly throwaway “Hi. I’m in… Delaware” line from Wayne’s World and you’ll get the idea.
It is easily overlooked, to be fair. By area the second-smallest of the 50 states (which is the smallest? Answer at the bottom of the article!), it sits on a sandy peninsula surrounded by much more widely trumpeted places such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
It’s odd to be so close to big cities and yet seemingly so far away. Virtually all of Delaware seems to be taken up with friendly beach-front communities. Rehoboth Beach, with its boardwalk, bandstand and amusement park seems like nothing has changed since about 1952, but it’s also one of the most progressive places in the region with a large number of LGBT-owned and operated businesses, as well as two LGBT-friendly beaches. The bandstand hosts bands at free concerts during the summer months, and it’s also one of the top dining destinations on the coast, with a selection of fantastic restaurants and bars.
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Down the coast, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island are popularly known as “The Quiet Resorts” due to… well, being quieter, family-friendly sorts of places, but still home to top-class beaches with sailing and surfing on offer. Indeed, alcohol has only been sold in Bethany Beach since 1982, even today limiting the number of bars in the town and stopping sales at 11.30pm.
It’s this mixture of cosmopolitan culture to the north and Southern-style charm and traditionalism that makes Delaware such an interesting place. Hills, beaches, farms, the occasional city or colonial manor house, all come together to make the state a curiously interesting place to visit.
Being directly south of Montana, Wyoming shares many of its wild natural charms, including the majority of Yellowstone National Park, with over two million acres covering the state’s northwestern corner. Many of the landmarks — including Old Faithful, Lower Falls, and the Grand Prismatic Spring — will be familiar to Americans through photos and paintings, but seeing them up close really is a fabulous experience.
Even if you’re not a massively outdoorsy type, Yellowstone has hotels and motels if you don’t fancy backwoods camping, and if you do, permits are easy to get before setting out on your adventure.
Again, similar to Montana, Wyoming has a Western heritage, but takes it even further with dude ranches offering travelers the chance to get involved in the day-to-day business of ranching, while also offering horseback trips and fishing expeditions along with the fence-fixin’ and cattle-drivin’.
If you’d rather see someone else showing off their skills, well, it’s not called The Cowboy State for nothing. The town of Cody calls itself the Rodeo Capital of the World, and has a rodeo every night for three months in the summer. Otherwise Cheyenne Frontier Days in the last week of August will give you all the rootin’ (and almost certainly tootin’) you could possibly need.
To investigate the heritage of the First Nations further — a strong presence in this part of the US — there are a number of historical sites to visit, such as the Devils Tower National Monument and the Plains Indian Museum (also in Cody). However, to really get to know the cultures, head to the Wind River Reservation, home to the Arapaho, Crowheart, Ethete and Fort Washakie communities, who welcome visitors to respectfully learn about their storied histories, culture and beliefs.
So finally we hit number one on our list, the least-visited US state of them all, and it’s probably no surprise that it’s Alaska. Way to the frozen north, with a capital that’s inaccessible by road, it’s almost a different country, and Alaskans are proud of that. In fact, in 2008 a road was proposed that would connect Juneau (for that is indeed the capital) to northern Alaska and the Canadian highway system, but was rejected. What would it improve? was the cry. Juneau itself, or outsiders’ perceptions of it?
“I want to keep Alaska the way it is,” said a Juneau native, speaking to the New York Times when the possibility of a road was mooted. “I’ll move down south if I want that kind of stuff.”
You can see why Alaskans would like the place to remain unique. It’s a land of superlatives: it’s the largest state, home to the highest mountain, the longest coastline, the most sunlight. It has a rich human history, being home to nearly half of the federally recognized tribes in the US, and the place where people first crossed to what is now America using the Bering land bridge.
Denali National Park is probably the place to begin, and it’s almost entirely untouched. There’s only one road in or out, and you’ll almost certainly have to join a park-approved tour. This means, however, your chances of spotting wildlife while not getting mauled are good, with wolves, bears, moose, caribou, and more calling the park home.
For other natural wonders, you can try glacier trekking; again, it’s something you’ll need a guide for as glaciers can catch out the unwary, as you’d expect from thousands of tons of constantly shifting ice. Something amazing that you can experience for free and unchaperoned, however, are the Northern Lights. Head north (unsurprisingly) between October and March for the most likely encounters.
Otherwise, get to know the people. It’s true that Alaska is very sparsely populated, but it still has places like Anchorage, a thriving city of 300,000 inhabitants with a varied nightlife scene, local cuisine that includes such local curiosities as reindeer sausage, 135 miles of cycling trails, and the wonderful Alyeska Aerial Tram that takes visitors on a scenic journey to a mountaintop for some of the finest views in the whole of the US.
(Quiz answer: smallest state? Rhode Island)
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