Best states to visit in America: The underrated US states that are worth visiting

You've been to California, surely. If you're a fan of the USA and you've visited the country, then it's almost certain you've called through the Golden State, where flights land and it all begins. There's also a fair chance you've visited other popular states: New York, Nevada, Texas, and probably Hawaii, too.

These are the destinations that travellers tend to include on their US itineraries, the big-hitters, the no-brainers, the states that have instantly recognisable landmarks and attractions and such obvious appeal. Last year, almost 45 per cent of Australian travellers to the US visited California. More than 27 per cent went to Hawaii. Almost 23 per cent went to New York.

And there's nothing wrong with that. These are some of the best travel destinations on the planet. But, as they say, there's more. Plenty more in these 50 united states of America. This is a country with so much to offer , from flawless national parks to vibrant modern culture, from high-quality food and drink to quirky local customs. In the US's "forgotten" states, you'll find all of these things. In West Virginia, in Idaho, in Wisconsin, in Nebraska, you'll find all of these things and more. These are states with the attractions you desire, but with none of the crowds you hate. Here you get the place to yourself. You get everything from wide-open spaces to big-city lights with the feeling that you're the only visitor around.

And what that also means is a reliably warm welcome. The USA is friendly everywhere you go – but in the lesser-visited states, where they're not so used to hearing a foreign accent? Prepare for instant celebrity. Prepare for a lot of fun. Prepare for the unfettered enjoyment of the Forgotten States of America.

RHODE ISLAND

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Newport, Rhode Island. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

Plenty of Australians visit the east coast of the US, but that's mostly to hit cities such as New York, Washington DC and Boston. But Rhode Island? This place is confusing. It's not even an island.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Rhode Island has charm to burn. It's a quiet pocket just south of Massachusetts, a playground for the rich and those who wish to be, a tiny state filled with colonial-era villages and rugged coastline. Hang out in Newport or Providence for the full experience.

DON'T MISS

Newport has some beautiful historic buildings, the likes of Rough Point, a mock-Tudor mansion, and The Breakers, an Italian-style palazzo. Don't miss the Cliff Walk, a tour of Newport's envy-inducing coastal mansions. The state also has an excellent gastronomic scene, specialising in farm-to-table fare.

ESSENTIALS

Rhode Island is about an hour by road from Boston, or three hours from New York. Visit any time of year, though spring and autumn are perfect. See visitrhodeisland.com

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SOUTH DAKOTA

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The badlands of South Dakota. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

Plenty of people know the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its huge carvings of US presidents, but few are motivated to go all the way to South Dakota to see it. This state is a classic fly-over – middle America at its finest.

WHY WE LOVE IT

South Dakota has all the natural beauty of states such as Colorado or California, only with a mere fraction of the tourists. This is a place you can truly have to yourself, even in should-be-famous nature reserves such as Badlands National Park, with its fossil beds and rugged hills, Custer State Park with its herds of wild buffalo, and the stunning Black Hills range.

DON'T MISS

South Dakota has its fair share of quirk. The local delicacy is "chislic", cubes of lamb cooked in a deep-fryer. Here you'll also find Wall Drug Store, a cowboy-themed shopping mall, and in the town of Mitchell, The World's Only Corn Palace, which does what it says on the box.

ESSENTIALS

South Dakota's largest town, Sioux Falls, is accessible via Los Angeles and Denver. Best weather is from April to October. See travelsouthdakota.com

VERMONT

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Montpelier, Vermont. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

Honestly, we have no idea. This is one of the most scenically beautiful places on Earth, particularly when the trees explode in a riot of colour every autumn, and yet only 13 million people call into Vermont a year.

WHY WE LOVE IT

That scenery, to begin with. This is New England perfection and there are plenty of areas in which to appreciate it. Vermont also has an independent, arty, liberal spirit that visitors can't help but love. Senator Bernie Sanders is from Vermont. Ben and Jerry's ice-cream was founded in Vermont. It is also commonly ranked the safest state in the USA.

DON'T MISS

The beer. It seems like every state in the US now boasts about its craft beer scene, but Vermont has more breweries per capita than any other. Be sure to call past The Alchemist, Foley Brothers Brewing, Four Quarters Brewing and Long Trail, to name a few. There's also an excellent locavore food scene.

ESSENTIALS

You'll need to fly via Los Angeles and then New York or Boston to get to Vermont's most populous city of Burlington. The other option is to drive three hours from Boston. Autumn is peak season, but summer and spring are also lovely. See vermontvacation.com

MONTANA

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Bison in Yellowstone. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

Last year, some 65 million visitors called into New York state. In contrast, Montana – beautiful, friendly, big-sky Montana – received 12.4 million. Why? Because Montana is a little out of the way, and doesn't have an immediate recognition factor of the likes of New York.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Montana might not have a high recognition factor but it has some recognisable attractions: Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, for starters. This is a place to get in touch with nature, to camp, to hike, to ride on horseback, or to sit on a stoop and stare.

DON'T MISS

Go hiking in Yellowstone; go skiing at Big Sky Resort; soak up Wild West history in Butte; learn about US history at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

ESSENTIALS

From Los Angeles there are domestic connections to Great Falls or Billings. Montana is a year-round destination: winter for skiing, rest of the year for other outdoor activities. See visitmt.com

WISCONSIN

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Madison, Wisconsin's capitol building. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

What's in Wisconsin? Plenty of people couldn't tell you off the top of their head. There's no city such as Chicago or New York. No cultural hotspots like Nashville or Austin. Just … cheese?

WHY WE LOVE IT

Yes, there's cheese in Wisconsin – this is the home of the Cheeseheads, the fans of the Green Bay Packers NFL team, who wear cheese-shaped, triangular hats. In Wisconsin you'll also find thriving cities such as Madison and Milwaukee, the natural beauty of Door County, outdoor adventure on the Ice Age Trail and a great craft beer scene.

DON'T MISS

Revheads, hit the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city. Sports fans, you have to get to a Packers game. And for eaters of good food, the town of Sheboygan is sometimes called the bratwurst capital of the world due to its Germanic roots.

ESSENTIALS

From Australia, flights connect to Milwaukee via Los Angeles. Wisconsin is best avoided during freezing winters and is most pleasant June to September. See travelwisconsin.com

GEORGIA

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Savannah, Georgia. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

This is one of those states that's a little tricky to get to – you're looking at about 20 hours to get to Atlanta from Australia, compared to, say, 17 to Las Vegas – and again it's a state without any instantly recognisable landmarks.

WHY WE LOVE IT

It might take a while to get to, but Atlanta is extremely well connected to the US and the rest of North America, and it's a buzzing, multi-faceted city on the rise. Georgia is also home to Savannah, with all its southern charms and graces, plus a ridiculous 47 national parks.

DON'T MISS

Several notable figures were born in Georgia and their histories can be traced here: visit Martin Luther King Jr's birthplace and family church at the National Historic Site; see the house in which Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind in Atlanta. Sports fans also won't want to miss the Augusta National Golf Club.

ESSENTIALS

Flights from Australia to Atlanta connect via Dallas or Los Angeles. To get the best out of Georgia's national parks, visit April to October. See exploregeorgia.org

IDAHO

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McGown Peak and the Sawtooth range from Stanley Lake. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

Idaho: this is the place with the famous State Fair, right? No, that's Iowa. Idaho is three states over to the west, bordering Oregon, Montana, Nevada, and even Canada.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Those borders should clue you in on Idaho's greatest attraction: its natural beauty. Here you have all the jagged mountains, the crystal-clear lakes, the rugged forests and the rushing rivers you could ever dream of, only without the tourists. This is a state for lovers of the outdoors.

DON'T MISS

City slickers will enjoy Idaho's capital Boise, a laidback town with excellent local beer and cider and great venues in which to drink them. Outdoorsy types, head to Sawtooth and Hells Canyon national recreation areas, as well as Shoshone Falls and the City of Rocks National Reserve.

ESSENTIALS

Australian travellers can get to Boise via Los Angeles or San Francisco. Visit in winter to ski, in the warmer months to hike and camp. See visitidaho.org

NEW MEXICO

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State capital Santa Fe. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

New Mexico became more well-known thanks to Breaking Bad, the TV series that ran from 2008 to 2013 about cooking methamphetamine, which is maybe not the greatest advertisement. The show did, however, feature some amazing landscapes that got people wondering about the state's offerings.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Those landscapes: big sky, big spaces. Stark colours. Beauty in the emptiness. Then there's the city of Santa Fe, one of the USA's great art destinations, as well as something of a gastronomic hot spot and the happening resort town of Taos.

DON'T MISS

There are some world-class outdoor areas in New Mexico, including White Sands National Monument, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but leave time for the south-western fare on offer at its restaurants, and the epic weirdness of Meow Wolf, a psychedelic art collective fun house in Santa Fe.

ESSENTIALS

There are plenty of ways into New Mexico, including via Albuquerque, Santa Fe or Roswell, from Los Angeles or Dallas. New Mexico is great for a visit year-round. See newmexico.org

NEBRASKA

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Omaha, Nebraska. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

Nebraska is a large, flat area in the dead centre of the USA that makes a mildly interesting place to stare at from the window seat.

WHY WE LOVE IT

You won't find a friendlier, more polite state than Nebraska. This is an agricultural state, a state with history both settler and Native American, a state in which to soak up the natural beauty while enjoying a warm welcome.

DON'T MISS

How's this for sports fandom: every college football game that has been played in Memorial Stadium – in Nebraska's capital, Lincoln –since 1962 has been sold out. The stadium now seats more than 85,000 people. And it's sold out for every single game. That's how much the city loves its local team the Cornhuskers, and you have to get along to feel the love.

ESSENTIALS

Fly into Omaha or Lincoln via Los Angeles. Visit from May to October to catch the best weather. See visitnebraska.com

WEST VIRGINIA

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Charleston, West Virginia. Photo: iStock

WHY IT'S OVERLOOKED

West Virginia might be full of country roads taking people home, but most travellers don't know a lot about it past that. Where is it? In the north-east, close to Washington DC. What makes it different to its neighbours? You'll see.

WHY WE LOVE IT

Begin with Charleston, West Virginia's capital and largest city, which has a population of fewer than 50,000. This is an historic city with a contemporary food scene and a friendly attitude. Elsewhere, this state is all about the great outdoors, from hiking to biking to white-water rafting in spectacular parks and reserves.

DON'T MISS

Thrill-seekers, set your compass for New River Gorge National River, a torrent that rages through a particularly lovely section of the Appalachians, and provides no end of enjoyment for rafters (plus hikers and bikers). Also, check out a college football game at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, which has a capacity of twice its home city's population, and is usually full.

ESSENTIALS

Fly to Washington DC via Los Angeles or Dallas, and then jump in a car – it's about a four-hour drive to West Virginia. The state's outdoor attractions are best enjoyed May to October. See wvtourism.com

TRIED AND TESTED: FIVE POPULAR STATES WE LOVE

CALIFORNIA

The Golden State is intoxicating in its boldness and its beauty. This is the heart of so many cultural touchstones we hold dear, from Hollywood films to the hippie movement to some of the world's greatest musicians. California is also the home of Yosemite, of Death Valley, of Redwood and Joshua Tree, of Malibu, Santa Monica, Highway 1 and Big Sur. See visitcalifornia.com

TEXAS

To many there can be no place more quintessentially American than Texas, with its big hats and big trucks, its y'alls and its yee-haws, its barbecues, its ranches, its steers and its beers. Texas is also the home of Austin, a fascinatingly liberal island in a sea of country-and-western conservatism. See traveltexas.com

NEW YORK

New York the state is best known for New York the city, and what a city it is: so well-known that even those who have never been can easily conjure images of yellow cabs on busy Manhattan streets, of pizzas the size of car tyres, of hipster cocktail bars and Jewish delis and a hundred skyscrapers arranged just so. It's one of the best cities in the world. See iloveny.com

NEVADA

You either love Las Vegas, or you hate it. And you will probably swing between those two extremes within the course of a few hours, as you put aside your offence at all that neon and all that excess and just allow yourself to be swept up in the pure hedonism of the place. Nevada is also home to character-filled Wild West mining towns, and Reno's faded glory. See travelnevada.com

COLORADO

The names slip so easily off the tongue: Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Telluride. It seems almost unfair that one state should boast so many amazing ski resorts spread across so much of the US's best alpine terrain. Colorado has culture to burn in Denver and Boulder, plus Native American history in Mesa Verde National Park. See colorado.com

GOING WHERE? FIVE FORGOTTEN CITIES WORTH VISITING

DETROIT, MICHIGAN

Not so long ago Detroit was in dire straits (the entire city filed for bankruptcy in 2013); these days, however, Motor City is reinventing itself thanks to projects that have nothing to do with the car industry. Art installations are popping up in unloved neighbourhoods, distilleries are opening in disused warehouses, cafes and bars are appearing in old shopfronts. This is a city on the rise. See visitdetroit.com

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA

Like Detroit, "Steel City" lost the industry that provided its identity; however, Pittsburgh has been even quicker to bounce back, with help from the tech industry and a creative, cultural boom that filled many of the city's empty spaces. These days you'll always eat and drink well in Pittsburgh. And if you're in the city on game day – any game – you'll see it truly come to life. See visitpittsburgh.com

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

Baltimore is famous, though not exactly for the right reasons. The city was the setting of the TV show The Wire, a story of ingrained criminality and violence. Fortunately, that's only one side of Baltimore's complex story: this is also a modern city of art and culture, with great museums, excellent restaurants, world-class sporting venues and an easy-going charm. See baltimore.org

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

San Francisco casts a long shadow – it's not easy for the city across the bay to step out from it. Oakland is, however, a tourist attraction in its own right, a vibrant, freewheeling and ethnically diverse city that marches to the beat of its own drum. It also has some of the best Mexican, Vietnamese and Salvadoran food around. visitoakland.com

BUFFALO, NEW YORK

A once-rich industrial hub that fell on leaner times in the mid 20th century, Buffalo has bounced back in a big way. Many of its stately buildings have been restored and repurposed, plus there are wonderful green spaces and the majesty of Niagara Falls within easy striking distance. See visitbuffaloniagara.com

FIVE PLACES YOU FORGET WERE EVEN PART OF AMERICA

GUAM

A little slice of Americana is closer than we think. Guam is an island in Micronesia in the Western Pacific Ocean, about halfway between the Philippines and Hawaii. It's also a territory of the USA. There are plenty of World War II historic sites here, as well as markets, beaches, and chances to scuba-dive or snorkel. See guamvisitorsbureau.com

PUERTO RICO

Though it was hit hard in 2017 by Hurricane Maria, a natural disaster it's still recovering from, Puerto Rico boasts a fascinating mix of Spanish, American and Caribbean influences, with all of the sandy beaches and forested hills you could hope for. Don't forget the food either: the island's lechoneras, which specialise in suckling pig, are justifiably famous. See discoverpuertorico.com

AMERICAN SAMOA

Another US territory in the Pacific Ocean, American Samoa is an archipelago with plenty going for it, including rugged mountain peaks, clear waters and palm-fringed beaches. It's also pleasantly free of tourist hordes, a place where you can go hiking in a national park and not see another soul, or have acres of white sand all to yourself. See americansamoa.travel

US VIRGIN ISLANDS

This Caribbean paradise is no secret: the islands of St Thomas, St John and St Croix are firm favourites on the cruise circuit, and an ideal hub for outdoorsy American holidaymakers who are all flocking for the almost unfair beauty of this place. The US purchased the territory from Denmark in 1917, and it seems like a good deal. See visitusvi.com

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS

Here's another Pacific outcrop that happens to belong to the USA, a chain of islands that's part of the same archipelago as Guam and is popular with Japanese and Korean visitors. There are World War II historic sites as well as excellent scuba-diving and snorkelling. See mymarianas.com

See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to the US

See also: The 50 highlights of America, state by state

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