20 Least-Visited States (and Why They’re Worth Your Time)
There may be 50 states in the Union, but not all rank the same on travelers’ bucket lists. While on the one hand, you have your Californias, Hawaiis and New Yorks. On the other, you have states which seem to be thoroughly misunderstood.
While these states may receive less than the lion’s share of tourism each year, it is a tremendous oversight, as they are teeming with their own rich cultures, history, sights and landmarks. In fact, some of these states are home to the most iconic and beautiful landmarks in the world.
So, before you write off the majority of the Midwest, the South and parts of the last American frontier, check out this list of the 20 least-visited states, and take note as to why they’re absolutely worth a visit.
Visitors: 41 million
Known as the Natural State, most visitors to Arkansas are taking their adventures outdoors. The landscape of Arkansas rises in two mountainous spines with both the Ozark and Ouachita mountains.
It also has national parks, America's first national river, and the Razorback Regional Greenway, which is a playground for riders on two wheels.
*Visitor numbers are from 2021 unless otherwise noted.
Why Arkansas Is Worth a Visit
The No. 1 reason visitors are drawn to Arkansas is Hot Springs National Park, one of the top-visited national parks in the nation. The hot springs of the Ouachita Mountains have been calling tourists for decades, and today, the park has hiking trails, an observation tower and plenty of places to take a plunge. The Buffalo National River is another stunning natural spot of protected area — this time running through the Ozark Mountains. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arkansas’ natural treasures.
Those with a deep interest in American history will want to visit the Little Rock Central High School, which was the first high school to begin desegregation in 1957.
Visitors: 37 million
Idaho sits wedged between several other lesser-traveled states, like Montana, Oregon and Wyoming. But believe it or not, Idaho is a veritable playground for adventurers. There are 114 mountain ranges in the state, and more than 60 percent of Idaho is public land.
The capital city, Boise, is a rising destination known for its burgeoning dining, art and music scenes, while Sun Valley is one of the best ski destinations in the country.
Why Idaho Is Worth a Visit
Idaho is both a mixture of natural beauty and cultural highlights, with plenty to see and do. Start with Sun Valley Resort, one of the greatest ski destinations in the nation. Both a summer and winter retreat, when the slopes aren't blanketed in powder, they are webbed with fabulous hiking trails. Craters of the Moon National Monument is also a top draw, a lunar landscape created from volcanic eruptions that set off as long as 15,000 years ago.
More stunning beauty is found at Lake Coeur d'Alene, a glacially formed lake ringed in mountains. As if that weren't enough for natural beauty, Bruneau Dunes is one of the best and most unique state parks in the state.
Visitors: 33.7 million
When they sing about amber waves of grain, they are, without question, singing about Kansas. This prairie-laden state's claim to fame (other than that famous tornado that carted Dorothy off to Oz) is surely its magnificent grasslands and green, undulating hills.
But there's much more to Kansas than wide-open spaces and big blue skies. You'll find impossibly blue lakes, grassroots art, breweries and a blossoming foodie scene.
Why Kansas Is Worth a Visit
Kansas is about as Midwestern as it gets, and the Sunflower State is deeply varied in its offerings. Start in Wichita at the Botanica Wichita Gardens, a year-round paradise of beautiful blossoms from around the world. For those classic prairie vistas, make a stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, one of the only places left in America to explore the original 170 million acres of land that used to be tallgrass prairie.
Or you can step back in time to Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, which is a stretch of town that honors the city’s Wild West days. Finally, head to Lawrence, a college town with a serious multidisciplinary art scene, specifically at the Spencer Museum of Art.
Visitors: 29.8 million
Tip your hat to Portland, folks. The surge in interest in this hipster haven has caused Oregon tourism to skyrocket.
But once visitors get past their favorite city, they are able to take in the natural beauty, untamed coastline and rich wine country of the rest of the state, shedding light on one of the best-kept secrets in the country.
Why Oregon Is Worth a Visit
First and foremost, you're going to visit Portland. Known for its famous food trucks, craft beer scene, music and groups of young professionals that flocked here in droves, it is one of the hippest cities in America. But outside of Portland, Oregon a treasure trove of natural beauty is just waiting to be explored.
Start at Crater Lake National Park in the Cascade Mountains, and then head to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Be sure to stop on the coast to see Cannon Beach and the massive rock formation made famous in “The Goonies” movie. And if you love a good glass of pinot noir, you'll have to stop at the wineries in the Willamette Valley for some of the country's finest.
Visitors: 29.3 million (2019)
The busiest state in New England is one of the lesser-visited states in the nation — perhaps because of its size? But Massachusetts has a little bit of everything that makes this country great.
From the woods of the Berkshires to the beaches of Cape Cod, the historic towns of Plymouth and Salem, and the modern culture of Boston, Massachusetts is a cultural and varied New England state that serves up a little bit of everything.
Why Massachusetts Is Worth a Visit
Massachusetts may be one of the original 13 colonies, but you'll find that it has quite a modern side as well. Boston is home to fantastic restaurants, luxury hotels, shopping and culture. Just across the river in Cambridge, you'll find Harvard University.
Outside of Boston, make your way out to Cape Cod and Provincetown for a look at New England coastal living and some of the freshest seafood in the country. Further inland, discover the Berkshires for their stunning mountains, cozy inns and annual cultural events, like the live performances at Tanglewood in the town of Lenox.
Visitors: 28.6 million
Alabama represents American history in so many different ways. From the Native American mound cities to the Franco-Caribbean architecture of Mobile and the birthplace of the civil rights movement, Alabama has been a home base for so much of what has shaped the nation.
Today, it still retains its southern vibe, from river towns to the beaches of the Gulf Coast. And then there are cities like Birmingham, which are serving up a modern medley of food, art and music.
Why Alabama Is Worth a Visit
You can't (or you shouldn't) visit Alabama and skip a lesson in civil rights. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an important, comprehensive analysis of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Other landmarks include Kelly Ingram Park, the Carver Theater and the Fourth Avenue Business District.
Head down to the Gulf Shore to visit Gulf State Park, which offers 2 miles of sandy beaches, hiking and fishing. And if you're interested in blues music, you'll want to visit the W.C. Handy Home and Museum, located in the log cabin where the eponymous musician was born in Florence.
Visitors: 28.3 million
Delaware may be everyone's favorite “Wayne's World” punchline, but there is so much more to this state to enjoy. Maybe it's the tax-free shopping or maybe the miles and miles of white, sandy beaches, or maybe it's the rich American history carved out in historic, colonial villages.
Delaware may be one of the country's smallest states, but it packs a punch if you know where to look.
Why Delaware Is Worth a Visit
Let's start with Delaware's beaches — it has 28 miles of them. The most famous is undoubtedly Rehoboth, which often makes the cut on lists of America's best beaches. Dewey Beach is another fan-favorite, especially if you're interested in a party scene.
Beyond the beaches, though, Delaware is packed with museums, from the Air Mobility Command Museum to the Delaware Art Museum and the Winterthur Museum and Gardens. Nature lovers will also enjoy getting lost in the 933-acre Brandywine Creek State Park.
13. Rhode Island
Visitors: 26.2 million (2019)
It may be the smallest state in America, but it certainly has a lot to offer its visitors — especially those who are drawn to the sea. As small as it is, the state actually boasts 400 miles of coastline, lined with white-sand beaches and peppered with restaurants, museums and historic New England architecture.
Rhode Islanders also love a celebration and typically have a year-round calendar of events, many of which celebrate the fresh seafood that is ubiquitous throughout the state.
Why Rhode Island Is Worth a Visit
The two most popular cities in Rhode Island are Newport and Providence — and for good reason. Newport has gained a reputation among the well-heeled of the country as a playground for the posh, with historic mansions and stately resorts.
Providence has grown from an industrial city into one of the most progressive and contemporary New England cities. It doesn't hurt that it's the home of Brown University either. Be sure to take a stroll down the Waterplace Park and Riverwalk, known for its beautiful walkways and nighttime entertainment.
Visitors: 23.4 million
Mississippi is somewhat of an enigma and a look into the harsh realities of the U.S.'s tragic past. It's a juxtaposition of extreme poverty, set against the backdrop of the mega antebellum mansions that were built on the backs of slavery.
Today, the racial divide in Mississippi is very real, but out of that has come soulful blues music and rich cuisine. Mississippi is also filled with stunning natural beauty, from the Mississippi Delta to the sandy coasts along the Gulf.
Why Mississippi Is Worth a Visit
You wouldn't think it, but Mississippi has some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches in America along the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Back on land, immerse yourself in the music history that was born in Mississippi with a visit to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. And, speaking of music, visitors to Mississippi can make a stop at the birthplace of the King himself, Elvis Presley.
For stunning vistas, drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway, a scenic byway that stretches 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi all the way to Nashville, Tennessee.
11. North Dakota
Visitors: 21.5 million
When Teddy Roosevelt fixed his eyes on North Dakota, there was no going back. It was love at first sight. That’s because North Dakota has some of the most beautiful Great Plains landscape in the nation. Today, the state has 63 national wildlife refuges and 13 state parks. The badlands also creep into North Dakota's western edge.
Beyond the state’s natural beauty, it is home to Fargo, one of the hidden jewels of the country. Fargo is a big foodie city that is amping up its brewery game as well. And if you'd like to round out your visit with some more nature, cozy up along the Montana border for lookout spots that have changed very little since the days of Lewis and Clark.
Why North Dakota Is Worth a Visit
You can't visit North Dakota without paying homage to its biggest fan — Teddy Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is cut by the Little Missouri River, which winds its way through the Little Missouri Badlands.
Take a trip back through history at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is home to four museum galleries that cover everything from dinosaur fossils to the Northern Lights. If you're interested in North Dakota's European settler history, the Scandinavian Heritage Park offers a glimpse into the rich Scandinavian culture that is responsible for settling this part of America.
Visitors: 21.4 million
Oklahoma sits at a crossroads of cultures. It's a melting pot at the convergence of Old West pioneers and 39 indigenous Native American tribes. Today, it is a cultural hotbed for museums and educational centers.
Route 66 cuts across the state, connecting wide-open prairie with the twinkling lights of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Why Oklahoma Is Worth a Visit
Since Route 66's longest stretch cuts across Oklahoma, this is the best state in the country to get those proverbial kicks. Along the way, you'll pass by iconic slices of Americana, from the Blue Whale of Catoosa to the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum.
Oklahoma is a haven for museums, including the Museum of the Great Plains and the Gilcrease Museum. For a somber look into American history, a stop at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum is an important place to pay respects to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Visitors: 20.7 million (2019)
The Southwest is no stranger to stunning outdoor scenery, and Utah is undoubtedly a leader of the bunch. Photographers, hikers and skiers flock to Utah each year to marvel at the red-rock canyons, a sea of flame-colored spires and miles upon miles of desert.
Higher in elevation, the landscape changes to the snow-covered peaks of the Wasatch Mountains, where the ski conditions are among the best in the world. Urban centers like Salt Lake City and Park City draw a cultural crowd who are as enthusiastic about modern dining as they are about nature.
Why Utah Is Worth a Visit
You'll be in national park heaven when you hit Utah, from the endless waterfalls and red-rock cliffs of Zion National Park to the blazing-orange rock formations in Arches National Park. Don't forget Monument Valley, whose millennia-old rock formations you're sure to recognize from any old western. This area is also steeped in Navajo culture.
For a dose of city life, Salt Lake City and Park City offer modern restaurants and nightlife.
Visitors: 20 million (2019)
Nebraska is, in a word, beautiful. In two words? Lonely beautiful. The expansive Cornhusker State is known for its stark, wide-open spaces, never-ending sky and a whole lot of farmland.
But digging a little deeper, visitors will find that Nebraska is historically and culturally rich, from dinosaur remnants to centuries-old Native American culture. As far as cities go, Omaha and Lincoln are buzzing with culture and art. And the long, lonely roads that connect point A to point B are hauntingly beautiful.
Why Nebraska Is Worth a Visit
Lincoln and Omaha are absolute can't-miss cities when visiting Nebraska, especially if you're interested in learning about the history of the state or popping into a cozy cafe. As for natural wonders, Nebraska is rippling with them. Just look at Chimney Rock, a spire that rises 480 feet from the earth and dates back about 25 million years.
And if you're interested in Americana kitsch, you can't miss Carhenge, a roadside attraction that has gained an international reputation. The state has plenty of other quirky attractions as well.
Visitors: 16 million
Traditionally, Iowa is thought of as bucolic, Midwestern farmland. And that is certainly true.
But there is much more to Iowa than its reputation would have you believe. From the towering cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River to the cultural hub of Iowa City and the legendary covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa has more than enough to entertain.
Why Iowa Is Worth a Visit
The Mississippi River is the lifeblood of Iowa, so be sure to save time for the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. It has a 4D theater and houses several animals like alligators, otters and sturgeon. Lakes in Iowa are also a pretty big deal, especially in the summer when lake parties are all the rage.
Take a step back into Iowa's history at the Amana Colonies, which are made up of seven villages that transport visitors back to the German immigrant history of the mid-19th century. And if you're a sports enthusiast, RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Race Across Iowa) is an annual, week-long bike race that spans the whole state.
6. West Virginia
Visitors: 15.9 million (2019)
With a spin of misty, green mountains, white-water rapids, ski resorts and gently twisting scenic drives, West Virginia is a paradise for nature lovers. In fact, it's one of the most densely packed areas of natural beauty in this part of the country, and not too many people know it.
The state is still having a tough time shaking its secessionist reputation, but the younger generations are bringing life to burgeoning arts and culinary scenes. One thing that can't be denied is that West Virginia is one of the most visually stunning states in the Union.
Why West Virginia Is Worth a Visit
The rugged and wild scenery makes West Virginia one of the best spots in the country for outdoor adventure. From Blackwater Falls State Park, known for its cascading waterfalls and gorge, to the raging rapids of the Gauley River, there is something in nature for everyone.
History lovers (and photographers) will love the story and scenery at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac River and which is home to museums, historical exhibits and 20 miles of hiking trails.
5. South Dakota
Visitors: 13.5 million
Over 13 million visitors seems like a lot for the state of South Dakota, but Mount Rushmore alone is responsible for more than 2 million tourists each year, which definitely helps.
Beyond that, South Dakota is mostly an expanse of gently swaying prairies, which make for stunning vistas, as well as mind-blowingly beautiful national and state parks. If you like views and geological marvels, South Dakota is the state for you.
Why South Dakota Is Worth a Visit
We've already mentioned Mount Rushmore, but it's worth restating: This is one of the country's most popular and impressive attractions. Carved into the side of a mountain are the heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Badlands National Park is yet another top draw for South Dakota, known for its hills and spires that were created from the erosion of sand and clay. The result is an eerie lunar landscape that looks unlike anywhere else.
You'll also want to visit Wind Cave National Park, which is home to a massive cave system known for its “boxwork” cave structure — a unique geological formation that is quite rare as far as caves go.
Visitors: 13 million
Vermont is an ever-changing color palette. Whether it's stark white in winter, brilliant green in summer or a blazing kaleidoscope of fiery hues in fall, there is always something beautiful to look at in Vermont.
Add to that rolling farmland, undulating mountains, quaint New England villages, the bustle of Burlington and the shores of Lake Champlain, and it's no wonder why the locals are so proud of their state.
Why Vermont Is Worth a Visit
A visit to Vermont should start on the banks of Lake Champlain, which separates Vermont from New York. The lake's length runs for 120 miles, and much of the 587 miles of shoreline are pristine forest. Vermont is also home to beautifully quaint towns and villages, from the ski town of Stowe to the villages of Manchester and Woodstock, known for their shopping, general stores, historic centers and wave of luxe inns and New American restaurants.
Vermont is also the home of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, so a trip to the factory is an absolute can't-miss.
Visitors: 12.5 million
With two national parks, hip cities like Missoula and Bozeman and the trendy resort town of Whitefish, and plenty of American history, you'd think Montana would rank higher. But Big Sky Country is just that — a lot of sky and a lot of open space.
It's where the Great Plains begin to climb upward into the Rockies. Don't count it out just yet, though. While it may not be a big tourist destination, a burgeoning brewery and foodie scene is putting Montana on the culinary map.
Why Montana Is Worth a Visit
Montana's biggest claim to tourist fame is none other than Glacier National Park — arguably one of the most naturally beautiful national parks in America. It has 700 miles of hiking in addition to the stunning 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road that connects St. Mary to West Glacier.
History buffs won't want to miss the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, which includes the Custer National Cemetery. For skiers, there is Big Sky Resort, where snowfall averages 400 inches per year.
Visitors: 8.1 million
Wyoming has a few very notable claims to fame — Jackson Hole and the Teton Mountain Range as well as Yellowstone National Park. Outside of that, the state is very much Great Plains territory.
That's not to say it isn't beautiful, but sparsely populated grasslands and a few Wild West frontier towns like Cody and Laramie keep this state somewhat off the tourist trail.
Why Wyoming Is Worth a Visit
Still, the reasons why you would flock to Wyoming are nothing short of spectacular. Yellowstone National Park is the world's first and oldest national park, home to a sprawling network of hiking trails, the Old Faithful geyser and a rainbow of geothermal pools.
Grand Teton National Park is just a hop, skip and a jump away as well, featuring 12 peaks that top more than 12,000 feet. The gateway to both is the beautiful town of Jackson, known for its art galleries, restaurants, historic architecture and luxury hotels.
Visitors: 2.53 million (2019)
We had to do a double-take when we saw Alaska was the least-visited state in the country. With its wild-and-rugged mountain ranges, deep forests, rich wildlife and blue glaciers, we ignorantly assumed Alaska would be much higher on the list.
Perhaps its reputation as the last frontier keeps most tourists away — it is a long, long way to go, and most visitors arrive via cruise ship. Still, with Anchorage’s location as the jumping-off point into nature, 17 national parks and the foodie scene in Juneau, Alaska is absolutely worth the effort.
Why Alaska Is Worth a Visit
Vast, open and untamed, Alaska’s beauty is enigmatic and mesmerizing. You will certainly want to take advantage of the outdoor opportunities, especially among its many national parks. Start with Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, Mount McKinley. The Tracy Arm Fjord, located south of Juneau, is a popular spot for boat tours as well.
If you have the time, a road trip along the Alaska Highway, which runs from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Delta Junction near Fairbanks, is simply breathtaking. And if you want a taste of off-beat Pacific Northwest culture, food and beer, be sure to spend some time in Juneau.