Are you tired of the same touristy travel destinations? Ready to shake things up and discover some lesser-known gems? In this week’s podcast episode, we dive into 5 Must-See Off the Beaten Path Destinations. We will take you on a journey to explore hidden small towns across the United States.
Join us on a journey to explore some of America’s most beautiful and charming small towns! We’ll start by visiting Jerome, Arizona, a town with a lot of enchanting character. We’ll experience the Bavarian charm of Leavenworth, Washington, where you’ll feel like you’re in Germany. Next, we’ll embrace the natural beauty of McCall, Idaho, surrounded by stunning scenery. We’ll then head to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, a mountain town that will leave you breathless. Finally, we’ll bask in the coastal town of Frankfort, Michigan, where we’ll soak up the sun and take in the ocean views. There’s a world of adventure waiting beyond the usual tourist traps!
We’ll dig into the fascinating history, uncover things to do, scope out the best accommodations, and share our insider tips to help you make the most of your visit. Whether you’re looking for a laid-back beach escape, a snowy mountain, or a quirky small town experience, we’ve got you covered. So grab your travel wishlist, tune in, and let’s explore off the beaten path destinations together!
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Exploring hidden gems: Off the Beaten Path Destinations
Jerome, Arizona, is a historic mining town overlooking the picturesque Verde Valley. Located 20 miles west of Cottonwood, 45 minutes from Sedona, and 2 hours from Phoenix, Jerome offers stunning views from its slopes 5,000 feet up.
Established in the late 19th century, Jerome’s rich mining history influenced its development. Prospectors discovered rich copper, gold, and silver deposits. The United Verde Copper Company, established by William A. Clark, began mining operations. The mines provided a significant economic boost to the area, and Jerome earned the nickname “The Billion Dollar Copper Camp.”
At its peak, Jerome was a thriving community with around 15,000 residents. As the mining industry began to die in the mid-20th century, Jerome experienced a significant downturn. The United Verde Copper Company ceased operations, and the town’s population dwindled to a few hundred people. Jerome was on the verge of becoming a ghost town.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a resurgence of interest in the town’s history and unique charm brought new life to Jerome. Artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs moved in, transforming the town into a thriving tourist destination.
Today, Jerome is a popular spot for visitors interested in exploring its unique attractions, such as the Jerome State Historic Park, the Gold King Mine Museum, Audrey Headframe Park.
Don’t miss the Sliding Jail, which slid more than 200 feet downhill during a landslide in the early 20th century. Nellie Bly Kaleidoscope is a town store with the world’s most extensive collection of kaleidoscopes. The town also has haunted tours, wineries, and great food.
Jerome, Arizona, also has a variety of outdoor activities and recreational opportunities. In and around the town, there is hiking, biking, bird watching, scenic drives, and Off-road trails (a fun off-road trail with beautiful views).
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Nearby you can also visit the Tuzigoot National Monument. This ancient Pueblo site offers an opportunity to learn about the area’s prehistoric inhabitants. In Cottonwood, you can visit Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The Verde River provides opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Finally, Montezuma Castle National Monument is a short drive from Jerome and has well-preserved cliff dwellings.
Accommodation options include hotels, BLM near Sedona, and the National Forest, and we stayed at Verde Valley Thousand Trails.
If you’re in the area during winter, don’t miss the chance to see the beautiful snow-covered mountains surrounding Jerome. With so much to see and do, this small town offers something for everyone.
Leavenworth, Washington, a charming small town nestled in the Cascade Mountains. The city is situated along the eastern slopes of the range in the picturesque Chelan County. Located approximately 117 miles east of Seattle and 22 miles northwest of Wenatchee, Leavenworth sits along the scenic Wenatchee River. Leavenworth is an off the beaten path destination you can’t miss if you’re in the area.
Leavenworth’s history stretches back to the early 20th century when the town thrived as a logging and railroad community. The city was later renamed from Icicle Flats to Leavenworth after Captain Charles Leavenworth, a key investor in the railroad. In the 1920s, the railroad relocated its operations, and the logging industry experienced a downturn. By the 1960s, Leavenworth was struggling to survive.
In an effort to revitalize the town, community leaders transformed Leavenworth into a Bavarian-themed village. Inspired by the stunning alpine setting, reminiscent of the Bavarian region in Germany, the town’s buildings were redesigned to showcase Bavarian architecture. Embracing its new identity, the community-centered itself around Bavarian culture, food, and events. This allowed Leavenworth to flourish again, attracting visitors eager to experience its charming and unique atmosphere.
Downtown Leavenworth is a delightful destination where visitors can stroll through the enchanting streets adorned with Bavarian-style architecture, shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The unique Nutcracker Museum is a must-see with its vast collection of nutcrackers worldwide. The Leavenworth Reindeer Farm offers visitors a fun and educational experience, where you can feed and take photos.
The Leavenworth Summer Theater is another popular attraction, offering performances during the summer months in a beautiful outdoor setting. The theater showcases a variety of musicals and plays, making it an enjoyable experience for locals and tourists alike.
Leavenworth’s Waterfront Park, located along the Wenatchee River, features walking trails, picnic areas, and stunning views of the surrounding mountains. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Cascade Mountains provide hiking, skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, river rafting, and fishing opportunities.
Enchantment Park offers sports fields, a playground, a skate park, and access to the Wenatchee River for fishing and river activities. Golfers can play a round surrounded by the beautiful Cascade Mountains at the scenic 18-hole Leavenworth Golf Club. For those looking to explore further, scenic drives and offroad trails in the area promise memorable adventures.
Leavenworth hosts several annual events and festivals, adding to its vibrant atmosphere. Some popular events include Oktoberfest, the Christmas Lighting Festival, Maifest, and the Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration. These events bring the town to life with colorful celebrations, music, and delicious food, immersing visitors in the town’s Bavarian-themed charm.
When visiting Leavenworth, we highly recommended the Leavenworth Thousand Trails, where we stayed during our visit to this charming small town.
McCall, Idaho, is one of our favorite small towns in the Rocky Mountain region. McCall is a charming resort town in the central-western part of the state, located approximately 107 miles north of Boise. McCall is nestled along the southern shore of Payette Lake and enveloped by the majestic Payette National Forest. With an elevation of 5,013 feet, this idyllic town has the highest average snowfall in the state, making it an ideal destination for winter sports enthusiasts and those seeking a cozy retreat amid nature’s beauty.
The area now known as McCall was originally home to the Shoshone and Nez Perce Native American tribes. In the early 20th century, around 1911, Thomas and Louisa McCall founded the town as a logging community, naming it after their family name. McCall quickly developed around the lumber industry, becoming a hub for timber production.
Over time, McCall transitioned from its origins as a logging community into a thriving resort town. This transformation was due to its picturesque natural setting and the plethora of recreational opportunities it offers. Today, McCall is popular for locals and tourists seeking to experience this charming town’s stunning beauty and outdoor adventures.
Big Payette Lake, the beautiful alpine centerpiece of McCall, offers visitors various activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, and scenic views. Nearby, Ponderosa State Park, located on a peninsula in Payette Lake, provides ample opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife viewing, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.
The Central Idaho Historical Museum showcases McCall’s rich past through intriguing exhibits and historic buildings for those interested in the area’s history. Families visiting during winter can head to the Activity Barn for snow tubing and a terrain park, providing fun for all ages.
During the summer, the McCall Farmers’ Market is a fantastic place to pick up fresh local produce and handmade crafts. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the Payette National Forest, which offers hiking and mountain biking trails catering to varying difficulty levels. For water sports enthusiasts, Payette Lake and nearby rivers present kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and rafting opportunities.
Skiing and snowboarding are popular winter activities in McCall, with nearby resorts catering to visitors seeking snowy adventures. Anglers can cast their lines in Payette Lake or nearby rivers and streams for fish species such as trout and salmon. Finally, for those interested in snowmobiling, McCall and its surrounding areas boast many snowmobile trails perfect for winter exploration.
We boondocked across from the lake on State Endowment Land.
Cloudcroft, New Mexico
Cloudcroft, New Mexico, is a quaint mountain village in the south-central part of the state. Located in the picturesque Lincoln National Forest, Cloudcroft boasts an impressive elevation of 8,668 feet, making it one of the highest small towns in the United States. Its stunning natural surroundings and unique high-altitude setting attract visitors seeking a peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Cloudcroft, founded in the late 19th century, initially served as a logging community and a summer retreat for nearby residents looking to escape the scorching desert heat. Completing the Alamogordo and Sacramento Mountain Railway in 1900 significantly contributed to the village’s early development, connecting Cloudcroft to Alamogordo.
The railway was crucial in attracting visitors to Cloudcroft, helping it gain a reputation as a sought-after vacation destination. Although the railway was dismantled in the 1940s, the village has continued to prosper as a popular tourist spot. Remnants of the railway’s history can still be seen when driving up the mountain, serving as a reminder of Cloudcroft’s humble beginnings and the essential role transportation played in its growth.
White Sands National Park, located approximately 50 miles west of Cloudcroft, offers a unique experience for visitors with its vast gypsum dunes. Visitors can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and photography while exploring this stunning landscape. We also stayed on free land near the national park. Another attraction worth visiting is the Sunspot Solar Observatory, a short drive from Cloudcroft. Here, visitors can learn about solar astronomy and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding area.
The Lincoln National Forest provides many outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. Adventurous travelers can also explore offroad trails for an exciting experience. During winter, Ski Cloudcroft offers skiing and snowboarding for all ages in a family-friendly atmosphere. For a more relaxed outing, visit the Trestle Recreation Area, featuring hiking trails, picnic sites, and historic railroad trestles built in the early 20th century.
Don’t overlook this adorable small town when looking for an off the beaten path destination in southern New Mexico.
Frankfort, Michigan, is a small town nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula. Situated in Benzie County, it lies approximately 260 miles northwest of Detroit and 45 miles southwest of Traverse City. Known for its sandy beaches, and quaint downtown area, Frankfort offers a picturesque getaway for visitors seeking a serene and relaxing environment.
The history of Frankfort dates back to the mid-19th century as a transportation hub for the shipping industry. Its strategic location on Lake Michigan made it an important center for the lumber trade, and the town quickly grew as a result. The construction of the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse further solidified the town’s status as an important port in the region.
As time went on, Frankfort evolved into a popular summer resort destination, attracting visitors with its natural beauty and relaxed atmosphere. Today, the town continues to captivate travelers seeking a peaceful retreat offering a unique blend of history, charm, and natural wonders.
Frankfort, Michigan, offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. One of the town’s most iconic symbols is the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. This historic lighthouse is not only a popular spot for photography but also serves as a reminder of the town’s maritime past.
Frankfort Beach, with its beautiful sandy shores, is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, beachcombing, and watching breathtaking sunsets over Lake Michigan. For those who prefer to explore the surrounding natural beauty, the 22-mile Betsie Valley Trail is ideal for biking, hiking, and jogging. Running between Frankfort and the nearby town of Thompsonville, the trail takes visitors through picturesque forests and the Betsie River.
Another historic lighthouse, Point Betsie Lighthouse, is located about 5 miles north of Frankfort. Just a short drive from Frankfort, Crystal Lake is a pristine lake perfect for boating, fishing, and swimming. Additionally, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City are just 45 minutes away, providing further opportunities for exploration.
For a scenic driving experience, consider taking a trip along M-22. This beautiful coastal highway runs along the shores of Lake Michigan and offers stunning views of the coastline and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
After a day of exploring, unwind at the Stormcloud Brewing Company, a popular local brewery, and pub that offers a variety of craft beers and food. With its rich history, natural beauty, and many activities, Frankfort is a delightful small town destination for travelers seeking a memorable experience.
As we wrap up this week’s podcast episode on off the beaten path destinations, we hope you’re inspired to venture beyond the familiar and explore the hidden treasures these remarkable small towns offer.
Unforgettable experiences are often found where you least expect them. Don’t be afraid to veer off the well-trodden path and uncover the diverse, captivating, and extraordinary places that await you.
Happy travels, and until next time, keep exploring!