Sign In

16 Forgotten U.S. Islands You Might Not Have Heard Of

16 Forgotten U.S. Islands You Might Not Have Heard Of

Ready to explore some hidden corners of the U.S. that you probably haven’t heard of? From secluded beaches in tropical paradises to rugged, wildlife-rich outposts, we’re diving into 16 maybe forgotten U.S. islands that are just begging to be explored. Pack your bags (and maybe a map), because we’re about to take you on a journey to discover these uncharted waters!

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Photo credit: Christopher Osten via Unsplash.

Located about 70 miles west of Key West, this small group of islands is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, abundant marine life, and the historic Fort Jefferson. It’s a fantastic spot for snorkeling, diving, and exploring a piece of American history.

How to get there? – If you arrive by car, you can use City Parking Garage on Grinnell Street that costs USD $40 (2024 info). Then take a ferry from Key West. The price for a day trip starts at USD $220 (2024 info) that includes entrance free to Fort Jefferson.

Channel Islands, California

Photo credit: Lisha Riabinina via Unsplash.

Often overshadowed by California’s mainland attractions, the Channel Islands offer a serene escape into nature. They’re a great destination for hiking, kayaking, and wildlife spotting.

The eight main islands are home to unique wildlife, including 60 endemic species found nowhere else on earth. That is why they are also called as “Galapagos of North America”.

Santa Cruz Island is also the location of the largest known sea cave in the world, called Painted Cave.

How to get there? – The closest port on the mainland is Oxnard. It is close to Los Angeles (60-90 minutes drive), Burbank and Santa Barbara Airports.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for California eco-lodges nearby.

Isle Royale, Michigan

Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Nestled in the cold waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is a rugged wilderness perfect for adventurers. It is the largest island on the lake surrounded by 400(!) small islands. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, it offers solitude, stunning natural beauty, and the chance to see moose and wolves in their natural habitat.

How to get there?Ferries are available to the main island from Houghton, Copper Harbor, Grand Portage, and Grand Marais.

American Samoa

Photo credit: Ethan Elisara via Unsplash.

This group of islands in the South Pacific is a hidden gem of natural beauty and Samoan culture. With lush rainforests, volcanic mountains, and pristine beaches, it’s a paradise for those looking to get off the beaten path.

It lays approx. 2,600 miles from Hawaii and it is also the place of the only U.S. national park south from the Equator.

How to get there? – Only U.S. airline that goes there is Hawaii Airlines. Flights are not available from all Hawaii airports, only Honolulu. However, there are flights from Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Samoa Airways is the only intra-island flight operator if you want to go island-hopping.

Diomede Islands, Alaska

Photo credit: Getty Images via Unsplash+ License.

These two islands lie in the middle of the Bering Strait, with Big Diomede in Russia and Little Diomede in the USA. Only about 2.4 miles apart, they are frozen over in winter, allowing for an ice bridge. Little Diomede has a small Inupiat community, offering a unique perspective on life in one of the most remote areas of the United States.

The Bering Strait is important for whales as it serves as a crucial migratory route between the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, providing essential feeding and breeding grounds for various whale species.

How to get there? – It is not easy to visit these islands partly due to its remote locations partly since all travelers needs permission granted in advance. Circumpolar Expeditions are one of the tour operators offering tours there.

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Photo credit: Depositphotos.

While Puerto Rico is well-known, these smaller islands are often overlooked. They boast some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, pink lakes, tropical rainforest, vibrant wildlife, and a peaceful atmosphere away from the crowds.

Vieques, Puerto Rico, is home to Mosquito Bay (Bahía Mosquito), one of the most famous bioluminescent bays in the world, known for its exceptionally high concentration of bioluminescent microorganisms that glow in the dark when disturbed.

How to get there? – Puerto Rico has three international airports Luis Muñoz Marín Airport (SJU) in the capital, San Juan, Rafael Hernandez (BQN) in Aguadilla and Mercedita (PSE) in Ponce. Several U.S. airlines fly them from various hubs in the U.S. mainland.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for Puerto Rico eco-lodges nearby.

Catalina Island, California

Photo credit: Elias Shankaji via Unsplash.

While not as “lesser-known,” Catalina Island offers a Mediterranean vibe just off the coast of Southern California, with its charming town of Avalon, the historic Catalina Casino, and a variety of outdoor activities like snorkeling, diving, and hiking.

It’s also home to the Catalina Island Fox, a species unique to the island.

How to get there? – You can catch a high-speed ferry from Long Beach, San Pedro, Dana Point, and Newport Beach. Check all options, but prices are around USD $40-50 (2024 info) for an adult ticket.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for California eco-lodges nearby.

Northern Mariana Islands

Photo credit: Vincent Camacho via Unsplash.

This chain of 14 islands in the Western Pacific offers stunning beaches, diving spots, and historical sites from World War II. The blend of Chamorro culture, Spanish influence, and American governance makes it a unique place to visit.

How to get there? – The main international airport is Saipan International Airport on the largest island, Saipan. Several U.S. airlines fly them from various hubs in the U.S. mainland. Apart from the U.S. travelers can reach the islands from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China and Guam and the Philippines.

Molokai, Hawaii

Photo credit: Depositphotos.

While Hawaii is far from forgotten, Molokai remains one of its least commercialized islands. Known as the “Friendly Isle,” it offers a glimpse into traditional Hawaiian life. With no traffic lights, towering sea cliffs, ancient fishponds, and pristine reefs, Molokai stands out for those seeking tranquility and natural beauty.

How to get there? – There are two regional airports on Molokai, Kalaupapa Airport (LUP) and Molokai Airport (MKK). Visitors can reach them via other Hawaii airports.

WHERE TO STAY – Search for Hawaii eco-lodges nearby.

Daufuskie Island, Carolina

Photo credit: Yohan Marion via Unsplash.

Accessible only by ferry or barge, Daufuskie Island is steeped in Gullah culture and history, offering a glimpse into a way of life that has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. It’s known for its secluded beaches, artisan community, and historical landmarks, including one of the oldest African American schools in the South.

How to get there?Ferry rides starts at USD 35 for an adult ticket from Hilton Head, which is approx. 40 miles from Savannah.

Kelleys Island, Ohio

Photo courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

The largest American island in Lake Erie, Kelleys Island is known for its natural attractions, including glacial grooves in the limestone bedrock, and for its peaceful, small-town atmosphere.

“Whether you take a scenic walk around the island and witness its natural beauty, enjoy a meal at one of the excellent local restaurants or learn about some of the historical features of island.” says Neil Thompson, Manager of Media and Public Relations for the Ohio History.

He continues by saying “Be sure to visit the Ohio History Connection’s Inscription Rock Petroglyphs. From the viewing platform off Lakeshore Drive, you’ll be able to see ancient American Indian symbols carved into the rock. History enthusiasts also should not miss the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve on the northern side of the island.”

How to get there? – Take the Marblehead Ferry. An adult ticket costs USD 12 (2024 info). Marblehead is about half way between Cleveland and Toledo.

Smith Island, Maryland

Photo credit: Erin Gierhart, State of Dinner Blog.

Located in the Chesapeake Bay, Smith Island partly belongs to Maryland, partly to Virginia. It is also neighbouring the Martin National Wildlife Refuge.

Smith Island is notable for its distinct English dialect, which traces back to the original British settlers, and for its tradition of watermen harvesting seafood from the Bay. Birdwatching or crabbing are just a few of the activities you can do in the island.

Did you know that it’s also famous for its multi-layered Smith Island Cake, which is Maryland’s official state dessert?

How to get there?Ferries depart from Crisfield Dock to the islands. A round trip for an adult costs USD 25-35 (2024 info).

St. Augustine, Florida

Photo by Kristin Wilson via Unsplash.

Walking through St. Augustine feels like navigating the streets of Spain. It’s regarded as the oldest city in the United States (450 years old) and features Spanish colonial history and architecture.

You can visit the Castillo de San Marcos or the Colonial Quarter to get a taste of the past or just enjoy a sunset that lights up the town’s historic buildings. The city is home to many historical museums that are worth checking out.

How to get there? – Visitors can drive there. It is almost at halfway between Jacksonville and Dayton Beach.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Photo credit: Craig Washington via Unsplash.

Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is famed for its ban on almost all motor vehicles, with horse-drawn carriages and bicycles serving as the primary means of transport. It’s known for its historic Fort Mackinac, beautiful Victorian architecture, and fudge shops.

How to get there? – Ferries depart from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace by Shepler’s Ferry and Mackinac Island Ferry Company. During winter if the lake is frozen, the only way to get there is a seven minute airplane flight from St. Ignace by Fresh Air Aviation.

Block Island, Rhode Island

Photo credit: John Angel via Unsplash.

Just off the coast of Rhode Island, Block Island offers charming New England landscapes, beautiful beaches, and a slower pace of life. It’s a great place for biking, bird watching, and enjoying seafood.

If you visit between July and October, you can join the glass float hunt. Eben Horton, glassblower started this art project in 2011, and now he makes 550 orbs that are hidden around the island.

How to get there?Ferries depart from Point Judith, Newport, New London, and Orient Point.

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Photo credit: Hans Isaacson via Unsplash.

The U.S. Virgin Islands, a paradisiacal archipelago, beckon with their blend of natural wonders, rich history, and vibrant culture. Visitors can explore the pristine beauty of Trunk Bay’s underwater snorkeling trails, the historical depths of Annaberg Plantation, and the bustling charm of Charlotte Amalie’s Danish colonial architecture.

The islands offer an array of experiences from the serene to the adventurous, including diving in the protected reefs of Buck Island Reef National Monument, witnessing the dawn at Point Udall, the easternmost point in the United States, and immersing in the local festivities that reflect a unique cultural heritage.

How to get there? – The main international airport on U.S. Virgin Islands is Cyril E. King Airport (STT), St. Thomas. Several U.S. airlines fly them from various hubs in the U.S. mainland.

A woman sitting on a mountain. Behind her is a lake.
Travel Writer | Website

Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.