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Hidden Gems in the Say States

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By Madeline Klein on February 9, 2022 in Travel

When you think of a vacation, what comes to mind? If your first thought is a packed beach or over-hyped tourist attraction…think again! We’re here to tell you that vacations shouldn’t leave you feeling stressed. Beat the crowds and hit up these hidden gems in our Say states.

Colorado

Colorado, our token snowy, mountainous state. While it’s almost impossible to tire of looking at the beautiful landscapes and exciting wildlife, there are several off-the-beaten-path activities you won’t want to miss.

Canyons of the Ancients – Towaoc, CO

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument’s claim to fame is featuring “the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of native cultures.” Comprised of 30,000 archaeological sites, Canyons of the Ancients is a gem, indeed. From rock formations like canyons and ruins to water sources like ponds and streams, you’ll have no shortage of places to explore. Plus, there are captivating components of past human life like reservoirs, cliff dwellings, shrines, field houses, petroglyphs, and more. So, if you and your squad like to camp, bike, hike or just plain ol’ explore – this is the place for you.

Paint Mines Interpretive Park – Calhan, CO

Next up, Paint Mines Interpretive Park, a very colorful destination. The Paint Mines get their name from, “their colorful clays that were collected by American Indians to make paint. Brightly colored bands, caused by oxidized iron compounds, are found in varying amounts throughout the many different layers of clay.” The structures are a variety of colors like orange, purple, white, rust, and brown. Only one hiccup for some travelers, these formations are very fragile so there’s no camping, no motorized vehicles, no climbing, no dogs, and no drones! If you stick to the designated trails and overlooks though, you can enjoy the site for hours.

Hidee Gold Mine and Ghost Towns – Central City, CO

Picture this: You’re in a real-life gold mine with your jack hammer and chisel ready to chip gold ore from a vertical vein almost as tall as you. Boom – you’re in Central City, Colorado at Hidee Gold Mine. This tour offers many time options and is open to all ages, plus you get to keep your gold ore sample after you chip it yourself. Nearby, find some spooky ghost towns. Nevadaville, Colorado is a classic ghost town with its peak in the late 1800s, later emptying out in 1900. Take a stroll around this town and picture what life would’ve been like years ago! Another nearby ghost town is the no-longer-thriving-mining-town Russel Gulch, Colorado. Now home to a disc golf course through the ruins, this town is a mere 2 miles above sea level. Don’t wait, this area is jam packed with activities!

Illinois

When the average Joe thinks about Illinois, their first thought is probably “CHICAGO!” However, there’s WAY more to the beautiful state of Illinois than just the third biggest city in the United States. We cover a couple of those sneakily fun places.

Garden of the Gods – Herod, IL

One of the most popular hikes in the Shawnee National Forest, Garden of the Gods has the opposite of big city views. Replace the tall buildings with tall rock formations and towering trees. If you’re a beginning hiker, this hike is one-fourth of a mile with short, steep grades and steps. It should take you about an hour, so it’s the perfect pit stop on your Illinois adventure.

Note: If you want to stay longer and enjoy the views, check out the campsite!

Starved Rock and Matthiessen States Parks – Oglesby, IL

Featuring trolley tours, river cruises, wildlife, camping, hiking trails, shopping, wineries, breweries, and live music – there’s something for everyone at Starved Rock State Park. 13 miles and 18 canyons await your exploration (in between drinking and shopping, of course!). While you’re there, stop by the visitor center to learn about this land’s journey to becoming a park – pretty incredible. The exploring fun doesn’t stop there – Matthiessen State Park is a mere 10 minutes away. This state park boasts about equestrian trails, an archery range, camping, cross-country skiing, fishing, geocaching, hiking trails, hunting, mountain bike trails, and more.

Between these two state parks, you might have to plan a full week trip because a weekend sure wouldn’t be enough time!

Adler Planetarium – Chicago, IL

Okay, we had to sneak one Chicago place in here, but we promise this one is not as basic as The Bean. The Adler Planetarium is a hidden historic landmark – it was America’s first planetarium. Exhibits like Chicago’s Night Sky, Astronomy in Culture, Historic Atwood Sphere, Doane Observatory, and more will teach and show you astronomy. Be sure to check the website to confirm availability with COVID restrictions. When you’re ready to step out for some fresh air post-star gazing, check out the nearby Northly Island Trail.

Indiana

I-N-D-I-A-N-A, what does that spell? Indiana! Our newest Say state doesn’t lack exciting places to visit, with countless covered bridges and the world-famous Indy 500. In-state and out-of-state travelers, dive into Indiana’s hidden gems below.

Blue Spring Caverns – Bedford, IN

Are you planning a day trip or an overnight adventure? No stress – Blue Springs Caverns has options for both. If you’re going for the day, check out the one-hour tour of America’s longest navigable underground river – the Myst’ry River. On the tour you can see cavefish, bats, salamanders, and more! Aside from that crazy ride on custom electric boats, you can also mine gemstones, hike on the Karst Natural Area Trail, and/or have a picnic.

Knobstone Trail – Borden, IN

Wow, this one is not for the faint of heart. Knobstone Trail is “Indiana’s longest footpath – a 60-mile backcountry hiking trail passing through Clark State Forest, Elk Creek Public Fishing Area, and Jackson-Washington State Forest.” Steep climbs, rugged descents, beautiful sunsets, and breathtaking stargazing are all aplenty here! Trail rules include Leave No Trace, no horses or wheeled vehicles, pack water and avoid drinking from streams, and restrictive camping based on location.

Rose Island – Charleston, IN

Rose Island is an off-the-beaten-path experience, just what we were hoping to find with this blog. This once-thriving amusement park from the early 1900’s was abandoned during the Great Depression and World War II. Visitors can hike through the overgrown park ruins and visualize the park in its prime. Throughout the park there are signs indicating the remains of once was…a spooky adventure!

Curious to learn more about the history before visiting? Read more on visitindiana.com!

Kansas

Sweet Kansas, full of vast prairie lands and wheat farms. The famous Wheat State is more than just farms though, they’re one of the top producers of both wheat and beef cattle. Check it out.

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park – Oakley, KS

During daylight hours, two permanent hiking trails at Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park show hikers scenic overlooks. According to Nature.org, “These badlands are Kansas’ most dramatic Niobrara chalk formation. They provide unique and important habitat for many plants and wildlife.” Combining both trails, you’ll hike a total of 1.45 miles, see 3 overlooks, and witness “the largest population of Great Plains wild buckwheat.” No small feat!

Rock City – Minneapolis, KS

You know what rocks? Rocks! You know where you can see rocks galore? Rock City! Despite the confusing name, Rock City isn’t actually a real city – it’s located in Minneapolis, Kansas. This 5-acre park is exactly what you’d envision when you think “rock city” though – 200 huge Dakota sandstone concretions. It is perfect for taking your family for a picnic or a hike, and you’re encouraged to explore all over the rocks (you even can bring pets if they’re on a leash!). Plus, it’s only $3 for adults and $0.50 for kids – that’s a bargain!

Old Town Abilene – Abilene, KS

Grab your horse and head to the Old Town Road…or actually Old Abilene Town Main Street. Here you’ll witness active gun-fighting reenactments, visit Merchants Hotel, and explore the Alamo Saloon. If you work up as appetite watching the gun fights and learning about early settler life, there are plenty of local eateries nearby. After your afternoon snack, mosey on over to the Greyhound Hall of Fame where you can meet retired racers and learn more about greyhounds. This city will not disappoint with the wide range of activities!

Missouri

Missouri is the home of Say Insurance, so you know it holds a special place in our hearts. Plus, since we’re determined to share each states’ claim to fame with you, it’s also the signature cave state. Don’t wait, have MO fun in MO.

Ha Ha Tonka – Camdenton, MO

Ha Ha Tonka is a popular Missouri destination. It might not be #1 on the list for out-of-towners, however, it should be! Home of 3,700 acres of oak forest, 15 miles of hiking trails, sinkholes, caves, bluffs and more you’ll have entertainment a plenty. An added bonus: Check out the castle ruins from wealthy businessman Robert Snyder’s attempt at a European style castle overlooking the lake.

Taum Sauk Mountain – Ironton, MO

Ever sat and wondered what the highest point in Missouri is? We’ll tell you. It’s the top of Taum Sauk Mountain. So, if you can muster up the strength to get to the top, you can shout, “I’m at the top of Missouri!” Aside from that super cool fact, there are also scenic trails featuring woodland, wildlife, and waterfalls.

Mark Twain Cave and Memorial Lighthouse – Hannibal, MO

Hannibal’s biggest claim to fame? It is the home of the beloved author, Mark Twain. That’s why so many things in Hannibal and in Missouri are named after Mark Twain. Let’s begin with the Mark Twain Cave. This famous cave, yes we said famous, was established in 1886 as Missouri’s first “show cave” that inspired the works of Mark Twain a.k.a. Samuel Clemens. You can purchase a ticket to take a tour of the cave and enjoy the 52-degree weather year-round. All you need are comfortable walking shoes and a light jacket. Next up, Memorial Lighthouse. Walk up 244 steps to the lighthouse atop Cardiff Hill, a famous play area for the characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. While you’re up there, take in the incredible views of Hannibal and the Mississippi River.

Tennessee

All our states have a signature – Tennessee is our music state. Outside of the country concerts galore, this state is home to the beautiful Smoky Mountains. We’ll go a step further and find you some places you won’t want to skip.

Bell Witch Cave – Adams, TN

Bell Witch Cave’s website boasts “an American Haunting” – what a promising start to your next adventure. See the home of one of the most famous supernatural stories in history, The Bell Witch. The secluded rolling hills and farmland are the perfect mixture of supernatural and eerie. You can kayak in the nearby Red River and enjoy the beautiful representation of Tennessee.

The Lost Sea – Sweetwater, TN

Riding a boat underground? Who would’ve thought! Apparently, The Lost Sea did! The Lost Sea is the largest underground lake in the United States. It’s located in Craighead Caverns and offeres tours in a glass-bottomed boat. Say hello to an unforgettable adventure!

“The Secret City” – Oak Ridge, TN

Oh, how mysterious. The Secret City! This “city” was established in 1942 as a base for the Manhattan project during WWII. For the small price of just $5, you can tour the township library, old graphite reactors, billboards from the 1940s, swing dancing arena, old guard towers, and grocery store. If you decide to visit in June, you could also attend The Secret City Festival with special WWII reenactors.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article gave you all the wanderlust and inspiration of where to go. Just remember wherever you go, hidden gems or most popular tourist destinations, share your adventures with us on social media.

Madeline Klein is Say's Digital Content Producer. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism, emphasis in Strategic Communication. Her experience is in writing and digital media. Madeline loves using her creativity to write and design new and exciting pieces of work for Say!

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