For many travelers, visiting an island in the United States includes a trip to Sanibel Island, South Padre Island, and other vacation destinations. Yet, the U.S. is home to hundreds of smaller islands, many of which make for the perfect getaway. Depending on an island's climate and location, it can offer a wide variety of activities for visitors throughout the year. Below you will find four incredible U.S. islands you've probably never visited.
Orcas Island, Washington
Located about halfway between Bellingham, Washington, and Victoria, British Columbia, Orcas Island is the largest of Washington's San Juan Islands. Although you might assume Orcas Island draws only outdoor enthusiasts because of its location, this incredible island also has a vibrant arts and restaurant scene, making it a great destination for singles, couples, and families. Visitors can enjoy almost 40 miles of hiking trails throughout the island as well as all the outdoor activities associated with Moran State Park. Orcas Island also serves as a spectacular vantage point for fishing and whale-watching tours, or tours to take in the majestic vistas, many of which include the snow-capped Mount Baker. Most guided tours start from Deer Harbor, which is also a great locale to rent bicycles and explore Orcas Island.
Most who visit the San Juan Islands, including Orcas Island, take the hour-and-a-half ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington, and arrive at Orcas Village. This small hamlet has a few gift shops, a post office, and a restaurant for travelers. To dive into the local art scene on Orcas Island, head to the village of Olga, which is home to Orcas Island Artworks, an art co-op which consists of more than 45 local artists who work and display their goods in an old strawberry picking facility. You can find paintings, sculptures, jewelry, pottery, and more.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Although residents of the Midwest know and visit the gem that is Mackinac Island, many outside of the area haven't had the opportunity to visit. Before Mackinac Island became the exciting vacation getaway it is today, it was the second national park in the United States. Today, more than 80% of the island, nestled between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, remains protected as Mackinac Island State Park. One of the truly unique things about visiting Mackinac is that no automobiles are allowed on the island. Residents and visitors must walk, bicycle, or travel by horse or horse-drawn carriage to preserve the natural habitat of the island. Delicious fudge has also put Mackinac Island on the map. In fact, more than 10,000 pounds of the island's famous fudge leave Mackinac Island each day.
Aside from its panoramic views, miles of trails, and delectable fudge, visitors to Mackinac Island also enjoy taking in the island's varied historical sites. Historical Downtown Mackinac showcases the island's history as a the supply center for the fur trade from 1780 to 1835. Those who visit downtown can tour historical buildings such as the American Fur Company Store, The Dr. Beaumont Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, Biddle House, and the McGulpin House. Mackinac Island is also home to two forts, Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes, which the British captured during the War of 1812, which are both open for tours to learn more about the island's history.
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
If you read the book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry during your childhood, you might have thought Chincoteague was a magical, fictional place where stunning, wild ponies roamed the earth. In fact, Chincoteague is a real place and Henry's book was inspired by a domesticated pony. Chincoteague Island is the main access point to the Assateague Island National Seashore and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The neighboring uninhabited Assateague Island has been home to the famous wild Chincoteague Ponies for centuries and is part of more than 14,000 acres of protected beaches, dunes, marshes, and forests.
For those who want an Atlantic beach getaway in a pristine location without large crowds or high-rise condominiums dotting the beach, Chincoteague Island is the place. Visitors can enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, hiking, cycling, and exploring about seven miles of unspoiled beaches. Additionally, several operators around the island offer boat tours; some eco-tours allow you to dig sand crabs and collect oysters, while other tours focus more on getting close to the famous ponies. Dining out consists of enjoying local seafood at one of the many waterfront restaurants. The island is also home to many artists, who display their work at the island's art galleries.
Baranof Island, Alaska
Unless you live in the Pacific Northwest or in Alaska, it's highly likely you have heard of Baranof Island, let alone visited this incredible place. Baranof Island lies in the northern part of the Alaskan Panhandle and is home to Sitka, Alaska. In fact, some refer to Baranof Island as Sitka Island. If you aren't familiar with Sitka, it was featured heavily in the romantic comedy The Proposal with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock; however, this is not the area's only claim to fame. Baranof Island offers visitors an off-the-beaten path experience steeped in the culture of the area's Tlingit Indians. Baranof Island is the country's 10th largest island and also home to the country's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest.
Visitors who head to Baranof Island undoubtedly spend a great deal of their time in Sitka, where many residents are descendants of the Tlingit Indians who settled the area about 5,000 years ago. These descendants still carry on their cultural traditions of making totem poles, carving silver, and weaving baskets. Another favorite location on Baranof Island is Baranof Lake, a large freshwater lake fed by nearby glaciers, as well as the islands warm springs, nestled among rapids and waterfalls from the Baranof River, which can get as hot as 120 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the time of the year. Baranof Island, especially the stunning seaside town of Sitka, remains a favorite stop for cruise ships heading through Alaska's Inside Passage.