Longing for the timeless summer holiday on an island, but worried you’ll need to leave the States?
Don’t worry, there are plenty of stunning islands within the US territories: I’m talking paradise-like tropical islands, no passport needed.
From the more popular Hawaii or Virgin Island to lesser-known lake islands perfect for hiking, keep reading this guide to pick your next island destination in the US.
Stunning Tropical Islands in the US: Flying to Hawaii
When it comes to tropical islands, nothing beats Hawaii. And to reach this super exotic destination, you can forget your passport at home.
Not convinced? Take a look at the 20 Best Places To Visit In Hawaii and you’ll see what I mean.
1. the Island of Hawaii
The largest island of Hawaii is one of the more popular among tourists, and for a reason. The Island is blessed with a natural landscape like no other, and as far as once-in-a-lifetime activities go, there is something for everybody.
Best things to do:
While the Big Island boasts many golden sand beaches that are worth visiting, for something completely different, try the green sand beach of Mahana Beach. The unique sand is composed of the semi-precious mineral called olivine, which gives the waterfront a distinctive emerald color you’ll hardly find anywhere else in the world.
If you’re into snorkeling or a fan of ocean life, there are plenty of opportunities on the island to observe spinner dolphins, humpback whales, the iconic local sea turtles, and much more.
Looking for a real adrenaline boost? Try ziplining over Big Island’s KoleKole Falls
at the Akaka Falls State Park.
On the island, you’ll also find two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna, which can be visited within Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park.
If you’ve heard of Honolulu, you’ve heard of Oahu Island. This is the pulsing heart of the Hawaii state, where you’ll be able to connect with the local traditions, experience the Hawaiian lifestyle, and witness some of the most breathtaking sceneries in the US.
Best things to do:
The first thing one must do on Oahu is check out the many diverse beaches on the island.
Truth is, there is more to Oahu than just Waikiki beach, and if you’re looking to get away from the masses of tourists, you can hit less popular (but just as beautiful) shores.
If you’re looking for the classic long sandy beach, stretching for miles on the ocean, Ke Iki Beach, Yokohama Beach, and the North Shore are locals’ favorites.
For a truly dramatic landscape, where dark rock cliffs dive into crystal clear water, visit Halona Beach Cove.
At Halona Beach you won’t find many tourists, mainly because it’s not easy to access the beach from the road: for this location, you’ll need sturdy shoes and a bit of athletic preparation.
For an everlasting memory, book a helicopter tour and experience Oahu Island from a privileged point of view.
This is a unique chance to fly over the island’s landmarks and observe from the sky the shores, cliffs, wooded mountains, and magnificent waterfalls of the island.
Still looking for the perfect Hawaiian island?
Another breathtaking and passport-free destination in Hawaii is Kauai Island.
For the highlights, and all the necessary information to best enjoy your time there, read my take on The 12 Best Beaches in Kauai, Hawaii.
Beautiful Non-Oceanic Islands in the US
4. Isle Royale of Lake Superior – Michigan
Hikers, campers, and backpackers, you’ve found your island.
This secluded island in the middle of Lake Superior is the perfect destination for those looking for an alternative island holiday.
Forget all about resorts and comforts: traveling to the Isle is more of an exciting adventure than a relaxing vacation.
Best things to do:
Pack your hiking shoes and best camping gear, and go for a backpacking trip.
On Isle Royale, you’ll find several 30 miles long hiking trips to choose from, each of them blessed with breathtaking views and panoramas on Lake Superior.
Among the more popular, Feldtmann Loop and Minong Ridge Trail will lead you to the highest viewpoints on the island.
The best part about backpacking on the island is the fact that you don’t need a base camp, you can hike every day to a different campground, and never sleep two times in the same location.
Perfect for those who love a 100% in touch with nature, spartan experience.
For a perfect day trip, from the island is also possible to explore via ferry two other locations, Rock Harbor and Hindigo.
If you’re not afraid of cold water, at Isle Royale you’ll be able to scuba dive and explore 10 shipwrecks.
The mysterious atmosphere and unique spectacle of the shipwrecks will make you feel like you’re in a real-life steampunk video game. It does not get more adventurous than this!
4. Grand Island of Lake Superior – Michigan
Easily reachable by ferry, Grand Island at Lake Superior is an incredible destination when it comes to value for money.
This is a great choice year-round: while in the summer the stunning sandy beaches and pristine blue water give the island an almost oceanic vibe, wintertime can be just as exciting at Grand Island. As Lake Superior freezes, you’ll be able to explore ice caves on the island!
Best things to do:
In the summer, the island is great for swimming, camping, and hiking.
Grand Island is also characterized by unusual rock formations near the beaches, and the many natural arches and caves can be explored by boating or swimming.
During wintertime, Grand Island still doesn’t disappoint.
As temperatures drop, the Ice Caves become the biggest attraction on the island.
These incredible natural formations have the appearance of huge frozen waterfalls, and on a sunny day, with the sunlight filtering through the ice, the caves become stunning light blue color.
Reaching the caves is not super easy (a mile-long hike on the frozen lake) and will take approximately 45 minutes, but is completely worth it for the unforgettable view.
The clearest water in the US: Virgin Islands National Park
For the most picture-perfect turquoise water, long beaches, and panoramic hikes, the Virgin Islands are the way to go.
Located in the Caribbean Sea, but part of the US territories, the Virgin Islands are just a great choice all around, with plenty of fun activities available at all times, and a rich local culture to explore.
With a mountain and deeply forested inland, and fine white sand shores, the
islands feel as close as it gets to a tropical paradise within the US.
5. St. Thomas
Virgin Islands’ most popular destination, St. Tomas doesn’t fail to amaze thousands of visitors every year.
Best things to do:
St. Thomas’ strong points are its long coral beaches overlooking the Caribbean Sea, and believe me when I say that you want to visit as many as you can.
For this reason, I recommend renting a car and exploring the island in complete autonomy. Not only do you get the chance to hit multiple beaches in one day, but hitting the mountain roads of St Thomas is the best way to find panoramic viewpoints.
St. Thomas is also great for snorkeling: you don’t need to go scuba diving, just bring your snorkeling gear and explore the seabed near shore. You’ll find plenty of ocean life to observe, and maybe even sea turtles.
A great way to learn more about local culture is to visit the island during the yearly St. Thomas Carnival: over a month of non-stop celebration in full Caribbean style.
The Carnival occurs around April or May, according to the Easter calendar.
6. St. John
While being the smallest of the Virgin Islands, St. John’s still has plenty to offer, and its water is widely recognized as the cleanest and most beautiful in the archipelago.
Best things to do:
To make the most out of your time in St. John, start by checking out the many beaches along the coast.
A great way to do this is to book one of the many cruises that circle the island, or rent a powerboat and decide the itinerary for yourself.
For a comfortable and all-inclusive experience, you can book a spot on one of the private boat tours here.
The tours include stops at all the main landmarks on the island, as well as several activities tailored to your interests, from snorkeling, to cliff jumping, to dancing, or learning more about the history and traditions of the island.
But what about history? If you want to dive into local culture, you must hit the Reef Bay Trail.
The hike is not for everybody but is highly rewarding.
One of the main attractions along the way is the famous St. John petroglyphs: the mysterious drawings carved in rock hundreds of years ago.
Scuba Diving is also a must-do at St. John, with more than 500 different species of tropical fishes and one of the most diverse marine life in the world.
Did you know you can rent a private island?
The private island doesn’t have to be just a dream! Here are 8 Private Islands You Can Actually Afford to Rent.
Looking to learn more about the islands in the US?
Long walks on the beach can be relaxing and are surely romantic. But what can make a simple walk fun is looking for beautiful seashells in the sand.
Sounds like something you’d like to try? Read more on my Sanibel Island Shells Guide: Finding the Best Seashells.