10 Tourist Trap Cities in The U.S.

You could travel for years and never visit all the cities across the United States. There are thousands of great destinations worth visiting. However, some cities are infamous for being tourist traps.

Just because some place is a tourist trap doesn’t mean you should necessarily avoid it. You will want to go in knowing what to expect though. That way, you can decide if it’s still worth your time to visit. Or if you do, you’ll be prepared and be able to get the most from your stay.

Niagara Falls, NY

Horseshoe Fall, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Javen

Niagara Falls is known for many things, and unfortunately, one of those is being a tourist trap city. This one isn’t even a secret, as almost anyone who has visited can attest to this fact. It’s the perfect example of a city that leveraged its natural beauty, saw a huge tourist market, and made it their primary industry.

People flock to Niagara Falls in droves to get a glimpse of one of the Natural World Wonders, and there’s no question that the falls are epic, powerful, and visually stunning. If you were just going to visit the falls, then there would be nothing more to say—but that’s not usually the case. Niagara Falls, the city, is teeming with cheesy tourist shops, overpriced restaurants, and activities that aren’t always unique to the destination.

A good tip for those planning a visit is to set a budget, make a list of priorities that you want to see and do, and be sure not to veer from the list. Everything about the destination is kitsch, which is both good and bad.

Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg, TN

Dollywood theme park in the city of PIgeon Forge
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Michael Gordon

Tennessee has its version of a tourist trap city, Pigeon Forge. What makes this a tourist trap is the overwhelming number of souvenir shops selling basic memorabilia and the attractions that seem over-the-top. It’s also known for its theme parks, which are meant to appeal to adrenaline-seeking travelers.

Because it is such a tourist trap, the crowds can be extremely thick, making foot and auto traffic a nightmare, especially in peak season. So, what’s worth visiting if you do travel to Pigeon Falls?

Dollywood is easily one of the most popular attractions. While some may classify it as a tourist trap, there’s no denying that it offers fun for the whole family. Those who frequent the park regularly know the best time to visit is April or September, both outside the peak season. The waiting lines will be shorter, so you can fit more into a day.

Other attractions and activities in the area include the Smokey Mountain Alpine Coaster, the Titanic Museum Attraction, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Waikiki in Honolulu, HI

Waikiki beach in Honolulu, Hawaii
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jeff Whyte

Those traveling to Hawaii often pick Waikiki as their destination, and there is a good reason for that. The beach is stunning, and Waikiki is very family-oriented. And then there’s the weather, which can’t be beaten, especially during spring and summer.

So what makes Waikiki deserving of the title of a tourist trap city? It comes down to one simple factor – it’s basic. It will feel familiar to tourists traveling from the mainland, but that’s not exactly good.

Waikiki doesn’t always offer the best and most immersive experience of Hawaiian culture. You won’t get a taste of the authentic Hawaiian lifestyle. And then there are the crowds, which are significant year-round. Combined with the high costs of accommodation and tourist trap-styled restaurants, it may not be the perfect holiday destination.

Intercourse, PA

An Amish wagon pulled by two horses on a village road in Lancaster County
Image Credit: Shutterstock / George Sheldon

Over the past decade or so, there has been an increased interest in Amish travel experiences. Tourists are eager to learn how the Amish live, and Intercourse, PA, is often seen as the perfect destination to do so. Unfortunately, all the increased interest has had the opposite effect, and now it doesn’t offer an authentic representation of the Amish way of life.

Then there’s the fact that its name grabs the attention of tourists, and some big movies were filmed in the surrounding areas.

So what if you’re still interested in visiting? It’s best to set the bar low and understand you’ll get an Amish-like vibe, but it won’t be authentic. Those who love strolling through quaint shops with artisan and homemade products will likely find the town charming.

Branson, MO

Stone church at top of the rock in Branson Missouri
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Latecia Peoples

While this one may come as a surprise, Branson, MO, is also somewhat of a tourist trap. It’s long since billed itself as the perfect destination for family travel, offering all kinds of live entertainment and attractions for all ages. The problem is that it has become a bit much over the years. There is so much to do and see that tourists can feel overwhelmed, especially first-time visitors.

There’s also the issue of it becoming pretty expensive rather fast. When kids see all there is to do, they will want to pack in as much as possible, and parents can be left with hefty bills.

If you truly want to escape the tourist traps, opt for nature experiences and opportunities. The good news is that there are many, such as fishing, hiking, kayaking, and more.

Roswell, New Mexico

A welcoming signboard at the entry point of Roswell, NM
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Cheri Alguire

Roswell, New Mexico, isn’t just a tourist trap in the United States; it’s consistently ranked among the top tourist traps worldwide. It’s not exactly the title a city or town wants to have. Roswell is often described as “overrated,” “overhyped,” “a tourist trap,” and “expensive.”

Roswell’s claim to fame is that it is home to Area 51, a mecca for alien conspiracy theory followers and those with even a slight interest in potential extraterrestrial life. Suspicious events happened in the area back in 1947, which has caused UFO rumors ever since. Everything tourist-related in Roswell, therefore, has an alien theme.

The fact is, unless you’re extremely interested in UFOs and the conspiracies that plague Roswell, there’s not much reason to visit.

Wisconsin Dells, WI

Lost City of Atlantis water rides at Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Aaron of L.A. Photography

When it comes to cheesy tourist towns, Wisconsin Dells, WI, makes the list. Wax museums, overpriced and overstocked gift shops, live entertainment, waterparks, and go-karts are all par for the course here. If you were to make a list of must-have ingredients for a tourist trap, Wisconsin Dells would tick off every item on the list.

So does that mean you shouldn’t visit? Not necessarily. Again, it comes down to being an informed tourist. If you aren’t wary, you’ll get lured into overly cheesy activities and spend more than you intended. A good tip is to shorten your visit and hit only the most positively reviewed attractions. It’s also wise to visit during the shoulder season to avoid the crowds.

Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA city skyline.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Sean Pavone

Beach vacations are always popular with tourists, and South Carolina is home to some of the most beautiful shorelines in the country. Easily the most popular destination in the state is Myrtle Beach, which caters to singles, couples, families, golfers, and even college students. The destination aims to offer something for everyone, but doing so means it’s all a bit much.

The destination can quickly feel overwhelming. The beach gets very crowded, and it can be hard to find space at local restaurants. Accommodations are notoriously pricey and booked well in advance.

Seasoned travelers know the best way to experience Myrtle Beach is to book accommodations just north of the main beach area. This will remove you just enough from the tourist traps and also substantially lower the price. It’s also smart to avoid visiting during Spring Break when the beach and town get turned upside down.

Weeknights are always cheaper for accommodations, and booking a room with a kitchenette or full kitchen means you won’t have to dine out for each meal.

South of the Border, SC

South of the border between North Carolina and South Carolina.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / EWY Media

Also found in South Carolina is South of the Border. Scrolling through online reviews of the attraction, you’ll find people complaining about cheesy souvenir shops, subpar food, and overpriced and tired attractions. This isn’t a town or city; instead, it is a roadside attraction in South Carolina just south of North Carolina. It is on I-95, US 301, and US 501 in Hamer, SC. The very design of this attraction was meant to be “campy,” so it was never meant to be serious. But that campy vibe seems to have spiraled over the years, and now it’s barely worth the trip.

For those still keen on visiting, plan on staying a day at most and continuing to a less touristy area that offers more choices of activities.

Wall Drug, SD

Wall Drug Store located in Wall, South Dakota near the Badlands and Mount Rushmore.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Dennis MacDonald

South Dakota isn’t immune to tourist traps, as Wall Drug often makes the list. Back in 1931, a drugstore called Wall Drug was established. Today, it has become an attraction to tourists looking for a place to stop and enjoy free ice water.

Besides being a working drug store, it also offers all the kitschy items a standard tourist shop would. You can also get ice cream and other fast-food items.

As the description suggests, there isn’t anything unique or worth stopping for. This is the kind of tourist trap you are better off driving right past.

Unfortunately, each of these destinations has made a name for itself as a tourist trap in the United States. Some are worse than others and are best avoided altogether. If you still want to visit one of these tourist trap cities, being armed with these tips will help ensure you get the most out of your experience.

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