Dividend stocks have become extremely popular with investors in this era of ultra-low interest rates. Unfortunately, that popularity can dampen returns by elevating these well-known investments to a premium.

That's why we asked our Motley Fool investors to highlight a few dividend payers that aren't already on every income investor's watchlist. Read on to find out why they think Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN)NextEra Energy Partners (NYSE:NEP), and Nucor (NYSE:NUE) stocks deserve more recognition as stellar dividend investments.

This roller coaster just goes up

Jeremy Bowman (Cedar Fair): You may like visiting amusement parks, but chances are, you haven't considered investing in one. If you could double your money in five years and get a 5% dividend yield in the process, you probably would, right?

Two young friends on a roller coaster.

Image source: Getty Images.

Well, that's exactly what Cedar Fair has done over the past five years. The parent of Ohio's Cedar Point and over a dozen other parks including Dorney Park, Kings Dominion, and Great America has seen its stock climb 104%, with profits and dividends steadily rising as well. 

While much of the consumer-facing and retail sector has struggled, theme parks have thrived as they aren't threatened by the upheaval in e-commerce. Furthermore, millennials are preferring to spend on experiences instead of things, which plays into Cedar Fair's hands.

Amusement parks like Cedar Fair also generate gobs of free cash flow as depreciation makes up much of their expenses. In the past year, the company made nearly $200 million in free cash flow, giving it a modest P/FCF valuation of just 17. Almost all of that free cash flow goes to supports its 5.1% dividend yield, but that model has been an overwhelming success since the Great Recession as its dividend has risen steadily over the last five years.

Operating performance has been strong as well as the company had record attendance last year, and said attendance and revenue are on track for another record this year. With trends like that, investors should expect the stock and the dividend to keep climbing. 

A renewable energy dividend to bet on

Travis Hoium (NextEra Energy Partners): Yieldcos are both an unknown and unappreciated part of the market, but investors shouldn't overlook their potential for long-term dividends. At their core, yieldcos simply own renewable energy assets that have long-term contracts to sell energy to a utility or other customer. Cash the yieldco is paid for that energy then covers operating costs, financing, and depreciation of assets, and the rest is paid to investors in the form of a dividend. NextEra Energy is one of the industry leaders and pays a solid 3.9% dividend to investors. 

The advantage NextEra Energy Partners has is the backing of a major U.S. utility that can drop down renewable energy assets to help the company grow. Yieldcos would ideally like to issue new shares and debt to buy growth projects, but their cost of capital for the combination of debt and equity has to be lower than the return generated by the projects being acquired or it's impossible to grow the dividend. With an industry low yield of 3.9%, NextEra Energy Partners has a low enough dividend to be able to buy growth projects and a high enough dividend to be a very attractive yield for investors this summer. 

An unbreakable dividend

Demitri Kalogeropoulos (Nucor): Because of its small market capitalization, and the fact that its industry is highly cyclical, many income investors don't consider steel specialist Nucor to be a strong dividend stock. That's a mistake, in my view.

A steel worker watches the smelting process.

Image source: Getty Images.

After all, the company has endured massive swings in the business without missing an annual dividend boost for over 40 years -- since 1973. Nucor's most recent increase was a tiny 1%, but that's only because management recently made a few aggressive investments. It spent over $1 billion on acquisitions to build its presence in attractive markets like pipe and tube while expanding and upgrading its existing mills. 

Rebounding steel prices are driving an earnings bonanza right now, with profit doubling over the last six months compared to the year-ago period. Nucor is operating at 90% of capacity, up from 84%. As always, the business could take a hit from slowing economic growth or from a surge in subsidized import products. However, healthy construction trends, increased market share in the automotive industry, and a rebound among major energy customers appear set to keep profits rising through the year to give management plenty of resources for a 2018 dividend boost, which will mark its 45th consecutive annual hike.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Nucor's downstream segment would soon reach 20% of revenue due to the company's acquisition strategy. The article has been updated. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.