Whether you’re looking for your next vacation idea or even more national parks to add to your bucket list, there are more than 60 National Parks to explore across America. If you prefer to travel to places off the beaten path, or don’t want to fight crowds on a family vacation, here are 15 less-visited gems in the National Parks system to consider.
Popular U.S. National Parks
The United States has a wealth of natural beauty and land but for some reason, people tend to flock to the same National Parks. With so many friends and family visiting Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Acadia, and the most visited national park in America, the Great Smoky Mountains, vacationers tend to plan trips to these favorites. But perhaps it’s time to consider some parks outside of the regulars.
15 Lesser-Known National Parks
With so many National Parks across our country, you have the opportunity to connect with nature without battling noisy crowds and waiting in long lines. While some of these parks may require more effort to get to, their remoteness will pay dividends in your experience.
1. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
This park, located near Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, is best known for its historical significance. Once a popular industrial area with factories lining the Cuyahoga River, this landscape has been restored to a beautiful national park. The best way to explore the beauty of this place is along the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic Ohio & Erie Canal.
You can also board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. As the train passes through Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley and runs beside the rushing Cuyahoga River, you may enjoy the scenery and take in the calm. The trip allows passengers to see eagles, deer, beavers, and herons in their natural environment is one of the most unique things to do in this national park.
2. Joshua Tree National Park, California
This park, best known for its beautiful desert landscape, is located in California near Palm Springs. Joshua Tree National Park is a unique cross-section of two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado. A land formed by strong winds and rare downpours of rain features a fascinating array of flora and fauna. The wonder of this vast outdoor environment in southern California is enhanced by night skies, a long cultural history, and otherworldly rock formations.
3. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, this national park is best known for its incredible fall foliage. The best time to visit is during peak leaf season, which generally lasts from mid-September to early November. If you’re visiting with your family, be sure not to miss Skyline Drive, a popular road that runs through part of the park and offers tons of incredible scenic vistas.
Shenandoah National Park is a land full of cascading waterfalls, magnificent vistas, meadows of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows located just 75 miles from Washington, DC. There’s so much to discover with over 200,000 acres that attract deer, black bears, songbirds, and many other wild animals.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park, best known for its unique geological formations and countless hoodoos (thin spires of rock), is located in southern Utah near the border with Arizona. A popular stop on any road trip through the American Southwest, this place offers spectacular views during sunrise or sunset when all of these unusual rock structures are illuminated by a warm golden glow.
Over two million people visit Bryce Canyon National Park each year, most of them coming between March and early October. Most visitors head to at least one of the four main viewpoints, located within the first few miles of the park: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.
5. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado
Located in western Colorado near Montrose, this park is best known for its cliffs and dramatic rock formations. Several scenic drives offer fantastic canyon views, a popular hiking destination during the spring or summer months when temperatures are more agreeable.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the United States’ most beautiful natural wonders. The Gunnison River and the weathering processes have carved this vertical wilderness out of stone, water, and sky with two million years to play with.
6. Isle Royale, Michigan
This park is located in Lake Superior near the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The best way to explore this amazing place is by boat during peak summer months when you can visit any of over 450 islands that are dispersed throughout the lake.
With its incredible views, wildlife viewing opportunities, and outstanding fishing, it’s no wonder why Isle Royale has become a favorite destination among many visitors to Michigan.
7. New River Gorge, West Virginia
Located in the Appalachian Mountains near Fayetteville, West Virginia, this park is best known for its deep gorge along the New River. The New River is one of the continent’s oldest rivers, flowing north through deep canyons. Along with numerous historical and natural sites, the park includes over 70,000 acres of land renowned for its cultural and natural history.
A popular destination during the spring and summer months when temperatures are more agreeable, there are several hiking trails to explore and some fantastic caves that you can tour with an experienced guide.
8. Dry Tortugas, Florida
This National Park is best known for its location – it’s a group of small islands about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. This place has a fascinating history as well as gorgeous views and amazing snorkeling/diving opportunities.
The park is made up of 100 square miles of open sea with seven tiny islands. The park is known worldwide for its breathtaking Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue seas, excellent coral reefs and marine life, and various bird species that frequent the area because it is accessible only by boat or seaplane.
9. Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
Located near Alamosa, Colorado, this park is best known for its picturesque landscape, including massive dunes. However, this area also offers some great opportunities to hike through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and take a trip down the river on a rubber tube.
The world’s tallest dunes are the centerpiece of a vast landscape, including grasslands, marshes, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Sledding, sandboarding, and skiing are allowed anywhere on the dunefield outside of vegetated regions.
10. Voyageurs, Minnesota
Located on the border between Minnesota and Canada, this park is best known for its unique landscape of lakes and islands. With a wide range of activities available, visitors can go camping, canoeing/kayaking, or even try out some fishing from either their boat or one of the many rental options offered by local outfitters.
Voyageurs National Park is a year-round adventure wonderland with exposed rock ridges, cliffs, swamps, forests, streams, and lakes covering 218,055 acres. You can also experience the fascinating Aurora Borealis (also known as Northern Lights) that occasionally illuminates Voyageurs’ skies.
11. Gateway Arch National Park
This park, which is located in Missouri, is best recognized for its iconic Gateway Arch. The site honors Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West and pioneers who helped shape its history.
This area also offers excellent views of downtown St. Louis and excellent wildlife opportunities along the riverfront and at nearby sanctuaries managed by The National Parks Service.
12. Hot Springs National Park
Located in central Arkansas, this park is best known for the hot springs that run through a large portion of it. However, the cultural history of Hot Springs National Park is illustrious. It serves as a monument to the “American Spa” of the 20th century and a symbol for healing. The nine historic baths, with their magnificent architecture, have drawn people there for hundreds of years.
There are several designated bath areas where you can relax and take advantage of these naturally heated waters. In addition to soaking, there are also some great opportunities for bird watching, hiking, or even horseback riding during your trip to Hot Springs National Park.
13. Kenai Fjords National Park
Located in southern Alaska near Seward, this park is best known for its dramatic mountain peaks and deep fjords, which you can explore by boat during the summer months. The main attraction of the Kenai Fjords, the Harding Icefield, is home to nearly 40 glaciers. Wildlife flourishes in chilly seas and verdant woods around this enormous chunk of ice.
Today’s retreating glaciers are a testament to man’s influence on the environment. With such a unique landscape, it’s no wonder why so many visitors flock to Kenai Fjords National Park each year.
14. Everglades National Park
Located in southern Florida near Homestead, this park is best known for its extensive network of swamps. However, this area also offers some amazing opportunities to explore the Everglades via kayak or boat, you can take a guided tour with an experienced guide if it’s your first time visiting.
The Everglades National Park offers unrivaled beauty, and its rich biodiversity provides critical habitat for several unique and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther.
15. Haleakala National Park
This park is best known for its beautiful volcanic landscape that includes over 300 miles of trails in Maui. There are also some great opportunities to visit Haleakala Crater, which towers nearly ten thousand feet above the island, you will have amazing views from the top.
Haleakalā National Park is unique in that it protects the tie between land and people while also preserving ancient and modern Hawaiian culture. The park also tries to protect endangered species that do not exist anywhere else. Haleakala National Park has a lot to offer, from lush rainforests to rocky coastlines, as well as spectacular overlooks of the best sunrises and sunsets you can imagine.
This post originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and the co-owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more.
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