The Best National Parks in the US That May Not Be on Your Radar

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. 

a n v e s h 5B9P725PnuQ unsplash scaled
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

sea plane at Dry Tortugas
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

OOhvn mSWXaLZ89wPfnwh0sM3Xk7BeFRohW2DLkzgKd98VIkj54lxD2aqDEthiM9DkNhdtvzy1I TvyLZ JDVbMpNwiENs01
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

cEEPcM5saoHaVUAA6rtmbIRiECm6FkXswpoWTIwJ i9MoZipSXTkNw3r5TcXIFb 2MA bAHFqOnjoY3EISGhbAIHGd4X8wqIjTfTsDtKBv 5k31aP72RdONcJHAoTnTCLMDzu35k
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

Fwam8cbCRODXRI4sE94WGGQKVoCmzHDPCt5E4PYNm dKr61Ep2xjdqYEDqRtRXJp vyhX1Xf90c38dH9BQssGmw3lJwNvMBOkCkymLNJOUeN9OXrW7N2s3x
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

vekdvW6HVGL 8rsFAZoIXqvEZtkZzJQy6MhsCA hUIDcPGtSo1W5X75BFUVJJ AnRIuH4UjA5m67wUW87IqPQtd8bX8TT8D Rv1KnYOVHAhlyInfyaCXJoK1LiiiK76LscolkRV2
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

yzV9DblB a4uyviOVdaaT MKaCALchjsKw wxCPf5b1dOuPRNIz9BB870lB4KgUA8sYj 3BmVqze5byBTo4o8WqMBZ3dU6QGUET1izgnUG mMT0sTR4d5wJP1BaOkg7wWZ63EpUj
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

ZboNdgT24014ERtWYD4ufum5rHC4Xf z i1MXZxChaVj0Gy16bACBU12OS9HlE YmAFl LA8n0hbOyfDBlkxAsuvyk4Qh3lumsHzls5 lm8oqxnsHtX3p
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

omff7F m8aTDJVsoHJGSgFBRDkF1BEpPnEx202wQaNEymYyuPb9v8DFNrciAet8DoBNHV9bN4o2IfccH0loT50FbkR9WpeeTBRCPqED9 65hqnEHTgsfuviUA0GDS5IIcgU23Pk
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

oHMn OPUAIvvyiqGMINQ1EW0Q4dxgtuZusMIha7dDh 30jp1Rybs3
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

Y8VY8ij5hDRYtCNuV68oDvddDJJIt6u1 g8IQA4v
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

1lJ9i9O8 PTo2 dHFvo5B0wx2aecX8aBLc387IPEL4f77xMrvV9njzYgG80Sn3zW7JQAkPSixz HvOcPWj4w1rN EkekpCQZq5tSzVyfCe 5PNrTow13G0UJCBRI5DPadJKMSQFZ
Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

Image Credit: Unsplash.

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

Image Credit: Despositphotos.

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

86a3O2y5QudbBU7AdF60ibaWfgelRilgXuuXPvhqS Y
Credit: Unsplash.

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

CsqgdxfAQlZWi0CuU6McxJhBM7nY2HNVWszUSF8DlDC5SyeKklzwuulmSn8gZidHzkTGKkcfi2wx6 OBbLy gCc3tpH0zvxCKCyo 8g53onWMa2iDCgVLyFkvNlf We DKJrtpXf
Credit: Unsplash.

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

eD09HRB7SB0lZTek275Krstj4gavgE5NQTdFNkRIZn4F4B18ehKCGll2h9ba8r04rxpDnTrXc7Ym zlPnnNDlUEYVTpLBeZJiwar 09pCF47D 5yf36J8FWbXHDhiJFS0lOsmjmt
Credit: Unsplash.

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

Related Posts:

The Best National Parks in Canada




Travel Writer at Savoteur | + posts

Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and 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, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.