Even if you have never been farther west than the Mississippi River, chances are that you have heard of places such as Yellowstone National Park, the Rocky Mountains National Park, and Yosemite National Park. These parks are so utterly impressive that almost everyone knows about them and dreams of visiting them one day. The problem, unfortunately, is that if you ever do make out to visit one of these famous national parks during your summer vacation, you are going to have share the park with tens of thousands of other visitors.
Furthermore, the National Park Service knows that these famous national parks draw a high demand and the admission prices can be prohibitively high with the limited accommodations tough to reserve. For example, if you are planning to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (another of the most famous national parks) and want to stay at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom, you will have to book your room at least 18 months in advance!
What few people know is that there are 58 national parks dotting the different regions around the United States. The vast majority of tourists make vacation plans to visit only a dozen or so of these parks while the rest are relatively less known, less visited, and also much less expensive. But don’t be fooled; these relatively obscure national parks are undiscovered gems of natural beauty offering breathtaking adventures at a fraction of the price of some of the bigger national parks. Best of all, you won’t have to wait in lines on the hiking trail or worry about booking lodging a year in advance.
If you and your family are looking for a quality vacation spot that will offer you a bit of solitude while not withholding any of the awe-inspiring natural beauty that we identify with the top national parks, consider visiting one of these seven relatively unknown national parks suggested by our friends from Live Once Live Wild.
Katmai National Park Alaska
When most people visit Alaska, the most common tour is to take a cruise up the coast; enjoy the views of the distant mountains and perhaps try and see a whale or two. For the more adventurous, Denali National Park offers some serious hiking and backpacking options. However, Alaska has so much more to offer as the truly last relatively unexplored, wilderness area that the country offers.
If heading into the freezing cold Arctic of northern Alaska doesn’t appeal to you, Katmai National Park might be a great option. This massive expanse of land in southern Alaska is known for two adrenaline pumping attractions: bears and volcanoes. Over 2,000 brown bears (related to the grizzly, but even bigger) live in the park and there are a number of well maintained wooden walkways and platforms that allow for fantastic viewing opportunities along salmon rich rivers where the bears feast. Given the danger of wild giant bears, you might consider a guided tour.
Also in the park, you can find “The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes”, one of the most volcanically active regions on our earth. The smoking fumaroles will make you ominously aware of the geothermal activity bubbling just beneath your feet.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Not everyone has the ability to make it as far north as Alaska. However, if you want to explore some of the Pacific Northwest while not adventuring too far from civilization, the North Cascades National Park is only 100 miles from downtown Seattle and also offers some of the most beautiful and lush scenery you can find.
In 2015, only 27,000 people visited the park meaning that this is the place for you if you are looking for a bit of solace and solitude. There aren’t many roads through the park, but you can hike the 18 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail that traverses the park leading you through alpine lakes and snow covered peaks.
National Park of American Samoa
Who says that Hawaii is the only tropical destination that the United States has to offer? American Samoa is a United States territory in the South Pacific Sea that is located closer to Australia than to the rest of the continental U.S. The National Park of American Samoa is truly a tropical paradise offering vibrant coral reefs to snorkel in, thick tropical rain forests to explore, and massive volcanic peaks that look down over the turquoise waters of the island. If you have been planning a Pacific island getaway, this little known national park offers a little bit of everything.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Nestled in the lonely desert landscape of the Nevada and Utah border one can find a truly magical place that is home to the world´s oldest living organisms: 5,000-year-old bristlecone pine trees. To get to the Great Basin National Park you’ll have to travel Highway 50, which is affectionately known as the loneliest road in the world.”
Once you make it to the park, however, you’ll quickly be enchanted by a unique landscape formed by glacial violence and trees that seem like they’ve existed since the time of the dinosaurs. A short day hike to the top of Wheeler Peak will offer astounding views of the surrounding barren landscape.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
While thousands of tourists each year make it a priority to hike down into the Grand Canyon, true adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies know that the better canyon for extreme hiking purposes is found a few hours north at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.
This might not be the deepest canyon in the country, but it sure is the steepest. The hike down (and then back up) its seemingly vertical wall faces is a true adventure that requires the help of cables, ladders, and a good deal of sweat and exertion.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Imagine hiking through thick stands of pine and cedar tree on an isolated island in the northernmost point of the Lake Superior. As you round the corner of a path, you come face to face with a small pack of wolves, one of the most difficult to site species around the world. Isle Royale National Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the largest island in Lake Superior and also one of the least visited national parks in the country.
Huge populations of moose accompany the wolves forming a unique predator-prey relationship that fascinates biologists and ecologists. For a true northern woods experience, consider hiking the length of the island along the Greenstone Ridge Trail.
While Isle Royale National Park is a part of Michigan, it is much closer to Minnesota and Canada.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
While the western part of the United States often gets much of the attention for the huge wilderness areas full of natural beauty, Congaree National Park in the deep south of South Carolina offers surroundings that will make you feel like you´ve returned to the Jurassic Era. The region is full of swamps and is also home to one of the oldest groves of hardwood trees found anywhere around the world.
Nicknamed the Redwoods of the East, the best way to explore this ancient forest with moss drifting from the high above tree branches is by renting a canoe and paddling through the swamp.
Think Outside the Box
While Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains are all destinations that warrant a family vacation, some of the best kept secrets are found in the national parks that almost no one has heard of. Any of these seven national parks will offer a perfect spot for adventure and natural beauty while allowing you to avoid some of the crowds.