Underrated U.S. National Parks
Ready to embark on an outdoors vacation without the crowds? Check out these underrated national parks across the United States for a secluded and unique adventure.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
In the heart of Lake Superior, between Michigan and Canada, is a rugged wilderness where wolves roam and cars don’t exist. In fact, the only way to to get to Isle Royale National Park is by boat or floatplane. While this island oasis is one of the least visited national parks, it is also one people keep coming back to. Visitors often embark on backpacking trips around the island, which is so secluded that one can hike for days without running into another person. Wildlife, on the other hand, is abundant, and if you’re observant (and quiet), you’re likely to see moose, beaver and more than 100 different species of birds.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Located in a remote region of southwest Alaska, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve encompasses approximately 4 million acres of vast wilderness, including the Chigmit and Neacola Mountains, two active volcanoes, the Kvichak River and numerous alpine lakes. Brown bears are attracted by local populations of salmon, and bear-watching is a popular activity within the park. Visitors also come to Lake Clark National Park to kayak, fish, camp and hike. There are no roads leading to Lake Clark National Park, so visitors must travel here by either boat or plane for their Alaskan adventure.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
This remote park is revered by backpackers and climbers but often overlooked by tourists, even though it’s just 120 miles from the Seattle metropolitan area. Covering more than 500,000 acres, North Cascades National Park includes virgin forests, countless alpine lakes and meadows, glaciers and more than 360 miles of wilderness hiking trails. There are very few roads within the park, so most visitors travel on State Route 20, which is also known as the North Cascades Highway. Whether visitors are looking to hike in remote wilderness or embark on a family-friendly car-camping vacation, North Cascades National Park is an underrated destination that shouldn’t be missed.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Most of Dry Tortugas National Park is open water, with seven small islands that can only be accessed by boat or seaplane. The park is located about 70 miles west of Key West and is characterized by pristine turquoise water, elaborate coral reefs and a large population of migrating birds. The park’s most well-known feature is the massive coastal fortress known as Fort Jefferson, which was built between 1846 and 1875 to protect the Gulf of Mexico. Although the fort was never completed, it is still the largest all-masonry fort in the Americas, containing more than 16 million bricks. Touring the fort, snorkeling and camping are the biggest attractions at Dry Tortugas National Park, and the sunsets are extraordinary.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Established in 1986, Great Basin National Park is Nevada’s only national park and one of the most diverse and secluded parks in the lower 48. The park gives visitors a taste of the Great Basin region, with endless fields of sagebrush, rugged mountain peaks, elaborate cave systems and stands of ancient bristlecone pines. Visitors can drive almost to the top of Nevada’s second highest peak, Mt. Wheeler. From the end of the road at 10,000 feet, hikers can continue another 3,000 feet to the summit and visit the area’s only glacier. Lehman Caves extends more than a quarter mile into the mountain and shouldn’t be missed. Ranger-led tours into the cave are offered year-round.
Pinnacles National Park, California
Located in the Salinas Valley of California, Pinnacles National Park features huge, volcanic monoliths and spires that rise steeply from the valleys and hills of the region. The park was established in 2012 as the 59th national park in the United States. Pinnacles National Park is divided into two separate areas, the east and west divisions. The two divisions are not connected, but both should be explored. While relatively new in the hearts of Americans, the park is revered by cavers, climbers and hikers alike. More than 30 established trails meander through the park, allowing hikers to explore lush meadows, talus caves and the colorful rock formations that give the park its name. The caves aren’t traditional caves and aren’t even underground. Instead, they were formed by huge rocks that have fallen into slot canyons creating incredible tunnels that are ripe for exploring.