When you think of National Parks, the big-name ones – Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone – are probably the first to come to mind. The United States is actually home to over 400 national park sites, however, and some of the lesser-known parks make incredible destinations. Better yet, they also often have the added perk of fewer crowds. Here are 7 such hidden gems to check out this year!
1. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Head over to northeastern California to experience Lassen Volcanic National Park. This sprawling park is home to gorgeous mountains, valleys, and even some unique thermal features such as hot springs. This is a great park to visit year-round, with ample activities in both the colder and warmer months. If you’re visiting in the winter, Manzanita Lake and the southwest areas of the park are open year-round. Sulphur Works is the one hydrothermal area that’s open in the winter but does require skis or snowshoes to reach in the snowier times of the year. The previously Manzanita Lake area also offers some great opportunities for cross country skiing. Summer activities, meanwhile, include camping, swimming, and hiking. Wildflower season also runs from May-September and offers some amazing fields of wildflowers.
2. Katmai National Park
Denali is probably Alaska’s most well-known national park, but this remote state is actually home to several gorgeous parks. One of these is Katmai National Park. This park is a good deal more remote than Denali, with fewer amenities and services, but it is home to some uniquely amazing natural beauty. Some popular activities in the park include bear watching (a large number of brown bears call Katmai home) as well as boating and backcountry camping and hiking. If you’re just looking for a shorter hike, however, there are six miles of maintained trails in the park. Because of the park’s remote location, you’ll want to plan ahead for both lodging and transportation.
3. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is located in Texas. While the park is in a more remote area of the state, it’s still a great option for both casual enjoyers of the outdoors as well as more experienced outdoorsmen. The area’s round mild weather in the winter makes the colder months one of the most popular times to visit. If you’re not bothered by hotter temperatures (or planning to visit for water-related activities) a summer trip can be a bit less crowded. Some of the many things to do in the park include exploring over 150 miles of hiking trails or floating the Rio Grande River.
4. North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is probably one of the least well-known National Parks in Washington State, at least in comparison to big-name parks such as Olympic National Park. Home to some jaw-dropping scenic views, miles of hiking trails, and an abundance of wildlife, this park is truly a hidden gem. While North Cascades is an amazing place for hiking and camping, it’s also pretty remote, and the popularity of backcountry trips over casual day hikes means that many of the things to do in this park can be more intense than in some other destinations. Wilderness safety precautions should always be taken, including staying on trails or established routes, and not heading out alone.
5. Isle Royale National Park
Located in Michigan, Isle Royale National Park consists of a collection of remote islands on Lake Superior. Accessible by ferry or seaplane, this is a great option for those looking to truly get away from civilization for a bit. Unlike some of the other options on this list, Isle Royale is only open seasonally – it'll be reopening for its 2022 on April 15th. Some popular activities at Isle Royale include boating, hiking, and scuba diving.
6. Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park is a great destination for all sorts of visitors. Those who love water activities will have an especially great time – some of the best features in the park are the lakes. Boating, kayaking, and fishing are all popular activities. Another notable reason to visit this park is the Northern Lights. This is one of the few parks in the United States (Alaskan parks not included) where the Aurora Borealis is frequently visible. Winter is one of the best times to visit to see the Northern Lights, as longer nights result in a greater period of time to potentially see them.
7. Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park is located off the coast of Florida. This is another National Park that is both unique and a little more difficult to get to. Like Isle Royale, Dry Tortugas requires a boat or seaplane trip to reach. Luckily, there are plenty of groups in the area that do offer such transportation. Dry Tortugas is probably most notable for Fort Jefferson – a massive historic waterfront building – as well as being an excellent spot for activities such as snorkeling.