If you’re exploring your own home state by yourself, embarking on an interstate road journey with your friends or embarking on a family trip halfway across the country and visiting one of the United States National parks is an excellent option to breathe in oxygen in the open, while admiring the beauty of nature and wildlife that surrounds you.
Therefore, it is logical that, as travel is on the rise in the coming year, many Americans are eager to discover more of these protected parks. According to a study in the year 2020 that was commissioned by the National Park Service, most people who took part in the survey said that the most recent park they went to included Yellowstone National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Grand Canyon National Park as well as Yosemite National Park.
The truth is that there are numerous many hidden gems in the U.S. that are ripe for adventure, and many of them can be explored in just a few hours. If you’re trying to get away from the crowds while enjoying the outdoors, make sure to include the underrated U.S. national parks in your itinerary. Don’t forget to check out the 5 best beaches which are U.S. National Parks.
1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
The park is known for its stunning multicolored cliffs, private white sand beaches, and unique sandstone formations this Michigan national park is actually an ocean shore that is accessible on foot by hiking trails and boat tours, or take a guided kayak tour.
“There really is something for everyone–families can enjoy the many beaches and easy walks to waterfalls, while couples and solo travelers can get lost in the beauty on a trail or in a kayak,” says Rebecca Gade Sawicki who is the founder of the travel website “Veggies Abroad”. “While summer is an optimal time to visit, in the winter, some of the waterfalls turn into spectacular ice caves that visitors can safely explore.”
Don’t forget to take The Twelvemile Beach trail, which runs through an amazing white birch forest and the remains of shipwrecks, which are scattered along the shorelines around Au Sable Point’s lighthouse built in 19th century.
2. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Imagine an enormous 30-square-mile sandbox that has massive mountain peaks to ascend… that’s it. And that’s the essence of this Colorado park’s description in a nutshell.
“Flanked by rugged mountain peaks to the east, the park offers the unique experience of climbing up the massive sand dunes as well as more traditional hiking options in the surrounding mountains,” says Chris Heckmann, creator of the blog Around the World Along With Me. “Hiking up sand dunes is incredibly hard work, but if you can make it to some of the higher dunes, you’ll be rewarded with some awesome views.”
If you’re really adventurous, consider climbing the highest peak with a staggering 775 feet.
“After sandboarding and sledding down some of the tallest dunes in North America, the kids can cool off in Medrano Creek,” says Elise Armitage, writer, and creator of What the Fab. “The park is a great spot for camping in the summer as the temperatures cool off at night.”
Pro tip: If you can, Shaun Hammond, owner, and author of The Traveling Drifter, advises sticking around for the awe-inspiring sunsets with shadowy mountain ranges in the distance.
3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
It’s hard to find a more welcoming family playground than World on Wheels. according to Kristin Secor, owner and creator of World on Wheels.
“This park is often overlooked by its neighbors in South Dakota and even in Wyoming,” she told Best Life. “What’s special about it is the formations of cannonballs that are found in the northern unit. They are formed by mineral water that seeps into the buttes, and then deposits the minerals into spaces in sediment. The sediments and minerals combine and form a central point, which creates a “cannonball” appearance. When the buttes begin to erode the cannonballs remain and can be seen by visitors.”
The park is divided into two parts which are The northern as well as southern sections. According to Secor, the southern unit is more popular with visitors, but both are worth a trip to take in the stunning Badlands buttes.
“Another special thing about the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the wildlife,” Secor adds Secor. “You can find bison, wild mustangs, big horn sheep, and prairie dogs within the park. We were lucky enough to see all of these incredible animals, with the highlight being the wild horses.”
4. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Jennie Flaming, chief adventure officer at Ordinary Adventures calls this Northern California park a “mini Yellowstone, but even cooler.”
“It boasts bubbling mud pots, hot springs, and vibrant blue lakes but, unlike Yellowstone, you won’t have to fight the crowds to see them in all their glory,” says Megan Jones, founder of Traveller’s Elixir.
The trails are quite accessible, regardless of how much experience you’ve got, as per Flaming.
Jones mentions that the Lassen Volcanic Park’s most imposing mountain, Lassen Peak, is actually an active volcano. So in theory, it can be erupted at any time but the last eruption occurred in 1917. “You can actually hike up to the top of the peak where you’ll be rewarded with some pretty impressive views of the surrounding wilderness,” Jones adds. Her most favorite spot within the park? “The “Devastated Area,” where you can see enormous lava rocks left over from the last eruption.
Anu Agarwal, the owner and the author of Destination Checkoff is also a good source for visiting the Bumpass Hell, which was recently upgraded to include the boardwalk to allow visitors to experience the geothermal process up close as well as the underground lava tube that runs at the park’s end.
FYI, as per Agarwal, it is possible to go to Lassen Volcanic National Park between June and October, as the roads are shut due to snowfall for the remainder of the year.
5. North Cascades National Park
It’s the North Cascades National Park may be among the less visited national parks however that’s only part of the attraction that it doesn’t have long lines as well as plenty of peace and tranquil. The park is also a dog-friendly place and you’re welcome to bring your pet friend.
As per Bryn Culbert, budget travel expert at Wanderu A study conducted by Wanderu found that this park has the highest amount of Instagram photos in relation to its amount of guests. It’s clear the reason why with its stunning mountain vistas and turquoise lakes in the alpine stunning snow-capped mountains, and stunning waterfalls are just a handful of things to see.
“It is also quite undeveloped, so there are few roads or other structures within the park, allowing you to ditch the crowds and truly disconnect and embrace nature with your loved ones,” says Luisa Favaretto, the founder as well as editor for Strategistico.
Axel Hernborg, CEO at Tripplo The Tripplo CEO explains that there’s no entrance cost, either. “If you’re fond of camping, you won’t be disappointed,” He states. “What’s more is that you don’t need to trek too far to take in the beautiful view. You’re right in the middle of it. However, if you enjoy hiking, you could even stroll at night in the gardens with lighting-up water features.
According to Favaretto the park, which is just a little over a three-hour drive from Seattle–also happens to comprise the largest collection of glaciers in the continental U.S.
“You won’t be able to find views with all of these natural elements anywhere else in America,” she states. “The famous Pacific Crest Trail also cuts through the park, so it is a great place for solo hikers to also connect with some like-minded folks during their journey as well.”
6. Katmai National Park
There aren’t any roads leading into the park. To reach it, you’ll have to fly into a nearby Alaska town and then take an airplane to take you there. However, in the words of Jenny Ly, travel blogger at Go Wanderly It’s worth the effort. “Don’t forget your Sonik fishing gear when visiting Katmai because, in addition to viewing brown bears at Brooks Falls, which are among the biggest in the world due to the plentiful salmon, these activities include excellent kayaking, canoeing, wilderness camping, hiking, and fishing,” Ly adds.
7. Congaree National Park
“Even people who live on the East Coast often have never heard of Congaree, but this little marshy wonderland is the perfect getaway for a unique vacation,” says Culbert. “The park comprises a huge old growth bottomland hardwood forest, which is like a swamp, but technically a floodplain, and it’s home to one of the highest tree canopies in the world.”
Family members of any size and levels can take a leisurely stroll on the park’s accessible Boardwalk Trail and observe wildlife along the more rough Oak Ridge Trail. Culbert suggests hiring a canoe for The Cedar Creek Canoe Trail and then try to see river otters, deer, or turtles. You might even spot alligators.
Congaree located in the outskirts of Columbia, SC, also does not charge an entrance fee.
“It’s a great place to stretch your legs, rest, and relax on a travel day through the Southeast,” says Kimberly Button, creator, and author of Wonderful World of Travel. “Though this isn’t quite as large and doesn’t provide the same number of trails, it has an appealing and unique appeal to this spot. There are 2.4 miles of main loop trail located at Congaree Visitor Center is an elevated boardwalk that makes it accessible to all, and allows them to be out into nature. Rest confident that Congaree is a great choice for children and families too as Button claims that the paved trail is suitable for all to walk or run along without being too strenuous.
8. Channel Islands National Park
The process of getting to this California park is a bit more challenging. While the visitor centers on the mainland are easily accessible via automobile, you’ll need to travel by boat to the islands. But Hanna Ashcraft, founder of the travel blog Moderately Adventurous and a frequent cruiser, believes that the journey across the ocean is part of the adventure, and, if you’re lucky enough you might even see whales, dolphins, sea lions, as well as sea birds in abundance on the way.
Eva Keller, a co-founder of the travel blog Discovering Hidden Gems reveals that there are a variety of charter boats operating to the four main islands every day between Ventura and Oxnard according to the time of year and the weather. Each of the islands have distinct ecosystems to explore. The smallest of them is Anacapa Island, which features a beautiful lighthouse and is also a renowned nesting place for the Western Gull.
“Watch the silly bird antics as you hike to Inspiration Point for a breathtaking view of jagged rocks and the other islands in a row,” Ashcraft says. Ashcraft. Santa Cruz, the largest island, has more strenuous hikes that take you to stunning vistas such as Potato Harbor, and kayaking tours that explore the underwater caves. Santa Rosa Island, which is located a bit further is famous for its forest that is full of Torrey pine trees, as well as its long beaches with sand.
Finally, Ashcraft says San Miguel Island is the ideal destination for those who aren’t afraid of a long boat trip and wish to watch sea lions frolicking on the sandy beaches. The top part? If you’re looking to experience everything, you could stay over the night anywhere on the island.
9. Petrified Forest National Park
Jessica Schmit, the founder of Uprooted Traveler, has visited 40 national parks, but this one, situated in Arizona is a standout in her memories. It’s not surprising: True to the title, this park has one of the largest and most vivid levels of fossilized wood. The fossilized versions of trees span hundreds of millions of years ago… prior to the time dinosaurs ever walked the earth.
“The park offers points of interest for all kinds of visitors, including hikes and backpacking through incredibly colorful badlands and petroglyphs from ancient Indigenous people,” Schmit says. Schmit. “Even better, the park has a small footprint, so it’s easy to see the main highlights of the park in just a day.”
While there, make sure to take a look at your visit to the Rainbow Forest Museum, which has paleontology exhibits as well as a variety of trail access points.
10. Hot Springs National Park
According to Favaretto, it’s the second-smallest National park in the U.S., but that’s an advantage in certain aspects because you can explore everything it offers in just only one afternoon.
“Hot Springs National Park offers the ideal setting for couples to relax in,” says Favaretto. “It features naturally occurring thermal baths where visitors can soak and rejuvenate themselves. This bathing ritual is the perfect experience to share with your partner, where you can reconnect with nature together and enjoy the healing powers of the springs.”
The park also has plenty of great hiking trails that are suitable for all levels that offer stunning views of the colorful autumnal foliage as well as Downtown Hot Springs.