Add These 10 Underrated National Parks to Your Bucket List, ASAP

by Teresa Bitler

Add These 10 Underrated National Parks to Your Bucket List, ASAP

by Teresa Bitler

Nothing against Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but some national parks can get crowded, especially during the summer. Instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists at scenic vistas, head over to these often overlooked national parks.

Nothing against Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but some national parks can get crowded, especially during the summer. Instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists at scenic vistas, head over to these often overlooked national parks.

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska / iStock / flownaksala
Channel Islands National Park in California
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Channel Islands National Park, California

There’s a reason few people visit California’s equivalent to the Galapagos Islands of South America: It’s only accessible by boat or a short flight. But, once you step foot on one of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park, you’ll discover dozens plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Spend your time here hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, or bird watching. 

There’s a reason few people visit California’s equivalent to the Galapagos Islands of South America: It’s only accessible by boat or a short flight. But, once you step foot on one of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park, you’ll discover dozens plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Spend your time here hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, or bird watching. 

Congaree National Park in South Carolina
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Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Most people think of Redwood National and State Parks when they hear “big trees,” but Congaree National Park is just as impressive. It's nicknamed the “Home of Champions,” and it's not as congested with tourists as its Californian counterpart. Here, you can hike more than 25 miles of forested trails, fish the waterways, or explore the marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek. A boardwalk provides access to scenic Weston Lake.

Read more: The 11 Best National Park Lodges in North America

 

Most people think of Redwood National and State Parks when they hear “big trees,” but Congaree National Park is just as impressive. It's nicknamed the “Home of Champions,” and it's not as congested with tourists as its Californian counterpart. Here, you can hike more than 25 miles of forested trails, fish the waterways, or explore the marked canoe trail on Cedar Creek. A boardwalk provides access to scenic Weston Lake.

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Clorado
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

While it’s not the Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon is definitely breathtaking. Its 2,000-foot walls drop almost vertically to the Gunnison River and, at their narrowest point, span only 40 feet across. You can hike, fish, kayak, raft, or rock climb here. 

While it’s not the Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon is definitely breathtaking. Its 2,000-foot walls drop almost vertically to the Gunnison River and, at their narrowest point, span only 40 feet across. You can hike, fish, kayak, raft, or rock climb here. 

Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota
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Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

The cave itself isn’t necessarily overlooked, but the above-ground Wind Cave National Park – a sea of prairie grass dotted with bison – is. It's also one of the nation's few remaining intact prairies. Here, you'll find 30 miles of hiking trails as well as horseback riding and camping. Just as they do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park or Mammoth Cave National Park, tickets for the cave tour sell out fast, so be sure to book early. 

Read more: How to: Take Stunning National Park Photos

The cave itself isn’t necessarily overlooked, but the above-ground Wind Cave National Park – a sea of prairie grass dotted with bison – is. It's also one of the nation's few remaining intact prairies. Here, you'll find 30 miles of hiking trails as well as horseback riding and camping. Just as they do at Carlsbad Caverns National Park or Mammoth Cave National Park, tickets for the cave tour sell out fast, so be sure to book early. 

Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota
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Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Thanks to its remote location along the Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park never gets too crowded. During summer months, you can enjoy fishing, boating, and other water-based activities. On land watch for moose, gray wolves, black bears, beavers, bald eagles, and wolves. You might even see the Aurora Borealis at night if you're lucky. The park remains open during the winter months for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

Thanks to its remote location along the Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park never gets too crowded. During summer months, you can enjoy fishing, boating, and other water-based activities. On land watch for moose, gray wolves, black bears, beavers, bald eagles, and wolves. You might even see the Aurora Borealis at night if you're lucky. The park remains open during the winter months for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona
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Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Co-managed by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is often bypassed in favor of the Grand Canyon (which is located 250 miles west)  and nearby Monument Valley. Here, you'll find vantage points from the rim overlook Navajo farms, Ancestral Pueblo ruins, and sacred rock formations. Pro tip: Find a Navajo guide to see petroglyphs and more ruins from the canyon’s interior.

Read more: Tips to Make the Most Out of Your National Park Trip

Co-managed by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is often bypassed in favor of the Grand Canyon (which is located 250 miles west)  and nearby Monument Valley. Here, you'll find vantage points from the rim overlook Navajo farms, Ancestral Pueblo ruins, and sacred rock formations. Pro tip: Find a Navajo guide to see petroglyphs and more ruins from the canyon’s interior.

National Park of American Samoa, Pago Pago in American Samoa
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National Park of American Samoa, Pago Pago, American Samoa

A trip to National Park of American Samoa requires a five-hour flight from Honolulu to Tutuila Island, which is part of the United States territory of American Samoa. The long commute is worth it, though. Here, visitors can hike through tropical rainforests, snorkel over coral reefs, or just relax on the beach. The park also offers a homestay program that places visitors with Samoan families. 

A trip to National Park of American Samoa requires a five-hour flight from Honolulu to Tutuila Island, which is part of the United States territory of American Samoa. The long commute is worth it, though. Here, visitors can hike through tropical rainforests, snorkel over coral reefs, or just relax on the beach. The park also offers a homestay program that places visitors with Samoan families. 

Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico
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Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico

Located 150 miles south of Mesa Verde National Park, this Ancestral Puebloan community is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A nine-mile paved loop accesses five major Chacoan sites, including Pueblo Bonito, a magnificent house that once stood four stories high and had more than 600 rooms. The drawback to a visit here is that the park is very remote and offers minimal services.

Read more: A Glamping Getaway in America's National Parks

Located 150 miles south of Mesa Verde National Park, this Ancestral Puebloan community is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A nine-mile paved loop accesses five major Chacoan sites, including Pueblo Bonito, a magnificent house that once stood four stories high and had more than 600 rooms. The drawback to a visit here is that the park is very remote and offers minimal services.

Isle Royale National Park in Michigan
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Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

You don’t have to worry about jam-packed parking lots at Isle Royale. The rugged island is surrounded by Lake Superior, and can only be accessed by boat or seaplane. Here, you can hike, canoe, or scuba dive to well-preserved shipwrecks. A word of warning: Although the park receives fewer visitors annually than Yellowstone does in a day, the park’s per-acre use is among the highest in the national park system.

You don’t have to worry about jam-packed parking lots at Isle Royale. The rugged island is surrounded by Lake Superior, and can only be accessed by boat or seaplane. Here, you can hike, canoe, or scuba dive to well-preserved shipwrecks. A word of warning: Although the park receives fewer visitors annually than Yellowstone does in a day, the park’s per-acre use is among the highest in the national park system.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska
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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Named for two mountain ranges that form its backbone, this park is America’s largest. In fact, you could fit Vermont and New Hampshire combined – or the entire country of Switzerland – within its borders. But, it's also one of the least visited, bypassed in favor of Denali National Park. You can do many of the same activities at this overlooked park (think: hiking, biking, fishing, and more), with fewer people around. 

Read more: Glamping in Your Own Backyard: Here’s What to Buy

Named for two mountain ranges that form its backbone, this park is America’s largest. In fact, you could fit Vermont and New Hampshire combined – or the entire country of Switzerland – within its borders. But, it's also one of the least visited, bypassed in favor of Denali National Park. You can do many of the same activities at this overlooked park (think: hiking, biking, fishing, and more), with fewer people around. 

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