7 National Parks You Haven’t Heard Of But Should Absolutely Visit
Which national parks can you name off the top of your head? Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon… and then maybe you have to work a little harder. The truth is, there are more than 60 national parks in the United States — even more if you count grasslands, historic sites, and national monuments. We’ve already weighed in on the best national parks in every state and the top national park accommodations, but this time we want to bring your attention to parks that don’t get as much love as they deserve. Get ready to take some epic Instagram shots: Here are the parks you haven’t heard of but will absolutely want to visit.
Fewer than 27,000 people visited North Cascades National Park during 2016 — thanks to the National Park Service’s centennial year, even that number was up from prior counts. One of the least-visited parks in the country, North Cascades has over 300 glaciers and 127 alpine lakes where visitors can enjoy beautiful jagged peaks, spires, and meadows.
Around 80,000 visitors make it to Dry Tortugas National Park every year, which may seem small — but considering most of it is underwater, that’s quite impressive. The park can only be reached by ferry, sea plane, or private boat. History buffs will love exploring Fort Jefferson, which is surrounded by water and one of the country’s largest 19th-century forts, and water-loving visitors will have a blast swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, and more.
You’ve probably heard about Badlands National Park in South Dakota, but did you know there’s a Badlands section of North Dakota? This more than 70,000-acre park has 400 American bison, numerous groups of feral horses, plains bubbling with squee-inducing prairie dogs, and remarkable geological formations like hoodoos and red dirt, which locals call scoria, caused by underground coal set alight that cooks the exposed layer of clay.
If you’re not from the west coast, chances are you haven’t heard of this incredible geologic feature. Crater Lake formed in the caldera of a volcano that exploded nearly 8,000 years ago; the resulting lake is 1,943 feet deep — the deepest in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world. You can take a boat out on the water through the park or hike several trails that surround the water. It’s also an incredible destination for stargazing.
Have you ever wanted to see a wild bear in person? Katmai National Park could make that dream come true. Just under 38,000 visitors came to Katmai last year, and the park maintains much of its wildness. In addition to being an excellent place for bear viewing, visitors may spot moose, caribou, wolves, red foxes, beluga whales, and orcas. The park is also full of archaeological evidence of inhabitants dating back nearly 10 millennia.
It might be hard to imagine that islands just off the coast of California could be rich in biodiversity, but Channel Islands National Park will change your mind. Sometimes called the Galapagos of California, the islands are only accessible by park concessionaire boats or planes. Once you arrive, camping, kayaking, dolphins, and blue whale watching are all available to you.
Zion and Bryce Canyon get all the attention, but Capitol Reef National Park is a stunning desert oasis, too. Designated a Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park, it offers views of the Milky Way that are out of this world. In the daytime, hike to Hickman Bridge, an arch that rises 300 feet above the Fremont River, and explore the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile stretch where buckling earth left colorful rock in its wake.