National parks are a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and connect with the natural world. While some parks get all the attention, there are many hidden gems that have just as much to offer. From the stunning blue lake of Crater Lake National Park to the towering redwoods of Redwood National Park, these lesser-visited parks definitely deserve a spot on your bucket list. So pack your bags and get ready to discover some of the best-kept secrets in the country!
1. Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park might not be as famous as some of the more popular national parks in the USA, but that's part of its charm. Nestled in the southern Cascades of Oregon, this park is home to one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the country - a deep blue lake that was formed by a collapsed volcano. The lake is a stunning shade of blue that's so vibrant, it looks like it was photoshopped.
The park's remote location means that there are fewer crowds than you'd find at some of the more popular national parks, so you can actually enjoy the serenity of being in the great outdoors without feeling like you're in a crowded mall. The hiking trails around the park offer panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains. And if you're really lucky, you might even spot some of the park's interesting local wildlife, like black bears, badgers, and martens.
2. Redwood National Park
Sequoia National Park may boast about its massive trees, leaving Redwood National Park overlooked, but it packs a punch in its own way. While the two parks are similar in some ways, Redwood National Park actually has more to do and is much more accessible since it’s just off highway 101! There's so much to explore here, from scenic drives to hikes through the towering redwoods and along the rugged coastline. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some sea lions or whales while you’re there.
Plus, did you know the world's largest tree is actually inside this park? Sure, it's a Sequoia tree, but Redwoods are actually taller than Sequoias in general. These ancient giants have been standing tall for centuries, and this park gives you the chance to get up close and personal with them!
3. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
At Lassen Volcanic National Park you can see a live, active volcano, hydrothermal areas with bubbling mud pots and steaming vents, and crystal-clear lakes surrounded by stunning mountain ranges. Do we need to say more?
You can hike up to the summit of Lassen Peak for panoramic views of the park and surrounding mountains, or explore the many trails that wind through the rugged terrain. In the winter, the park transforms into a winter wonderland, making it a great spot for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding. If that wasn’t already enough, the stargazing here is out of this world, with some of the darkest skies in the country. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way stretching across the sky!
4. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is an absolute gem that often gets overlooked when planning a trip to the national parks because of how remote it is. But that’s part of what makes this park so great! This is one of the least-visited national parks in the country, which means that you can truly get away from it all and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the desert.
The park is home to some impressive rock formations, from towering limestone cliffs to colorful badlands. And let's not forget the Rio Grande river, which forms a large bend (hence the name of the park) and provides a stunning backdrop for hiking, wildlife watching, and scenic drives. One of the park's most famous features is Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500-foot-deep gorge carved by the Rio Grande. The park is also home to some of the darkest skies in the country, making it a great spot for stargazing. Plus, there’s a hot spring you can take a soak in after a big day of hiking.
5. Mount Rainier National Park
Located in Washington state, this park is home to the iconic Mount Rainier, a massive stratovolcano that towers over the surrounding landscape. With its snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and crystal-clear lakes, the scenery here is pretty hard to beat. The huge elevation change in the park also means there are many different types of habitats here, and therefore, plenty of interesting wildlife to find. And there's no better way to experience it all than by hitting the park's many scenic trails!
6. North Cascades National Park
Often referred to as the "American Alps," North Cascades National Park is a true wilderness, with rugged mountains, deep valleys, and pristine lakes. The park is also home to over 300 glaciers! Many of the best parts of this park are only accessible by foot. This means that you'll need to be prepared for a bit of a hike to really experience the park's beauty, but trust us when we say that it's worth it. The trails wind through forests of ancient trees, across rushing streams, and up to mountain peaks that offer panoramic views of the park. You can hike for hours or even days and still not see everything that this park has to offer.
7. Grand Teton National Park
Ok… so this one is one of the more visited national parks, but we still don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves! Grand Teton National Park is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Yellowstone. The park's namesake, the Teton Range, is one of the most stunning mountain ranges in the country, with jagged peaks rising dramatically from the valley floor. The park has over 200 miles of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry treks. And if you want to experience the park from a different perspective, you can take a float trip down the Snake River.
The park is also home to several historic sites, including the Menor's Ferry Historic District, which offers a glimpse into life in the 1800s, and the Mormon Row Historic District, which has a few well-preserved homesteads from the early 1900s. With the Tetons as a backdrop, the scenery here makes for a pretty spectacular sunrise spot!
8. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park in Utah is often skipped in favor of its more popular neighbor, Arches National Park. But, this park is a must-see to experience the unique beauty of the American Southwest in its entirety. The park's canyons, mesas, and buttes have been shaped by millions of years of erosion, creating a truly unique landscape. In fact, the park is divided into four districts, thanks to the huge canyons carved out by the Green and Colorado Rivers, each with something unique to offer.
The Island in the Sky district has panoramic views of the surrounding canyons and mesa tops. The Needles district is home to stunning rock formations, including the famous "Needles" spires. The Maze district is the most remote and rugged, and can only be reached with 4x4 vehicles and offering a true wilderness experience. Finally, the rivers that carve through the park let you see the Canyonlands from a whole different perspective with rafting, kayaking, and other water activities.
9. Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is one of the most unique and fascinating national parks in the country. It’s home to some of the most well-preserved cliff dwellings in the world, dating back to the 9th century. These ancient dwellings were built by the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived in the area for over 700 years.
Visiting Mesa Verde is like stepping back in time. You can take a guided tour of the ancient houses and learn about the history and culture of the people who called this area home. The park also has many hiking trails that wind through the rugged terrain, offering beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
10. Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is home to the iconic saguaro cactus, a symbol of the American West. These towering cacti can reach up to 60 feet tall and can live for over 200 years! But it's not just the cacti that make this park so special. It’s a common misconception that Saguaro is a desert park. While this is mostly true, there are also two distinct mountain districts here! This means, there is also an interesting range of wildlife, from creatures like roadrunners, jackrabbits, and Gila monsters who have adapted to the harsh desert climate, to black bears and deer who prefer the cooler climate of the mountains. If you are super lucky, you might even spot a desert bighorn sheep!
11. Channel Islands National Park
Particularly for wildlife lovers, this might just be the most underrated of them all! This remote park located off the coast of Southern California is made up of five islands that are home to a huge range of wildlife, both on land and in the surrounding waters. The islands themselves are beautiful, with rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and crystal-clear waters. One of the best ways to explore the islands is by taking a boat tour so you can see the different islands from the water. There are also plenty of hiking trails on the islands that offer beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding landscape.
One of the more unique things you can see in this park is the island foxes. These cute little creatures are only found on the Channel Islands! Plus, the islands are also home to a variety of other animals, including sea lions, seals, dolphins, and whales. The clear blue waters around the islands are teeming with marine life, making it a prime spot for snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking.
The beauty of these national parks is often overlooked either because of their remote locations or because they're overshadowed by more popular parks nearby. However, each of these parks offers something special that can't be found anywhere else. From the rugged islands of the Channel Islands National Park to the bubbling mud pools and steaming vents of Lassen Volcanic National Park, these parks certainly deserve a little more love! And the best part? You won't have to fight the crowds to experience them! So grab your hiking boots and camera, and get ready to explore some of the best natural wonders in the country. Happy trails!