The US has 63 national parks that span a diverse variety of ecosystems. Nevertheless, many travelers only visit the most iconic national parks. Here are nine underrated US national parks worthy of your consideration.
Underrated US National Parks
1. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia
This is reportedly the newest official national park in the US as it was just upgraded. This park includes over 70,000 acres of land. The Appalachian canyon is the focus here and there is much to do.
Here you can go camping, and go rock climbing on the sandstone cliffs. You can also go whitewater rafting along approximately 53 miles of water that includes Class IV and V rapids. You can even go hiking and mountain biking over hundreds of miles of trails. All of this available just an hour out of Charleston.
2. Congaree National Park. South Carolina
The highlight here is the large number of old, bottomland hardwood trees. In 1983 this park was given UNESCO biosphere reserve status for the park’s biodiversity” and is also known for its rich cultural heritage. Here you can go hiking or even enjoy a guided tour on the popular Cedar Creek canoe trail.
The best time to visit is fall or spring. The park is two hours from Charleston so a weekend trip is easy to do. If you do decide to camp there be sure to reserve a spot at one of their drive-in campgrounds.
3. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Situated 70-miles off the shore of Key West in the gleaming Gulf of Mexico, this park is different than Everglades National Park. It is mainly open water with seven little islands and coral reefs.
Marine life is the center of attention. Here travelers can enjoy scuba diving, kayaking, and snorkeling. Visitors can also learn about Fort Jefferson which was erected on Garden Key in the 19th century. If you like stargazing then consider camping here too. Make your reservations early and remember the ferry leaves Key West at 8:oo a.m. every morning.
4. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
This park is nestled along the Canadian border. Water lovers will like this place as it is more than 40 percent water. Specifically, it’s a group of joined waterways, and the Kabetogama, the Namakan, the Rainy, and the Sand Point Lakes.
People have lived around here around the waterways for more than 10,000 years. They have fished here, foraged here, and even used the waterways to transport things. Some do these things here to this day.
This park is also an official, certified International Dark Sky Park so stargazing here is not not only incredible here but also a place to spot the aurora borealis.
5. Big Bend National Park, Texas
This park is situated in the state’s southwest corner. It is believed to get fewer tourists because it is one of the most difficult parks to access. Unlike some parks, however, people can enjoy this park all year.
This is one of the country’s most biodiverse parks. Its residents include more than 450 species of birds, 75 different species of mammals, 22 different species of lizards, and three different landscapes around the Chihuahuan Desert, the Chisos Mountains, and the well-known Rio Grande. Here you can go camping, take a canoe trip down the mighty Rio Grande, hike to the hot springs, or go bird-watching on the Window Trail.
6. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Located in southern Colorado, this park features North America’s tallest dunes. They are the result of southwestern desert sand being blown up against the famous Rocky Mountains. You can see peaks that are 14,000 feet high as well as wetlands and marshlands.
The park is also home to a large variety of birds. No motorized vehicles are permitted here but you can hike up 750 feet and slide down the dunes on a disk. The closest cities are three hours away but you can camp at Piñon Flats Campground. There are also numerous hike-in backpacking campgrounds available.
7. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
This park is easily accessible from Moab. It spans 257,640 acres and offers visitors exceptional opportunities for camping, canyoneering, hiking, and rafting. They also offer great jeep tours and include numerous slot canyons that are an iconic part of the state.
With the Colorado River snaking through here, it also is a noteworthy alternative to the Grand Canyon in terms of rafting adventures. Why? The Grand Canyon rafting tours can be difficult because they’re sometimes booked years in advance. Here you get great views and there are fewer crowds.
8. Pinnacles National Park, California
You’ll find this park about two hours south of San Francisco. It features a striking landscape of rugged rock spires and numerous caves created by volcanic eruptions. The rock formations make this place popular with rock climbers during the cooler months.
There are also miles of trails that will lead you through various lava tunnels, and even to the top of the mountain peaks where the views are incredible. The challenging Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop trail is a popular, five-to-six-mile loop right through the center of the formations. You can camp at the popular Pinnacles Campground on the east side of the property or just make it a day trip from San Jose, Carmel Valley, or Monterey.
9. North Cascades National Park, Washington
Nestled on the border between the state and Canada, this park is nicknamed “The American Alps” it’s one of the country’s officially least-visited. This is mostly because the park is only open in the summer as the connecting highway is generally closed by October 1st.
It includes over 1,000 high peaks, cascades and waterfalls, colorful wildflowers, snow-capped mountains, and more than 500 ponds and lakes. This place is great for hiking and also offers horseback riding and whitewater rafting. If you want to go camping, you have different options. They offer visitors backcountry, boat-in, and drive-in camping options. You can even experience camping at a real lookout tower in the neighboring forest.