Crowds flock in droves to celebrated U.S. national parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, especially during the summer season. These iconic locations, along with others like Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains, are certainly worth a visit, but the experience often involves battling traffic and bustling trails. However, the U.S. boasts 63 national parks, many of which offer an equally stunning variety of scenic views, wildlife encounters, and family-friendly adventures, with significantly less footfall.
Here, we’ve listed 10 of these less-frequented parks and their unique attractions.
For Water-based Adventures
Channel Islands National Park, California
A cluster of five untouched islands off Santa Barbara’s coast, the Channel Islands National Park provides a myriad of exploration possibilities for hikers and kayakers alike. The park offers beginner-friendly paddling journeys, such as the one from Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island, where visitors can marvel at the abundant sea caves, kelp forests, and wildlife including gray whales, dolphins, and sea lions. Navigating the unpredictable currents and changing weather is safer with a guide.
The secluded Santa Rosa Island features hiking trails through rugged mountains, providing glimpses of unique wildlife like the endemic island fox. Lodging is available at the Scorpion Canyon Campground on Santa Cruz Island, situated a half-mile hike from the beach.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Over one-third of this park consists of boreal forests and rocky islands spread over water bodies. The network of four massive lakes and 26 smaller ones, now more preserved due to new environmental protections, can be best experienced via a boat, canoe, or kayak. The park offers both easily accessible shoreline campsites and more secluded locations deep within the Kabetogama Peninsula.
For Wildlife Enthusiasts
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
This coastal park with mountainous terrain offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The park’s trail leading to the Harding Icefield overlook provides breathtaking views of the icy landscape and a chance to spot wildlife such as grizzlies, black bears, wolverines, lynx, wolves, mountain goats, orcas, humpback whales, and dolphins.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Home to the Brazilian free-tailed bats, visitors can witness these winged creatures emerge by the hundreds of thousands from the park’s limestone caves to feast on insects, particularly during August and September.
For Hiking Enthusiasts
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Known as the “American Alps,” this park features over 400 miles of trails through diverse landscapes including wildflower meadows, ancient forests, glacier viewpoints, and remote lakes. It draws a fraction of the crowds compared to its southern neighbor, Mount Rainier.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde offers a journey back in time, with cliff dwellings that once served as homes for ancestral Pueblo people. The park is also designated as an International Dark Sky Park due to its well-protected night skies.
For Cultural Experiences
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Only accessible by boat or seaplane, the park’s key attractions include pristine beaches, exceptional snorkeling, and the historic Fort Jefferson.
Haleakalā National Park, Maui, Hawaii
The park offers over 30 miles of trails over ancient lava flows and through unique vegetation. Visitors can explore ancient village ruins and enjoy picturesque waterfalls and pools.
For Family Excursions
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Ideal for kids, the park lets families explore a diverse range of ecosystems. Activities include kayaking along the Lake Michigan coast and canoeing on the Little Calumet River.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
A cool escape from the summer heat, the park offers guided tours through an intricate network of caverns, which maintain a comfortable 54°F temperature throughout the year.
Author: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, a freelance journalist specializing in climate, environment, outdoors, and travel.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Under-the-Radar U.S. National Parks
What are some lesser-known U.S. national parks for summer visits?
This text introduces 10 less crowded U.S. national parks perfect for summer visits. They include Channel Islands National Park in California, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, North Cascades National Park in Washington, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii, Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana, and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
What activities are available in these lesser-known U.S. national parks?
Depending on the park, visitors can participate in a variety of activities such as water excursions, wildlife viewing, hiking, cultural experiences, and family-friendly adventures. These might include kayaking, hiking, wildlife spotting, exploring historical sites, snorkeling, horseback riding, canoeing, and guided cave tours.
What wildlife can be spotted in these national parks?
Many of these parks offer rich wildlife-spotting opportunities. You might see gray whales, dolphins, sea lions, grizzlies, black bears, wolverines, lynx, wolves, mountain goats, orcas, humpback whales, and dolphins. Additionally, you can watch thousands of bats in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico.
Are there guided tours available in these parks?
Yes, many of these parks offer guided tours. For instance, in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, you can explore the vast underground network of caves through ranger-guided tours.
Are there any parks in this list suitable for families?
Yes, Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana is highlighted as a family-friendly location, offering a diverse range of ecosystems to explore and opportunities for kayaking and canoeing. Moreover, all parks mentioned offer kid-friendly excursions.