Underrated National Parks Worth The Trip

Josh SchukmanMarch 15, 2024

Underrated National Parks Worth The Trip

America’s national parks are renowned for their stunning vistas and captivating natural beauty. But as visitor numbers soar at the most iconic locations, the serene experience of untamed wilderness is becoming less accessible. Yet, there are still national treasures that remain off the beaten path, offering equally impressive experiences without the crowds. This guide will introduce you to America’s most underrated national parks, where adventure and serenity are still the order of the day.

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The Allure of the Less Traveled Path

Seeking out underrated national parks is not simply about avoiding other tourists—it’s about engaging with nature in its most unadulterated form. These destinations provide a sense of discovery and isolation that’s increasingly rare. For instance, Pinnacles National Park welcomed 341,220 visitors in 2023, a jump from its previous year’s count. The trend is clear: travelers are seeking out the untouched beauty that these lesser-known parks offer.

Pinnacles National Park: A Rising Star

In the heart of California, Pinnacles National Park emerges as a landscape forged by volcanic activity over 23 million years ago. This haven for wildlife is celebrated for its towering formations, deep canyons, and intricate cave systems. While it may not match the size of Yosemite or the renown of Yellowstone, its geological wonders and intimate nature encounters make it a standout destination.

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Pinnacles - underrated national park

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Nestled in eastern Nevada, Great Basin National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking solitude and serenity. Despite its stunning landscapes and diverse ecosystems, this park remains one of the least visited in the United States. Towering peaks, alpine lakes, and ancient bristlecone pine forests characterize its rugged terrain.

One of the park’s highlights is Wheeler Peak, the second tallest peak in Nevada, offering challenging hikes and breathtaking vistas. The Lehman Caves, an underground labyrinth adorned with intricate formations, provide a fascinating glimpse into the park’s geological wonders.

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North Cascades National Park, Washington

Tucked away in the upper reaches of Washington State, North Cascades National Park is an underrated national park that’s a paradise for wilderness lovers. Often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, this park boasts jagged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and dense old-growth forests. Its remote location and rugged terrain make it a haven for backpackers, climbers, and nature photographers.

The park’s extensive trail system offers opportunities for both day hikes and multi-day wilderness adventures. Visitors can marvel at the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake, explore hidden valleys, and encounter abundant wildlife, including black bears and bald eagles.

North Cascades National Park

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

In the heart of South Carolina, Congaree National Park stands as a pristine oasis of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest. Despite being the largest intact expanse of this forest type remaining in the southeastern United States, it remains a relatively underrated national park compared to its counterparts.

Kayaking through the park’s tranquil waterways, shaded by towering bald cypress trees, is a popular activity for visitors seeking a unique perspective of the ecosystem. Hiking trails meander through lush swamps, offering glimpses of diverse flora and fauna, including the park’s famous champion trees.

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Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Situated in the pristine waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is a remote wilderness teeming with natural beauty and ecological significance. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, this isolated island sanctuary offers a true escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Hiking the island’s rugged trails, visitors may encounter moose, wolves, and rare boreal forest species. The park’s crystal-clear waters are ideal for kayaking, fishing, and exploring the secluded coves and rocky shores.

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National Park of American Samoa: Tropical Seclusion

The National Park of American Samoa, with a visitor count of only 1,887 in 2022, stands as an oasis of tranquility. Far from the mainland, this park promises snorkeling in coral reefs, hikes through rainforests, and an introduction to Samoan culture—a distinctive blend not found in any other U.S. national park.

Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve: Wilderness Unbound

For those drawn to raw, unspoiled wilderness, Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve in Alaska is a dream come true. In 2023, a mere 11,045 visitors ventured into this vast territory. With no roads or established trails, the park is a sanctuary for those who wish to carve their own journey through its dramatic mountains and untouched rivers, offering a profound connection to the natural world.

Planning Your Visit to Underrated Parks

  • Determine the optimal time to visit, considering seasonal closures or extreme weather.
  • Ascertain the need for permits or reservations, particularly for camping or backcountry excursions.
  • Anticipate minimal access to amenities; many of these parks have fewer facilities than their more popular counterparts.

Visiting these lesser-known jewels requires careful planning. Unlike the more famous parks, many underrated national parks lack extensive infrastructure, demanding a greater degree of self-sufficiency from visitors. It’s crucial to be well-informed before your trip—understand when to go, what permissions you might need, and which supplies to bring. Each park promises a distinct adventure, but all guarantee an extraordinary experience away from the crowd.

Sustainable Tourism and Park Preservation

The increasing popularity of these secluded parks highlights the need for sustainable tourism. As adventurers, we have a duty to reduce our impact and preserve the natural wonders we enjoy. Adhering to trails, removing trash, and respecting wildlife habitats can significantly help. By making conservation a priority, we help ensure these parks stay pristine for future explorers.

When you visit these parks, you become a guardian of their heritage. Following Leave No Trace principles is essential for the adventure. Each step, campsite, and photo should be taken with care for the environment. It’s our collective behavior that will safeguard these parks and their beauty.

Your Journey to America’s Hidden Natural Treasures

Embarking on a journey to America’s lesser-known national parks is an opportunity to deeply connect with nature. From the emerging Pinnacles National Park to the secluded National Park of American Samoa, and the remote Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, these places offer unique and enriching experiences. They challenge us to create our own adventure in the quest for discovery.

These parks are more than alternatives to popular destinations; they are evidence of America’s natural diversity and the less-traveled adventures that await. Whether it’s the growing visitation at Pinnacles or the isolation of Gates of the Arctic, the trend towards seeking quieter, natural experiences is evident. As we discover these gems, let’s do so with reverence and a promise to preserve, so their splendor persists for those who follow.

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Josh and his wife traveled around the country in an '88 Airstream for 4+ years of full-time RVing. They made an unexpected pitstop in Montana in 2020 and haven't left since. That's because they got hooked on the glamping resort they run by Glacier National Park. Fittingly, they keep up their RVing love by renting out vintage Airstreams and other retro RVs to travelers hitting Montana.

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