America is one of the most stunningly diverse countries on Earth, filled with immense natural beauty and countless awe-inspiring landmarks.
Our national parks are some of the world’s greatest, providing endless sights to enjoy, landscapes to wander, and activities to enjoy. Every year, millions of people – Americans and tourists from farther afield – visit our parks, to see the best we have to offer. In fact, 2016 is the National Park Service’s Centennial, and we have a lot to thank them for!
Still, while we all know Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, why not look to the less-obvious options across our country? There are plenty more underrated national parks to explore.
Next time you’re looking for the perfect spot for a little hiking, cycling, or family-time in the great outdoors, consider one of these five underrated sites …
North Cascades National Park (Washington)
North Cascades National Park is a truly incredible spot to visit, with the various areas inside it retaining the names they were given so many years ago.
You will discover Nooksack, Shuksan, Sahale, Skagit, and more, as as well as timeless pictographs left on Lake Chelan’s surrounding cliffs by the Chelan tribe.
This was established as a national park in 1968, and is a popular spot for mountaineers and hikers. Mount Triumph and Eldorado Peak are two of the most common destinations for dedicated climbers, and Mount Shuksan has the park’s second-tallest peak – at a staggering 9,127 feet!
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)
Based in the San Luis Valley, this was established as a park and preserve in 2004, though it had been known as Great Sand Dunes National Monument since 1932.
This is an unforgettable site to explore, featuring some of the highest sand dunes to be found in all of North America, measuring as tall as 750 feet. There’s plenty to see, with pine forests, six mountains topping 13,000 feet, and numerous wetlands (home to many different flora and fauna).
Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
Isle Royale National Park was established in 1940, but was classed as a national wilderness area in 1976 before being registered as an international biosphere reserve just four years later. This hugely-expansive site actually reaches to Canada’s Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, at the border between nations.
For anyone looking to camp at a new site, there are 36 campgrounds available, with some fairly remote (accessible by private boats). Meanwhile, the Greenstone Ridge Trail is a popular hiking option, with 40 miles of path leading right across the island.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve (Alaska)
Looking to truly get away from it all? This national park is one of the country’s most remote, with hot springs, lava flows, and other stunning features to enjoy.
This was established in 1978, and lacks the easy access offered by many other national parks. How do you get in? Bush planes, boats, snowmobiles, and even dog sleds are generally used depending on the time of year you visit.
Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Established in 1929, Grand Teton National Park racks up millions of visits every year (in 2015 alone, it welcomed almost 3.5m guests).
One of the park’s most remarkable features? It retains an ecosystem best-described as close to pristine, home to much of the same flora and fauna which has been there since prehistory. It’s favored by hikers (unsurprising, given its 200 miles’ worth of trails) and mountaineers.
There are over a thousand campsites for people looking to immerse themselves in one of America’s most picturesque environments overnight.
No matter which of these underrated national parks you visit first, you should put plenty of time into researching the opportunities and facilities available. As always, taking the proper supplies and equipment will help you get the most out of your experience, and ensure you remain safe.