10 National Parks that May Surprise You
National parks provide unsurpassed opportunities to experience unblemished natural areas. To many visitors, national parks provide affordable vacations that are both economically sound and exceedingly beautiful.
Millions of visitors travel to national parks each year. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California and the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina top the list for highest visitation; however there are many less-visited national parks that offer gorgeous vistas and one-of-a-kind experiences that rival the most-visited parks.
Enjoy the beauty of nature for free by visiting national parks April 18-19, the opening weekend of National Park Week. Here’s more information about free entrance days in national parks, or to find out how you can get involved with your national parks visit the National Park Foundation.
Search By State: Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin
Preserve (K. Jalone/NPS)
Lake and Peninsula Borough
Alaska may seem like an unlikely place to take a family vacation, but where else would you get a chance to see a salmon run and visit active volcanoes? The endangered park of Lake Clark is a once in a lifetime exploration, as glacial melt impacts the park more each year.
National Park of American Samoa requires more planning to visit than your local designated forestland. Its cultural surroundings and unique wildlife, especially the large colonies of flying foxes (fruit bats), make this national park worth visiting the less-traveled path.
You will find a diverse variety of animals and landscapes can be found at Dry Tortugas National Park. This hidden Florida jewel, located in a remote section of the Florida Keys is a history buff's dream with Fort Jefferson available for exploration. Crystal waters surround the seven islands providing an unsurpassed vacation experience.
St. Louis County and Koochiching County
Voyageurs National Park provides visitors with a natural northern hardwood forest environment that can only be completely experienced by traveling the park’s waterways, such as the Rainy River, which connects to the Hudson Bay watershed. With remote areas of wooded waterways, close encounters with wildlife are ensured at this park. Advance reservations are available for group camping, boat tours and overnight permits. Make sure to check out our Voyageurs National Park spotlight article.
(Nimish Sheth/Share the
White Pine County
Great Basin National Park is as remote as it is spectacular. It is a frequent stop for amateur astronomers, as it is one of the darkest places in the United States untouched by city lights. Located near the Utah border, Great Basin offers tours in the Lehman Caves; fascinating limestone caverns nestled within pine-covered outcroppings. Watch this Lehman Cave orientation video. Visitors will be rewarded on some park hikes with views of Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet/3,981.6 m) or seeing one of the amazing 5,000 year old bristlecone pine trees.
Nevada & Arizona
Mohave County, Arizona & Clark County, Nevada
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is another desert park that is a meeting point of three American deserts, the Mohave, Sonoran, and Great Basin. Known for its unparalleled fishing, Lake Mead has a wide variety of wildlife and is also popular with photographers.
Another national park that offers surprising experiences is Carlsbad Caverns, which features over 100 caves to explore including some of the deepest and longest caves in America. These limestone caves were formed in a much different way than other familiar caves by contact with acids in the soil. Enjoy the beauty and wonder of the caverns on the Natural Entrance Self-Guided Tour or reserve a ticket to walk (or climb or crawl) through less-visited areas of the caverns such as King's Palace, Spider Cave or Left Hand Tunnel. Check out our Carlsbad Caverns spotlight article.
Monument and Preserve (NPS)
Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve is another park that is often overlooked due to its proximity to Crater Lake; however its small size has expansive offerings such as marble caverns and old growth forest. Anyone interested in geology will fall in love with this park, and others will discover a new sense of wonder here in one of the world's few marble caves.
Isle Royale National Park
Bayfield, Wisconsin Area and Keweenaw County, Michigan
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Isle Royale National Park offer surprisingly untouched boating experiences. Visitors can kayak or canoe through crystal-clear waters in an island archipelago that offers spectacular views of ancient lava flows and is an underwater graveyard for historic shipwrecks. There is no better way to experience the beauty that Lake Superior offers.