We always hear so much about the big players; Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park to name a few. They’re surely magnificent in every way imaginable, altering your perspectives upon first arriving. In fact, their beauty has drawn so much attention that their popularity makes them often crowded at certain times of the year and tough to book a camping spot if that’s what you choose to do.
So I think it’s about time we give some love to the little guys. The national parks that have flown under the radar a bit, making them less crowded and your own secret paradise. And with 58 national parks strewn across the country, you have a ton of options to choose from depending on how far you are willing to travel. So to get you started on your exploration into the unknown, explore our list of a few of the most incredible national parks that are off the beaten path… because who wants to follow others footsteps anyways?
1. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
For all of you Michiganders out there, this is probably a park close to your heart. For others, I know what you’re thinking… “Michigan!? As in the arctic mitten… Yeah, no thanks.” Although I will admit our winters are tough, Michigan is actually a very beautiful place, rich in natural resources and vast landscapes. And the farther you travel to the north, the more epic it gets.
Take Isle Royale National Park, for example. Straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, Isle Royale is a remote island cluster located north of Michigan’s upper peninsula in Lake Superior. Backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists and scuba divers roam these parts. Looking for some solitude and restoration? Well, here’s the key to the castle… No cars, only lush forests, lakes and waterways amid moose and wolves. Think you’re rugged? Not until you’ve visited this park.
2. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Relatively newer than others, Congaree National Park wasn’t established until 2003. But that doesn’t make it pale in comparison. In fact, it’s one of the largest intact area of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. Pretty cool, huh?
Expect your peripherals to be flooded with bright green hues, as you traverse through ancient cypress trees covered in Spanish moss. You may even see a couple river otters or bobcats if you’re lucky.
3. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
So I’ve got to admit, when my friends posted a series of post-apocalyptic images, filled with eerie and moody qualities, I was sure they took a spontaneous trip to the Sahara Desert. Man, was I wrong. But stepping foot in the Great Sand Dunes National Park will sure make you feel that way.
Located on the southern end of Colorado, you’ll find the tallest dunes in all of North America! But wait, that’s not all! Expect grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes and tundra in a truly diverse landscape. So if you’re yearning for the Instagram shot of your dreams, you know where to go. You’re welcome.
4. Channel Islands National Park, California
Unfortunately, I lived in California for a period of time and never made it out to Channel Islands National Park. It’s a regret I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life… just kidding, I’ll be going this summer. But seriously, this is one park you definitely don’t want to look past.
It encompasses five islands of breathtaking scenery and wildlife nestled right off the coast of southern California.Enjoy kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and camping? What about sea lions and blue whales? Immerse yourself in oceanic heaven exploring the sights, with an added bonus of 100 additional species of wildlife not found anywhere else in the world! You’ll be livin’ the California dream in no time.
5. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
For a trip that is truly off the beaten path, plan a visit to Gates of the Arctic National Park. With only 10,000 visitors in 2016, it’s no wonder why this park is not as popular. But not for aesthetic reasons by any means… It’s the northernmost national park in the United States, sitting completely above the Arctic Circle with nearly zero roads throughout the region.
But don’t be turned off by its blistering cold temperatures, reaching -50ºF in the dead of winter.Plan to come in the summer months and enjoy 8.4 million acres of untouched mountain views, with wolverines, polar bears and caribou afoot. A true mountaineering experience awaits your company.
Which national park is most likely to be graced by your presence? Share in the comments below!