America is home to a whopping 58 National Parks. That's a ton of natural beauty! Of course, everyone knows about the popular ones, like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite, but the other 54 are just as stunning. Here are 8 lesser-known National Parks you may not have heard of that as absolutely worth a visit:
Hidden a few miles offshore in Southern California, Channel Islands National Park may not be the easiest to get to, but if you're willing to get a boat out there, it's well worth the effort. White sand beaches, secluded sea caves, breathtaking coastal cliff views, and wonderful wildlife are all just waiting to be discovered on the six islands that comprise the park. Each island has its own distinct flavor and personality-- if you can, visit them all! Santa Cruz Island is home to the world's largest Sea Cave, Painted Cave, Santa Barbara Island is a rookery for sea lions, and others are great for whale-watching and shark spotting. Kayak out, or charter a boat, and book a campsite on one of the islands!
Rock spires, canyon, caves, and forests of oak make up the landscape of one of America's newest National Parks. Extreme forces from volcanic activity and tectonic shifts thousands of years ago shaped this rugged but gorgeous landscape. Camping, rock climbing, boulder scrambling, camping and hiking await those who visit this park, which is just east of California's Salinas Valley.
The features of Great Sand Dunes National Park make for one incredible view: 750-foot tall dunes (the tallest in the country), mountains, forests, and streams make up the park. Hike to the top of the dunes and sandboard down them, and then cool off with a dip in Medano Creek. Bonus: This is the quietest National Park, and is home to some pretty amazing stargazing.
With rolling grass prairies and badlands rock formations, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has some natural beauty, but the wildlife here is what you'll remember. Bison, prairie dogs, wild turkeys, coyotes, horses, antelope, and more roam the park, and Theodore Roosevelt's old cabin, petrified wood, scenic drives, and campsites add to the experience of visiting this stunning spot tucked away in North Dakota.
Isle Royale National Park is a Pure Michigan hidden gem. Isle Royale is reachable via kayak, canoe, or ferry from Minnesota or Michigan, and the park encompasses the largest island in Lake Superior, along with 400 smaller islands that dot the lake. Isle Royale itself has a lodge and a visitor center, but some of the wilderness campsites are spread across the other islands, and are only reachable via kayak or canoe. Hiking, fishing, and berry-picking make a trip here a quaint retreat from the rest of society.
One of West Virginia's best-preserved gems is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. From quaint shops to educational museums to breathtaking hikes for the outdoorsy, it's bustling with plenty of things to see and do. The history of the town is one of the main reasons it has been preserved as a National Historic Park: it was the site of John Brown's infamous failed abolitionist uprising and some events during the Civil War, and was home to a massive armory for many years, as well as one of the country's first integrated colleges. As you stroll around town, explore museums, historic homes, restored shops, and tons more. Harpers Ferry is also well-known for being so beautiful. You can find miles of hiking trails in the park. In fact, the Appalachian Trail runs right through the center of town! One of the best viewpoints in the whole park is Jefferson Rock , which is well worth the trek up.
Biscayne National Park is one of the most fascinating parks in the whole country-- despite the fact that almost the entire park is located in Florida's Biscayne Bay. Whether you're visiting one of the Keys to camp or check out one of the historical sites, or you just want to relax and get your fish on, it's unexpectedly full of things to see and do... provided you've got a boat (or you want to charter one). Biscayne's history is pretty legendary. When Ponce de Leon arrived in what is now the US, the Biscayne area was one of the first spots he explored. Later on, in the 18th century, two pirates (both weirdly named "Black Caesar") called the region home-- that's how the park's Caesar Creek got its name.
The keys were used for growing limes and pineapples for a while, and in the 1920's, the popular and exclusive Cocolobo Cay Club opened-- during its time, it catered to Presidents, actors, athletes and more. Prohibition saw the establishment of Stiltsville, an offshore village of buildings on stilts, where gambling and drinking were technically legal-- it remained a popular hotspot until a 1965 hurricane damaged most of the buildings beyond repair. Naturally, the park is ideal for saltwater fishing. You can catch snapper and rock bass, among other fish, and you can even catch lobsters, crabs, and shrimp! Spearfishing is also allowed in the park, if you're looking for something a little different and more exciting. Camp out on one of the park's islands, or rent scuba gear and check out the shipwrecks that lay below the water in the park.
Hawaii is a tropical paradise, so it's no surprise that it's home to two National Parks: Haleakala and Hawai'i Volcanoes. Located on the Big Island, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is home to two volcanoes: Mauna Loa, a giant subaerial volcano and Kīlauea, an incredibly active volcano. Here, you can spy lava flows from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, see the 1790 footprints left by native peoples as they fled an eruption, stroll through a lava tube, and peer into the heart of a volcano at Halemaʻumaʻu crater on Kīlauea: It's especially striking at night.
From volcanoes to islands to sand dunes, America's National Parks are way more than just the Grand Canyon and Old Faithful. Visit some of the lesser-known gems and be amazed by their unique beauty!
Just a Civil War beard enthusiast, writer at Roadtrippers, and aspiring astronaut reaching for the stars.