Adventure Travel

National parks you’ve never heard of but need to visit

By  | 

Summertime is travel time. How annoying is it, though, to arrive at overcrowded beaches, to encounter too many people on the same trail, or to have spectacular views ruined by an overflow of tourists? This summer, you should take the road less traveled. These national parks are not quite as well known, but are still just as beautiful and worth the trip.

Visit these national parks this summer.

Biscayne National Park, Florida

South Florida Lagoon

Image: Shutterstock/Arend Trent

95% of this colorful park on Miami’s doorstep is underwater. Except for the thirty islets and a mangrove forest fringe on the mainland, Biscayne is 173,000 acres of Caribbean-clear waters that cover Biscayne Bay—and the world’s third largest coral reef. What makes this park unique? There are 72 shipwrecks in the park. At this park you can snorkel, scuba dive, and go swimming with manatees and more than 200 species of fish.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

scene over Diablo lake when sunrise in the early morning in North Cascade national park,Wa,Usa

Image: Shutterstock/Checubus

You’d never guess it, but three hours away from Seattle is quiet wilderness. Even if you’re an experienced outdoor enthusiast, this park will have something to grab your attention. Set up camp, either in an RV or tent, and then take a hike along Thornton Lake, or through the Newhalem trails. The park also has biking, bird watching, wildlife photography, boating and fishing.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

NV-Great Basin National Park- This is Stella Lake, one of the more beautiful alpine lakes in this national park. Wheeler Peak is peeking out in the background.

Image: Shutterstock/Arlene Treiber Waller

Feel the urge to climb a 13,000-foot mountain? Want to tour a beautiful cave? Eager to backpack to alpine lakes and through high desert where few others venture? Find those things and more in eastern Nevada. Here, there is a 13,063-foot mountain named Wheeler Peak that resides in the Great Basin. You can drive the first 10,000 feet and hike the rest. Some of the pine trees in the park are more than 3,000 years old. Also, you can take a tour of the Lehman Caves with the help of a ranger tour guide. Full of marble, limestone, crystals and rare formations, it’ll be sure to catch your eye.

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Landscape of Wind Cave National Park

Image: Shutterstock/Zack Frank

Not only does this park feature Wind Cave, with passages full of unusual and beautiful formations, the 44-square-mile landscape above ground is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. In 1903, this site became the first park in the world created to protect a cave. Eventually, Wind Cave came to be recognized as the world’s fourth largest cave. Various ranger-guided tours are offered, including one suitable for people with physical limitations. Before or after a cave tour, drive or hike in the park to look for bison, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The park’s approximately 450 bison move around as they graze, so their visibility will vary on the day of your visit and what area you’re hiking or driving in.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

Aerial view of Sunset Crater in Northern Arizona

Image: Shutterstock/Tim Roberts Photography

Bypass the Grand Canyon this year, and head to Sunset Crater. Set in a landscape full of dozens of symmetrical cones, Sunset Crater is a classic example of a cinder cone, named for the reddish oxidized material at its top. Many volcanic features can be seen along trails, including lava “squeeze-ups,” spatter cones, and lava bubbles. While you cannot climb Sunset Crater’s volcano, you can climb the nearby Lenox Crater.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA

Image: Shutterstock/Steven Schremp

This gorgeous park near Thunder Bay, Canada, is the largest island in the world’s largest freshwater body, Lake Superior. Though it ranks as the fifth least-visited park in the nation, it has the highest backcountry use. It’s accessible only by boat or seaplane, and is one of the few national parks to close in winter. The isolation makes this a unique bio-preserve. Isle Royale has freshwater clams, snails, and insects in sizes and densities not seen elsewhere since the 1800s. It’s also the only place where moose and wolves can coexist without bears to balance the predator pole. While you’re there, check out the boat tour around the park’s satellite islands: there are about 400 of them.

Channel Islands National Park, California

Gorgeous island coastline, cliffs and sunset

Image: Shutterstock/Matthew Connolly

Just offshore from Southern California lie the Channel Islands, five of which are protected as a national park. 175 miles of untrammeled shores make pristine breeding grounds for harbor seals and sea lions. Among the islands’ 2,000+ plant and animal species, 145 of those are found nowhere else in the world. The Channel Islands also have one of the best-preserved archaeological records on the Pacific coast, documenting 10,000 years of continuous human habitation. There is a 1.5 mile trail around the island’s ridge line, or you can take a boat tour and experience whale migration patterns! Visit during summer to see blue and humpback whales, and gray whales in late winter and early spring.

Kaitlyn is a graduate from Lee University and is a staff editor for R.H. Boyd Publishing. She enjoys travel, books and penguins. When she's not working, she dreams of seeing the world.