The Best Underrated National Parks in America

By Kimberly Graf. Published on March 22, 2018

America has many wonders that most of us don’t even know about. There are 58 National Parks in America, and while there are some really popular locations (The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, etc), a great portion of these parks are unknown to the standard traveler. All of these locations are inexpensive to visit, provide plenty of recreation, and are home to the most stunning vistas in this country.

The Parks listed below are some of the best lesser-known National Parks in America. They should definitely be included in your travel plans. The whole family will make memories that will last a lifetime.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

This island park is close to the Canadian border on Lake Superior. Accessible by ferry, the archipelago consists of a larger island surrounded by about 450 smaller stretches of land, some so small you can hardly call them islands! The opportunities for recreation on the larger island are endless. Hiking, backpacking, and camping are all favored activities in this unique environment. You can even rent a kayak to travel the small inlet waterways throughout the archipelago.

Navigate over historic shipwrecks in the Islands of Lake Superior

The wolves on the island have been studied for 60 years now for their limited genetic pool. Scientists continue to study other species on the islands in an attempt to figure out how they got there. If wildlife studies are your thing, you will definitely enjoy a trip out to the Isle Royale.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands looks very much like a beach in the middle of the desert. Just outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico, this national park is unique to say the least. The white gypsum sand dunes are nearly blinding in the desert sunlight. You can climb all over them, over and through many of the nature trails they have available at the park. From the top of these dunes, you can only see flat desert and blue skies.

dunes of pure white gypsum sand in White Sands National Monument

This amazing park has, in addition to hiking trails, sledding opportunities (the white sands react just like snow would), children’s sandpits, and a variety of wildlife to observe. Be aware that the hiking trials are unlike most others – these trails are through sand, so imagine hiking across the beach when you’re preparing for a trip here.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake is almost too famous to make this list. It’s well-known, but still very much underappreciated. This lake is the deepest in the United States, and the clearest as well due to being mostly snowmelt. The lake is formed by a sleeping volcano, and a quick tour of the park will give you several views of some amazing volcanic features.

Awesome view of the Crater Lake

The park is located high in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and offers many recreational activities. In the summer these range in the typical backpacking, camping, and water fun areas. In the wintertime this also encompasses skiing and other snow sports.

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia

Assateague Island is a gorgeous coastal park that is home to many species of wildlife. There is the usual coastal-area birds and sea life present, as well as what the park is famous for: wild horses. The island was used for grazing domesticated horses in colonial times, but today the horses run wild in this diverse environment.

horses on the beach

This beautiful area has many camping and biking opportunities. There are special considerations to take into account when camping on a barrier island, but the experience is all the more fun for it. This place is often overlooked, but provides some of the most unique landscape in all of America.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

This park in Florida is only reachable by ferry, but it is more than worth the ride to get there. Dry Tortugas isn’t just a naturally beautiful area – it’s also a 19th-century fort. This park is a little different than most of the others in this list, as there is more of a focus on water recreation. Snorkeling is the thing to do here, as well as swimming and boating.

Aerial view of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key at Dry Tortugas National Park

The key feature of this park is the fort, which is entirely open for exploration and houses the visitor’s center, campground, and centers for other activities. It’s a unique experience that you’re sure to enjoy, even if you do like more nature-based parks.

Buffalo National River, Arkansas

The last Park on this list is pretty amazing. The Buffalo National River is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the continental United States, meaning that it isn’t dammed at all. For 151miles you can observe the natural ecosystems of this park, rock formations and river wildlife. The main activity that most people enjoy at this site is floating – in the spring, you can rent a canoe or bring your own kayak to float freely down certain sections of the river.

Buffalo National River West : Arkansas, USA

Some people in the area enjoy making the river into their own personal 'lazy river', and floating down it in inner tubes. The area is also friendly for backcountry camping; in this park, you don’t need a permit for it. Basically, this park is an outdoor adventure waiting to happen, with forests, massive bluffs, and, of course, the river.

These National Parks might not be household names, or places that everyone knows about, but they are the best of the underrated and unknown parks we’ve found. These destinations are inexpensive and full of natural family fun, likely without much of the traffic of the parks that are more frequented. You could discover your own little vacation spot without having to deal with an overflow of people. These parks are amazing, and more than worth the trip to check them out.


Ellie Clark on 3/25/2018, said:

My family and I are GOING!

Daniel Huff on 4/2/2018, said:

I just love it

diogenes on 4/3/2018, said:

Great Basin in eastern Nevada is another unknown jewel that falls into this category...Located in eastern Nevada... Its literately in the middle of no where... Google it...One of my favorites...

Vince on 4/12/2018, said:

Windcave NP is also unique in that it is only park underground. Loved it.

Jonathan on 4/15/2018, said:

More great National Patks

Mary Rose Kent on 10/17/2020, said:

Colusa NWR has some great birding on an auto route through the reserve. There’s a viewing platform with parking nearby, and in the winter there are many thousands of ducks and geese (Snow and Ross’s), plus ibises, egrets and herons, and red-winged blackbirds, plus many other species.

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