Underrated National Parks to Visit

Everyone loves to visit Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains, but there are so many other places to explore than just those three popular national parks. Why not take a trip off the beaten path and check out some of the lesser-known parks that make up this beautiful country? Here are six underrated national parks that you need to visit before you die.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Mountains at sunrise at Big Bend National Park
Credit: Zack Frank/ Shutterstock

If you look at the shape of Texas, you’ll notice that there’s a very distinct, large bend along the southern border. That’s Big Bend National Park. Its boundaries are created from the curvature of the Rio Grande River as it cuts through the canyons of the desert.

Big Bend is a favorite for nature enthusiasts due to its splendid rock formations, canyons, and natural marvels. Despite its desert climate, the region used to be an ancient ocean that eroded the rocks into the incredible shapes you can witness today. Enjoy the beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife, and rugged hiking trails that the park has to offer.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado with snow capped mountains in background 

Want to go sledding in the summer? Head over to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado! This national park features over 150,000 acres that include the largest and tallest sand dunes in North America. The tallest dunes can reach up to 750 feet!

Visitors to the park are welcome to rent sandsleds or sandboards to go sliding down the dunes for a unique experience. Stay until the sun sets and enjoy some of the best stargazing available from the remote wilderness. There are also campgrounds available for overnight stays.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Interior view of huge cavern and rock formations in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Credit: rukawajung/ Shutterstock

If someone asked you where the largest cave is located, you’d probably guess somewhere exotic and far away, but that’s not the case. Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is the largest-known cave system in the world and we still don’t know where the end of it is! So far, researchers have discovered over 400 miles of tunnels and they are still counting. There are several guided tours available for people of all ages and abilities. You don’t get to see the largest cave in the world everyday.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Person standing on top of dune in White Sands National Park
Credit: YayaErnst/ iStock

White Sands National Park is exactly what it sounds like. The park contains around 275 square miles of pure white gypsum sand dunes — making it the largest gypsum dunefield on Earth.

Visitors can experience the unique dunes on the eight-mile scenic drive, explore the various hiking trails, ride horses, or even go sledding down them. The bright, white sand might look like snow, but the climate in New Mexico is anything but cold. White Sands National Park is a great underrated travel destination any time of the year.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Aerial view of large rock formations in Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Credit: EQRoy/ Shutterstock

If you want to see a massive canyon, you probably think of visiting the Grand Canyon, but if you’re traveling through South Dakota en route to Mount Rushmore, make sure you see another remarkable national park. A few miles to the east of Mount Rushmore is a 244,000-acre natural reserve that rivals the Grand Canyon in scope, has larger rock formations than Mount Rushmore, and is as colorful as rocks can be.

The Badlands consist of ancient geological formations made from layers of soil that hardened on top of each other over thousands of years. Visitors can drive the scenic Badlands Loop Road or get a closer look on one of the several hiking trails. There is also plenty of camping and backcountry hiking available for overnight stargazing adventures.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Walkway going through dense, tall trees in Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Credit: Denton Rumsey/ Shutterstock

In the middle of South Carolina is a lesser-known national park that contains the largest expanse of old-growth hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. The floodplains of Congaree National Park fill with water and carry essential nutrients that help to sustain the ancient trees. Some of the trees can reach well over 100 feet tall and grow to be 15 feet in diameter.

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