10 Amazing Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures

Escape the crowds and add extra excitement to an already unforgettable experience at these 10 U.S. National Park destinations.
By: Steve Larese
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Virgin Islands National Park

Caneel Bay within Virgin Islands National Park is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but it’s what’s under water that makes this park especially special.

Virgin Islands National Park

The Trail of Reefs is a 675-foot snorkeling route marked with signs highlighting the many types of coral, fish, turtles and other animals that call this pristine reef home.

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Not all national parks are high and dry. Florida’s Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail takes snorkelers and scuba divers through six shipwrecks and the recently added Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Marine life thrives amid the ribs and coral encrusted structures of wooden and iron ships from the 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the remains lie in shallow water, allowing snorkelers to experience the thrill of wreck diving.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is renowned for the massive cliff dwellings built by Native Americans here in the 1400s.

Mesa Verde National Park

There’s plenty to see from the canyon edges, but to truly appreciate these ruins, take one of the guided ranger tours that have you climbing wooden ladders and squeezing through boulders high above the canyon floor to enter the ruins.

Devil's Tower National Monument

Devil’s Tower National Monument is still known from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind, but to truly have a close encounter here, climb it.

Devil’s Tower National Monument

This striking ancient volcano core is known for its scored, hexagonal formations that make perfect routes for rock climbers.

Joshua Tree National Park

Visitors to Joshua Tree National Park’s can’t help but find their inner Ansel Adams given the stark beauty here, and special tours are designed to help those wanting to ramp up their photographic chops.

Joshua Tree National Park

Fine art, night sky, light painting, smartphone photography and other photography workshops are offered throughout the year, as well as other art, field science and ranger-led hikes and tours.

Death Valley National Park

As its name implies, California’s Death Valley National Park is a pretty brutal place. But during the Pleistocene age that ended some 11,000 years ago, this area was teeming with life.

Death Valley National Park

The Death Valley Paleontology Tour is a strenuous, 7-mile hike that leads to the footprints of camels, mastodons and other creatures that called Death Valley home thousands of years ago.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park’s surreal red-rock formations look otherworldly during the day, but during the full moon they take on an extra eerie aura.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Monthly ranger-led Full Moon Hikes descend trails through the formations that take on anthropomorphic qualities in the moonlight.

Gauley River National Recreational Area

Wild, wonderful West Virginia’s Gauley River National Recreational Area protects 25 miles of undammed river loaded with Class IV and V rapids, making it the premiere white-water rafting destination in the eastern United States.

Gauley River National Recreational Area

Rafting here is great all season, but for the six weekends after Labor Day each year, the Gauley takes on the status of being one of the most adrenaline charged and challenging rivers in the world.

San Juan National Historic Site

San Juan National Historic Site protects three 16th and 17th century Spanish forts that themselves protected Spain’s holdings in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

San Juan National Historic Site

The massive fortifications, cannons, dungeons and turrets overlooking the azure Caribbean are a sight to behold, but there’s more hidden underground. A network of "secret" defensive tunnels runs below the fortifications of Castillo San Cristobal, and only two 15-person tours are given every weekend to those who sign up first.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico is best known for its mile-long lighted trail hike 750 feet underground through fantastical formations that look straight out of Lord of the Rings.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

For spelunkers who would like to truly get off the beaten path, ranger-led tours have them squeezing through claustrophobic crevices into undeveloped caves such as Spider and Slaughter Canyon caves, lit only by their helmet’s headlamps.

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