10 Amazing Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures
Escape the crowds and add extra excitement to an already unforgettable experience at these 10 US National Park destinations.
Virgin Islands National ParkCaneel 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.
Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage TrailNot 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. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage TrailMarine 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. 960 1280
Mesa Verde National ParkThere’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. 960 1280
Devil's Tower National MonumentDevil’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. 960 1280
Joshua Tree National ParkVisitors 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. 960 1280
Death Valley National ParkAs 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. 960 1280
Death Valley National ParkThe 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. 960 1280
Bryce Canyon National ParkUtah’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. 960 1280
Gauley River National Recreational AreaWild, 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. 960 1280
San Juan National Historic SiteSan Juan National Historic Site protects three 16th and 17th century Spanish forts that themselves protected Spain’s holdings in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. 960 1280
San Juan National Historic SiteThe 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. 960 1280
Carlsbad Caverns National ParkCarlsbad 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. 960 1280
Carlsbad Caverns National ParkFor 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. 960 1280
Gates of the Arctic National Park and PreserveThe remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and, for the truly hardcore, on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. 960 1280
North Cascades National ParkWashington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions. 960 1280
North Cascades National ParkThe mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley. 960 1280
Great Basin National ParkGreat Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. 960 1280
Great Basin National ParkStargazers will delight in the view from Great Basin, one of the darkest spots in the country after the sun goes down. You'll want to spend the night so you can marvel at the Milky Way and constellations in the deep night sky, a rare treat as light pollution blocks the view from many cities around the country. 960 1280
Dry Tortugas National ParkThe state of Florida gets hordes of visitors each year, but somehow Dry Tortugas plays host to only a small fraction of them. This cluster of 7 islands is just 70 miles west of Key West, but its quiet island pace sets it apart from its nearest neighbors. 960 1280
Dry Tortugas National ParkScuba divers explore the Windjammer Wreck, a complete wreck site featuring an impressive sailing ship that sank in 1907. Back on the beach, sea turtles build nests in the sand where they lay their eggs along these protected sandy shores. 960 1280
Paddle the Pacific
Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Los Angeles, is home to some of the best kayaking on the West Coast. Rich with marine life and boasting the much-photographed Arch Rock, Anacapa is the perfect day trip or overnighter for the city dweller looking to get into some rough water. It’s a cliff island, so beware of winds, currents and fog.
Float the BorderThe mighty Rio Grande runs through Big Bend National Park in Texas, but it also represents the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Rafting down the river not only takes you through some eye-widening scenery, like 1500-foot deep canyons, but will also toss you back and forth across the border. 960 1280
Hit the Sandy Slopes
Colorado has Aspen, one of the most famous skiing destinations on the planet. It also has Sand Dunes National Park, one of the only sandboarding and sandsledding destinations on the planet. Slalom down the granular slopes like some diabolical combination of Jean-Claude Killy and Lawrence of Arabia. Hit the dunes early in the morning or late in the evening, lest you roast in the 150° midday heat. And don’t forget the lip balm.
Cold StorageThe upper regions of Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park have over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow, providing a year-round paradise for hearty souls who consider ice camping a pleasure. If you’re going to stay the night on the mountain, securely lock your vittles to keep them from the clutches of foxes and other aggressive winter wildlife. 960 1280
Take in the LightsMinnesota's Voyageurs National Park sits just below the Canadian border and offers campers a ringside seat to the Northern Lights. Voyageurs encompasses 270 campsites only accessible by watercraft, but we recommend the remote Echo Lake Campground for best visibility. Check a variety of weather services to determine your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. 960 1280
Yosemite GlidingIt may seem crazy, but people have been leaping off Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for decades. Hang gliding was once sanctioned and overseen by park employees. These days the private Yosemite Hang Gliding Association coordinates it. 960 1280
The RaftersIf a weekend of seething whitewater just doesn’t cut it anymore, try an eight-day Grand Canyon raft trip down the Colorado River. There are a host of operators who will happily guide you down 200 miles of rapids. By the end of it, you’ll have seen Native-American ruins, mile-high cliff walls and countless eagles. 960 1280
Hit the Heights
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park boasts rock formations that will set a climber’s mouth to watering. The 415-square-mile park is a full-service climbing destination, featuring opportunities for scaling rock, wall, ice and snow. Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak are favorites of local and international climbers. Whether you are an experienced sport climber or a beginning boulderer, be safe and leave no trace of your visit.