5 Under-the-Radar National Parks

The US National Park system boasts protected lands with astonishing nature and rich history in every corner of the country. While some parks may host a million visitors each year, the visitors to these hidden national parks can be counted in the thousands. Take a break from the traffic and crowds, and appreciate the unspoiled beauty at 5 of the country's least-visited national parks.

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Paddle the Pacific

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.  

 

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Great Art Productions  

Float the Border

Float the Border

The 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

Witold Skrypczak  

Hit the Sandy Slopes

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.

 

 

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Simon Russell  

Cold Storage

Cold Storage

The 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

Peter Haley  

Take in the Lights

Take in the Lights

Minnesota'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

Steve Burns  

Yosemite Gliding

Yosemite Gliding

It 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

Celso Diniz  

The Rafters

The Rafters

If 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

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.

 

 

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Forest Woodward  

Lost in America

Lost in America

It makes sense that America’s largest national park is in Alaska, its largest state. Wrangell-Saint Elias stretches across 13,200,000 acres. You could fit Yellowstone, Everglades, and Death Valley inside it, and still have room for Denali, the third largest park (also in Alaska) at 6,075,030 acres. 960 1280

  

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the River

In addition to being the most popular hike in Zion National Park, the Narrows has something for every ability level over its 16 miles. The trail follows the Virgin River, which is convenient during the summer months, since you’ll be at least ankle-deep most of the time. If it starts to rain, head for high ground; flash floods are common and have a tendency to drop by without calling first.  960 1280

  

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Not more than 175 miles from the Atlanta metropolitan area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most visited national park in the country. 960 1280

Beth Rucker  

A Park for All, and All Seasons

A Park for All, and All Seasons

Most park visitors explore by car on one of the major scenic roads such as Cades Cove Loop or Newfound Gap Road. To beat the crowd, you can avoid busy times of year like July, August and October. 960 1280

Katie Hausauer  

How to Escape the Crowds

How to Escape the Crowds

Fortunately, with 384 miles of mountain road, the Smokies offer plenty of space to escape the crowd. Hiking is also enjoyed all year where the park'€™s old-growth deciduous forests bring a different reward with each season. 960 1280

Kelly Smith Trimble  

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Stretching approximately 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is the premier hiking trail of the Eastern U.S. The trail is so popular that there is an entire subculture of books, memoirs, websites and fan clubs for passionate enthusiasts. The southern terminus of the trail is Springer Mountain approximately two hours north of Atlanta; many thru-hikers choose to start there. 960 1280

Beth Rucker  

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

As an important bird sanctuary, visitors to Congaree National Park, one of our nation'€™s newest parks, can stroll boardwalks watching wood duck, wild turkey, barred owls, and whippoorwill amongst cypress trees. 960 1280

Eric Foltz / iStock  

Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Though not technically a national park, Cherokee National Forest is well worth nothing. A truly notable feature of Cherokee National Forest is the Ocoee River, used during the 1996 Summer Olympics; the Ocoee has some of the greatest whitewater rafting and kayaking destinations in the Southeast. 960 1280

Tim Doyle  

Chattahoochee National Recreation Area

Chattahoochee National Recreation Area

This national park north of the city gives access to a 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River. Residents of large northern suburbs like Marietta and Roswell can access the recreation area within minutes, while those living downtown or other coordinates along the city’s perimeter can be there in less than an hour. 960 1280

Sebastien Windal / iStock  

The Lowcountry

The Lowcountry

Made up of a stretch of coastline that extends through South Carolina and into Georgia, the Lowcountry is a region bustling with natural as well as cultural beauty. One national park is Fort Sumter outside Charleston, S.C. 960 1280

Will Hollerith  

The Lowcountry

The Lowcountry

Tidal marshes, rivers, estuaries, barrier islands and the Atlantic Ocean make the Lowcountry rich with national forests, wildlife preserves, and cultural heritages sites that provide a bounty of recreation and accommodation options to visitors. One such site is Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia's largest barrier island and former Carnegie family escape. 960 1280

Will Hollerith  

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

A new option for Grand Canyon visitors with adequate cell phone service is listening to the free audio tours offered through the National Park Service. On this web application, park rangers give two-minute narrations on topics including the park'€™s unique geology and Native American history. 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Grand View

Grand View

Seen from even its best viewpoints, the unexpected grandeur of the Grand Canyon is so impressive in scale that viewers can see only a fraction of the gorge's 227 miles from any one viewpoint on the plateau 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The Island In The Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the combined Green and Colorado Rivers make up the four districts of Canyonlands National Park, which author Edward Abbey described as "€œthe most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth." 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon NRA is a recreation and conservation area that encompasses 1.25 million acres and offers limitless water recreation and camping opportunities around Lake Powell and lower Cataract Canyon. 960 1280

John Gillanders  

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

The junction between the rugged Colorado Desert and the 3,000 feet higher, wetter and more vegetated Mojave Desert at Joshua Tree National Park makes for a stark and striking contrast. 960 1280

Jamie Abart  

Cholla Gardens

Cholla Gardens

Though from far away the gardens of cholla (pronounce choya) cacti in Joshua Tree appear soft and fuzzy, these distinctive succulents are actually covered by barbed spines that have a reputation for easily detaching and sticking to skin, fur and clothing. 960 1280

Kelly Smith Trimble  

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Eroded and weathered by water, the orange, red and white spires (called hoodoos) of Bryce Canyon will give the most spectacular views during sunrise and sunset. 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is about a six-hour drive from Phoenix, but visitors can make it seven if they choose to take the longer route through Las Vegas to roll some dice. 960 1280

Whitney North  

Canyoneering

Canyoneering

Zion is one of the premier national parks for canyoneering. Not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart, this outdoor activity combines hiking, navigation, swimming, caving and sometimes rappelling. 960 1280

Whitney North  

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