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.

Photos

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

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. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

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. 960 1280

By John Brooks, National Park Service photographer (http://www.nps.gov/bisc/images/20060905140916.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Mesa Verde National Park

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. 960 1280

Steve Larese  

Mesa Verde National Park

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. 960 1280

By No machine-readable author provided. Nebular110 assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons  

Devil's Tower National Monument

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. 960 1280

National Park Service  

Devil’s Tower National Monument

Devil’s Tower National Monument

This striking ancient volcano core is known for its scored, hexagonal formations that make perfect routes for rock climbers. 960 1280

By Tinasuzanne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Virgin Islands National Park

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.
960 1280

By LennyBaker (Flickr: Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Virgin Islands National Park

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. 960 1280

By NPS Climate Change Response (Coral Bleaching) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Joshua Tree National Park

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. 960 1280

Jarek Tuszynski / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons  

Joshua Tree National Park

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. 960 1280

By T.Voekler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Death Valley National Park

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. 960 1280

By user:AngMoKio (Own work (Original text: selfmade photo)) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons  

Death Valley National Park

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. 960 1280

By Finetooth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons  

Bryce Canyon National Park

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. 960 1280
Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Monthly ranger-led Full Moon Hikes descend trails through the formations that take on anthropomorphic qualities in the moonlight. 960 1280

Steve Larese  

Gauley River National Recreational Area

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. 960 1280

By Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us(personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Gauley River National Recreational Area

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. 960 1280

National Park Service  

San Juan National Historic Site

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. 960 1280

National Park Service  

San Juan National Historic Site

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. 960 1280

By AlbertHerring (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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. 960 1280
Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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. 960 1280

By National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Budding naturalists feel right at home at Rocky Mountain National Park where the kids can join in on short, family-friendly hikes around the park. Bring along a magnifying glass to explore the plants, leaves and bugs during a stroll around Bear Lake. 960 1280
Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Pack binoculars to get a close-up of Albert’s squirrels scurrying around the ponderosa pine forests or bighorn sheep spending a summer day at Sheep Lakes. Kids can scramble up rocks along the trail to Gem Lake or search the water under the bridge for beavers along the Beaver Boardwalk. 960 1280

By Frank Schulenburg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

Young adventurers travel deep underground to explore one of the many caves at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Children must be 4 or older to participate in a basic cave tour of the Big Room. Brave souls over 12 can shimmy and crawl through a maze of narrow entryways and tunnels at Spider Cave. 960 1280
Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

Check out the resident wildlife outside of the cave during the Bat Flight program, a free summertime special when nearly 400,000 Brazilian free-tail bats fly from Carlsbad Cavern at sunset to search for an insect-filled dinner. 960 1280
Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park caters to 8- to 12-year-olds with daily Junior Ranger programs throughout the park. Rangers keep kids busy with stories, artwork, kid-friendly hikes and scavenger hunts to uncover secrets around the park. 960 1280
Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

The whole gang can enjoy family-friendly activities including the fire and ice cruise around Colter Bay to learn about the park’s ecology, including the glaciers and towering mountains. 960 1280

By Acroterion (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has laid down the law on the many ways that kids should enjoy themselves in the park, summarized in the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights. Take note of this decree, and plan for family fun in every corner of the park. Pack the bikes and helmets for a ride along the carriage road system -- flat scenic paths that are made for a 2-wheeler (training wheels optional) or the chubby tires of a jogging stroller. 960 1280

By heipei from Deutschland (Acadia National Park, ME) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Head to the shore to enjoy a cool ocean breeze and search for marine life in the shallow tide pools. Set sail on a ranger-narrated cruise including the Dive-In Theater Cruise from May through October where real-time video technology allows passengers to watch scuba divers search the ocean floor for marine life that is then brought onboard for impromptu touch-tank experiences. 960 1280

By Erin McDaniel Erinmcd (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

America’s first national park welcomes visitors to check out the hot springs, steaming geysers and extraordinary wildlife, including grizzlies, bison and elk. With the park spread out over a sprawling 2.2 million acres, it’s impossible to experience all the fun at once. 960 1280

Michael H Spivak/Moment/Getty Images  

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

As a family, decide on the highlights to experience, like the legendary geyser Old Faithful and the wildlife-viewing at Lamar Valley. Families with children over 8 can enjoy a 2-hour horseback ride to the cookout while families with little ones can ride into the sunset aboard a horse-drawn covered wagon. 960 1280

Adam Long Sculpture / iStock / Thinkstock  

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Don’t worry if you’re more of a beach person than a woodsy type: There’s a national park experience waiting for your family at the national seashore at Cape Hatteras. This protected seashore is made up of narrow barrier islands along the beloved Outer Banks. Celebrate the past with a climb up a lighthouse or an evening of pirate tales with a park ranger. 960 1280

By Madhatter987 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

There are miles of beaches for swimming, shelling, kite-flying or just chilling out and reading a book. Cruise the beach on foot or in an off-road vehicle that allows cars to leave behind the paved roads and drive the sandy shores. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne welcomes families with the free Family Fun Fest program, a celebration of the park’s wonders with stories, superheroes and cool park activities. The festivities take place on the second Saturday of each month from December to April. But don’t fret if you miss the fest as there are still plenty of opportunities for family-bonding in the park. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Look for some of the park’s cool creatures, including manatees, sea turtles and fish galore, during a snorkeling adventure or kid-friendly ride on a glass-bottom boat. 960 1280

By John Brooks, National Park Service photographer (http://www.nps.gov/bisc/images/20060905140916.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Longfellow House -- Washington’s Headquarters

Longfellow House -- Washington’s Headquarters

For almost 50 years, this mid-Georgian style property was the home of Henry W. Longfellow, the noted American 19th-century poet. It also served as the headquarters of George Washington during the Siege of Boston, from July 1775 to April 1776. Longfellow National Historic Site is full of furnishings, decorative arts, archival materials and beautiful gardens. 960 1280

Nancy Baym, flickr  

Bunker Hill Monument

Bunker Hill Monument

This 221-foot monument marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution: On June 17, 1775, American colonists went up against the powerful British army during the famous Bunker Hill battle. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

JFK Birthplace

JFK Birthplace

Visit the birthplace of America's 35th president, John F. Kennedy, in Brookline, MA. This national historic site has been restored to its 1917 appearance, and includes tours of the 9-room house where Kennedy family photographs, furnishings and mementos are on display. 960 1280

Wally Gobetz, flickr  

Saugus Iron Works

Saugus Iron Works

Saugus Iron Works, a 9-acre national park on the banks of the Saugus River, celebrates the birthplace of the American iron and steel industries, with working waterwheels, hot forges, mill, and a 17th-century home and river basin. 960 1280

James Saunders, flickr  

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Salem Maritime, the first American National Historic Site, remembers the early seagoing history of New England with historic buildings, wharves and reconstructed tall ships. 960 1280

Harvey Barrison, flickr  

Hartwell Tavern

Hartwell Tavern

See how Americans lived during the outbreak of the American Revolution by visiting Hartwell Tavern, a restored 18th- century home and tavern located on "Battle Road” in Minute Man National Historical Park. 960 1280

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons  

Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island

For a mix of history and beautiful scenery, Boston Harbor Islands is a must-see when visiting Beantown. Spectacle Island is a popular day trip from the city, offering panoramic views of downtown Boston, as well as sandy beaches and sunset clambakes. 960 1280

Eric Kilby, flickr  

Lowell Park

Lowell Park

In its day Lowell Park was heralded as the "Venice of the United States" due to its extensive technologically advanced canal system. Today, Lowell brings in visitors with its historically replicated trolleys, canal cruises, museums, and concerts and events throughout the year. 960 1280

Elizabeth Thomsen, flickr  

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic site is home to “Fairsted,” the world's first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design. See the original plans and drawings of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture. 960 1280

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons  

New Bedford Whaling Museum

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Learn the history behind the US whaling industry at New Bedford Whaling Museum. Its exhibits include a 37-foot humpback whale skeleton, the largest ship model in the world and a replica of the whaling bark Lagoda. 960 1280

istolethetv, flickr  

Abiel Smith School

Abiel Smith School

Abiel Smith School, a site along the Boston Black Heritage Trail, commemorates the first public school for African-American children. The school was named after a white philanthropist who left money in his will to the city of Boston for the education of African-American children. 960 1280

Tim Pierce, Wikimedia Commons  

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

Tour the river, canal, mill villages and beautiful landscape of the Blackstone River Valley, a quiet stretch of land that runs through Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The area is also known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. 960 1280

Doug Kerr, flickr  

Adams National Historic Park, Old House

Adams National Historic Park, Old House

Visit the birthplace homes of presidents John and John Quincy Adams at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, MA. The Old House, pictured here, was home to 4 generations of the Adams family. 960 1280

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons  

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