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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Deer are among the many animals you can spot in Washington's Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Owls may also give you a long look in Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Bighorn sheep are among the largest animals in Montana's Glacier National Park. 960 1280

  

Watch out! In Florida's Everglades National Park, the crocodiles have big mouths. 960 1280

  

For elk-watching, you can't go wrong at Glacier, Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. 960 1280

  

There are many places to see moose. Try Yellowstone, Katmai, King Salmon, Grand Teton, Isle Royale or Denali National Park 960 1280

  

Golden Eagles soar at Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Go north to Glacier Bay or Katmai National Park in Alaska for a sea otter fix. 960 1280

  

Grizzly bears and their cubs hang out in Denali, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks. 960 1280

  

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are the places to go for bison-watching. 960 1280

  

Caribou roam at Katmai and Denali National Parks. 960 1280

  

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.
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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  

I Am a Rock

I Am a Rock

Alcatraz Island lies out in the bay a mile and a half off the San Francisco shoreline. For many years, that was enough to keep prisoners like Al Capone on the rock and tourists off it. More than an infamous lockup, Alcatraz was also the first U.S. fort on the West Coast and the site of a 19-month occupation by Native Americans to reclaim disused federal land. Now you can buy a Property of Alcatraz T-shirt and take a selfie in Machine Gun Kelley’s cell.  960 1280

ROBYN BECK  

Torch of Freedom

Torch of Freedom

Once upon a time, newcomers to America would huddle en masse under the gaze of the great green colossus on Liberty Island before entering the country. Times have changed, but the Statue of Liberty is still a go-to American symbol of freedom and inclusion. Employees of the National Park Service have been caring for the lofty lady of the harbor since 1933.  960 1280

  

Port of Entry

Port of Entry

From 1892 to 1954, some 12 million immigrants set upon a path to citizenship that led them to Ellis Island in New York Harbor. The Great Hall remained largely vacant until 1990 when it was reopened to the public as the country’s largest museum devoted to our history as an immigrant nation.  960 1280

  

Our House

Our House

You don’t have to win 270 Electoral College votes to get into the White House, you just have to ask your Congressman for a pass. Free, self-guided tours of the East Wing run five days a week and include permanent exhibits and a short film. Requests must be submitted at least 21 days in advance and sorry, you can’t use the bowling alley. 960 1280

  

Steel Rainbow Connection

Steel Rainbow Connection

Like a giant staple holding the country together at the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Gateway Arch is the nation’s tallest and most silvery monument and embodies Thomas Jefferson's vision of the westward expansion of the United States. Yes, you can go up in it.  960 1280

  

Kentucky Underground

Kentucky Underground

The Bluegrass State is famous for its coal mines, but Mammoth Cave National Park takes subterranean pride to new depths. Located in the Green River Valley, Mammoth Cave is the world’s largest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of explored chambers and labyrinths. To paraphrase an early guide, it is a grand and gloomy grotto.    960 1280

Zack Frank  

Private Islands

Private Islands

Head 70 miles away from Key West by boat or seaplane and you’ll come upon Dry Tortugas National Park, a 100-square-mile paradise composed of seven small islands and the majestic 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Yes, this tropical paradise belongs to you. Even more majestic are the eerie blue waters and jutting coral reefs that make for ideal snorkeling territory. Above water, you can enjoy the innumerable species of birds that inhabit the park, as well as the turtles for which it is named.   960 1280

Lorraine Boogich  

Take a Bath

Take a Bath

In the middle of Arkansas, the town of Hot Springs, well, sprang up around what is now Hot Springs National Park, an area known for thousands of years as the “Valley of the Vapors” for its medicinal steaming waters. Since 1921, it’s been a national park nicknamed "The American Spa.” Architecture buffs flock to Bathhouse Row to appreciate the collection of ornate, preserved bathhouses.  960 1280

  

Swamp People

Swamp People

Admit it, you’ve always wanted to wear gumboots and race an airboat through the Florida Everglades National Park. Spend your days deep in sawgrass, clocking manatee, dolphin and alligators. Watch in awe as a giant heron struggles to take flight in a mangrove swamp. Or maybe you just want to hang out at the historic Nike Hercules missile base. Whatever you want to do, you can do it in the Everglades.  960 1280

Terry J Alcorn  

Let's Go to the Mall

Let's Go to the Mall

The Great Emancipator sits in contemplation some 19 feet above you. It’s a sight every American should see in their lifetime. The Lincoln Memorial on the western end of the National Mall in Washington is, unsurprisingly, the most visited site in a space rich with monuments, museums and historical points of interest. It has also been the backdrop for historical events, most notably MLK’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. For an added layer of historical context, visit the Memorial at night.  960 1280

ChangCheng  

American Virgin

American Virgin

No one needs an excuse to visit the Virgin Islands, but if one did, one could do worse than the Virgin Islands National Park. Comprising roughly 60% of the island of St. John, plus another 5,650 acres of submerged territory, the park protects and preserves countless species of tropical and migratory birds, fish and other marine and plant life. Who needs a yacht when you’ve got leatherback turtles?    960 1280

  

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Visit the Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where George Washington was appointed command in chief of the Continental Army in 1775; the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776; the design of the American Flag was agreed upon in 1776; and the US Constitution was drafted in 1787. 960 1280

techfun, Flickr  

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

Take a tour to see the 2,080-pound Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. A group of abolitionists adopted the Bible verse inscription and the Bell as a symbol of their cause to abolish slavery -- the first to call it the “Liberty Bell.” Built in London, England, the Bell was retired -- 2 cracks later -- after the final fatal crack during George Washington’s birthday celebration in 1846. 960 1280

Getty Images  

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

American author Edgar Allan Poe lived in several houses while living in Philadelphia from 1837 to 1844, but this is the only one that remains standing. National Park Rangers provide a 30-45 minute guided tour or you can tour the residence on your own and see the author’s rare books and letters, and discover how Poe influence other authors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. 960 1280

Midnightdreary, Wikimedia Commons  

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

National Park Rangers provide a 30-45 minute guided tour of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site or you can tour the residence on your own. See the author’s rare books and letters, and discover how Poe influenced other authors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. 960 1280

RTLibrary, Flickr  

Hopewell Furnace

Hopewell Furnace

Passing through Elverson, PA? Then make a stop at the Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site, a 19th century rural iron plantation, which includes a blast furnace, ironmaster’s house, blacksmith’s shop, company store and several worker’s houses. Ironmaster Mark Bird founded Hopewell Furnace in 1771. A shift in iron-making techniques changed causing the site to halt its operations in 1883. 960 1280

Sdwelch1031, Wikimedia Commons  

Valley Forge

Valley Forge

Travel to Valley Forge, PA. See the military camp of the American Continental Army from 1777 to 1778, during the American Revolutionary War. Explore the Park’s trails Washington Memorial Chapel, National Memorial Arch and Isaac Potts’ house, General George Washington’s Headquarters (pictured) in the winter of 1777. 960 1280

  

Valley Forge Railroad Station

Valley Forge Railroad Station

The Valley Forge Train Station is also part of the National Park Site. The Reading Railroad completed the station in 1911. It was the point of entry into the park for travelers who came by rail through the 1950s, from Philadelphia. The station overlooks the site of Washington’s Headquarters. 960 1280

Doris Rapp, Flickr  

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church in South Philadelphia is the oldest church in Pennsylvania, and among the oldest in the US. The church, built between 1698 and 1700 for Swedish settlers, was initially a Swedish Lutheran Church for almost 150 years before it became part of the Episcopal Church in 1845. 960 1280

B. Krist for GPTMC  

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Nils Collin, a Swedish pastor who served Gloria Dei from 1784 to 1831, was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. In fact, the remains of an early lightening rod -- visible on the church’s exterior -- are the result of their relationship. Collin remained neutral in the Revolutionary War. Rumor has it that his extensive writings about the King of Sweden are buried under the floor of the church. 960 1280

B. Krist for GPTMCS  

Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial

Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial

Explore the life of Thaddeus Kosciuszko at this National Park Site. The Polish freedom fighter was instrumental in engineering military structures and forts to hold off British troops during the American Revolution. History buffs can visit his preserved home on 301 Pine Street in Philly to see where he met infamous visitors, including Thomas Jefferson and Chief Little Turtle. 960 1280

Photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC  

Deshler-Morris House

Deshler-Morris House

The Germantown White House aka the Deshler-Morris House is the oldest official presidential residence. The historic mansion, located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, was shelter for US President George Washington when the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 struck the city. The following year, President Washington and his family returned to the house for a summer vacation. The house takes its name from the first owner, David Deshler, and the last owner, Elliston P. Morris. 960 1280

Historic Germantown, Flickr  

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