Six National Parks You Might Not Have Heard Of

The nation­al parks are get­ting packed these days with so many more peo­ple sud­den­ly find­ing them­selves out­side. How­ev­er, if you’re look­ing to get away from the crowds and the hype, check out these Nation­al Parks that are still big on adven­ture but not quite as pop­u­lar as some of our nation­al icons like Yosemite and Yel­low­stone.

Great Sand DunesGreat Sand Dunes Nation­al Park, Col­orado
The Rocky Moun­tains get most of the noto­ri­ety in Col­orado but head fur­ther south and you’ll expe­ri­ence the won­der that is the Great Sand Dunes, Nation­al Park. It hous­es the tallest sand dunes in the coun­try, which is near­ly flush with a spec­tac­u­lar moun­tain vista. There are plen­ty of hik­ing trails in the sur­round­ing acres, as well as water sports to enjoy on Medano Creek.

Petrified Forest National ParkPet­ri­fied For­est Nation­al Park, Ari­zona
The term for­est is a bit of a mis­nomer here since you won’t find much in the way of tow­er­ing trees. You will find the rem­nants of their roots, though. The fos­silized remains of what was once a lush wood­ed area dur­ing the time of dinosaurs make for some epic views of red, orange and pur­ple across the desert floor. There are 42,000 acres to explore, so you’re unlike­ly to ever get bored.

Wind Cave National ParkWind Cave Nation­al Park, South Dako­ta
Not all nation­al parks are full of sun­shine and trees; some of the best are hid­den in the dark. The Wind Cave Nation­al Park in South Dako­ta resides deep under­ground and con­tains 130 miles of maze-like tun­nels to tour through. There are also epic spelunk­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to be had and plen­ty of chances to scare the crap out of your friends. They’ll even let you wan­der around by can­dle­light if you’re feel­ing brave.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, ColoradoBlack Canyon of the Gun­ni­son Nation­al Park, Col­orado
If the crowd­ed­ness of the Grand Canyon deters you, don’t worry—one of the world’s best won­ders is actu­al­ly a lit­tle fur­ther north. The Black Canyon in Col­orado was formed over the course of two mil­lion years by the Gun­ni­son Riv­er and holds some of the old­est and deep­est rock for­ma­tions in the Unit­ed States. It’s a great place to get in some hik­ing along the rim or into the unmarked gul­lies. The park has gnarly climb­ing spots and great kayak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties too.

Great Basin National Park, NevadaGreat Basin Nation­al Park, Neva­da
While the Great Basin Nation­al Park is tech­ni­cal­ly clas­si­fied as a desert, it’s also rife with veg­e­ta­tion mak­ing for one incred­i­bly unique expe­ri­ence. Dur­ing the fall the explo­sion of col­or in the foliage set against the moun­tain­ous, glacial back­drop makes for some of the best hik­ing views in the coun­try. The 13,000-foot sum­mit of Wheel­er Peak is an ambi­tious hik­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty while there are also plen­ty of cave tours hap­pen­ing under­neath.

Congaree National ParkCon­ga­ree Nation­al Park, South Car­oli­na
The Con­ga­ree Nation­al Park doesn’t have the heights to make it a great climb­ing des­ti­na­tion nor the trails need­ed for bik­ing, but it doesn’t have 27,000 acres of great foot­paths and water routes to explore. Kayak­ing and canoe­ing are both pop­u­lar choic­es for explor­ers, but trekking into the lakes and rivers here mean poten­tial­ly going head to head with croc­o­diles and oth­er beast­ly crea­tures. Still, the loom­ing pines and bald cypress make up a stun­ning swamp­land ripe for explo­ration.