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 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 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 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, 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, 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 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.