Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

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.

Walt Whit­man first pub­lished the poem, Mir­a­cles, in July of 1855. This is before the Civ­il War, before west­ward expan­sion, and before the Amer­i­can con­gress estab­lished a Nation­al Park sys­tem; yet, Whitman’s words from anoth­er cen­tu­ry ring as true today as they did back then.

O.A.R.S. has teamed with Spo­ken­Verse to cre­ate this dra­mat­ic read­ing of Whitman’s incred­i­ble poem to cel­e­brate Nation­al Park Week. Read over scenes from some of our most famous nation­al parks like Yel­low­stone, the Tetons, and the Grand Canyon, it pro­vides a pitch-per­fect reminder that we live in an enchant­ed world. From the insects that crawl in the grass at our feet, to the birds that soar over­head, there is no end to the mir­a­cles on earth, and it is worth our while to mar­vel at the nat­ur­al world where we live.

Nation­al Park Week is this week and the per­fect time to start think­ing about how to enjoy the parks with more than just your­self. For those with kids, our Nation­al Parks are about the best place to take the lit­tle ones for not just great mem­o­ries, but also to instill in them a love of the out­doors. But hik­ing with chil­dren can be dif­fi­cult. The trail can’t be too long, or too steep—but should still be enough of a chal­lenge to keep them from boredom.

Here’s a list of the 8 best bets on tak­ing your whole fam­i­ly hik­ing in the U.S. Nation­al Parks:

Acadia Carriage Roads










Aca­dia Nation­al Park, Maine
Car­riage Roads
Out on the coast of Maine in Aca­dia Nation­al Park, you’ll find 50 miles of car­riage roads with grav­el paths that are 16-feet wide, meant for walk­ers, bicy­clists, and horse­back rid­ers. The roads are closed to motor­ized vehi­cles, so you’ll nev­er have to wor­ry about vehic­u­lar traf­fic, and you and your fam­i­ly can admire the land­scape of Mount Desert Island. The trail is nev­er too steep, mak­ing it great for the youngest in your family—even if they’re in strollers.



Zion Nation­al Park, Utah
Weep­ing Rock
Weep­ing Rock isn’t a long hike by any means—it’s only a half-mile round trip—but it is pret­ty steep. And you can see a lot of the land­marks Zion has to offer at the top, so it’s def­i­nite­ly worth it. If you want a lit­tle more dis­tance, try the Canyon Over­look Trail, which is 1‑mile round trip and gives you a view of all of Zion’s Switch­backs and low­er Zion Canyon.

Sourdough Ridge Trail










Mount Rainier, Washington
Sour­dough Ridge Trail
Sour­dough Ridge Trail rewards hik­ers with a fan­tas­tic view of Washington’s snow­capped peaks. The trail makes an easy 1‑mile loop in the sub­alpine zone in the Sun­rise area of the park, and it’s a great hike to intro­duce your fam­i­ly to the mountains.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming Base Loop










Devil’s Tow­er Nation­al Mon­u­ment, Wyoming
Base Loop
Devil’s Tow­er is def­i­nite­ly one of the coolest nat­u­ral­ly formed rock for­ma­tions in the nation. With its flat top and carved-look­ing sides, it’s not the kind of mon­u­ment you just stop and take pic­tures of. No, get out of your car and take your kids on the walk around it to get a view of every angle.

Arches National Park, Utah










Arch­es Nation­al Park, Utah
Del­i­cate Arch Hike
A red-rocked desert land­scape with more stone arch­es than any­where else on the plan­et, Arch­es Nation­al Park is a must-see. The hike to Del­i­cate Arch, the main attrac­tion, is a lit­tle long for kids at 3 miles, but it’s absolute­ly worth it for the awe­some view you’ll get of La Sal Moun­tains off in the distance.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado










Great Sand Dunes Nation­al Park and Pre­serve, Colorado
Dunes Fields
This is less a hike than just a fun fam­i­ly out­ing in one of the country’s coolest Nation­al Parks. With some of the tallest sand dunes in North Amer­i­ca, Great Sand Dunes offers a per­fect day of sand-sled­ding, ski­ing or just rolling down.


Yosemite Nation­al Park, California
Mist Trail to Ver­nal Falls
The Mist Trail is one of the more dif­fi­cult on this list and is prob­a­bly not best for younger chil­dren since it’s a lit­tle long with a decent amount of ele­va­tion gain—but the sub­lime view is absolute­ly worth the hike. Plus, you’ll cool down on even the hottest days thanks to the mist spray from the falls.


Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Nation­al Park, Hawaii
Thurston Lava Tube
Be sure to check the con­di­tions before you head to Hawaii Vol­ca­noes Nation­al Park, since this is one of the most vol­cani­cal­ly-active places in the world. Young chil­dren might be a lit­tle afraid of the Thurston Lava Tube, since it’s an under­ground tun­nel formed by molten lava—but old­er kids will like­ly have an awe­some time. Oh and don’t wor­ry, there are lights strung up just in case you’re prone to claustrophobia.

In this video, Junior Ranger Aida Frey speaks to Ranger David Ruth at Rich­mond Bat­tle­field Nation­al Park. Frey shares how she wants to inspire oth­er stu­dents to become Junior Rangers and learn about the Nation­al Parks. Frey has received over 117 Junior Ranger badges for vis­it­ing 117 Nation­al Parks.

Nation­al Park Week runs from April 20th to the 28th. Start­ing Mon­day, April 22nd to Fri­day, April 26th, the Nation­al Parks  are waiv­ing all entrance fees. The week kicks off on Sat­ur­day with NPS Junior Ranger Day. The Junior Ranger Pro­gram is avail­able at many or the Nation­al Parks. Stu­dents who are inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about their favorite Nation­al Park have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to share what they learn with a Ranger and earn a Ranger badge.  Kids can learn more about the Nation­al Parks that offer Junior Ranger pro­grams at the Nation­al Park Service.