9 Of The Most Overlooked National Parks In The USA

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As you all know, or in case you don’t, I love visiting and exploring the national parks.  There are some that get tons of love and are some of the most famous national parks like Yellowstone, Zion, and the Grand Canyon, but I want to share a little bit about some of the more overlooked national parks I’ve been to over the last year and a half.

There are a few in here that I just think are underrated, too, but still, get quite a few visitors. 

Note that all the numbers for visitors per year will be from 2016.  I would highly recommend getting an America the Beautiful national park pass if you plan on visiting more than three.  Also, this is just from parks I’ve visited so far.

Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
America the Beautiful – The national park pass is essential.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
Enterprise – This is my rental car recommendation.
See all my resources here.

carlsbad caverns national park new mexico

National Park Goodies

Great Sand Dunes

Where: Mosca, Colorado

How much: $15

Visitors per year: 388,308

What not to miss: Rent a board in town to go sandboarding or sledding down the dunes.  If that’s not your thing, just climb up the dunes for a good workout and awesome views. 

And if that sounds terrible, too, don’t worry.  You can go hiking in the mountains and overlook the dunes from there.

Pro tip: Wear sunglasses or something to keep sand out of your eyes.  It can be pretty windy there.  Also, wear shoes in the summer as the sand gets really hot.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Where: Gunnison, Colorado

How much: $15

Visitors per year: 238,018

What not to miss: A trip down to the bottom of the canyon to admire the emerald river below.  Hike along the south rim and admire the cliffs.  If you have the time, head to the north rim to do some hiking and get even more awesome views.

Pro tip: Don’t listen to everyone saying the drive into the canyon is terrible or difficult.  It was easy, just steep.  Still, be cautious and watch for rocks on the road, but it’s not as bad as they make it seem.

Capitol Reef

Where: Torrey, Utah

How much: $10

Visitors per year: 1,064,904

What not to miss: Pick fruit in the orchards, drive and hike Capitol Gorge, see Hickman Bridge, and slosh through Sulphur Creek. 

There is so much to do.  You can do a few hikes over a day or do all of Sulphur Creek in a day, or do part of it (starting from the visitors center) and a few other hikes. 

Cohab Canyon, Cassidy Arch, and Headquarters Canyon are three other awesome hikes in Capitol Reef.

If you don’t hike, there are still plenty of things to do in Capitol Reef.

Pro tip: If you do Sulphur Creek, the hike is 5.5 miles then there is another three-mile walk back to the trailhead.  Keep that in mind. 

Either have a bike for one person to go get the car, hitchhike (we got a ride from some awesome strangers) or hoof it.  Also, stay hydrated, it gets real hot here.


Where: Interior, South Dakota

How much: $20 per vehicle

Visitors per year: 996,263

What not to miss: The notch trail is perfect for getting into the Badlands and having views over them as well. 

There are tons of awesome overlooks along the scenic road and make sure to keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and pronghorn!  If you’re feeling a little adventurous, consider visiting the Badlands in winter.

Pro tip: Definitely get out and hike in the park.  I haven’t done as much there as I’d like, but it’s such a cool place.  It can also get surprisingly hot here, so keep that in mind and dress in layers.

Hot  Springs

Where: Hot Springs, Arkansas

How much: Free!

Visitors per year: 1,544,300

What not to miss: Take a hike in the hills around the town, then spend an afternoon wandering between the shops and historic bathhouses. 

If you want to splurge, consider a spa treatment or two.  And make sure you try some of the spring water.  There are a few spigots to fill water bottles around the park.

Pro tip: Eat at the Colonial Pancake and Waffle House for breakfast and head over to Kollective Coffee for a delicious cup of joe.


Where: Hopkins, South Carolina

How much: Free!

Visitors per year: 143,843

What not to miss: The boardwalk loop is a great way to see the park if you only have a few hours.  There are a few other trails to get away from the already low crowds.

Pro tip: Keep an eye out for bugs and wildlife along the boardwalk and other trails.  And don’t forget to pack your bug spray, especially in the summer!

Great Basin

Where: Baker, Nevada

How much: Free!

Visitors per year: 144,846

What not to miss: Lehman Cave is a must-see.  Take a hike along the Alpine Lake Loop and take a side trip up to see the Bristlecones before heading back down.  If you’re feeling really ambitious, climb Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in Nevada.

Pro tip: Book tickets for the cave tours on here or at the visitors center.  If you want to do the longer cave tour, I would recommend booking in advance. 

Campgrounds are first-come, first-serve.  The Upper Lehman Creek Campground is really nice.  And finally, eat at Kerouac’s in Baker.  It is so good!

Carlsbad Caverns

Where: Carlsbad, New Mexico

How much: $10 per person

Visitors per year: 466,773

What not to miss: Do a self-guided tour through the Big Room or take a guided tour and squeeze through passageways in the Hall of White Giants.  You can do hiking aboveground as well.

Pro tip: I would take a guided tour to see more of the cave.  They need to be booked 48-hours ahead of time and can be booked on the same website as Lehman Cave.  If you’re in the area, visit Roswell, too!

Hopefully, this has inspired you to see more of the parks, well known or not, and enjoy what they all have to offer. 

Don’t forget to stay hydrated and wear plenty of sunscreen during your hikes.  And make sure you get to some of the more underrated national parks in America.

guadalupe mountains national park texas

Guadalupe Mountains

Where: Salt Flat, Texas

How much: $10 per person

Visitors per year: 243,000 (in 2021)

What not to miss: You can see the Frijoles Ranch then do a nice easy hike to see a spring nearby. Then head on over to Mckittrick Canyon and hike the easy nature trail.

You can also hike to the highest point in Texas here and hike the Devil’s Hall trail for something a little more unique.

Pro tip: This is an easy park to visit on the same trip as Carlsbad Caverns because they’re so close together. This is a better park for backpacking but it’s still good for short visits.

Have you been to any of these parks?  What is your favorite underrated national park?  

38 thoughts on “9 Of The Most Overlooked National Parks In The USA

    1. They’re some of my favorites now! Great Basin and Congaree are amazing! I would love to go back to Carlsbad Caverns

  1. I have done Capital Reef and Badlands; both fantastic. Think Wind Cave is more underrated than Carlsbad; and is worth a visit.

  2. Expand your horizon to include The Virgin Island National Park on St John. Trunk Bay is spectacular and yes, the Virgin Islands are American.

  3. Wow, these look amazing! I’m hoping to travel more in 2018, and visiting one of these parks would be so cool. Thank you for sharing, I may visit some of them in the future! 🙂

    1. THey’re wonderful! These are some of my favorite parks I’ve been to! Hopefull you can see them this year!

  4. We’ve been to Great Sand Dune, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Carlsbad Caverns. We love it!!!

  5. what an AWESOME post! I never knew half of these existed! Thank you for sharing now I have added so many wonderful place to my bucket list! Those caves in New Mexico look wild! I wish i lived closer!!

    1. Thank you! 😀 I didn’t know most of them existed until a couple years ago either! There’s Mammoth Cave in Kentucky that looks pretty crazy, too!

    1. Yes! It’s visited a lot, but I don’t think a lot of people know it exists. I definitely liked it!

    1. Yes! I can only imagine how awesome the sky is there! I got to see it in Great Basin which was pretty amazing. Capitol Reef is one of my favorites!

  6. Fabulous list, Megan. I’ve only been to a couple on your list — Captial Reef and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I’m sorry to say that even though I lived in Colorado for 15 years, I never made it to the Dunes! Beautiful images!!

    1. Thank you! Capitol Reef is one of my favorites! I totally get that. I’m from Wisconsin and haven’t seen like, any of it. The dunes are awesome though!

    1. That’ll be super fun! Definitely go down to the bottom of Black Canyon of the Gunnison!

  7. Great list! Badlands is my favorite place in the US! And we love Congaree too. I’ll have to add some of these others to our list.

    1. Yes! I loved both, too! I can’t wait to go back to both to see more. I hope you make it to some of the others, too!

    1. Yes! I just picked from the ones I’ve been to so far and I haven’t been there yet, but I want to so bad!

  8. Nice list of less-explored national parks in the USA. Some of these I have never heard of. I would love to visit Great Sand Dunes and Capitol Reef National Park.

    1. Thank you! Capitol Reef is one of my favorites! I would highly recommend both of those, though. Well, all of them haha

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