8 Underrated US National Parks

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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 like Yellowstone, Zion, and Grand Canyon, but I want to share a little bit about some of the lesser visited 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, the latest year available.

what to do in colorado

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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Badlands

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!

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.

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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.

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

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Congaree

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.

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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.  Campgrounds are first come, first serve and super awesome.  And finally, eat at Kerouac’s in Baker.  It is so good!

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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.

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.

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

8 Underrated US National Parks (1)8 Underrated US National Parks

32 thoughts on “8 Underrated US National Parks

    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. 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! 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!

  5. 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!

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