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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.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
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.
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.
Where: Torrey, Utah
How much: $10
Visitors per year: 1,064,904
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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?