There’s more to see than just Yosemite! Here are five underrated national treasures that are worth the hype.
Channel Islands - California
California has some of the best parks the country has to offer. Sure, Joshua Tree is cute and the Sequoias are neat...but don’t sleep on the Channel Islands! Comprised of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Island, this national park is a hub of biodiversity located just off the central coast. The unfailingly beautiful weather of Southern California permits year-round daily boat trips to the islands from Ventura or Oxnard. Once on the islands, visitors can enjoy the water from above and below sea level. Dozens of hiking trails offer amazing 360-degree coastal views of the surrounding Pacific Ocean while ocean caves allow kayakers to get up close and personal with the local terrain.
Wildlife sightings are a dime a dozen on the Channel Islands. Sea lions, harbor seals, and colorful wildflowers are frequently spotted by visitors. Exceptionally lucky explorers may even catch a rare glimpse of the Island Fox, found nowhere else in the world. The Island Fox was listed as an endangered species back in 2004, but a successful captive breeding program saved the Island Fox from extinction so that they can be cherished by explorers for years to come.
Glacier Bay - Alaska
They say bigger isn't always better...but Glacier Bay doesn’t know that. One of Alaska’s 8 National Parks, Glacier Bay National Park is 3.3 million square acres big (That's nearly the size of the state of Connecticut!) and covered by 1.3 million square acres of glaciers that tower up to 250 feet above the sea.
Visitors witness history frozen in time when they visit Glacier Bay. A glacier is the descendant of a snowpack formed by years and years of snowfall at high elevation where it’s too cold for the snow to ever melt. This snow eventually turns into solid ice as a result of extreme pressure. These snowpacks then become glaciers during their journey from mountainside to water. Like the many other national parks of Alaska, Glacier Bay serves as a reminder of the vast range of environments within the U.S. The marine and terrestrial life that inhabit the area are living testaments to nature's resilience.
But time is running out to visit this park! 95% of the glaciers in Alaska are dwindling as a result of climate change. Glacier Bay is no exception; researchers have found there is 11% less glacial ice in the national park than in the 1950s. So go visit Glacier Bay before it’s too late!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison - Colorado
Colorado’s deepest canyon, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, is 48 miles long and up to 2,722 feet deep. The Gunnison River has been shaping this bad boy for nearly 2 million years now—the sound of the rushing river can be heard as it continues to deepen the canyon still today. The sheerness of this craggy canyon is awe-inspiring as it appears to grow straight out of the Earth, while the narrowness adds a unique element of drama. This magnificent canyon offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous for car campers. The more challenging hikes make for an intimate experience with nature as visitors engage in a little hand-to-hand combat while they scramble up the sides of the canyon.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is world-renowned for its fishing and is a highly sought-after destination for anglers. The Gunnison River is designated as Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water by the state of Colorado for its outstanding fishing opportunities for large trout. This is a rather prestigious distinction as less than 2% of the 9,000 miles of trout streams in Colorado are Gold Medal Water. For all the non-anglers, the scenic South Rim drive is 7 miles long with 12 overlooks for differently angled views of the majestic canyon. The Grand Canyon has got nothin’ on Gunnison!
Dry Tortugas - Florida
Dry Tortugas is not like other national parks; it doesn’t offer the typical hiking or mountain climbing. But what it lacks in trails and vistas it makes up with underwater habits and historical artifacts. One of the most secluded national parks, Dry Tortugas is a remote destination that is accessible only by boat or seaplane. This best-kept secret features the long-standing Fort Jefferson built in 1846. Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas and was originally constructed to protect the United State’s gateway to the Gulf of Mexico. Long since abandoned by the army, Fort Jefferson is now a popular tourist attraction that transports visitors back in time.
Visitors interested in a more aquatic adventure can enjoy some of the finest snorkeling in Key West off of white sand beaches. Dry Tortugas offers snorkelers more than standard coral reefs and tropical fish for sightseeing. Shallow shipwrecks provide once in a lifetime snorkeling experience with ancient artifacts under the sea! The shipwrecked Avanti vessel is over 100 years old and can be explored right beneath the warm water’s surface.
Beginning snorkelers can get the feel for their fins along the moat wall with an easier viewing of wild fish and underwater habitats. With historical artifacts above and below sea level, Dry Tortugas makes for an unparalleled unique national park experience!
Canyonlands - Utah
Canyonlands National Park covers 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, arches, and spires in the high desert of Southeastern Utah. Natural forces of water and gravity have shaped the land over time to create the majestic peaks and valleys of the Canyonlands. The park is divided by the Colorado and Green Rivers into three distinct districts; Island in the Sky, the Maze, and The Needles.
The Island in the sky is a huge mesa that rises above the rest of the park. It is the easiest area to explore while car camping thanks to a paved road that runs from Moab to the Island. There are several short trails atop the mesa with panoramic views 100 miles in every direction of Utah’s canyon country. The Maze presents a fun challenge for travelers looking for a more extreme national park experience. Here they can find challenging hiking and backpacking routes with steep slick rock and daring drop-offs. The exceptionally rugged explorer can spend even more time in the Maze during an overnight camping trip at one of the remote sites. Last but certainly not least, the Needles are towering cones of colorful Cedar Mason Sandstone that rise from the surrounding desertscape. Rugged roads and complex trails intertwine around the base of the Needles amongst a wide range of natural landscapes that include hills, parks, and ruins.
With 61 national parks in the United States, there is no shortage of beautiful places to explore. Mix it up for your next adventure and check out one of these unsung national treasures!