Lesser Known US National Parks to Beat the Crowds

In recent years, it seems like everyone’s vacation includes a visit to a national park and while it is awesome to see people exploring and appreciating some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, there is no denying that it comes at a cost- congestion. It’s not to say that fighting through a crowd to see the iconic Old Faithful geyser erupt or sitting amongst a sea of people to admire a Grand Canyon sunset isn’t worth it because it is! These parks are popular for a reason and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t go see them for yourself. But at the same time, there are tons of parks out there that are equally as beautiful and just haven’t hit the social media radar…yet.

Put these lesser-known national parks at the top of your list for an adventure filled with all of the things that make a park spectacular plus an added bonus- solitude. But these hidden gems won’t be a secret forever, so start planning your next trip today!

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park, Washington
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tobin Akehurst
  • Location: Washington
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer and Early Fall

Featuring the same, if not grander, rugged beauty as its iconic counterpart, North Cascades National Park is the place to go if you want to experience a Glacier National Park without the crowds. Craggy mountains carved by glaciers and peppered with crystal clear, turquoise lakes like Diablo Lake make this place a traveler’s dream. A colorful blanket of summertime flowers and Washington’s famous, golden orange larches come fall are just icing on the cake. Go for a scenic drive on the North Cascades Highway, hike as many miles as you can, and go for a dip in every alpine lake you come across!

Great Basin National Park

Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Arlene Waller
  • Location: Nevada
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and Fall

Great Basin National Park is the furthest thing you’d expect from a national park located in what is otherwise considered a land of desert. As soon as you enter the park, you are transported into a mountain oasis. Wheeler Peak stands tall at 13,065 feet and a sea of vibrant aspens, douglas fir, and ancient bristlecone pines surround its base. Drive up the mountain for a chance to hike to the top of Nevada’s second tallest peak or around an alpine lake, go underground with a tour of Lehman Cave, and stay late to stargaze in one of the darkest places in the country. The choice is yours!

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Galyna Andrushko
  • Location: Utah
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and Fall

A member of Utah’s “Mighty Five” that gets forgotten about way too often, Capitol Reef is the place to go if you want to experience Utah’s Mars-like landscape without all of the hubbub. There is something for everyone to enjoy here whether you prefer to enjoy the park roadside along the scenic Highway 24, dive into the history at the Historic Fruita district, hike to iconic features like Hickman’s Bridge, or get off the pavement with an off-road adventure. Whatever you do, just make sure you leave with a homemade pie from Gifford’s Homestead!

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Arlene Waller
  • Location: Michigan
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer and Early Fall

Part of what makes Isle Royale less-visited is that it is a bit inconvenient to get to, but those willing to hop on a ferry, seaplane, or watercraft, will be awarded one of the most serene national park experiences of their lifetime. Spend the night at the park’s historic Rock Harbor Lodge and be treated to endless hiking trails, paddling opportunities, and incredible views of the park’s surrounding islands. If you are lucky, you might even get a glimpse of some of the park’s widely loved wildlife like moose and wolves!

Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Mia2you
  • Location: Florida
  • Best Time to Visit: Winter

Located off of the mainland, Dry Tortugas is a Florida National Park that deserves more recognition. Made up of seven islands amongst the glistening waters that make up the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas is a Key West destination like no other. Go for a guided tour of the historic Fort Jefferson, check snorkeling off of your bucket list, go for a relaxing swim in the crystal clear waters, and keep your eyes peeled for the one and only Loggerhead Sea Turtle! Then, hop back on a seaplane or ferry to get back to the mainland.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Kris Wiktor
  • Location: Colorado
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring, Summer, and Fall

One of four national parks in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is often left in the shadows of more iconic parks like Rocky Mountain National Park. Be it the park’s remote location or lack of social media influence, but Great Sand Dunes minimal visitation has nothing to do with its scenery. Home to the largest dune in North America, Star Dune is an impressive mountain of sand standing at 741 feet. Surrounded by a sea of smaller, picturesque dunes and a rugged range of mountains as a backdrop, Great Sand Dunes is as stunning and unique as it gets. Plus, you can go sandboarding!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Big room in Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Doug Meek
  • Location: New Mexico
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and Fall

Speaking of continent-wide records, Carlsbad Caverns’ Big Room is the largest cave chamber in North America that provides human access. A park dedicated to its underground marvels, Carlsbad is often forgotten about aside its wide-sweeping landscape competitors. But cave dwellers and national park travelers alike can find something to love in one of the park’s 100+ caves. After your typical guided tour or wild caving tour, stay awhile to experience the park’s unique bat flight program.

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park in Arizona
Image Credit: Shutterstock / high fliers
  • Location: Arizona
  • Best Time to Visit: Winter

When you are a national park located in the same state as the widely acclaimed Grand Canyon National Park, it only makes sense that you will be left on the sidelines. But visitors who are willing to take a chance on Saguaro for their Arizona vacation will be pleasantly surprised by how much this park has to offer. With two sections of the park, located on either side of the bustling city of Tucson, it’s amazing how quickly you can escape into the wilderness. Home to the staple cactus of Arizona, saguaros can only be found here in the Sonoran Desert and countless hiking trails take you through the largest concentration with saguaros standing upwards of 80 feet tall!

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Pung
  • Location: Oregon
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

Be it the fact that the park really only has two seasons, summer and winter, and its remote location along Oregon’s southern edge, Crater Lake National Park has managed to be one of the least visited national parks in the country. Formed by a volcanic caldera, Crater Lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep and has rightfully earned the title as the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. If that alone wasn’t enough to warrant a visit, the park is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts whether they be hikers, rock climbers, photographers, cyclists, and more.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

 Lassen Volcanic National Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Joshua Hawley
  • Location: California
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer

With nine national parks to choose from and iconic names like Yosemite and Joshua Tree flooding your brain, it only makes sense that California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park doesn’t cross your mind. But it should! This geologic gem boasts impressive features created by all of the four major volcano types that exist. When you aren’t admiring the cinder cone, composite, shield, and lava dome volcanoes, you can be enjoying some of the park’s many other picturesque attributes and better yet- you’ll be experiencing it without a crowd! Hike to alpine lakes, drive the highest road in the Cascade Mountain, and look for a diverse range of wildlife. Lassen Volcanic is the gift that keeps on giving!

Nicole Westcott

Author: Nicole Westcott


Nicole Westcott is a freelance travel writer who loves traveling and hiking in some of America's most beautiful places. Whether it be backpacking through the iconic Grand Teton range or going for a relaxing stroll amongst a fairytale rainforest, I am in my happy place. I enjoy all types of travel and I am always planning my next adventure!

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