10 Underrated National Parks to Visit in 2024 (+Photos)

With so many famous national parks grabbing the spotlight, some truly marvelous spots fly under the radar. You might have heard of the big names like Yellowstone or Yosemite, but what about those quieter, equally stunning parks where the trails are less trodden? The year 2024 could be the perfect time to pack your bags and explore these hidden treasures.

Imagine wandering through unspoiled nature without the crowd, where each hike or scenic drive feels like a discovery just for you. These underrated national parks in the United States offer just that—an escape into wilderness that remains remarkably untapped by the masses. Get ready to add some off-the-beaten-path destinations to your travel bucket list.

1. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

If you’re after a spot that flies under the radar, check out Great Basin National Park in Nevada. Here, you can explore the ancient Lehman Caves with their stunning formations. This park’s also home to some of the oldest trees around—bristlecone pines.

You’re in for a treat if you love stargazing. Great Basin is known for incredibly dark skies, making it perfect for spotting the Milky Way. For hikers, the 5.1-mile Timber Creek Loop offers a hearty climb and great views. Remember, whether you’re coming from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, you’re looking at about a 4-hour drive. This tucked-away treasure is well worth the trip for a peaceful break from the buzz.

2. Pinnacles National Park, California

Pinnacles National Park

You’ll find Pinnacles National Park tucked away in Central California, about 80 miles south of San Jose. It’s the Golden State’s newest national park, declared as such in 2013, though its history as a protected space goes all the way back to 1908 when it was first established as a national monument.

As you wander through Pinnacles, you can explore its craggy rock formations and deep caves. Keep an eye out for the majestic California Condors swooping overhead. If you’re up for it, grab your boots and hit the trails — don’t miss the challenging high peaks and scenic balconies trail for some breathtaking views.

The park is accessible from two sides: east and west, but remember there’s no road that connects the two within the park, so pick your entry point based on the hikes and activities you plan to do. Bring plenty of water, especially during summer months, as it can get pretty hot.

3. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers an escape into nature without the heavy crowds found in more popular parks. You can hike up Guadalupe Peak, the tallest point in Texas, for breathtaking views. Check out McKittrick Canyon for a scenic hike that leads you to spots like Pratt Cabin and the Grotto. With just around 243,000 visitors a year, this park gives you a chance to enjoy the peace of the wilderness. Remember, it’s a bit remote, so fill up on gas before you head out, as the nearest station could be up to 120 miles away. Oh, and the entrance fee? It’s $10 per person, but if you’ve got the “America the Beautiful” Pass, you’ll be set for free entry with three of your friends.

4. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park

When you trek through Congaree National Park, you’re wandering among giants. Picture yourself walking among some of the tallest trees in the southeast United States. This park is a sanctuary for old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, and the trees here are old, wise, and towering.

Grab a paddle to explore Cedar Creek by kayak or canoe to catch glimpses of river otters and turtles. Walking the Boardwalk Loop Trail gives you a taste of the park without getting your feet wet. The spring and fall temperatures are ideal, and you’ll avoid both the summer heat and the busier crowds.

This hidden gem near Columbia, South Carolina, doesn’t just boast impressive biodiversity; it’s also quieter than your typical national park. So, you get to enjoy the rich chorus of bird calls and the sound of rustling leaves without the interruption of heavy foot traffic.

5. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park is a hidden gem tucked away in Lake Superior, Michigan. If you’re looking for a place with fewer crowds and untouched natural beauty, this is it. Picture yourself hiking through dense forests and catching a glimpse of moose or wolves in their natural habitat.

Your adventure starts with a ferry ride from Copper Harbor, giving you a unique chance to disconnect as you head to the island. With over 400 islands making up Isle Royale, you can kayak the crystal-clear waters, dive into shipwrecks, or just relax by the lakeshore.

Summer is the busiest time, so plan your trip from July to early September for the best experience. Remember, Isle Royale is about getting back to nature, so pack your bags, lace up your boots, and discover this secluded national park that’s waiting just for you.

6. North Cascades National Park, Washington

North Cascades National Park

If you want rugged wilderness, North Cascades National Park is your go-to spot in Washington. You’ll find it less packed with tourists than other parks, giving you space to breathe and wander. Imagine yourself driving through the scenic roads, stopping at one of the overlooks to soak up the vistas, or strolling along a short trail to a quiet lake.

You can hit the trails for a day hike or set up camp to truly disconnect. With over 300 glaciers and countless alpine lakes, the views are always stunning. And guess what? There’s no entrance fee. Just ensure you’re prepared for the backcountry if you venture off the beaten path – it’s wild out there. Remember to consider getting the America the Beautiful Pass if you’re a frequent park visitor; it’s a solid deal.

7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is like a hidden gem, far from the usual spots you might visit in Florida. You’ll find it about 70 miles west of Key West. It’s mostly water, with seven small islands to explore. Getting there is an adventure in itself—you can take a ferry or a private seaplane, but plan ahead because it’s not a last-minute kind of trip.

Once there, you can snorkel at Garden Key and see vibrant sea life and coral. History buffs can check out Fort Jefferson, a massive but unfinished fort. The park is super quiet compared to other parks, since it’s one of the least visited due to its remote location. It’s a day trip well worth the effort for the clear waters, the history, and the sense of escape from the everyday hustle.

8. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park

When you visit Voyageurs National Park, you’re stepping into a land rich with history and nature. This park is in northern Minnesota and pays tribute to the French-Canadian fur traders known as voyageurs who traveled these routes long ago. It covers over 200,000 acres, so there’s plenty of room for you to explore.

You’ll find a mix of water and land with forests, cliffs, and wetlands. If you love water activities, this is your place. You can canoe through interconnected waterways or hike on the land trails. In winter, there are different activities like snowmobiling and ice fishing. Remember to check out the Ellsworth Rock Gardens and enjoy the scenery that makes this park a hidden gem.

9. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

If you’re looking for a park with fewer crowds but just as much beauty, Capitol Reef National Park is your spot. Nestled in southern Utah, it’s less visited than Zion, but don’t let that fool you. It’s home to the unique Waterpocket Fold, a geological wrinkle on Earth stretching 100 miles. Your days could be packed with exploring canyons, plateaus, and towering cliffs.

You’ll find orchards where you can pick fresh fruit, historic sites hinting at the park’s pioneer past, and trails leading to arches and jaw-dropping viewpoints. Capitol Reef might not get the same hype as other parks, but it offers just as many adventures. Take a scenic drive through the park or lace up your boots and hit the trails; either way, you’re in for a treat. And while you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife, like bighorn sheep and mule deer living among the rocks.

10. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is where you’ll find a unique landscape shaped by volcanic activity. This park is not just one volcano but over twenty, showing off all four types found in the world. You’ll see everything from steaming sulfur vents to blooming wildflowers and crystal-clear mountain lakes.

Your drive from San Francisco will take around four hours, and it’s well worth it for the scenic route along California State Route 89. The 28-mile stretch within the park offers stunning views and connects major sights like the Loomis Museum and Manzanita Lake at one end to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the other.

The park offers hiking trails for all levels. You can explore the Subway Cave Trail, take in the panoramic views from Cinder Cone, or relax by the soothing sounds at Terminal Geyser and Boiling Springs Lake. And remember, you’re in an area known for its volcanic past, which continues to shape the land to this day.

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