The 9 Most Underrated National Parks [And the Best Times to Visit Them]

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The United States is home to 58 national parks across 26 states and two US territories. Each one has something unique and different to offer, and each showcases the natural beauty of its own region. Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone are the most known (and the most visited).

But there are plenty of other parks to discover across the USA.

Ready to explore somewhere new? Here are the most underrated national parks (and the best times to visit them).

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Deep canyons. Sweeping mountain views. Wetlands. Hot springs. Big Bend has it all.

You can take a scenic drive for views of the desert and the Rio Grande. You can hike a canyon or trail. You can enjoy a backcountry adventure. You can relax with a soak at Boquillas Hot Springs.

From kayaking to birdwatching to stargazing, there are lots of natural wonders waiting to be discovered in Big Bend.

Avoid the park on holiday weekends and at the height of the summer. This is the desert, so it’s often too hot in the summer to do much hiking. The best time to visit is in early spring and early fall.

Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

Created by volcanic activity, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US. It offers stunning views from all angles and has one extremely unique feature – a cinder cone that looks like a mini volcano in the center of the lake.

In the winter you can enjoy snowshoe trails and ski trails. In the summer you can take a boat tour to see the island in the lake up close.

Winter lasts well into June here, so the best time to visit is between July and September, after the snow melts. Some areas of the park aren’t accessible when there’s snow on the ground.


Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (Alaska)

Alaska is home to eight national parks, the biggest being Wrangell-St. Elias. At 13.2 million acres, it’s bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the country of Switzerland combined.

Here you’ll find four mountain ranges, untouched glaciers, and lava flows from the volcanic activity of Wrangell Volcanic Field. Whether you’re mountain biking, kayaking or hiking, Wrangell-St. Elias is a sight to behold.

It’s beautiful at any time of year but how you can explore the park depends on when you go. May is the perfect time for mountaineering trips. If you want to do backcountry treks, go at the end of July through September.

Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

The Canyonlands can be explored by foot, horseback, mountain bike, or four-wheel drive vehicles. It’s filled with staggering canyons, mesas, and spires, and it features layers upon layers of rock that form a truly unique landscape.

For a taste of adventure, you can enjoy whitewater trips down its rivers and canyons. To discover a taste of history, you can visit archaeological sites and take in centuries-old rock art.

If you want to go hiking, the best time to visit is in spring and fall, but it does get crowded on the weekends. It’s beautiful all year round, but in the late summer and early fall there are lots of afternoon thunderstorms.

Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

On a small island in the middle of Lake Superior you’ll find the beauty that is Isle Royale National Park. It’s a peaceful place where over 98% of the land is dedicated to the wilderness.

From hiking to kayaking to scuba diving, it’s the kind of place you’ll want to spend a few days in, not just a few hours. You’ll need to take a boat or seaplane to reach the island, at which point you can explore the terrain by foot or by kayak.

Isle Royale is only open from April 16th to October 31st. If you don’t want to have to deal with insects, it’s best to visit later in the season, especially late September. There are lots of mosquitoes in April and May; then the black flies come out in June and July. September and October tend to be the least buggy months.

Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

There’s more to do in Nevada than gamble on the Las Vegas Strip. Four hours from LV is Great Basin, a secluded, rugged spot for stargazing, camping, hiking, and exploring.

Great Basin is home to the oldest known living tree, the ancient Bristlecone Pine. But the best part of the park might be the Lehman Caves. You can only explore these limestone caves with a guide, so make sure you book your reservations ahead of time.

Summer in the Great Basin is the busiest time of year, and campsites tend to fill up quickly. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy nice weather, plan your trip for September.

Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)

At Lassen Volcanic you’ll find lakes, volcanoes, and hydrothermal features like boiling pools of water, steaming grounds, and mud pots. This natural wonder features molten rock beneath the surface, which boils the water from rain and melted snow.

Lassen Peak is an active volcano, so there is always the potential for eruptions. When visiting the park, take safety precautions and stick to the established trails and walks. Steam vents and fumaroles are everywhere, so venturing off a trail can put you at risk for danger.

The best time to visit Lassen Volcanic is in late summer. The roads through the park don’t even open until July after the snow melts, so if you want to be able to access most of the park, wait until August.

Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)

Ready to do some sandboarding or sand sledding? The Great Sand Dunes are the place to do it. This park features 30 square miles of sand dunes, making it perfect for snowboarders and sledders looking for an alternative to snow. Some people equate it to a giant sandbox.

The Medano Creek flows through the park, offering a spot to get your feet wet or splash in the water. You can rest by the water, relax on a float, or take a dip to cool off.

If you want to experience the creek when it’s flowing, visit between later May and early June. It’s less crowded and the sand is cooler in the spring and fall, but the creek only flows from about April to mid-July.

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Home to seven small islands, but comprised mostly of water, Dry Tortugas is 70 miles west of Key West (Florida’s westernmost key). It’s a fairly remote location with beautiful coral reefs, underwater caves, and all sorts of marine life.

Swimming, snorkeling, diving, and boating are the best things to do here. But if you want to get in a bit of history while you’re there, you can explore Fort Jefferson, a military fortress constructed in the mid-19th century.

Reaching the park can be difficult in the winter. The threat of hurricanes and severe storms always exist in the summer season. For these reasons, the best time to visit is between late April and early June.

What Are the Most Underrated National Parks?

From Alaska to Maine, the US is home to dozens of incredible national parks – and they’re all worth exploring for their own reasons. If you’re looking for more great parks to check out, here are some additional spots worth visiting:

So pack your backpack and put on your most comfortable hiking boots. There are millions of acres of natural parks just waiting to be explored!

Jessica Heston

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