5 Greatly Under-Appreciated U.S. National Parks

Catch of the Day: An Alaskan brown bear enjoys a salmon dinner at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park. (NPS)
Catch of the Day: An Alaskan brown bear enjoys a salmon dinner at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park. (NPS)

With the ascension of Pinnacles National Monument to full-fledged “park” status earlier this year, the U.S. now has 59 officially designated national parks. Among these of course are a handful of “rock stars” such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon in addition to such other well-known and much beloved destinations as Great Smokies, Denali, Virgin Islands, Mount Rainier, Glacier, Crater Lake, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Everglades, and Grand Teton.

But, with so many spectacular destinations to choose from, a few wonderful destinations are often overlooked in discussions and ultimately in vacation plans. What are some of these very under-appreciated parks—the places that, while not as well known, are well worth the journey?

Here are 5 you’ll definitely appreciate:

  1. Katmai. On the northern Alaska Peninsula, Katmai’s Brooks Falls is one of the world’s great places for bear watching each July. Safe and supervised, you can observe enormous brown bears vie for sockeye salmon as they jump the falls on their way up the river to spawn. Another attraction is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the site of a huge volcanic eruption in 1912 that left a vast wasteland filled with fumaroles steaming eerily into the air.
  2. Rocky Mountain. Just a couple of hours from Denver and encompassing some of the most stunning parts of the Rockies, this park is a fantastic spot for hiking, backpacking, camping, or just seeing the sights via Trail Ridge Road, one of the most spellbinding high-country drives in the U.S.
  3. Isle Royale. An island in Lake Superior, it requires some effort to get there. But, once you arrive and perhaps thrill to the sight of moose swimming in the lake, you’ll be delighted you made the journey. A highlight is the hike to the top of Mount Franklin, named after Ben, who may have had a hand in making the island part of the newly formed United States in the 1780s.
  4. Kings Canyon. Just a couple of hours south of its much more popular peer, Yosemite, this is a beautiful place to see a spectacular High Sierra canyon, camp along side the roaring Kings River, or hike some of California’s most stunning back country. As an added bonus, it’s next to Sequoia National Park, home to many of the premiere groves of sequoia trees in the world.
  5. Canyonlands. Located in eastern Utah, this almost unearthly looking place has amazing rock landscapes that in their own way rival the Grand Canyon to the southwest. One must-see scenic lookout is Dead Horse Point, where you can gaze at a seeming infinite number of rock formations. Another is the Confluence, the spot where the Colorado and Green Rivers merge.

That’s 5, but I’ve also left out Acadia, Arches, North Cascades, Hawaii Volcanoes, Big Bend, and no doubt other under-appreciated parks absolutely worth the visit. Well, we’ll just have to save them for another blog!

Are there any parks you would add to the list? Just post a comment, we’d be thrilled to hear your thoughts.