Visiting National Parks in your area or throughout the United States is a great opportunity to not only hike and enjoy the outdoors, but to learn new things along the way from history to life-skills. With 58 national parks throughout the country to choose from it can be difficult when starting to plan your next vacation. Step out of the box and travel to some of these lesser known areas for just as much beauty and knowledge:
1) Great Basin National Park, Nevada
From rugged mountain peaks to vast underground caverns, this 77,100-acre park in Nevada is one of the most least-visited parks in the United States with 168,028 annual visitors. But the numbers are rising every year so they may be off the list soon!
Great Basin National Park is only five hours north of Las Vegas. Much of the landscape at Great Basin National Park was carved by glaciers years ago. The Lehman rock glacier – a large mass of boulders cemented together by ice – is visible from the Glacier Trail and the Summit Trail. A single remnant of the true ice glaciers that formed the park 10,000 years ago resides in Lehman Cirque, just above the Lehman rock glacier.
2) Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is in southern Colorado, about 4 hours from Denver and is popular in the summer months for sledding down the sand dunes into a small creek below. This is a fantastic place to visit with the little ones! Bring your own sled or rent from a nearby facility to join in the fun. In addition to the mounds of sand and gorgeous mountain peaks in the background, the park is also a popular site for UFO sightings (if you’re in to that)! After a day in the sun, stick around for gorgeous sunsets viewed from your folding camp chair and some beautiful star gazing. Looking for a a little more adventure? Try hiking up the sand dunes with an overnight pack on! Backpacking is permitted in the area with the right permit. Stop by the ranger station to pick up your permit and maybe snag some tips to get up those mounds.
Fun Fact: The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising to a maximum height of 750 feet (229 m) from the floor of the San Luis Valley.
3) Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Depending on where you live, Ohio may not be the first state that pops into your mind when you think about exploring a new national park. Cuyahoga Valley National Park protects nearly 33,000 acres of land and is popular for their scenic train rides, hiking trails and the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is level and hard-packed for people using wheelchairs, bicycles, or strollers. Spend the week camping, backpacking and exploring all the park has to offer!
Tip: The National Park Service does not plow the trail in the winter to permit cross-country skiing. Perfect for those winter months!!
4) Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Take a step back from the glaciers, alpine lakes and rock formations to dive into the hardwood forests of South Carolina. Located just south of Columbia, this park hosts hiking trails, as well as creeks for canoeing & fishing. This national park is perfect for a spring or fall day to beat the extreme heat and humidity that occurs in the summer months. Paddling through the waterways is a great way to view the old growth bottomland hardwood forest, bald cypress trees and water tupelo. Don’t forget the sunscreen, bug spray and a portable cooler to keep some cold waters close!
5) Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
If you are looking for a family trip packed with education, interactive tours and loads of fascinating history this is your place! Mesa Verde National Park contains over 5000 archeological sites across 40+ miles of roads! Don’t miss the visitor center for more information on artifacts and a look into how people lived in this area. The well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings are fascinating to explore with walkways wide enough to walk through or climb to new levels. The cost and location for purchasing tickets vary, depending on the type of tour so check their website before you head out for the day. Enjoy!