Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that this year is the centennial celebration of U.S. national parks. A lot of the high profile national parks have been well covered, but what about lesser known national parks? Here are 5 spectacular national parks you should put on your to-do list for a less crowded experience.
1. Channel Islands National Park, California
I grew up in southern California and I never even knew about the Channel Islands until I started writing about travel for a living. Getting to the five remote islands is no joke – you have to take an hour ferry to visit, but it’s a lovely trip. Once you’re there, explore the many hiking trails by foot and experience the beauty that was home to the Chumash Indians at one time. There are no phone lines or cars on the islands, but the 150 species of native plants and animals make this a more than fair trade-off. Sea kayaking and scuba diving are an idea way to explore the kelp forests alongside some of the world’s largest sea caves. You can see the Channel Islands off the coast of California, but don’t let this be the only way you experience their beauty and isolation. Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island is favorite spot.
To get to the Channel Islands fly into Los Angeles (LAX), Burbank (BUR) or Santa Barbara airports.
2. Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio
Cuyahoga National Park has been around for close to 45 years, but it was officially upgraded from recreational area to national park in 2000. Hiking and cycling are popular activities, with the nearly 21-mile Towpath Trail the star of the hiking show. The park is lovely, but what sets it apart on our list is the mix of purely natural and man-made attractions. You can also see a symphony in the summer or visit a selection of preserved and restored sustainable farming exhibits. The park is between Akron and Cleveland, and is the only national park in Ohio.
To get to Cuyahoga National Park fly into either Cleveland (CLE) or Akron (CAK) airports.
3. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska
Though Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest park in the National Park Service (a gargantuan 13 million acres), it gets but a fraction of the visitors per year (70,000) that larger parks like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Park get. Let’s put that into perspective. Grand Canyon National Park gets 5 million visitors and Yellowstone sees 4 million people tramping around Old Faithful per year. We think this is a fantastic argument for visiting Wrangell-St. Elias. Its enormous size means nature lovers have no shortage of stunning landscapes and remote hiking trails.
To get to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park fly into Fairbanks (FAI) or Anchorage (ANC).
4. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The only reason more people aren’t clamoring to visit Grand Teton National Park is that it’s right in Yellowstone’s backyard. Yellowstone is the showy, glamorous and somewhat noisy big sister, while Grand Teton just quietly plays second fiddle. And it’s such a shame! The Grand Tetons are some of the most breathtaking mountains in the country. Whether your national park jam is hiking, boating or just long, leisurely drives, there is something for every type of nature lover here to adore. You can horseback ride through meadows of colorful wildflowers, climb Static Peak in a day, or tackle the two-day challenging technical climb of Grand Teton itself (towering over the Valley at nearly 14,000 feet).
To get to Grand Teton National Park fly into Jackson Hole (JAC).
5. Big Bend National Park, Texas
CheapAir’s list of underrated national parks would not be complete without Big Bend in far West Texas. The Rio Grande runs through the park, and parts of Big Bend run along the Mexican border. You’ve got more than 80,000 acres to explore – taking in lakes and rivers, mountains and deserts alike. Backpacking through the Chisos Mountains (completely enclosed by the park – the only mountain range in the country that is so situated), you might be tempted to do some serious stargazing. The inky black night sky in Big Bend is perfect for viewing celestial bodies.
To get to Big Bend National Park fly into Midland/Odessa (MAF) and rent a car.
So there you have it. Our picks for some of the most underrated U.S. national parks. If you visit, please drop us a line and let us know how it goes in the comments below. Or better yet, send us a photo on Instagram @CheapAir – perhaps we’ll feature you in an upcoming post!