19 Apr Our Favorite Underrated National Parks in the United States
In honor of National Park Week in the United States, we wanted to share our favorite underrated national parks with you. While you have most likely heard of at least a few of these parks, they aren’t typically included in the “popular crowd” and they don’t get near as much attention as the more well known parks like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone.
In total, we have visited 16 of the 59 national parks, many of them over the past year. Also, we have plans to continue working on our goal to visit every national park in the United States. There are so many gorgeous parks out there, and here are our favorite ones that we feel are a bit underrated and deserving of a little more attention!
Perhaps one of the most gorgeous national parks we’ve ever visited, the Dry Tortugas had us in awe for our entire visit. We were short on time, so a day trip was our only option, but next time we are definitely spending a few nights camping on the island.
The Dry Tortugas are mostly made up of water, but there are several small islands throughout the park. Garden Key is the island where the boats dock, and it is home to the campground, the old historic military fort called Fort Jefferson, white sandy beaches, plentiful birdwatching and great snorkeling. The island is accessible by either boat or seaplane–we took the Yankee Freedom boat out to the island and spent the day soaking up the beautiful scenery and warm sunny weather.
We love that the Dry Tortugas are so remote and take a little bit of effort to reach–it makes the park feel secluded and like your own slice of island paradise. One of our favorite parts of the island was the moat that surrounded the fort. The moat creates the perfect walking path around the island, and the views overlooking the ocean are absolutely spectacular.
Another island based park, Isle Royale, is located on Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes. This park is also only accessible by boat or seaplane, and no wheeled transportation is allowed on the island. That means, the only ways to explore Isle Royale are on foot or via a boat. We had to take a day trip to this island as well, but we managed to fit in a hike to –, and we had the chance to explore the shoreline, visitors center and listen in on one of the ranger talks detailing the history of the island.
One of the best ways to explore this park is to go on a backpacking camping trip. There are several campsites located throughout the park, and you can hike from site to site while crossing and exploring the island.
We love that Isle Royale is also an island park, but it’s so opposite from the Dry Tortugas–one is filled with north woods forests and the other is palm trees and beaches. They are very similar in theory, but worlds apart in actuality!
There appears to be a theme in our list of favorite parks–they are all largely water based and you need to boat through the parks to completely enjoy all they have to offer. Maybe it’s because we grew up in the land of 10,000 lakes, or maybe it’s because these parks feel more secluded and remote, but whatever the reason, Voyageurs is no exception. Voyageurs National Park is located in northern Minnesota and it is a water based park.
While the park has ranger guided tours on the water, the best way to explore is with your own boat or a rental boat. Our favorite aspects of the park are the boat-up campsites and the houseboat camping, but the park also has beautiful wildlife, plenty of hiking trails and even an ice road in the winter!
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
This last park on the list is completely opposite from the others–this one is practically a desert! Nestled in the mountains of Colorado, this park seems to get a bit overshadowed by the Rocky Mountains. We love that this park is so different than the majority of parks out there and to us it is completely unexpected to find towering sand dunes in the middle of mountains.
One of the most exciting ways to enjoy this park is to fly down the dunes on a sand sled or sandboard. We had a blast hiking the dunes and then dropping off the steep edges, often tumbling to a stop off our sleds at the bottom. While the park isn’t extremely large, it’s packed full of adventure and sandy fun!
What are your favorite underrated national parks?