5 USA national parks you've probably never heard of

With more than 400 national park sites across the USA, why go for the obvious, overcrowded ones? Here, we pick some of the country's lesser-known gems that deserve your attention...

3 mins

So, you've heard of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, but the USA is inundated with national parks  423 to be exact  with each one unique from the next. 

From Michigan to New Mexico, here we suggest five of the most underrated national parks across the states, for those seeking the road less travelled.

1. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave (Shutterstock)

Mammoth Cave (Shutterstock)

Did you know the longest cave system in the world is here in Kentucky? Stretching more than 600 kilometres underground, it’s easy to see where this national park got its name ‘Mammoth’ from.

It’s thought these caves were first discovered by humans around 4,000 years ago. Now visitors can take a tour, led by informative park rangers, to learn about the history of the complex labyrinths and giant chambers.

For those who’d rather remain overground, the park is also home to two rivers. Hike alongside these waterways and discover the NP’s extraordinary amount of natural diversity.

Read next How to experience the best of Kentucky

2. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument (Shutterstock)

White Sands National Monument (Shutterstock)

More than 250 million years ago, Tularosa Basin in New Mexico was covered by a shallow sea. Now, the rare gypsum sand which lay at the bottom of that body of water is the only thing which remains. It creates these glittering white mounds, which still move at a rate of up to nine metres per year.

During the summer, temperatures can reach a sweltering 40-degrees. It’s popular to miss the midday sun and take a sunset tour with local rangers to explore this beautiful and rare 700-square-kilometre white desert.

3. North Cascades National Park, Washington State

North Cascades National Park (Shutterstock)

North Cascades National Park (Shutterstock)

With the exception of Alaska, North Cascades is the USA’s least visited national park. Only 100 miles from Seattle, it really is one of the country’s best kept secrets, with 2,040 square kilometres of outstanding natural beauty including mountains, lakes and glaciers.

There are many ways to enjoy North Cascades. Travellers can enjoy boating, horseback riding, camping and of course hiking – with the steep Thunder Creek trail being one of the best-known routes.

Much of the park is virtually untouched, with the highest elevations unreachable. However, visitors can still discover more than three hundred glaciers when exploring on foot.

4. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Cave dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park (Shutterstock)

Cave dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park (Shutterstock)

Beyond its superb natural landscapes and variety of wildlife, including birds and the American black bear, Mesa Verde is best known for being the most culturally and historically significant national park in the USA.

This is thanks to its archaeological sites, with more than 4,000 dotted across the protected area. The remarkable cliff dwellings and masonry towers provide well-preserved evidence of the Puebla Indian population who settled in southwest Colorado for more than 700 years.

The best way to take a glimpse into its past is by joining an educational tour of the ruins, learning how the Native Americans lived 1,400 years ago. There’s also many hiking routes around the park, offering exceptional views of the desert landscape.

5. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Isle Royale National Park (Shutterstock)

Isle Royale National Park (Shutterstock)

It's not a real adventure without some challenges, right? Only reachable by boat of seaplane, this secluded national park covers a cluster of islands in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. It may take some effort to get there, but nature lovers will be rewarded for their efforts.

Isle Royale is made up of dense forests and pristine lakes, with an abundance of wildlife that visitors will be almost guaranteed to bump into – including wolves, beavers, foxes and moose. One of the park’s most unique factors is chorastrolite – semi-precious stones often called ‘green-star stones’.

To take in the best views, hike the 69km Greenstone Ridge Trail. The entire route takes 16 hours to complete, but those who choose a shorter stint shouldn’t miss the Mount Franklin section for vistas which will take your breath away.

Top tip: Be sure to book your National Park pass in advance to guarantee access, especially during peak season in summer.


You may also like

The best cultural UNESCO sites around the world

The best places for outdoor adventure in Michigan

The world's greatest national parks

Related Articles