National Parks Off the Beaten Track

Well-known parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone often get more attention than the 56 other national parks. Here are ten others to consider as you make this summer’s vacation plans:

Smallest: Hot Springs, Arkansas. Only 5,549 acres, but it has 47 thermal springs. Jump in a tub and enjoy.

1860s bath house, Hot Springs - NPS

Least Visited: Kobuk Valley, Alaska. While Grand Canyon had 4.4 million visitors in 2008, Kobuk Valley only had 1,565. Why? It’s far away and there are no roads. Get a plane, boat or snowmobile and see what it’s like north of the Arctic Circle.

Most Bears: Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee. The park has an average of two black bears per square mile. No wonder there are often bear-sighting traffic jams along park roads.

Most Prehistoric: Petrified Forest, Arizona. Once upon a time it was a tropical floodplain. Now you can see 225 million years of history in the fossilized trees.

Tallest or Thickest: Your call. It’s either the Redwoods or King’s Canyon/Sequoia in California. The Redwoods include trees 38 stories high. While Sequoia has tall trees, too, they include the General Sherman tree that’s wider than three lanes of traffic.

Most Isolated: Isle Royale, Michigan. It takes a 3-5 hour boat ride to reach this primitive wilderness in Lake Superior.

Wettest: Olympic, Washington. You’ll find many ferns, mosses and lichens in this rain forest with an annual precipitation of twelve feet.

Darkest: Big Bend, Texas. In this remote and relatively cloud-free desert, the Milky Way is bright enough to cast a shadow.

Deepest: Crater Lake, Oregon. The lake in this volcanic basin is the seventh deepest lake in the world at 1,943 feet.

Crater Lake - NPS Photo

Newest: Great Sand Dunes, Colorado. This 30-square mile dune field was switched from a national monument to a national park in 2004. You’ll find short-horned lizards, bighorn sheep and mule deer here as well as some wonderful dunes to slide down.

Source: “National Parks Less Traveled” in AARP Magazine, May/June 2010

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4 thoughts on “National Parks Off the Beaten Track

  1. Kings Canyon is one of my favorite spots in the world. While many people visit its sister park, Sequoia, there is only one steep, winding road down into Kings Canyon, and it isn’t open during the winter months. Yet the harrowing drive down leads to one of the most spectacular parks in the Sierras, beautiful hikes, pristine lakes, lots of wildlife–and Muir Rock, where you can jump into the King’s River (freezing!) in a ritual said to have been invented by Muir himself. We’re going in June, and I cannot wait to get there!

    1. Other than jumping into the King’s River, I think I would enjoy a trip to this park. I hope you get some great photos to share including one of you in the river. You can even wear your magic hat.

  2. I’ve been to four of these and still want to get to the Olympic Peninsula before long and visit Crater Lake again en route.

    1. I was probably only 5 years old when I was at Crater Lake. It made quite an impression on me at the time, as did the whole area. Haven’t been to the Olympics, though I suppose if I visited my brother in Oregon, we might take a side trip.

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