There are 63 designated national parks in the US and this guide covers the most underrated national parks in America. Tell us your favorite in the comments!
Everyone in the United States knows about Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Everglades. But not everyone knows about or is familiar with the magnificent parks on this guide.
While these parks don’t make the list of the least visited national parks in the US, they sure aren’t getting the visitor numbers that they deserve.
The most visited US national parks tend to be outstanding in nature but also accessibility. The least visited are also outstanding in nature, but simply not as accessible (have you seen how many are in Alaska alone?!). These parks are a mixture but most are fairly accessible!
So, as a result, these US national parks are the most underrated, in our opinion. Which park is the most underrated US national park in your eyes?
Most Underrated National Parks in the US – The Map
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America’s Underrated National Parks
1. Denali National Park & Preserve
Visitor numbers (2019): 601,152
Denali National Park and Preserve is a biosphere reserve with an area of over 6 million acres It is located in the very center of the peninsula in Alaska.
The word “Denali” is translated from the Athapaskan language as “great”. The park got its name in honor of the majestic mountain located in its territory, the highest peak in North America, Denali.
The mountain was formerly referred to as Mount McKinley and it is part of the Alaskan Range. The southern and northern slopes are covered with coniferous forests and the landscapes of the park consist of lakes of glacial origin and mountain valleys, dotted with many picturesque rivers.
Flora and fauna in Denali NP are a mix of Asian and North American species. The Alaska national park is home to grizzly bears, black bears, elks, beavers, squirrels, foxes, caribou, and much more. The park is crossed by a railway, as well as trekking trails and bus routes for campers.
Top attractions near and in Denali National Park: Denali (tallest mountain in North America), Wonder Lake, Denali Park Road, Eielson Visitor Center, Mount Foraker, Ruth Glacier, Denali Visitor Center, Mount Healy Overlook Trail, Horseshoe Lake Trail, Kantishna Wilderness Trails, Savage River Loop Trailhead, Murie Science and Learning Center, Polychrome Overlook
2. North Cascades National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 38,208
North Cascades National Park doesn’t get nearly the love it deserves. True, it is located in a rather remote location, but it is so picturesque that it is one of the most beautiful spots in the US, hands-down.
The underrated national park is located in the northern part of Washington and around 3 hours from Seattle. It is one of the snowiest places in the US and while most of it shuts during the winter months, adventurers will love that it offers a magical wonderland like no other!
But, what really sets North Cascades apart is its hiking, rafting, horseback riding, climb, and other outdoorsy opportunities for visitors. It has a lot of the most challenging hikes in the US and is worth a visit if you want to combine gorgeous scenery with tough hikes.
Top attractions near and in North Cascades National Park: Diablo Lake, Ross Lake, Mt. Baker Ski Area, Mount Shuksan, Cascade Pass, Washington Pass, Baker Lake, Sahale Mountain, Maple Pass, Desolation Peak, Artist Point, Sahale Glacier, Hidden Lake Lookout, Gorge Creek Falls, Ladder Creek Falls, Bagley Lakes, Picture Lake, Stehekin Valley Ranch
3. White Sands National Park
Location: New Mexico
Visitor numbers (2019): 608,785
White Sands National Park is a national park in the state of New Mexico that is home to the largest area of gypsum sand dunes, making it a unique place worth visiting. While the sand may resemble snow, be sure that it is not as the summers are blisteringly hot!
One of the main things to do in Ruidoso nearby is to visit White Sands and the town is a fantastic base for exploring the national park.
The sand is so white and illuminating that it can even be a challenge to photograph the New Mexico national park during many hours of the day. Even a polarizing filter can hinder photography here!
There are a limited number of plants and animals living at White Sands National Park due to its rough terrain but the ones that do live there are extraordinary. You can find the White Sands Pupfish there and it is the only place in the world where it is located!
White Sands National Park is definitely one of the most underrated US national parks and the otherworldly scenery will blow your mind!
Top attractions near and in White Sands National Park: Dunes Life Nature Trail, Interdune Boardwalk, Sunset Stroll Meeting Area, Alkali Flat Trailhead, Holloman Lake, Raptor Lake
4. Wind Cave National Park
Location: South Dakota
Visitor numbers (2019): 615,350
Wind Cave National Park is located in South Dakota and it was the first cave to be designated as a national park.
The South Dakota national park is home to the world’s largest collection of rare box formations and it is home to a 28,295-acre nature reserve, making the park definitely one to put on your South Dakota bucket list alongside Badlands and a trip to Custer State Park.
Stories and information about the cave date back to 1881 when the Bingham brothers passed by and heard a unique hissing sound that was coming from the cave’s only natural entrance. After, the cover was discovered and made public.
However, once investigated, Wind Cave was actually used by Native Americans as a sacred site for centuries before its 1881 discovery. The national park offers several ranger-led tours that can take visitors through narrow passages to check out the remarkable geological phenomena!
Top attractions near and in Wind Cave National Park: Wind Cave National Park Visitor Center, Cold Brook Canyon Trail, Lookout Point Trail, Centennial Trail #89, Rankin Ridge Trail
5. Kings Canyon National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 632,110
Kings Canyon National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in California and is definitely worth visiting for those that love multi-day hikes and stunning nature and hiking. It is also a great place for some national park camping adventures!
Geographically, Kings Canyon National Park is located on the southern end of the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.
It is often referred to alongside Sequoia National Park. So, be sure to tack it onto your Sequoia National Park itinerary if you haven’t already!
A feature of these two parks, in addition to the unique ecosystem protected by UNESCO, is the common flora and fauna that exists inside them.
Visitors of the California national park often come to see the giant sequoias that grow next to the largest tree in the world called ‘General Sherman’.
Be sure to stop by Grant Grove inside Kings Canyon, since a common road connects the parks and is called Generals Highway.
Another perk of heading to Kings Canyon National Park is that you only need to pay one entrance fee to visit both Sequoia and Kings Canyon.
Top attractions near and in Kings Canyon National Park: General Grant Grove, Hume Lake, Lake Sabrina, John Muir Wilderness, Zumwalt Meadows, Rae Lakes Loop Trailhead, Mist Falls, General Grant Tree, North Palisade, Big Pine Lakes, Kings Canyon Visitor Center, Kearsage Pass, Grizzly Falls Picnic Area
6. Voyageurs National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 232,974
For some reason, Voyageurs doesn’t get a lot of love. Minnesota has nature reminiscent of that of inland Norway and you will find many beautiful forests, islands, and interconnected waterways at this national park.
During the spring and summer months, you can treat yourself to the many berries that grow wild across the land. And during the winter months, you can enjoy the frozen lakes, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling opportunities.
Voyageurs National Park is also a sight to behold during the autumn when the trees change color and are an electrifying shade of warm colors. It is not too far from Minneapolis making this the perfect weekend away!
Top attractions near and in Voyageurs National Park: Ash River Visitor Center, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Northern Lights Resort and Outfitting, Vermilion Gorge, Sand Point Lake, Rainy Lake Visitor Center, Cruiser Lake Trail, Birch Grove Resort, Namakan Lake, Grassy Bay
7. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
Visitor numbers (2019): 672,087
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located on the southeastern coast of Alaska, rather close to the capital city of Juneau.
Encompassing an area of 3.2 million acres, you will be greeted by glaciers, icebergs, snow-capped mountain peaks, majestic fjords, forested slopes, and so much more!
Some of the wildlife calling Glacier Bay home are bears, deer, and whales and you need to take this into account if you’re visiting and keep your distance and respect the wildlife and nature of the national park in Alaska.
The park is open all year round, 24 hours a day, but in winter, the park’s offerings are limited. From the end of May to September, it is declared the official tourist season in Glacier Park NP and that is when you will see most tourists visiting.
This is definitely one of the most underrated national parks in America and one worth visiting!
Top attractions near and in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve: Margerie Glacier, Johns Hopkins Glacier, Mount Fairweather, Lituya Bay, Tarr Inlet, Muir Glacier, Glacier Bay, Alsek Lake
8. Petrified Forest National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 643,588
Arizona offers much more than just the Grand Canyon! Petrified Forest National Park is an ancient forest in the middle of the desert and is not what you usually expect – it is much more interesting than meets the eye.
Over time, the Arizona forest began to turn to stone, as minerals like quartz gradually replaced the remains of the wood. The result is multi-colored stone logs that are far too fascinating to miss.
Do not pick up or take home anything inside of this park! This will result in a hefty fine. One of the unusual attractions in Petrified Forest is the old Painted Desert Inn Cafe and Hotel on old Route 66, a must-stop for all travelers. It is like a time capsule transporting you back to the 1950s!
Top attractions near and in Petrified Forest National Park: Painted Desert Inn, Blue Mesa, Rainbow Forest Museum, Agate Bridge, Agate House, Jasper Forest, Painted Desert Visitor Center, Pintado Point, Giant Logs, Tawa Point, The Tepees, Crystal Forest Trailhead
9. Capitol Reef National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.226 million
A fantastic US national park that is highly underrated is Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.
One of Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’, this south-centrally located national park is known for being red rock country and you will find several geological formations that will blow your mind- from cliffs to domes to canyons and more! It also has several natural bridges.
Capitol Reef is about 60 miles long and only 6 miles wide. It was designated a US national park in 1971 and tends to bring more tourists in during the summer months, but it is an outstanding, and underrated US national park all months of the year.
It sits in the shadows of many other Utah landmarks and shouldn’t!
Top attractions near and in Capitol Reef National Park: Water Pocket Fold, Hickman Bridge Trailhead, Capitol Gorge, Grand Washington, Hickman Natural Bridge, Capitol Reef, Fremont River, Cathedral Valley Road, Cohab Canyon, Goosenecks Overlook, Gifford Homestead, Temple of the Sun, Thousand Lake Mountain, Panorama Point, Cassidy Arch Trailhead
10. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Location: North Dakota
Visitor numbers (2019): 691,658
In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, one can see not only outstanding landscapes but also monuments dedicated to one of the United States’ most prolific Presidents.
The park is a dedication to Teddy Roosevelt who really amplified and cherished the US national parks. The North Dakota national park is home to numerous representatives of wildlife – bison, pronghorns, elk, white-tailed and black-tailed deer, wild horses, bighorns, as well as other small mammals, amphibians, and reptiles.
If there is enough rainfall in the spring, wild plants bloom across the plains and along the river banks. The park is not crowded, and you can enjoy the solitude just like Teddy Roosevelt did.
One notable activity that this North Dakota landmark offers is horseback riding through the hills and lands, all the way across the Little Missouri River.
Top attractions near and in Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Chateau de Mores State Historic Site, South Unit Visitor Center, Bully Pulpit Golf Course, Wind Canyon Trail, ND Cowboy Hall of Fame, Sully Creek State Park, Maltese Cross Cabin, Badlands Overlook, Elkhorn Ranch, Caprock Coulee Trail, Painted Canyon Nature Trail, Oxbow Overlook, Cannonball Concretions Pullout
11. Crater Lake National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 704,512
The area of Crater Lake National Park is just over 181,000 acres and it was formed in 1902 around the blue lake of the same name. It is one of the best weekend trips from Portland and many other places in the region.
The local attraction is Lake Wanderer – a log floating vertically for over a hundred years. The wood did not deteriorate due to cold water temperatures.
There are so many things that make Crater Lake a US park worth visiting – from its surrounding mountains to Wizard Island inside of the lake and more. Most visitors venture to the Oregon national park in summer but it is worth a winter visit if you like snow.
Top attractions near and in Crater Lake National Park: Wizard Island, Mount Mazama, Mount Scott, Cleetwood Cove Trail, Mount Thielsen, Garfield Peak, Watchman Peak Trail, Plaikni Falls, Pinnacles Overlook, Vidae Falls, Jackson F. Kimball State Recreation Center
12. Biscayne National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 708,522
This is a unique US national park because 95% of it is located underwater! This colorful park is just at Miami’s doorstep and consists of 30 islets and deep forests of mangroves on land.
Biscayne National Park is 173,000 acres of crystal-clear Caribbeanesque water that is washed by the shallow seagrass of Biscayne Bay. This area and down into the Florida Keys is the 3rd-largest coral reef in the world!
Biscayne NP hosts some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities in the United States and you can even swim with manatees and over 200 species of fish, such as coral bites, tooth silver barracuda, and 500lb grouper!
During summer and autumn, you will often find rain in the afternoons at the Florida national park, and also in fall, expect the possibility of tropical storms and hurricanes.
Top attractions near and in Biscayne National Park: Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Crandon Park, Deering Estate, Cape Florida Lighthouse, Virginia Key, Stilsville, Boca Chita Key
13. Canyonlands National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 733,996
Most of the nature reserves in southern Utah are popular for postcard views. However, the largest national park in the state, Canyonlands National Park, is also the least visited of them.
This leads to the question – why?! What is keeping the tourists away? Perhaps it is due to lack of shelter, lack of food, and limited water resources. Or maybe they are hanging out nearby at Arches National Park.
However, those ready for some epic views will be able to see nearly 300,000 acres of canyons, gorgeous vistas from Island in the Sky (mesa), sandstone towers, and some of North America’s best-preserved rock art. Also, you can take a boat tour of the Colorado and Green River Gorges (regardless of experience).
Canyonlands is a fantastic place to visit any time of the year and definitely deserves more love than it gets, making it one of the most underrated national parks in America.
Top attractions near and in Canyonlands National Park: Dead Horse Point State Park, Island in the Sky Visitor Center, Mesa Arch, Upheaval Dome, The Needles, Chesler Park, Needles District, Green River Overlook, Grand View Point Overlook, Shafer Trail Viewpoint, Labyrinth Canyon, Confluence Overlook, Druid Arch, Squaw Flat Trailhead, White Rim Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook
14. Badlands National Park
Location: South Dakota
Visitor numbers (2019): 970,998
Badlands National Park is a lifeless geological formation and rugged terrain heavily indented by ravines and steep hills, which attracts visitors because of its uniqueness.
However, Badlands National Park is different in that the soil there has somehow managed to cover with green grass and populate its newly formed lands with various inhabitants.
This South Dakota national park is home to bison, horses, and many other animals. Excavations in these lands have revealed the remains of previously unknown species of horses: extinct mammals like the three-toed horses, camels, as well as saber-toothed tigers.
Soil erosion is the reason for the formation of such rugged terrain. Badlands NP covers an area of 244,000 acres and is definitely worth visiting and putting on your US bucket list.
Top attractions near and in Badlands National Park: Minuteman Missile Visitors Center, Ben Reifel Visitor Center, Roberts Prairie Dog Town, Pinnacles Overlook, Saddle Pass Trailhead, Yellow Mounts Overlook, Big Badlands Overlook, Fossil Exhibit Trailhead, Sage Creek Wilderness Area, Burns Basin Overlook, Prairie Homestead, Panorama Point
15. Haleakala National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 994,394
More and more tourists are coming to the Hawaiian island of Maui, but the visitor numbers at Haleakala National Park, Maui’s only national park, are in decline.
The reason is that guests of the island rarely go beyond its luxurious beaches. However, the Hawaii national park is much more interesting and picturesque and offers an adventure all its own!
One of the best things to do in Haleakala National Park is to see the first rays of the sun at dawn illuminate the crater of the eponymous volcano. You must reserve this online beforehand, but it is a must-do for those visiting the national park on Maui.
At the top of Haleakala, there are over 28 miles of hiking trails that run around and across the craters. Haleakala Peak reaches nearly 9,842-feet above sea level, so, you may be shocked to find snow at its peak.
Top attractions near and in Haleakala National Park: The Pools at Oheo, Waimoku Falls, Pipiwai Trail, Haleakala Crater, Falls of Makahiku, Haleakala Observatory, Kuloa Point, Charles Lindbergh’s Grave, Kalahaku Overlook, Red Hill, Magnetic Peak, Pa Kaoao
16. New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
Location: West Virginia
Visitor numbers (2019): –
Established in 1978 but only designated a US National Park at the very end of December 2020, it is the 63rd National Park in the United States and while its annual visitation should probably put it on our ‘most-visited’ guide, we are keeping it here for the time being.
New River Gorge sits in the dense Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and the river is one of the oldest in North America. This new national park is a white-water rafting paradise and the place for rock climbers!
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve encompasses more than 70,000 acres of land and is merely a one-hour drive from Charleston, the state capital. It also contains several fantastic hiking trails.
Top attractions near and in New River Gorge National Park & Preserve: New River Gorge, Gauley National Recreation Area, Bluestone National Scenic River, New River Gorge Bridge, Babcock State Park, Hawks Nest State Park, Sandstone Falls, Endless Wall Trail
We hope you enjoyed this guide to our list of the most underrated national parks in the US. If you have a US national park that you think deserves more attention or is often forgotten about, please leave a comment and let us know!
Visiting the US national parks in winter? Check out our seasonal guides below:
- Best US national parks in December
- Best US national parks in January
- Best US national parks in February
- Best US national parks in March
- Best US national parks in April
- Best US national parks in May
- Best US national parks in June
- Best US national parks in July
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