Beautiful US national parks where you can ditch the crowds


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Whether you’re looking for your next vacation idea or even more national parks to add to your bucket list, there are more than 60 National Parks to explore across America. If you prefer to travel to places off the beaten path, or don’t want to fight crowds on a family vacation, here are 15 less-visited gems in the National Parks system to consider.


The United States has a wealth of natural beauty and land but for some reason, people tend to flock to the same National Parks. With so many friends and family visiting Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Acadia, and the most visited national park in America, the Great Smoky Mountains, vacationers tend to plan trips to these favorites. But perhaps it’s time to consider some parks outside of the regulars.


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With so many National Parks across our country, you have the opportunity to connect with nature without battling noisy crowds and waiting in long lines. While some of these parks may require more effort to get to, their remoteness will pay dividends in your experience.


Cuyahoga Valley National Park, located near Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, is best known for its historical significance. Once a popular industrial area with factories lining the Cuyahoga River, this landscape has been restored to a beautiful national park. The best way to explore the beauty of this place is along the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic Ohio & Erie Canal.


You can also board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. As the train passes through Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley and runs beside the rushing Cuyahoga River, you may enjoy the scenery and take in the calm. The trip allows passengers to see eagles, deer, beavers, and herons in their natural environment is one of the most unique things to do in this national park.


Joshua Tree, best known for its beautiful desert landscape, is located in California near Palm Springs. The park is a unique cross-section of two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado. A land formed by strong winds and rare downpours of rain features a fascinating array of flora and fauna. The wonder of this vast outdoor environment in southern California is enhanced by night skies, a long cultural history, and otherworldly rock formations.


Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is best known for its incredible fall foliage. The best time to visit is during peak leaf season, which generally lasts from mid-September to early November. If you’re visiting with your family, be sure not to miss Skyline Drive, a popular road that runs through part of the park and offers tons of incredible scenic vistas.


Shenandoah National Park is a land full of cascading waterfalls, magnificent vistas, meadows of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows located just 75 miles from Washington, DC. There’s so much to discover with over 200,000 acres that attract deer, black bears, songbirds, and many other wild animals.


Bryce Canyon, best known for its unique geological formations and countless hoodoos (thin spires of rock), is located in southern Utah near the border with Arizona. A popular stop on any road trip through the American Southwest, this place offers spectacular views during sunrise or sunset when all of these unusual rock structures are illuminated by a warm golden glow.


Over 2 million people visit Bryce Canyon National Park each year, most of them coming between March and early October. Most visitors head to at least one of the four main viewpoints, located within the first few miles of the park: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.


Located in western Colorado near Montrose, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is best known for its cliffs and dramatic rock formations. Several scenic drives offer fantastic canyon views, a popular hiking destination during the spring or summer months when temperatures are more agreeable.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the United States’ most beautiful natural wonders. The Gunnison River and the weathering processes have carved this vertical wilderness out of stone, water, and sky with two million years to play with.


Isle Royale is located in Lake Superior near the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The best way to explore this amazing place is by boat during peak summer months when you can visit any of over 450 islands that are dispersed throughout the lake.


With its incredible views, wildlife viewing opportunities, and outstanding fishing, it’s no wonder why Isle Royale has become a favorite destination among many visitors to Michigan.


Located in the Appalachian Mountains near Fayetteville, West Virginia, New River Gorge is best known for its deep gorge along the New River. The New River is one of the continent’s oldest rivers, flowing north through deep canyons. Along with numerous historical and natural sites, the park includes over 70,000 acres of land renowned for its cultural and natural history.


A popular destination during the spring and summer months when temperatures are more agreeable, there are several hiking trails to explore and some fantastic caves that you can tour with an experienced guide.


Dry Tortugas National Park is best known for its location – it’s a group of small islands about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. This place has a fascinating history as well as gorgeous views and amazing snorkeling/diving opportunities.


The park is made up of 100 square miles of open sea with seven tiny islands. The park is known worldwide for its breathtaking Fort Jefferson, picturesque blue seas, excellent coral reefs and marine life, and various bird species that frequent the area because it is accessible only by boat or seaplane.


Located near Alamosa, Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park is best known for its picturesque landscape, including massive dunes. However, this area also offers some great opportunities to hike through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and take a trip down the river on a rubber tube.


The world’s tallest dunes are the centerpiece of a vast landscape, including grasslands, marshes, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Sledding, sandboarding, and skiing are allowed anywhere on the dunefield outside of vegetated regions.


Located on the border between Minnesota and Canada, Voyageurs National Park is best known for its unique landscape of lakes and islands. With a wide range of activities available, visitors can go camping, canoeing/kayaking, or even try out some fishing from either their boat or one of the many rental options offered by local outfitters.


Voyageurs National Park is a year-round adventure wonderland with exposed rock ridges, cliffs, swamps, forests, streams, and lakes covering 218,055 acres. You can also experience the fascinating Aurora Borealis (also known as Northern Lights) that occasionally illuminates Voyageurs’ skies.


Gateway Arch National Park, which is located in Missouri, is best recognized for its iconic Gateway Arch. The site honors Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West and pioneers who helped shape its history. This area also offers excellent views of downtown St. Louis and excellent wildlife opportunities along the riverfront and at nearby sanctuaries managed by The National Parks Service.


Located in central Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park is best known for the hot springs that run through a large portion of it. However, the cultural history of Hot Springs National Park is illustrious. It serves as a monument to the “American Spa” of the 20th century and a symbol for healing. The nine historic baths, with their magnificent architecture, have drawn people there for hundreds of years.


There are several designated bath areas where you can relax and take advantage of these naturally heated waters. In addition to soaking, there are also some great opportunities for bird watching, hiking, or even horseback riding during your trip to Hot Springs National Park.


Located in southern Alaska near Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park is best known for its dramatic mountain peaks and deep fjords, which you can explore by boat during the summer months. The main attraction of the Kenai Fjords, the Harding Icefield, is home to nearly 40 glaciers. Wildlife flourishes in chilly seas and verdant woods around this enormous chunk of ice.


Today’s retreating glaciers are a testament to man’s influence on the environment. With such a unique landscape, it’s no wonder why so many visitors flock to Kenai Fjords National Park each year.


Located in southern Florida near Homestead, Everglades National Park is best known for its extensive network of swamps. However, this area also offers some amazing opportunities to explore the Everglades via kayak or boat, you can take a guided tour with an experienced guide if it’s your first time visiting.


The Everglades National Park offers unrivaled beauty, and its rich biodiversity provides critical habitat for several unique and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther.


Haleakalā National Park is best known for its beautiful volcanic landscape that includes over 300 miles of trails in Maui. There are also some great opportunities to visit Haleakala Crater, which towers nearly ten thousand feet above the island, you will have amazing views from the top.


Haleakalā National Park is unique in that it protects the tie between land and people while also preserving ancient and modern Hawaiian culture. The park also tries to protect endangered species that do not exist anywhere else. Haleakala National Park has a lot to offer, from lush rainforests to rocky coastlines, as well as spectacular overlooks of the best sunrises and sunsets you can imagine.


This article originally appeared on Your Money Geek and was syndicated by

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These are the most beautiful state parks in the US


It’s been more than a year since the pandemic halted and then drastically changed our travel plans (among other things!). As the country begins to reopen, the desire to stay away from crowds and seek new experiences in the great outdoors will continue to be the focus of summertime getaways in 2021. But you aren’t the only one with that idea and our national parks are experiencing a surge in visitors. Yellowstone, for example, welcomed 3.8 million visitors in 2020.

You can still experience America’s great beauty with far fewer crowds by skipping the big names and instead of visiting a state park – many of which could and probably should get national park status. What’s even better is entrance fees to the state parks are less than the national parks, so you can save some money while you travel.

Here are 15 parks that should be on your radar.

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Planning a trip to Florida means plenty of beach time but for those who want to experience the Sunshine State’s unique ecosystem, they often head to the Everglades. But the national park is not the only place you can explore swamps and see alligators.

Northwest of Gainesville, Florida, you can explore the lush forest and bogs of Ichetucknee Springs in what is referred to as the Real Florida. You won’t find amusement parks, tourist-filled beaches, or chain restaurants. Here, you will sample quiet, relaxed Old Florida as you wind your way down its waterways in a kayak, swim in secluded watering holes, and hike in the 2,669-acre park filled with waterfowl and wildlife. You can even scuba to underwater caves and slowly tube down the crystalline waters of the river.

  • Closest city: Fort White
  • Entrance fee: $6 per vehicle ($4 solo-passenger vehicle)


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If seeing swampland is high on your bucket list, Louisiana aims to please as well. While Chicot State Park’s 2,000-acre lake is manmade, the entire 6,400-acre park is filled with an environment unique to the Bayou State. The lake is stocked for those wanting to spend a day on the lake searching for largemouth bass, or simply enjoy boating and swimming in the cool waters – it’s plenty big enough!

The forest and bayou areas are ripe for exploring and spotting wildlife, and if that’s not enough for you, the Louisiana State Arboretum is located adjacent to the state park. Book a cabin or a campsite and stay awhile.

  • Closest city: Ville Platte
  • Entrance fee: $3 per person


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When watching movies with sweeping views of lush rainforests and waterfalls, oftentimes you are seeing Waimea Canyon State Park on the island of Kauai. (Jurassic Park is one example.) At 14 miles long and 3,600 deep, this colorful canyon is nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and offers tons of hiking trails and a scenic overlook drive.

Make your way along the 3.4-mile Canyon Trail, which is the most popular of the park for its up-close view of the 800-foot Waipo’o Falls.

  • Closest city: Waimea
  • Entrance fee: $5 per person or $25 per car


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The dramatic landscape found in the southwestern deserts of the U.S. fills the feeds of Instagram. From Utah’s arches and hoodoos to Arizona’s world-wonder, the Grand Canyon, the national parks see visitors from around the world wanting to witness the beauty from sunrise to sunset. Yet, an hour from Las Vegas, where the Strip’s neon lights keep the energy going 24/7, is the Valley of Fire, which highlights the energy of the earth.

Aptly named for its red petrified sandstone, this 40,000-acre park’s landscape changes color with the sun and shadows. You may find petroglyphs and see petrified trees in this land that was shaped more than 2,000 years ago. You can camp here to see the real stars of Nevada, and some areas welcome rock climbing.

  • Closest city: Overton
  • Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle


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Sure Acadia National Park is gorgeous, but its island setting makes it difficult to span out or find accommodations. Instead, head inland and give Baxter State Park a peek. This is the home of Mount Katahdin, the end of the Appalachian Trail and the highest peak in the state at 5,267 feet.

You’ll find 215 miles of trails in the park that spans over 20,000 acres. While less than half the size of Acadia, there are more than 300 campsites and a more secluded getaway. If you are up for it, hike to the peak, although it is a full-day excursion. (Permits are required to protect the mountain from crowds so be sure to get one well in advance.)

  • Closest city: Millinocket
  • Entrance fee: $8 per car


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If you thought the Land of Lincoln was nothing but cornfields, you’ll be more than surprised by Starved Rock. This state park has 13 miles of trails and 18 canyons filled with beautiful waterfalls. While the park’s name comes from a tragic Native American tale, it is a National Historic Landmark with ample camping and free park tours.

Pioneer Cabins, also on the Historic Register, are as pet-friendly as the rest of the land. As you make your way around the park, follow the Green Interior Canyon trails to visit French Canyon Falls, Wildcat Falls, Ottawa Falls, and a slew of other waterfalls.

  • Closest city: Utica
  • Entrance fee: Free


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When it comes to falls, you’ll find more in West Virginia where Blackwater Falls State Park features a 57-foot cascade. Hike along any of the 21 trails in a park that has welcomed adventure-seekers since the 1800s. When the park became a state property with 446 acres overlooking Blackwater Canyon, it added a lodge that still offers daily dining.

While camping or enjoying the park’s cabins, your visit is like a 2-for-1. Just 7 miles from the park is another fabulous state park and wildlife refuge, Canaan Valley.

  • Closest city: Davis and Thomas
  • Entrance fee: Free

Related: Travel Websites to Save You the Most Money


Tim Kiser / Wikimedia Commons


Deep within the White Mountains of New Hampshire is the state’s most popular park. This mountain pass was home to the state’s Old Man of the Mountain granite rock face that, well, looked like an old man surveying the land. It became a symbol of the state and was immortalized by Revolutionaries Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster. Alas, it recently crumbled but the beauty of the mountains, trails, and lakes aren’t still up for grabs.

Ride the aerial tram to 4,080-foot Cannon Mountain, where you can have views as far as Canada and New York. Then head into the depth of the Flume Gorge found at the base of Mount Liberty. You’ll be 90 feet deep into the granite-walled gorge. You can even spend a day at the beach of Echo Lake.

  • Closest city: Davis and Thomas
  • Entrance fee: $16 Gorge; $19 Tram, $4 Beach


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You’ve never seen dunes this tall in the U.S. This park is home to the tallest dunes in the United States – so high you can sand surf down them! The park rents sand boards to give you a chance to surf down its peaks, the tallest of which is 470 feet.

Visit the dunes for camping, horseback riding, and lake fun with sandy beaches and fishing. The Bruneau Dunes Observatory and its telescopes give visitors an even deeper look into the darkened Idaho sky so free of light pollution you’ll be stunned even without telescopes.

  • Closest city: Bruneau
  • Entrance fee: $7 per vehicle


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Georgia is home to two of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. Tallulah Falls, at 1,719 feet, can be found within a 2-mile gorge. But the 729-foot Amicalola Falls is the heart of a state park that features a lodge with unbelievable park views.

Found within the Chattahoochee National Forest, you won’t have to rough it at the lodge. You’ll enjoy guided hikes, zip lines through the trees, GPS scavenger hunts, and 8 miles of forest trails providing more stunning views of the North Georgia Mountains. The falls are a part of Springer Mountain and its 8.5-mile trail for experienced outdoor lovers.

  • Closest city: Dawsonville
  • Entrance fee: $5 per vehicle


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Sure, you can go to Redwood National Park and places like Muir Woods National Monument to see California’s ancient and towering redwood trees. But the state is filled with parks that are home to “nature’s skyscrapers.” Big Basin, for example, is one such heavenly place that happens to be the oldest state park in California.

There are more than 80 miles you can hike in this forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, with elevations spanning from sea level to more than 2,000 feet. You’ll also find waterfalls and canyons for a variety of different Instagram-worthy shots.

  • Closest city: Santa Cruz
  • Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle


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Continuing with the waterfall theme, witness a 125-foot wide waterfall dropping 60 feet from Kentucky’s stunning state park, which is home to one of only a few places that create a moonbow – a colorful reflection of light from a full moon bouncing off the mist of the falls. It’s a rare phenomenon that should be on your Bucket List.

No need to wait for nightfall to experience Cumberland Falls, however. This “Niagara of the South” is pretty any time of day in a park offering ample swimming, rafting, hiking, and horseback riding activities.

  • Closest city: Corbin
  • Entrance fee: $18 per person


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Or, you could experience the real Niagara Falls, which is surprisingly not a national park. Sharing the falls with Ontario, Canada, the New York side gets you so close to the massive collection of waterfalls that you can stand beneath parts of it at the Cave of the Winds. From whirlpool boat rides to the famous Maid of the Mist cruises, you can see the falls from all angles during your visit.

The state park is such an allure there are multiple attractions within feet of it to make it worthy of spending a week. Visit Fort Niagara, sample local wineries, camp, travel through the lock of the Erie Canal – this is a must-visit destination.

  • Closest city: Niagara
  • Entrance fee: $10 full-day parking; attractions have their own set fees




More than 13,000 acres in size is a state park that provides 22 named waterfalls with a special loop trail that will take you past them all. While some areas can be slippery and tough to manage, it’s more difficult to trek this 7.2-mile hike quickly because you’ll be stopping for more photos and a chance to take a dip in some areas.

The park is more than its falls – the tallest of which is 94 feet. There are 20 additional miles of trails and two lakes to explore during a visit to this popular Northeastern Pennsylvania state park.

  • Closest city: Benton
  • Entrance fee: Free


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Ohio’s best gem is the waterfall-filled Hocking Hills, where more than 25 miles take visitors through gorges, along cliffs, and through old-growth forest that becomes especially breathtaking in the fall.

The park has hike-in camping as well as cabins from rustic to glam available at this year-round hotspot. Spend time exploring the caves deep within the park, most particularly the recessed Ash Cave – the largest in the state.

  • Closest city: Logan
  • Entrance fee: Free

Related: 12 Ways to Travel with Kids Safely This Summer and Not Break the Bank




State vs national

If the pictures don’t convince you to try a state park this summer, consider the price: $35 per vehicle is a typical entrance fee per national park. The busier parks may charge more, such as Zion, which charges $20 per person, and Grand Canyon’s West Rim, which starts at $56 per person to enter and visit its Skywalk.

Annual pass

If you want to visit national parks, consider purchasing an annual park pass. This pass allows one car entry to all national parks for a full year (from date of purchase) for $80. If you are planning on visiting multiple parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton are neighboring parks, for example – it is worth it to purchase the pass.


Besides spending time in nature and getting away from noise, technology, and other distractions, state parks are a budget-friendly travel option. With low-priced entrance fees aside, camping is one of the cheapest means of overnight accommodations available. You won’t need to save much for a state park retreat – a 3-day camping weekend for a group of 5 or less often hovers near $100. Even if you don’t want to rough it, rustic and minimalist cabins are often priced well below hotel rates.


You will need the right gear for camping – tent, sleeping bags, flashlights, etc. – and even if you are starting with nothing you can find good deals on gear at discounters like Walmart or on Amazon. Look to online sellers on Craigslist and eBay, where someone may be unloading camping stoves and good tents, as well. Once you have what you need, you’ll be able to store it for future trips and may make camping a regular part of your vacations.


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Featured Image Credit: amolson7 / istockphoto.