Top 10 Underrated National Parks

Updated: Feb 24

1) Wrangell St Elias National Park

The largest national park in the United States is also arguably the most spectacular. Four distinct mountain ranges covered in 60% of Alaska's glacial ice, 7 of the top 10 highest peaks in the state, and a wildlife paradise stretching across 13 million acres of wilderness. Everything about Alaska is represented within the park, and unlike many Alaskan parks, Wrangell St. Elias is accessible in several locations by road. With under 80,000 visitors last year, Wrangell St. Elias National Park is without a doubt our most underrated national park.

Don't Miss: Sleeping in one of over a dozen free cabins built by the park service.

2) North Cascades National Park

For those who can't travel to Alaska, Washington's North Cascades National Park is as close as it gets. This hidden gem straddles the border with British Columbia along the glaciated Cascade mountains. The entire national park is a designated wilderness area, so facilities are limited. However, because of this, there are no park fees or parking permits for trailheads. North Cascades National Park is a top destination for hiking enthusiasts wanting to conquer stunning peaks without the crowds farther south.

Don't Miss: The trail to Rainy Lake is perfect for a family and leads to a beautiful blue lake surrounded by waterfalls.

3) Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most accessible parks on this list, but despite this, it's often overlooked by (overrated) Rocky Mountain National Park and the ski areas that surround it. Great Sand Dunes National Park is open year-round, only a few hours from several major cities, and great fun for an entire family. Enjoy the peacefulness of this underrated park before it becomes too discovered.

Don't Miss: Elk herds in the San Luis Valley, often seen at sunset. Also, a wonderful place to photograph the dunes in front of the Sangre de Christo mountains.

4) Kenai Fjords National Park

Less than half as many people visit Kenai Fjords National Park compared to Denali, and this is a big mistake. Located much closer to the tourism capital of Alaska, the Kenai Fjords have far more to offer and require much less planning. The Harding Ice Field trail alone sets this park above the others for its awe-inspiring beauty with such easy access. If you're planning a trip to the last frontier, make sure to add a boat tour of the icy fjords and a day hike up the ice field to your itinerary.

Don't Miss: Camping at the summit of the Harding Icefield Trail. Camping is free and plentiful anywhere hidden from the trail.

5) Big Bend National Park

The Chihuahuan desert is an unforgiving yet beautiful, diverse place. Big Bend National Park protects the best of it. Straddling the northern edge of the Rio Grande in Texas, Big Bend is a very well-managed national park with all the facilities of more popular areas. Being so far from major cities, this uncrowded desert paradise gives visitors the opportunity to see regional fauna and flora in the distinct eco-regions of the park, as well as paddle the international waters or soak in hot springs. Big Bend National Park remains one of the hidden gems of the southwest.

Don't Miss: Driving the Chisos Mountain road in the early morning for the best chance of seeing wildlife.

6) Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park may be popular already, but for being the best national park, it surely holds some secrets. Grand Teton is perfect: open year-round, wildlife loaded, breathtaking, accessible, modern- everything needed for a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, Yellowstone National Park casts a large shadow as America's first and most famous national park and tends to steal the attention. If I had to recommend a single travel destination for any time of year, you can be certain it'd be Grand Teton National Park.

Don't Miss: Gros Ventre Road along the east side of the park, where elk, moose, and bear sightings are quite common.

7) Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is in a tough league. Often forgotten compared to Zion and Arches, Capitol Reef offers something seldom seen in Utah's big five: solitude. Even in peak season, the back roads of Capitol Reef that wind through sheer canyons and among giant sandstone monuments are rarely driven. If you're looking for a true Utah experience, set your sights on Capitol Reef National Park.

Don't Miss: Camping above Cathedral Valley is one of the many free campsites on the park's boundary. Fishlake National Forest borders the northwest end of the park and offers many scenic viewpoints and camp spots free of charge.

8) Great Basin National Park

I have a personal fondness for Great Basin, having grown up exploring the uniqueness of sky-islands in the southwest. Great Basin manages to capture the magic of these landforms in a perfect way thanks to the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive up to 10,000 ft. With around 100 visitors per day in the off-season (and often much less), a trip across the desert to this mountain oasis is quite worth it.

Don't Miss: Walking on Rock Glacier, the only glacier in Nevada.

9) Gates of the Arctic National Park

Our northernmost park, if the name didn't give it away, is one of our most impressive. Hidden north of the arctic circle, frozen in tundra permafrost hides an untouched mountain range among which wildlife roams completely free. This park is also the nation's largest wilderness area, about the size of Belgium where caribou, grizzly bears, moose, and wolverines all call home. Although no roads lead into the park, the Dalton Highway comes close, and in the months of darkness, the sky can become as alive as the valleys.

Don't Miss: September through April, when the darkness allows for otherworldly northern lights over the entire park.

10) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The Gunnison River in Colorado drops at an impressive rate of 34 feet per mile, creating a canyon so steep, some areas of the gorge receive only 30 minutes of sunlight per day, leading to its iconic name. The national park protects the unique alpine desert ecosystem of the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. The wilderness area has been protected since 1933, providing a sanctuary for birds of prey and larger mammals whose populations are quickly diminishing elsewhere in the state. If you find yourself on I-70 heading towards Utah, plan a day in the Gunnison and you won't be disappointed.

Don't Miss: South Rim Drive along the edge of the canyon for spectacular views and overlooks.

Check out our Top 5 Most Overrated National Parks!


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

©2020 The Right to Explore SPC

The Right to Explore SPC is required by the Washington Secretary of State to use profits and donations towards their social purpose.