We are born Free. Live Free in wonderment.
Last year, the 419 sites that make up the U.S. National Park System received more than 327 million visitors. That’s 2.8 percent more than the previous year, and the numbers keep growing, making it more difficult to enjoy some of these natural sites without competing with other tourists for a good view.
According to data released earlier this year, the usual contenders kept their top spots as the most-visited national parks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park came in first place with 12.5 million visitors, while the Grand Canyon received 5.97 million visits, followed by Rocky Mountain National Park (4.7 million) and Zion (4.5 million).
While these parks certainly offer some stunning views, 58 other national parks are just as impressive. If you’re looking to ditch the crowds and get in touch with Mother Nature, here are some alternative options to these popular parks.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
If you’re interested in visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park, consider heading to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park instead. Stretching across three states (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia), Cumberland Gap offers miles of scenic trails with diverse plant life, wildlife, and caves for visitors to explore. The park also has a fascinating history as it was once considered the “first great gateway to the West.” It’s the best attraction, however, is the colorful sunrises that peek over the mountains. This spectacular show of colors dancing across the sky is undoubtedly worth the early morning wake up call.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The sheer size of the Grand Canyon is enough to impress visitors, as are its colorful rock formations. Still, Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is also a geological wonder worth visiting. At this park, visitors can explore some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in the world, or take it easy with some of the shorter, more accessible hikes. Scenic drives around Black Canyon are another appealing option to see the park. At the same time, fishing fans will want to head down to the Gunnison River, which is designated as Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water.
Great Basin National Park
While Nevada is mostly known for its desert landscapes, Great Basin National Park showcases the diversity of flora and fauna that can be found in other parts of the state. Presenting an alternative to Rocky Mountain National Park, Great Basin offers hiking trails through sage-covered hills, ancient bristlecone pine forests, and more. Visitors of the area’s previous glacial activity can also see the stalactite-filled Lehman Caves. As an International Dark Sky Park, Great Basin is also perfect for stargazing.
Capitol Reef National Park
With both Zion and Arches National Parks located in Utah, it’s easy for the state’s other natural beauties to miss out on the credit they deserve. Instead of—or perhaps in addition to—visiting those parks, head to south-central Utah’s red rock country for a visit to Capitol Reef National Park. Filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, which is a geologic “wrinkle on the earth,” this park extends almost 100 miles and offers plenty to see and do. Guests can also roam through the park’s orchards and its nearly 2,000 trees as they pick cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, mulberries, almonds, and walnuts.
While the top four national parks are popular for a reason and worth a visit, don’t miss out on these equally impressive hidden gems.
Guest Writer: Jessica Poitevien
Jessica is a freelance journalist on a quest to see and experience everything our gorgeous planet has to offer and to share her experiences with her fellow travelers. Jessica has written for several world-class Travel Magazines. Email Jessica at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cover Photo: Courtesy of Jacob Frank
Jessica is a freelance journalist on a quest to see and experience everything our gorgeous planet has to offer and to share her experiences with her fellow travelers. Jessica has written for several world-class Travel Magazines.