America’s Best Hidden Parks

“America the Beautiful” is certainly an appropriate description. Here are some lesser-known parks that you shouldn't miss!

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“America the Beautiful” is certainly an appropriate description. From the thundering power of the Niagara Falls, the panoramic splendor of the Grand Canyon, and the towering proportions of Mount McKinley, residents are surrounded by some of the most majestic places on Earth. But what about all the places in between? The Post has compiled a list of America’s lesser-known scenic beauty. We invite you to post your tales of visits to these locales and any other hidden treasures below.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park
According to the National Park Service, more than 104,000 people made a recreational visit to the park in 2008, compared to the more than 9 million people that visited the Smoky Mountains. Congaree, the largest old-growth floodplain forest in America, is a treasure trove of wildlife, including everything from river otters to marbled salamanders. The swampland is also noted for its hiking trails, fishing, kayaking, and its 2.4-mile elevated boardwalk.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake
More than 7,000 years ago, Oregon’s Mount Mazama erupted in one of the most violent explosions known to man. The resulting implosion of the mountain created this 6-mile wide, ½-mile deep lake which features some of the clearest blue waters in the world and is the deepest in the United States. According to the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program, Crater Lake was one of very few eruptions since 10,000 B.C. with a Volcanic Explosivity Index of 7. To put it in perspective, Mount Vesuvius (known for the destruction of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum) was a 4. The region’s long winter season, lasting from October to June, makes it one of the snowiest areas in the Northwest.

Isle Royale, Michigan

Isle Royale
Located 55 miles north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and accessible only by boat or plane, Isle Royal creates an incredibly unique ecosystem where scientists and citizens alike flock to study some of the most untouched wildlife in the world. Many of the island chains’ inhabitants, including grey wolves, moose, and muskrats, are normally found over larger areas. Due to Isle Royale’s smaller habitat and limited amount of natural resources, it creates fierce competition among the wildlife, resulting in a survival of the fittest mind-set. Isle Royale exemplifies virgin, pristine wilderness and the ability of life to adapt and flourish against the odds, and that is what makes this park truly special.

Guadalupe Mountains, Texas

Guadalupe Mountains
Although the Guadalupe Mountains are located in a desert, one of the biggest attractions is a well-preserved, 250-million-year-old fossilized Coral Reef, a reminder of how much life and landscape can change. In modern time, the mountain elevation creates a biological event uncommon in the Southwest: seasonal leaf change. The cactus is king throughout most of the park, but the temperatures at higher elevations are cool enough for deciduous plants to thrive, resulting in a colorful autumn that seems like September in New England with a Texas twist.

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller, Vermont

Marsh Billings-Rockefeller
The natural splendor of this national historic park’s Vermont countryside is reminiscent of the land that made our founding fathers fall in love with America. Rolling hills and captivating forests form a backdrop against which the relationship of nature and man is explored. The park is named after four well-known conservationists: George Perkins Marsh, considered by many the father of the American Conservationist Movement; Frederick Billings; and Laurence and Mary Rockefeller. Visitors can tour the mansion and gardens, which were home to all three of the namesakes at different periods of time, as well as enjoy the picturesque woodlands and programs on forestry and other conservation efforts.

Conkles Hollow, Ohio

Ash Cave (Hocking Hills)
Located in Ohio’s Hocking Hills State Park, Conkles Hollow is a hiker’s dream. The cooler climate, a holdover from the last ice age, allowed trees such as the Canada yew, Eastern hemlock, and yellow birch to grow farther south than normally found, and Conkles Hollow’s natural coolness has allowed these northern trees to thrive, millennia after the glaciers receded. These trees blend with several native trees, resulting in over 150 different species putting on a colorful display every fall. Several trails lead through this scenic area, including a 3-mile rim trail overlooking the gorge from atop its 200- to 300-foot cliffs.

Great Basin, Nevada

Great Basin
The Great Basin National Park, which was visited by less than 70,000 people in 2008, is only a small piece of the large area known as The Great Basin, which covers virtually all of Nevada and a good portion of the surrounding states. It has an independent hydrology, meaning water here does not flow into larger systems like the Pacific or the Gulf of Mexico, but instead remains self-contained. This national park showcases the best facets of this region. The varying elevation (between 5,000 feet and 13,000 feet) allows a wide variety of life to flourish, and at night stargazers get a chance to see an astounding array, including spectacular views of the Milky Way, with the naked eye.

Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park
Visitors are astounded by the sheer magnitude of the Redwoods towering up to 325 feet overhead—the tallest trees on Earth. Home to salmon-filled streams, grassy meadows, the Pacific coast, and tide pools (rocky formations that hold water during low tide and sustain unique life forms), Redwood National Park has more to offer than the trees. An immense variety of animals, from the aptly named banana slug to the Pacific gray whale, live here. Fewer than 400,000 people visited this pristine forest last year, while neighboring Yosemite hosted more than 3.4 million.

Glacier Bay, Alaska

Glacier Bay, Alaska
The name “Glacier Bay” offers unique insight into these icy giants which shaped the natural landscape of North America. In 1794, Captain George Vancouver and his crew surveyed a glacier of immense proportions (4,000 feet thick, 20 miles wide, and 100 miles long). This icy, barren landscape supported little life. However, it retreated some 60 miles over the next 125 years, and a bona fide wildlife haven was left in its wake. Killer whales stalk seals in these icy waters, while their larger relatives, humpbacks and gray whales, come for prey of a much smaller variety—plankton and krill. Another predator, the extremely rare blue bear (or glacier bear) can be found on land in this hidden treasure, along with hundreds of other animals, scenic mountains, and new-growth forests.

Nantahala, North Carolina

The Cherokee, who are native to this national forest, call it Nantahala, meaning the “Land of the Noonday Sun.” High noon is the only time the sun is not blocked by the western North Carolina Appalachians. This forest boasts a wealth of attractions, including awesome waterfalls, 400-year-old trees, scenic gorges, and the 5,200-foot high Wayah Bald. The Nantahala River is known as one of the best places to go whitewater rafting in the United States and is a great spot for fishing. This place also boasts a captivating history. During one of the darkest times in American history, the Cherokee were forcibly removed from much of the southeastern United States in the “Trail of Tears.” However, a brave few used the Nantahala as cover, hiding among the trees and successfully avoiding Andrew Jackson’s forces. They live here to this day, preserving a way of life that was nearly destroyed and demonstrating the resilience of the human spirit.

Waimoku Falls, Hawaii

Waimoku Falls
The adventure of getting to this spectacular Hawaiian waterfall is almost as much fun as seeing it. First, visitors hop on to Maui’s famed Hana Highway, a 60-mile stretch of road known for hairpin turns and breathtaking views. Then, they venture onto Haleakala National Park’s Pipiwai Trail. Roughly 4 miles round trip, this hike showcases scenic waterways, stunning ocean views, and lush vegetation. The trail ends at majestic Waimoku Falls, a 400-foot waterfall that drops over a sheer lava wall into a pool of boulders. Waimoku Falls is one of Hawaii’s “Seven Sacred Pools,” many of which can be seen along the trail.

Black Canyon, Colorado

Black Canyon
Narrow walls and stunning, sheer vertical drops of well over 2,000 feet render Black Canyon a sight to behold—for anyone without a fear of heights! The Gunnison River, which runs at the bottom of the canyon, settled on its current course millions of years ago. Slowly but surely, the river has been cutting away ever since, sometimes as slowly as 1 inch every hundred years. The combination of water and time created an awesome natural wonder, as well as a rocky timeline of Earth’s history. From relatively young rock at the top to nearly 2-billion-year old Precambrian-age rock at the bottom, the canyon showcases geology from almost every era of life. Only 160,000 people visited the Black Canyon in 2008, compared to the 2.7 million visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park and over 4.4 million to the Grand Canyon, making it a hidden treasure indeed.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Mammoth Cave
At roughly 367 miles long, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world. To put its “Mammoth” size in perspective, consider that it is more than 200 miles longer than its runner-up, South Dakota’s Jewel Cave. Mammoth Cave offers beauty in addition to sheer size. Astonishing geological features have been created from thousands of years of water running over limestone. More than 80 forms of trees and 1,200 types of flowering plants reside harmoniously above ground and 300-million-year-old fossils have been discovered in the cave.

North Cascades, Washington

North Cascades
Washington’s Olympic Park, renowned as one of the best national parks in the country, features a fabulous array of different terrains, wildlife, and ecosystems and attracted more than 3 million visitors in 2008. However, visitors who prefer the road less traveled will rave about nearby North Cascades, an off-the-radar wilderness that rivals its interstate neighbor in astonishing natural scenery and ecological diversity. This National Park Service Complex, which also includes Lake Chelan and Ross Lake, is a true gem. The relatively small number of visitors—about 19,000 to North Cascades, 25,000 to Lake Chelan, and 253,000 to Ross Lake in 2008—is astonishing. Those that do come enjoy a serene, tranquil landscape with privacy harder to come by at other, more well-traveled parks.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt had no idea what was in store when he first came here on a hunting trip in 1883. He, like many at this time, had come to hunt the prized buffalo. After the deaths of both his mother and wife, mere hours apart, he returned here to start a new life as a cattle rancher. This rebuilding period changed Roosevelt. Enchanted by the wide-open spaces and captivating scenery inherent to the Badlands, he realized that America is a special place, full of beauty, and that it is important to preserve it. Without this chapter in his life, we might never have had the conservationist president, whose efforts created the National Park Service as we know it today. This park, which was initially part of the ranching business, is named in his honor. Today, visitors enjoy the same landscape; a wide variety of northern grassland plants and animals, including a healthier bison population; and a spectacular night sky, occasionally featuring the northern lights.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park, Montana
Driving along the “Going to the Sun” highway, visitors will be awestruck by the glacially carved mountain backdrop and 1 million-plus acres of untouched wilderness, teaming with a thousand types of wildflowers and wildlife ranging from bighorn sheep to the Canada lynx. Across the border, Canada’s Waterton-Lakes National Park preserves the uninterrupted natural landscape, and together they form the world’s first international park, appropriately titled Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Click below to expand:
All images courtesy National Park Service

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  1. I have made it to four of these locations and have hit the “hidden treasures” mark. You have given me a list of future vacation spots…

    Thanks Aaron!!

  2. Love Crater Lake i think you fail to realize how massive it is unless you actually visit it. It is completly breathe taking! Really! Its a high altitude. But I also recconmend going during the winter if your brave. The park is cllosed to cars but Snowmobils and Quads have the run of the place. The buildings are covered but the veiw of the lake from the rim is amazing!

  3. Thanks for the “treasures”. I’ve visited some of them and your piece makes me want to see each one.

  4. Lassen Volcano National Park in Northern California is like beauty and the beast. Clear, blue skies over reflecting lakes then a short hike over semi-rugged and often snowy terrain (a 6-year old handled it well) brings you to the mud pots and steaming fumaroles nestled amongst the towering pines. It gives one the feeling of being in at the creation…or is it the destruction, of the world.
    Lassen Peak itself stands out on the landscape; you’ll see it at least an hour before you get to the park. Call ahead from November to May: the roads are sometimes snowbound.

  5. American Falls gets over 150,000 gallons of water a second. Thats far from wimpy. If you would read beyond the first line, you would see that this is not propaganda, but rather a celebration of America’s pretty landscapes. Give me a break, geez.

  6. America the beautiful is named after the Colorado Rockies not Niagra Falls.

  7. The Guadalupe Mountains are incredible. I hiked them years ago and was astounded to see fall colors next to cactus, and GREEN, and rain! Except for the cactus, the others are not to be found for a huge radius. I wept at the beauty.

  8. You forgot the only Tropical Forest under the US Forest Service. El Yunque has been a Federal Forest Reserve for over a century. El Yunque National Forest has been nominated among 261 other elite national and international candidate nature locations to participate in the New 7 Wonders of Nature worldwide campaign! You can see it here:

  9. Have been to both Mammoth Cave in KY and Conkles Hollow in OH. Both are absolutely majestic and worth the trips. You couldn’t ask for more of an exotic adventure in Mammoth Cave and stunning beauty in Conkles Hollow. If you live within a 2 day drive – do yourself a favor and take the trip!!

  10. Black Canyon was great.. Was there in the winter time though, had to dig a campsite in 2 feet of snow. Try and go when its nicer 🙂

  11. I grew up 45 minutes from Conkles Hollow, so to go there you didn’t even think about what a big deal it was. Moved to VA 2 years ago and miss the Hocking Hills a ton now.

  12. I noticed you mentioned the ‘thundering power of the Niagara Falls’ in your heading. The falls on the US side are actually quite wimpy.

    However you do have many of the free worlds most stunning landscapes.

  13. When I saw this list my first thought was “they better have Conkles Hollow and the Black Canyon”. I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll have to visit the rest!

  14. Niagara Falls (the falls that everybody thinks of when the place is mentioned) is Canadian. The American side of the falls are a piddly little trickle, hardly worthy of the name. Typical American propaganda to claim something as their own when it is not.

  15. they are so beautiful, tats pity i never go there before. it really worth the trips to c such stunning view. i believe there is still has a lot of uncover treasury around america.


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