The Great Outdoors carries different meanings and images depending on who you ask and where they're located. Not all outdoor environments are created equal and that's part of what makes each venture outwards so unique. While many of us have favorite spots that we frequent, maybe due to proximity or fond memories, there are large number of National Parks that you'll rarely find on a bucket list. Today I wanted to talk about some of those lesser known parks and why they absolutely deserve to be added to your list. As the true adventurer prefers the road less travelled, perhaps these less frequented parks can yet provide adventures you'll tell for years to come.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve - Alaska
With just under 20,000 visitors per year, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is located in the more remote regions of Alaska. Being a non-continental state, the low visitation numbers make sense, but what that means is you'll be treated to a practically untouched environment. Lake Clark boasts a variety of environments from active volcanoes, mountains, and of course, lakes. Because this is one of the lesser visited parks, wildlife such as brown bears, moose, and even wolves can be more commonly sighted at Lake Clark. The park hosts a plethora of activities from hiking trails, kayaking, boat tours and even bike trails.
If you're looking for a isolated outdoor experience, making the trek up to Alaska for Lake Clark, and other local attractions is a great bucket list item for the more adventurous explorer.
North Cascades National Park - Washington
Next to the great state of Alaska lies the North Cascades National Park, located in Washington state. Located just 3 hours away from Seattle, North Cascades is a reasonable weekend trip for locals or visitors. Called the 'American Alps' due to being one of the snowiest places in the United States, you'll be treated to amazing snow-capped mountain visages throughout the entire park. There are a multitude of hiking trails of varying difficulties, allowing everyone from a first time hiker to an experienced outdoorsman a unique and memorable experience.
For anyone with an interest in geology, North Cascades features the 2nd most glacier views in the States, giving you a view into how these mountain ranges were carved throughout the centuries. Additional activities such as horseback riding, river rafting and a nearly endless amount of hiking trails, North Cascades is a must see for anyone visiting the Emerald City.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Texas
Anyone who is a fan of old western movies would love a trip to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, located in the great state of Texas. A desert environment with canyons, mountains and sand-dunes that looks like it could be the background of any old western (and likely has been at some point). As Texas is known for 'bigger is better', Guadalupe National Park extends across not just one, but three different ecosystems. With over 80 miles of trailhead, some of which can be traversed on horseback, you can really live out your inner cowboy dreams.
Old western tropes aside, geology buffs will also be excited to visit the world's most extensive Permian fossil reef, located within the park.
Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
While most of us are likely more comfortable with large land-locked environments, Voyageurs national park may take you slightly out of your comfort zone, but provides awe-inspiring scenery in one of the most unique locations in the country. A series of lakes connected by waterways, small islands dot the park sporadically. Take a boat to explore your own private islands, but be sure to turn your gaze upwards as night falls! Featuring consistent views of the Northern Lights and other star based spectacles.
For those of you that like it a bit colder, Voyageurs National Park offers snow mobile rides across the frozen lakes in the winter, giving you an unparalleled Northern Lights experience.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park - New Mexico
I've mentioned it in a previous post, but it's no surprise that Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of the lesser known national parks, being that it's all based underground! Located in New Mexico, this park hosts the continent's largest limestone chamber, along with several series of well-lit and guided tunnels for you to explore. While most of us associate the outdoors with green grass and sunshine, caves are completely natural formations with their own ecosystems that can only be found in - you guessed it - other caves.
Cave diving is a traditionally dangerous activity, which is why Carlsbad Caverns is special. Having been made safe with plenty of lighting, signage, and knowledgeable staff allows you to do an otherwise frightening activity with heightened safety measures.
Being that there are many National Parks across the country, plenty of lesser-known parks did not make their way onto this list. While you may not need to book a flight to one of the places on here, hopefully this gives you some ideas of the environments you'd like to experience. A quick internet search may reveal what's in closer proximity to you, giving you a similar experience without the added expense. Certain parks are more popular than others, and for good reason, but with that added popularity means a larger human footprint. For those of us who prefer less human interaction when we venture outwards, I would highly suggest looking for some of the lesser known sites to provide a more private and authentic experience.