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7 Underrated National Parks to Visit in the USA

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado | © Ken Lund / Flickr
When you think of national parks in the United States, big names like Yellowstone are likely the first that come to mind. But when you are planning your next adventure in the great American outdoors, don’t overlook these seven underrated national parks we think are well worth your time.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

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Gates of the Arctic National Park | Gates of the Arctic National Park

The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska is spread out over an astonishing 8.4 million acres, and it lies entirely above the Arctic Circle. Its remote nature means that it receives a relatively paltry 10,000 visitors per year (in 2016); therefore, you will have more space to get up close and personal with polar bears and caribou and witness incredible mountain views. Just remember to schedule your trip outside the winter months, when temperatures can drop to -50°F (-45.5°C).

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Mon - Tue:
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wed - Fri:
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sun:
8:00 am - 5:00 pm

Channel Islands National Park

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Channel Islands National Park, California | Channel Islands National Park, California

The five islands off the coast of Southern California that make up the Channel Islands National Park can only be accessed via boat or plane, immediately making them slightly less accessible and therefore less crowded. Once you’ve arrived, you can snorkel, kayak, hike, and camp to your heart’s content and get to know over 100 types of wildlife species that are not found anywhere else in the world.

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The National Park of American Samoa

Park
Ofu Beach, National Park of American Samoa
Ofu Beach, National Park of American Samoa | Ofu Beach, National Park of American Samoa

The National Park of American Samoa offers a 350-acre coral reef where you can get your snorkel on among schools of incredible fish and other wildlife. The temperate climate of American Samoa means that you can hike, camp, snorkel, swim, and explore year-round.

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Mon - Tue:
8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Wed - Fri:
8:00 am - 4:00 pm

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado | Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

With the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop, it would be difficult not to marvel at nature the entire time you are in the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. But you should really spend time in this park exploring the dunes, which are unique in the United States and resemble something you’d be more likely to find in the desert in Morocco.

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Dry Tortugas National Park

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Fort Jefferson | Fort Jefferson

Valid questions about the name of the park aside, Dry Tortugas National Park is an excellent place to spend a day or a vacation. The park is in the Florida Keys and is technically closer to Cuba than it is to the United States. You’ll need a boat or seaplane to get there, and once you arrive, you’ll have plenty to explore, such as the historic Fort Jefferson, whose architecture is a rarity to find at a national park.

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Congaree National Park

Park
Lower Boardwalk Trail, Congaree National Park
Lower Boardwalk Trail, Congaree National Park | Lower Boardwalk Trail, Congaree National Park

The topography of the Congaree National Park in South Carolina is like nothing else in the United States. Enormous trees, huge leaf canopies, and an abundance of Spanish moss make the park a must-visit for those who love spectacular natural scenery, and there is plenty to do as well, especially excellent bird-watching and canoeing.

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Great Basin National Park

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Great Basin National Park | Great Basin National Park

If you visit the Great Basin National Park in the summer, head straight for the Lehman Caves, which are fascinating to explore and can offer a welcome respite from the heat. And if you should choose to make your visit in the winter, pick up a pair of snowshoes or a snowboard—the landscape is ideal for either activity.

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These recommendations were updated on June 7, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.