Explore! 6 National Parks Worth Knowing

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While all the National Parks are glorious, it seems spots like Yellowstone and Yosemite get most of the glory. There are 58 national parks in the USA, though—and it’s likely you haven’t heard of all of them. Some may even be around the corner from where you live. An added bonus? They’re less-frequented than their more popular counterparts (read, less crowded). Yet they offer just as much of a nature punch—as well as their own brand of local charm.

Here are six parks worth getting to know:

North Cascades National Park, WA 

Explore more than 300—yep, 300!—glaciers in one of the country’s most scenic parks, only three hours from Seattle. With its jagged, snow-capped peaks, alpine lakes, and streams—not to mention a rainforest on one side, and dry, ponderosa pines on the other—this park offers diverse, yet stunning views. North Cascades has all the usual fun park activities, too, like fishing, camping, backpacking, cycling, and of course hiking—along 400 (yep, 400!) miles of trails—making it one of the best (and prettiest) places to count your steps.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, IN

Located along Lake Michigan’s southern shore, this park offers a serene mix of nature—to the tune of 45 miles of trails, featuring tree-lined paths, sandy beaches, rivers, prairies, and of course soft (yet challenging!) dunes to climb. You can even meander into adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park for three more miles of shoreline. Be sure to check out Trail 9 for stunning views of Lake Michigan.

Great Basin National Park, NV

Far from a bland, desert landscape, Great Basin offers twisty, 5000-year-old bristlecone pine trees, jagged, snowcapped mountains (including 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak) and the otherworldly Lehman Caves. The caves (full of bats, spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, and unique vegetation) were once a national monument themselves in 1922, and were later included as part of the national park in 1986. Of course, Great Basin is packed with trails—spanning 60 miles, ranging from short, informative nature hikes to strenuous, high-altitude climbs.

Big Bend National Park, TX

If you visit in April or May—and love birds—you’re in luck as this hidden gem of a park (and Texas’ largest, public expanse) is packed with hundreds of avian species, including the exclusive Colima Warbler. There are over 150 miles of trails, including 20 miles of hiking in the Chisos Mountains—which boasts the 7832-foot Emory Peak. Spend the night backpacking in the desert wilderness and enjoy sleeping under one of the best, starry skies. Or consider an accessible nature hike along the fabled Rio Grande.

Buffalo National River, AR

Welcome to America’s first national river—not to mention, natural water park—where you can enjoy hiking along bluffs, leafy trails, through shallow water, and over boulders. You can also fish or kayak through gentle pools and rumbling rapids. (Just be sure to stash your Fitbit tracker in a dry spot before you get soaked.) The park is also excellent for horseback riding, and features 75 miles of designated equestrian paths.

Congaree National Park, SC

Home to 25 miles of hiking trails through one of the country’s largest hardwood forests, Congaree offers solace and solitude. Boardwalks wind through floodlands and verdant paths lead to lakes. There’s even a marked, 15-mile canoe trail that meanders through the Congaree wilderness. Rangers offer guided canoe trips, or if you prefer to paddle on your own, you can gear up in nearby Columbia.

 

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