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5 Underrated US National Parks

Published 30 March 2016

Jim Cheney

Jim Cheney

Trips to America often include large cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, but no trip to the States would be complete without visiting some of the amazing national parks. Places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Everglades are on many itineraries, but with 59 different national parks spanning the United States, there are many that likely aren’t on your radar.

However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be. So, here are my top five picks for amazing, but underrated US National Parks:

Mount Rainier National Park

If you visit Seattle, Washington, you might notice the giant dormant volcano that dominates the skyline on clear days. What you’re looking at is Mount Rainier. Located a few hours’ drive southeast of the city, Mount Rainier National Park is a fantastic collection of waterfalls, wildflower filled meadows, old growth forest and, of course, Mount Rainier.

Hiking is the park’s most popular activity, but mountain climbing is also quite popular, with almost 5,000 people summiting Mount Rainier every year.

Alpine Lake surrounded by grass and alpine trees

Zion National Park

Located in southern Utah, near the northern edge of the Grand Canyon, is Zion National Park. Like the Grand Canyon, one of the most striking features of Zion National Park is a majestic canyon. At nearly 10 kilometers long and 600 meters deep, Zion Canyon is a remarkable geological feature worth visiting even if you’ve already seen its nearby cousin.

However, Zion National Park isn’t just about the canyon. Hiking is a popular activity for visitors, as is rock climbing for those that are more adventurous.

Hiker with walking stick gazes at sky through an opening in the Narrows in Zion Canyon National Park, Utah

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

One fact that would surprise even many Americans is that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the USA.

At this point you’re asking yourself how it can be underrated if it’s the most visited. However, have you heard of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Have you ever visited it? Odds are, the answer to those questions is ‘no’.

While Great Smoky Mountains National Park might lack some of the jaw-dropping scenery of many other national parks, it makes up for it with over 1,300 km of hiking trails and its relatively close proximity to cities like Nashville and Atlanta.

Hot air balloon above trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

If you’ve ever visited the Cappadocia region in Turkey, then you’ll feel a sense of deja vu at Mesa Verde. Comprised of over 4,000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde is America’s only cultural national park and one of the largest archeological sites in North America.

The area that now comprises the park was home to Native Americans from approximately 600 AD to 1300 AD. During that time, they carved many different dwellings directly into the mountainside. Today, the park is home to one of the best preserved collection of cliff dwellings in the world. Visitors mostly come to the park to see the historic structures, but there are also opportunities for hiking the park’s many trails.

Sculptured buildings in cliff face at Mesa Verde National Park

Acadia National Park

Located along the Atlantic coast of Maine in the northeast corner of the United States, Acadia National Park is a great destination for anyone who loves windswept islands and scenic coastlines.

While Acadia does have many kilometers of hiking trails, the main draw at the park is the beautiful landscapes along the coast. Visitors flock here to see the region’s unique wildlife and to see an area that has changed little since it was first spotted by the explorer Samuel Champlain in 1604.

Trees covering a mountain at Arcadia National Park

 

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