15 Underrated National Parks You Have to Visit (#9 Is The Only One in Its State)

Rediscover America's unsung natural wonders.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone — these titans of nature captivate our imaginations and rightly deserve their iconic status.

But nestled amongst them lie hidden gems, national parks harboring unique wonders and offering unparalleled experiences without the throngs of visitors.

So, step up your travel game and embark on a journey through the National Park System's best-kept secrets.

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Big Bend National Park, Texas

haleturek.raw/Adobe Ernst Tinaja in Big Bend National Park Texas

This sprawling park has everything: an entire mountain range, desert, and winding river canyon.

Its namesake — the bend in the Rio Grande — carves through the cliffs. Here you’ll find great hiking, camping, kayaking, and more.

Despite its size, biodiversity, and unparalleled stargazing, Big Bend remains underrated, perhaps overshadowed by its counterparts in the Southwest.

Biscayne National Park, South Florida

Sceninc Media/Adobe biscayne national park

Just a stone's throw from Miami is Biscayne National Park, a tropical oasis with coral reefs, mangrove forests, and crystal-clear waters.

Snorkeling, diving, fishing, and kayaking are popular activities here, the biggest marine national park in the country.

The park's proximity to a huge metropolis and the famous Everglades contributes to its underrated status.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

TSchofield/Adobe Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park

Carved by the mighty Gunnison River, this park can be an intimidating spectacle.

Hiking straight down the canyon may be too much for some, but there are easier paths on the southern rim, wildlife viewing, water and winter activities, and more.

Here, there’s a sense of solitude rarely found in the crowded nearby parks.

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

forcdan/Adobe canyonlands national park

This park has endless dramatic landscapes featuring buttes, river-carved canyons, and rock formations.

Folks who visit are rewarded with amazing hiking, biking, boating, and stargazing in one of the most remote and rugged landscapes in the American West.

Because of its proximity to Arches and Zion National Parks, Canyonlands often gets overlooked by visitors.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Stephen/Adobe sunrise on the grand wash trail

Capitol Reef National Park is a geological wrinkle tucked away in the heart of south-central Utah. Its towering canyons and cliffs rival those of its more famous neighbors.

After hiking, biking, horseback riding, and stargazing, don’t miss a chance to visit the on-site orchard in Fruita, where you can enjoy its bounty (within regulations).

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

SixthCity/Adobe cuyahoga valley national park

Nestled between Akron and Cleveland, this is the only national park in Ohio.

Visitors can explore forests, the dramatic Brandywine waterfall, and historic landmarks along miles of hiking and biking trails. There are also winter activities and kayaking.

This park remains relatively unknown despite its proximity to major cities, making it a true hidden gem.

Channel Islands National Park, California

Travel Stock/Adobe rock near anacapa island

Dubbed the Galapagos of North America, this archipelago 90 miles off the coast of Southern California is accessible by ferry.

Known for its rugged cliffs and caves, quiet beaches, and abundant marine life, ocean kayaking, snorkeling, and hiking are popular activities here.

Despite its proximity to Los Angeles, the park receives relatively few visitors.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Sceninc Media/Adobe boardwalk trail congaree

This hidden gem is a floodplain (like the Everglades) fed by the Wateree and Congaree Rivers.

The elevated boardwalk is a big draw here, as walking under the super-tall trees is an unparalleled experience. Keep your eye out for abundant wildlife while paddling, too.

Since it’s one of the least-visited national parks, you can escape the crowds here.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Josemaria Toscano/Adobe beautiful panorama of crater lake

The only national park in Oregon is home to one of the deepest and clearest lakes in the world, formed within the caldera of an ancient volcano. Visitors can hike, drive around the rim, fish, and more.

Crater Lake flies under the radar because of the duration of the summer season, but there are winter activities, too.

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Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Peter/Adobe bristlecone pine in great basin

Great Basin National Park is a rugged wilderness of mountains, ancient pine trees, and caves.

Hiking to the summit of Wheeler Peak, exploring Lehman Caves, and stargazing are just a few of the experiences awaiting visitors.

Despite its landscapes and biodiversity, the park remains relatively unknown, perhaps because nearby Vegas and Burning Man get all the attention.

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

Nicola/Adobe pathway to kemil beach

Tucked on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, this gem has towering sand dunes, beaches, and a seriously diverse ecosystem. Guests can enjoy hiking, swimming, and paddling.

Indiana Dunes was only designated as a national park in 2019, making it one of the newest additions to the system.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Michael Brake/Adobe lake manzanita

Lassen Volcanic National Park has stunning lakes and active volcanoes to explore.

Hiking to the Lassen wilderness, exploring the park's hydrothermal areas, boating, winter activities, and camping beneath the stars are just some of the major draws here.

Because of its location, the park receives far fewer visitors than other famous California destinations.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Laura/Adobe diablo lake north cascades

Mt. Ranier has a lot to compete with, which is why this park doesn't get all the attention it should.

It's a sprawling forest with tall peaks, the highest waterfall in the continental U.S., and dazzling glacial beauty.

Hiking through scenic meadows, kayaking on gorgeous mountain lakes, and mountain biking are major attractions at this park.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Max Maximov/Adobe piece of tree trunk stem fossile

This one-of-a-kind park is an otherworldly collection of colorful badlands, petrified wood, and ancient fossils.

Those who venture here are treated to a surreal yet breathtaking landscape unlike anything else on the planet, ripe for hiking and exploration.

The park often gets overshadowed by nearby attractions such as the Grand Canyon and Sedona.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Patrick/Adobe sunset in voyageurs national park

Voyageurs National Park is a water lover's paradise, with a labyrinth of lakes, rivers, and wetlands.

Houseboating, fishing, and birdwatching are the main attractions, though there are historical sites to enjoy on land as well. Watch for the Northern Lights in winter.

Given its location tucked away in chilly Northern Minnesota, this park can fly under the radar.

Bottom line

Monkey Business/Adobe friends hiking single file

So, ditch the tourist traps and embrace the untamed beauty of our underrated national parks.

With their breathtaking landscapes, unique ecosystems, and budget-friendly appeal, these hidden treasures are waiting to be explored.

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Cat Lafuente Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.

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