In 2017, more than 330 million people visited U.S. national parks. Some of the most popular sites, such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Grand Canyon National park, can draw millions of visitors each year, sometimes making for crowded conditions.
While there’s no denying the beauty of the most visited parks, the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, has some suggestions for some lesser-known parks that offer much of the same beauty, history and chances to see wildlife.
Here are five suggestions:
Devils Postpile National Monument, California
Just 90 minutes from the very popular Yosemite National Park this monument offers much of the same: waterfalls, majestic granite monoliths and gorgeous valleys. More information.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
This park offers “some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks” along a narrow canyon. The park is ideal for hikers of all levels as well as fishing and stargazing. More information.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
This park can only be accessed by plane, but once you get there, you’ll find pristine lakes, arctic plant life and two active volcanoes. Bear viewing is one of the most popular activities here. More information.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Tennessee
Just two hours away from the most popular national park in the country, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, this park showcases Native American history and served as the gateway to the west during colonial times and beyond. There’s also plenty of natural beauty, particularly at sunrise. More information.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Visitors to this park will see the tallest sand dunes in North America. But it’s not all desert. The park also has mountains, wetlands, forest and tundra. Make sure to sand sled on the dunes if you go. More information.
The National Park Service was established in 1916. It oversees 417 areas such as national parks, national monuments, national battlefield, military parks, historical parks, seashores, rivers, trails and the White House, covering some 34 million hectares in every state and territory.
For more information, check out this page.
You can see the rest of the best alternatives here.