Discover 11 US national parks that are total hidden gems

Nearly everyone has heard of Yosemite and Zion, but there are more than 400 sites in the US National Park System, 60 of which have official national park designation.

In 2018, more than 50% of 84 million national park visits were spread across only 10 parks. But at these 11 destinations, we promise that the people are sparse but the views are plentiful.

11. North Cascades National Park, Washington

Despite its mountain vistas and placid lakes, this park is one of the least visited. Less than 3 hours from Seattle, the park’s accessibility makes it an easy trip for day hikers or backpackers.

Diablo Lake and Desolation Peak are a couple of noteworthy routes with dramatic views. Though summer is prime visitation time, there are a few facilities that remain open year-round.

10. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

An alternative to the Great Smoky Mountains, its hardwood forest and biodiversity make it a hit with hikers. Part of the Congaree Biosphere Reserve, it's recognized for its rare ecosystems.

In addition to walking the trails and exploring the park by canoe, keep an eye out for the synchronous fireflies that make their debut between May and June.

9. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

While not as easily accessible as some parks, it is open year-round. Found on seven islands in the Gulf of Mexico, visitors go for its rare bird populations, historic military fort and clear waters.

Consider snorkeling at one of the protected coral reefs or scouting for sooty terns and magnificent frigatebirds along the Great Florida Birding Trail.

8. Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, Alaska

As the largest in the country, this park’s 13.2 million acres mean human contact is sparse. Wildlife sightings are more than common, however, as it's home to the largest single wilderness in the US.

Glaciers, historic mining sites and dramatic mountain ranges are all part of the experience. Backpacking the park requires serious planning and the prime time to visit is between June and September.

7. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

From backpacking to scuba diving, this park is diverse in experiences and landscapes. Located in the middle of Lake Superior, the park’s rugged beauty and accessible isolation are its primary draws.

Head to Rock Harbor and Windigo for some great day hikes or dive deep to see some of the best preserved shipwrecks in the country. Late summer tends to be the best time to visit.

6. Katmai National Park, Alaska

With eight national parks in Alaska, it’s hard to pick a favorite. However, Katmai has earned its reputation as a prime wildlife viewing destination, though visitors are still fairly sparse.

Its varied landscape, volcanic history and bear watching make it worthy of any bucket list. Explore the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes – the result of a massive eruption in the early 20th century.

5. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

On the Canadian border with the Boundary Waters as a backdrop, Voyageurs caters primarily to canoers and fishermen. About four hours from Minneapolis by car, Voyageurs is open year-round.

However, the summer months are best for hiking and boating. In addition to its island-dotted lakes, Kettle Falls and The Ellsworth Rock Gardens are a couple more of the park’s highlights.

4. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

One of the newest national parks, White Sands suits its name. Composed of giant, white sand dunes that span several miles, the park is home to the largest gypsum dunefield in the world.

There are many trails to explore – as well as an eight-mile scenic drive – though many visitors choose to take in the sights by sled. Consider a native plant tour or guided walk around Lake Lucero.

3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Though not as grandiose as some of the others on this list, it is far from underwhelming. Vast prairielands (or "badlands") and canyons mark the landscape, which is cradled by the Missouri River.

Backcountry hiking and backpacking are popular activities, as well as camping for those seeking epic views of the Milky Way. With abundant bison, the park is also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.

2. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Home to a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth called the Waterpocket Fold, the park’s unique geology and prime location in Utah’s red rock country make it a great spot.

If Bryce and Zion are on your radar, consider a trip here instead. In addition to its canyons and dramatic deserts, it is also one of the country’s top stargazing spots, so be prepared to make camp.

1. Pinnacles National Park, California

Only a short drive from some of the most scenic towns on California’s Central Coast (including Santa Cruz and Monterey), Pinnacles National Park is relatively unknown across the US.

The park’s volcanic landscape is home to caves and other geological wonders, attracting both hikers and climbers. Pinnacles’ High Peaks are also a prime viewing spot for California condors.