The Lesser Known Parks of the United States
Did you know that the USA is home to 423 nationally owned parks and monuments, each with its own unique history and incredible scenery? While travelers are familiar with the more popular locations like Zion, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon, lesser-known parks can be equally enticing. With a broad range of influences from different cultures to unique ecosystems unlike any others in the world, very few tour operators incorporate these hidden gems into their itineraries.
By traveling with DA to these lesser-known parks, guests are not only raking in the benefits of traveling to places that are less frequented by tourists, but also helping to ease the stress, congestion, and overall decline of destinations faced with overtourism. As a company that is committed to sustainability in all we do, Destination America is confident that your guests will take pride in knowing that their choice in travel partner meant they got the experience of a lifetime, while doing right by underrated destinations and their communities. We strongly believe that as a tour operator, we have a duty toward every place we visit, whether it be protecting them from overcrowding, or bringing tourism to communities that need support in their development.
At Destination America, we know there are many benefits to featuring less frequented parks on tours, and we strive to elevate guests’ travel experience. Enjoying the easy access, untouched nature, and stunning views at these parks will be the talk of the evening when guests return from their day to relax in family-owned hotels and boutique lodging, rather than highly commercialized hotels and the overpriced chains that come with it. Less-traveled parks offer guests breathtaking scenery, as well as “1-on-1” moments with nature that ground them, bring serenity, and heighten their sense of wonder and discovery. Each traveler is gifted the chance to connect with their surroundings and wildlife at a more personal level. Out of the many places travelers can choose for their next adventure, the following five are a sample of these not to be missed destinations:
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia
With DA as the first and only tour operator bringing guests to New River Gorge, we can offer an unrivaled experience that is off the beaten path, serene, and enriching to all curious travelers. It is here that guests will dive deeper into American history beyond the textbook and learn about the many smaller movements that shaped the nation. As the latest addition to the National Parks system, New River Gorge distinguishes itself from the rest in several unexpected ways. From the spectacular contrasts between nature and the remnants of a once bustling industrial community, to the largest area of mid-Atlantic forest left in the world, this park offers a glimpse into the rich past and present of West Virginia. Whether hiking, chasing whitewater rapids and waterfalls, or admiring the bridges that stand as high as 876 feet above the New River, all offer a way to connect with one of the oldest rivers on Earth and the diverse ecosystems it has carved into the Appalachian Mountains. A little-known piece of New River Gorge history takes us back to the early days of coal mining and logging; once exploding industries that sustained Appalachian states and left their mark on the people and the environment. The area was the birthplace of Black History Month celebrations, the legend of John Henry and construction of vital railways, women activists such as Mother Jones, known as the “Miner’s Angel” who fought for labor rights in the coal industry, and so many other extraordinary stories and events.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
This blinding landscape is the result the world’s largest natural gypsum dune field that has formed in the Tularosa Basin. Powdery soft white sand beckons to visitors that are eager to kick off their shoes and explore the outdoors in unexpected ways. While hiking or sledding along these magnificent dunes, guests can hone their photography skills, admire the unusual plants and animals, like the White Sands pupfish and Skunkbush Sumac that call this environment home, or even cycle on the hard-packed gypsum. White Sands is the perfect place for colorful sunrises or sunsets, and brilliant night skies for stargazers. Full moon events and hikes, meteor shower viewings, and endemic moth discovery are just a few of the ways this park captivates visitors. Those that live for a delightful story, they will find no shortage of them here, as the dunes hold generations of tales from native cultures, explorers, miners, ranchers, and even military activity. A particularly special experience leads guests on an adventure hike to Lake Lucero, where the iconic gypsum and selenite form when abundant rain or snow fills the lakebed. At Destination America, White Sands National Park is a popular destination, and travelers will always have the best selection of experiences that take advantage of unique parks such as this one.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
Located in Chinle, Arizona, this National Monument sits entirely on Navajo tribal lands. An ancient site that has sustained humans for thousands of years, it is distinguished by the iconic 750-foot sandstone spire of Spider Rock, named after Spider Woman, an important figure in Navajo legend. While this landscape may look harsh, it is teeming with life thanks to rich soils and natural water supplies. It also shields the impressive structures carved into the sheer rock walls by native civilizations, such as White House Ruins and Mummy Cave. The serene atmosphere of the canyon paired with cultural insights and geological wonders invites all who visit to connect with their surroundings and appreciate the Navajo community that thrives here. Self-guided hikes and scenic drives complement the adventure with overlooks that span incredible views. Having local insight into this wonderous place is key to understanding the importance of the canyon and why all efforts to preserve it are so valuable. As this park is administrated by both the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, the only way to tour the canyon is with an authorized guide. Destination America treats your guests to an exploration of this sacred area on special 6×6 terrain vehicles led by a Navajo guide, who will take groups to the impressive viewpoints and the sites of Puebloan structures that are still standing to this day.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
As an International Dark Sky Park, Capitol Reef lends itself to unforgettable visits that contrast geological wonders with some of the most pristine views of the night skies in the west. Though not many of us are fortunate enough to live in communities without light pollution, this national park proves just how important darkness is to all living things. Visitors can witness nocturnal fauna such as Ringtails that thrive in this unique environment and briefly escape the artificial blue light of our modern world. Beyond the spectacular nights, guests can discover this unique and remote Utah landscape by hiking the many well-marked trails or driving along scenic Highway 24. The park’s most distinguishing feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a nearly 100-mile warp in the rock layers of the Earth’s crust that was created through tectonic activity and erosion as water is captured in the many folds and depressions. Amazingly, this feature extends all the way to Lake Powell. This “wrinkle” in the heart of red rock country is at the center of the park’s craggy cliffs and canyon, monoliths, natural bridges, and arches. As experts that specialize in active itineraries and bringing guests to remote and off-the-beaten-path national parks, DA looks forward to engaging visitors that cannot wait to explore everything and anything, from challenging slot canyon hikes and preserved petroglyphs to the bright white formations of Navajo Sandstone that resemble capitol building domes.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
California is known for its diversity in landscapes, and a surprising example of the state’s volcanic past is found in Lassen Volcanic National Park. A pristine park in the state’s north, the steaming fumaroles and bright wildflowers are framed by jagged snow-topped mountain peaks. Amazingly, all four types of volcanoes found in the world (shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite) can be found in Lassen Volcanic National Park. It is also home to the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, Lassen Peak. Exploring this park will lead guests on a discovery of sparkling lakes, waterfalls, bubbling mudpots and misty hydrothermal areas. In some cases, the journey will be more exhilarating than what is at the end of the trail, and conversely many of Lassen’s most rewarding vistas are found at the end of unassuming paths. Bumpass Hell, Kings Creek Falls, Warner Valley, and Devil’s Kitchen are just a few of the must-visit features that satisfy all fitness levels and interests while avoiding overrun trails. Lassen remains the more sheltered cousin of national park giant, Yellowstone; but it rewards visitors with unparalleled beauty with a fraction of the crowds. While Lassen Volcanic National Park does experience some intense winter conditions, it is no less stunning than when meadows explode with life in the summers, making it the perfect place for experimenting with off-season travel. Destination America is thrilled to bring guests to this ever changing and active landscape, and with our in-depth knowledge of the best season and areas to visit, we can offer a wide range of itinerary styles for any comfort level and maximum enjoyment.
Luckily, all these national parks offer so much to see and do, it’s unlikely any visitor would ever find themselves bored or unintrigued. We at DA look forward to unveiling the unknown to every one of your guests. If your group is looking for adventure in America’s most beautiful and secluded parks, we can also recommend hundreds of others, including the following, as worthwhile additions to anyone’s bucket list:
- Kings Canyon National Park, California
- Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
- Saguaro National Park, Arizona
- Wupatki National Monument, Arizona
- Bears Ears National Monument, Utah
- Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
- Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
- Colorado National Monument, Colorado
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota
- Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska