Hailed as “the best idea we ever had,” the United States national parks system preserves natural treasures across all 50 states. Each park is home to truly epic landscapes and vistas, but some parks are better known than others. Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon all see millions of visitors each year, which makes sense as there are some seriously stunning things to see in each one.
But there are some awe-inspiring national parks that don’t get the respect they deserve. For incredible views, great hiking, and a little more elbow room, we’re shedding light on five parks that any nature lover should add to their travel itinerary ASAP.
Tucked away near the border with Canada, Isle Royale is a series of islands in Lake Superior that are only accessible by boat or seaplane. Though getting to the remote location isn’t easy, it is worth it. Visitors can hike the entirety of the 40-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail and camp along the route, or they can a take day trip to hike the secluded Scoville Loop. This 4.4-mile trail wends through some dramatic landscapes including dense forest and the vast lake shoreline.
High summer—late July and August—when the weather is warmest. Serious hikers might want to consider June though, because cooler daytime temperatures will make the trekking more comfortable. For more information on visiting, check out the park's FAQ page.
California is known for humungous redwoods, but the loblolly pines in Congaree could give them a run for their money. Though not nearly as tall or wide, the trees in this old growth hardwood forest can still reach nearly 170 feet. Set in an ancient bayou that is only found in the southern United States, the otherwordly landscape is full of tupelo draped in Spanish moss and knobby bald cypress. Stroll along the 2.5-mile boardwalk or explore the park via kayak or canoe.
Late fall—October and November. The average temperature is in the 70s and humidity is low, key to avoiding the mosquitoes that thrive in the swamp. Fall colors also peak at this time of year and chances of rain are among the lowest.
Alaska is bucket list travel goals for most people, and we just want to be sure it’s on your list as well. The landscape in this national park is unlike any other—visitors can hike the 8-mile Harding Icefield Trail to get an up-close view of glaciers that have been around since the Ice Age! The trail, which many call the best hike in the National Park system, also shows off Alaska’s alpine meadows and several different types of forests. Just be warned, this hike gains about 1,000 feet in elevation every mile so it is quite a bit more strenuous than a Sunday stroll.
Summer—July and August when the weather is warmest. In the winter and much of the spring, the road to Exit Glacier, the park's most notable feature is closed. Check the park's visitors page to get the latest weather alerts.
Much less known than the Grand Canyon to its southwest, Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park is a site to behold. Home to some of the steepest cliffs and craggiest spires in North America, this gorge is dramatic. Roads and hiking trails along the north and south rims show off the colorful Painted Wall cliff. Visitors can also take in the sheer size of the backdrop from the river at the bottom of East Portal Road.
Later in the day during the summer. Most visitors travel east along the South Rim, the more built up of the two sides, which means the sun is in full force early in the day. But visiting later in the day and even after sunset makes for stunning vistas, pictures, and stargazing.
A third of all the glaciers in the lower 48 are located within the remote regions of North Cascades! State Route 20 (a.k.a. North Cascades Highway) is a winding mountain pass that gives visitors an easy—and free!—way to see the park’s dense forests and crystal-clear glacier melt lakes. But it’s worth it to stop and check out some of the hiking trails to see hidden gems like the Ladder Creek Falls or Desolation Peak, where the fire tower that Jack Kerouac lived for a summer still sits.
Late summer—August and September. Snow can hang around in some of the higher elevations until July, so waiting until late summer gives you the most options for hiking in the park. The best day hike is a somewhat strenuous 7.5- or 12-mile trail from Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm, but most people agree that the longer hike is worth it.
Sierra is a great place to stock up on everything you might need for your trip to a national park. Check out the selection of camping and hiking outdoorsy gear:
This post was sponsored by Sierra, but all the opinions are my own.