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7 Incredible Landscapes You Didn’t Know Existed in America

America is home to some of the most recognizable landscapes in the world. It also holds countless gems that are less familiar, less crowded, and are some of the most beautiful places to visit in the US. Look outside the box to find incredible landscapes you’ve never heard of. Here are just a few examples:

Northeast: Smugglers’ Notch State Park, Vermont

American history fills this narrow, steep pass. What was smuggled across the Canadian border here? Cattle and goods slipping past trade embargoes, fugitive slaves reaching freedom on the Underground Railroad, liquor finding thirsty Americans during Prohibition. “Smuggle” a picnic and your sense of adventure into this gorgeous place in history.

Smuggs, Smuggs ice bash, Smugglers Notch, Smugglers Notch Skiing, Smugglers Notch Hiking, Vermont State Parks

The park office at Smugglers’ Notch State Park by Jesse Keck

Midwest: Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

This “Superior Wilderness” is surrounded by Lake Superior and is only accessible by boat or plane, but the views and the story are worth the effort. Step into a stunning landscape, complete with a lake lighthouse, an old copper mine, and a long list of potential wildlife sightings.

Isle Royale National Park, National Park Service, Lake Superior, Michigan, Mitten state

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

Southeast: Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Even if “largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States” and “astonishing biodiversity” don’t mean anything to you, taking a walk down this boardwalk and soak up the depth of beauty at Congaree National Park’s will stay in your heart forever.

Congaree National Park, boardwalk, trees, forest

Photo courtesy of National Parks Service/Tarpley

South: Big Bend National Park, Texas

The National Park Service promises “splendid isolation” in Big Bend, a massive park in the state where everything’s bigger. Locals recommend a long list of adventures: Kayak the Rio Grande through enormous canyons, explore the Chisos Mountains (the only mountain range entirely in a national park), rent a kiva house or yurt, soak in hot springs, gaze at the Mexican Chihuahua Desert from America, go birdwatching, and bask in incredible sunsets.

Big Bend National Park, photography national park, Big Bend Texas, Texas national park

Photo courtesy of National Park Service/Cookie Ballou

Wild West: Sinks Canyon State Park, Wyoming

“The Sinks” is a cave in which a river just dives underground…only to bubble back up a few hundred yards away in a pool called “The Rise.” While pondering this disappearing act, look upward at the dramatic cliff walls and wild spaces that stretch out of sight into the mountains.

Sinks Canyon State Park, national forest, popo agie river, fly fishing, fly fishing wyoming

Photo by David Rule

West Coast: Sun Lakes/Dry Falls State Park, Washington

Dry Falls is the American geological wonder you’ve never heard of. Once four times the size of Niagara Falls, the long-gone waterfall was formed by Ice Age floods. Today, you can see the 400-foot tall, 3.5-mile wide cliff where melting ice once cascaded while playing on the lake shores.

Dry Falls in Sun Lakes, Dry Falls State Park, beautiful landscapes in America, state parks, national parks

Photo courtesy Washington State Parks

What beautiful places to visit in the US are on your list this summer? Be sure to check out our road trip itineraries to plan your next adventure!

 




The 6 Least Visited National Parks in the Lower 48

National Park Elbow Room

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, the United States has 61 national parks that feature every kind of geographic location imaginable. From deserts to oceans, grasslands to mountains and everything in between. The most visited national parks boast millions of visitors every year, and I bet you can guess the names. 

Summer trips to these well-visited parks are on the bucket list of many people, which is great, but more people means more cars, more noise, more traffic, high fees and all the trappings of a big city, existing in these wilderness settings.

Looking for a less crowded experience? We don’t blame you. Try out these six least visited US national parks in the lower 48. We guarantee you’ll find beauty with a little bit of elbow room thrown in for good measure!

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Annual Visitors: 172,347

With three distinct ecosystems, miles of hiking trails and the highest peak in Texas within its borders, Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GMNP) is a well-worth it road trip destination that sits just off the beaten path. One of the great things about GMNP is the sheer number of trailheads that take can take you on any amount of day hikes, including the exquisite McKittrick Canyon. The steep, towering walls of McKittrick Canyon protect a rich riparian oasis in the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert. GMNP is also considered a geology buff’s dream. The park protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. And if you know what that means, then you are probably pretty excited right now!

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Annual Visitors: 153,094

Have you ever seen a 5,000 year-old tree? Would you like to? It won’t be a problem if you visit Great Basin National Park. Based around Nevada’s second tallest mountain, Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park is a vast expanse of desert ecology which does not exist in this capacity anywhere else in the world. Found in isolated groves just below the tree-line on Wheeler peak, these ancient trees grow in twisted defiance to the onward progression of time. And speaking of the infinite, due to its extremely isolated and remote location, the park has some of the country’s darkest night skies.  This makes it the perfect park for stargazers.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Annual Visitors: 145,929

Since being declared a National Park in 2003, Congaree National Park has seen a limited number of visitors each year, which is a shame considering it has the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.

In addition to being a designated wilderness area, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, an important bird area and a national natural landmark, Congaree National Park features primitive campsites and offers hikingcanoeing, kayaking and bird watching.

One of the greatest things about Congaree is the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail. The canoe trail is a one-of-a-kind marked trail that winds its way through one of the largest concentrations of champion trees in the world.  These tallest known examples of 15 different species are accessible only by paddle, a shallow draft and an adventurer’s spirit.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Annual Visitors: 56,810

Looking for a little beach getaway with a whole lot of American History? Dry Tortugas National Park (DTNP) has what you are looking for. I don’t think we would be really going out on a limb here when we say that DTNP is one of the most unique of the national parks. Located 70 miles west of Key West Florida, DTNP is only accessible by plane or a daily ferry. Or I guess you could swim there . The point is, DTNP is completely surrounded by the crystalline blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This park is perfect for visitors who love snorkeling in one of the greatest undisturbed marine environments in the lower 48.

Camping is available on Garden Key within the park, and is well worth the time and effort. The stargazing is incredible, and you get to do it while camped on a tropical beach. For you history buffs out there, welcome to Fort Jefferson. A massive but unfinished coastal fortress, Fort Jefferson is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas. Composed of over 16 million bricks, the fort was constructed in 1861 to control shipping in the Gulf. The building covers 16 acres. Among United States forts, only Fort Monroe in Virginia and Fort Adams in Rhode Island are larger.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Annual Visitors: 30,085

There is no real good reason that the North Cascades National Park (NCNP) should be on the list of least visited national parks. Located just three hours from the bestirred metropolis of Seattle, NCNP is close enough to a major population center to be busy, but the North Cascades just don’t want to be busy, the North Cascades prefer to be by itself. Nearly the entire 500,000 acres of the park are designated wilderness. You cannot drive to any campsite in the NCNP; you have to walk there. Meaning if you like your solitude, this is the park for you.

What makes NCNP unique is that it is the only national park that doesn’t have some kind of visitor center or other amenities. Most of the access to the park is through the surrounding national forests or the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Once inside the park, the sense of wilderness is truly wondrous. With over 300 glaciers covering jagged lofty summits, alpine lakes, ponds, streams, rivers and forested valley floors, NCNP is the seeming definition of untrammeled. The park is also very popular with mountaineers who thrive on the un-obtained heights and technical granite that the park has to offer.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Annual Visitors: 25,798

Poor old Isle Royale National Park (IRNP). The loneliest of the lonely. The least-visited national park in the lower 48 is also, surprisingly, one of the largest. At 571,790 acres, IRNP is an island, but also includes over 400 smaller islands within 4.5 miles of its shores. 

Surrounded by the cold waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is rugged and pristine. The park boasts 165 miles of trails, including the 40 mile long Greenstone Ridge Trail, which runs from one end of the island to the other. A virtual isolated wilderness, IRNP has two small villages at each end of the park where a visitor can get supplies, take a shower and sleep off the ground for the night. Other than that, Isle Royale has 36 campgrounds located across the island. These campsites are accessible only by foot or watercraft and add to the solitude, isolation and sense of wonder that can only come with a wilderness experience.

Have you been to any of these least visited national parks? If so, let us know what you loved about them!

Note: Visitor statistics for this post were obtained from the National Park Service.