Underrated National Parks

Spring is bringing its customary rain showers, which makes your garden happy but probably gives you a bad case of cabin fever. With the approach of summer, that means it’s time to get out and active.

National parks are among the best places to build memories and enjoy the outdoors, but during the summer, the most popular parks are overcrowded, making your getaway less than enjoyable. Try out these five underrated and beautiful national parks to soothe your cabin fever this summer:

  1. Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska

In 1918, Katmai National Monument was founded to care for the volcanically damaged region that surrounded the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and Mount Katmai. Today, Katmai Park’s landscape is an active volcanic region, yet it also protects a vital salmon and brown bear habitat, along with nearly 9,000 years of humanity’s history.

At the recess of Brooks River and Naknek Lake, Brooks Camp is the most popular site at Katmai. The popularity of the campsite grew from those who took part in backcountry adventures, and now visitors may fish, hike, participate in daily ranger-led programs and also enjoy lodging and meals at Brooks Lodge.

  1. National Park of American Samoa, Ofu Island

You don’t have to travel far to enjoy crystalline waters and sandy beaches. Venture to the National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific, where you can snorkel off Ofu Island and explore 350 acres of coral reef.

Samoa means “sacred earth” in English, and this park more than proves the name with its paradise of coral reefs, clear waters and volcanic islands. Enjoy swimming, snorkeling, hiking and climbing, and take in the beautiful plants in the small plantations where subsistence farming is practiced. This park is also home to more than 35 migratory and local species of birds.

  1. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Florida isn’t only for retirees in RVs. Take a road trip to Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida and swim around the moat wall of Fort Jefferson, searching for treasure. West of Key West, the 100-square-mile park seems small, but its beauty is bountiful.

Formerly the site of a prison that held an accomplice to Lincoln’s assassination, this park is part of an archipelago that delights turtles, birds and tourists alike. Admire the perseverance of nature and enjoy what’s been called “one of the most relaxing national parks,” as you boat, sunbathe, camp and eat with family and friends.

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  1. Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia

Spend the summer camped out on a barrier island at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland and Virginia, beloved as a preserve for its population of wild horses. The preserve area spans across Maryland and Virginia, where adorable, shaggy wild horses roam freely across the barrier island.

The beaches are beautiful to pass the day swimming and taking in the sun, but take advantage of the ranger-guided programs to learn more about the local ecology. Try surf fishing and go boating. The Maryland side is home to the Assateague Island Visitor’s Center, and the Virginia Toms Cove Visitor Center is home to the Cincoteague National Wildlife Center. Most amenities are similar in both state sides of the park, but do research in advance to get the most out of your trip.

  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Love snowboarding? Have you ever tried sandboarding? You can literally sled the dunes in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, rich in ecological diversity, as it resides in the middle of wetlands, grasslands, aspen and conifer forests, tundra and alpine lakes.

Besides sledding over the sand dunes, watch wildlife and play in the sand at Medano Creek. Later, hike through the forest and ascend to the alpine peaks and lakes. Spend the weekend camping among the dunes, and learn about the environment by participating in one of the free ranger programs that begin in May.

Who knew you could get an unique beach experience while camping in a national park? From sand sledding to surf fishing, these underrated national parks offer rare and interesting amenities you won’t find at a typical tourist attraction.