US National Parks (off-the-beaten-path)
1. Channel Islands National Park, California
Of all the lessor known US national parks mentioned below, Channel Islands National Park is probably the most accessible for the majority of travelers.
We had never heard of it until it appeared in our itinerary for our 10 day road trip of Southern California. Yep, it’s that accessible. Ventura is just 70-miles north of Los Angeles and 30-miles south of Santa Barbara.
However, Channel Islands National Park is an 80-minute ferry ride from Ventura and is the least visited of the national parks in the USA.
So a visit to the Channel Islands NP is a striking contrast to the hustle and bustle of southern California we typically experience.
It’s a day trip adventure comprised of sea cave explorations on kayaks, hikes along rugged cliff faces, snorkeling through kelp forests with seals, enjoying beautiful beaches and dodging tiny island foxes ready to grab your lunch.
2. Big Bend National Park, Texas
On the Texas/Mexico border, alongside the Rio Grande River sits the King of Texas – the biggest of the National Parks in Texas.
Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres of towering river canyons, mountain cliffs, and expansive Chihuahuan Desert.
There is nothing around it for miles, which is why it is not as popular as some of the other US parks.
We spent nearly a week in the Big Bend region and loved our three days exploring the Big Bend National Park.
We visited during the federal shut down which meant even less crowds (we barely saw anyone). It also meant some things were closed and we missed one of the most popular areas, the Santa Elena Canyon.
But, we did get to experience the incredible hot springs alongside the Rio Grande River – that was a US highlight. Our hikes to epic sunset views and scenic drives were spectacular.
And next door is the equally stunning Big Bend Ranch State Park.
3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho
Technically, not a national park, but behold a place of protected unique beauty. It is a national monument so inching its way towards the higher status.
Craters of the Moon in Idaho is where the striking rainbow colors of the desert landscape slowly changes into the black hardened rock of the lava fields.
This region was created by a handful of lava flows which oozed out of fissures along the Great Rift, a series of deep cracks that start near the visitor center and stretch 52 miles (84 km.) to the southeast.
It created hotspots and calderas all the way to its youngest hotspot, Yellowstone National Park, which was a great lead into our upcoming adventures exploring the USA’s first national park.
It’s a fascinating educational experience, especially for kids, and they will love walking up the face of a cinder cone and exploring lava tubes and tunnels.
4. North Cascades National Park, Washington
With dramatic alpine views to rival Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park offers a more secluded experience.
It’s tucked away in the northern part of Washington State near the Canadian border. But with only a two hour drive from Seattle, it’s well worth including in your Pacific northwest Itinerary!
Our most epic adventure of our RV trip was in this US national park. Somehow a 7-mile relatively easy return hike turned into a 15-mile return with an elevation gain of 4,000 feet.
We did this with the kids who somehow managed to run up the tremendously steep rocky incline to touch a glacier, while I struggled to lift one foot after another.
It was an adventure we’ll never forget.
Not to mention, the views were extraordinary and we saw three black bears!
You’ll find adventurous hikes and spectacular views aplenty in North Cascades National Park.
With only one major road running through it, it’s easy to explore in just a couple of days and the campsites are gorgeous!
5. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Just when you think Utah couldn’t get any more beautiful, you take the scenic drive through Capitol Reef National Park.
I was stunned that this Utah national park does not get as much attention as the other four like Bryce, Zion, Arches and Canyonlands. Aside from Bryce Canyon, I think Capitol Reef was my favorite.
The colors of the massive domes, towering cliffs, twisting canyons, arches and bridges change with the light, move from deep reds to pastel pinks, sunburnt orange, soft yellows and whites.
Hikes and scenic drives will take you to many of the arches, bridges, beautiful lush valleys and through canyons and washes.
The stunning All American Road – Highway 12, Utah – starts just outside the park and the equally beautiful Scenic Highway 24 runs through it.
6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island
Where else in the world can you get so close to an active volcano?
Visiting Volcano National Park in Hawaii has been my favorite homeschooling lesson so far. I let Mother Nature take over to teach the girls about lava, fire, land growth, and rainforests.
We will never forget sitting at the edge (safe distance) of Halema’um’a Crater at the summit of Kilauea and watching lava bubble and spurt.
You can also walk among the lava fields and walk close to the lava flow and see it spill into the ocean.
7. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
We’ve got a volcano theme happening with this post on lessor known national parks in the US and Crater Lake in Oregon offers a unique and STUNNING perspective.
You have never seen a blue so deep and rich before. The smooth glass like surface is surreal.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the USA and one of the most pristine on earth, its purity created by rain and snow filling in the caldera formed during a violent eruption 7,700 years ago.
It’s a small US national park; it’s main draw card being the 33 mile loop road around it’s crater offering many stop offs for spectacular views and hikes.
Boat rides out to Wizard Island, the small volcanic cinder cone inside the crater is a popular summer trip.