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Even if you are a big fan of America’s National Parks like we are, it’s possible you’ve never heard of some truly amazing national parks available for you to explore.
During our travels, we have visited one or two parks we were completely unaware of before hitting the road. And those visits were some remarkable experiences we will never forget.
Hey, you could have one of these parks located right in your backyard and still not realize it’s there! I mean, stranger things have happened.
I want to introduce you to four amazing national parks that don’t get quite as much attention as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier. Find a way to explore at least one or two of these in the very near future and take advantage of one of our greatest national treasures.
4 Amazing National Parks You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Even if you find that you have actually heard of any of these parks I am going to cover, my guess is that you don’t know much about it. So take this opportunity to learn just a little more about all of them and stoke your fire of desire to see them with your own two eyes!
*Be sure to download your free Printable List of National Parks here*
National Park #1 – Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)
The first question in your head might be, “What the heck is a tortuga?” Well, maybe you need to brush up on your Spanish (like me), because that is the Spanish word for turtle. (We will get to the “dry” part in a minute.)
Now, if you are truly looking for a national park that is off the beaten path and not completely overrun with large crowds, this is definitely a great candidate.
But, let me make this clear: It’s so far off the beaten path that there is NO path leading to Dry Tortugas! That’s right, this national park is located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida and is only accessible by a daily ferry, your own private or charter boat, or seaplane. You can see the full details about transportation options right here.
Very Unique History and Natural Setting to Explore
Discovered in 1513 by Ponce de Leon, the Dry Tortugas were named for two things: the high concentration of sea turtles and (later) the fact that no fresh water source existed here. Hence, Dry Tortugas. So, no, the turtles themselves are not dry…I know, it’s confusing.
The 100 square mile national park is comprised of open water and seven small islands that make up Dry Tortugas. For history buffs, you’ll be delighted to know that there is a large military fort, Fort Jefferson, located on one of the islands that you are able to explore. Though never completed, this 19th century structure is an impressive specimen with plenty of fascinating history attached.
And when you’ve soaked in all of the history you can handle, take your opportunity to explore the incredible coral reefs and other natural wonders and wildlife located within the park. Here’s a video to give you a much better idea of what this national park has to offer:
Be sure and pack your tent and sleeping bags! Yup, you can actually camp on one of the islands in this national park. Doesn’t get much more amazing and unique than that!
You can bet this national park is on my bucket list, folks. What an adventure!
National Park #2 – Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)
While it may be a bit less exotic than our #1 pick, Wind Cave National Park is no less unique and stunning in its own way. I can say that with complete confidence because we were able to visit this spot in 2018 and explore its chilly depths. If you are a geology buff of any kind, this is absolutely your cup of tea.
Described as “a hidden world beneath the prairie” and located in Hot Springs, South Dakota, this remarkable cave system has been a sacred site in the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes for many centuries. In the late 19th century, early settlers like Alvin McDonald entered the cave to explore and map its intricate and winding tunnels. McDonald left behind a detailed journal that has provided valuable details to the park service.
Our visit to Wind Cave pretty much left me speechless. I have always enjoyed exploring caves since my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, so this was a thrill for me just as much as for my 14-year old son. We decided to take a pretty extensive tour of the cave that lasted about 90 minutes or so. The park offers multiple tour options of varying duration for your convenience, and one of these tours is your only option for cave exploration here. You are not able to enter the cave without a park ranger as your guide.
What Makes This Cave So Unique?
In this cave system, you will find a very unique geologic formation known as boxwork, among others. The park service describes boxwork here:
Boxwork is made of thin blades of calcite that project from cave walls and ceilings, forming a honeycomb pattern. The fins intersect one another at various angles, forming “boxes” on all cave surfaces.
Located in a beautiful area of the state, just on the edge of the rugged Black Hills, you will have plenty to explore right here as you observe herds of roaming bison and peaceful scenery. Just an hour or so up the road, you can also squeeze in a visit to Mount Rushmore. Highly recommended!
National Park #3 – Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
If archaeology and ancient artifacts get your blood pumping, I’m pretty sure you won’t find a better park to visit than Mesa Verde National Park.
I am sorry to report that we did not make it to this park during our adventures. Before we left, I was determined to make it here to explore the ancient dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people, but the stars simply did not align for a visit. And so, it remains on my bucket list.
With over 5,000 known archaeological sites that includes 600 intricately carved cliff dwellings, where the Pueblo people lived from about 600-1300 C.E., this park is a tremendous treasure trove of history and ancient culture that I am thankful has been protected.
Preserving the Past
Right now, the primary focus is on continuing to preserve this valuable site for generations to come as deterioration rears its ugly head. If you are able to visit, please do your part to protect the site by following all rules and guidelines that the park service has put in place. You’ve got to protect it for me, please, so I can make it there one of these days!
National Park #4 – Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)
I will admit up front that this park was chosen for very personal reasons. You see, my son just left a couple of days ago to head up to Seward, Alaska (on the edge of this national park) and work a seasonal job through the summer. We are thrilled for him…and slightly jealous. Because we know from personal experience that Kenai Fjords National Park is mind-blowing.
Our Own Alaskan Adventure
About a lifetime ago, in 1999, my young family headed off to the wild frontier of Alaska. No, not for a vacation but for an actual relocation to this wonderland.
I had just joined the US Air Force in 1998 and through a remarkable set of circumstances, we had the chance to choose Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska as our first duty station. Our other option was the dry, flat desert of California. Yeah, tough choice.
We were thrilled and somewhat terrified at the same time, going off into the “great frozen unknown”. But we knew we would never regret it. (My family’s itch for adventure started very early, as you can tell.)
And that son of mine that just headed to Alaska? Yeah, he was born there about 7 months after we arrived. We visited Kenai Fjords National Park with him when he was about a week old, showing off the beauty of that place to his proud grandparents who made the trip from Texas to meet their newest grandchild.
So yeah, that wild frontier is in his blood and he was so incredibly ready to return and take the opportunity to fully explore his “homeland”.
How Do You Describe A Place This Fantastic?
Trying to describe this park…well, it would just fall completely short and feel so inadequate. My best recommendation is to watch a quick introductory video to give you a small taste of what this treasured park has to offer adventurers:
Now, pick your jaw up off the floor and let’s wrap this thing up.
Even though I have technically visited this park, it was a very short day trip that only allowed us to skim the surface with a short hike to Exit Glacier. There is SO much more I want to see so I am determined to make it back there and hopefully get a chance to have my son show me around.
Which of these surprising National Parks is now on your bucket list?
If this quick overview of some incredible national parks you’ve probably never heard of has not stirred up your wanderlust…check your pulse. I am about to run out the door and straight to the airport just from writing it. So much out there to see, do, explore, absorb, enjoy, and appreciate!
When you make it to one of these spots, or another national park that blows you away, be sure to share the journey with us by sending some pics or video. We’d love to enjoy a little bit of it with you!