Most RVers don’t have their sights set on underrated National Parks. Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon are the iconic destinations on most travel bucket lists. But with 63 U.S. national parks to visit, most travelers overlook the majority in favor of more popular attractions.
I personally love visiting lesser-known (and lesser-visited) National Parks because I face fewer crowds, navigate shorter entry lines, and often have more camping options. Not to mention I’m still immersed in stunning scenery.
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path in 2024 make sure to add these 10 underrated National Parks to visit this year. These parks may be in more remote areas but they are certainly worth a visit.
National Park best practices for an enjoyable and safe visit
We are huge proponents of our National Parks. We want to help keep these protected lands safe, accessible, and enjoyable for centuries to come. This means we need to do our part in helping protect these special places. When visiting a National Park don’t forget these essential tips. They’ll increase the likelihood of a smooth visit and elevate your experience.
- Research each park before visiting to avoid a surprise that could derail your entire day. For example, Some parks (like Pinnacles National Park and Olympic National Park) have multiple entry points that do not meet in the middle. So instead of driving through the entire park, you’ll pick one entry point and explore from there.
- Reservations may be required. Some National Parks are requiring permits for entry now, meaning you may need to pre-register or gain entry via a lottery system. Make sure to check if there are any limitations to visiting the park before arriving.
- Expect limited cell service. You won’t find many cell towers in remote areas. Download any maps from the park’s website ahead of time so you can access directions on the go, even when you’re out of cell range.
- Pack in and pack out any trash. National parks are a gift for us to preserve for future generations. If you’re hiking inside the park, bring a small bag to collect everything from wrappers to orange peels. If you’re driving through the park, grab a travel-friendly trash can specifically made for cars.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. Many national park visitor centers offer filling stations to keep you and your family hydrated. And it’s better for the environment! You can grab our favorite reusable water bottle here.
- Be respectful of others (and animals). You’re in nature. Our job is to keep it wild. Don’t feed the animals, play music loudly, smoke on hiking trails, or vandalize. Always keep a safe distance from the animals (no matter how badly you want a picture).
- Get the National Park annual pass to save money. This pass is worth the splurge if you plan to visit at least three national parks in a single year. For the national parks senior pass, you’ll pay for your pass in a single visit.
Unforgettable yet underrated national parks to visit
1. North Cascades National Park
Outdoor enthusiasts living in Seattle only need to travel three hours north to find the bluest alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks. But the rest of the world won’t want to miss this hiker’s paradise either.
North Cascades National Park offers over 400 hiking trails alone!
One of the few fee-free parks in the country, the North Cascades is home to the historic Ross Dam and vibrant blue-green Diablo Lake. Get views of both when you hike the Diablo Lake Trail, a 7.6-mile round-trip trek with 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
Because of the high elevation, you’ll often find snow-covered trails well into July and August. Outside Alaska, this park contains more glaciers than anywhere else in the U.S. So check with the national park for trail conditions before you head out on a hike.
2. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Yellowstone isn’t the only national park with boiling mud pots and steaming riverbeds.
Located in northern California, Lassen Volcanic is the least-visited national park in the state with over 500,000 visitors in 2022. Compare that to the 3.6 million who visited Yosemite that same year!
If you only have a few hours to visit Lassen, Bumpass Hell should be your first stop. This three-mile round-trip hike is an easy-to-moderate trail that ends at a boardwalk, where you’ll weave around and through a large hydrothermal area that looks (and smells) like Yellowstone.
After your hike, pack a lunch to eat at royal blue Manzanita Lake. If you’re brave enough, you can take a dip in the ice-cold alpine waters. You’ll also get a stunning view of Lassen Peak.
3. Biscayne National Park
The Everglades might get all of the attention in Florida, but near Miami, you’ll find a national park that lies almost entirely underwater—Biscayne National Park.
The visitor center is the only part you can visit on land!
To explore the protected mangrove forests and colorful coral reefs, you can book a guided tour or bring your own kayak, canoe, paddleboard, and snorkel gear. Adam’s Key is a popular launching spot.
The secluded lagoons are usually too shallow for motorized vessels, so you’ll experience a quiet adventure with few visitors, except for some jellyfish, crabs, and occasionally a small nurse shark or two.
4. Channel Islands National Park
On a clear day off the coast of California, you might see a large land mass jutting out from the Pacific Ocean. That’s Channel Islands National Park, which consists of not one, but five remote islands where you can hike, camp, and paddle.
All islands feature a designated campground, but Santa Cruz Island is the most popular place to explore. You’ll find a rocky beach on one side and towering cliffs with crashing waves on the other. If you listen closely, you might hear sea lions “barking” from their rocky perches along the coast.
Transportation to the island is only by private boat or through Island Packers and takes about an hour to get there from Ventura Harbor. If you plan to camp on the island, keep an eye out for the miniature Island Fox. These adorable animals will steal a snack when you’re not looking.
5. Kings Canyon National Park
You’ve likely heard of Sequoia National Park, but you’ll find lesser-known Kings Canyon National Park right next door. This “little Yosemite” reflects its bigger California brother with similar granite peaks and stunning waterfalls.
For an adventure-filled afternoon, take the 50-mile-long Kings Canyon Scenic Byway down into the canyon and follow a rushing river to Grizzly Falls and Roaring River Falls.
Both waterfalls are just a short stroll from the parking lot and are equally impressive in different ways. Roaring River is quite loud (as you can imagine by the name!) while Grizzly Falls form a wide, trickling cascade down the side of a cliff.
6. Big Bend National Park
500,000 visitors flock to Big Bend National Park every year, but unlike most national parks where you want to visit in the daytime, this park provides hobby astronomers the darkest night sky in the country due to its isolated location in the desert of West Texas.
This park is massive; it’s impossible to visit in one day. But if you’re limited on time (and do want to see it during the day!), the Ross Maxwell scenic drive is your best pick. The road provides various overlooks and vistas, ending with a short walk into Santa Elena Canyon, one of Big Bend’s most scenic spots.
With most national parks covered in snow during the winter, October through March is the best time to explore Big Bend’s 150+ hiking trails. Moderate temperatures make longer hikes more enjoyable, like The Lost Mine Trail, which climbs 1,100 feet toward a phenomenal view.
At the end of the day, you can relax in one of Big Bend National Park’s three RV campgrounds while you take in a colorful desert sunset.
7. Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is yet another island you can only visit by boat, making it one of the least visited national parks but also one of the best national parks to visit. This 45-mile-long secluded island sees just 25,000 visitors a year, so you probably won’t spot anyone else on the trails.
To get to the island, you’ll need to take a three-hour ferry or 45-minute seaplane from either Michigan or Minnesota. Make reservations for the ferry or plane early. The number of daily visitors to Isle Royale is restricted, so spots to access the islands are booked out months in advance.
Once you arrive, you can paddle the endless coves and bays or for a true wilderness experience, you can traverse the entire island in 3-5 days via The Greenstone Ridge Trail. Often called the crown jewel of the park, this trail carries you along ridgelines, past sparkling lakes, and through deep woods before dropping you back down to Lake Superior, which is also known for its abundance of shipwrecks.
Ten major ones happened right near Isle Royale, giving certified scuba divers the opportunity to explore the wreckage up close.
8. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
You’ll get to cross two items off your travel bucket list with this park—the national park itself and the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak.
This 8,751 ft peak provides panoramic views of the desert and mountains below, but to get there, you’ll need to hike up a steep and windy trail where you’ll gain 3,000 feet of elevation in 8.5 miles.
But the Guadalupes offer more than mountains to scale. You’ll also find bright-white dunes and secluded canyons among the park’s more unique features.
Since you’re right on the border of two time zones, don’t be surprised if your phone switches back and forth between Central and Mountain time.
9. Canyonlands National Park
While not as popular as Arches National Park—its southern Utah next-door neighbor— Canyonlands offers visitors spectacular vistas and a few arches of its own among its three main districts—Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze.
The most popular attraction is Mesa Arch, a classic sunrise spot that requires some creative cropping skills to avoid the large crowd that gathers there every morning. You can also challenge yourself to complete the 10.4 mile Druid Arch Trail, which will take you through skinny rock crevices and dry river beds before climbing a ladder and a few steep boulders to finally see the 150 ft sandstone arch.
For the ultimate day trip, drive the 100-mile White Rim Road for endless views of the canyon above and below you. This dirt road is narrow with steep switchbacks. So you’ll need a four-wheel drive, 2-3 days, and an overnight permit to drive the whole thing.
If Canyonlands National Park reminds you of the Grand Canyon, you’re on the right track. Both parks were carved by the same Colorado River, but this one gets only 700,000 visitors per year compared to the 4.7 million that flock to the Grand Canyon.
10. Wrangell St. Elias National Park
Six times the size of Yellowstone, Wrangell St. Elias National Park clocks in at 13.2 million acres, making it the largest of all the national parks to visit.
Did we mention that Wrangell also boasts four mountain ranges, nine of the sixteen tallest U.S. peaks, and the largest glacial system in the U.S.? Everything about this Alaskan park is BIG.
The time between areas of the park can range from one hour to a full day (flying), so you’ll especially want to visit this park with a plan. The towns of McCarthy and Kennecott are a great home base deep inside the park, as they provide multiple opportunities to hike or backpack from that area. Both towns are small and charming. It takes just a few minutes to walk from one end of McCarthy to the other.
And since this is Alaska, you’re bound to see more grizzlies, caribou, eagles, moose, and wolves than people.
Lesser known national parks to visit are the country’s best-kept secret
Now that you know these national parks exist, you won’t be able to ignore these hidden gems any longer. You might just find they end up on your list of best national parks!