Why suffer through crowded trails and overrun vistas, when you can visit a park that’s virtually empty? Forget Yosemite. Say no to Yellowstone. We’ve got five national parks that are off the regular radar and prime for exploration.
A bit like the Grand Canyon, but with one-tenth the visitors, this park has mesas, buttes, and of course, canyons. The Island of the Sky, a mesa perched on sandstone cliffs, 1,000 feet in the air, should not be missed. Cowboy camps, prehistoric pictographs, and several short hikes make this park a great pick for families.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Those who bemoan the buildup of Lake Tahoe should consider a ride up the coast. Crater Lake, a startlingly blue phenomenon almost 2,000 feet deep, is actually not a lake at all, but a caldera – a volcanic crater. Surrounded by 250 square miles of protected wilderness, it’s got wildlife to spare – elk, black bear, even bald eagles.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Pirates and shipwrecks, pioneers and pineapples – Biscayne boasts 10,000 years of human history in a breathtaking environment. Smack dab in the middle of the Florida Keys, 95 percent of the park’s 172,000 acres are covered by water. No matter. The park can hook your family up with a canoe to explore miles of untouched mangrove forest, or a dive trip to the Maritime Heritage Trail – the only underwater archaeological trail in the National Park system, with six shipwrecks dating back as far as Spanish exploration. This is history at its best – with snorkeling, deserted island camping, and glass-bottom boating an even further bonus.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Lots of kids are fascinated by volcanoes. But few have actually seen one. At this park, there are two absolutely real, very active volcanoes spewing molten lava for all to see. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s rainforest, ripe for exploration.
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Budding archaeologists will love these cliff dwellings, tucked into the shelves and alcoves of the mesa. Formed by the Anasazi in AD 600, they were mysteriously abandoned in 1300. Your family can debate the possibilities as they embark on a 70-foot climb up a set of precarious ladders and stairs, landing in the homes of these ancestral Pueblo people. With over 4,000 archaeological sites, Mesa Verde is a history lesson come to life.
Want details? For more information than you can shake a stick at, make your way to www.nps.gov, where the National Park Service makes finding a park pain-free.