Underrated national parks to visit this summer

Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Gary Anderson/NPS/TNS)

National parks are incredible places for discovery, yet oftentimes we think about visiting only the most popular: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier, and a few others. Yet the National Park Service maintains and protects hundreds of parks, national lakeshores and seashores, recreation areas, walking trails and more, all for you to take in and enjoy.

So before you book your reservation for a busy park this summer, check out this list of 10 underrated national parks to visit this summer instead. While this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, it might just spark your imagination.




Assateague Island National Seashore is located in Assateague Island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. It’s a beautiful spot for nature lovers to hike, bike, camp, stargaze, fish and even go crabbing, but it’s most known for its special four-legged animals: wild horses!

Horse lovers will enjoy visiting the national seashore to view and photograph the majestic creatures, who, according to local legend, are descendants of shipwreck survivors in the late 17th century (but were more likely intentionally brought to the island for tax evasion purposes).

There are two herds — the Chincoteague ponies of Virginia and the Maryland herd — so travelers can rest assured knowing that no matter which state they visit, they’ll be able to see the horses roaming free across the scenic landscape and beaches.



Ever wonder what the Milky Way looks like? Travelers heading to Big South Fork National River &Recreation Area overnight might find out on a clear summer night.

The area spans Kentucky and Tennessee to offer 125,000 scenic acres within the Cumberland Plateau, and it also protects the Cumberland River. While there, campers can gaze at the Milky Way with Ranger-led dark sky programs, take photos of the region’s beautiful rock formations and natural beauty, go whitewater paddling down the river, climb the region’s signature sandstone cliffs and go horseback riding along scenic trails.



The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a scenic gem located in the far northern reaches of Wisconsin, along the coast of Lake Superior and the nation’s northernmost border. There, travelers can catch a glimpse of the northern lights at certain times of the year (especially during the winter) and much more.

There are 21 different Apostle Islands, accessible by boat or sea kayak. Travelers can easily purchase a ride on a water taxi or take a NPS-authorized Apostle Islands Cruise to get the most out of a trip to the islands.

Adventurers heading to the islands can take a guided kayak tour, bring their own boats to jet around, camp on one or a few of the islands or simply explore the 12 miles of lakeshore on the mainland. Sea caves, historic lighthouses and beautiful scenery await, as does a chance to learn about the culture of the region’s first inhabitants, the Ojibwe.



Isle Royale National Park is another paradise of unspoiled nature. Located off the Michigan shoreline on Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake, it’s accessible by seaplane and a variety of ferries and boat options. Travelers can also visit the national park via the RANGER III, too.

Daytrippers are more than welcome, but travelers wanting to immerse themselves for longer (or take advantage of the dark northern skies and catch a glimpse of the Milky Way and even the northern lights) with a stay in the Rock Harbor Lodge or a campsite.

With over 400 islands across the park, travelers with boats or sea kayaks will adore sailing or paddling to these uninhabited gems, where great opportunities for photography await. Hikers will especially love climbing the park’s highest peak, Mount Dresor, which rises 1,394 feet in the air.



Theodore Roosevelt National Park is often considered one of the most underrated of the American national parks, and it’s not hard to see why. The North Dakota national park, named after the president who advocated for the establishment of more national parks, offers great opportunities for hiking, photography and encountering some of the nation’s coolest animals — including bison!

Travelers to the park can also fish, canoe, bike, horseback ride, camp and much more. Additionally, the park hosts the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival each year and is a great destination from which to view the Milky Way in all its celestial glory.



Great Basin National Park might just challenge your conception of the state of Nevada: It’s not all desert! The park offers ancient bristlecone pine forests, incredible night skies, scenic foothills covered in sagebrush, the stunning 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak and the mysterious Lehman Caves.

Here, travelers can partake in some unique adventure activities, from wild caving to pine nut gathering. The park offers a range of seasonal activities like wildflower viewing, but it also boasts year-round activities with its many hiking trails, nighttime beauty and bird watching opportunities.



Do you ever wonder what it would be like to walk on another planet? You won’t even have to use much of your imagination during a visit to Craters of the Moon National Monument &Preserve.

Located in southern Idaho, the preserve is home to the remnants of ancient lava flows. The park is a great one to visit for a few hours, a half day or a full night, with many of the biggest attractions, like caves and trails, available along a 7-mile stretch of Loop Road.

It’s also an International Dark Sky area, making it a great destination for travelers looking the glories of the cosmos, without light pollution.

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