The United States has hundreds of national parks, so you’re never short on options for your next vacation or day trip if you’re looking to experience the beauty that each state has to offer.
The problem is that the more well-known places are such a great experience that everyone wants to visit them—so they can feel a bit overcrowded. That’s why you need to know where the hidden or lesser-known spots within the national parks or forests are.
East Inlet Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park
The East Inlet Trail is situated on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park (confusing, we know), and is far less traveled than locations on the eastern side. The trail is a 16-mile round trip to Spirit Lake, starting with Adams Falls, and the views get better the further you climb.
McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
While this national park in west Texas is surrounded by miles of dry desert, McKittrick Canyon—and Guadalupe Mountains park—is far from dusty. The canyon is a great place to experience the colors of fall foliage on maple and ash trees while mixing in with desert plants like cacti.
The Racetrack, Death Valley National Park
The Racetrack at La Playa in Death Valley got its name thanks to its “sailing stones,” which are the large rocks and boulders that move with the elements, leaving a permanent wake on the dried-up lake bed. The movement of the rocks was a mystery for years, but experts came to the conclusion that the shifting was a result of wind, rain, and other natural effects.
Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park
Let Zion National Park take you higher by visiting the park’s northern section to see Kolob Canyon. You can drive along East Kolob Canyon Road to check out the views or go on foot along one of the hiking trails.
Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite National Park
The northwestern quadrant of Yosemite is considered to be the least-visited area of the national park, and that’s where you’ll find the Hetch Hetchy area, which has been referred to as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.”
The Sinks, Great Smoky Mountain National Park
The Sinks is one of the most picturesque areas of Great Smoky Mountain Park and is only 12 miles west of the visitor center. You’ll get views of waterfalls, natural pools, and crystal clear waters if you choose to venture west.
Havasupai Falls, Grand Canyon National Park
The hike to Havasupai Falls in Grand Canyon National Park isn’t going to be an easy one, but it’s going to be worth it. You are required to make a reservation with the park in order to participate in the hike, so make sure you plan ahead if you intend to take the hike to through Havasu Canyon.
Mineral King, Sequoia National Park
Once you’re finished being overwhelmed by all the tall trees in Sequoia National Park, you might be tempted to move on, but there’s more to see in the park—a lot more. One of those things is the Mineral King area that has breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada Range, as well as lots of hiking and backpacking opportunities.
Prometheus Tree Stump, Great Basin National Park
This particular stop is more about the history than the actual view, though you can still appreciate the beauty of Great Basin National Park on your way to the stump. At the time that it was cut down, it was estimated to be about 3,000 years old, but it was discovered afterward that it was actually more than 5,000 years old and was the oldest non-clonal tree ever dated.
Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park
The majority of the millions of people who visit the Grand Canyon every year like to stay within the South Rim area, but heading to the North Rim will give you views like this one from the Toroweap Overlook.
Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail, Glacier National Park
Normally, if you see a tunnel inside the woods or along a trail, you might think twice about entering it, but if it’s the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail, you should take the opportunity. The tunnel isn’t lit, so it might be a little creepy passing through, but the view that’ll greet you at the other side will make you forget about that.
Lone Star Geyser, Yellowstone National Park
You, along with every other tourist, could pay a visit to Old Faithful while visiting Yellowstone, or you could venture on to the Lone Star Geyser and escape all the other visitors.
Sliding Rock, Pisgah National Forest
Considered to be a natural Slip n’ Slide, the Sliding Rock in Pisgah National Forest is exactly what you’d expect it to be: a relatively flat, gently sloping rock that lets you take a ride down a waterfall.
Rush Ghost Town, Buffalo National River
It used to be the second-largest city in Arkansas, but the town of Rush was declared officially abandoned in 1972, earning the name of the Rush Ghost Town. The buildings and mines were left within the bounds of a national park, so Park Services has elected to keep them preserved for visitors.
Hall Of Mosses, Olympic National Park
If you’re looking for a storybook location, the Hall of Mosses in Olympic National Park is a strong contender. More than 14 feet of precipitation a year cause the trees to grow stunted root systems, which in turn causes them to fall more easily. The moss then quickly covers the fallen trees, leaving a strange, otherworldly scene behind.
Gardner Lake, Shoshone National Forest
Depending on your skill level, the hike along the Gardner Lake Trail might not be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but with views like this, it seems like it would be worth a few steep climbs and some heavy breathing.
Pikes Peak Summit House, Pike National Forest
Making the climb up Pikes Peak isn’t as difficult as it was for its first ascendants in the 1800s, but whether you choose to tackle the climb by foot, rail, or car, the Summit House (and it’s donuts) will be there to greet you at the top. They’re not your average donuts because of the altitude: the Summit House donuts are cooked at 14,115-foot altitude, so the process is a little different.
Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park
A lot of people who go to visit Acadia National Park are going to visit Mount Desert Island, but the park has much more to offer beyond that. The Schoodic Peninsula, especially Schoodic Point, offers great views of the water as it splashes into the granite cliffs.
Sliding Sands Trail, Haleakala National Park
Who doesn’t want to hike around a former volcano eruption zone while on their vacation to Hawaii? The Sliding Sands Trail starts at the top of the Haleakala crater and weaves its way down towards the center.
Artist Point, Yosemite National Park
Millions of people visit Yosemite National Park every year, but most people never venture outside of the valley area. Let the tourists flock to the photo op spot at Tunnel View while you venture up to Artist Point to get the best view.