Summer road trips are a favorite American pastime. Many people choose to spend their vacation exploring and relaxing at one of the country’s 59 national parks—or at one of the 18 National Preserves and 18 National Recreation Areas in the nation.
If you’re looking to visit a national park or preserve but want to avoid crowds, try one of these less recognizable—but no less remarkable—parks that the United States has to offer. Get more information on each park and tips for your trip at the National Park Service website.
Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area — Montana
Anybody with an interest in the ultimate wildlife experience should make the trip to Bighorn. According to the National Park Service, the first 13 miles of the Bighorn River below Yellowtail Dam in Bighorn Canyon attract more than 100,000 anglers each year!
With 112 miles of river throughout the park, Bighorn Canyon is the ideal place to cast in a line and relax. Animal lovers will be able to spot bighorn sheep, wild horses, and more than 200 species of birds within the park. This gorgeous canyon was fairly unexplored until the late nineteenth century, which makes it a relatively untouched preservation, ideal for camping, hiking, and fishing.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park — New Mexico
Escape the hot New Mexico sun for a few hours as you explore some of the stunning underground passages of Carlsbad Caverns. Since their initial discovery in 1898, hundreds of miles of these monstrous caverns have been mapped. Each of the 119 underground rooms stays around a cool 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) year round.
Carlsbad is also home to the deepest limestone cave in the United States. A variety of tours will take you deep inside the caverns, where you will see many unique natural rock formations that have been developing for millions of years.
Hot Springs National Park — Arkansas
Hot springs have long been considered a source of natural healing powers for most ailments. While healing benefits aren’t guaranteed, you will certainly enjoy your time in Arkansas at the nation’s smallest national park.
These hot springs were discovered in the 1800s, but were closed in 1901. When Congress established the National Park Service in 1916, the Hot Springs reservation was redeveloped, and in 1921 the land was set aside as the 18th US national park.
Visitors are encouraged to experience the natural springs for themselves, but be careful—the water can reach up to 143 degrees Fahrenheit (62 degrees Celsius)!
Congaree National Park — South Carolina
If you’ve ever wanted to take a walk six feet above the forest floor, this is the park for you. An elevated boardwalk leads you through two miles of thick, old–growth forest in this southern beauty. These walking paths will guide you through some of the oldest and most unique vegetation in the country.
If you’d rather enjoy the view from the water, guided canoe tours take you through Cedar Creek. No matter which way you choose to enjoy Congaree, the experience will be well worth your time.
Photo credits (from top): Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area and Carlsbad Caverns National Park photos courtesy of NPS; Hot Springs National Park photo by Ken Lund; Congaree National Park photo by Jeff McBride.