Happy 100th birthday, National Park Service! As one of my college professors would repeatedly proclaim, baseball, jazz, and the National Parks are America’s greatest inventions. I don’t see eye to eye with him where it concerns baseball, and while I can understand the cultural importance of jazz, I personally don’t feel the same.
But National Parks? They may very well be one of America’s greatest contributions to the world. Why? There are more than 400 parks, monuments, and places of historical and scientific significance, encompassing “more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan and the Virgin Islands.” This is protected land and waters for countless plant and animal species, future generations, and the idea of federally protected land is now an international one.
Today, Aug. 25, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson officially creating the National Park Service. Thanks to advocates and naturalists, people now have the opportunity to visit the fantastic and famous splendors of Yosemite, Glacier, Redwoods, Denali, Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, and others. But what about the little parks, and the faraway parks that are just as deserving and as fulfilling as the better known parks? Here’s a list of 10 national parks that you didn’t know you wanted to visit:
1. Biscayne National Park
Just outside of Miami, Biscayne National Park is mostly underwater—95 percent of its 173,000 acres. The main attractions? Besides turquoise-blue waters, the coral, fish, manatees, dolphins, crocodiles, and birds are a big pull. You can snorkel, scuba dive, kayak or canoe, or boat, without going all the way to the Florida Keys.
2. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Roosevelt was one of the greatest advocates of National Parks and preservation, and this park calls the upper Badlands of North Dakota home. Survey the stunning Badlands hills while horseback riding, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, or cycling. Bison, bighorn sheep, and coyotes are the usual animal sightings.
3. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
A National Park in Ohio? That’s right. It may be on the smaller side—33,000 acres (Grand Canyon National Park is over a million acres)— but it’s still a gorgeous retreat into nature. You can hike, go river kayaking or canoeing, camp, fish, or just sit and contemplate one of the many waterfalls the park is home to.
4. Gates Of The Arctic National Park
You know you are in true wilderness where there are no roads or even trails—and the only way to access the Park is by hiking into it, or via small aircraft. At 8.4-million acres in Northern Alaska, the peak activity is in June, when the six major rivers finally melt. Expect to see moose, grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, birds, and to find a lot of solitude. This is remote wilderness at its best.
5. Congaree National Park
Why visit Congaree? This park in South Carolina has “the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest” remaining in the southeastern United States. Hike, canoe and kayak, and view awesome swamplands.
6. Acadia National Park
The first National Park in the Eastern United States, this is an outstanding park. Maine is worth a visit for outdoor enthusiasts anyways, but Acadia is a gem within the state. You can rock climb, look for tidal animals in the ocean, horseback ride, hike, kayak/canoe, camp, and enjoy a variety of winter sports. The best part about it though is the stunning beauty, where you can see fall colors, or enjoy a day along the coast, and marvel at the Northeastern woods. Love for Acadia has been around since it became a National Park—the land was actually donated to become the park that it is.
7. Crater Lake
Go here for the breathtaking Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Formed by a volcanic explosion 7,700 years ago, the lake is the deepest in America, and its water is beautifully blue and clear, and undeniably pristine. Enjoy hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, camping, swimming, and stunning views.
8. Isle Royale National Park
A little island in Lake Superior (and actually closer to Canada than to Michigan), Isle Royale is a must. You can hike amidst the beautiful forests, go swimming, boating, or even scuba diving in the lake, or go camping.
9. Big Bend National Park
Want to get a good taste of the Southwest? Yeah, the Grand Canyon is beyond spectacular, and the canyon lands of Arches is breathtaking, but there is something subtley sublime and rugged about the isolated Big Bend National Park which makes it definitely worth a visit. Hike the Chisos Mountains, go whitewater rafting, camp and listen to the yips of coyotes, and take in the cliffs, rocks, mountains and foliage. Because of its elevation, Big Bend is a relatively cool park in the far West of Texas.
10. Channel Islands
Sea lions, seals, dolphins, and whales. Surf, dive, whale-watch, kayak. These are enough reasons for me to visit a collection of islands just off the coast of California, close to Los Angeles. Come here to see the natural Southern California.
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