There are 59 national parks in the United States — each more majestic and awe-inspiring than the next. But if you’ve ever visited one of the more popular ones on a weekend in June (we’re looking at you, Grand Canyon and Yosemite), then you know that no amount of natural beauty can ease the unnatural pain of overcrowding — especially if you have the kids in tow. Long bathroom lines, crowded trails, bumper-to-bumper traffic at entrance gates, and slim-pickin’ campsites are enough to turn any national park visit into a hellish family vacation.
It doesn’t have to be, though. While 84 million people visit national parks every year, over half descend on the same 10 parks. Which leaves 42 million visitors spread across the other 49. All of a sudden, your national park visit just got a whole lot less crowded. But which of those 49 are the most underrated, under-the-radar parks that you can enjoy — we mean, really, enjoy — this summer with your family. We asked Heather Balogh Rochefort, founder of Just A Colorado Gal, author of Backpacking 101, and mother of an avid 8-month-old hiker, Liliana, for her picks. Here are the 10 national parks she recommends you visit.
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is the least visited and largest national park in the U.S. In fact, it’s as large as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the entire country of Switzerland combined. It’s home to volcanoes, arctic tundra, glaciers, rivers, nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States, and enough wildlife to remind you that the earth is still a wild place. Sometimes rugged locations can be intimidating for family outings, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy Wrangell – St. Elias without pushing your family’s boundaries. We recommend stopping off at the Copper Center Ranger Station and letting the kids do the junior ranger program to start off the trip. Then, check out the 14-story mill in Kennecott (arguably the coolest ghost town in America), where kids can learn about mining copper, before heading out into the wild! Just make sure to drive the McCarthy road into the thick of the park.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park packs some serious punch when it comes to scenery — and it’s far less trafficked (with less than a million visitors last year) than Mt. Rainier and Olympic National parks. Although there is a reason why people refer to Sloan Peak as the Matterhorn of America — these mountains are the Alps of the U.S. Head out on the 4.5-mile hike to Blue Lake, which passes through forests and alpine meadows, to soak in the best views of those dramatic, snow-covered peaks. Having a picnic and letting the kids splash around is the perfect afternoon before driving the North Cascades scenic byway down to Winthrop — one of the quaintest, cutest towns in the Pacific Northwest.
Great Basin National Park
No, Nevada is not just red rocks, desert, and Las Vegas. Great…