Lesser-known national parks

Jun 18, 2013 at 9:24 a.m. ET

Summertime means road trip season! Check out these lesser-known national parks throughout the U.S. and avoid the crowds.

Lesser-known National Parks


Congaree National Park — South Carolina

Located in central South Carolina, the Congaree swamp and forest became a national park in 2003 after a successful grassroots campaign to save the forest was initiated by The Sierra Club in 1969. Preserving the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States, Congaree National Park is a designated wilderness area, an International Biosphere Reserve and a globally Important Bird Area. Guests can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak or foot by using the over 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of the Boardwalk Loop Trail. This park is a great place for animal watching, as it provides an ample habitat for large animals (bobcats, deer and coyotes) as well as amphibians (turtles, snakes and alligators). Tent camping is allowed in the park with a free camping permit required; overnight vehicle camping with the use of a trailer, camper or RV is not permitted.

Lesser-known National Parks


Channel Islands National Park — California

California has no shortage of things to see, but we're pretty sure you won't find anything like the Channel Islands. Located just off the coast of Southern California, Channel Islands National Park encompasses five of the eight California Channel Islands — Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. Impeccably preserved due to their isolation from the mainland, these islands have an ecosystem of unique animals and plants to represent coastal California, as it was thousands of years ago. Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in America because it's accessible by only a short boat ride or commercial flight in a small airplane from Ventura or Santa Barbara, California. Its view of migrating gray whales, wildflower displays and deep sea diving to explore the sea caves is well worth the voyage.

Lesser-known National Parks


Theodore Roosevelt National Park — North Dakota

The badlands of western North Dakota are credited with transforming Theodore Roosevelt from a young, thin, city boy into the hearty and robust man we remember today. After a bison-hunting trip to North Dakota in 1883, Roosevelt fell in love with the rugged lifestyle of the West and invested in the Maltese Cross Ranch and Elkhorn Ranch, 35 miles north of Medora, North Dakota. Today, the land that Roosevelt loved so much has become Theodore Roosevelt National Park — and it is comprised of three areas: North Unit (along U.S. Highway 85), South Unit (near Medora) and Elkhorn Ranch Unit (located between North and South Unit), where visitors can visit Roosevelt's ranch house, barn, utility shed and well. The most popular attraction at this park is the wildlife — it's home to bison, feral horses, elk, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, white-tailed deer, golden eagles, wild turkeys and more. Visitors can also enjoy backcountry hiking and camping, horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, cycling and skiing.

Lesser-known National Parks


Big Bend National Park — Texas

Big Bend National Park is one of the largest (bigger than the state of Rhode Island) and most remote national parks in the lower 48 United States. Another unique feature of this scenic location is that 244 miles of the park are lined by the Rio Grande, which form the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. This park offers over 100 miles of paved roads and 150 miles of dirt roads — perfect for scenic driving. There are also about 200 miles of hiking trails — perfect for camping, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding and bird watching. Don't miss your chance to drive along the Chisos Basin Road, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive or Panther Junction to view mountain peaks, canyons and ancient limestone cliffs. With over 2,000 stars visible to the naked eye on a clear night, stargazing is also a top activity at Big Bend!

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