A visit to a national park conjures up views of lush landscapes, dramatic skylines and lines of honking cars. While the National Park Service estimates that nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, you don’t need to join the throng to experience a national wonder. Consider visiting one of the following American treasures instead:
1. Arches National Park/Canyonlands National Park
A trip to Arches National Park and the nearby Canyonlands National Park in Southwest Utah can feel like visiting another world. This high desert is home to odd red-rock formations, vast canyons and some of the most delicate flora and fauna. Take a guided tour and learn about cryptobiotic soil, a black crust that covers much of the desert floor but contains live organisms that are vital to keeping the desert healthy.
2. White River National Forest
Home to the Colorado ski resorts of Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, eight wilderness areas and Gold Medal trout waters, the White River National Forest is an outdoor sports enthusiast’s playground. Backpackers can explore the national forest by reserving a hut trip through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
3. Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Located in Southeastern Missouri, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways are known for their clear, clean water, elaborate cave system and eight spring water systems. The national park is nestled near the Mark Twain National Forest and the Ozark mountains.
4. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Since its dramatic eruption on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington has become one of the most studied volcanoes in the world. Visitors can hike and climb the mountain. Take a guided tour and learn more about how volcanoes work.5. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is located in a remote area near the Minnesota-Canada border. It is a beautiful, tranquil area meant to be navigated by canoe, so those looking to visit a park by car will need go elsewhere. But if you are looking for adventure, some prime fishing and a cool refuge from the summer heat, the Boundary Waters has much to offer.
6. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail is more than 2,100-miles long and wanders through many of the states on the Eastern seaboard. One of the best ways to access the trail is by going to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia, which also is home to several Civil War battlefields.
7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Located in western Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to a stark, dramatic desert landscape, an interesting array of plant life and fossilized reef. There’s plenty to do here for hikers and campers. It’s also within driving distance for many Americans living in the Midwest.
8. Everglades National Park
Best known as a home for alligators and snakes, the Everglades in southern Florida also are unlike any other national park. The swampy, grassy wetland is easy to tour by foot or canoe. It’s also home to several endangered species, including the manatee. A guided tour can help ease any jitters about alligators, while also help to guarantee that you’ll see one.
9. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park offers a great escape from the hectic pace of Southern California’s cities. Located off the shore from Santa Barbara, the boat ride to the islands alone makes the trips worth it. Expect to see dolphins chasing your charter boat and if the timing is right, you may even see a few whales. The Channel Islands are home to bald eagles and sea lions. The best way to tour the islands is by sea kayak.
10. Acadia National Park
Located on Maine’s southern rugged coast, Acadia National Park is a haven for outdoor recreation enthusiasts looking to beat the heat and the crowds in many of the country’s national parks to the West. You can canoe fresh water or take a kayak along the Atlantic shoreline, or hike along the coastline bluffs.
Tamara Miller is a Seed.com writer based in Portland, Ore.