With everyone making a beeline for the national parks this summer, we're giving the parks less traveled a moment to shine with the below road trip alternatives. They may not have the same claims to fame as their star power counterparts, but what they lack in the recognition they more than make up for in peace, solitude, short shuttle lines and more of what you hit the road to see in the first place — fewer people, more nature.
Swap Zion NP for Cedar Breaks NP, Kodachrome Basin State Park or Capitol Reef NP (Utah)
Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah sits at over 10,000 feet, and you’re not going to want to miss the views. You can spend your days exploring lush wildflower meadows, sculptural geology and bristlecone pine forests, and your nights gazing up at the dazzling display of stars. With educational and junior ranger programs for the kids, Cedar Breaks is poised to be a home run for the whole family.
Kodachrome Basin State Park is named for its vibrant colors. You can explore 180 million years of geologic time, revealed through the spectacle of red rock structures, multi-hued sandstone layers and 67 towering sedimentary pipes. It’s even complete with its own 18-hole disc golf course. Check out the park’s three campgrounds to plan an immersive adventure.
Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park will leave you with the NP lover’s favorite question time and time again: How did nature make this? This landscape is a geological amusement park of cliffs, bridges, canyons and domes. The park is defined by its Waterpocket Fold, “a wrinkle on the earth.” Be sure to check out camping accommodations, ranger programs and hiking trails while planning your visit.
Swap Yosemite NP for Pinnacles NP (California)
California’s Pinnacles National Park showcases a unique landscape shaped by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. With deep canyons, talus caves, oak woodlands and chaparral thickets to explore, Pinnacles has a little bit of everything. And don’t forget to look up; you wouldn't want to miss the towering geologic spires or the park’s native, rare birds of prey.
Swap Yellowstone NP (Wyoming) for Great Basin NP (Nevada)
The peaks, valleys, caves and sweeping landscapes of Nevada’s Great Basin National Park are tough to beat. With unique wildlife, fantastic hiking trails and Lenham cave tours, you’ll have plenty of adventures to choose from. This park is well known for its stargazing; summer is the best season to take in the galaxy from the Great Basin.
Swap Joshua Tree NP for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California)
The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park. It’s well known for its San Diego Desert wildflowers, which bloom across the park in explosions of color in spring and early summer. However, the park offers many spectacles of natural beauty — including waterfalls, unique cacti, sandstone canyons and more — all year round. Anza-Borrego also offers free backcountry camping, as well as RV accommodations, a golf club and a spa (because who says your whole national park adventure has to be rough and tumble?).
Swap Mt. Rainier NP for North Cascades NP (Washington)
Washington’s North Cascades National Park is worth the visit for its majestic mountain views, ice-blue waters and more than 300 glaciers. The park’s hiking trails accommodate all levels and guarantee breathtaking scenery. You can also plan a climb, set up at one of the park’s campgrounds or take a boat out on one of the park’s sparkling lakes.
Swap Grand Canyon NP (Arizona) for Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP (Colorado)
With one of the roughest national park terrains in the country, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a dream for the rugged adventurers among us. The park boasts “some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock and craggiest spires in North America.” The park’s popular Inner Canyon offers advanced hiking, rock climbing and kayaking. But don’t worry, there are plenty of opportunities for scenic drives, fishing and easier walking trails when you need a break from all the action.
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