Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Shenandoah … there are many National Parks that spring to mind when thinking of vacationing in natural beauty. Many get millions of visitors each year, filling with tourists, campers, and vacationers from all over the world. While there is a lot to be said for seeing iconic natural wonders like Old Faithful or Half Dome, you might want to consider one of the smaller, less-crowded National Parks for a more peaceful vacation, or, if one happens to be nearby, a shorter visit.
Prince William Forest Park, Virginia
While Prince William Forest Park is just an easy 45 minute drive from Washington DC, you’d never know it once you enter the parkl. A serene pocket of nature, this largest protected natural area in the capital region has creeks and streams in scenic forests, 37 miles of hiking trail, and lots of places to bike. It has the feel of being secluded and remote, even though it’s just a 10 minute drive from one of the largest outlet malls in the Eastern US. The forest’s isolated remnants of gold and pyrite mines also evoke a sense of what the area was like in the early 1800s. Cabins and campgrounds are both available to the public.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Most people think of the Florida Keys as ending in Key West, but 75 miles further out to sea, at the end of the submerged part of the Florida Keys archipelago, lie the Dry Tortugas. Perched at the edge of the continental shelf, less than 1% of Dry Tortugas National Park is actually dry ground, making this the perfect place for those who want to incorporate diving, snorkeling, swimming, and boating into their National Parks camping experience. This 100-square mile park is mostly open water with seven small islands, and is only accessible by a day-trip ferry from Key West, by seaplane, or by private boats. A true island experience, camping here lends itself to stargazing and, snorkeling and scuba diving provides a superb marine life experience. The park draws history buffs as well; Fort Jefferson, one of the nation’s largest 19th century forts, was built here before the Civil War. Now open to visitors, it gained fame as the place where the persons accused of President Lincoln’s assassination were imprisoned.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
It’s a wonder that this park is one of the quieter, least-traveled National Parks, because it has some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rock in North America. Majestic vistas created by the Gunnison River over the last two million years are unlike anything else you have seen. Hike along the edge, or go the more strenuous route by hiking to the bottom of the steep canyon. If fishing or kayaking the river are more appealing, you will be well pleased. Multiple campgrounds are available based on your needs and scenic preferences!
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
The largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, Congaree National Park has some of the richest biodiversity you can find on protected lands. With 2.5 miles of boardwalk hiking, 25 miles of trails, as well as canoe and kayak adventures aplenty, and gorgeous campsites, it’s easy to feel like you are lost in the wilderness of this natural gem.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Another island getaway, Isle Royale is surrounded by Lake Superior’s beauty and a remote, isolated feeling. This third largest island in the continental US is accessible by ferry from Michigan or Minnesota, or by private plane or boat. This gorgeous, serene getaway boasts everything from backpacking trails to scuba diving opportunities. Although you can find remnants of prehistoric copper mines, more than 98% of Isle Royale is designated wilderness, a natural ecosystem untouched by human influence. There are often more kinds of wildlife in the park with you than there are other campers.