You know Yellowstone, Acadia, and Yosemite. You also know that those national parks—while beautiful—also come with loads of crowds. Part of the glory of visiting our revered national parks is experiencing the unbounded nature of our country.
If you’re more a nature-seeker and less a people-person—or even if you just want to see some of the most amazing parts of the country that are off the beaten path, here are eight national parks to thumbtack on your map.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
You won’t be getting all the way here in your RV (unless you’ve got some kind of James Bond-level upgrades) because Dry Tortugas National Park is a series of islands nearly 70 miles west off of Key West. If you’re already planning to camp in the Keys, though, it’s a perfect day trip. Take a ferry to the park (it’s a little over two hours by boat). Once you’re there, visit Fort Jefferson—a never-completed Civil War bastion—and dive or snorkel through the crystal-clear waters and coral reefs. If you feel like roughing it, you can camp in the one nearby campground, but it’s primitive and its ten first-come, first-served sites fill up fast.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Not even 100 miles outside of Seattle sits one of the least-visited parks in the country. North Cascades National Park boasts some of Americas most picturesque views. As long as you don’t mind a few bumpy roads—many of the paths into and within the park aren’t maintained—you can camp, even in your RV. Otherwise, the hiking and backpacking, plus canoeing, kayaking, and fishing around the 12,000-acre Ross Lake are popular among travelers.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Though it sounds like a rainforest, Congaree National Park sits in South Carolina and is very much a deciduous forest. In fact, the many hardwoods in the park are some of the tallest in the country—some even the tallest of their known species. A good chunk of the park is pretty swampy, but a 2.4-mile boardwalk rises over the water and lets you hike without getting your feet (or ankles) wet. Of course, if you feel like dipping a toe in, one of the best ways to take in the park is by canoe. There’s no RV camping available in Congaree, but if you like to mix your camping styles up a bit, there are three available primitive campgrounds.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
When you think of Colorado, what do you think about? Snow, mountains, and elk, right? But definitely not sand, correct? Turns out at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado, there’s sand—and a lot of it. The park is home to the largest sand dunes in North America. Medano Creek is wide and shallow, and visitors walk through it to get to the dunes. Once you’re there, sand sledding and sandboarding (yes, those are real things) are very popular activities. Plus, because this is still Colorado, you’re able to find bison and elk plus dozens of other kinds of wildlife—and if you’re into ornithology, over 200 species of bird. Another bonus, they can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Let’s say your favorite part of Yellowstone are the hot springs—that sweet smell of sulfur in the air, and the anxiety that comes with knowing you’re standing on a volcanic hotbed—but you hate the crowds. (I’m kidding about the anxiety, mostly.) There’s an alternative: Lassen Volcanic National Park, in California, offers much of the geological and geothermal beauty of Yellowstone without the throngs of people. You’ll find boiling mudpots and hot springs, plus the park is one of the few locations in the world that is home to the four different types of volcanos. One of those, Lassen Peak, is the largest plug dome volcano in the world.
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Way up north, there’s Katmai National Park in Alaska. You’ll need to drive through Canada to get there, but hey—there’s more adventure to be had that way. The park and nature preserve account for over four million acres of land. Mount Katmai itself is a volcano, and there are a number of other active volcanos in the park. The park has a high salmon population, and because of that, also a large population of brown bears—but it’s also not uncommon to see moose, wolves, and even wolverines. Of course, one reason Katmai is so sparsely visited is because it’s only accessible by plane or boat. But hey: take that RV to Anchorage, park it there, and hop a plane. It’ll be worth it.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Way up north of the Upper Peninsula, in “practically-Canada-land,” lies an island in the middle of Lake Superior. On that island, called Isle Royale (plus another 400 smaller islands around), is Isle Royale National Park. The island is the largest in Lake Superior at 45 miles long. It’s also a biologist’s dream, as it’s a natural habitat for moose, wolves, and loads of other species that have been studied for years. This place is rugged, and protected as such: there are no vehicles allowed on the island—not even bikes. If you’d like to go and perhaps do some backcountry camping, you can take your RV to either Copper Harbor or Houghton in the UP, or Grand Portage in Minnesota, and take a ferry across the way.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Colorado is so naturally beautiful, they’re going to have two entries on this list. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in western Colorado. The full canyon, cut by the Gunnison River, is roughly 48 miles long—but the park only contains about 12 miles of it. Granted, it’s some of the deepest and most beautiful areas of the canyon. It’s possible to get to the river, though it can be a strenuous hike, as the area is also known for its rock climbing. Why is it a “black” canyon, you ask? Because the area only receives about 30 minutes of sunlight a day. But RVs are welcome, so you can still get plenty of light where you’re camping.
Ready to hit the road? Visit Camping World to find the RV that is the best fit for you, then start taking in some of America’s most beautiful—and least explored—national parks.