National Parks and Monuments
Travis Smola

12 Overlooked National Parks and Monuments You Need to Put on Your Bucket List

These 12 national parks and monuments don't get as much love as the more popular ones, but they're places you need to visit.

The United States' national parks are a sight to behold and everyone wants to visit the big famous ones: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon and more.

But there are plenty of overlooked national parks and monuments that don't get nearly the love of some of the larger ones.

Today we're highlighting 12 of these places and why you need to add them to your bucket list of must-visit places.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

There aren't many national parks that are this isolated and this breathtaking. If you're looking to get away from the crowds of tourists in other parks and have a true wilderness adventure, it doesn't get much more remote than a camping adventure in Isle Royale National Park.

Situated in a remote part of Lake Superior, Isle Royale's nearly 600,000 acres of wilderness is only accessible via ferry or floatplane. But once you get there, you have miles and miles of isolated trails to explore far away from all cities and traffic. The island is also noted for being home to an isolated population of moose and wolves.

Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico

Overlooked National Parks and Monuments

Travis Smola

Situated in the northeastern most part of New Mexico, Capulin Volcano is in the seemingly middle of nowhere. The extinct volcano makes for an excellent stop for an hour or two on a long road trip. First you drive the road that winds around the cone to a parking area just below the summit.

From there it is a fairly easy and spectacular hike of about a mile around the rim of the volcano. If you're fortunate enough to visit on a clear day like I did, you'll get views that can stretch a stunning 50 miles or more. They say you can see five states from this spot and when you're standing on the summit in awe of the scenery, you'll believe it!

Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Most people think of Yellowstone and Yosemite when they think of large national parks. But Wrangell - St. Elias dwarfs them all. It's America's largest at an unbelievable 13.2 million acres!

St. Elias is home to a number of glaciers and one active volcano. There's no shortage of scenic drives here! If you're looking for history, there's the old mining town of Kennecott. If you're looking for wildlife, they've pretty much got it all here. Bears, wolves, caribou and more all call this park home. There's even some hunting allowed in the preserve areas for those looking for an Alaskan hunting adventure.

Craters of the Moon National Monument, Idaho

Overlooked National Parks and Monuments

Travis Smola

Ever wonder what it is like to stand on the surface of another planet? Craters of the Moon is probably as close as you can get without your feet ever leaving earth's surface.

The monument is home to three huge lava fields full of sharp, craggy-looking rocks to explore. Craters offers the opportunity to do some spelunking in the incredible and huge lava tube caves that were left behind from an ancient eruption. You can also hike up the inferno cone, an extinct volcano cone that offers a stunning view of the surrounding landscape.

Caters of the Moon is a pretty remote park and it does take some effort to get there, but once you do, you'll know it was worth it when it feels like you're exploring a totally alien world.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

If you're looking for something with more of an ocean feeling, look no further than Dry Tortugas National Park. Located in the Gulf of Mexico, the park is home to a rich array of ocean and tropical life.

Much like Isle Royale, it does take some effort to get there, mostly because this park is located some 70 miles away from Key West. You'll need to take a ferry or seaplane to this series of coral islands. But once you're there it is an amazing place to camp or fish.

And history buffs will definitely appreciate exploring the unfinished remains of Fort Jefferson. The massive fortress was never completed, but did see Union soldiers stationed there during the Civil War to prevent the Confederacy from taking it. The Union also used Fort Jefferson to house deserters for a time.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

When most people think of Colorado, they usually think of the more popular Rocky Mountain National Park. That and Black Canyon of the Gunnison's remote location are probably why this National Park gets less love.

As the name suggests, Black Canyon is home to a stunning and deep canyon carved out of the rocks over millennia by the Gunnison River. This is one of the steepest canyons you'll ever visit. In fact, it's so steep in spots that the canyon can often be hidden in shadow, thus the name "black canyon."

The park offers camping, beautiful scenic drives, rafting and a number of hiking trails. It also receives a surprisingly small number of visitors, so it's a good place to get away from the crowds you're more likely to find in other Colorado Parks and monuments.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Staying in Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is marked by the single most impressive Native American site you'll likely ever see. The thing that draws most people is the incredible series of cliff dwellings one has to see to believe. It was here the ancient Pueblo people made their homes for 700 years or more!

Sadly, in the late 1800s many artifacts were looted and sold off from Mesa Verde. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt recognized Mesa Verde's historical importance and formed the park. For anyone with even a passing interest in Native American history, Mesa Verde is a must-visit. The only reason this park probably isn't more well-known is because it's in a very remote part of Colorado and it takes some effort to get there.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

In Washington, Olympic National Park and Mount Rainer National Park are probably best-known and are easily accessible from Seattle. North Cascades, on the other hand, is much more remote and gets a surprisingly small number of visitors.

This spectacular park was carved by glaciers and is still home to over 300 of them, making North Cascades the most glacier-filled place in the United States outside of Alaska. The park is filled with gorgeous snow-capped peaks.

If you're looking for a more rugged camping experience in the lower 48, North Cascades National Park is a good place to find it. All of their camp sites are walk-in accessible. The park is also home to many rugged and challenging hiking trails that'll test your skills.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

At just over 77,000 acres, Great Basin is one of the smaller lesser-known National Parks on this list. But it may also pack the most bang for your buck. Great Basin has glaciers, it has scenery, it has wildlife and challenging summit hiking trails.

But one of the park's signature features is its numerous caves. Only Lehman Caves are open to the public via guided NPS tours due to concerns about the damage that can be caused from heavy foot traffic.

A visit to Lehman caves may also be of interest to firearms enthusiasts because it's home to the "Forgotten Winchester," a lever-action rifle manufactured in 1882 that was found mysteriously resting against a tree in the park in 2014. The only downside is this park is almost 300 miles outside of Las Vegas, so it takes some planning to get there.

Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, South Dakota

We put these two together because they're relatively close to one another, but are often overlooked due to the more iconic Mount Rushmore National Memorial that's nearby.

Wind Cave was the first cave made into a National Park anywhere in the world. It boasts an unbelievable 140 miles worth of explored cave passages! The only way to see the caves is via guided tours by the NPS. You'll want to arrive early because tickets go on a first-come, first-serve basis, although two tours can be reserved in advance.

Outside of the cave, you can enjoy the park's wildlife which includes a herd of bison and elk and numerous prairie dogs.

Jewel Cave has the notable distinction of being the third-longest cave system in the world with 192 miles of passage mapped since its discovery in 1900. Jewel Cave gets its name from the beautiful crystals found lining many of its walls.

Again, this cave can only be explored via an NPS tour. Just like Wind Cave, the NPS recommends getting there early because the tickets do sell fast.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

When talking about volcanic National Parks, most people probably immediately think of Yellowstone or Hawaii's numerous volcanic areas. But northern California has a lesser-known active volcanic area known as Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen is the world's largest "plug dome" volcano and four shield volcanoes. The park features hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles similar to what can be seen in Yellowstone. All have been given colorful names like "Devil's Kitchen," "Terminal Geyser" and "Bumpass Hell."

Another interesting feature to this park is it can be accessed while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, making it a unique stop on a big hiking adventure.

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For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels