Pop quiz, U.S travelers: How many national parks can you name? You might be able to cite popular options like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are more than 400 units in the national park system and more than 6,000 state parks here in the U.S. Here are five unsung American parks that offer great rewards.
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Southern Utah is best known for its big five national parks: Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. But what you may not know is that tucked between this grand circle are a number of state parks that are equally stunning and worth a visit. Dead Horse Point State Park is only about 30 miles from the hub of Moab. It sits 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, with point that overlooks the river and Canyonlands National Park that even locals agree is one of the most incredible views in all of Utah. (If it looks familiar, that’s because it was where they shot the final scene of Thelma & Louise!) Entrance fee is only $10 to enter this must-see state park.
Wind Caves National Park, South Dakota
Every year, more than 2.1 million people flock to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. But so many people overlook all the protected land just outside of the famous monument. Just about 40 miles south of Mount Rushmore is Wind Caves National Park. Here you’ll get to see the iconic landscape of South Dakota—the prairies of the Black Hills, hillside forests and herds of bison, elk and prairie dogs roaming the land. But there’s more…underneath it all is one of the longest caves in the world. Wind Cave is a labyrinth-like cave system, where you’ll see stalactites and a mysterious formation known as boxwork coming off the walls and ceilings in a honeycomb pattern.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
While everyone knows about the Great Smoky Mountains, Congaree National Park is about 200 miles southeast and only about 20 miles from the capital city of Columbia. It was once known as the Congaree Swamp National Monument, but don’t let the name scare you. It’s not technically a swamp, and it has evolved into an incredibly biodiverse, natural area. It has a huge expanse of old-growth hardwood forests, and is an amazing spot for birdwatching and spotting plants, bugs and other critters. Rangers even lead nighttime “owl prowls.”
Bear Mountain, New York
Only an hour from New York, Bear Mountain State Park is located in the mountains on the west bank of the Hudson River. Even many native New Yorkers don’t even know about this refuge for hiking, fishing, swimming, picnicking, and winter skiing and ice skating.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
The continguous Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks aren’t exactly a secret, but they’re often overlooked in favor of nearby Yosemite. The experience here is nothing short of breathtaking—inside the Giant Forest of Sequoias, the massive trees are so big you can actually drive through some of them. In fact, it’s home to five of the 10 largest trees in the world. You can drive to the Giant Forest which connects the two parks. But both parks are sprawling and wild, so plan to hike extensively to get the best experience.
Watch Peter’s latest CBS This Morning Saturday report to learn just what these parks have to offer.
For more camping information, check out:
- Know Before You Go: National Park Camping
- Camping for First Timers
- America’s Best & Wackiest Camping Sites & Road Trip Stops
- The Secrets to a Successful National Park Summer Vacation
By Peter Greenberg for PeterGreenberg.com