Valdosta Daily Times


August 4, 2013

Hidden Gems: Visiting underrated national parks and monuments

- — The National Park Service administers more than 400 units including many of the USA’s most treasured landscapes and important historic structures. A number of these, especially those classified as national parks, are well-known. Who hasn’t heard of Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yosemite? Other NPS units, especially those that have not gained national park status, remain more obscure. If you haven’t heard of Alibates Flint Quarries, Florissant Fossil Beds, and Sunset Crater — each a national monument administered by the National Park Service  — don’t fret because most of your friends haven’t either.

In addition to national parks and national monuments, the National Park Service administers units in a variety of other classifications including national seashores, national historic sites, national battlefields, national preserves, and national historical parks. Units in each classification offer something special which resulted in it being placed under the protective wing of the National Park Service.

The two of us have spent the majority of the past 40 summers visiting areas managed by the National Park Service. We have explored most of the major parks including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, and the Grand Canyon numerous times. We have also visited and enjoyed many of the less well-known units including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Oregon Caves National Monument, and Ninety Six National Historic Site.

During these trips we have discovered a number of areas managed by the National Park Service that never make the bucket list for most Americans. Some, such as Big Bend National Park in Texas, are so isolated that many travelers are unwilling to make a long trip just to get there. In other instances, NPS units just don’t seem to receive much public notice and, as a result, remain off most travelers’ radar screens. From our perspective, the lack of crowds is a major factor making these parks so enjoyable to visit.  

Below are five national parks and five national monuments that we feel are underrated. Each is in a different state, but all are west of the Mississippi so you will have to drive some to get there. We are confident that you won’t be disappointed with a visit to any of the 10. There are certainly others we could include but these 10 make a good start for your expanded bucket list.

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