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3 of the Most Underrated National Parks Across the Country
Escape Crowds At These Three Parks You May Be Missing Out On - Great Alternatives for Nearby, Busier National Parks!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Chris Blake
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There is something unique about experiencing the beauty of a National Park away from the crowds. Something fascinating about being able to set up a time lapse for a sunset and having no people in the way. The beauty is so much more profound when you adventure through underappreciated lands with no lines, no masses of people, and no advanced reservations. Voyageurs, Guadalupe Mountains and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison are just three National Parks that are more than worth the journey to appreciate in such a rare environment.
Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
Voyageurs National Park, MN - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
Located in northern Minnesota, this gem of a park is a mixture of dry and wet ecosystems that extend across the Canadian border. Voyageurs National Park has no entrance fee, and activities for everyone. While there are many walking and hiking trails along the shore, to truly experience the magic of this park you need to take to the water. Fishing and boating charters are popular, as are kayaking and canoeing. I highly recommend taking a sunset tour of Kabetogama Lake with Bill from Border Guide Service. Once out on the water, the wildlife and scenery is surreal. When the sun goes down, don't forget to look for the northern lights!
I camped about a 10 minute drive East of the Kabetogama Lake Visitors Center at the Woodenfrog Campground. The campground is located on the water, with boat launches and docks available to use. There are pit toilets and water spouts available throughout the campground. If you're looking for a shower, head into the lake just a few feet away from your site! You'll spend the night listening to the water lap on the shore and loons calling in the distance. Don’t forget lots of bug spray if you're visiting in the early summer!
Sunset from Woodenfrog Campground, MN - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Texas
Guadalupe Peak: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
Salt Flat, Texas, located about 2 hours East of El Paso, is home to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This park, accessible via a $10 entrance fee, includes 8 of the 10 highest peaks in Texas and is on the list for the least visited National Parks. In my opinion, the most rewarding activity in the park is hiking to Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas. This strenuous 8.4 mile trail with 3,000 feet of elevation gain yields outstanding vistas throughout. Tips: start before 6am and be prepared for high winds. The hike is steep and grueling, but after each switchback the views get better and better. On your way home, stop at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, only a 30 minute drive to the North!
At the base of Guadalupe Peak Trail is Pine Springs Campground, open year-round. Since I have visited, the campground has changed over to a reservation system for both tent and RV sites. During my visit it was first-come, first-serve; and I was able to car camp in the RV lot. Again, high winds are normal in the area so be prepared to weigh down your tent! There are no showers here, but there are flush toilets and running water. Since the campground shares parking with the busy Guadalupe Peak trailhead, plan to start hiking early in the morning to avoid the crowds, the heat, and the noisy parking lot.
The Top of Texas! - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - Colorado
South Rim: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
Located in western Colorado is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. If you're looking for a laid back, uncongested park with easy hiking trails, opportunities for extreme activities, and beautiful canyon views throughout... this is the park for you! The entrance fee is $30, and the park can be accessed from either the North or South Rim. Trails such as Oak Flat, Uplands, Rim Rock and Warner Point are all easy hikes that provide excellent views of the canyon walls and Colorado River.
The most common way to explore the inner canyon is through hiking. Extreme sports are popular here too such as white water rafting and kayaking; as well as eminent rock climbing routes up on the canyon walls themselves. During my nightly yoga routine, I met rock climbers in the campground that were off to spend a few strenuous days climbing the canyon walls. If you're planning to explore the inner canyon be sure to obtain a free first-come, first-serve wilderness permit.
Oak Flat Trail: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
I camped at the South Rim Campground, equipped with pit toilets and running water during the warmer months. The sites at the campground are rather close together, but there is still plenty of room to set up a tent - although I car camped for both nights. Mule deer are a common sight within the campground, and often meander close by while you're cooking dinner. If making your way into this area, prepare for an off-the-grid trip when visiting - as there is no cell phone service throughout the park.
Rim Rock Trail: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO - Photo Credit: Abby Voce
After visiting 51 National Parks, I’ve found there to be something truly special about the less popular parks. The calm and the effortless ability to explore is no longer the norm in National Parks. Overcrowding and reservations have brought millions of visitors into these lands. Perhaps the least visited parks are the only truly wild parks left?
Guest blogger Abby Voce is a senior at Babson College, studying business administration with a concentration in legal studies. Growing up in upstate New York, Abby has been passionate about the outdoors since she was young, and recently completed a trip to visit 51 National Parks across 45 states in the past year alone. Look for more of Abby's stories from her adventures in the upcoming weeks and months on the Pathloom Blog!
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