Travelers of all stripes have developed a new appreciation for nature-focused getaways—the kind of adventures that facilitate social distancing as well as a break from busy modern life. But the world’s best and most popular national parks bring in the sort of crowds many are trying to avoid.
And while places like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon will always warrant inclusion on anyone’s bucket list, in-the-know types are seeking out the most underrated parks and hidden gems around the world. These under-the-radar spots are just as beautiful and unique as the big names, minus the crowds.
While Hawaii and Fiji attract throngs of visitors, this underrated Polynesian island also offers tropical rainforests, untouched beaches, and pristine coral reefs. The National Park of American Samoa—spanning three islands—preserves and protects these natural features, the species living within them, and the Samoan culture that stems from them. The park is home to diverse marine life, such as sea turtles and more than 950 species of fish. It’s the only American National Park unit south of the equator, and it’s worth the journey to enjoy rugged hiking, snorkeling, and whale watching.
More people visit Yellowstone in a single day than Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park might see in a year. A 45-mile archipelago in the middle of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is accessible only by boat or seaplane. Given the low visitor numbers, the beauty of the island is well-preserved, and the adventures are many: hiking, camping, kayaking, scuba diving, and exploring rocky coastlines, as well as observing the majestic wildlife, including moose and endangered gray wolves.
Unique wind patterns of southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley have formed towering sand dunes—at around 700 feet, the tallest in North America—within the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Great Sand Dunes National Park offers amazing views as well as the opportunity to do some impressive sandboarding and sledding. Aside from the dunes, the park includes scenic Medano Creek, alpine lakes, glacial falls, and the primitive Medano Pass that winds through a canyon toward the mountains.