The most underrated national parks on the continent
The Handbook / Culture / Untouched glimpses of nature make a case for all-season exploring

Untouched glimpses of nature make a case for all-season exploring

The most underrated national parks on the continent

Words— Kate Dingwall

We've all heard of the Grand Canyons and the Yosemites of the world. Thousands flock to these treasured National Parks annually, but with that mass exodus of tourists come high prices and booked-up campsites. So, if you’re looking to get out into nature at a National Park, why not veer to the road even less travelled?


The continent is full of over 1,000 national parks, ranging from desertscapes to verdant forests. There's the treacherous Beehive Trail at Acadia National Park, where hikers climbing up a rock face to be greeted with uninterrupted views of an expanse of Maine fishing boats. In Quebec’s Mingan Archipelago National Park, towering rock monoliths jut out of the waters of the Saint-Jean River. Whether you're a hiker, a boater, a biker, or if you're just there for the scenery, there are hundreds of under-the-radar national parks that are just waiting to be explored.



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Acadia National Park, Maine


On an island in Maine, the Acadia National Park on the North Atlantic Seaboard brings craggy vistas, dense woodlands and peaceful seascapes. There are offerings for the whole family: the adrenaline-inducing Beehive Trail has visitors scaling a rock face while calmer trail around Jordan Pond loops hikers through a quiet, flat woodland stroll. For unwinding, the town of Bar Harbor on the island is a picturesque preppy town that is a destination for lobster rolls and artisan shops. 



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Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, North Carolina - Florida


Situated down the most Easterly strip of Low Country - spanning North Carolina down to Florida - the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor commemorates and protects the culture of the Gullah Geechee people, descendants of West African slaves. Much of the heritage has been preserved thanks to the remote location on the sea and barrier islands, so weaving through the corridor today, you’ll find utterly unique traditions, foods and crafts. Visit both ruined and restored plantations, prayer houses, and juke joints - neighbourhood dance houses. Sample foods like oyster rice, okra gumbo, peanut cake and of course, shrimp and grits.



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Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado


So many different landscapes and terrains dot the continent's national parks, but none are quite as unique as the Great Sand Dunes. Neverending hills of sand-30 square miles, to be exact - conjure up the mirage of a remote desert, with the largest dune rising 750 feet from the ground. Thrill-seekers flock to the park to race down the dunes on tubes or snowboards or hop aboard an ATV to traverse the dunes. 



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Mingan Archipelago, Quebec


There's a glimmering secret of a national park nestled on a quiet coastal inlet in Eastern Quebec. The Mingan Archipelago makes up a smattering of 1,000 small islands and inlets at the mouth of Quebec's Saint-Jean River. Here, natural rock formations and limestone monoliths, carved by waves over centuries, jut out of the water. The park concludes in the Grandes Chutes, a 27-metre storm of a waterfall.



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Yoho National Park, Alberta


So many flocks to Lake Louise National Park, but avoid the crowds by heading 39 km northwest to Yoho National Park. Crystal clear lakes and snow-capped mountains make for ideal campsites, but the major draw here is Takakkaw Falls, one of the country's highest permanent waterfalls that towers at the height of over 250 metres. After descending, stroll around the Cerulean Emerald Lake or Lake O'Hara, or cycling through the historic Kicking Horse pass. The park, situated over 2,500 metres above sea level, is also home to fossils from the most ancient ecosystem - researchers from the Royal Ontario Museum are continually working in the park to uncover fossils almost 540 million years old.



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Nevado de Toluca National Park, Mexico


The crowning point in Nevado de Toluca National Park is the aptly-named volcano, with its dramatic views and snaking trails. Drive up to the peak - 4600 meters in height - to check out the rater with a background of breathtaking panoramas. Though the park is a breath away from Toluca, the state' s capital, the secluded park is full of uninterrupted vistas of snow-capped peaks, lake-lined valleys and forest plains.



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Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, Mexico


Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, just a few hour's drive outside Mexico City, is one of the largest systems of caves and caverns in the world. Rock climbers, rappellers and general adrenaline junkies flock here to climb down into the caves and explore the underground system. If daredevil isn't your speed, you can find a series of underground rivers to boat and stroll through and lush botanical gardens.



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Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas


While the continent has a host of luxury spas, Hot Springs National Park's soothing thermal waters have been helping visitors heal and relax for centuries. Head to the city of Hot Springs - the city has been built up around the park's system of springs, including neo-classical and Spanish-style museums dubbed bathhouse row. The traditional-style bathhouses have floors for men and women and let travellers of all kinds bathe in the naturally-143 Fahrenheit waters.



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Big Bend, Texas


If you’re looking for off-the-grid, this is it. Nestled in the Southernmost part of West Texas, between the Rio Grande and Mexico. Mountains, deserts and the Rio Grande combine to make a playground for wanderers. You can drive through the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, through outstanding desert scenery, or hike through the Santa Elena Canyon; a canyon-flanked walked through the base of the Rio Grande. Cool off by jumping in the Rio Grande, then warm back up by dipping in the natural hot springs. Finish off your trip by exploring the Terlingua Ghost Town - locals will tell you it’s haunted, but it is also home to a live music joint and local artisans peddling hand-painted souvenirs. 


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