There are dozens of national parks in the United States, not including hundreds of park sites and locations. That means there are thousands and thousands of acres of national land that can be explored by anyone. There is an endless array of activities and iconic locations to see, especially at some of America’s lesser known national parks.
However, most Americans who visit national parks only visit the most popular ones—Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these parks, but there’s plenty more to be explored, all with many unique activities and beautiful things to see.
Here is a list of fun activities you won’t forget at some of America’s lesser known national parks this summer:
North Cascades National Park—Hiking and Climbing
Many of the parks on this list are amazing places to go hiking. In fact—every national park has at least one trail or two worth going after. North Cascades National park is no exception to this statement. One of Washington state’s most beautiful National Parks, North Cascades park is home to endless miles of trails and several iconic mountains to climb.
The hiking in North Cascades park is incredible. There are few places in the continental United States where you can hike in the snow during the summer. Many of the mountains, including an array of glaciers, are still capped with ice year-round. Because of this, North Cascades park is a perfect escape for those tired of the summer heat.
Climbing in North Cascades Park is also incredibly diverse. There are tons of places to climb, from rock scrambles to steep cliffs. There is a climbing route for a climber of every skill level, although most routes are on the very challenging side. However, if you are experienced at climbing, North Cascades is a perfect destination for the summer.
More information about this park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/noca/index.htm
Washington Pass – North Cascades National Park. Photo: Andy Porter
Great Sand Dunes Park—Sandboarding
Sandboarding is a fun and exciting activity that anyone can try. You could be an experienced snowboarder who misses the slopes in the summer, or perhaps a surfer who lives in a landlocked state and would have to travel far to the nearest wave. You could even be someone who is just trying something new.
It involves using boards that are like snowboards and skis, and riding down sand dunes as if they were mountain slopes. This can only be done on sand dunes, of course—so there aren’t a whole lot of places in the world you can do this, especially in the United States.
Great Sand Dunes National Park has some of America’s largest sand dunes—and is perfect for sandboarding. Located in Colorado, the park has 30 square miles of sand dunes with some peaks hundreds of feet high. There are also plenty of other locations in the park that aren’t as sandy. There is an abundance of hiking trails, camping sites, and photography spots.
Much like a massive sandbox, this park is perfect for sand boarding and sledding. Although the dunes may be hard to climb, they are very fun to ride down at speed. You can also rent boards and sleds from the park to enjoy the dunes during the summer.
Voyageurs National Park–Canoe Tours
Nothing says summer like a day well spent on the water. When you think about traveling to a national park, you may think about things like hiking, biking, or climbing. However, there are many parks out there that have plenty of space out on the water, where anyone can enjoy nature uninterrupted by development.
One of the activities to do in such an area is a canoe tour, where anyone who is willing to paddle can explore the natural beauty of these parks on their own terms. It also allows people to take as much time as they want to explore the area.
Voyageurs National Park is a perfect water location for those who want to take a canoe trip this summer. Near the Canadian Border in Minnesota, there are plenty of lakes and islands for someone to explore. Anybody can book a canoe tour at this incredible park, where you can explore dozens of coastlines and small islands embedded in the area this summer–while they aren’t frozen in ice. You can also take a tour boat if paddling isn’t your style.
More information about this park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/voya/index.htm
Dry Tortugas National Park–Snorkeling and Diving
Going to national parks during the summer doesn’t mean you can’t have a beach trip in your itinerary. Some parks even have areas where you can go snorkeling, and even diving. With coral reefs becoming less common every year, everybody should try to at least see some of them at least once in person. These beautiful ecosystems are home to a wide variety of fish and plant species, all living in unison.
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of America’s lesser known national parks for you to go snorkeling or diving into the coral reefs of the Florida Keys. Visiting the reefs is one of the more interesting things to do here, especially during the summer. The park is also relatively remote, and the park can be enjoyed more with less people.
However, there are also plenty of tropical paradises and beaches to visit through the water, and many unique camping locations as well. Jefferson Fort is also located in the park, which was one of the largest American forts in the 19th century, and is a great place to explore.
Anybody who is qualifies enough can snorkel or dive to one or more of the eight major locations in the park. Some of these are beautiful reefs filled with sea creatures, and some of them are abandoned shipwrecks that are also inhabited by fish and plants, which are very interesting. As long as it is done safely, a day snorkeling at Dry Tortugas National Park is a great activity to do this summer.
More information about this park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm
Isle Royale National Park–Camping
Summer isn’t complete without an epic overnight camping trip. Among the dozens of national parks in the United States, each and every one of them is great for your next camping trip, each with their own unique characteristics. Summer camping trips can be very memorable on the top of a mountain, or in a desert valley, or on a tropical beach. They can also be had on an island on one of America’s lesser known National parks.
Isle Royale National Park is an amazing place for your next camping trip. This large island in Michigan off the coast of lake superior is riddled with clean campsites and is a wonderful choice for a summer trip. Far from civilization, you could have the freedom to enjoy nature, untouched.
Reachable by boat or seaplane, Isle Royale is a pristine park that makes camping so much better than going to an overrun campground with dozens of tourists. With 36 remote campgrounds, you could enjoy privacy and nature as it was intended.
More information about this park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/isro/index.htm
Lassen Volcanic National Park–Hydrothermal Areas
Yellowstone National Park may come to mind when you think about geothermal activity, but there are other national parks with this type of scenery which may be in your backyard. For those interested in hot water pools, steam vents, and mud pots Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the lesser known National Parks you may haven’t heard of yet.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the many National Parks that call California home. It is filled with hiking trails, bodies of water, and snow-capped peaks. For any summer outdoor activities, there are plenty of things for you to enjoy here.
However, the Hydrothermal areas are what make this park unique. Home to several volcanoes, the park is littered with geological wonders that are rare to see, especially in the United States. Along several of the numerous hiking trails are several geysers, sulfur springs, and steam vents such as Bumpass Hell. Hiking these natural wonders would make a great summer activity for anyone looking for something out of the ordinary.
More information about this park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm
Shenandoah National Park–Hiking
When you go hiking, it should be interesting–full of wildlife, interesting features and picturesque views. During the Summer, many hiking areas can get packed with people at most of the well known National Parks. However, some of them remain less traveled and can offer some of the best views worth the hike.
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one of these lesser known national parks. With rolling hills and scenic mountains, there is an abundance of amazing hiking trails that you can travel. You can also climb Old Rag Mountain, the park’s most popular destination. Old Rag mountain offers an amazing view of the area from the top, and is an amazing and fun hike in the process.
In terms of summer hiking, it is hard to beat the natural beauty of Virginia, and with so many parks to choose from there is an endless amount of hiking in these mountains.
More information about this park can be found at https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
Acadia National Park–Tide pooling
As one of the more popular National Parks on this list, Acadia National park is very large and hosts a number of activities similar to other national parks. However, there are a few unique things you could do here that will hopefully take you away from the crowds. One such activity is Tide pooling, a family friendly activity on the water.
Locates on the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park captures the most scenic beauty of New England in the summertime. With rocky shores, high peaks, and several stone bridges Acadia is a perfect place for a breezy summer hike. It also has an abundance of wildlife to explore.
If you time it right with the tides, Acadia National Park is a great location for Tide pooling. Tide pooling is what happens when the tide lets out and pools of water are left behind due to features of the coast. In these pools is an abundance of sea life left behind for you to explore. It is a great activity for families, as it is very easy and relatively safe. It is also great for photographing wildlife you would otherwise not be able to see.