Some of America’s most wonderful and spectacular places are public lands designated as national parks. National parks have become increasingly popular over the past few decades, with the most popular parks receiving millions of visitors each year. For many people, national parks have become bucket list vacation destinations. While there’s no substitute for visiting America’s most-loved national parks, we’ve come up with a list of national park alternatives worth checking out, especially if you’re looking for less crowded places. Some of these national park alternatives are lesser-visited (but still amazing) national parks!
Yellowstone National Park
Alternatives: Lassen Volcanic National Park, Custer State Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
If you’re most interested in the hydrothermal features at Yellowstone, you’ll likely be intrigued by Lassen Volcanic National Park, which also has a number of hydrothermal areas. The largest and most popular hydrothermal area in Lassen Volcanic National Park is Bumpass Hell. Other notable hydrothermal areas in the park include Devils Kitchen and Terminal Geyser.Photo credit: Priya Karkare
Custer State Park
Yellowstone is known for its massive bison herd. If wildlife is what you’re looking for, South Dakota’s Custer State Park is a great alternative to Yellowstone National Park. Driving Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, you’re sure to see some bison and other wildlife. Custer State Park also has a couple other scenic drives and plenty of hiking trails.
Want to explore Yellowstone National Park and Custer State Park? Check out this itinerary.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Alternative: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
As one reviewer put is, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (CGNHP) has “everything the Smokies has minus the crowds.” From the Pinnacle Overlook at CGNHP, you’ll see Cumberland Gap, a pass in the Cumberland Mountains which are a section of the Appalachian Mountains. This scenic overlook offers a view of three different states—Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.
Gap Cave is another really neat area of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. In addition to its fascinating geology, the cave also has some intriguing history related to the Civil War.
Another great thing about Cumberland Gap National Historical Park? It’s pet friendly!
Photo credit: Dale Pete, NPS Natural Resources
Yosemite National Park
Alternative: Wind River Mountains
Wind River Mountains
Yosemite National Park is known for its towering granite rock formations (El Capitan, Half Dome, etc.). Another place with some astounding granite formations is the Wind River Mountain Range. The Wind River Range, located in west-central Wyoming, encompasses 2.25 million acres. This vastness makes for incredible opportunities for backpacking, hiking, and climbing. A few notable places in the Wind Rivers are Cirque of the Towers and Squaretop Mountain.
The hundreds of miles of trails in the Wind River Mountains make it relatively easy to find places off the beaten path.Wind River Mountains | Photo credit: David Rule
Grand Canyon National Park
Alternatives: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Sometimes referred to as ‘Colorado’s Grand Canyon,’ Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park boasts a landscape nearly as dramatic as the Grand Canyon. Although it’s not as deep or wide as the Grand Canyon, looking down into the Black Canyon may be even more breathtaking because of the steepness and narrowness. The narrowest part of the Black Canyon is 40 feet. At its narrowest, the Grand Canyon is 600 feet wide.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Located on Navajo tribal lands, Canyon de Chelly National Monument offers incredibly scenic views and rich history and culture. Today, Navajo families still live in the canyons, and the best way to truly experience Canyon de Chelly is to do a tour with a Navajo guide.Photo credit: Romain Guy – Flickr
Rocky Mountain National Park
Alternative: Sawatch Mountains
The Sawatch Mountain Range in central Colorado is part of the Rocky Mountains. It includes eight of the twenty highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains. This makes the mountain range especially popular with climbers seeking to conquer 14ers. The Sawatch Range can be explored via a number of hiking trails. The Top of the Rockies Byway is another great way to see the area.Photo credit: Sam Dellaporta
Zion National Park
Alternatives: Capitol Reef National Park, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
Capitol Reef National Park
Of Utah’s five national parks, Capitol Reef National Park is one of the least visited. It usually sees only about a quarter of the number of annual visitors that Zion National Park does. Capitol Reef has stunning red rock formations that are on full display as you drive through the park. To really connect with the park and its past, visit the Fruita Historic District. In addition to hiking and biking, canyoneering and rock climbing are also becoming popular activities in Capitol Reef.
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (RCNCA) lies just outside St. George, UT. It’s only about an hour away from Zion National Park. The scenery at RCNCA is similar to some of the scenery in Zion National Park. As the name indicates, visitors will find beautiful views of red rock cliffs. The area has over 100 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and other activities.
Photo credit: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management
Acadia National Park
Alternative: Tettegouche State Park
Tettegouche State Park
On the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, Tettegouche State Park has scenery that rivals that of a national park. Its rocky shoreline dotted with trees resembles the Atlantic shoreline along Acadia National Park. Three waterfalls and four inland lakes lie within Tettegouche State Park, and those are just a few of the many picturesque places in the area. About 12 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail can also be accessed via this state park.
Tettegouche State Park | Photo credit: Conner Bowe
Grand Teton National Park
Alternative: Sawtooth Mountains
Grand Teton National Park is known for the iconic peaks of the Teton Mountain Range. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain Range also has plenty of rugged peaks. One place in particular in the Sawtooth Mountains that bears a resemblance to Grand Teton National Park is Redfish Lake. This lake is nestled at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains. It’s beautiful setting is similar to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. The Sawtooth Mountains and Sawtooth National Forest provide a huge variety of recreational opportunities including backpacking, kayaking, fishing, and climbing.
Sawtooth National Forest / Redfish Lake | Photo credit: Nate Lowe, US Forest Service
Glacier National Park
Alternative: North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park
Glacier National Park’s scenery includes turquoise lakes, snowcapped mountain peaks, and, of course, glaciers. Another national park with very similar scenery is North Cascades National Park. And, it happens to be one of the least-visited national parks in the country. North Cascades actually has more glaciers than any U.S. park outside of Alaska, including Glacier National Park.
Olympic National Park
Alternative: Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest
Olympic National Park’s rainforest landscape is among its most notable features. Tongass National Forest in Alaska is the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. It’s also the largest national forest in the United States. The diverse landscape in Tongass National Forest includes scenic coastline, snowcapped mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, and ferns and mosses. There’s plenty of hiking, wildlife watching, kayaking, and other things to do in this vast and beautiful area.