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    11 Lesser-Known National Parks You Probably Haven't Visited Yet

    These smaller or less crowded national parks are seriously underrated.

    The coronavirus pandemic is still impacting travel, and destinations around the world have different COVID-19 restrictions in place. It’s important to check and adhere to local government policies as you plan any trips.

    The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone are gorgeous, but those big-name national parks draw in serious crowds. Whether you're feeling ready to get outdoors or you want a quick weekend adventure close to home, consider these underrated alternatives.

    And if you do decide to go, visit responsibly and safely to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Check out the CDC's recommendations for visiting parks here.

    1. North Cascades National Park (Washington)

    Snow-capped mountains surrounded by green meadows in North Cascades National Park.
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    Often overshadowed by Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks, North Cascades is Washington state's hidden gem. You'll find lush forests of evergreen trees; alpine lakes; meadows blossoming with colorful flowers; lots of waterfalls, like the most visited Ladder Creek Falls; and hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Even though it is just 2.5 hours from Seattle, visitors often overlook this easily accessible haven.

    2. Virgin Islands National Park (St. John, US Virgin Islands)

    A blue crescent-shaped beach surrounded by lush palm trees in Virgin Islands National Park.
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    If you're a beach person, you'll want to put Virgin Islands National Park on your must-visit list. The park, which takes up the majority of St. John island, includes palm-fringed forests and crescent-shaped beaches. Trunk Bay and Francis Bay, with their turquoise seas, are two of the Caribbean's most picturesque beaches.

    3. Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

    El Capitan, the iconic peak of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, with a lone palm tree standing before it.
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    Known as one of the top spots in the country for hikers, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located about two hours east of El Paso. One of the park's main attractions is Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas, which is accessible only to those who brave the steep and rugged 8-mile trail.

    4. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

    A starry night at Capitol Reef National Park where the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye.
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    When it comes to national parks, the state of Utah is loaded. It's home to five, including popular names like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands. But don't overlook Capitol Reef, which boasts the red-rock cliffs and slot canyons you associate with Utah's unique landscape. It's easy to tack on this stop if you're coming from Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.

    5. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

    A view of Fort Jefferson and a moat surrounded by clear blue water at Dry Tortugas National Park.
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    About 70 miles off the coast of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is like no other park you've ever visited. In fact, the vast majority of Dry Tortugas is not on land at all but, rather, underwater in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of this park's allure is that it's difficult to visit. In fact, you can only arrive by boat or seaplane from the Florida Keys. But once you arrive, you'll have access to incredible snorkeling in one of the world's largest barrier reefs.

    6. Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)

    A colorful sunset over Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park.
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    Set in southern Oregon's Cascade Mountains, Crater Lake National Park gets its name from its most iconic feature, a lake that was formed by the collapse of a volcano. Today it's the deepest lake in the US. It's also surrounded by cliffs and hiking trails and contains Wizard Island. One of the most iconic features is Phantom Ship, a natural rock formation in the middle of the lake that looks like an eerie ghost ship.

    7. Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)

    A snowy mountain peak and a glassy lake surrounded by trees in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
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    California is a hotbed for national parks from Yosemite to Joshua Tree, but it's possible you've never even heard of Lassen Volcanic. Set in Northern California about three hours north of Sacramento, this unique landscape has all the makings of an incredible national park. With its hot springs, volcanoes, wildflower-dotted meadows, and scenic lakes, it's a great and quieter alternative to Yosemite.

    8. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)

    The sun setting over a lake in Isle Royale National Park.
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    If you like Acadia National Park, then you'll love Isle Royale, a cluster of islands in Lake Superior. Right on the border of Michigan and Canada, Isle Royale is a rustic and remote park full of dense woods, rocky trails, and windswept cliffs. There are hiking trails galore, but one of the best ways to explore the park is by water. You can hire a guide and embark on a multiday kayaking trip around Isle Royale's many islands, or just explore for a couple of hours.

    9. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

    A grizzly bear standing in a patch of grass before a mountain backdrop in  Lake Clark National Park.
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    While Denali and Kenai Fjords are probably the most well known of Alaska's national parks, Lake Clark is a far less touristed but equally impressive alternative. About 100 miles from Anchorage, this park boasts some spectacular scenery, from snowy waterfalls and glaciers to active volcanoes and the state's largest lake, a teal-blue wonder surrounded by mountains. Perhaps the best reason to visit, though, is the wildlife. Lake Clark National Park contains caribou, brown and black bears, moose, sea lions, beluga whales, and more.

    10. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve (Colorado)

    A landscape shot of Great Sand Dunes National Park at sunrise, showing pink-colored dunes against a mountain.
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    Arriving at Great Sand Dunes National Park, you might feel as though you've stepped onto another planet. Undulating dunes stretch for 30 miles as far as the eye can see, and the tallest soars 750 feet. One of the most unusual features is Medano Creek, a seasonal stream that completely disappears come August and September. A great spot for campers, the park contains dozens of first-come, first-served campgrounds for sleeping under the stars.

    11. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

    A paved boardwalk passing through tall trees in Congaree National Park.
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    If you've already been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, consider exploring Congaree, one of the South's more underrated attractions. Two hours from Charleston and only 30 minutes from Columbia, Congaree offers miles and miles of trails surrounded by Spanish moss, backcountry swamps begging to be explored by paddleboard or kayak, and campsites where you can sleep under a canopy of cypress and tupelo trees.

    Be sure to check the National Park Service website for up-to-date information on park openings.

    Don't forget to check out Bring Me! for all of BuzzFeed's best travel tips and hacks, vacation inspiration, and more!

    Jay Fleckenstein / BuzzFeed


    Utah has five national parks. An earlier version of this post misstated the number.