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17 Of The Most Underrated National Parks In America

Move over, Yellowstone.

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1. National Park of American Samoa

Where: American Samoa

Must Do: Go snorkeling in the 350-acre coral reef of Ofu Island.

Samoa means "sacred earth", and with views like this, it's not hard to see how this cluster of volcanic islands and coral atolls got its name. Swimming, snorkeling, hiking, climbing–you can do it all here, year-round!

2. North Cascades National Park

Jeff P CC BY / Via Flickr: jeffpang

Where: Washington

Must Do: White-water rafting in the Stehekin River.

The North Cascades are a stunning collection of over 300 glacial peaks and narrow forested valleys, with a few pristine lakes, rivers, and meadows thrown in for good measure. It's incredible from any angle, and it's home to tons of creatures, including bald eagles and pika (your new fave animal).

3. Dry Tortugas National Park

Where: Florida

Must Do: Swim around the fort’s moat wall in search of lost treasure.

What used to be a prison that housed an accomplice in Lincoln's assassination is now a straight up tropical paradise for bird lovers, turtle enthusiasts, and history buffs alike. This archipelago in the Gulf of Mexico is definitely one of the most relaxing national parks, with plenty of space for sunbathing, picnics, and camping.

4. Great Sand Dunes National Park

David Wynia CC BY-NC-ND / Via Flickr: davidandbecky

Where: Colorado

Must Do: Sandboarding and sledding the dunes.

The contrast of greenery, mountains, and epic dunes is just one reason why this unique park is amazing. Another is just how sturdy these dunes are, standing up to hikers and saucer-riders for years. If you want the best of tons of ecological worlds, this is the park for you.

Where: Maryland and Virginia

Must Do: Try your hand at surf fishing (while you're not fawning over the ponies).

A beautiful, easy escape from D.C., Baltimore, or even summer crowds at Ocean City, Assateague is known for the shaggy, adorable wild horses that roam free along the barrier island. In addition to the beautiful shoreline and beaches, there are fun trails through marshes, sand, and forests that are open to hikers, bikers, and even some off-road vehicles.

6. Isle Royale National Park

Where: Michigan

Must Do: Go scuba diving among shipwrecks.

This park is actually an isolated wilderness out in the middle of Lake Superior; an entire year at Isle Royale sees fewer people than Yellowstone sees in a day. It's basically the ideal chance for some alone time and honing your camping skills. You'll be rewarded with incredible scenery and kept company by the plentiful wolves and moose.

7. Virgin Islands National Park

David Barnas CC BY-NC / Via Flickr: dave-a-roni

Where: St. John, Virgin Islands

Must Do: Hike the mangrove forests along the coastline.

Like you need convincing to go to a national park in the Caribbean. But don't just stand around ogling at the gorgeous beaches: The islands have a complicated heritage, stemming from the various colonial rules and endangered marine life. Come for the tan, stay for the history lesson.

8. Chaco Culture National Historical Park

jb10okie CC BY-NC-ND / Via Flickr: jb10okiefwpp

Where: New Mexico

Must Do: Hike the backcountry trails along ancient roads and petroglyphs.

This preservation of ancient Pueblo architecture is a testament to the advancements that had been made in the southwest long before settlers arrived. From around A.D. 850 to 1250, Chaco Canyon was a cultural and economic center for a culture called the ancient Pueblo, and their lessons of their social organization can be found all around these impressive ruins.

Where: Hawai'i

Must Do: Take the trail alone the Kona-Kohala coast to take in crystal clear water and black lava cliffs.

This trail only became nationally protected 15 years ago, but it has been in continuous use since Polynesians first came to the big island of Hawai'i more than 1,500 years ago. Follow the trail through ancient Hawai'ian settlements as well as other gorgeous Hawai'i state and national parks.

10. Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

Where: Alaska

Must Do: Check out the epicness that is reindeer herding.

Named for the land bridge that once connected Alaska to Asia, this preserve is now home to tons of unique wildlife and environments. There's hot springs, ancient lava flows, and huge maar lakes (lakes formed in volcanic craters), as well as muskox, caribou, and even seals!

11. Big Bend National Park

Where: Texas

Must Do: Stargaze on a clear night in the Lower Canyons.

This park got its name for the huge curve in the Rio Grande out in remote southwestern Texas. Encompassing desert, river and mountain, the real showstoppers are the limestone canyons that line the beautiful river. That is until the sun goes down; on clear nights it feels like the star-studded night goes on forever.

12. Grand Teton National Park

Matthew Paulson CC BY-NC-ND / Via Flickr: matthewpaulson

Where: Wyoming

Must Do: Go horseback riding through the meadows of wildflowers and sagebrush.

Behold: Towering over the Jackson Hole valley is the Teton mountain range, some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring mountains in the U.S. Often overlooked thanks to its proximity to Yellowstone, this park is perfect for scenic drives, hiking, boating, and just standing in awe of Mother Nature's beauty.

13. Congaree National Park

Where: South Carolina

Must Do: Follow the rangers on one of their nightly "owl prowls" or guided canoe tours.

The most beautiful swamp you ever did see. Actually, it's a floodplain forest that floods about ten times a year, hence the circuitous paths of raised walkways and bridges. But all that water and muck make for some incredibly nourished plants and trees, and keep your eyes peeled for armadillos!

14. Great Basin National Park

Where: Nevada

Must Do: Go wandering through the Lehman Caves.

Nestled beneath Wheeler Peak, Great Basin is home to some of the oldest trees on earth: Bristlecone pines, worn smooth after years of facing the elements. After hours of exploring caves and navigating miles of trails, be sure to stick around for a ranger-led astronomy session under some of the darkest night skies in America, or just gaze in wonder on your own.

15. Channel Islands National Park

Where: California

Must Do: Take some time to reflect (and admire the view) at Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island.

This park is composed of five remote islands of the coast of southern California, and it's a well-preserved and protected showcase of endangered marine wildlife. After exploring the ocean's kelp forests and hiking the breezy trails, take some time to learn about the Chumash Indians that used to inhabit the islands.

16. Harper's Ferry National Park

Nicolas Raymond CC BY / Via Flickr: 82955120@N05

Where: West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland.

Must Do: Tour a civil war battlefield or two.

History and civil war buffs, rejoice! This park is an awesome balance of picturesque nature and historical reenactment, with the town of Harper's Ferry, WV offering a glimpse of life in the 1800s. When you've got your educational fill, check out the Armory Canal Trail and walk along the Shenandoah or Potomac Rivers.

17. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Where: Ohio

Must Do: Catch a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Sneakily hiding out between Cleveland and Akron is probably the most beautiful places in Ohio. The park is riddled with deep gorges and cascading waterfalls, and offers plenty of activities like symphonies in the summer and skiing in the winter. It's a pretty modern mix of natural and man-made attractions, making it pretty unique among national parks.

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