Crowd levels at America’s national parks have rebounded to nearly the levels recorded before the pandemic. The National Park Service reported 312 million visitors to the parks in 2022. There seem to be people everywhere, at every overlook and trailhead. No matter how hard you try, you can’t escape the crowds.
However, the crowds tend to gather only at the popular places or the destinations social media have made famous. Tourists can find natural gems in less visited areas across America, and they’re just as stunning and pristine as the most popular parks.
Cathedral Gorge State Park, NV
Do moon caves and slot canyons sound enticing? If so, Cathedral Gorge State Park might just pique your interest. Located two-and-a-half hours outside of Las Vegas, this unique state park sees fewer visitors than you’d imagine when you walk inside its gorgeous canyon walls.
How long should you spend here: You only need a day at Cathedral Gorge, since most of the park can be hiked in less than two hours. But there’s no need to rush through these beautiful rock formations.
Don’t Miss: Miller Point. It offers impressive views above a stunning canyon, which hikers can explore, allowing them to get up close and personal with the crazy textures.
Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA
Sitting near the northwestern most point in the lower United States, Shi Shi Beach is a relatively untouched gem on the Washington coast in Olympic National Park. The beach is accessible to typical hikers, with only a two-mile, mostly flat hike to the ocean. From there, a two-mile stretch of beach is open for exploration with almost no sign of human life.
How long should you spend here: Most visitors will only want to take the 6-8 mile hikes, but more adventurous souls can get a backpacking permit to spend the night in this beach location. For the entire trip, plan at least a three-day weekend to Neah Bay, since it’s a five-hour drive from Seattle, and it’s a lot to do over a quick weekend.
Don’t miss: If you have the time, hike down the beach to the Point of the Arches at the far end of Shi Shi Beach. This area offers stunning views of sea arches and other incredible oceanic views.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, UT
This park is in the heart of Utah and is a landscape where rolling dunes, tinged with a delicate pink hue, stretch as far as the eye can see. A playground for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts, the park offers the perfect backdrop for sandboarding, hiking, and unparalleled stargazing beneath the desert sky.
How long should you spend here: Spend a day at Pink Coral Sand Dunes before heading north to Zion and Bryce Canyon or south down to Page and Kanab.
Don’t miss: Make sure to experience sand sledding or sandboarding at the Pink Coral Sand Dunes. Few other sand dunes are this accessible or offer the same sledding potential.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, AZ
Tucked into the northernmost part of Arizona, next to the Utah border, the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is home to unbelievable desert formations, the endangered California condor, and a natural world that few experience. It’s about 4.5 hours from Phoenix or an hour from Page, AZ.
How long should you spend here: Visitors should aim to spend at least a full day exploring the Vermilion Cliffs area, but I’d recommend camping and spending more time in this scenic area. Plus, it’s only an hour away from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Don’t miss: While the Wave gets all the fanfare, White Pocket is free to access without permits. You only need a 4×4 SUV/Truck and a little adventurous spirit. Although tours are available for those in standard cars. The rock formations here will blow your mind as you explore this unique area.
Chiricahua National Monument, AZ
Inside Arizona’s untamed landscapes is the geological spectacle of Chiricahua National Monument in Wilcox, AZ. This rugged expanse was shaped by ancient volcanic forces and unfolds into a mesmerizing labyrinth of towering rock formations.
Aptly dubbed the “Wonderland of Rocks,” the monument invites explorers to hike its trails and wind through a cinematic landscape reminiscent of a timeless Western movie.
How long should you spend here: If you’re serious about exploring this place, spend at least two full days here. It’s incredible and one of the hidden gems in Arizona. It’s also on the shortlist for National Park status in the years to come.
Don’t miss: If you’re looking for a longer hike to see the best of the Chiricahua area, do the Big Loop, an eight-mile moderate hike. If that’s too long, try the Heart of the Rocks trail, which is only six miles. The 3-mile Echo Canyon Loop is perfect if you’re just passing by.
Wrangell St. Elias National Park, AK
The largest national park in the United States is also one you’ve likely never heard of. Spanning over 13 million acres across Alaska’s eastern wilderness, Wrangell St. Elias is home to national landmarks, glaciers, volcanoes, and abundant wildlife.
How long should you spend here: Given the time it takes to reach Wrangell St. Elias, three days and two nights in McCarthy, AK, is about right. You’ll experience this small town, explore the surrounding scenery, and enjoy much-deserved time off the grid.
Don’t miss: Book a tour to hike the Root Glacier. While you can go without a guide, the tour provides all the safety equipment necessary to venture onto this sea of ice.
Guests will also learn about the town of McCarthy, the glacier, and how a warming planet affects this treasured landscape.
As you plan your 2024 travels, these places will be ready, primarily empty, showing off Earth’s magical beauty. It’s a chance to reconnect with nature at a deeper level and return with some unique stories.
This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Alec is an adventure photographer and travel writer with a love of exploring hidden and hard to reach destinations to show off our brilliant planet. His work has appeared in Backpacker, Adorama, and numerous state tourism boards. He’s also a two-time cancer and a bone marrow transplant survivor, hoping to show that there can be a future from this deadly disease.