Eight of Our Favourite US National Parks that Aren’t Yosemite

Eight of Our Favourite US National Parks that Aren’t Yosemite

Skip the Grand Canyon and drive past Glacier. We’ve laced up our hiking boots, stocked up on granola bars and hit the trailheads of America to bring you eight less-visited US national parks worth detouring for

wilderness, and we bet Yosemite’s swooping, tree-filled
valleys and towering cliffs come to mind. But America’s “temple” to
nature tends to get a bit crowded, bringing in nearly four million
visitors a year (gulp).

So, if you’re craving awe-inspiring mountain views and jaunts
through hazy meadows and red-rock canyons, can we suggest some
alternatives? Big-name parks like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and
Glacier might be bucket-list visits, but we’d recommend venturing
off the beaten track to explore lesser-known US national parks, which will allow you to gawp at
incredible wide-open spaces, undulating mountains and crystalline
lakes without any selfie sticks, Starbucks cups and slow-moving traffic to contend with. Here are eight of
our favourite American national parks to make tracks to.

Bends, basins and big trees: eight lesser-known US National
Parks we love

Big Bend National Park, Texas, US

Big Bend National Park


Big Bend is, as its name suggests, massive. Clocking in at over
30,000 hectares, the park is larger than Yosemite, with
awe-inspiring landscapes that are just as impressive. It’s also
remote – running along the international border with Mexico, this
is the largest protected portion of the Chihuahuan Desert in the
US. Visitors will encounter desert landscapes, epic mountain ranges
and gargantuan canyon systems – all under an uncompromising sun and
stretching skies. Stop by Chisos Basin to trek the 7.7km Lost Mine
Trail early in the morning, or pick up the path to Emory Peak,
which, at 747m, is the park’s highest summit. Prefer to see it all
from behind the wheel? Take your rented Chevrolet for a spin on the
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, a 50km route that showcases Big Bend’s
dramatic geographical splendour.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada, US

Great Basin National Park


Great Basin’s diverse landscape awaits, promising ancient
bristlecone pines, glacial lakes and limestone caves. Open
year-round, the best time to visit is between September and
October, when the weather cools down and the crowds dissipate.
Wheeler Peak – Nevada’s second-tallest mountain – is best viewed in
the early morning. Lap up majestic views on the 4.8km Alpine Lakes
Loop and mark the Lehman Caves on your map as another must-see. A
warren of stalactite and stalagmite-crammed underground passages,
they can be explored on a ranger-led tour. Another reason to add
Great Basin National Park to your itinerary? On clear nights the
Milky Way can be seen from here with the naked eye. Magic.

Goblin Valley State Park,


The badlands rock formations for which this park is known create
an otherworldly landscape – fairy chimneys, earth pyramids and
abstract mushrooms abound. Spanning some 1,479 hectares, the
surrealist red-rock sandstone “hoodoos” or “goblins” range in
height from 0.6m to 6m, having been deposited here during the
Jurassic period, around 170 million years ago. Follow one of the
trails down from the overlooks to the valley floor to get up close
and personal with these toadstool-shaped pinnacles. The park is
open year-round, welcoming hikers, campers, stargazers (it’s a
certified International Dark Sky Park) and even mountain bikers –
along the Wild Horse Trail System.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, US

Grand Teton National Park


This spectacular glaciated mountain region in northwestern
Wyoming has enticed millions of visitors thanks to its jewel-like
lakes and rugged glaciers. Bring binoculars: it is also home to
elks, bald eagles and a guidebook’s worth of other wildlife. Grand
Teton’s appeal is multi-layered, combining epic mountain scenery,
fascinating fauna and the West’s rich cultural history. If you’re
looking to avoid the crowds, lace up your boots and arrive in May,
June or September, when conditions are best for climbing the Teton
Range. In winter, Jackson Hole – just a 30-minute drive from the
park border – is (in our humble opinion) one of the most underrated
spots for breathtaking backcountry skiing in the US.

Redwood National and State Park


Redwood – a 50,000-hectare complex that encompasses one national
park and three state parks – is home to the oldest, largest and
tallest coast redwood trees in the world. It is also renowned for
its native wildlife: elk, black bears, black-tailed deer and
mountain lions can all be spotted here. Hugging California’s
northwestern edge, this diverse landscape makes a brilliant
addition to any West Coast road trip. It’s open year-round, but we
recommend visiting in spring or autumn to avoid the summer crowds
and winter rains.

Death Valley National Park, US

Death Valley National Park

Nevada and California

Straddling the border of eastern California and Nevada, in the
rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Death Valley is the
largest national park in the US outside of Alaska – and a land of
extremes. Everyone compares its rocky 1.3-million-hectare expanse
to Mars, this being one of the hottest places on Earth. Avoid the
heat by heading to Zabriskie Point at sunrise or sunset, when the
Mojave Desert’s ridged rolls contrast dramatically against the sky
(and the temperature is manageable). Dramatic and startlingly
beautiful, Mosaic Canyon and the pastel-hued hills of Artist’s
Palette are highlights. Summer here can be dangerously hot – so we
prefer to head out in autumn or spring.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park


Just a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree makes an
ideal day trip if you’re swinging through California’s retro-chic
modernist city. The park gets its name from the oddly shaped trees
that grow in abundance here. In an ideal world, you’d schedule your
trip during a meteor shower: Joshua Tree is at its most impressive
at night, when the star-studded Milky Way puts on celestial shows
in its pollution-free skies. Alternatively, head to the Cholla
Cactus Garden during golden hour for a striking sunset display.
Later, head to Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace in town for
ribs, bison burgers and live music – Lorde and Paul McCartney are
among artists to have graced the bill at this rustic Wild West

Kobuk Valley National Park, USA

Kobuk Valley National Park


Forgot hoards of hikers – the only crowds you’ll encounter amid
the strange sandy landscapes of Kobuk Valley are the half a million
caribou that migrate through these sculpted vistas every year.
Formed thousands of years ago by the movement of glaciers, the
largest active dunes in the Arctic are also home to bears, foxes,
wolves and moose. This is one of America’s least-visited parks,
largely because there’s no road access, no trails to follow and no
facilities. In other words, this is the ultimate adventure
destination. You’ll need to fly in via air taxi and take all your
backcountry camping gear with you. If you’re looking for complete
isolation, though, Kobuk is for you.

This article was updated on 4 October 2022.

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