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Four underrated national parks you’ll be glad you visited
There are 413 national parks across the U.S. and its territories. Some of them you’ve probably heard of: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite are among the most-visited national parks, each attracting more than 4 million travelers in 2015 alone, according to Time.
Heading to these much-loved natural wonders can make for a great vacation. But with so many options, it’s worthwhile to revel in the beauty of some of America’s lesser-known national parks.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
As CBS News contributor Conor Knighton noted after his visit to the park, “Great Basin National Park isn’t really on the way to anywhere.” It is, however, well worth the trip.
Surrounded by mountains and positioned 6,825 feet above sea level, this park maintains its beauty all year round. In the winter, skiers and snowshoers can observe animal tracks in the freshly fallen snow, while summer visitors can hike along those same trails to seek out colorful birds.
The biggest attraction comes after the sun goes down. Miles away from any major cities, Great Basin National Park is impressively dark at nighttime, allowing visitors to peer clearly at galaxies and millions of stars.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Spanning 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in the U.S., according to Travel Alaska. Combined with Canada’s adjacent Kluane National Park, this spread of wilderness is one of the largest protected areas in the world.
Four major mountain ranges converge in this national park, which is thus home to nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. It’s tough to get to any of these in person, as roads are sparse, but it’s not impossible. However, even for the less-adventurous travelers, viewing these mountain ranges isn’t a challenge.
At 18,008 feet, Mt. St. Elias is the second-highest peak in the country. Mt. Wrangell, at 14,163 feet, is one of the biggest active volcanoes on the continent. Though it hasn’t erupted since 1900, streams of steam can be seen escaping near its summit.
National Park of American Samoa
Only one piece of U.S. land lies below the Southern Hemisphere: American Samoa. If you’re looking for a tropical paradise to vacation at, head this way. Preserving the only mixed-species paleotropical rainforest in the country, this national park is home to fruit bats, colorful birds, fish, coral reefs and more. While you’re there, you can learn about the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture, which is still strongly celebrated throughout the villages here.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
At the top of Lake Superior, just south of the Canadian border, lies a small island archipelago. Isle Royale National Park is made of one 45-mile-long island, with 450 smaller islands surrounding and set inside the many lakes found throughout the expanse.
What makes this park unique is its remoteness. Secluded from mainland life, there are only 19 mammal species found on the island. For much of the year, the park is inaccessible. It closes annually on Nov. 1, and doesn’t welcome visitors again until April 15. Take advantage of this short window of opportunity to hike, fish, camp and swim.