Hidden Gems: The Lesser Known National Parks

Hidden Gems: The Lesser Known National Parks
America was the birthplace of the national park concept: the idea that undeveloped, wild country rich in scenery and wildlife might be preserved in perpetuity for all of the nation to enjoy. Because of this history, and because of their stunning diversity, U.S. national parks are among the most famous in the world: Yellowstone with its spouting geysers and immense herds of elk and bison, Yosemite with its mountain walls and waterfalls, Great Smoky Mountains with its Appalachian ridges and misty forests. Plenty of sites, however, are well under the popular radar--too remote or obscure to attract great crowds. That's often a good thing.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota protects a landscape and a legacy: Part of the park acreage came from the historic Elkhorn Ranch of Theodore Roosevelt, who credited these stunning badlands with helping build what would become his presidential character. Bison, elk, mule deer, prairie dogs, coyotes and burrowing owls are a few of the Great Plains creatures roaming the grasslands, uplands and gallery forests of this 70,500-acre park, which saw some 500,000 visitors in 2008.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Box 7
Medora, ND 58645
South Unit: (701) 623-4466
North Unit: (701) 842-2333

Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a far-flung wilderness in West Texas, preserves a tremendous fossilized reef in its dramatic limestone uplift. Remnants of creatures from the Delaware Sea, a Permian-era inundation, share space with modern-day residents such as mountain lions, peccaries, ringtails, western diamondback rattlesnakes and northern mockingbirds--all amidst the rugged context of the Guadalupes and the Chihuahuan Desert.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park
400 Pine Canyon Rd.
Salt Flat, TX 79847
(915) 828-3251

Gates of the Arctic

More than 13,000 square miles of wilderness comprise Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, one of the largest and most remote units in the park service. Set amid the jagged fastnesses of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska, Gates of the Arctic has no roads, no official trails and no visitor facilities. This is a park for the adventurous (11,000 in 2008), who enter on foot or by bush plane. Wolves, grizzly bears, caribou, wolverines and a slew of other animals roam its highlands, tundra and river valleys.

Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve (Fairbanks headquarters)
4175 Geist Rd.
Fairbanks, AK 99709
(907) 457-5752

Dry Tortugas

Florida's Dry Tortugas National Park is another kind of remote, lying 70 miles from Key West in the rolling azure of the Gulf of Mexico.This string of isolated islands, or keys, harbors large colonies of nesting seabirds and much cultural history, embodied in the 19th-century U.S. naval battlements of Fort Jefferson. The park, which hosts a single campground, is accessible by seaplane or boat.

Dry Tortugas National Park
P.O. Box 6208
Key West, FL 33041
(305) 242-7700

Article Written By Ethan Schowalter-Hay

Ethan Schowalter-Hay is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written for the "Observer," the Bureau of Land Management and various online publishers. He holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.

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