Did you know the US has more than 400 national parks, sites, preserves, and monuments? From ancient fossil beds to wild and scenic rivers to camping, hiking and villages that sustain artists, we’ve found under-the-radar places in every state in the country (& D.C.) that you should add to your adventure list. With massive crowds heading to spots like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, these lesser-known spots are great options when you want to visit without much planning.
1.ALABAMA: Russell Cave National Monument - Bridgeport, AL
Not only is Russell Cave an archaeological mother lode, it is actually one of the most complete records of prehistoric cultures in the entire Southeast. Early North Americans lived here between 10,000 B.C. and 1650 A.D. Which is basically a really, really, really long time ago. The 310-acre park is home to more than 30 types of insects, amphibians and reptiles.
2. ALASKA: Bering Land Bridge National Preserve - Nome, AK
Denali National Park gets a lot of glory (and for good reason) but if you’re heading to Alaska, consider a visit to the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. Here you will find an almost fairy-tale-like place, with structures left behind by volcanic activity and ice-age landscapes that will make you think you’re in a Tolkien novel. It is home to caribou, muskox, reindeer (the only national park that allows reindeer herding) along with bears, weasels and more. You’ll also find native plant species that will stun you. Plus, this is the land bridge that holds the secret to human migration so it's an incredible lesson in migration and human history.
3. ARIZONA: Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site - Ganado, AZ
With the likes of the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon, Arizona is a hotbed of impressive parks. Step back in time at the Hubbell Trading Post, the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Nation. Built in 1878, the Mercantile is still in operation today and acts as a hub for Native American arts. There’s a Junior Ranger program, seek and find activities and more.
4. ARKANSAS: Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site - Little Rock, AR
The Little Rock Central High School was the most prominent example of the desegregation of public schools in 1954, when nine African-American students attended school here for the first time in history. You have to arrange a tour to enter the school, now designated a National Historic Site, but it’s relatively easy to do and a great way to help kids understand the significance of this school as well as the history of desegregation in U.S.
5. CALIFORNIA: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park—Richmond, CA
California has no shortage of impressive state and national parks but this humble and a relatively new park to the scene is just as valuable as mighty Yosemite. Built to honor the efforts of Americans at home during World War II, Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front tells the story of those citizens who worked tirelessly for the war effort, many of whom were women. There are exhibits, artists displays and even a huge ship docked in the nearby shipyard.
6. COLORADO: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park—Montrose, CO
Oh, Colorado! With its Rocky Mountains and raging rivers, there isn’t much Colorado doesn’t have The Black Canyon of the Gunnison adds to the state’s appeal with steep cliffs, craggy spires and some of the oldest rocks in North America (over two million years in the making!).
7. CONNECTICUT: Weir Farm National Historic Site —Ridgefield & Wilton, CT
Got little artists in your fam? Then you won’t want to miss Weir Farm: the only national park dedicated to American painting. Artists of all types are encouraged to visit and work on site where a gorgeous old home, beautiful landscape and endless inspiration await.
8. DELAWARE: First State National Historical Park—DE & PA
The first state in the Constitution, Delaware is home to First State which is actually made up of seven sites throughout the state, including Fort Christina—where the first Swedish and Finnish American settlers came some 375 years ago—as well as the New Castle Court House Museum.
9. FLORIDA: Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve—Jacksonville, FL
Timucuan is truly one of the hidden gems of the Sunshine State. One of the last unspoiled wetlands along the Atlantic Coast, you’ll find coastal dunes, forests and salt marshes along with a historic fort that marks the site of a now lost colony a 19th-century plantation. Plus every year the park hosts a variety of lively cultural and historical celebrations.
10. GEORGIA: Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site—Atlanta, GA
Take your kids back to where this leader of the Civil Rights Movement was once a kid. At the Martin Luther King Jr. site, you can visit his birth home, play where MLK played as a child and learn all about his early years in the movement. Get inspired to create lasting change in equality in your neck of the woods.
11. HAWAII: Haleakalā National Park—Kula, Maui, HI
Home to volcanic landscapes and tropical forests, one Haleakalā most remarkable features are the native endangered species some of which exist nowhere else in the world. This place is a sacred site to both ancient and modern Hawaiian culture. Also, there’s a crater!
12. IDAHO: Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve—Arco, Carey & Rupert, ID
Formed when a volcano erupted some 2000 years ago, Craters of the Moon is like an otherworldly landscape right here on Earth. Evidence of lava flows and cinder cones created a backdrop so moon-like that astronauts of the Apollo 14 trained here in 1960 in preparation for their upcoming trip to the moon. Astounding for rock-hounds, history buffs, space-lovers and budding archaeologists.
13. ILLINOIS: Pullman National Monument—Chicago, IL
Next time you’re near the Windy City, take some time to explore the Pullman District. Designated as a National Monument in 2015, the Pullman Historic District in Chicago was the first model, planned community in the United States. The site includes the Pullman factory (which made the famous Pullman train cars) as well the Hotel Florence and the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum—which explores African-American labor history.
14. INDIANA: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore—Porter, IN
Along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes not only offer endless hours of sandy beach scooping they are prime for kite-flying, too. But that’s not nearly all: the park is 15,000 acres and home to rare birds, wetlands, prairies, rivers and forests all accessible via 50 miles of trails.
15. IOWA: Effigy Mounds National Monument—Harpers Ferry, IA
Visitors to Iowa often overlook one of the most incredible sites not just in the state, but in all of North America. Effigy Mounds park has more than 200 American Indian mounds, many of which are in the shape of animals like bear, deer, lynx and turtle. Formed during the 1400-750 B.P., this is a sacred site that is a testimony to the early Mississippi River culture and the Effigy Moundbuilders. A visit here will change your view of what you think you know about early American history.
16. KANSAS: Nicodemus National Historic Site—Nicodemus, KS
Kansas was once the wild west for early settlers migrating across the country from the East Coast after the Civil War and evidence of towns, trailways and history dot the Kansas countryside. Nicodemus, is perhaps the most unique among them. Founded by African Americans after slavery became illegal, it is not only the oldest Black settlement west of the Mississippi, it is the only one remaining and well worth a visit for all.
17. KENTUCKY: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park—Hodgenville, KY
Lincoln is honored in many places around the country, from Illinois to Nebraska to Washington D.C. But it is Central Kentucky that lays claim to the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace. Learn what it was like for young Abe growing up on the frontier, long before he became the country’s 16th president.
18. LOUISIANA: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve—New Orleans, LA
A visit to the culturally-rich city of New Orleans will yield endless tales of adventure and characters that seem to step out of an adventure novel. Jean Lafitte, a French pirate and privateer, is one of them. This park that bears his name pays homage to the diversity of the early Acadians—who later became known as Cajuns—who lived, fought, cooked and danced here.
19. MAINE: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument—Penobscot, ME
Imagine a woodsy wonderland that brings to mind Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Woods, only this place is 87,000 acres. Designated in 2016, you can spend a lifetime exploring Kathdin’s rivers and streams, plants and forests and still not see it all.
20. MARYLAND: Harmony Hall—Prince George’s County, MD
While Maryland is the site of much of early American history, few places are quite as charming as Harmony Hall. Located on the Potomac River, it’s a 62.6-acre park with a gorgeous, 18th-century brick mansion you can explore. A great way to learn about Colonial history.
21. MASSACHUSETTS: Lowell National Historical Park—Lowell, MA
While Massachusetts, and specifically Boston, offer plenty in Colonial history as well, the smaller town of Lowell is famous for another era. Lowell National Historical Park is the site of some of the earliest water-powered textile mills, the same mills that launched the Industrial Revolution and changed the country’s economy. The city of Lowell is also the birthplace of Beat Generation author of On the Road, Jack Kerouac.
22. MICHIGAN: Keweenaw National Historical Park—Calumet, MI
Few folks make it up to the Keweenaw Peninsula, part of Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula on the shores of Lake Superior. Keweenaw Historical Park pays homage to the copper history of what locals call Copper Country. Here nearly 7000 years ago, Native Americans formed copper into tools and trade, and in the 1800s—before even California’s Gold Rush—the copper mining industry began to boom. Hear the stories of immigrants who settled here, many of them Finnish, and the rise and decline of the economy of this important part of the American story.
23. MINNESOTA: Pipestone National Monument—Pipestone, MN
The red pipestone quarries here have been in use for 3,000 years. Early Plains people came here to mine the stone for sacred pipes used for prayer. Still in use today, you can check out the stones, hike an easy trail to see the Quartzite Cliffs and view remaining petroglyphs.
24. MISSISSIPPI: Natchez National Historical Park—Natchez, MS
Visitors to Mississippi can’t miss the Delta and history of the blues but the town and park of Natchez should be on your radar, too. From early Europeans to African American enslavement to Civil Rights, this place has seen it all.
25. MISSOURI: The Oregon National Historic Trail—Independence, MO
The Oregon Trail actually spans seven states: Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon but the very beginning is in Independence, Missouri. Start exploring the National Historic Trail here, learning all about the path of Westward Expansion. Want to take on more of the Trail? Plan your route with this super-cool interactive map that shows sites along the way, including Independence’s other underrated National Park, the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site which features the 33rd president’s impressive historic home.
26. MONTANA: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site—Deer Lodge, MT
Montana’s unique landscape ranges from the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains and so it’s no surprise that it also home to some incredible parks, like Glacier National Park and the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Don’t miss a trip to Grant Kohrs Ranch, though where you’ll find cowboy culture preserved. Still an operating cattle ranch, you can learn about horses and cattle, tour the historic home and wander over seven miles of roads and trails for that “don’t fence me in” kinda feeling.
27. NEBRASKA: Agate Fossil Beds National Monument—Harrison, NE
Not only is this place considered the most significant Miocene Epoch mammal sites in the entire world, it is also a place of cultural importance to the Lakota Sioux who knew of the fossils long before scientists in the 1890s first “discovered” them. Today it is a place where culture meets science: kids can explore tipis, fossil beds, a “touch table” of artifacts and more. Although somewhat isolated from nearby towns, this park is well worth the journey (bring snacks, though!)
28. NEVADA: Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument—Las Vegas, NV
30 minutes north of the bustling Vegas strip, within the Las Vegas city limits, Tule Springs Fossil Beds is a true hidden gem. Here, mammoths, lions, bison, ground sloths and camels once roamed. See what they left behind!
29. NEW HAMPSHIRE: Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site—Cornish, NH
Saint-Gaudens was once the home of famous American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. You can see hundreds of his sculptures on display, tour his home, studio and gardens and even take a sculpture class yourself!
30. NEW JERSEY: Thomas Edison National Historical Park—West Orange, NJ
Your little inventors will go mad for a tour of Edison’s home and laboratory, the site of so many inventions that change the world. Kids can get hands-on here, too. Try making a light bulb work or attempting to pass “the Edison test.”
31. NEW MEXICO: White Sands National Monument—Alamogordo, NM
New Mexico is known for its colorful landscape and impressive sites including ancient cliff dwellings and petroglyphs, but if you want to go beyond you should bookmark White Sands National Monument. In the heart of a huge basin (Tularosa) is the largest gypsum dune field in the world. In other words, 275-square miles of wave after wave of sparkling white sands. It is a stunning sight to behold.
32. NEW YORK: Harriet Tubman National Historical Park—Auburn, NY
If your kids don’t already know who Harriet Tubman is, the national park that bears her name is the perfect place to learn all about this incredible woman who emancipated herself from slavery at the age of just 27 and went on to help dozens of slaves find freedom. Before you go, the kids can become an Underground Railroad Junior Ranger to learn about the system of secret houses and waystations that helped slaves find freedom in terms they can understand. Harriet Tubman National Historical Park includes her home, a visitor’s center, the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, and the church she raised funds to build. Her burial site is also nearby.
33. NORTH CAROLINA: Cape Hatteras National Seashore—Nags Head, Buxton, Ocracoke, NC
Many who flock to North Carolina’s shoreline love to head to the Outer Banks so this one might not be completely off the radar but with all there is to do in this part of the country, don’t miss a visit to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. With ocean waves, pristine beaches and a super cool lighthouse, we’re banking Cape Hatteras is going to become your new favorite destination. You can kayak, climb, hike and explore—and even spot sea turtles in the summertime!
34. NORTH DAKOTA: Theodore Roosevelt National Park—Medora & Watford City, ND
You’ve probably heard of the Badlands of South Dakota, but did you know the Badlands are in North Dakota too? The richly colorful Painted Canyon is located within Theodore Roosevelt’s Badlands. This park has it all: scenic driving loops, multiple hands-on visitor stations, guided walks, trails to roam, bison, elk and prairie dogs, and the beautiful Maltese Cross Cabin, where President Roosevelt once lived. Don’t miss the town of Medora and the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Oh, and did we mention you just might see the Northern Lights from here?
35. OHIO: Hopewell Culture National Historical Park—Chillicothe, OH
A visit to Hopewell Culture will leave you in awe. 2000 years ago earthen mounds and embankments in stunning geometric enclosures were built by hand by the American Indians who lived, gathered, feasted and held funerals here. They are the largest example of prehistoric landscape architecture in the world. Visit Hopewell and learn why it’s been nominated for UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list.
36. OKLAHOMA: Chickasaw National Recreation Area—Sulphur, OK
A swimmer’s paradise, Chickasaw has lakes, stream, natural springs, waterfalls and rivers. If you want the ultimate water destination, this is your bet. There are campsites and rental cabins, too.
37. OREGON: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument—Kimberly, OR
Explore the prehistoric past at these fossil beds 40 million years in the making. John Day Fossil Beds is also home to the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center which is a working lab. Don’t miss the Painted Hills area.
38. PENNSYLVANIA: Steamtown National Historic Site—Scranton, PA
With no shortage of outstanding sites, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence was signed), and Valley Forge it’s easy to spend your days reliving history throughout the state. Don’t overlook the town of Scranton and the Steamtown National Historic Site where train lovers will delight in the history of the steam railroad.
39. RHODE ISLAND: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park—RI & MA
Established in 2014, the Blackstone River Valley National Park spans several sites in Rhode Island and Massachusetts including the Old Slater Mill, one of the first cotton mills. Learn about the history of industry in the U.S. while exploring the many trails and tributaries of the river. Kayaking, anyone?
40. SOUTH CAROLINA: Congaree National Park—Hopkins, SC
A park teeming with biodiversity, it is home to some of the oldest trees in the Southeast. Explore the 20,000 acres on foot, by kayak, or canoe. Put this one on your radar for stunning fall colors, too.
41. SOUTH DAKOTA: Wind Cave National Park—Hot Springs, SD
Although South Dakota is home to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, don’t leave Wind Cave National Park off your list. Free roaming bison and elk, prairie grasslands and the mysterious, moaning Wind Cave—one of the longest and most complex caves on Earth are just a few reasons to visit this impressive park.
42. TENNESSEE: Obed Wild & Scenic River—Wartburg, TN
A river recreation area that is relatively unchanged over the last 300 years, it’s also a popular spot for rock climbers. There’s even a monthly Coffee & Climb with a Ranger aimed to introduce new climbers to the sport. This is a great park to visit with teens and tweens, too!
43. TEXAS: Waco Mammoth National Monument—Waco, TX
We’re pretty sure you think of Chip & Joanna Gaines when you think of Waco, but Waco Mammoth Monument is another great excuse to visit this Texas town. Designated in 2015, this site has the country’s only “nursery herd” of Columbian mammoths, that date back 67,000 years.
44. UTAH: Cedar Breaks National Monument—Cedar City, UT
Zion National Park & Bryce Canyon might already be on your bucket list, but you should definitely add Cedar Breaks to your must-sees. At 10,000 feet in elevation you’ll look over a landscape of color and wild beauty unlike any other place.
45. VERMONT: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park—Woodstock, VT
Cultivated gardens, historic homes, rambling rock walls and 400-year-old hemlocks all find a place at this haven for artists and nature lovers. Check out their winter art programs for some postcard-perfect moments for your family album.
46. VIRGINIA: Maggie L Walker National Historic Site—Richmond, VA
Dedicated to the legacy of Maggie Lena Walker, newspaper editor, bank president and a champion of civil rights for African Americans and women. Join a tour of her home and an exhibit hall, watch a short film about her life and walk in the footsteps of a great activist of the early 20th century.
47. WASHINGTON: Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve—Coupeville, WA
Located at the gateway to Puget Sound, this reserve captures the agricultural, historical and cultural traditions of Native Americans and European settlers. Home to the once-yearly Preservation Field School, volunteers work with National Park preservation carpenters to learn how to restore and rehab historic structures in the park.
48. WASHINGTON D.C.: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site—Washington D.C.
Visit Cedar Hill, the historic estate of abolitionist leader and champion of justice and equality, Frederick Douglass. Kids can join in the junior ranger program and collect Civil War to Civil Rights trading cards on site. This site just celebrated its bicentennial in 2018, in which kids (seen above) won awards for the Frederick Douglass speeches they memorized and delivered. Throughout the park there are opportunities to teach kids about the man Douglass was, to talk about racism in America and to celebrate the great accomplishments of this incredible man.
49. WEST VIRGINIA: Gauley River National Recreation Area—Summersville, WV
If white water rafting is your jam, Gauley River Recreation Area has what thrill seekers are looking for. The mellower crowd can find plenty of slower-moving scenic spots along the 25-mile river’s lush gorges and valleys.
50. WISCONSIN: Ice Age National Scenic Trail—Madison, WI
Some of the best evidence of the North American Ice Age can be found in the state of Wisconsin and the Ice Age Scenic Trail takes you through 1200 miles of valleys, lakes, rolling hills and more.
51. WYOMING: Fossil Butte National Monument—Kemmerer, WY
Dubbed by the National Park Service as “America’s aquarium in stone,” this sagebrush desert oasis of Fossil Butte truly lives up to its name. Here you can see fossilized fish, insects, birds, plants and mammals, some which are incredibly well preserved.
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