As a country that’s just a teeny bit smaller than the entire continent of Europe, the U.S. is blessed with a huge amount of space. With that space comes locations of truly breathtaking natural beauty, which often end up being protected areas designated as national parks. Given how much space the U.S. has, it’s hardly surprising to hear that there are 61 different national parks in the country, all with their own specific appeal. However, only a few national parks get any wider recognition. Everybody knows about and flocks to Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon – but there are a lot of national parks out there with just as much beauty, just as much to see, and just as much of an ability to instill a sense of wonder in somebody. It’s time to spread the word about the oft-ignored national parks with a lot to offer.
Katmai National Park
Katmai National Park is swarming with bears. Okay okay, stay with us here, we promise things are about to get appealing. Katmai lies in the south of Alaska, and is home to the largest population of Alaskan brown bears in the world. Over 2,000 bears live in Katmai, and they also get bigger than any of their non-polar cousins, thanks to a diet comprised heavily of salmon. As such, if you want to see a huge congregation of majestic and powerful beasts, you would be hard pressed to do better than Katmai. Visitors are capable of watching the bears from platforms along the Brooks River, seeing nature’s most intimidating-yet-adorable animals in perfect safety. Katmai is also the host to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, so named for the numerous smoke vents that opened up in the Earth during a volcanic eruption. The valley is a gorgeous and fascinating look at a land shaped by heat and ash, covered in small valleys, craters, and canyons. If you want a place that’s going to deliver a mix of the beauty and power of nature, head to Katmai.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Sure, the Grand Canyon is the grandest, but is it the coolest? We think that title belongs to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, found in the national park of the same name. Located in Colorado, the Black Canyon might not be as famous as its grand sibling, but it’s every bit as feared and revered. So named for the fact that parts of it only see 33 minutes of sunlight per day, the Black Canyon is very steep, very narrow, and very, very dark – all of which combine to make it a canyon like no other. Walking along the black canyon is a little like walking on a hostile planet – one on which the landscape seems familiar but still distinctly alien and treacherous. While a lot of people would shirk at that notion, it’s what makes the Black Canyon truly worth seeing. Nothing can really compare to the strange and ominous feeling of wonder that the canyon inspires in you as you travel through it, taking in its quiet but resonant beauty.
Gates of the Arctic
Located in Northern Alaska, Gates of the Arctic National Park is for slightly more rough and tumble explorers. The northernmost national park in the United States, it’s also the second biggest – being a little bigger than Belgium – and is easily the least hospitable. There are no real roads in the Gates of the Arctic – save for the one you can use to drive there – which makes traveling around a distinctly on-foot job. You can also get there by seaplane, to be dropped off in the countryside. Despite being somewhat more unforgiving, Gates of the Arctic is a singularly gorgeous place. It is a place to go and simply let nature wash over you – taking in the majesty of its mountains, lakes, forests, and more. However, it is also considerably dangerous if you’re caught unprepared – so thorough precautions must be made if you’re planning a trip. That said, if you want to stand in the wilderness and simply feel the wonder of the natural world around you, Gates of the Arctic is the place to go.