Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite—and for good reason. These national parks are American treasures. But their red ravines, spewing geysers, and endless valleys attract countless visitors, especially come summer. If you want a dose of natural beauty sans crazy crowds, plan a trip to one of these seven national parks.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Northern California's Lassen Volcanic National Park is a beautiful landscape hiding some deadly heat. There are meadows filled with wildflowers, lakes so clear you can see your reflection, and a series of volcanoes that continue to shape the lay of the land—and the temperatures just below the surface. In the winter, you can strap on snowshoes or skis and explore the park when it's blanketed in fresh powder. In the summer, you'll hike along trails like Bumpass Hell to view the smoldering fumaroles and other hydrothermal spectacles. Just don't go off-roading in the hydrothermal areas. You could literally step right into boiling acid or scalding hot mud.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The Mesa Verde National Park hides hundreds of ancient dwellings in the recesses of its cliffs. The Ancestral Pueblo people once called this corner of southwestern Colorado home, from about 700 to 1300 AD. Today, you can visit their ancient abodes on park-ranger led tours. Some of the most popular archaeological sites include guided tours to Cliff Palace and the Spruce Tree House. For the fewest crowds, opt for the first tour of the day. But you should note that these tours are fairly strenuous—for instance, to exit the Cliff Palace, you'll descend two steep ladders.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
The seven-island Dry Tortugas National Park is located even farther west than Key West, the is only accessible by seaplane or ferry. You can tour the park's Fort Jefferson National Monument, which covers the entirety of one of the islands. Snorkeling is great here, and recent visitors recommend paying special attention to the bevy of sea life congregated near the fort's moat. You should also keep your eyes trained for crocs, which are also known to frequent the waters.
Joshua Tree National Park,California
Just about 130 miles east of LA, Joshua Tree National Park is a desert oasis sprouting with spiky cacti, surprising geologic formations and gnarled Joshua trees. To enjoy the scenery in high relief, you can go for a leisurely walk in Hidden Valley, a more challenging hike up Ryan Mountain or a short drive up to the Keyes View lookout. The park is also popular among rock climbers and boulderers. You may also want to stay overnight at one of the park's nine campgrounds—its unpolluted skies shine with stars at nighttime.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Summer is the best time to visit southern Oregon's Crater Lake National Park. This dormant volcano, which contains an enormous azure-colored lake, sees thick drifts of snow the rest of the year. In fact, an average of 44 feet of snow falls on the park annually, starting in September and stretching to June. But in the warmer months, you can hike, fish for trout or salmon and even take a boat ride to Wizard Island, located in Crater Lake, for a hike and a photo opp.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Northwest Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park is less than seven miles from Yellowstone, but it greeted half a million fewer tourists last year—millions fewer than visited the park down the road. With its couple hundred miles of hiking trails and access to the Snake River, though, Grand Teton is a good alternative to Yellowstone—and definitely a less-crowded place to camp. Make time to hike the Cascade Canyon Trail to see the 100-foot-tall Hidden Falls. For a less strenuous hike, you could try the mostly flat Jenny Lake Trail. Another even easier way to see the sights is via a float on the Great Snake.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
With its Aspen trees and snow-topped peaks, Great Basin National Park is more akin to Colorado than Nevada, where it resides 300 miles north of Las Vegas. To see these sights, most visitors carve out an hour for the scenic 12-mile drive up to Wheeler Peak. In the summertime, morning hikes are a popular activity; more often than not, thunderstorms roll through in the afternoon. You can also take a tour of the marble caverns of the Lehman Caves, which are centered inside the park. However, make sure to make a reservation since tours fill up quickly, especially in the summer months.