Hidden Gems: National Parks

Discover America's 10 most-beautiful, least-crowded national parks.

Hidden Gems: National Parks. Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Hidden Gems: National Parks

Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Texas' Big Bend National Park. Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Texas' Big Bend National Park.

Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Utah's Canyonlands National Park. Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Utah's Canyonlands National Park

Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Nevada’s Great Basin National Park. Photo by Larry Ulrich

Nevada’s Great Basin National Park

Photo by Larry Ulrich

California’s Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Larry Ulrich

California’s Pinnacles National Park

Photo by Larry Ulrich

North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Photo by Tim Fitzharris

North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Photo by Tim Fitzharris

Virgin Islands National Park. Photo by Larry Ulrich

Virgin Islands National Park

Photo by Larry Ulrich

Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo by Laurence Parent

Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Photo by Laurence Parent

Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Photo by Terry Donnelly

Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Photo by Terry Donnelly

Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Photo by Terry Donnelly

Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Photo by Terry Donnelly

Washington's North Cascades National Park. Photo by David Jensen

Washington's North Cascades National Park

Photo by David Jensen

    Nature abhors a vacuum, but it’s not crazy about crowds, either. Water, earth and sky tend to share their sweetest gifts in private, or perhaps with a few kindred spirits. Just as when we were kids lying in the grass, giddy with the wonder of sunshine on our faces and clouds wheeling overhead, nature asks us to clear our minds of life’s petty distractions and open it to the deep, primal joy of being alive.

    That’s hard to do when you’re sharing a scenic overlook with a bunch of desperately bored teenagers whining about going back to the motel pool, somebody’s Aunt Mildred who can’t shut up about her friend’s gout and the Menomonee Falls Single Mingle as it attempts to gather 47 lovelorn Cheeseheads for a group portrait.

    Each year more than 30 million visitors flock to America’s 10 most popular national parks, and rightly so. They’re among the most beautiful places on earth. If you can travel only in peak tourist season, go anyway and take the time to find a quiet oasis away from the crowds. They’re big parks; it’s not that hard.

    Or take the road less traveled and visit the “Hidden Gems” in our special section on page 30. We asked some of our favorite scenic photographers to help us find the 10 most beautiful, least crowded parks in the national park system, and wow, did they ever deliver! We’d barely heard of most of these places, and had no idea they were this spectacular. It’s yet another reminder of what an amazing country we live in. For more photos and information on each of these hidden gems, click the links below.

    Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
    Washington’s North Cascades National Park
    Big Bend National Park
    Virgin Islands National Park
    Theodore Roosevelt National Park
    Great Basin National Park
    Canyonlands National Park
    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
    Pinnacles National Park
    Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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