11 Little-Known National Parks That Should Top Your List

The United States National Park Service has become the envy of the world. Since its founding in 1916 under President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service has grown significantly with nearly 22,000 employees and 59 designated national parks encompassing approximately 84.4 million acres. Celebrating its centennial in the upcoming year of 2016, the National Park Service and its designated locations have become world renowned in the last one-hundred years.

As the number of visitors continually rises with each passing year, most of our National Parks have become tourist attractions that feel crowded and lived in, taking away from the still beauty and untamed wilderness that was originally preserved. If you are an RVer hoping to experience the solitude and true beauty of the outdoors, consider visiting some of the lesser known gems of our National Park’s system in these out of the way places.

1. Wind Cave National Park

Located in Hot Springs, South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is a marvel both above and below the ground. On the surface there are over 30 miles of trails to hike, allowing you to experience the park’s beautiful scenery, stunning sunsets, and rare environment of elk, bison, and prairie dogs.

Below the surface is the world’s sixth-longest cave containing over 140 miles of explored cave passageways. Wind Cave can be toured all year round, allowing visitors to see and experience this incredible phenomenon of nature. Its dense calcite formations are beautiful to behold and unlike any in the world.

Although there are no hook ups or dump stations at the campground, there is no length restrictions for your RV. With 25 RV pull through sites, finding a campsite is never an issue at Wind Cave National Park, making it a destination you will certainly want to visit along your travels.

Tom Farrell, Chief of Interpretation at Wind Cave National Park said it best, “It is like visiting two parks in one. On the surface we are one of the smallest parks, but below the surface we are one of the largest parks in the country.”

2. Pinnacles National Park

Molded out of ancient volcanic remains, Pinnacles National Park, located east of the Salinas Valley in Central California, offers hope to various endangered species and some of the best hiking in the West.

Whether you are a birdwatcher, a hiker, or a rock climber, Pinnacles National Park has something to offer you. Only RV accessible from the east side of the park, the campgrounds accommodate RV owners with electrical hookups, dump stations, showers, and even a public swimming pools during the hot summers.

The recreational opportunities available at Pinnacles are perfect for any type of outdoor enthusiast with an RV.

Satisfy the thrill seeker within you with strenuous hikes, long adventures, and challenging rock climbing locations throughout the park.

Satisfy your love of nature with 32 miles of trails as you travel through canyons, into caves, up mountains, down rock-carved stairs, all while being surrounded by beautiful, rare vegetation and California Condors flying through the sky above you.

3. North Cascades National Park

Described as a “Sea of Peaks,” North Cascades National Park is a wild place! Completely surrounded by beautiful mountains, this upstate Washington park has plenty of things to do and see.

North Cascades has many campgrounds and plenty of campsites for RVs of all sizes. While there are no RV hookups in the park, three campgrounds within the park provide dump stations. Before you leave, take some time to drive your RV down State Route 20, often called “The Most Beautiful Mountain Highway in the State of Washington.”

Its wet and dry environments have resulted in the second highest level of biodiversity anywhere in the United States, with over 1,600 plant varieties, 200 bird species, and 75 mammals–making it an ideal location for birdwatchers and nature lovers of all kinds. Additionally, North Cascades has 312 glaciers stretching over 42 square miles. Outside of Alaska, no other location in the US has glaciers of this size.

Outdoor fanatics will find plenty of activities to do with its strenuous backcountry hiking and miles of undemanding front-country trails. For those who love to fish, canoe, or kayak, visit Diablo Lake, located right off Washington State Route 20, and enjoy its clear, turquoise green waters.

4. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

“You get a sense of timelessness at Guadalupe Mountains National Park because of its natural, not overly developed environment. If you like hiking and want an isolated experience, our park is for you!” – Fermin Salas, acting Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services

Far from civilization, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a true wilderness experience with its stunning scenery and incredible hiking trails. Covering approximately 86,367 acres of land in West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains is primarily a hiking park, accommodating to every type of hiker due to its multitude of diverse trails that vary in length and difficulty.

At an elevation of 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak is the highest natural point in Texas. Hiking Guadalupe Peak is a challenge and a satisfying accomplishment that has established a recurring ritual of fathers bringing their sons to hike the tallest peak in Texas. Guadalupe Mountains is not just a park, it is a living place where memories and emotions are engrained into the very rock itself.

While there are no hook ups or dump stations, you can choose from 19 paved RV campsites when visiting the Guadalupe Mountains. You can fill your RV’s water tank near the registration board and RV campsite #21 is even wheelchair accessible. Have a true wilderness experience at Guadalupe Mountains National Park!

5. Mesa Verde National Park

“Mesa Verde is one of the few places in the country where you can actually walk through an ancient community and get a sense of how it was in the 1100s to 1200s. Being able to walk through and observe the stone dwellings and see finger prints in the mortar left by Ancestral Pueblo people 800 years ago is an experience people remember all their lives.” – Carol Sperling, Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services Located four miles from the park entrance, the Morefield Campground is equipped with 15 full-hookup RV sites, a great service that make Mesa Verde a great place to visit with your RV.

There are many things to see and do as you immerse yourself into the lives and culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. With over 4,000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde is one of the most incredible archaeological preserves in the United States.

Famous for its cliff dwelling tours, Mesa Verde provides an overall experience that RV owners will not want to miss. Using a series of sometimes steep and windy roads, it will often take visitors at least two hours just to drive into and out of the park. The drive is scenic, but at a certain point of your journey RVs must be less than 8,000 pounds and 25-ft in length in order to drive along the Wetherill Mesa Road. It is wise to plan ahead and make sure you are confident in your ability to drive your RV along these difficult roads before entering the park.

6. Mammoth Cave National Park

Named after the large length and width of its passages, Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system known to the world. With nearly 400 miles of underground passageways, no other place in the world can provide the experience and cave environment found at Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky. Taking one of the cave tours offered throughout the year is a must!

While Mammoth Cave is certainly a main attraction for most visitors, 85 miles of hiking trails, 60 miles of horseback riding, 25 miles of biking, and gorgeous rivers to fish, kayak, and canoe on, make it clear that there is plenty of other fun activities and sights to see within the park’s 53,000 acres of land.

You may think such an experience is far off, but according to Vickie Carson, Public Information Officer at Mammoth Cave National Park, “Mammoth Caves National Park is conveniently located and within a day’s drive for half the population of the United States. It is unique to the world; there is not another place that has the underground and surface environment found at Mammoth Caves.”

So what are you waiting for? Drive up to Mammoth Cave in your RV and set up shop on a paved parking spot under the comfortable shade. Nature is calling your name.

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

“Many of our visitors describe our park as, ‘a smaller version of Yellowstone without the crowds.’ Lassen Volcanic National Park is a little gem boasting beautiful scenery and peaceful solitude with many sights to see and opportunities to experience. The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway which traverses the park also provides dramatic views, access to numerous trails, and interpretive pullouts to learn and discover the stories of this remarkable volcanic landscape.” – Superintendent, Steve Gibbons

While larger RVs may have some difficulty navigating the windy roads of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, RVing in Lassen Volcanic National Park is a great way for to experience the stunning beauty of nature on four wheels. Experience a unique convergence of geology and biodiversity as you see gorgeous lakes, massive rock formations, various animal species, and hydro-thermal areas in the park.

For individuals hoping to have a more up-close-and-personal experience, park your RV at an accommodating campsite and walk miles of well groomed trails or hike out into backcountry. The hiking is excellent due to the diverse landscapes and the varied difficulty of the trails you choose. With hundreds of bird and plant species, you do not have to hike out far to find peaceful solitude and incredible wildlife.

Although there are no hook ups, there is no length restrictions for your RV and Lassen’s largest campground, Manzanita Lake, has a dump station. With 25 RV pull through sites, finding a campsite is seldom an issue at Lassen Volcanic National Park, making it a destination you will certainly want to visit along your travels.

8. Big Bend National Park

“Big Bend National Park offers an opportunity to visit a national park with terrific scenery and recreation activities. It gives visitors a chance to explore the beauty and human history behind this part of South West Texas.” – David Elkowitz, Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services

Stretching over 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. Named after the characteristics of this natural border, Big Bend National Park is a remote location overflowing with nature, history, and recreational activities.

Big Bend is a great place to take your RV due to its quality roads, its quiet campgrounds, and the Rio Grande Village RV Campground which is equipped with full hookups and a dump station. In addition to its variety of rooms and cottages, the Chisos Mountains Lodge has a full-service restaurant that provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner right on the Chisos Basin. Because of the park’s location, it offers quick and easy access into Mexico should you want to make a trip into the country with your RV.

Being one of the, if not the, most biologically diverse park in the United States, Big Bend delivers a wilderness experience unlike any other. With its great hiking trails, crystal-clear canoeing rivers, and incredible birding opportunities, Big Bend National Park has something to offer every outdoor enthusiast.

9. Capitol Reef National Park

Everything is captured in stone at Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah. The staff at Capitol Reef–unofficially known as “Wayne Wonderland”–do their absolute best to provide their visitors with a memorable experience that truly captures the remote beauty, history, and nature of the West.

Park your RV in one of the 64 campsites at the Fruita Campground directly adjacent to the Fremont River. Enjoy the beauty of solitude and peace, as you wake up next to the rushing river and a horse-filled pasture under the massive shadow of towering red rock. Before heading out into the park, make your way over to the visitor center for a cup of coffee and a freshly baked pie to start your morning.

Park your RV in one of the 64 campsites at the Fruita Campground directly adjacent to the Fremont River. Enjoy the beauty of solitude and peace, as you wake up next to the rushing river and a horse-filled pasture under the massive shadow of towering red rock. Before heading out into the park, make your way over to the visitor center for a cup of coffee and a freshly baked pie to start your morning.

Experience the great history within the stunning rock layers of the canyons, cliffs, towers, domes, and arches at Capitol Reef National Park!

10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

You will feel as though the ground fell from beneath your feet when visiting the deep, narrow canyons of the Gunnison in western Colorado. Visitors are often surprised by the steepness, the shear walls, and the thick, black darkness found within these deep canyons. The tallest cliff face reaches over 2,000 feet, and certain parts of the gorge receive only 33 minutes of sunlight a day!

There is something for everyone at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Many visitors develop a strange intimacy with the mysterious canyon; hiking enthusiasts can travel out to beautiful overlook points; experience rock climbers can explore the depths of the gorge; and vacationing families can take scenic drives throughout the park. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is great for this sort of outdoor activity due to its wide range of recreational opportunities: hiking, fishing, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing, bird watching, and horseback riding.

The roads are narrow and the campsites can be limited in space, thus RVs no greater than 35 feet can access the South and North campgrounds. Here you will discover a unique RV camping experience as you park under the shade of oak trees and obtain personal privacy from the surrounding nature. It is not your typical RV campground, which is commonly just a parking lot filled with RVs.

“Come to Black Canyon! It is a fantastic place to explore with its beautiful scenery and exciting variety of outdoor activities and attractions.” – Sandy Snell-Dobert, Chief of Interpretation.

11. Shenandoah National Park

Many people believe that in order to experience the West, you need to follow Horace Greeley’s advice: “Go west, young man!” Shenandoah National Park has changed that. Its natural, western-style park is located … in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

“One of the wonderful things about Shenandoah National Park is that it is highly accessible to a large variety of visitors in terms of the distance they travel and the time they spend experiencing our park. This easy accessibility makes Shenandoah a park that is economical and affordable, especially for someone with an RV. You can make a trip out on the weekend and still get back in time for work on Monday.” – Matthew Graves, Chief of Interpretation & Education

One of the prominent features of Shenandoah is the 105-mile scenic drive known as the Skyline Drive. Outstanding for RVs, the Skyline Drive gives visitors access to over 75 overlooks and the ability to see incredible wildlife such as deer, black bears, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes in their natural habitats.

Hoping to experience Shenandoah up close and personal? Park your RV at one of the four campgrounds that accommodate large RVs and head out onto the 500 miles of hiking trails carved into the park’s 200,000 acres of natural land. Shenandoah is a rich place for people with different levels of hiking to experience the outdoors the way they want to–while still being able to experience beautiful waterfalls, breathtaking overlooks, and incredible wildlife. Those looking for a rigorous hike have easy access to great mountain-peak hikes and over 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Experience the West in the East at Shenandoah National Park without the crowds, without the expenses, and without the time commitment!