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5 Lesser-Known Destinations for National Park Week

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by on 04-11-2012 at 08:33 AM (814 Views)
In case you haven't heard, National Park Week is coming up April 21-29, which means nine solid days of free admission to any of our nation's 58 fantastic national parks! Part of the 2012 Public Lands Fee-Free Days, National Park Week is a great opportunity to plan a trip. Of course, it's also going to be one of the busiest days of the year at many of the more popular destinations. Want to beat the crowds and still enjoy National Park Week? We've got a list of five lesser-known spots well worth checking out!

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1) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO: When people think outdoor destinations in the Colorado Rockies, it makes sense that Rocky Mountain National Park immediately comes to mind for many people. I can certainly understand why, having visited the area on several occasions. It's definitely one of the most amazing places in Colorado. However, Rocky Mountain's sister park in southwestern Colorado is equally capable of providing stunning alpine scenery, and almost guaranteed to be less crowded. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is still relatively new for a national park. It was established in 1999. Regrettably, I had an opportunity to visit this lesser-known Colorado gem the last time I was in Ouray, but didn't make time to stop. Let's just say I won't be making that mistake next time I'm in the area!

Things to Do: Hiking, Camping, Scenic Drives, Fishing, Kayaking and Rafting.

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2) Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA: There are quite a few fantastic national parks in California. Yosemite, Redwood and Joshua Tree are all excellent destinations, but I'm not sure Lassen Volcanic National Park gets the recognition it deserves. According to the National Park Service, this northern California locale is "home to smoking fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes and numerous volcanoes." Sounds like Yellowstone has a younger cousin, and its name is Lassen Volcanic National Park!

Things to Do: 150 miles of hiking trails, camping, backpacking and boating.

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3) Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH: Although beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park may be pretty well-known to folks in Ohio, I have a feeling a lot of people outside the state may not even be aware of it. I certainly wasn't. Now that I've read more about it, I'm definitely putting it on my list. About 30 minutes from Cleveland, the Cuyahoga Valley offers a wealth of natural wonder and cultural history. From Brandywine Falls to the verdant Ritchie Ledges, hikers will have plenty to see and do. Combine that with landmarks like the Stanford House and the Boston Store Visitor Center, and you can easily spend several days exploring.

Things to Do: Hiking, bird watching, cultural landmarks and scenic train rides.

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4) Isle Royale National Park, MI: It's pretty cool that the largest island in Lake Superior would also be designated as a national park. Not surprisingly, the island, which is over 45 miles long, is one of the most isolated and pristine natural areas in Michigan. Wolves and moose still roam free there. If you hike, backpack, canoe or kayak, you'll want to add Isle Royale to your list of potential destinations. This is one big island adventure you don't want to miss out on!

Things to Do: Backpack, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and scuba diving.

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5) Voyageurs National Park, MN: Located in northern Minnesota not far from the Canadian border and just west of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Voyageurs National Park may not be one of the most lesser-known parks, but it's certainly one of the more remote in the lower 48. Of course, that remoteness is also the appeal. If canoeing through interconnected waterways, hiking in boreal forests and fishing for Walleye and Northern pike sound up your alley, Voyageurs may be exactly the place to spend your National Park Week! Just be aware that certain areas of the park will likely still have some snow in mid April, so pack accordingly if you plan on visiting.

Things to Do: Canoeing, kayaking, house boating, camping, fishing, hiking and tour boat charters.

Well folks, that concludes my list. Even if you can't make it out to any of these fantastic national parks during the fee-free days, I still recommend setting aside some time to visit in the future. I've been to more than half a dozen national parks so far in my outdoor career, and that isn't nearly enough, in my opinion. One day, I'd love to be able to say I've seen them all. What national park do you want to visit most?

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