7 National Parks You've Never Heard Of

By Budget Travel
October 3, 2012
Courtesy <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/noaaphotolib/5123946500/in/photostream/" target="_blank">NOAA Photo Library/Flickr</a>

On November 7, Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey, became the latest addition to the National Park family. After a long fight by Paterson residents and officials to have the 77–foot waterfall recognized, their dreams were fulfilled—partially—by Monday’s agreement. There remain years of work to mold Great Falls around Park Service standards, but the will, and the funds, can now be brought fully to bear on the project.

See the parks.

When Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone the country’s first national park in 1872, early conservationists could have only dreamed of the vast network of protected areas that grace America’s states and territories today. Less than 140 years after Yellowstone’s induction, the National Park Service (NPS) now operates 397 parks and monuments.

Great Falls might be years away from completion, but visitors have 396 other options to explore in the meantime. And there’s no better time for a park jaunt than this Veterans Day weekend, when over 100 national parks will waive their entrance fees. From November 11–13, explorers can enjoy the beauty and history of National Parks from Florida to Hawaii at no charge. (Many other National Parks are free throughout the year.)

No doubt many visitors will take advantage of this largesse to visit Yellowstone, the Everglades and other crown jewels of the Park Service, but there are worlds of wonder beyond the well-trodden path. Why not take a chance on one of the Park Service’s more unusual and lesser-visited locales? Check out the following:

Dry Tortugas. Hot and remote, the Dry Tortugas are one of the Park Service’s most inaccessible destinations. One thing they aren’t is dry; the seven islands lying seventy miles west of Key West received their name from their lack of terrestrial fresh water (and an abundance of turtles), but tropical storms inundate the little archipelago with some regularity. Visitors must take a ferry or seaplane to the park, but the reward is worth it: renowned for its marine life and snorkeling, the Dry Tortugas offer clean beaches and clear water, as well as an historic American fortress to explore. Best of all, you probably won’t have to share it with many other people.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial. The Park Service isn’t exactly modest in its holdings: from the Grand Canyon, to California’s Sequoia National Park, to Wrangell–St. Elias in Alaska (the reigning champ at over eight million acres), it has its share of massive parks. But these spaces contain enough to fill a lifetime, so they might not be the best choice for a weekend trip. If you’re not up for getting lost in a vast wilderness, why not go to the opposite extreme and visit the smallest destination in the NPS? Commemorating the life of an American Revolutionary hero, this National Memorial includes exhibits and artifacts from Kosciuszko’s military career in the new country he helped to liberate. Housed within Kosciuszko’s small Philadelphia home and measuring in at only .02 acres, the memorial is perfect for a quick historical tour.

Aniakchak. Only serious adventurers need apply for an expedition to Aniakchak, a swath of land in southwest Alaska encompassing the volcano that gives the park its name. Extreme weather, a rugged, remote landscape and various other inconveniences—like bears—have earned Aniakchak its place as the very bottom rung of the NPS popularity ladder, but the natural riches of wild Alaska are a pot of gold for the few willing to seek out the end of this rainbow. Sure, by the Park Service’s own estimates only a few dozen people make it out to Aniakchak each year—but what an unforgettable experience those determined few must have.

African Burial Ground. From frontier Alaska to the glittering streets of New York, the National Park Service spans all environs. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Aniakchak is the African Burial Ground, located in Lower Manhattan. The monument preserves the remains of several hundred free and enslaved Africans buried in the 17th and 18th centuries. The burial ground was forgotten and built over in subsequent centuries, only to resurface in 1991 as a result of construction excavations. A monument and visitor center now honor the memories of the interred. (The African Burial Ground does not charge admission, but will be closed on Veterans Day.)

Nicodemus National Historic Site. Billed by the Park Service as “the oldest and only remaining all Black Town west of the Mississippi,” Nicodemus was an important outpost for African Americans moving westward after the Civil War. The historical site in Kansas is comprised of several historic buildings within the still–living community of modern Nicodemus. The town also hosts historical festivals at points throughout the year.

Hamilton Grange. Many of the Park Service’s most popular monuments are dedicated to familiar figures of American history. Abraham Lincoln’s three memorials alone attracted over six million visitors in 2010—a far cry from the New York City home of Alexander Hamilton, which received only around fifteen thousand visitors a year before closing for renovations in 2006. Hamilton Grange was reopened in September and is now accepting visitors—and at no charge. If Hamilton holds no interest for you, try another of the lesser–visited memorials dedicated to important Americans: the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts, celebrates the life of the renowned landscape architect; the Flat Rock, North Carolina Carl Sandburg Home remembers the storied career of the quintessentially American poet; and in Washington D.C., the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House stands in remembrance of the early, determined civil rights activist and educator.

—Ryan Murphy


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The Best National Parks For Fall Colors

Depending on the park, the temperature and elevation, there's still time to catch some great fall foliage at the country's national parks, where bright red, orange, and yellow leaves are often on display until the end of October (and even into November in some cases). In an ode to autumn, the National Park Foundation has put out a list of great national parks, and corresponding timelines, for colorful foliage displays. "Many factors impact the timing of peak fall colors viewing, therefore foliage seekers are encouraged to contact specific parks for the inside scoop on their unique foliage timing," the National Park Foundation advised. California Whiskeytown National Recreation Area Peak colors are expected sometime between the middle and end of October. Colorado Curecanti National Recreational Area The colors start to come out in late September and run through the end of October. Mississippi Natchez Trace Parkway In mid- to late October, the leaves of the maple, hickory, oak and other hardwood trees begin to change colors. Montana Glacier National Park The bright yellow and gold colors on the aspen and larch trees in the park run through mid-October covering the trails around the park, particularly along Summit Trail. For more information on the best trails for fall colors or for photos of them, visit Glacier's Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/glaciernationalpark. Pennsylvania Flight 93 National Memorial The trees around the Flight 93 National Memorial site begin to turn around mid-October. Go to honorflight93.org/webcam to take a virtual fall foliage tour. Tennessee Great Smokey Mountains National Park This park is home to more than 130 different tree species, many of which produce impressive autumnal hues. Peak foliage viewing depends on the various levels of elevation found within the park, but generally the foliage show runs from late September through October. Utah Zion National Park Peak foliage colors appear at the end of October and into the first few days of November. Vermont Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Rich with sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, this park has outstanding fall foliage each year, according to the National Park Foundation. This year's prime viewing is expected from mid-October through early November. Virginia Shenandoah National Park The colors start to come out at the upper elevations beginning in early to mid-October, and the lower elevations peak at the end of October into November. Wisconsin Apostles Islands National Lakeshore The most photogenic foliage varies depending on whether you're inland or closer to the coast, however the colors come out between late September and October. More from Budget Travel: 5 Fall Foliage Drives 50 Stunning Fall-Foliage Photos 6 Outdoor Fall Products You Never Knew You Needed

National Parks

What you need to know about staying safe at our nation's parks

A 64-year old man had to crawl for days out of Canyonlands National Park in the Utah desert after he broke his leg. Amos Richards nearly died. He was lucky that intrepid rangers were able to find and rescue him. He had taken five liters of water and two power bars with him, and no rain jacket or other protective gear. Richards' story comes during an overall bad year for park safety. At more popular Yellowstone National Park alone, 17 people have died so far this year. The most recent and sensational case happened earlier this summer, when a hiker in Yellowstone was killed by a mother grizzly bear&mdash;one of two such deadly attacks this summer. Yesterday, an investigation revealed that the victim, Brian Matayoshi, 58, of Torrance, California, had not been carrying bear spray and had run, instead of standing still, when the bear approached&mdash;a definite no-no. Never run if a bear approaches, says the National Park Service. The most common injuries and fatalities in the wilderness are sprained ankles and knees, according to national studies published in the American Medical Journal. If you're in a remote location, this can put you at risk of not being rescued. As for deaths, the most common cause is falling. Abusing alcohol is also a "probable causative" factor in 40 percent of traumatic deaths. Drowning counts for one in five fatalities, so careful swimming is also important. If you're hiking alone, write down the general area of where you plan to explore and when you expect to be back and share it with someone responsible before you set out. Is solo hiking too dangerous? Or does the media blow these stories out of proportion? Sound off on the comments! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Trip Coach: National Parks National Parks (Minus the Crowds) 30 Spectacular Images of Our Nation's Parks

National Parks

Scalpers at national parks?

Online sellers are asking as much as $150 for campsite reservations that normally cost $20. The Sacramento Bee reports that various Craigslist sites list dozens and dozens of campsite reservations for sale at the national park where getting a camping spot is famously difficult, Yosemite. The Bee explains: The 900 Yosemite campsites available for advance reservation cost $20 a night when booked through the park's contractor, ReserveAmerica. But park officials and some consumers report being quoted prices of $100 to $150 a night from Craigslist vendors, who sometimes offer to change the name on the reservation. What's more, campsites aren't the only thing for (re)sale at Yosemite. Permits for climbing Half Dome, which are issued by the park for free (plus a $1.50 handling charge), are also being sold for profits online. How, and why, is this possible? The answers basically come down to supply and demand: There's not enough of the former to meet the latter in terms of campsites and climbing permits at Yosemite, especially not on the most popular summer weekends. The reservation system, in which select few campers (or profiteers) can scoop up reservations up to six months in advance over the phone (877/444-6777) or at recreation.gov, also seems to be part of the problem. Too often, hopeful campers fail to get reservations on their chosen dates, leaving them with few options other than altering their travel plans or paying a premium to online scalpers. Apparently, some scalpers have figured out ways to game the system and snag campsite reservations and cancellations before the average park-goer has a chance. There are options other than dealing with scalpers, mind you. As we discussed in last summer's Trip Coach on the national parks, most parks, including Yosemite, have first-come, first served campsites, though lines for these spots can form at 6 a.m., three hours before the sales begin. The parks department prohibits the reselling of any park reservation, and parks officials say that they are trying to stop sellers from flipping reservations for profits. But the Bee story doesn't sound particularly hopeful that campsite scalping at Yosemite is going to stop anytime soon. For now, the consensus advice is this: Yosemite officials urge visitors to steer clear of resale schemers, and to check back often with ReserveAmerica for campsite cancellations&mdash;which can, and do, occur throughout the summer. Park insiders also recommend to reserve online, not by phone. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Trip Coach: National Parks National Parks (Minus the Crowds) 30 Spectacular Images of Our Nation's Parks

National Parks

The National Parks for free!

With only 43 days left until the summer officially ends, it's time to really start prioritizing these warm, sunny afternoons while they last. This weekend provides the perfect opportunity: On August 14 and 15, you can visit the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or the Everglades without paying a dime, when the National Parks Service waives entrances fees to 146 of its iconic sites across the country. (You can find a full list of freebie parks at the N.P.S. site.) That's a pretty good deal considering some of these spots typically charge up to $25 for admittance. You may also be able to save on food, tours, and even lodging at some parks. Certain outfitters and concessionaires are offering deals and discounts to coincide with the N.P.S.'s free weekend. In Grand Teton, for instance, you can get 25 percent off a room in three of its lodges. In Yosemite and Yellowstone, $5 coupons good for food, drinks, and tours will be handed out upon arrival. More deals are listed on parkpartners.org. If you already had plans to visit a National Park this summer, you may want to bump up your travel plans to this weekend and save a few bucks, and if a Parks jaunt was not already on your calendar, this should be the perfect excuse to add one. We would love to hear from you: What are your National Parks vacation plans for the rest of this summer?