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When I'm not blogging, I love walking to town with my husband for a date day, talking to my three young adult children about their lives, and planning pretty much anything I can- parties, projects, travel, budgets- you name it I will plan it! Click here to learn more about me!

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March 6, 2021

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

Funny thing about me – I love living in a warm Southern California climate but mountains are my happy place.

Go figure.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the ocean is stunning but I have never been a huge fan of going in water or sitting on the beach (I just get bored way to easily 🤷‍♀️).

In a rush? Pin this post for later!

My husband and I made it a goal of ours while raising our three kids to make sure they appreciate the beauty of national parks. Lucky for us – living in the western US made that pretty easy as you can see how many are on the left side of the country from the map below 😂.

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

I decided to tell you guys about the parks that maybe you haven’t thought that much about in this post – so basically not Yosemite or Yellowstone 😂.

But you should know that those were two of the first parks we took our kids camping in when we started our NP obsession. Is obsession too strong of a word btw?

When I travel, I am all about location. location, location for my sleeping arrangements.

If you have made it all the way to the destination – why spend more time getting from your accommodations to the sites?? National Park lodges and campgrounds all have pretty much the same cleanliness and simple standards. So – I have always been a fan of staying in the park when we are exploring!

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

Being that this summer of 2021 might actually end up being another road trip summer for most Americans – here are some suggestions for parks that maybe you haven’t thought about much and that might appeal to you to visit this summer… or any other time for that matter ☺️.

Also – the national park service has just launched a brand new app for your phone that is so fun to play on – I found out about it on this Travel and Leisure article but you can just go to your app store and search National Park Service! I have already played around with it and it is quite helpful!

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

When we visited this park about ten years ago, we LOVED it! Mesa Verde is very well preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people in Southern Colorado. It has a lot of ladder climbing which my kids found fun.

The park is certainly one of the most unique places you can explore in the US and definitely one of my favorites!

Where to Fly Into

Durango, Colorado (DRO)

Where to Stay

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

We tent camped at Morefield Campground right inside the park. It is a very conveniently located campground with your typical national park campground amenities (ie flush toilets and amphitheater).

While we have never camped with an RV – I know this campground has some sites with hookups. As with all national park arrangements – book as soon as you decide you are going! They always book up early…

If you are not a camper and want a convenient lodge – definitely check out the park’s own Far View Lodge which is even closer to the cliff dwellings than the campground.

We didn’t stop to check out these accommodations but I am going to imagine they are the standard national park motel quality.

Since we were camping, we obviously had all of our meals at our campsite. However the snack bar at the visitor center was perfect for getting ice cream and drinks after our days exploring. And the restaurant at Far View Lodge gets decent reviews (as to be expected from a national park restaurant).

What to See and Do

national park
  • Spruce Tree House (sadly it looks like currently only the overlook is open due to rock falls but this is the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park so clearly a must see!)
  • Cliff Palace – can only be seen with a ranger led tour – and tickets need to be purchased online in advance!
  • Long House – same as Cliff Palace with the ranger led tour and advanced tickets.
  • Mesa Top Loop Trail – which is actually a car loop. When we visited there was a cute open air shuttle that took you around the park but with the Covid pandemic – all group things have changed and who knows what activities are actually coming back??
  • Far View Sites Complex – a trail at the top of the mesa that shows you what life was like in this community from 900-1300 CE.

Places to Visit Around Mesa Verde

  • Durango, CO – fun home of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and museum less than one hour from the park
  • Telluride, CO – super cute mountain town about 1.5 hours from the park with great skiing, hiking, and dining

Olympic National Park, Washington

ONP is a very diverse and stunning national park in northwestern Washington state.

It literally has a rainforest, mountains, and the coast all in one park!

national park

Where to Fly Into

Seattle (SEA)

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Lake Crescent Lodge and it was truly one of the most relaxing national park lodges we have ever stayed at! We stayed in a two bedroom Singer Tavern cottage (we are a family of 5 btw ☺️).

us national park

Other options in the park are the Log Cabin Resort which is also an RV campground or the nicest accommodations in the park at the Lake Quinault Lodge .

If looking for a campground to stay at – the Olympic National Park website lists many options for you to check out!

We felt the Lake Crescent Lodge area and the Fairholme campground were the most centrally located to explore all areas of the park…

What to See and Do

  • Hurricane Ridge Area provides some of the most picturesque hiking in the park. We did the 3 mile round trip Hurricane Hill hike while in this area
  • Hoh Rain Forest Area – the name explains itself. We did the Spruce Nature Trail which was a short 1.2 miles with plenty of moss hanging on trees to enjoy :).
  • Olympic National Park and Headquarters area has a great visitors center to learn more about the park – make sure to get the Junior Ranger booklets here!
  • Kalaloch area – honestly we did not actually explore this area because we only had two full days at this park and since we live by the ocean, I decided to spend our time during this visit elsewhere but photos of it look beautiful!

Places to Visit Around Olympic National Park

  • Seattle, WA – downtown is a three hour drive from Lake Crescent Lodge
  • Forks, WA – this is more of a drive through as you are exploring the park but I had to put it on this list because it is famous for the Twilight books 😂
  • Victoria, British Columbia – we actually came to Olympic NP from a stay on Victoria Island for a few days. Victoria, BC to Port Angeles, WA is a 1.5 hour ferry boat ride that is extremely easy and smooth – again buy tickets online in advance!

Glacier National Park, Montana

I have a top five as far as national parks go and Glacier is on that list. Mount Rainier, Yosemite, Grand Teton, and Zion round out my top five in case you were wondering…

The beauty you will find at Glacier is comparable to the likes of Switzerland and Norway (and yes – I have seen both of those countries in person and can attest to this statement ☺️).

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

Where to Fly Into

Kalispell, Montana (FCA)

Where to Stay

We tent camped at the Fish Creek Campground. I did a ton of research on the best place to stay in this park but actually Fish Creek is the only campground on the west end of the park that takes reservations so this was rather a no brainer as there was no way I was driving all the way to Montana without a campground reservation 😬.

There is a loop in this campground that does not allow generators so it is perfect for tent campers. And the ice cream shop is a short drive away from the campground…

If I were to stay in lodging in the park, I would choose the Lake MacDonald Lodge.

While the Many Glacier Hotel is probably the most historic and classy- this part of the park is quite secluded and pretty far away from everything else the park has to offer. If you are staying for an entire week and are willing to move accommodations – I would say stay here for two nights and then go back down to the southwestern parts of the park…

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

What to See and Do

  • Going to the Sun Road is on the register of National Historic Places as well as is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It bisects the park east and west and takes about two hours to drive without stops. And is truly one of the most magnificent drives in all of the US.
  • Logan Pass Visitor Center
  • Hidden Lake Trail – a 5.3 mile trail from the Logan Pass Visitor Center – with incredible views
  • Grinnell Glacier Trail – a strenuous 10.6 mile hike to one of the biggest glaciers in the park. We did not actually do this hike on our trip here as we did not plan our timing correctly. We did take the boat across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes (and saw a couple of grizzly bears too 😱) – and then did a short 2-3 mile hike to a lake before the strenuous portion of the hike started.
  • Have dinner in the Ptarmigan Dining Room at the Many Glacier Hotel – like I said – we didn’t stay here but that didn’t stop us from getting dinner here after our version of the Grinnell Glacier hike…
  • Ride on a vintage Red Bus Tour -definitely need to book this in advance!!
Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now
Going to the Sun Road

Places to Visit Around Glacier National Park

We actually did not do any exploring of the area outside of Glacier – the night before we arrived in Glacier we stayed with friends in Missoula and afterwards continued our three week road trip to Banff, British Columbia.

However in my research, I found a very helpful blog post if you are looking for things to do outside of the park…

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

It had been on my husband’s bucket list for years to drive from San Diego to Key West, Florida so about ten years ago we did it! The places we got to see in between those two cities are places we never would have had the opportunity to see had we not decided to go on this adventure.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is one of those fun and interesting places in southern New Mexico. It is well known for limestone caves with stalagmites hanging from the celing and unique rock formations and bats!

Four US National Parks You Might Not Have Thought of Visiting Before Now

Where to Fly Into

El Paso, Texas (ELP) is the closest airport about 145 miles west of the park.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of reasonable places to stay in Carlsbad, NM about 20 miles away from the park. This town is pretty basic and just satisfies your lodging and dining needs but as far as exploring goes – not so much.

We are a Hilton Points family so we stayed at the Hampton Inn (can’t beat the free breakfast for a family!).

What to See and Do

  • Big Room Trail is the main tour in the caves and is the largest single cave chamber in North America. Tickets need to be purchased in advance here.
  • Natural Entrance Trail is a very steep way to enter the cave (and not handicapped accessible) but is a fun way to start your exploring.
  • Bat Flight Program is a free evening ranger talk at the park amphitheater from May-October. It is 100% worth staying in the park to see thousands of bats leave the cave every night to go out searching for food.
  • Visitors Center to learn more about the history of the park and how the cavern was formed.

Places to Visit Around Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns is not super close to much to be honest – you would have to have a Texas or New Mexico destination in mind for this stop but here are places you could add to an itinerary that involves this part of the US:

  • White Sands National Park 181 miles northwest of Carlsbad Caverns and absolutely worth a stop – especially if you have never been to sand dunes before!
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park is about 30 miles south of Carlsbad Caverns. I was really hoping to get a stop in here but after CCNP we headed straight down to San Antonio which was a seven hour drive that next day 🤪

My Top Five Favorite US National Parks

Blog Posts on Other Parks We Have Visited That You Might Not Have Thought About As Well

Let me know if you have any tips I should add to this post on the four US National Parks you might not have thought about!

I sure hope it inspired you to get out and explore this year. And if one of these four parks isn’t in the cards for you – for sure go check out the new National Park Service app for inspo ☺️.

Did you find this post useful? Pin it to your boards!!

Better yet – follow me on Pinterest to get all my inspo and ideas!

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  1. Nina says:

    Omg so cute!

  2. Your post is fabulous

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