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2016 is a milestone year for the National Park Service: they’ve been preserving America’s purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain for 100 years! You probably already know and love the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, but there are 55 other national parks dying for a slice of the action. Help the NPS celebrate by enjoying the beauty of the United States in one of these stellar, but often underrated national parks.
If the far northeast is calling your name, there’s only one word you can cry back in reply: Acadia. The rocky coast of Maine is home to New England’s only true national park, and there you’ll find the East Coast’s tallest mountain among a delightfully varied landscape. Nautical types can hop from the ocean’s salty spray to a placid freshwater lake with ease. Hikers can conquer a granite peak, while cyclists can stay closer to the ground on an historic carriage road.
At the southernmost tip of the continental U.S., the Everglades attract 1 million visitors a year, but if searching for crocodiles over the unmistakable roar of an airboat isn’t your speed, Florida still has something for you. Equally synonymous with the farthest reaches of the peninsula are the Florida Keys and they have their own national park, Biscayne. You’ll still see a croc or two, but they’ll be joined by peregrine falcons, sea turtles, and West Indian manatees. Spend the day snorkeling a coral reef and kick back at sunset with a slice of trademark key lime pie.
If you’re not from the staunchly squared off plains of the American Midwest, you might wonder who would ever voluntarily spend time in South Dakota. Sure, you might stop at Mount Rushmore on a family road trip, but that’s all there is state, right? Wrong. Mount Rushmore is surrounded by the otherworldly Badlands. This park is both one of the world’s richest fossil beds and one of the best parks for spotting live wildlife. Its prairies and pinnacles play host to a variety of critters including black-footed ferrets, bighorn sheep, swift foxes, and that perennial symbol of Americana: the bison.
Pop quiz: which state is home to the most national parks in the United States? If you guessed California, you’re right, but Utah makes a strong showing with five parks, and each one is more spectacular than the last. Bryce Canyon and Zion are possibly the best known, with their classically Southwestern rock formations. But for a real treat, marvel at the geological wonder of Arches National Park. Millions of years in the making, these 2,000 natural sandstone arches, spires, columns, towers, and fins put even the most painstakingly crafted sandcastle to shame.
Those with a penchant for the supernatural will love getting lost in the Pacific Northwest, whether you’re a would-be Sasquatch spotter or an avid fan of The X-Files, which filmed largely in the region. The towering redwoods of California and the peak of Mount Rainier tend to get top billing, but Washington State has a few more tricks up its sleeves. The immensely popular North Cascades form a hiker’s haven with a number of excellent climbing areas like Eldorado Peak, Mount Shuksan, Cascade Pass, and the aptly named Mount Triumph. On the other side of the Washington coin, Olympic National Park is comprised of the continental States’ wettest ecosystem, the Hoh and Quinault Rain Forests.