As the days get longer, we have summer adventure on our minds. If you’re also feeling the urge to unplug and explore, it’s time to plan a semi-local escape to one of our country’s most beautiful and geographically diverse locations. With popular national parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite bringing in millions of visitors each year, avoid the crowds and escape to the peaceful, unspoiled beauty of these under-the-radar park destinations. Check out our tips for what to pack and what to do while you’re there.
If the road is calling, roll down the windows and crank up the tunes as you travel the iconic Route 66 between Chicago and Santa Monica. Near its midway point, just 36 miles north of Amarillo, TX, lies oasis-like Lake Meredith. Explore dramatic 200-foot canyons and hidden coves, providing respite from the dry, windswept grasslands above.
Things to do: Enjoy swimming, canoeing, or kayaking on the lake. Get out and explore the local trails, whether you’re hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking. Check out seasonal ranger-led programs and special events.
Don’t forget: a bathing suit, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a hat and full-length denim for horseback riding
Feel the sand between your toes and under your sleeping bag when you set up camp ocean-side in the Maryland district of this Atlantic barrier island. Explore sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests, and coastal bays, recreated daily by ocean wind and waves.
Things to do: Spend the day swimming, lounging in the sand, collecting shells, hiking, horseback riding, and participating in ranger-guided programs. In the evening, gather around the campfire for s’mores, stories, and sing-alongs.
Don’t forget: a bathing suit, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent, locally purchased firewood, and your sing-along instrument of choice
Grab your camera to capture the scenic views and hydrothermal curiosities of northern California’s lesser-known volcanic park. Explore meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, steaming fumaroles, and jagged peaks formed by past eruptions and current hot spring activity.
Things to do: Hike or tour the park by vehicle, visiting the Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works hydrothermal areas. Take the summer parkcaching challenge or participate in a field seminar in nature photography or plein air watercolor painting.
Don’t forget: sunscreen, binoculars for bird watching, insect repellent, a camera, and a notebook to channel your inner John Muir