For every Yosemite, Banff or Grand Canyon, there are lesser known National Park across North America that offer incredible varieties of wildlife, terrain and experience. We decided to highlight five of the continent’s most exciting under-the-radar national parks to help inspire your outdoor adventures, any time of year.
Badlands National Park
South Dakota, USA
982 square kms
75 miles east of Rapid City is the Badlands. The expansive park’s South Dakota grasscape is punctuated by layered rock formations, deep canyons, and tall, spire-like structures that seem to shoot up out of the ground. Hiking this ranged landscape is about the changes in elevation from the flat prairies, and uphill through the badland formations. You can also opt to trek and camp in the backcountry. Of course, more planning, information and caution are advised for your backcountry experience. Badlands National Park also offers night sky viewing and provides viewers with telescopes while park rangers point out constellations, stars, and planets.
Espiritu Santo Archipelago National Park
Baja California Sur, Mexico
105 square kms
In the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California Sur is Espiritu Santo Archipelago. This park’s every bit as charming as its name: a paradise made up of two main islands (La Partida and Espiritu Santo) with three islets and four promontories (or really tall and rocky peninsulas). Situated in the Gulf of California (also known as “the world’s aquarium”) the park is a prime destination for world-class snorkeling, diving, and sport fishing. And when you’ve finished your tourist activities, and have explored the park’s 200 plant species and marveled at its 70 different animal species, you’re welcome to chill out on its beaches, catch some sunny rays, and maybe do some sailing. But since you will have traveled 25 kms by boat just to arrive at the park’s borders from the state capital of La Paz, our money’s on you just sipp’n a drink and watch’n Mexico’s sun set on another day in the park.
Kouchibouguac National Park
New Brunswick, Canada
239 square kms
Tucked away on New Brunswick’s Acadian Coast is Kouchibouguac. This eastern Canada park provides all-season adventures: from paddling in the summer and onwards to skiing in the winter. If you’re a water lover, you can set out on the park’s voyageur canoe adventure - an experience that combines the culture of paddling a replica Voyageur canoe through First Nations and early settlers waters with the excitement of spotting bald eagles overhead and grey seals below. If you’re more of a snow lover, you can wait for the first snowfall, strap on your skis, and set out on the park’s cross-country ski routes. There are marked-out snowshoe paths as well and warming huts and campfire wood on hand. Keep a lookout for blue jays and saw-whet owls as you slide or shoe the Kouchibouguac snowy trails. And, with the right gear, backcountry winter camping is an option, too, right along the ski routes. We recommend you check the weather conditions regularly before you head out.
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
34, 287 square kms
Roads? Where you’ll be going, you won’t need roads...or trails. Welcome to the Gates. "Alaska's Ultimate Wilderness" is the biggest park on our list and one of the last truly wild places on earth. To enter the Gates, you’ll have to either catch a flight from Alaska, or hike in from the Dalton Highway or from the village of Anaktuvuk Pass. Bear in mind, there are rivers that cut across the terrain between the park and both the highway and the village, so you’ll need to cross ‘em. Once you’re in the Gates, it’s safety first. You’re literally on your own. No cell phone service, or any services for that matter. Should an emergency arise, it’s all you and your crew. And you may definitely want to Google "bear safety" before you leave. If you’re still up for the challenge, and make it into the park okay, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve will definitely reward you: there’s 8.4 million acres for you and your mates to wander at will - gravel bars for camping, alpine lakes for fishing, and breath-taking views of natural beauty for heart stopping and mind blowing outdoor experiences.
Point Pelee National Park
15 square kms
This little, pointed gem may be overlooked due to its small size, but what Point Pelee lacks in land area it makes up for in its uniqueness. You won’t get extremes within the borders of this park (no mountains, no oceans waves, no big game wildlife), but you will get one of the best places in North America (and maybe the world) for bird watching. Situated at the southern tip of Canada, the Point’s weather is diverse, attracting multiple species of birds to its forests and beaches each year. And in the fall and winter, you might be lucky enough to spot one of the park’s white-tailed deer through the thicket. What’s more, the park is located just outside the town of Leamington, which makes it perfect for day tripping: the Point closes in the evening, so after your hikes, settle in with dinner and a drink at one of Leamington’s restaurants.