August 26 2008 by Mark Deyer
Often we set out to explore our most renowned national parks only to discover that in the peak season they can be fully booked and extremely crowded. If you are willing to venture off the beaten path there are a host of lesser known national parks that offer visitors up close encounters with breathtaking natural wonders and unique cultures. The Southwest hosts a handful of notable examples in Colorado and Utah including Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parks.
Don't miss the well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people at Mesa Verde National Park. Most sites are only accessible by ranger-guided tours which must be purchased in person at the Far View Visitors Center for $3 per person. The tours are strenuous but well worth the effort!
Canyonlands National Park, located in southeast Utah, offers four distinct desert regions cut into canyons, mesas and buttes by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Adventurous outdoor explorer's will be able to hike, backpack, ride mountain bikes or enjoy white water rafting as they discover the high plateau's, sandstone spires and rugged desert landscapes found here. Stay in Moab, Utah at the Best Western Canyonlands Inn for easy access to the park as well as galleries, museums and restaurants in town.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
One of the newer national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison does not disappoint. Visitors are thrilled by the dizzying vistas into the narrow, steep canyon and the unsurpassed views of the San Juan Mountains. Take a scenic and adventurous driving tour or spend a day of hiking, backpacking, boating or horseback riding.
We only featured a few lesser known National Parks from the Southwest. What National Parks would you add to the list?