Top 9 Under-the-Radar National Parks to Visit

Top 9 Under the Radar National Parks
March 30, 2015

By Chris Epting

So have you made that list of National Parks you want to visit this summer?

Each year they become more and more popular, those majestic and significant places that teach us so much about our country. There’s a special thrill when you see that famous NPS arrowhead logo that dates back to 1951, because you know how well preserved the park will be, how informative the Rangers will be and, yes, even how amazing the gift shops all seem to be.

And while big-name parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone will always remain at the top of many lists, it’s good to remember some of the lesser-known parks scattered throughout so many states. They may not get the attention some of the others do, but they are all amazing places on their own and are certainly worthy of a visit.

Here are a few that we consider to be “under the radar” National Parks that you might want to consider visiting this summer. And just as you’d expect, there’s usually a KOA nearby!


Great Basin National Park – Nevada
A relatively new park, Great Basin was established in 1986 and is located in central Nevada right near the Utah border. It’s perhaps most notable for its renowned groves of ancient Bristlecone Pines, some of the oldest known living things on Earth. Also within the park is Lehman Caves National Monument, which dates back to 1922. There are also spectacular wildlife opportunities within Great Basin along with some rugged hiking for those who like a challenge. But in the end, many people come just to see the Bristlecones, which date back at least 5,000 years. The Ely KOA located at 15396 South US Highway 93 in Ely, Nevada is the perfect basecamp for a Great Basin escape.

Great Basin National Park - Nevada


Canyonlands National Park – Utah
Spectacular desert scenery can be found at Canyonlands located in southeastern Utah in the town of Moab. The primitive desert landscape features two large river canyons and eye-opening mesas and colorful buttes. This is a very popular place for hikers, backpackers and four-wheelers along with kayakers. A rugged, beautiful and otherworldly vacation stop. The Moab KOA at 3225 South Highway 191 could not be any more convenient.

Canyonlands National Park.jpg


Pinnacles National Park – California
This beautiful and mountainous area, located just east of central California’s Salinas Valley, is named after the eroded remains of an extinct volcano. The park is actually divided up into two sections, east and west. The sections are well connected by foot trails but do not have a road connecting them, so there are two separate entrances to the park. Whichever side you choose, know that each features spectacular rock formations that include the rocky pinnacles which attract rock climbers from all over the world. Also, many birdwatchers come from all over to try and see the California condors, as Pinnacles is a release site for the rare birds that have been hatched in captivity. This is a very family-friendly park that features a wide array of hiking trails, caves and other natural wonders. The Salinas/Monterey KOA at 8710 Prunedale North Road is located right nearby.

Pinnacles National Park, CA


Saguaro National Park – Arizona
Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro gets its name from the spectacularly large Saguaro cactus, which is native to the area. Of course, there are many other kinds of cacti here including cholo and prickly pear. This is the desert, after all. So you know , it can get very hot in the summer, but for those who are up for the challenge this is a beautiful and isolated spot that features an impressive 8 1/2 mile loop road which provides a full view of the park. The Benson KOA located at 180 West Four Feathers Lane is the perfect jumping off point, or stay in Tuscan a the Tuscon/Lazydays KOA at 5151 South Country Club Road.

Saguaro National Park – Arizona


Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Dry Tortugas is actually a small archipelago of coral islands located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. You reach the park by ferry and, once there, you’ll get to enjoy a jaw-dropping amount of sea life, tropical birds, stunning coral reefs and lots of history built around mythical shipwrecks and sunken treasures. In addition to the natural splendor, you’ll find Fort Jefferson, which is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. It is made of over 16 million bricks and is truly impressive. The Sugarloaf Key / Key West KOA at 251 State Road 939 is super convenient.

Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida


Congaree National Park – South Carolina
Located in South Carolina, Congaree is famous for preserving the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The lush floodplain forest features some of the tallest trees in the country, which create a wildly beautiful forest canopy. One of the most important birding parks in the entire NPS system, the swampy park features a two and a half-mile boardwalk loop which allows visitors to get up close to nature. Free canoe rides are also offered on Saturdays. The nearest  KOA is the Cross / Santee Cooper Lakes KOA at 2060 Ranger Drive in Cross.

Congaree National Park – South Carolina


Voyageurs National Park – Minnesota
Located in the northern part of Minnesota, Voyageurs provides just what you would expect given where it is located: lots of water. The lakes and ponds make this a wonderful place to visit for those who are interested in boating and fishing. In fact, much of this gorgeous park is only accessible by boat. We recommend the Thunder Bay KOA located at 162 Spruce River Road. It’s just over the border in Ontario, so don’t forget your passport.

Voyageurs National Park.jpg


Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Dakota
Located near Medora, North Dakota, the park named for the President who loved the outdoors came about after Teddy Roosevelt visited the Badlands to hunt bison in 1883. In fact, this was one of the places that made him fall in love with the great outdoors in the first place. Today, visitors can still enjoy the wildlife that inspired Roosevelt. Bison, feral horses, bighorn sheep and mule deer are just some of the animals that roam wild here in the Badlands. And your nearest KOA would be the Bismarck KOA located at 3720 Centennial Road.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota


Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas
A visit to Arkansas just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hot Springs. For more than 200 years, people have used the famed Hot Spring water to treat a host of ailments, and today it is still possible to bathe in the soothing spring water. There are some impressive hiking trails and a historic Bathhouse Row that features the most notable collection of bathhouses in this country. And wouldn’t you know – there’s a Hot Springs National Park KOA located at 838 McClendon Road.

Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas


Those are just a few of the many National Parks you may want to consider visiting this summer. And remember, nothing makes a National Parks road trip more fun than the nights spent at your National Campgrounds, KOA.

Book Your National Park Adventure


Chris Epting is a long-time lover of the road and great outdoors. He’s also a true believer in KOA, a journalist and an author of 20 travel-related books. He’s traveling the country this summer, as usual, chronicling the wild and wonderful experiences he while staying at KOA.

  • Rita Anderson

    The picture for Pinnacles National Park – California is actually Yosemite. You might want to correction the picture.

  • psmulvaney

    Oops! Thanks for letting us know. We’ll get it changed to the right image.
    Thanks so much,
    Polly at KOA

  • Kelly A. Brown

    Are all KOA campgrounds pet friendly? We ahve a 4 yr old RESCUE dog that I will not leave with anyone, she was once poisoned and I do not trust leaving her anywhere. Thank You,

    • jred

      Most of them are, to a degree. We always bring our rescue with us when we stay in the Kabins. When you go to reserve a spot/Kabin, there’s a check-box to state whether you’ll have a pet or not. Of course, aggressive or loud dogs are not a good idea.

      • Kelly A. Brown

        Thank you.. Tawny is neither aggressive or loud.. She is very passive, I believe she is that way from when she was first rescued form being tied to a dupster at 5 – 6 weks old and left beind. thak God our neibghbor found her but couldn’t kep her, she is a great dog. We are so glad ot have her. Thak you again.

      • jred

        Rescues make the most appreciative companions! One of the reasons we stay at KOA is because of how pet-friendly they are. You’ll love St. Augustine!

      • Kelly A. Brown

        WE were there over 9 yrs ago when both of our daughter were married. They live about 1 hour south of St. Augustine.. I can’t wait to go back and visit and this time have TAWNY MARIE with us at a KOA!! You are so right, they do make the most appreciative comapnions. Being perm disabled Tawny is my constant side kick.

      • Kelly A. Brown

        P.S. we just booked a vaca to meet our kids in St. Augustine, with a cabin that does allow pets.

    • psmulvaney

      Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for your question and yes, KOA and its campground owners love pets! In fact, any KOA campground adopting our new KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort brands to have an off-leash, fenced Kamp K9 dog park.

      Our Pet Guidelines are printed on Page 9 of the KOA Directory, and we encourage pet owners to call ahead to check with the campground about their specific pet policies and possible local restrictions. Each of our KOA campgrounds is privately owned and operated, and KOA’s policy states that all dogs must be leashed and under the owner’s control at all other times on the campground.
      We hope to see you and your pet at a KOA soon!
      Polly at KOA home office

      • Kelly A. Brown

        Thank you, We are headed to St. Augustine in Aug with our Rescue dog.. visiting family while there also.

      • psmulvaney

        Sounds fun! Have a great time and know that we appreciate your business.
        Take care and happy camping!

      • Kelly A. Brown

        Thank you..

  • Joel

    It would be nice if some KOA could provide asthmatic-friendly places (ie smoke free) because most KOA have cabins or tents next to each others and if you have smoke from your neighbor, it is a no-go. The KOA at Moab is the only one I found acceptable.

    • OFBG

      Joel, my wife has asthma – as well as other problems – but we have never had an issue at any KOA we have stayed at. I can only suggest that you ask for a site as far from other campers as possible. This may make the facilities (restrooms/showers and such) less convenient, but it may make you more comfortable.

  • Gail

    As Dry Tortogus National Park is 70 miles west of Key West, and only accessible by boat… I’m struggling to understand how the KOA on Summerland Key (30 miles north of Key West) is “super convenient”??? Are all of your KOA recommendations as convenient as this one?

    • psmulvaney

      Hi Gail! You’re right that our choice of words was probably not the most accurate. We’ll adapt our language to make that a little clearer and more transparent. Thanks for reaching out and hope someday you can visit the Sugarloaf KOA. It’s a great place to chill.
      Polly at KOA home office

      • OFBG

        Polly, everything is relative. What other campground is more convenient?

  • Don Hoffman

    Last year my wife and I spent three weeks in southern Utah – the last week of Sept and first 2 weeks of Oct. We stayed at the Moab KOA in a kampercabin while we toured Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. Moab is a cool town with a lot of great stores and restaurants. Both NPs have many many hiking trails and back roads to explore. The scenery is “knock your socks off ” spectacular. The Moab KOA is pretty heavily used and is an older park and has unisex restrooms and shower rooms – this took a little getting used to. Our stay here was very good.

    Cheers and happy camping Don and Joan