Although many travelers head to soft sands during spring break, why not get away from the bustling crowds and explore a quiet national park instead? From Colorado to Florida, there’s no shortage of spring break destinations where you can enjoy some peace and tranquility – and maybe even learn something new.
If you’re looking to shake up your spring break plans and ditch the swimsuits for hiking boots, consider visiting these natural wonders and monuments that are far off the beaten path.
Delve into History at Dry Tortugas National Park
Arguably one of the most remote national parks, Dry Tortugas National Park resides some 70 miles west of Key West. After you’ve planned your flights to Florida, you’ll also need to arrange travel by seaplane or ferry to get to the park — but it’s well worth it. This park spans 100 miles and is home to 7 small islands. There aren’t any restaurants or cafes, meaning you’re truly getting off the beaten path with a visit here. Once you do make the journey, Dry Tortugas National Park rewards with rich coral and marine life, via snorkeling, diving, or swimming. Impress your friends with some cool history facts after you take a tour of the iconic 19th-century Fort Jefferson.
Bask in the Calm of the Black Canyon
If the Grand Canyon is simply too crowded for you, head up north to Colorado and visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park instead. This gorgeous canyon lies 13 miles from the town of Montrose in Western Colorado and was carved out by the Gunnison River. It features steep rock walls that stretch 2,700 feet to the Gunnison River below.
The Black Canyon gets its name from the dark shadows cast on the canyon’s walls that make it appear black in color. It officially joined the National Park family in 1999 and boasts some of the world’s oldest exposed rock, about 2 billion years old. There are many scenic drives to choose from, like the South Rim Road, the North Rim Road, or the East Portal Road. If you’re more of a hiker, take the Rim Rock Nature Trail that follows the rim of the canyon. Experienced rock climbers can even venture inside the canyon further. Why lay on the beach when you can explore a brand new place?
Relax at the Russell Cave National Monument
If you want to go off the radar this spring break, visit the northern border of Alabama for a trip back in time. Russell Cave National Monument is located about 70 miles from Huntsville and 41 miles from Chattanooga. Considered an archaeological site, the cave was home to prehistoric peoples for more than 10,000 years.
Explore the artifacts and clues found inside the caves to get some insight into what North America was like from 10,000 B.C. to 1650 A.D. In addition to guided cave shelter tours, you can experience the beauty surrounding the national monument on the picturesque Cave Boardwalk and a 1.5-mile hiking trail.
Canoe Around Congaree National Park
Head deep into South Carolina to find some of the largest trees east of the Mississippi River at Congaree National Park. The Park spans to almost 27,000 acres and has one of the largest old-growth, hardwood forests in the southeast of the country. It’s also South Carolina’s only national park! There are over 25 miles of hiking trails, a 2.4-mile boardwalk, and tons of activities to do. Or, explore a different side of the park by kayaking or canoeing around scenic Cedar Creek.
Take in the Views at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – named after the president who was instrumental in establishing national parks — is located in Western North Dakota. The Park provides visitors with a kaleidoscope of colors, as this site’s unique rock formations are sprinkled with rainbow-hued minerals and prime views of the North Dakota badlands.
Drive along the 36-mile-long South Unit for a full appreciation of the badlands scenery. After that, visit the historical Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin, built in 1883 at the suggestion of Theodore Roosevelt himself. Your jaw will drop at the sheer beauty of the Painted Canyon. Best of all, the park is largely undiscovered so you can hike and picnic without the crowds.
Explore the El Malpais National Monument
The desolate landscape of the El Malpais National Monument offers a wealth of rare formations to feast your eyes on, from cinder cones to sandstone bluffs and lava tube cave systems. It lies just over a hundred miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico and spans over 350,000 acres. Despite its splendid isolation, there’s no shortage of activities at this well-renowned national monument.
Hike the Continental Divide Scenic Trail which goes through the monument. After that, take a scenic drive or even do a bit of back-country camping. Cavers delight in the chance to explore the underworld at a number of lava-tube caves open to those with the right equipment and permits.
What’s your favorite underrated national park or monument? Tell us in the comments below!