Cabin beside road in Capitol Reef National Park

Little Known National Parks: Discovering Secrets on a Southwest Road Trip

Embark on a journey through the often-overlooked treasures of the southwestern United States, exploring little known National Parks that are truly hidden gems. Our road trip takes you through Great Basin National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. These little known National Parks promise unique landscapes, solitude, and an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

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Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Great Basin National Park at Night

Our journey begins in the vast landscapes of Nevada, exploring Great Basin National Park. This hidden gem is known for its diverse landscapes, including the ancient Bristlecone Pine groves and the stunning Lehman Caves. Great Basin promises an off-the-beaten-path adventure where you can escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the unique beauty of the high desert.

Entry Requirements:

  • Park Entrance Fee: $15 per person (valid for 7 days)
  • America the Beautiful Passes are accepted for entry.

Must-Visit Spots:

  1. Bristlecone Pine Trail: Discover the ancient Bristlecone Pine groves, some of the oldest living trees on Earth. The twisted and gnarled trunks make for a unique photography subject, especially in the soft morning light.
  2. Wheeler Peak Summit Trail: For panoramic views of the park, embark on the challenging hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak. The expansive vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys are worth the effort.

Best Photo Spots:

  • Stella Lake: Capture reflections of Wheeler Peak on the tranquil waters of Stella Lake. The surrounding alpine scenery adds to the charm of this picturesque spot.
  • Lehman Caves: Join a guided tour of Lehman Caves to photograph the intricate formations and colourful mineral deposits within this subterranean wonder.

Best Places to Stay near Great Basin:

  1. Wheeler Peak Campground: Experience camping at high elevations at Wheeler Peak Campground within the park.
  2. Baker: Located about 5 miles from the park, Baker offers additional lodging options for those exploring Great Basin.

Distance to Next Park: Approximately 240 miles


Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park Entrance Sign

Continuing our journey, we head to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. Known for its stunning red rock formations, expansive orchards, and the Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef offers an off-the-beaten-path adventure in one of the many Little known national parks. This hidden gem allows you to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the rugged beauty of the desert landscape.

Entry Requirements:

  • Park Entrance Fee: $20 per vehicle (valid for 7 days)
  • America the Beautiful Passes are accepted for entry.

Must-Visit Spots:

  1. Scenic Drive: Explore the breathtaking landscapes along the Scenic Drive, showcasing the Waterpocket Fold and various geological wonders. The changing colours of the rock formations make for dynamic photographs, especially during sunrise or sunset.
  2. Hickman Bridge Trail: Hike to Hickman Bridge for a view of the natural bridge and panoramic vistas of the surrounding canyons. The trail offers opportunities to capture the unique rock formations up close.

Best Photo Spots:

  • Panorama Point: Capture the vastness of Capitol Reef from Panorama Point, where you can photograph the Waterpocket Fold and the Henry Mountains in the distance.
  • Sunset Point: Witness the vibrant hues of a desert sunset at Sunset Point, providing a stunning backdrop to the towering cliffs and canyons.

Best Places to Stay near Capitol Reef:

  1. Fruita Campground: Experience camping amidst the orchards at Fruita Campground within the park.
  2. Torrey: Located just outside the park, Torrey offers additional lodging options for those exploring Capitol Reef.

Distance to Next Park: Approximately 270 miles


Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Next on our southwestern adventure is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. This park is renowned for its steep and narrow canyon, carved by the Gunnison River. Visiting Black Canyon offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience away from the crowds.

Entry Requirements:

  • Park Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle (valid for 7 days)
  • America the Beautiful Passes are accepted for entry.

Must-Visit Spots:

  1. South Rim Drive: Take a scenic drive along the South Rim for dramatic overlooks of the canyon. Each viewpoint provides a different perspective of the steep cliffs and the Gunnison River below.
  2. Warner Point Trail: For a closer look at the canyon, hike the Warner Point Trail. The trail leads to a panoramic viewpoint, offering unobstructed views of the Black Canyon.

Best Photo Spots:

  • Painted Wall View: Capture the impressive Painted Wall, one of the tallest vertical walls in Colorado. The striated patterns and colours on the rock surface make for a striking photograph.
  • Sunset View: Photograph the canyon during the golden hour from Sunset View for warm, soft lighting on the rugged cliffs.

Best Places to Stay near Black Canyon:

  1. South Rim Campground: Enjoy camping within the park at the South Rim Campground, providing easy access to the canyon’s viewpoints.
  2. Montrose: Located about 15 miles from the park, Montrose offers additional lodging options and amenities.

Distance to Next Park: Approximately 600 miles


Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

Guadalupe Mountain National Park

Our final destination in this southwestern adventure is Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas. Known for its rugged mountains, ancient fossilized reefs, and challenging hikes, this park offers a unique experience away from the usual tourist routes.

Entry Requirements:

  • Park Entrance Fee: $10 per person (valid for 7 days)
  • America the Beautiful Passes are accepted for entry.

Must-Visit Spots:

  1. Guadalupe Peak Trail: The highest point in Texas, this trail leads to the summit of Guadalupe Peak, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding desert. The challenging hike is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and stunning vistas.
  2. McKittrick Canyon Trail: Hike to McKittrick Canyon for a glimpse of the vibrant fall foliage and the stunning limestone walls. The seasonal colours make for captivating photographs.

Best Photo Spots:

  • El Capitan Viewpoint: Capture the iconic El Capitan against the vast desert landscape. The play of light and shadows on the rugged cliffs creates a captivating scene, especially during sunrise or sunset.
  • The Bowl: Hike to The Bowl, a high-altitude meadow surrounded by towering peaks. The contrast between the meadow and the rugged mountains makes for stunning photography.

Best Places to Stay near Guadalupe Mountains:

  1. Pine Springs Campground: Experience camping under the starry skies at the Pine Springs Campground within the park.
  2. Van Horn (Texas): Approximately 35 miles from the park, Van Horn provides additional lodging options for visitors exploring Guadalupe Mountains.

Final Thoughts:

By venturing through these little known national parks in the Southwest, you’ll not only escape the crowds but also capture the essence of nature’s hidden treasures. Great Basin, Capitol Reef, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks offer a diverse tapestry of landscapes, each with its unique story waiting to be told. Discover the magic that lies beyond the well-trodden paths and let your journey through these hidden gems unfold in photographs that tell tales of unexplored beauty.

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For the rest of this National Park road trip series click here

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