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I’ve been to over half the National Parks. These gems are better than some of the National Parks.

There are 63 National Parks in the United States, with California and Alaska serving up the most landscape wonders. But just because a place isn’t designated a National Park doesn’t mean it’s not full of beauty and awe. For many spots, not being built up and accessible is what makes them so unique and unforgettable.

These are some of the best non-national park locations in the US.

Big Sur

keyhole arch big sur
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Nestled along California’s dramatic coastline, Big Sur is a breathtaking stretch of rugged beauty where the Santa Lucia Mountains meet the Pacific Ocean. It’s renowned for its iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, pristine beaches, and redwood forests, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts and a paradise for road trippers.

San Juan Mountains

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Located in southwestern Colorado, the San Juan Mountains are a majestic range known for their rugged terrain and stunning alpine landscapes. Whether you’re a hiker, skier, or simply seeking solitude in the wilderness, this region offers abundant outdoor adventures.

Cathedral Gorge State Park

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

In eastern Nevada, Cathedral Gorge State Park is a hidden gem of unique geological formations. Its slot canyons and spires, carved by erosion, create a surreal and labyrinthine landscape that captivates visitors with its otherworldly beauty.

Six pieces of winter hiking gear to consider.

McArthur-Burney Falls State Park

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Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

In the northern reaches of California, this state park is home to one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the United States. With its constant flow of icy blue water, Burney Falls cascades into a stunning pool surrounded by lush forest, offering a serene escape from nature.

Sawtooth National Forest

Twin Lakes Sawtooth Mountains Idaho Backpacking Photography Hiking
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Nestled in central Idaho, Sawtooth National Forest is a vast expanse of wilderness characterized by jagged peaks, crystal-clear lakes, and pristine nature. Famous for outdoor pursuits like hiking, camping, and fishing, it’s an adventurer’s paradise.

Wind River Range

Wind River Range, Wyoming - Star Trails
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Located in western Wyoming, the Wind River Range is a haven for backpackers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts. This range is a wilderness seeker’s dream come true with its rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and diverse wildlife.

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Above Leprechaun Lake. Near the end of the Core Zone while doing the Enchantments Thru hike.
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Tucked away in Washington’s Cascade Range, the Enchantments is a breathtaking alpine wilderness with sparkling lakes, jagged peaks, and enchanting meadows. Accessible primarily through a challenging hike, it rewards intrepid explorers with a genuine natural wonderland.

White Pocket

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Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Found in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona, White Pocket is a geological wonder. Its swirling sandstone formations, resembling delicate layers of pastry, create a surreal and captivating landscape that beckons photographers and adventurers alike.

Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch Hike Arizona Utah
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Situated in southern Utah, Buckskin Gulch is one of the world’s longest and narrowest slot canyons. Its towering sandstone walls, sculpted by water and time, provide an awe-inspiring and intimate adventure for hikers exploring its depths.

Grand Staircase Escalante

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Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

This sprawling national monument in southern Utah is a testament to the Earth’s geological history. With its dramatic canyons, colorful cliffs, and remote wilderness, it’s a destination for those seeking solitude and natural wonder in the heart of the American Southwest.

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside