Southwest Adventure: National Park Vacations Without the Crowds

Sure, they’re a little off-the-beaten path, but these gems of the Southwest (that don ’t even make the National Park Service’s top 50 in terms of visitation) are worth the trip. Here are four parks that should top your list for national park vacations

Capitol Reef
Upper Muley Twist Canyon – Photo: USGS

Capitol Reef National Park – With trail names like Upper Muley Twist Canyon and Halls Creek Narrows, you know you’ll get a chance to explore colorful, meandering canyons that are signature Southwest. But Capitol Reef National Park, which encompasses the Waterpocket Fold (an actual wrinkle in the Earth’s surface), also boasts interesting geologic features like rock domes, arches and natural bridges for the full red rock country experience.

Green River
Photo: Alek Komarnitsky

Dinosaur National Monument – The name says it all on this one—dinosaurs! The whole family will dig the chance to spot more than 1,500 fossils at Dinosaur National Monument‘s world-famous Carnegie Quarry and along the Fossil Discovery Trail. Not really into bones? The park also offers great access to a number of scenic canyons and, yup, you guessed it, it has whitewater rafting, too (along the Green and Yampa Rivers).

Luca Galuzzi -
Photo: Luca Galuzzi –

Bryce Canyon National Park – Where else in the world can you walk through a hoodoo “forest?” Formed by the forces of erosion, hoodoos are incredible spires of rock that can tower up to 150 feet. Now imagine a whole landscape made up of these colorful rock towers and you’ve got an idea of how magical Bryce Canyon looks. Head out on the 8-mile Fairyland Loop to get up close and personal with these unique formations.


Canyonlands National Park – The Island in the Sky District in Canyonlands rewards visitors with incredible panoramic views across the mesmerizing landscape of the Colorado Plateau. But to access some of the park’s most interesting features like the Doll House, you might have to strap on a backpack and hike for several days (hmmm, this might explain the lack of crowds). Or, do what we do and raft through Cataract Canyon right into the heart of the Maze District—Canyonlands National Park’s most remote and unspoiled area.

This article appears in OARS’ 2014 Adventures catalog. Order your FREE copy here.


Related Articles:

Southwest Vacation: 5 Kid-friendly Ideas

The Southwest’s Best Ancient Sites 

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