5 Fantastic National Parks Beyond the Lower 48

  • Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Wrangell-St.Elias, Alaska
  • Hawaii Volcanoes, Big Island
  • American Samoa, American Samoa
  • Denali, Alaska

The National Park system of the United States protects sensitive cultural and natural resources, with the primary goal of preserving them in trust for future generations. While there are a host of beautiful and fascinating national parks within the bounds of the continental United States, or Lower 48 as it is often known, for those with adventure in mind and more than a bit of wanderlust, the system extends beyond these shores. In the article below, discover five of the most amazing national parks that aren’t just down the road.

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1. Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands

As one of the southern-most protected areas in the U.S. National Park Service, the preserve on the island of Saint John is just the formal territory of a larger protection effort. The entire region serves as a profitable tourist attraction with its clear, warm seas and crystalline beaches, but there’s so much more to be discovered. Visitors can take part in guided wildlife observations, sea turtle watches, and learn about the deep history of the islands. The park also serves to protect sensitive archaeological and anthropological resources, with deposits of material remains and evidence of the Taino occupation of the islands reaching back 3,000 years.

2. Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska

According to the National Park Service (NPS), this park covers an area more expansive than New Hampshire and Vermont combined. It’s divided into five main areas so that visitors can plan their trip efficiently for maximum awe. Copper Center hosts the main visitor center with all information and the most resources available to guests, although visitors must fly into the rest of the park from this point. Much of the park is rugged, with fewer staffed visitor centers and available resources. However, this difficult-to-access region also holds some of the most breathtaking scenery and adventures for backcountry explorers.

3. Hawaii Volcanoes, Big Island

This national park is located on the Big Island of the Hawaii archipelago and hosts the two most active volcanoes in the state. It extends from sea level to the summit of Mauna Loa, at an astounding 13, 677 feet in elevation. As well, visitors to the park will enjoy some of the most biologically, culturally, and geologically diverse terrain in the country. As with most national parks in the system, visitors are offered a chance to take an active part in the preservation of this vital area. The park hosts stewardship activities that include the removal of invasive plant species threatening the beauty of the delicate forests and landscapes. In addition to natural landscape preservation, visitors can also take part in guided tours that focus on the unique cultural history of the region and the geological or physical processes that helped to shape it.

4. American Samoa Park, American Samoa

Known to inhabitants as Sacred Earth, the park located in the island chain is full of natural beauty and cultural importance. While the area offers relaxing opportunities to walk along the soft, white shoreline and enjoy the peace and harmony of this rare paradise, there’s more to see. Visitors can learn about the unique plants and animals that call the southernmost island home, take in a guided lecture about the fascinating culture, or engage in hands-on learning activities about topics such as subsistence farming.

5. Denali, Alaska

In the language of the indigenous inhabitants, Denali means The Great One, but for decades, the mountain bearing this name was known as Mt. McKinley. In honor of the rich culture that first knew the landscape surrounding this majestic landmark, the state park is now appropriately named Denali. Visitors can enjoy the glorious natural resource of territory year round but should be advised that it is without a lodge. The park only has one road access point, highway 3, and serves as a subsistence hunting range for local inhabitants. However, no matter when nature enthusiasts visit, the scenery and natural wonder of Denali will remain with them for a lifetime.

If adventurers have had their fill of continental U.S. parks and want to venture farther afield, there are a host of opportunities awaiting them. Whether they’re located on tropical isles or in the land of the midnight sun, visitors to these awe-inspiring national parks are sure to learn, experience unique environments, and create memories that will remain with them long after they’ve returned home.