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Discovering Hidden Gems in America's National Parks

James Nichols |

America's national parks are celebrated for their iconic landscapes and popular landmarks, but beyond the well-trodden paths lie hidden gems waiting to be discovered. These lesser-known spots offer solitude, unique natural beauty, and unforgettable experiences. Here are five hidden gems in US national parks that you should add to your adventure list.

1. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains, the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a serene and scenic one-way loop that takes you deep into the lush forest. This 5.5-mile trail is often overshadowed by the park's more famous spots like Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove. As you drive, you'll encounter rushing streams, historic log cabins, and tranquil woodland scenes. For a more immersive experience, take a short hike to the Grotto Falls, where you can walk behind a 25-foot waterfall.


  • Best visited in the spring when wildflowers are in bloom or in the fall for vibrant foliage.
  • Start early to avoid the crowds and ensure a peaceful drive.

2. Painted Wall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

While the Grand Canyon gets most of the attention, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers a dramatic and more secluded alternative. The Painted Wall, the tallest cliff in Colorado, stands at 2,250 feet and features striking patterns of pink and white pegmatite streaks against its dark rock face. This natural artwork is best viewed from the North Rim at Chasm View or Dragon Point.


  • Visit at sunrise or sunset for the best lighting and fewer visitors.
  • Bring binoculars to spot peregrine falcons nesting on the cliffside.

3. Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park

Nestled within the temperate rainforest of Olympic National Park, Enchanted Valley lives up to its magical name. This remote valley is dotted with old-growth trees, cascading waterfalls, and a historic chalet. The 13-mile hike from the Graves Creek Campground to the valley is moderately challenging but rewards visitors with breathtaking scenery and a chance to see wildlife like black bears and elk.


  • Best visited in late spring to early summer when the snow has melted and wildflowers are in bloom.
  • Prepare for changing weather conditions and bring rain gear.

4. Mosquito Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park

For those seeking a true adventure, Mosquito Pass in Rocky Mountain National Park offers rugged beauty and solitude. This challenging 7-mile round trip hike takes you to a high-altitude alpine pass with stunning views of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide. The trail is less traveled compared to the park's popular Bear Lake area, providing a peaceful and rewarding trek.


  • Suitable for experienced hikers due to the elevation gain and rocky terrain.
  • Visit in late summer to avoid snow and ice on the trail.

5. Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is often referred to as the "American Alps," and within its rugged terrain lies the stunning Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm. This hike offers jaw-dropping views of jagged peaks, alpine meadows, and glacial valleys. The 12-mile round trip to Sahale Glacier Camp is challenging but rewards hikers with some of the most spectacular scenery in the Pacific Northwest.


  • Best visited in late summer to early fall when the trail is snow-free and the weather is more stable.
  • Bring plenty of water, as there are no reliable water sources along the trail.


Exploring these hidden gems offers a chance to experience the raw, untouched beauty of America's national parks. Whether you're seeking solitude, adventure, or simply a new perspective, these off-the-beaten-path locations provide unforgettable memories. So, next time you plan a national park visit, consider venturing beyond the famous landmarks and discover the hidden treasures that await.