least-visited national parks: Great Basin National Park

This National Park Turns 133 in October

Bright fall foliage paints the trees as temperatures cool off across the nation. It is time to say happy birthday to ten national parks in October. One park turns 133 this year. Do you know which one?

Let’s honor our national parks with October birthdays, starting with the youngest.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

  • Established October 11, 2000
Sunset at Ledges Overlook
Sunset at Ledges Overlook. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Nestled between Akron and Cleveland in northern Ohio, the state’s only full-fledged national park turns 23 this October. Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers an assortment of landscapes and recreational activities. The park pays homage to Ohio’s history and modes of transportation that helped shape its growth.

Popular park activities include biking the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, hiking to Brandywine Falls, wildlife watching at Beaver Marsh, watching a sunset at Ledges Overlook, visiting a farmers market at Szalay’s Farm, and riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Although the park’s wildlife may not garner headlines, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is home to many animals. Visitors regularly spot great blue herons, eagles, hawks, wood ducks, painted turtles, snapping turtles, white-tailed deer, beavers, squirrels, and foxes.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

  • Established October 21, 1999
least-visited national parks in U.S. - Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo credit: Joshua J. Cotten

Many people are unaware that Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park exists. The park, one of America’s least visited, sits in western Colorado and turns 24 this year. It features sheer cliffs and craggy spires within some of North America’s oldest rock formations.

Favorite park activities include scenic drives, challenging hikes along the cliffs, trout fishing, and stargazing. The scenic roads provide many overlooks, where you gain breathtaking canyon views. With little light pollution, the park earned its International Dark Sky Park designation and is an excellent spot to view the Milky Way against a black canvas.

Mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep inhabit the park. Although more challenging, guests occasionally spot mountain lions, bobcats, and black bears. The park has golden eagles, peregrine falcons, blue grouse, and red-tailed hawks for those who enjoy birding.

Death Valley National Park

  • Established October 31, 1994
brown and gray mountains under blue sky during daytime
Artists Palette in Death Valley National Park. Photo credit: Carter Baran

Spilling over the Nevada and eastern California borders, Death Valley National Park is our nation’s hottest, driest, and lowest national park. Despite being a land of extremes, it harbors an astonishing diversity of life that contradicts its name. The park turns 29 this October.

Death Valley’s night skies are legendary. It is a gold-tier International Dark Sky Park, home to some of the planet’s darkest skies. Many visitors focus on seeing particular areas, including Zabriskie Point, Artists Palette, and Badwater Basin. 

Zabriskie Point features an iconic vista of badlands and salt flats. Artists Palette showcases rocks so colorful you would swear someone painted them. Badwater Basin is North America’s lowest point, with salt flats that appear to stretch to infinity. 

The park has unique wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, kangaroo rats, and jackrabbits. Death Valley is an excellent place for birdwatching. Hundreds of species pass through the desert during spring and fall migrations. The park has its share of year-round residents, like the roadrunner and the ruby-crowned kinglet.

Joshua Tree National Park

  • Established October 31, 1994
Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua trees in the Mojave Desert. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Resting in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park features its namesake trees and odd-looking rock formations. The park turns 29 this year.

Many people visit to see the famous Joshua trees. Admittedly, the surreal landscapes feel like something from a Dr. Seuss book. Joshua Tree National Park offers excellent hiking and rock climbing for those who prefer something more active.

Sunrises and sunsets are spectacular, especially in the Cholla Cactus Garden, where the cacti take on a yellow glow. At night, the park offers more natural beauty. It is an International Dark Sky Park, delivering spectacular views of the Milky Way.

Joshua Tree is an excellent birding destination. Inhabitants include roadrunners, mockingbirds, wrens, red-tailed hawks, American kestrels, and prairie falcons. Regularly spotted mammals include squirrels, kangaroo rats, and coyotes. Visitors occasionally observe bobcats, foxes, and bighorn sheep.

Saguaro National Park

  • Established October 14, 1994
Saguaro National Park Desert Giants
Saguaro National Park desert giants. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Located in southern Arizona around Tucson, Saguaro National Park has roughly two million giant cacti or saguaros. These cacti only grow in the Sonoran Desert, which is odd since the saguaro is the iconic symbol of the American West.

The park, turning 29 this year, offers scenic drives and hiking trails, where you gain close views of the cacti. Guests typically walk away with a greater appreciation for the size and durability of the plants in the harsh desert climate. Sunsets are spectacular, as cacti silhouettes stand out against a sky brushed with brilliant colors.

Although the park has many animals, most feed at night during the cooler temperatures. If you stay for sunset, you will hear the desert come to life as animal sounds fill the air. Animals in the region include mule deer, roadrunners, Gambel’s quails, Gila monsters, horned lizards, javelina, ringtails, and snakes.

Dry Tortugas National Park

  • Established October 26, 1992
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo credit: 12019

Many parks established in October are in the western United States. Dry Tortugas National Park sits off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. It turns 31 this year and is among many excellent national parks along the east coast. To say the park is unique would be an understatement.

The park has aquamarine waters, colorful coral reefs, an old war fort, shipwrecks, birds, and vibrant marine life. To reach the park, guests must take a seaplane, ferry, or private boat. Popular activities include snorkeling, exploring Fort Jefferson, and birding.

Five species of sea turtles inhabit the area. Dry Tortugas National Park houses abundant sea turtles, considering each species is threatened or endangered. Guests occasionally spot one or more in the water. Many birds rest in the park during spring and fall migration. Frigate birds and sooty terns nest here—neither nests anywhere else in the continental United States.

Great Basin National Park

  • Established October 27, 1986
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park. Photo credit: NPS

Along Nevada’s eastern border, Great Basin National Park harbors ancient bristlecone pines, pristine alpine lakes, unique limestone caves, and dark skies. The park, turning 37, is one of America’s least-visited national parks.

While the alpine lakes are gorgeous, the bristlecone pines deserve attention, having survived for thousands of years. The park offers ranger-guided tours of Lehman Caves, Nevada’s most extended cave system. 

Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive has a 4,000-foot elevation gain, yielding magnificent views of the Great Basin Desert from over 10,000 feet above sea level. An International Dark Sky Park, Great Basin National Park, is excellent for stargazing.

Various animals inhabit the park, including bighorn sheep, porcupines, beavers, water shrews, yellow-bellied marmots, and ringtail cats. Between nearby Baker, Nevada, and the Wheeler Peak summit, you will cross five different habitats. Accordingly, the park has well over 100 native bird species.

North Cascades National Park

  • Established October 2, 1968
one of America's least-visited national parks - North Cascades National Park
Camping near Easy Pass in North Cascades National Park. Photo credit: NPS

One of America’s least-visited national parks in the lower 48, North Cascades National Park has cascading waterfalls, rugged snowy peaks, old-growth forests, and over 300 glaciers. It is three hours north of Seattle. The stunning park, often called the “American Alps,” turns 55 this month.

North Cascades Highway, a 30-mile winding road across the park, provides fantastic views of the park’s natural beauty. Popular activities include biking, hiking, fishing, camping, kayaking, and canoeing.

Grizzly bears, gray wolves, fishers, black bears, river otters, mule deer, and cougars live in the park. Thousands of salmon swim up the Skagit River from August to December each autumn. From the park’s low-elevation forests and wetlands to its alpine meadows, over 200 bird species inhabit the area. Guests regularly spot ospreys in summer and bald eagles in winter.

Redwood National Park

  • Established October 2, 1968
Walking through giant redwood logs in Redwood National & State Parks
Walking between giant coastal redwood logs. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Located along northern California’s coast, Redwood National Park has coastal redwoods, the world’s tallest trees. The peaceful forested park turns 55 this year.

Seeing the giant trees is a surreal experience. Guests can accomplish this by beautiful scenic drives or tranquil hikes. Either approach will leave you staring heavenward with a gaping jaw. The park also offers tide-pooling and an opportunity to walk to a lighthouse at low tide that is otherwise on an island.

Not to be outdone by the trees, North America’s largest elk species, Roosevelt elk, inhabit the park. Although smaller than moose, Roosevelt elk can exceed 1,000 pounds. Guests, with the aid of binoculars, regularly spot whales swimming off the coast. Seals and sea lions often hang out near Battery Point Lighthouse. For bird lovers, approximately 280 different species live in the park.

Yosemite National Park

  • Established October 31, 1890
Mountains and trees reflecting in lake at Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park. Photo credit: Mick Haupt

Nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, the famous Yosemite National Park turns 133 this October. It is America’s third-oldest national park.

The park is renowned for its iconic granite cliffs, plunging waterfalls, and diverse ecosystems. Guests typically explore its natural wonders by scenic driving, hiking, backpacking, wildlife watching, and rock climbing.

Yosemite houses famous natural landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome. It is one of fourteen national parks designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The popular park receives about 4 million visitors annually.

Yosemite National Park has over 400 million species of invertebrates, including black bears, mountain lions, Pacific fishers, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, red foxes, and mule deer. The park harbors over 200 bird species, including California spotted and great gray owls.

Celebrate Our National Parks in October

October has a whopping ten national parks with a birthday. Let’s honor these beautiful parks, new and old. Consider visiting one of the national treasures on your next vacation.

Featured image credit: Kelly Carroll

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After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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