Reader Participation Day: Which Is The Most Overlooked, Or Under Appreciated, Unit Of The National Park System?

Is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial the most overlooked unit of the National Park System? Photo of Kosciuszko's bedroom by NPS.

There are nearly 400 units in the National Park System, and not all are loved the same. Which, in your opinion, is the most overlooked or under appreciated unit of all?

Might it be Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Arizona? Or Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site in North Dakota? Or perhaps it is Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park in Hawaii, or maybe Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia.

Let us know and we'll try to share some love with the most undervalued unit.


As I've thought about this one this morning, I can't name any particularly outstanding unit that is overlooked, but I do kinda figure Americans in general have a tendency to under appreciate all of them.

I had a customer tell me about Great Basin National Park. At the time I had never heard of it but they peaked my interest to check it out next time I am in Nevada.

In the future Glen Canyon National Recreation Area will be more appreciated for its many spectacular canyons and for its wild roadless areas, which extend miles beyond the park boundary onto BLM-managed lands. Some day it will be Glen Canyon National Park.

Here are a few standouts for me that don't seem to get too much attention:

The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP

The backcountry of Wind Cave NP

Hot Springs NP

David, when you finally find a chance to get to Great Basin, you are in of one whale of a treat!

Over on Traveler's Facebook page, someone mentioned Pipestone National Monument in Minnesota. Gotta admit I don't recall coming across that unit. Sounds like it would be interesting to visit, though, just as Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site surprised me last summer.

Perhaps this is going somewhere not necessarily intended, but I think the most underappreciated places are our federal recreation areas that aren't under NPS control. Far too often there are potential visitors who see the magic name "National Park Service" as some sort of imprimatur that sets a standard for how important or grand a site will be. The most underappreciated places to me are many federal lands under the control of the Forest Service and BLM. Fortunately for many, this means that their visitation levels are low enough that one can enjoy them without excessive crowds.

I second that, Lee.

I can vouch for both Fort Union and Pipestone. Pipestone has a wonderful tallgrass prairie with gorgeous flowers (even in September, which was the month I visited in 1999) as well as the chance to watch a Native American carver working on the eponymous stone. Fort Union was a fascinating example of an early trader's fort, and North Dakota's Fort Buford State Park, just down the road, was the corresponding military part of the story. Also, the reason for the location of both forts surprised me greatly -- I'd had no idea that the water that goes over Yellowstone Falls, and the water from Old Faithful, don't mix until they reach North Dakota. Quite amazing.

Another interesting often overlooked unit of the national park service (at least it seemed so to me when we visited there when I was a teenager, several decades ago) is Capitol Reef National Park. At least in comparison to all the other units in Utah. Someday I'm going to go back there...

Lake Mead NRA. I know that even in NPS circles it is viewed as “a piece of fish tank gravel among the crown jewels” while never having been there I am sure it has some good features. Besides, without Lake Mead where would all the gangs from Las Vegas hang out.

I love the small, obscure NPS units -- they've been some of my better park experiences.

I'm going to throw Hovenweep NM into the mix. The last two times I've visited, I've gone out to the outlying sites: Holly and Horseshoe/Hackberry the time before last, and the Cajon group last time. I still have Cutthroat Castle left to see for another visit. All these sites offer a great chance for some profoundly solitary experiences. But even if you only make it to the main Square Tower Group, it's still a great visit -- the Little Ruin Canyon Trail is a great hike, and the campground was one of the more surreal NPS camping experiences of my travels my last time there, as I had it all to myself that night (but the intrepid ranger still gave the evening program to his audience of 2 -- me, and the camp host!).

I also would note Tonto NM, Navajo NM, City of Rocks NRes, and any of the "Fossil" monuments (John Day, Florissant, Agate, Fossil Butte et al), as well as the ones mentioned above. I also really enjoyed some of the obscure sites I've visited back east, like Maggie Walker NHS, St Croix IHP, and Thomas Stone NHS.

But the ultimate overlooked site is the undeveloped Yucca House NM. Definitely interesting when I took the time to find it and visit a few years back. I hope it always stays as it is now -- an obscure little oddball in the NPS System!

I'll add Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Located in urban Salem, MA; people come to Salem to the witch-related attractions, a phenomenon that lasted just three months in 1692 and neglect Salem's storied maritime history. At one time Salem was the sixth largest city in America; a world-famous port that ranked with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Charleston, SC; the richest city in America per-capita thanks to it lead in opening new areas of trade in distant lands, especially China and the East Indies. It includes historic houses, the three styles of colonial architecture, the Custom House in which Nathaniel Hawthorne worked and a recreation of an East Indiamen, the type of vessel used in the trade. The site is on the waterfront and all of these are open to the public - when and if visitors discover they exist!

Pipespring N.M. out of Fredonia Arizona. Only 40 acres, this important site preserves a water source critical for the Piutes for eons probably, taken and developed by early Mormons as a tithe property for the church. Teriffic preservation of important structures, nice little visitor's center, great place to bird. Big views.

As someone else commented, the NPS sites are great but I spend more time in undeveloped and underappreciated sites largely on BLM lands. More freedom to explore, camp, relax without the strict use policies of the NPS. Just sayin'.

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site just outside of Charleston - definitely.

But the rangers and volunteers at the site are so enthusiastic about.

I share MikeG's enthusiasm for Pipe Springs National Monument. It tells the story of the encounter between early Mormon pioneers and the Paiute Indians who had live there for generations.

Another site that intrigued me was Eugene O'Neill NHS in California. It is the only site in the System that I can think of that commemorates the contributions of an American playwright. It's hard to get to. When I visited, there was a shuttle bus into the site to satisfy neighbor's desire that not many private cars enter their neighborhood.

I like Booker T. Washington National Monument in southern Virgina. I was also fascinated by Minuteman Missle National National Historic Site in South Dakota. The best part of a visit there is to descend by elevator to the heavily-bunkered site where the "misslers" stood their shifts. The door to the cubicle is a huge swinging steel door to which some unknown soldier had pasted a Domino Pizza sign: "Your delivery is guaranteed in 40 minutes or the next one is free." This was a grim reminder of the Cold War.


Capitol Reef National Park is really out of the way, so it's not a place that you might "stumble upon" on the way to someplace else.

But it's a wonderful Park. The campground is in the middle of fruit orchards planted in an old Mormon settlement. There are some great canyon hikes there. It's surrounded by National Forest land.

Outside of the Park, there are several viewpoints where you can look across this huge "fold" in the earth's crust...very impressive.

I've also enjoyed some of the smaller or more obscure park sites like Salem Maritime, the Seattle branch of the Klondike Goldrush and Saugus Iron Works. There are many more and all deserve their day.

There is also remote, as opposed to obscure. I haven't been to Gates of the Arctic yet, but have hopes to get there while we're still living in Alaska, and we plan to return to the National Park of American Samoa in a year or so. We were there once when my wife worked on the tsunami recovery for them and the next time will be purely leisure - in particular, we hope to lay on the perfect beach in the Ofu unit.

Isle Royale NP, the least visited of our NP's. Great scenery, fishing, hiking, and canoeing with a vibrant moose population.

I have to vote for Teddy Roosevelt NP in North Dakota. Beautiful place. But I'm glad it's a bit forgotten: the solitude is what makes it special. :-)