Five Beautiful National Park "Backyards"

For the National Park Service centennial, many travelers will be hitting the 59 national parks and 117 national monuments that the U.S. has to offer. Continue to support our park system, but if you want to avoid the crowds, visit the lesser known "backyards" of these amazing locations.

Theodore Roosevelt Island, Washington, D.C.

The free museums and monuments of Washington, D.C. are some of the most visited locations in the U.S.— by both Americans and foreign tourists. Right in the middle of the nearby Potomac River near the famed Mall is the lesser known Theodore Roosevelt Island. The forested island offers hiking trails, kayaking and canoeing and a dynamic statue of the U.S. president who helped make the National Park system what it is today.

Kolob Canyons, Utah

The beautiful, but relatively small valley of Zion National Park attracted over 3 million people last year. However, the lesser known Kolob Canyons is essentially ignored. This red rock area of Utah offers backcountry camping and the freestanding Kolob Arch. Pick up a permit to hike The Subway and find yourself in relative solitude.

Mammoth Lakes, California

There's no argument that Yosemite National Park in California is one of the most majestic places in the world, but in the summer months it can be a zoo. Bypass the road over Tioga Pass and head to nearby Mammoth Lakes. This area of the Eastern Sierra is not a national park, but it has excellent hiking trails and camping that other parks would be envious of.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

This amazing park is surprisingly overlooked by tourists heading straight to nearby Yellowstone National Park. At Grand Teton the snow-capped mountains tower over the lush valley of this park full of bison, moose, wolves and other wild animals that tend to hide away in its nearby sister park. Close to Jackson and Jackson Hole, this park is also convenient for supplies.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Nearly 500,000 visitors come to New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns National Park every year, but they tend to miss a park just over the border. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park near El Paso, Texas doesn't have underground caverns, but it does have fossilized reef mountains, a surprising number of waterfalls and a big wide open Texas sky for stargazing.

Christina Nellemann is a writer living in the Reno-Tahoe area and loves to seek out the lesser known national parks. Hiking the Subway was one of the highlights of her searching.