6 Little Known Beautiful Destinations in the United States

by Mark Bohrer

Posted on 2nd March, 2016

Pueblo Bonito Chaco

California, New Mexico and Colorado have some hidden gems for the active traveler. In this centennial year of the U.S. National Park Service, there will be special events at many of them. I'm reluctant to tell you about some of these because I'd like to keep them unvisited, but since it takes some effort to get to most of them, here goes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

One of the best is northern California's Lassen Volcanic National Park. Established in 1916, Lassen is having its own centennial year. Ships once used Lassen Peak as a navigational signpost near northern California.

The park's Bumpass Hell is a mini Yellowstone, with bubbling mud pots and hot springs. Warner Valley boasts a section of the Pacific Crest Trail with gorgeous views, and the trail to Boiling Springs Lake. On a clear day, Mt. Shasta is just one volcanic mountain visible from Lassen Peak's summit. Lassen gets only 10% of Yosemite's visitation. Roads are usually open by late June.

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Brokeoff Mountain from Heart Lake

That said, Yosemite National Park is gorgeous. I prefer trails to the north towards Tuolumne Meadows, and below Tioga Pass east of Highway 120. Grab your tent, and put on a backpack. Then hike more than a day away from almost any trailhead to ditch the crowds.

Yosemite Falls Frozen
Yosemite Falls

Tenaya Lake Yosemite
Tenaya Lake from Olmsted Point, Yosemite

Mono Pass Yosemite
Mono Pass, Yosemite

Golden mantled ground squirrel
Golden-mantled ground squirrel, Mono Pass

Bodie Ghost Town

Bodie was home to one of the richest gold strikes in California - 32 million dollars worth between 1859 and 1892. It's maintained in a state of arrested decay by California State Parks. Getting there requires driving 3 miles of dirt road.

Bodie Ghost Town
Wheelbarrow and DV Cain House, Bodie

Mesa Verde

Ignore this place. It's overcrowded with 500,000 or so annual visitors in recent years. Most of it, including the backcountry, is closed to visitors. You're only permitted in most ruins on a ranger-led tour.

Cliff Palace Mesa Verde
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Chaco Alternative

Instead, see Chaco Canyon, the centerpiece of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Until the first skyscrapers were built in the late 1800s, Chaco had the tallest buildings in North America. All were built 1000 years ago, without tools, wheels or horses, by hand. The Chacoan Anasazi built not one but 13 of these great houses. It was arguably the Anasazi capitol.

Pueblo Bonito Chaco
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chacoan Outlier Pueblos

Chaco's Great North Road was 30 feet wide in places, and paved with sandstone bricks. It led straight north from Chaco to outlier pueblos like Twin Angels -

Twin Angels Ruin
Twin Angels Ruin and Kutz Canyon, New Mexico

Along a due north extension of that Road in the modern town of Aztec, New Mexico lies Aztec Ruins National Monument, another Chacoan Great House. Archaeologist Earl Morris restored its Great Kiva in the 1920s and 1930s.

Aztec Ruins National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument came about through the efforts of one man - John Otto. He worked tirelessly for the protection of the Monument's sandstone spires and hoodoos. In Colorado's Grand Mesa country near Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument receives little visitation - and you can see some of the best sights from the road. You can also walk 40 miles of trails.

Wedding Canyon Colorado
Wedding Canyon, Colorado National Monument

Canyonlands National Park

If sprockets and pedals are more your thing, Canyonlands National Park has plenty of trails to ride. (You can walk them too.) The most remote of three districts is the Maze. You'll likely need to hire a guide or take a guided bike tour offered by Rim Tours, Western Spirit, or another company out of Moab, Utah to explore it.

The Jughandle Loop starts on Kane Creek Road near the park boundary, and takes you through 40 miles of varied terrain, leading to the top of Canyonlands' Island In The Sky district before it descends back down to the start.

Jughandle Loop Trailhead CanyonLands
Jughandle Loop trailhead, Canyonlands National Park

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

New Mexico's Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument preserves Mogollon cliff ruins dating from the 1200s in a beautiful setting. The main cliff ruin gets the most visitor traffic (and even that can be pretty minimal), but there are other ruins and attractive trails to lesser-known ruins.

Gila Cliff Dwellings
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings
Corn looked like this in the 1200s`

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About the Author: Mark Bohrer

Mark Bohrer

Mark Bohrer is a former Silicon Valley design engineer, rock keyboard player, and seasonal National Park Service ranger. He's also a published wildlife photographer. These days he shoots hidden destinations in the U.S. West, and helps his travel clients put an end to boring vacations. See more of his pictures and stories at http://activelightphotography.com


California, New Mexico, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yosemite, Bodie Ghost Town, Mesa Verde, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Colorado National Monument, Gila Cliff Dwellings