Each of the National Park Service’s 417 locations, from national parks and monuments, has unique sights and activities — that can be best appreciated with a few insider tips. To help travelers get the most of out their next visit to one of the sites, Travel + Leisurespoke to National Park Service representatives for the inside scoop on 26 locations. From the hidden gems you won’t want to miss, the best time of year to visit and the biggest mistakes to avoid, here are tips from park rangers, chiefs, and public affairs officers.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s beaches and emerald forests are great to visit in the fall, according to chief of interpretation and visitor services Merrith Baughman. That’s because the park’s beaches are full of colorful fall leaves, temperatures are still warm enough for swimming, and the park is less crowded.
One hidden gem, Baughman said, is Port Oneida Rural Historic District, which is filled with turn-of-the-century farmhouses, beautiful views of Lake Michigan, and secluded beaches.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park — New Mexico
Those who want to see Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s flying bats and blooming cacti, will want to visit in the spring or summer.
“Spring is fun because the desert is alive with blooming flowers and cacti — it’s gorgeous,” public affairs specialist Valerie Gohkle said of the scene.
One tip: Walk the Natural Entrance Trail to descend some 750 feet down Carlsbad Cavern. Gohkle says you’ll miss 50 percent of the cavern’s beauty if you take the elevator.