8 Lesser-Known U.S. Natural Treasures To Visit In 2018

Todd Van Luling

Trump is undermining the Interior Department, so check these out while you can.

You may not know it, but the national parks are in the midst of a crisis.

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget includes about a 12 percent cut to the Interior Department, with nearly $400 million potentially coming out of the parks budget. As a result, entry fees will likely become substantially higher in many national parks.

Trump’s administration is reportedly naming P. Daniel Smith as the acting director of the National Park Service. Smith is perhaps best known for cutting down trees in a national park in 2004 so Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder could have a better view of the Potomac River from his Maryland mansion.

Yet preserving national beauty shouldn’t be a partisan issue. To his credit, Trump donated $78,333 of his roughly $400,000 presidential salary to preserve battlefields shortly after taking office. Other presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover also donated portions of their salaries to charity.

While the idea of making up a $400 million deficit may seem overwhelming, even small donations of money and time can make a difference to the parks, Will Shafroth, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation ― a charity wing of the National Park Service ― told HuffPost.

Chloe Bordewich/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Fort Jefferson stands in Dry Tortugas, Florida.

“I’ve been around this system for a while,” Shafroth said. “That existential threat [of shrinking budgets] has been there for a long time.”

Shafroth is in a unique position, as his department focuses on providing funds for projects rather than park maintenance. This means that money coming his way won’t just disappear into filling the gaps of a massive budget cut.

“We don’t really play on people’s fears to solicit funds,” Shafroth said. “We play on people’s hopes and dreams and aspirations for what they actually want to do.”

For example, the NPF’s Open Outdoors for Kids program, which affects hundreds of thousands of children nationally, is set up such that just $10 provides one child with a trip to a national park.

The parks also rely on a huge contingent of volunteers, regardless of the budget.

Education Images via Getty Images
Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.

Of course, with Trump slashing the size of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments in December ― the largest rollback of federal land protection in U.S. history ― it’s hard not to be discouraged. Shafroth certainly understands this. His great-grandfather John was the author of the Antiquities Act that protected those monuments.

“My great-grandfather was very actively involved,” Shafroth said. “He believed it was important for there to be an ability for the president to take action to protect those kinds of places.”

But he says it’s important to maintain hope that supporting these parks will make a difference. Donations surged over the holidays and overall donations increased from last year, Shafroth said.

There’s another way to give to our national parks, too: Show up.

As The New York Times reported in September, the most high-profile parks have been swarmed with too many visitors, even as the National Park Service has an $11 billion maintenance backlog.

So with suggestions from the National Park Foundation, HuffPost has compiled a list of lesser-known places run by the National Park Service. You may want to consider visiting these spots instead of marquee names like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

If you’re looking for somewhere to travel in 2018, do consider these bastions of American beauty.

(One note: Not all of these are officially considered “parks” ― the government has classified some of them as smaller entities. Still, they’re all well worth checking out.)

Channel Islands

National Park Service

Location: Santa Barbara County and Ventura County, California.

Quick pitch: Isolated islands near populous areas of Southern California.

Highlight activities: Camping, diving, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and surfing.

Fee: Free.

Crater Lake

National Park Service

Location: Klamath County, Oregon.

Quick pitch: The violent eruption of a volcano destroyed this former peak and created the deepest lake in the United States.

Highlight activities: Boat tours, camping, hiking, swimming.

Fee: Based on vehicle, if you’re traveling alone or with a family, it should be about $10 to $20.

Lake Mead

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Location: Mohave County, Arizona, and Clark County, Nevada.

Quick pitch: Near Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam has created this reservoir, the largest in the United States.

Highlight activities: Boating, camping, cycling, hiking, horseback riding and kayaking.

Fee: Based on vehicle, if you’re traveling alone or with a family, it should be about $10 to $20.

Indiana Dunes

Jeff Greenberg via Getty Images

Location: Chesterton, Indiana, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

Quick pitch: Unique, quiet beaches for the Midwest.

Highlight activities: Biking, camping, hiking, horseback riding and swimming.

Fee: Mostly free, but a few fees for specific activities.

Chattahoochee River

Jeff Greenberg via Getty Images

Location: Cobb, Forsyth, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, Georgia.

Quick pitch: Easy, scenic boating near Atlanta.

Highlight activities: Biking, boating, floating and hiking.

Fee: $5.

Dry Tortugas

Mark Wilson/Boston Globe via Getty Images

Location: Monroe County, Florida.

Quick pitch: Close to Key West, with well-preserved coral reefs and sea life.

Highlight activities: Boating, camping, historic touring, snorkeling and swimming.

Fee: $10.

Congaree

Ken Lund
Ken Lund

Location: Richland County, South Carolina.

Quick pitch: Dense and lush forest with some of the tallest trees on the East Coast.

Highlight activities: Camping, canoeing and hiking.

Fee: Free.

Buck Island Reef

Snorkelingdives.com
Snorkelingdives.com

Location: Virgin Islands.

Quick pitch: Rich marine life ecosystem surrounding an uninhabited island.

Highlight activities: Boating, hiking, scuba diving and swimming.

Fee: Free.