Out-of-This-World Experiences in National Parks

Launch into these 8 sites for an otherworldly adventure
A view from Cinder Cone: Green trees sprinkled between the vibrant Painted Dunes with their red and purple centers at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park

There are certain places that seem to belong to another world altogether, landscapes so strange that it's hard to believe they exist on Planet Earth. Lucky for us, many of these have been preserved as national parks, allowing us to enjoy the feeling of being transported to another time or place. These distinctive national parks are truly out of this world.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Vibrant yellow and orange hues paint the terrain surrounding the light blue boiling mud pots as steam arises at Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Exploring this Californian park feels like witnessing the Earth in its primordial infancy, when the landscape was still being shaped by volcanic forces. At Lassen Volcanic National Park, Bumpass Hell surprises visitors with its sulfuric smell and acres of colorful boiling mud pots. Named after an early settler who burned a leg after falling into a pool, Bumpass Hell’s landscape is painted with mineral-stained orange, green, and yellow soils and contrasting aquamarine waters. With 150 miles of trails, this national park gives visitors the chance to explore its otherworldly forests, meadows, and rocky volcanic peaks in the area.

Death Valley National Park

Close-up of the cracked gray terrain that makes up the Badwater Basin salt flats at Death Valley National Park.
Tom Chiakulas, Share the Experience

When you look out across the desolate landscape of Death Valley National Park, it's not hard to see why it was chosen as a filming location for “Star Wars.” The park's barren salt flats are the hottest, driest, and lowest-elevation place in North America. Covering nearly 200 square miles, the delicate crystals in Badwater Basin create an environment too harsh for most plants and animals to survive, leaving a giant tract of bizarre-looking plates of salt across the desert basin.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Under a bright blue sky with wispy clouds, layers of red, orange, and yellow make up the Painted Hills at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

The fossils found at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument represent more than 40 million years of evolution, and the landscape of this Oregon park is perhaps just as strange today as it was all those eons ago. From the blue-green claystones of Blue Basin to the multicolored rock formations of the Painted Hills, this place is filled with wonder.

Petrified Forest National Park

Below a blue sky filled with gentle white clouds, large rock formations display colorful layers in the Tepees area of Petrified Forest National Park.

Famous for its fossilized forest frozen in time for millions of years, Petrified Forest National Park also offers unique vistas of undulating rock formations and meandering canyons. Backcountry hiking trails give you the opportunity to explore the seldom-seen corners of this Arizona park, including the Red Basin Clam Beds, which was only recently opened to the public.

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area

A dock in the lake at Barry's Landing surrounded by striated red sandstone cliffs at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Eric Burns/NPS

Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is stunning in the daytime, but you should see it at night. With minimal light pollution, this park has exceptionally dark, clear night skies, which lend an even more otherworldly atmosphere to the spectacular land formations below. 

Congaree National Park

Green carpet of grasses and ferns with tree stumps and trees at Congaree National Park
National Park Service

You'll find an otherworldly landscape of a different kind at South Carolina's Congaree National Park, the largest section of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States. The forests and wetlands here are wild, untamed, and almost impenetrably thick, accessible only by the Congaree and Wateree rivers and the occasional hiking trail. If Yoda appeared from out of the trees, it would hardly be surprising. 

Timpanogos Cave National Monument

A park ranger stands below the massive bacon draperies in the Tank Room of Hansen Cave at Timpanogos Cave National Monument
National Park Service

Few places on the surface of Earth are as strange as what lies below it. The bizarre cave formations of Utah’s Timpanogos Cave National Monument are mesmerizing – stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, cave popcorn, and the strange hollow, spiraling straws of calcite known as helictites.

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument with a cloudy blue sky in the sun

In the northern Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, White Sands National Monument is home to a dramatic landscape unlike any other place in the world. Dunes of rare white gypsum sand engulf 275 square miles of desert, drifting as fine and white as snow for as far as the eye can see. The park has been used as a shooting location for dozens of films over the years, from science fiction movies to westerns. 

From lush marshlands to stark deserts, these unique national parks preserve some of America's most incredible and unearthly landscapes. Be sure consider these out-of-this-world spots for your next national park vacation!


The Bighorn Canyon is so absent of artifical light that you can se to infinity. Great place to stargaze! Janice Love
Congaree NP is in South Carolina, not North Carolina.
Good catch. Fixed!

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