America’s Best Secret National Parks
© Cornforth Images / Alamy
American Samoa National Park, American Samoa
Samoa translates to “sacred earth,” and this park, comprising 13,500 tropical acres (4,000 acres of which are marine ecosystems) over three volcanic islands in American Samoa, protects the ecosystems and traditions of Polynesia’s oldest culture. The only park in the Southern Hemisphere (in fact, it’s closer to New Zealand than the U.S. mainland), it relies on Samoans for the management of its stunning rainforest, beaches and coral reefs. On Tutuila, American Samoa’s largest island, towering volcanic ridges hang over the azure waters of Pago Pago Harbor, while on Ta’u, the easternmost island, visitors can scale rainforest-shrouded Lata Mountain, the territory’s highest peak at 3,000 feet, from which the views of the sea are unbeatable. Among the cherished fauna on this island is the endangered flying fox—a fruit bat with the wingspan of a barn owl, responsible for pollinating the island’s copious fruit trees and shrubs. But the park’s real gem is the hardest to get to: Ofu beach, on the eponymous island 60 miles east of Tutuila. The waters off this jungle-backed stretch of sand protect one of the finest coral reefs in the Pacific—a snorkelers’ paradise.