If you’re looking for solitude, you aren’t going to find it in America’s most popular national parks. The nation’s most visited park, Great Smoky Mountains, had a whopping 9.4 million visitors in 2013 alone. If you’re ready to get away from the crowds and head out into the great unknown, consider planning an adventure in one of America’s least-visited parks.
1. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Gates of the Arctic is the northernmost park in the US and boasts 8.5 million acres of beautiful wilderness. There are literally no roads that lead into the park, so you have the option to either take a bush plane or hike, but if you choose to walk, be prepared for a monster of a journey. There are no visitor centers or reminders of home inside Gates of the Arctic, but the stunning landscape provides ample opportunities for backpacking treks, float trips, and hiking. Just be sure to pack carefully and plan accordingly!
2. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
This little slice of rugged wilderness can be found in the northernmost part of Michigan. You will need to take either a boat or floatplane to reach Isle Royale, but you will be rewarded with peaceful solitude in this remote area. Hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and backpacking are popular activities, but the most exciting opportunity may be the awesome scuba diving. Numerous shipwrecks can be found within Lake Superior here if you’re willing to brave the cold, cold water.
3. North Cascades National Park (Washington)
You will find this vast wilderness just three hours from Seattle. Snowcapped peaks, dense forested valleys, stunning alpine lakes, and hundreds of glaciers await you at North Cascades. With almost 400 trails, this is the ideal location for hiking and backpacking enthusiasts. If you’re an avid climber looking for a mental and physical challenge, you will find endless rugged yet beautiful climbing routes here.
4. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
Located southwest of Anchorage, Lake Clark’s landscape is full of snow-capped mountains, powerful waterfalls, glaciers, turquoise lakes and stunning coastline. The park is only accessible by boat or plane but it’s well worth the trouble. Inside Lake Clark explore two active volcanoes, hike, backpack, kayak, or just sit back and enjoy the scenery. If you’re hoping to see wildlife, you’re in luck. You can see everything from bears and moose to beluga whales and Steller sea lions.
5. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)
Nevada usually conjures up images of flashy casinos and wide-open desert, but entering Great Basin is like stepping into a different world. Here you will find snowcapped mountains, marble caves, beautiful alpine lakes, and the solitude you crave. As a bonus, this area features one of the darkest skies in America so the stargazing is spectacular.
6. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)
If you love history and water, Dry Tortugas could be your dream park. This 100-square-mile wonderland is made up primarily of water with seven small islands making up the land portion. Explore the 19th century Fort Jefferson sporting more than 2,000 arches, snorkel or swim in the turquoise water, or just sit back and enjoy the quiet. Dry Tortugas is only accessible by boat, plane, or ferry.
7. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)
Get ready for enormous trees. Congaree is home to the largest expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern U.S. This park becomes even more enchanting when it floods and you can marvel at the beautiful reflections of the forest. Explore 25 miles of hiking trails, a stunning 2.4 mile boardwalk, or paddle down a magical canoe trail.
8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
The Gunnison River has been sculpting these steep cliffs for nearly 2 million years, and the results are breathtaking. This is a playground for experienced climbers and those looking for a challenging hike. Easy nature trails are also available as well as excellent fishing, kayaking, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing.
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