The US National Park system boasts protected lands with astonishing nature and rich history in every corner of the country. While some parks may host a million visitors each year, the visitors to these hidden national parks can be counted in the thousands. Take a break from the traffic and crowds, and appreciate the unspoiled beauty at 5 of the country's least-visited national parks.
Isle Royale National Park
Michigan's remote Isle Royale National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, so leave your car behind, and set sail from Houghton or Cooper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage in Minnesota. Once there, get ready for a day of backcountry hiking or navigating the lakes, bays and islands in a kayak or canoe. If you're not an experienced paddler, avoid the frigid water and possible squalls on a guided boat tour. Scuba enthusiasts come to explore the 10 protected shipwrecks in Lake Superior. To extend your trip, spend the night at the Rock Harbor Lodge, found in the island's northeast corner, with simple rooms and cottages overlooking the lake. Just don't plan a visit during the winter months, as Isle Royale National Park shuts down for the cold winter season from November to April.
Gates of the Arctic National Park
It's not likely you'll plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gates of the Arctic
North Cascades National Park: It requires serious planning to venture into this wild Alaskan spot above the Arctic Circle. The remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and, for the truly hardcore, on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. Once in the park, visitors are rewarded with sweeping valleys and rugged mountains, the tallest rising 8,510 feet at Mount Igikpak at the headwaters of the Noatak River. There are no official campgrounds in this arctic tundra, though visitors may spend the night with tour outfitters exploring the area. Park-approved bear-resistant food containers are a must for overnight guests to avoid unwanted visitors and to maintain the park's delicate ecosystem.
North Cascades National Park
Washington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions. The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain. The mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley.
Great Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. Go underground at Lehman Caves, an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and over 300 rare shield formations. Foodies can gather pinyon pine nuts during the fall harvest. Stargazers will delight in the view from Great Basin, one of the darkest spots in the country after the sun goes down. You'll want to spend the night so you can marvel at the Milky Way and constellations in the deep night sky, a rare treat as light pollution blocks the view from many cities around the country.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The state of Florida gets hordes of visitors each year, but somehow Dry Tortugas plays host to only a small fraction of them. This cluster of 7 islands is just 70 miles west of Key West, but its quiet island pace sets it apart from its nearest neighbors. The waters around the islands are filled with coral reefs teeming with interesting marine life that are perfect for a snorkeling trip. Scuba divers explore the Windjammer Wreck, a complete wreck site featuring an impressive sailing ship that sank in 1907. Back on the beach, sea turtles build nests in the sand where they lay their eggs along these protected sandy shores.