While national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon are seeing millions of visitors a year, plenty of other national parks are found in the system that see a fraction of this traffic. While many would argue it’s the pristine wilderness and jaw-dropping landscapes that draw the crowds to the most popular national parks (and it is), it also has something to do with ease of access.
In the less trafficked parks it’s safe to say that it’s not a lack of breathtaking scenery that causes low attendance, but rather how difficult it’s to get there—making them an excellent place to actually get away for a while.
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska (10,047 Visitors in 2016)
Consisting of a whopping 8.4 million acres of roadless Alaskan wilderness, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is one of the biggest national parks in the country, and one of the least visited. To reach park boundaries, visitors can either hike into this northern Alaskan space or more commonly, charter a plane. Once you’ve made it into the Gates of the Arctic, you’re on your own in this ruggedly beautiful environment, and the National Park doesn’t provide any amenities to bank on, or even any official trails to follow.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan (24,966 Visitors in 2016)
When visiting Isle Royale National Park, located within Lake Michigan, the chances of seeing wildlife is greater than seeing human life. That’s because this car-free wilderness is only accessed by ferry, seaplane or personal watercraft. Hitch a ride though, and nearly all 45 miles of this “largest island in Lake Superior” is yours to explore however you want. While popular activities at Isle Royale include scuba diving, fishing, boating and day hiking, if you have four of five days at your disposal, a recommended course for adventure includes backpacking the Greenstone Ridge Trail that spans 40 miles across the island.
North Cascades National Park, Washington (28,646 Visitors in 2016)
Only three hours north of Seattle, North Cascades National Park is what mountain dreams are made of. Consisting of a whole kaleidoscope of Pacific Northwest color, including emerald alpine lakes, shimmering white glaciers, intensely green forests and rugged Cascade peaks, if you like mountainous scenery, you may never leave the North Cascades once you get there. The National Park itself mainly consists of the Stephen Mather wilderness—meaning that while you can drive a car to get into the North Cascades, there are few roads to follow from there.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada (144,846 Visitors in 2016)
Located on the eastern Nevada border by Utah, Great Basin National Park displays a shocking amount of variety in ecosystems and different ways to explore them. Home to 13,000-foot glaciated peaks, ancient groves of bristlecone pines, and a limestone cave system known as Lehman Caves, Great Basin has a diversity of landscapes to admire. Whether you’re looking to hike the Wheeler Summit Trail to get a view of the top of the world, or you want to explore underground as part of a guided tour, this amazing National Park in a remote part of the country offers something new to do throughout each season.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina (143,843 Visitors in 2016)
Containing some of the tallest trees you’ll find in the eastern United States, much of the attraction and appeal of Congaree National Park comes from the moving waters of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers that meander through the park. Not only do these two rivers occasionally slip their shores and make their way through the floodplain, providing plenty of nutrients and sediments to support a rich ecosystem, but these waterways also offer the perfect way to navigate this dense Southeastern national park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas (181,839 Visitors in 2016)
Home to the highest point in Texas (Guadalupe Peak, 8,749 feet), Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the western side of the state display a side of Texas you may not expect to see. Not only are the four highest peaks in Texas found in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but visitors can also check out the dazzling Salt Basin Dune—fossilized remains of the reefs that used to dominate the area (including the Guadalupe Mountains themselves), and some awe-inspiring colors come fall in McKittrick Canyon.