Plan a trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite and you’re likely to see as many humans as animals. While these iconic regions are not to be missed, our National Park system offers plenty of hidden treasures, too. Check out some of these equally dynamic—but-less-visited—parks.
Gates of the Arctic, Alaska
Caribou, grizzly, wolf, and moose all make themselves at home here amid one of Alaska’s most dramatic landscapes. If you’re a self-sufficient adventurer who longs to experience the pristine Arctic environment in all its beauty, this is one of the best places in the world to realize your fantasy.
Just be aware that no portion of this park is that visitor friendly, which accounts for its low visitor tally. There are no guest services, no neatly marked camp sites. Not so much as a trail disturbs the wilderness. To reach this remote place, you’ll have to hike in, fording rivers in the process.
North Cascades, Washington
Some preserved places are so far off track, just getting there is a quest. But if you’re seeking alpine backcountry, abundant glacial activity, and plentiful wildlife, you don’t really have to sacrifice all amenities. North Cascades is just about three hours from Seattle and features trails and designated camping spots. Visitors get a firsthand view of a climate in transition—scientists do lots of research here on glacier melt—as well as a dose of splendid isolation. Despite all its accessibility, this park is still among the least visited in the system.
Great Basin, Nevada
Unexpected diversity is on full display at Great Basin. Ranging from the summit of Wheeler Peak to the foothills, this park has plenty of surprises. Here you’ll discover forests of bristlecone pine (the oldest tree species on the planet) and a host of astonishing caverns to be explored. Great Basin is also a paradise for star-gazers, where you can spot fantastic astronomical activity over the clear, dry Nevada skies.
Isle Royale, Michigan
This diminutive island in enormous Lake Superior offers visitors the gift of isolation. Consisting of one main island and 450 smaller ones, Isle Royale is a paradise for kayakers, Scuba divers, and other explorers. Pulling ashore in your kayak or canoe, you’ll be welcomed by the teeming wildlife. Lushly forested, Isle Royale is home to moose and wolves, conifers and ferns. Although far fewer species are represented here than on the mainland, the isolation of the park makes vivid encounters likely. Even during peak season, you might avoid meeting another human on your excursion. During the winter, the storm-and-snow-buffeted island is almost exclusively the animals’ domain.
Congaree, South Carolina
National Parks highlight some of our nation’s most rare and special wild places. Congaree is no exception, encompassing the last remaining and biggest portion of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the American southeast. It’s also a thriving floodplain ecosystem, which owes its biodiversity to the natural ebbs and flows of the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. Exploring here is nothing short of a biological and geological delight.
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Don’t let the word “dry” in its name fool you: More than 99 percent of this park is under the sea. If you’re looking for a visit to a warm-water paradise, Dry Tortugas is your perfect match. Snorkeling, diving, swimming, and boating are prime choices for exploration. A Technicolor variety of fish and plant life beckons. But the human mark on Dry Tortugas is fascinating in its own right. The island was home to Fort Jefferson, a valuable post for patrolling ships of yesteryear.