Historian and writer Wallace Stegner once described America’s national parks as the “best idea we ever had,” and few outdoor enthusiasts would disagree with him. The concept of protecting our most beautiful outdoor places for future generations was certainly a novel idea back in 1872 when the U.S. made Yellowstone the first national park in the entire world. Since then, that same idea has spread across the globe. While most of those parks are located in places that are relatively accessible by the general public, there are some that are so remote that few people ever visit them at all. Those parks are truly pristine environments that remain mostly untrammeled by outsiders. Getting to these locations requires an adventuresome spirit and a bit of dedication, but the payoff can be an isolated wilderness all to yourself. With that in mind, here are eight of the most remote national parks in the world.
Gates of the Arctic National Park (Alaska)
Located in northern Alaska – entirely above the Arctic Circle – the Gates of the Arctic National Park is the epitome of remote. This vast sprawling landscape is the second largest park in the U.S., covering nearly 8.5 million acres, yet it contains no roads or trails of any kind. Access is gained via bush plane, but high winds and heavy snows can delay travel, even at the height of summer. As a result, Gates of the Arctic sees roughly 10,000 visitors in any given year, far below the 3 million+ that make their way to Yellowstone on an annual basis. Those who do make the trip are treated to a rare wilderness, where vast herds of reindeer still migrate across the landscape as they have for thousands of years.
Rapa Nui National Park (Easter Island)
Located in the South Pacific, some 2000 miles off the coast of Chile – and 1300 miles from its nearest inhabited neighbor – Easter Island is the most remote inhabited place on the planet. It is also home to Rapa Nui National Park, a preserve that contains more than 880 stone statues known as “moai,” the massive carved heads that the island is so famous for. With a permanent settlement of just 4000 inhabitants, flights to the island remain infrequent, and supply ships even more so. Still, Easter Island has seen an increase in tourism in recent years, so while it is remote, you are likely to encounter others who have come to see the moai while you are there as well.
Central Island National Park (Kenya)
Just getting to Central Island National Park, located at the center of Lake Turkana in Kenya, is quite an adventure. Travelers must first travel more than 500 miles by 4x4 vehicle just to reach the shores of the lake itself. Then, it is another 4.5 miles by boat to actually land on the island, which is a volcanic landscape pocked with over a dozen craters and cones. Three of those craters have formed small lakes, the largest of which are more than a half-mile across, and plunges to a depth of over 260 feet. Temperatures in the park routinely climb to more than 120ºF, which when combined with its remote location, helps to keep the number of visitors to a minimum. Central Island is said to be home to the largest population of Nile crocodiles on the planet, although zebras, giraffes, and various species of gazelles reside there too.
Qomolangma National Park (Tibet)
Qomolangma National Park holds the distinction of being the highest in the world, thanks to the fact that Mt. Everest falls inside its borders. The park, which covers more than 22,370 square miles, was created on the Himalayan Plateau in Tibet and is the first preserve in the world to be completely managed and maintained by local volunteers. Because of its high altitude setting, the park is not frequently visited by tourists, although climbers and trekkers are somewhat common in the region, most notably in the spring and fall. In addition to Everest, two other 8000-meter peaks – Lhotse and Makalu – fall inside the park, along with dozens of other major Himalayan Peaks. As you can imagine, visitors should acclimate properly before visiting Qomolangma, as the thin air can often catch people off guard. With an average altitude inside the park rising above 4500 meters or roughly 14,769 feet, it can actually be dangerous to hike there before your body is ready.
Pulu Keeling National Park (Australia)
Australia’s Pulu Keeling National Park is another destination that requires a fair bit of travel just to get there. The tiny island sits in the Indian Ocean, some 1200 miles off of Oz’s west coast. Visitors are required to catch a flight out of Perth to the Cocos Islands, then hop on a boat for a 1.5‑hour ride that deposits them just offshore. Because the coral reefs that surround the island are endangered and protected, travelers must swim the last length of the journey onto the beaches themselves. Once on the island, they must be accompanied by an official guide at all times, and although the park is just .46 square miles in size, it still holds an important natural distinction. Pulu Keeling is the breeding ground for a large number of sea birds and marine turtles, which is why it was made a national park back in 1986.
Quttinirpaaq National Park (Canada)
Located on a remote corner of Canada’s Ellesmere Island, Quttinirpaaq National Park is the second most northerly park in the entire world, behind only Northeast Greenland National Park, which is incredibly remote as well. The landscapes in Quttinirpaaq are dominated by a polar desert, which means there is a lot of rock and ice, and not much in the way of vegetation. Wildlife is sparse as well, although small herds of caribou, along with muskox, and the arctic fox can sometimes be spotted there. The park has almost no facilities beyond a simple ranger station, although there are a couple of backpacking routes that extend through the wilderness for about 60 miles each. Access to the park is granted via airplane only, and a one-way flight will set you back about $15,000. If you can afford that, it is best to visit during the brief summer, as the proximity of the park to the North Pole, makes for some exceedingly long and cold winters.
Darian National Park (Panama)
Straddling the border between two continents, Darian National Park is one of the wildest and rugged places on the planet. The dense jungle spreads out along the southeastern corner of Panama and extends across the border into Colombia. The tropical forests are so thick, that it is difficult for travelers to pass into the jungle at all, although access points in both Cana and Pirre Station do give visitors a chance to go deeper into the forest. The park is a favorite amongst bird watchers, and monkeys, sloths, and tapirs also call it home. Two indigenous tribes still live inside Darian National Park, continuing a way of life that has gone mostly untouched by the modern world for hundreds of years. There are also certain sections of the park that remain havens for drug smugglers, which add an entirely different level of danger for those who wander too far off the beaten path. This park is an incredibly diverse biosphere, with much to offer those who visit, but it is also not a place for the faint of heart.
Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
Located at the heart of Lake Superior, just off the coast of Michigan, Isle Royale National Park is another remote, hidden gem. Access to the park is obtained via ferry or float plane, which deliver visitors to a pristine wilderness nearly untouched by man. Isle Royale is home to a sizable population of both moose and wolves, however, so visitors need to be aware of that before arrival. A 40-mile long backpacking trail runs the length of the island and is a popular route for hikers, who generally spend 4–5 days covering its length. Kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving are also popular activities in the cool, clear waters just offshore. Isle Royale is traditionally amongst the least visited parks in the U.S. system, so it is generally not crowded, even during the warmer summer months.