easter island

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

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.

easter island

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.

lake turkana

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

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

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.

Nation­al Park Week 2011 kicks off tomor­row. From April 16th to April 24th, admis­sion to all 394 U.S. nation­al parks will be free! Their theme for this year is Healthy Peo­ple, Health Parks, designed to show the con­nec­tion between a healthy lifestyle and a health envi­ron­ment and how nation­al parks play a role.

Dur­ing the week, park part­ners will offer dis­counts on food, lodg­ing, tours and sou­venirs and com­mu­ni­ties near the nation­al parks are offer­ing up deals as well.

For a sched­ule of events at a park near­est you, click here. If you vis­it a nation­al park this week, we’d love to hear about it and see pics.