Avoid the Crowds in These 10 Secluded National Parks

Setting sun behind the girders of the high arched New River Gorge bridge in West Virginia. (photo via BackyardProduction/iStock/Getty Images Plus) (BackyardProduction / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Patrick Clarke
by Patrick Clarke
Last updated: 5:14 PM ET, Thu August 12, 2021

Under-the-Radar Protected Lands

The National Park Service will celebrate its 105th birthday on August 25, 2021, marking the milestone with waived entrance fees as well as in-park programs and virtual experiences at parks and sites across the country. While travelers have more than 60 epic parks to choose from, here are some lesser-known and visited protected lands that they won't want to miss.

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Alaska's Lake Clark is the ideal destination for travelers looking to immerse themselves in wilderness without the crowds. Some of the top activities here include hiking the Tanalian trails and kayaking and canoeing on the turquoise Lake Clark. The park saw fewer than 5,000 visitors in 2020 but typically attracts about 23,000 each year-Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosted 12.1 million visitors in 2020. In addition to serene landscapes, visitors are likely to notice some of the park's dozens of species of land mammals, including bears and caribou.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

North Cascades National Park, located a little over two hours northeast of Seattle, is home to more plant species than any other national park in the United States, boasting more than 1,600 varieties. Visitors can also look forward to hundreds of miles of hiking trails and more than 300 glaciers (you won't find more outside of Alaska). Park-goers will be wowed from the moment they enter via the North Cascades Scenic Byway until the time they depart this green Pacific Northwest paradise.

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

Drawing just 2,872 visitors amid the pandemic in 2020 and roughly 10,000 in a normal year, Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is easily the nation's least-visited national park but also the northernmost as it sits above the Arctic Circle. The park's seclusion has its benefits, though. While there are no roads or trails, visitors seeking unspoiled natural beauty, seclusion, a wide range of wildlife and even the northern lights can find it all and much more in Gates of the Arctic.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Home to the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, South Carolina's often overlooked Congaree National Park is just a half-hour drive from the state capital of Columbia and features plenty of opportunities for scenic hikes, with August, September and October providing some of the best conditions to explore trails like the Boardwalk Loop, Oakridge Trail and the Weston Lake Loop.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

"There are endless things for one to discover," Elizabeth Jackson, Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services at Guadalupe Mountains, told USA Today. "The most special thing about our park is all of the different ecosystems within the park. We have the sky islands of the Bowl. We have the dunes on the western escarpment. We have canyons. We have springs, which are kind of like a little oasis. And in the lower portions, it's just straight up Chihuahuan Desert. There's something for everyone."

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Easily one of the nation's best parks for stargazing, Great Basin National Park in Nevada features some of the darkest skies in the world as well as diverse landscapes including caves and ancient bristlecone pines, which are said to be the oldest known living trees. Take the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for a complete experience of the diversity of nature and wildlife on display.

Channel Islands National Park, California

Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California comprises five spectacular islands. Dubbed the Galapagos of North America, these islands boast a whopping 145 indigenous plant and animal species and can only be reached by plane or boat (you can take a ferry from nearby Oxnard and Ventura). Visitors can spot humpback and even blue whales in the summer months, watch sea lions and seals from Anacapa's Cathedral Cove and camp, snorkel, hike and take in panoramic views from the most popular island of Santa Cruz.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is a destination you visit for a few days rather than just a few hours. Isolated in Lake Superior, the park is a six-hour ferry ride from Houghton and a 3.5-hour journey from Copper Harbor. The island can also be reached by seaplane in about 40 minutes if you're strapped for time. Once there, visitors can explore more than 160 miles of trails, spotting moose, fox, otters and much more along the way. This unique park can also be experienced from the water via kayaks, canoes and even scuba diving adventures.

Pinnacles National Park, California

One of the country's youngest national parks, Pinnacles National Park is where travelers can spot North America's largest flying bird in the California condor (their wingspans approaching 10 feet). This unique habitat came to be approximately 23 million years ago when multiple volcanoes erupted, creating rare talus caves and towering rock spires. Hiking and rock climbing are some of the most popular activities here, and visitors won't want to miss out on the stellar views from the winding High Peaks Loop.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

The nation's newest national park came to be as recently as December 2020 as part of a pandemic relief bill, but there's certainly nothing new about West Virginia's New River Gorge. After all, the river is believed to be the second-oldest on the planet. The park is popular with whitewater rafters and rock climbers but also offers plenty of hiking trails, scenic waterfalls like the 1,500-foot-wide Sandstone Falls and plenty of scenic viewpoints. Visitors will also be in awe of the landmark New River Gorge Bridge, which is the longest single-span steel arch bridge in the United States and the third-highest bridge in the country at nearly 900 feet.

Unplug from the daily grind and connect with nature in these one-of-a-kind protected lands.

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CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

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