If there is one thing that Americans might love more than our national parks, it’s underdog stories. We’re combining the two by bringing you some of the top parks that get the fewest visitors. The following six parks don’t have the same name recognition as the ones that the U.S. is best known for – like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon – but you won’t regret visiting these lesser-known national treasures. Bonus: You can rest assured that the crowds at these destinations will be lighter, which means even more park for you to enjoy to yourself or with your family.
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park, located three hours from Seattle, is comparable to its nearby neighbors Olympic and Mount Rainier National Parks, but with noticeably fewer visitors. You can expect gorgeous alpine views and 300 glaciers, but few structures or roads exist within the park.
The famous Pacific Crest Trail (the trail that starts at the Mexican border in California and snakes along the highest parts of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, all the way to the US-Canada border) passes through this park. If you want to stay overnight, you can camp inside the park, but you’ll need to hike in by trail, horseback, or boat.
Plan your visit for the summer months, as heavy snows and a high risk of avalanches limit visitation in the winter. North Cascades National Park turns 50 years old in 2018, so if you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, pay this park a visit in celebration of its half-century of existence.
Isle Royale National Park
Located on the largest island in Michigan’s Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is accessible by ferry or seaplane from mid-April through October and is known for its excellent fishing, shipwreck diving, kayaking, and hiking. You can hitch a ferry ride to the Isle Royale from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan, or Grand Portage, Minnesota.
Known for its wolf and moose populations, the island has 36 designated wilderness campgrounds throughout the roughly 45-mile-long by 9-mile-wide island, but you can also opt to stay at the Rock Harbor Lodge or in a cabin if you’d like some of the comforts of the mainland.
National Park of American Samoa
The National Park of American Samoa might be one of the most remote national parks, located 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. The park crosses three separate islands: Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’ū, and even includes 4,000 acres of park that is underwater.
During a visit to this park, you’ll find secluded villages, rare plants and animals, coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and Samoan culture that doesn’t exists anywhere else. Also, in keeping with the meaning of the word Samoa – “sacred earth” – the park helps protect “fa’asamoa,” the customs, beliefs, and traditions of the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Located 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is a stunning collection of 7 small islands that has been preserved to protect the magnificent Fort Jefferson – one of the largest forts from the 19th century – and the blue waters, marine life, birds, and coral reefs in and around the islands.
Dry Tortugas National Park is only accessible by daily ferries, private boats, charter boats, or seaplanes. Once you’ve made it to the islands, you can camp on Garden Key with a campground located near a public dock. Other must-do activities include heading to the water to go swimming, shipwreck diving, and snorkeling to view the coral reefs. The park is located at the southwest corner of the Florida Keys reef system, yet due to the remote location, you’ll likely discover a much greater abundance of marine life than anywhere else in the keys.
Congaree National Park
Located in central South Carolina, less than 20 miles southeast of Columbia, Congaree National Park is a relative newcomer to the National Park System, only receiving its designation as a national park in 2003. The park is known for preserving the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S. and contains some of the tallest trees in the eastern U.S.
The Congaree River flows through the park, creating a habitat for birds and other wildlife, as well as making it a great place for hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and bird watching. Primitive campsites are available in the park, as well as backcountry camping.
Great Basin National Park
It’s easy to imagine that Great Basin National Park, located in east-central Nevada, is a dry, unrelenting desert, but with its elevation above 6,000 feet, the land is surprisingly diverse here. From mysterious subterranean passages to ancient bristlecone pines to the Wheeler Peak Glacier, this park is full of surprises.
The park is home to 40 known caves, but the only ones accessible to visitors are the Lehman Caves, with tours available. There are multiple campgrounds within the park – both developed and primitive, and visitors can also enjoy great stargazing in this remote area, as well as hiking trails throughout the park.
Ready to venture out into the American wilderness? Though these parks may be talked about a little less and frequented by fewer groups of people, the beauty and wilderness in these parks are just as awe-inspiring and memorable as those we learn about in history class. Do you have favorite national park that should be on this list? Share it with us on Facebook.