Everybody has been to a National Park, whether it was just a drive through to peak into the Grand Canyon or a backpacking trip through Yosemite. But there are many of the 58 parks (make that 59 as the Pinnacles National Monument was given National Park status on January 1oth) that few people have been to, including these gems.
Kobuk Valley, AK
Our most remote park, 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska, is famous for its sand dunes and caribou migration routes, in fact about a half million of the animals pass through each year. Of course being so remote this massive park (roughly the size of Delaware) is also one of the least visited, with less than 4000 visitors in 2011 and less than 1000 back in 2006. The dunes reach up to a 100 feet in height and summer temperatures can hit 100 degrees here, believe it or not. The best way to visit the park is by paddling the Kobuk river and stopping on its banks to hike. All supplies must be brought into the park as this is as remote as it gets.
Averaging just over 5000 visitors between 2006 and 2011 this tiny park (just 13,500 acres) is so new that you won’t find the usual park amenities, rather it’s a park to be explored like the natives. Activities include observing tropical flora and fauna, snorkeling, lazing on a beach and a homestay in a secluded village.
Isle Royale, MI
This national park lives up to its name, as it’s a grande adventure for backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists and scuba divers who live for solitude, as the area sees only about 15,000 visitors a year. While hiking the parks 165 miles of trails expect to see moose which swam over in the early 1900s and maybe even the isle’s famous wolves which immigrated over icebound waters in the mid or late 1940′s. While the inland lakes provide miles of paddling oppurtunities.
Wrangell – St. Elias. AK
While the 65,000 visitors this park saw in 2011 dwarfs the numbers of the others we have looked at so far, this park also dwarfs them in size. At 13,188,000 acres it is by far our largest park at six times the size of Yellowstone. Fortunately two roads pierce the park’s interior leading to two old mining communities and allowing access to the backcountry. Speaking of backcountry most adventures here are off trail so in-depth planning and map and compass reading skills are essential.
Great Basin, NV
Less remote than our other parks Great Basin sees around 85,000 visitors who come to see majestic Wheeler Peak, gnarled bristlecone pines up to 5000 years old, the Lehman caves and stargazing in one of the darkest night skies in the lower 48.
The closest of these parks to an interstate and previously called Congaree Swamps National Monument until 2003, the number of visitors rose drastically after swamp was taken out of the name. Which was appropriate, as it’s a floodplain not a swamp. Visitors can canoe/kayak and backpack the largest contiguous tract of old-growth bottom-land hardwoods in the United States, seeing an immense amount of biodiversity.
So which one are you going to first?