In 1916, Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service. At the time, there were 35 national parks and monuments across the United States. Today there are over 400 recognized national park areas, encompassing over 84 million acres across the country.
A visit to a national park is a great way to get out and enjoy the beauty of the United States. Parks like the Grand Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park attract millions of visitors each year, with the former seeing over 5 million visitors per year, and the later over 11 million. These places offer unmatched beauty that you should see at least once in your life. However, one of the best ways to connect with nature is to visit one of the lesser-known parks. These parks offer the same breathtaking experience without the crowds. The best part is that these locations are mostly untouched and don't have that "touristy" feel of the larger parks. Sound good? Take a look at seven of the least-visited national parks in the United States.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the most diverse and interesting places to explore in Texas. The park is home to many ecosystems that provide a wide array of wildlife and plants throughout the area. The park is also home to nearly 300 different types of birds, 60 species of mammals, and approximately 16 species of bats. Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in the park, as well as the highest elevation in the state of Texas. In 2017, just over 225,000 people visited the park, making it a much quieter alternative to more popular sites like Zion National Park and Yosemite.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
The Great Basin National Park is located in a remote area of Nevada, just west of the Utah border. The mountains in the park range from 6,000 feet tall to over 13,000 feet tall, meaning the lower levels may experience scorching desert heats while the higher elevations still have snow. Along with this comes a great diversity in wildlife. Beavers, porcupines, pygmy rabbits, longhorn sheep, and water shrew all inhabit the stunning park. The diversity of the area allows for a wide range of recreational activities, including caving, horseback riding, fishing, and backpacking. In 2017, 168,028 people visited the Great Basin National Park.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Designated as a national park in 2003, Congaree National Park covers over 22,000 acres in South Carolina. The park is home to the largest collection of old-growth bottomland hardwood forests in the United States, and it boasts a subtropical climate, meaning you can visit the park any time of the year. Approximately 160,000 annual visitors enjoy fishing, hiking, and kayaking at the park. Best of all, there's no entrance fee.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Explorer Ponce de Leon originally called this area Las Tortugas (the turtles), because of how many turtles were seen swimming in the water. Today, Dry Tortuga National Park is home to five different species of turtles.
The park consists of seven small islands and is located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. It is most well-known as the home of Fort Jefferson. Besides turtle watching, visitors can enjoy snorkeling, paddlesports, and fishing. The park has seen a decrease in visitors over recent years with just over 54,000 visitors in 2017.
North Cascades National Park, Washington State
The North Cascades National Park is located in northern Washington, just south of the Canadian border. The park encompasses over 500,000 acres of lush land. It's also the best place in the U.S. to get a view of glaciers without making a trip to Alaska.
In addition to seeing glaciers, visitors can enjoy hiking, boating, and camping. Head out between June and September when most of the snow has melted. However, if you are looking for some peace and tranquility, the shoulder seasons of late spring and early fall are your best bet. The park attracted just over 30,000 visitors in 2017.
Isle Royal National Park, Michigan
Isle Royal National Park is located in Lake Superior, Michigan. It's slightly larger than North Cascades, at just over 570,000 acres and sees a few thousand fewer visitors per year. The island is so remote that the only way to get there is by ferry, seaplane, or private watercraft. Assuming you're up for the journey, you can enjoy scuba diving, fishing, and camping.
There are a few things you should know, however, before you visit. Isle Royal National Park is the only national park in the country to completely shut down during the off-season, which runs from November to mid-April. Another thing to note — the park does not permit pets of any kind. So, if you want to visit this park, you're going to have to leave Fido behind.
Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
The Gates of the Arctic is located in the remote landscape of Alaska. Established in 1982, this park is one of the best places in the world do see stunning glaciers. According to National Geographic, the best time to visit is during the summer. That's when the weather is at its mildest. Even so, expect arctic and subarctic conditions. The summer gives you the best chance of making it to the park as planes will not fly in inclement conditions. If you make it there, you will be one of the few who do. The Gates of the Arctic attracts approximately 11,000 visitors per year.