The National Park System welcomed nearly 331 million visitors in 2017. Six million visitors flocked to see the mesmerizing Grand Canyon, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon attracted 2.5 million tourists and four million people saw the towering red cliffs of Zion National Park. In fact, half of national park visitation occurred in 27 of the 60 national parks.
You may have felt the squeeze if you tried to enter the Yosemite Valley on a mid-summer day or take a scenic drive on the Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Lack of solitude and long lines are growing in our national parks as more visitors enter the gates. So rather than hiking in hoards or combating for a campsite, consider visiting one of these 5 lesser-known (but just as trip-worthy) parks this year.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
With more than 300 glaciers (that’s more than Glacier National Park), endless rugged peaks and just 30,000 annual visitors, North Cascades National Park is a must see. Located in northern Washington, the parks’ evergreen-tree-lined hiking trails and turquoise lakes are an outdoor adventurer’s dream. Plus, there are no park entrance or backcountry permit fees (although you can always donate to our national parks). Due to snow and road conditions, the North Cascades Highway leading to the heart of the park is typically closed from late fall to late spring.
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Located in southern Alaska, Katmai National Park and Preserve covers more than four million acres and hosts around 30,000 visitors each year. With varying landscapes—including lowlands, coastlines and glaciated mountains—there’s plenty of wild places to explore. Dozens of species call the park home, including gray wolves, humpback whales, puffins and trout. Many visitors venture to Brooks Camp in July or September to watch the brown bears fishing for salmon. The park is open year round, but accessibility can be limited due to weather.
Pinnacles National Park, California
Formed by volcanoes 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park is located in central California near the Salinas Valley. The park covers more than 26,000 acres and hosted 230,000 visitors in 2017. By comparison, its neighbor Yosemite National Park welcomed more than four million visitors. Rock climbers can tackle advanced routes on the park’s west side and hikers can explore the park’s caves. With mild winters and low precipitation, this is a great park to explore in the off season.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Nevada’s largest national park, located in eastern Nevada near the Utah border, covers more than 77,000 acres. Established in 1986, Great Basin National Park welcomed just 168,000 visitors in 2017. The park is full of natural wonders including alpine lakes, limestone caverns and freshwater streams. It’s even possible to hike on the park’s backcountry trails in solitude—especially if you visit in spring or fall. Great Basin is one of only a few national parks that is part of the Night Skies Program, so astronomers and stargazers are sure to get a great view of the Milky Way.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
This 100-square-mile national park preserves seven islands as well as a former military facility, Fort Jefferson. With colorful coral reefs and a plethora of sea life, the park is mostly open water—making it a top place to snorkel or dive in Florida. But just 54,000 people visited the park in 2017; perhaps because it’s only accessible via plane or boat. But don’t be deterred— the 2.5 hour ferry ride from Key West through the vibrant blue water is part of the adventure. The park is open all year, temps are cooler in spring and fall, but waters are calmest in the summer (and that’s also when turtles come on land to lay their eggs).
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