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Sometimes we simply need to get away. But at a time when gathering in crowded tourist hotspots remains a thing to avoid, questions about that much-needed vacation might arise. Where should I go? What can I do when I get there? Is it possible to find a less-crowded experience? To find your answers, look no further than our country’s least-visited National Parks. While the more popular parks—think Zion, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Canyon—pack in millions of visitors every year, each of America’s 62 National Parks has its own unique sense of wonder, and these lesser known parks are no exception. They may require more planning, but they too, deliver extraordinary natural features, outdoorsy fun and plenty of Instagrammable photo-ops, just with less crowds. Feel like exploring but don’t know which parks to visit? Here is a list of the 12 least-visited National Parks and why each is worth the trek to reach them.
12. Congaree National Park: South Carolina
Spanish moss dangling from trees, deer and river otters, synchronous fireflies dancing in lush backcountry, and more than 25-miles of trails welcome visitors to Congaree National Park. Named after the Native American tribe who once lived here, the park is home to some of the tallest trees in eastern America—some reaching 170 feet—and the country’s largest remaining expanse of southern old-growth forest. Visit here after a heavy rainfall when nearly 90% of the park is submerged underwater and your experience turns into a unique canoeing or kayaking adventure. Find nearby hotels for your Congaree trip here.
11. Virgin Islands National Park: Virgin Islands
Two-thirds of Virgin Islands National Park is on the island of St. John, making your adventure in paradise here a bit easier to manage despite its relative obscurity. This park delivers dazzling Caribbean beaches like Trunk Bay, hiking trails leading to secluded swim spots, and with nearly half of the park submerged beneath clear turquoise waters, the opportunity to explore a mesmerizing world of marine life and coral reef. Just make sure to pack your snorkel. Stay close to the park with Virgin Islands hotels.
10. Great Basin National Park: Nevada
There’s more than just desert when it comes to Great Basin National Park. Wheeler Peak can be driven or hiked, making for remarkable panoramic photos from atop its 13,064-foot summit. You’ll also find everything from wilderness solitude among ancient bristlecone pines, a glacier and diverse flora and fauna to exquisite subterranean passages within Lehman Caves. Stay after the sun goes down to bask in some of the best nighttime skies for stargazing. Book a Great Basin-area hotel for easy access to the park.
9. Katmai National Park and Preserve: Alaska
Accessing Katmai National Park and Preserve takes some planning since getting to its remote location is done almost exclusively by boat or plane, but once there, you’ll certainly be rewarded for your efforts. This park is a favorite among outdoor junkies, offering Southern Alaska adventures such as flightseeing tours, camping, kayaking, hiking and salmon fishing. What Katmai lacks in visitors, it makes up for with sea otters, humpback whales, and more than 2,000 brown bears. Chances are if you’re near Brooks Falls, you’ll see them feasting on the spawning salmon that congregate here. Reserve a hotel near Katmai here.
8. Dry Tortugas National Park: Florida
A 70-mile journey west of Key West by boat or seaplane is part of the fun when visiting Dry Tortugas National Park. This mostly-water park’s remote location offers seven islands, shipwreck dive sites, protected coral reefs, and colorful marine life. If you bring a tent, pitch it near the 19th-century Fort Jefferson walls for a night under the stars. If staying in Key West, Travelocity has plenty of great hotels to choose from.
7. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve: Alaska
If you’re thinking about escaping into remote, wild, and vast amounts of national park acreage, look no further than Wrangell-St. Elias 200 miles northeast of Anchorage. This park’s 13.2 million acres are nearly the size of Yosemite, Yellowstone and the country of Switzerland combined. Wrangell-St. Elias is stunning and your chance to revel in mind-boggling views, wildlife, America’s largest glacial system, 16 of the nation’s tallest peaks, and plenty of day hiking and backcountry backpacking adventure. Stay comfortably nearby at a Travelocity hotel.
6. National Park of American Samoa: American Samoa
Spread across three different islands in the South Pacific, getting to National Park of American Samoa is quite the trek, yet being 2,600 miles from Hawaii means this park is also one of the most remote. Gone are the crowded tourist facilities. Instead, you’ll visit secluded villages, hike trails with ocean views and lounge on coral sand beaches without many others insight. Bring your snorkel gear, too. You’ll want to explore the park’s underwater world that’s home to more than 250 coral species as well as over 950 species of fish. Set up a comfortable basecamp at one of these nearby Travelocity hotels.
5. North Cascades National Park, Washington
Three hours by car from Seattle is where you’ll find North Cascades National Park. Lengthy trails lead advanced hikers alongside glaciers while shorter alpine landscape strolls offer both scenic views and much easier trail time for beginners. Even though this park is known for winter activities, it also provides ample opportunities to climb, enjoy horseback riding, or even shoot a few rapids to get your adrenaline pumping. Book your hotel close to Cascades here.
4. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Social distancing in the middle of Lake Superior is Isle Royale’s selling point since it’s only accessible by boat, seaplane or ferry services. Once here, you have some options: scuba diving to well-preserved sunken shipwrecks, exploring rugged shorelines and 400 surrounding islands by boat, camping and backcountry hiking. The average national park visit lasts only hours. Plan for at least three or four days here. Find a comfy hotel here.
3. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Feel like adding steaming volcanoes, hiking above turquoise lakes, and powerboating in Alaska to your list of adventures? If so, plan on a getaway to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Set out from Anchorage to take it all in at this wonderous remote location roughly 100 miles to the south. Like other park visits, there’s plenty of trails, kayaking, and even biking opportunities next to lakes and rivers to enjoy. The difference is that this time you can say it was all done in this picture-perfect Alaskan icon. Find a hotel to launch your Lake Clark adventure here.
2. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
Situated in the northwestern region of Alaska, Kobuk Valley National Park is home to more than 500,000 migrating caribou. Visit here and you’ll see the herd trampling over the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic. Yes, you read that correctly, sand dunes in the Arctic. And if you spend time at the Kobuk River, you’re standing along the same ancient pathway that people and wildlife have trekked across for over 9,000 years. Relaxation awaits at a nearby hotel, bookable via Travelocity.
1. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
Gates of the Arctic is truly one of the last wild places on Earth, and with no roads or trails within its glacier-carved boundaries, the only way in is by bush plane. To no surprise, the park’s is located within the Arctic Circle and its harsh conditions at times make it a bit more daunting to visit if you’re not an experienced wilderness traveler. Don’t worry, though: Companies organize day trips and overnight camping excursions so you too can appreciate caribou herds, rivers, sweeping views of the mighty Brooks Range, and if you’re lucky, glowing aurora-lit night skies.
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