A hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. A century later, there are more parks, more beauty and...more crowds.
So if you want all the majestic nature without having to share it with all of the annoying crowds, visit one of the least visited parks in the United states.
1. Gates of the Arctic, Alaska (10,745 visitors)
What it's known for: If "Gates of the Arctic" sounds like a place few humans would dare to go, that’s because it is. This park in northern Alaska is beyond remote; it doesn't even have roads or trails into the park, let alone facilities inside of it.
But intrepid travelers are rewarded with glacier-carved valleys in every direction, never-ending sunlight that stretches for nearly a month in the summer, and uninterrupted solitude – less than 11,000 visitors visit this massive 8.5-million-acre park throughout the year.
Getting there: The only way to access the park is by air taxi into the park, airliner to the neighboring communities of Bettles and Anaktuvuk Pass or a grueling hike from an oil pipeline road off Anaktuvuk Pass.
2. Lake Clark, Alaska (17, 818 visitors)
What it's known for: Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is the Alaska you’ve always imagined, the one filled with jagged snowcapped mountains and steaming volcanoes, turquoise lakes and towering spruce trees, and an abundance of wildlife including caribou, bears and raptors.
Lake Clark is a backcountry park, meaning there are no roads or campgrounds, and only one hiking trail, so the only ways to move around the park are by by foot, kayak, raft, boat or small plane.
Getting there: Lake Clark is accessible by one- to two-hour air taxi from Anchorage and various other places in Alaska, as well as private plane and charter boats from the Kenai Peninsula.
3. Isle Royale, Mich. (18, 684 visitors)
What it's known for: In the northwest corner of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is as beautiful as it is hard to reach. This rugged park offers days in solitude and a myriad of opportunities to hike, canoe and fish. The park also has at least 10 shipwrecks for divers to explore. But be warned – the water is cold.
Getting there: To reach this little island at the northernmost point in Michigan, you'll have to take either boat or float plane from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan, or Grand Portage, Minnesota
Readers' Choice Celebrates the National Parks
Readers' Choice Celebrates the National Parks
4. North Cascades, Wash. (20, 677 visitors)
What it's known for: Just northeast of Seattle, a city famed for its rain, is a park covered with enormous snowfields and glistening alpine lakes. In fact, North Cascades National Park is one of the snowiest places in the world. And with more than 300 glaciers, it's the most heavily glaciated area in the continental United States.
Getting there: North Cascades is easily accessible by road, about 100 miles Northeast of Seattle and 125 miles southeast of Vancouver.
5. Katmai, Alaska (37, 818 visitors)
What it's known for: Bears, and bears, and more bears, oh my! If you want to see Alaska brown bears, Katmai National Park is your place. More than 2,000 of the furry beasts live in this protected land, and according to the National Park Service “as many bear populations around the world decline, Katmai provides some of the few remaining unaltered habitats.”
But bears aren't the park's only draw. Katmai is one of the world's most active volcanic areas, with at least 14 active volcanoes.
Getting there: Fly from Anchorage 290 miles to King Salmon, park headquarters. From there, boats or planes are required to reach other points of the park.
6. Dry Tortugas, Fla. (70, 862 visitors)
What it's known for: Dry Tortugas National Park is a park for marine lovers who think it’s better down where it’s wetter. Nearly the entirety of 100-square-mile park is underwater, with only seven small islands making up the land-portion of this park in the Gulf of Mexico. The most famous of the islands is Fort Jefferson, a former Civil War prison where visitors can now camp on the sand.
Underwater adventure seekers can strap on a snorkel or a scuba tank and witness an abundance of diverse marine life, including pristine coral, turtles, rays, grouper and sharks (including black tips, hammerheads, bull, and nurse sharks).
Getting there: The only way to get to this park about 70 miles from Key West is by boat, seaplane or by ferry from Key West.
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7. Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska (80, 366 visitors)
What it's known for: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is bigger than any other park in the country. Actually, it's bigger than many countries. According to the National Park Service, you could fit Yellowstone, Yosemite and – wait for it – Switzerland inside the park.
The bad news is you'll only see a tiny fraction of the park if you visit. The good news is you'll probably have that fraction all to yourself. Though you'll probably want to go with a few friends to keep you warm while you're staring at the towering walls of ice and the snow-covered Mount St. Elias, the second highest mountain in North America.
Getting there:The visitor center is accessible by road, about 10 miles south of Glennallen, 200 miles east of Anchorage and 250 miles south of Fairbanks.
8. Congaree, S.C. (87, 513 visitors)
Ever wonder what happens when the park floods? Much of #Congaree lies within the floodplain of the Congaree River. Regular flooding brings in fresh sediment and nutrients, while flushing out the old. Though it makes hiking on park trails difficult, this process is an essential part of what helps this forest to continue to #grow and #thrive. #nationalpark #nps #highwater #risingwater #nofilter
What it's known for: At Congaree National Park, it's all about the trees. The home of one of the world's tallest temperate hardwood forests, Congaree has more giant trees than anywhere on the continent. Champion trees, which are trees judged to be the largest of their species, cover the park, and when the Congaree floods, they create stunning reflections. Get your camera ready.
Getting there: Congaree is accessible by road, about 100 miles northwest of Charleston and 100 miles south of Charlotte.
9. Great Basin, Nev. (116, 123)
What it's known for: Usually Nevada evokes images of slot machines and desert sunsets, which makes the sight of Great Basin National Park, in all its glacier-carved glory, even more impressive. It's hard to believe that this park – and its snowcapped mountains, alpine lakes and marble caves – is only halfway between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
Getting there: The closest airport is in Ely, Nevada, 70 miles northwest. The closest major airports are Salt Lake City (234 miles northeast) and Las Vegas (296 miles south).
10. Guadalupe Mountains, Texas (169, 535 visitors)
What it's known for: Guadalupe Mountains National Park's most iconic image is that of El Capitan, a 1,000-foot cliff that dominates the landscape. But the park also offers some of best the hiking opportunities in Texas, dramatic views of winding canyons, and what the national park service calls the "world's premier example of a fossil reef from the Permian Era".
Getting there: The park is accessible by car, 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas.