Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and America’s first national park, Yellowstone. The bucket-list destinations draw millions of visitors each year, but there are plenty of less-recognizable national parks waiting to be discovered.
Some of them are hard to reach, like National Park of American Samoa or Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic, the least-visited national park last year, with 2,872 recreational visits. Visitors have to take a boat or seaplane to get to Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico and Isle Royale on Lake Superior.
Other untapped gems are easy to access, like Congaree just outside South Carolina’s capital, Columbia, or Pinnacles, two hours south of San Francisco. And they’re perfect for travelers who want to experience the great outdoors without crowds this summer.
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“It’s pretty quiet,” said Elizabeth Jackson, Chief of Interpretation, Education and Visitor Services at Guadalupe Mountains on the edge of West Texas and New Mexico. “You can still have outdoor, private wilderness recreation in solitude, and that’s getting harder to find.”
She prefers to think of Guadalupe Mountains as “lesser known” instead of lesser visited, noting that hundreds of hikers climb Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas, daily.
“There are endless things for one to discover,” Jackson said. “The most special thing about our park is all of the different ecosystems within the park. We have the sky islands of the Bowl. We have the dunes on the western escarpment. We have canyons. We have springs, which are kind of like a little oasis. And in the lower portions, it’s just straight up Chihuahuan Desert. There’s something for everyone.”
That’s all in one park. The are 63 national parks in the U.S and 423 national park sites overall.
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Source: National Park Service
For perspective, the most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains, saw more than 12 million recreation visits last year. Yellowstone was a distant second with more than 3.8 million visits, but that’s still way more than the least-visited 20 combined.
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