Last year, more than 273 million people visited one of the United States National Parks Service’s properties. A handful of national parks in the U.S. sit off the beaten path, underdeveloped or overlooked because of their proximity to other more popular parks, but those who visit these five lesser-known lands are rewarded with breathtaking views among the serenest of scenes.
1. Great Basin National Park, Nev.
Located near the end of Nevada’s Route 50, and dubbed "America's loneliest road," Great Basin is Nevada’s only national park completely within the state lines. And, because of its isolation, visitors are treated to more than 77,000 acres of undisturbed wilderness. Here, you can experience the darkest night skies in the continental U.S. and quiet hiking trails lined with bristlecone pines, which live for more than 5,000 years — longer than any other known organism.
2. Isle Royale National Park, Mich.
This remote island, surrounded by Lake Superior, requires special transportation via boat or seaplane from Houghton, Mich., Copper Harbor, Mich., or Grand Portage, Minn. The abundance of adventure activities makes it a worthwhile trip, especially for those interested in kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, and hiking. However, many people are content simply relaxing and enjoying the quiet solitude of the park — Isle Royale’s seclusion means that only 18 species of mammals can be found on the island, compared to more than 40 on the mainland. A number of ranger programs and guided tours offer additional background on the island’s natural and cultural history.
3. Kings Canyon National Park, Calif.
Kings Canyon sits side-by-side with Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada east of California’s San Joaquin Valley, and, in many ways, the two parks are operated as a single entity. Visitors who seek out these parks spend the majority of their time in Sequoia and then pass through a small section of Kings Canyon on their way to Yosemite National Park, which lies about 60 miles north of Fresno, Calif. Therefore, those who take the time to traverse Highway 180 through Sequoia National Forest to Cedar Grove, which lies in Kings Canyon, are treated to a park that is essentially their own. This glaciated valley is punctuated by rugged cliffs and large waterfalls powered by the Kings River, and while there are a few day hikes from this point, visitors interested in backcountry exploration will find many trails that lead into this natural playground. The Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon sits at 4,600 feet so this area is only open May through October, weather permitting.
4. Saguaro National Park, Ariz.
When it comes to Arizona, the Grand Canyon steals the spotlight year after year. In 2013, the Grand Canyon attracted more than 4.5 million visitors, while just 678,261 went to Saguaro National Park, located near Tucson. This protected area is home to the nation’s largest cacti and is divided into two districts: the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) to the west and the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) to the east.
5. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
America’s largest national park spans an impressive 13.2 million acres — larger than Switzerland — and is home to nine of the 16 highest mountains in the U.S. Located in the Eastern region of South-Central Alaska, and about a day’s drive east of Anchorage, the Wrangell-St. Elias region is known for its favorable summer weather, making June through mid-September the prime visiting season. Visitors can explore two roads on their own.
Wonderful Fall colors hiking up Gunsight near Sheep Mtn...on a rove day while rangering here at WRST pic.twitter.com/GNmeW26— WrangellSt.Elias NPP (@WrangellStENPS) September 5, 2011
To read more about these parks, visit AAAHighroads.com.
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