#15 Pinnacles National Park from 15 Crowd-Free National Parks to Visit Before Summer Ends
15 Crowd-Free National Parks to Visit Before Summer Ends
#15 Pinnacles National Park
Season: Open year round
Size: 41.57 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 237,677
The high peaks in America’s newest national park are home to the highly endangered California Condor. People come to Pinnacles to bird watch and also to hike and rock climb among the solitude of the remains of an ancient volcanic field riven by the San Andreas Fault — an escape from bustling city life in San Francisco and the Bay area.
#14 Voyageurs National Park
Season: Open year round but winter weather means travel by snowmobile, snowshoe or cross-country skiing.
Size: 340.9 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 233,389
Voyageurs is a vestige of the interconnected waterways through the forests of the Great Northwest used by French fur traders ("voyageurs") more than 250 years ago. It's an ancient landscape — its rocks are older than those at the bottom of the Grand Canyon — that also marks the transition between North America’s southern boreal and northern hardwood forests. It is remote enough that millions of stars glow brightly on a cloudless northern Minnesotan night and the greens, yellows, and reds of the Aurora Borealis can occasionally be seen flaring overhead.
#13 Channel Islands National Park
Season: Open year round, but some boat services only run in summer and fall.
Size: 390 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 212,028
The park comprises five of the seven Channel Islands off the Southern California coast and is accessible only via a short ocean voyage or a small-plane flight. The isolation has left the park with great ecological diversity. Visitors get to experience coastal southern California the way it once was. There are no services such as food stores on the islands. All travel on and between them is on foot or by private boat or kayak.
#12 Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Season: Open year round but the two rim roads are typically open to vehicles only from Apr. to Nov.
Size: 48.05 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 175,852
Black Canyon has some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. They make for strenuous hiking. There are no maintained or marked trails into the inner canyon. In winter you’ll need cross-country skis or snow shoes to get anywhere. Crampons and an ice axe would help. In summer, the canyon is notorious for poison ivy, but there are no poisonous snakes; it is too cold at night for them.
#11 Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Season: Open year round.
Size: 134.9 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 145,670
A hidden gem of far West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains is one of the world's finest examples of an an ancient, marine fossil reef from 265 million years ago (Permian Era) when a vast tropical sea covered much of the region. Today, the massive rock face stands out in a sea of harsh, barren desert, a rugged mountain range, with deep, sheer-sided canyons that comprises one of the U.S.’s most pristine wildernesses. There are no restaurants, service stations, convenience stores, or overnight lodging (except camping) in the park.
#10 Congaree National Park
Location: South Carolina
Season: Open year round but an active flood season and winter ice storms can wreak havoc with land and water trail markings.
Size: 42.2 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 120,341
Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through a floodplain, creating wetlands, oxbow lakes, and sloughs that provide a swampy home for the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern U.S. Motorized transport is prohibited in the Congaree wilderness; you have to travel into the swamplands by foot or canoe.
#9 Great Basin National Park
Season: Open year round but winter weather may close roads from Oct. to May or June.
Size: 120.6 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 92,893
In the lee of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, the second highest mountain in Nevada, ancient bristlecone pine trees grow on rocky glacial moraines. Experience the solitude of the desert, the darkest of night skies, and the beauty of Lehman Caves.
#8 Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Season: Open year round but winter is considered to arrive on Sept. 15 and lasts until the following June.
Size: 20,625 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 69,984
The U.S.'s largest national park — bigger than Switzerland — stretches from one of the tallest peaks in North America to the ocean. The park’s remote backcountry is pure wilderness but can be reached via the 42-mile gravel Nabesna Road. For the last third, you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to traverse the steams — if spring run-off hasn’t made them totally impassable.
#7 Dry Tortugas National Park
Season: Open year round but some keys are closed Jan. 15-Oct. 15 and others from Mar. 31 to Oct. 16.
Size: 100 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 58,400
Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park comprises mostly open water around seven small coral reef islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Lying some 70 miles of open sea west of Key West, 19th century Fort Jefferson is the centerpiece, surrounded by blue waters and the superlative marine and bird life that lives off the reefs.
#6 Katmai National Park & Preserve
Season: Open year round but backcountry activities are best in June-September
Size: 6,395 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 28,966
Katmai is a remote wilderness with few services, no roads and only 5 miles of maintained trails. But it does have lots of volcanoes and brown bears. Particularly the bears. Few places on earth offer comparable opportunities to view bears. Katmai also has North America's highest concentration of prehistoric human dwellings.
#5 North Cascades National Park
Season: Open year round but winter conditions from October to May can close roads and facilities
Size: 789 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 21,623
An alpine landscape of jagged peaks, cascading waterfalls and more than 300 glaciers less than three hours from Seattle yet it is America’s fifth least-visited National Park. There is temperate rainforest on the wet west-side and an ecosystem of ponderosa pine on the dry east. Lake Chelan is America's third deepest lake.
#4 Kobuk Valley National Park
Season: Open year round but expect winter conditions from Oct. 15-Apr. 1
Size: 2,735 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 16,875
Kobuk Valley is a vast semi-enclosed bowl 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle through which flows the ancient highway of the Kobuk River. The lofty Great Kobuk Sand Dunes create an unlikely 25-sq.-mile sculpted desert in the middle of a wilderness of wetlands. To get to them, land on the river in a float plane and backpack two miles across tundra. There is no marked route, so good orienteering skills are required.
#3 Isle Royale National Park
Season: Closed Nov. 1-Apr. 16.
Size: 893 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 16,274
A unique and remote island archipelago in Lake Superior, hard on the border with Canada, Isle Royale is a rugged, roadless, north-woods wilderness that sits atop an ancient lava flow with its own series of inland lakes. Dogs, cats, and other pets are not allowed within park boundaries. A study of the island’s wolves has been running for more than half a century.
#2 Lake Clark National Park & Preserve
Season: Open year round, but most visitors come in June-September
Size: 6,297 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 13,000
Solitude is to be found around every shoulder of each craggy mountain reflected in an iridescent lake. Volcanoes steam, earthquakes rattle, salmon run and bears forage in 4 million acreas of spectacular but remote tundra, lakes, glaciers, mountains, and coastline.
#1 Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve
Season: Open year round, but vistor centers open seasonally
Size: 13,238 sq. miles
No of visits (2013): 11,012
There are no roads or trails to or in this pristine wilderness of vast valleys and gaunt mountains in the second largest and northernmost national park in the U.S. Most visitors arrive by seaplane. In the Spring and Fall herds of caribou migrate through one of the last truly wild places on earth.