There’s a lot to be said for the road less travelled. These 10 U.S. national parks are some of the most pristine places on earth. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway, a place where you can commune with nature, or the perfect destination for some soul-searching, there’s no better bucket list.
10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
This park is situated in the deepest stretch of the Gunnison River Canyon, and derives its name from the fact that parts of this canyon only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day. This incredibly steep and fiercely beautiful canyon carries an air of mystery that lead the Ute Indians to avoid it entirely out of superstition. The Black Canyon’s sublime beauty and rugged, untouched landscapes create unparalleled mountain vistas that you will likely have entirely to yourself.
9. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
This mountainous desert park is filled with stunning rock formations, including the iconic El Capitan limestone reef and the highest peak in Texas. Guadalupe also contains McKittrick Canyon, which blazes to life in the fall as the Bigtooth Maples change their color, a stark and stunningly beautiful contrast from the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert.
8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Perhaps the only reason that Congaree is among the least visited National Parks is because it’s also among the newest. Established in 2003, this incredible floodplain houses one of the tallest canopies in the Eastern U.S and one of the highest temperate deciduous forests in the world. Home to a huge diversity of wildlife such as bobcats, feral pigs, and armadillos, this forest was in danger of being developed for timber until its recent designation as a wilderness area. Now this swampy region is a natural paradise, with less than 150,000 annual visitors and countless lush hideaways for fauna and explorers alike.
7. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Nevada’s only national park is a relatively unknown gem, with ancient groves of bristlecone pines, an intricate cave system, and the Wheeler Peak Glacier. This isolated park also has some of the darkest night skies in the country, offering incredible star gazing and a clear view of the Milky Way.
6. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
This national park, accessible only by seaplane or boat, preserves the Dry Tortugas, the westernmost and most isolated islands of the Florida Keys. Composed of incredible nature as well a historical artifacts, Dry Tortugas also houses Fort Jefferson, a huge and unfinished military fortress built from more than 16 million bricks, the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. This area has an abundance of sea life, tropical birds, and the Keys’ most pristinely preserved coral reefs.
5. North Cascades National Park, Washington
Though it’s less than 3 hours from Seattle, this mountain park on the Canadian border receives fewer than 22,000 visitors per year, pretty much ensuring that you’ll have mountain paths and panoramic views of majestic, rugged peaks and over 300 glaciers to yourself.
4. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
Kobuk Valley is a bit off the beaten path, lying 40km north of the Arctic Circle with no roads in or out. Kobuk is only reachable by foot, dogsled, snowmobile, or chartered air taxis from Nome and Kotzebue, Alaska. The park is 7,084.90 km2 , approximately the size of Delaware, with no designated trails or paths, just untouched wilderness. Kobuk Valley contains incredible biodiversity, with sand dunes, prominent caribou migration routes, and broad wetlands.
3. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
This remote island cluster in Lake Superior is somehow even less visited than Kobuk Valley, which lies entirely above the arctic circle. The park covers 2,320 km2, only 540 km2 of which is above water. Containing over 400 islands, this park has amazing marine life, but is mostly known for its wolf and moose populations.
2. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Located about 160km from Anchorage, this isolated national park is home to a junction of three different mountain ranges, a coastline, rainforest, alpine tundra, glaciers, glacial lakes, major rivers essential to the local salmon migration, and two volcanoes, one of which is active. Thanks to this stunning biodiversity, nearly every species of Alaskan animal can be found in the park, with humans being the vast minority at only 13,000 visitors per year. No roads lead to the park and it can only be reached by boat or small aircraft.
1. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska
The crown jewel of American isolation is the Gates of the Arctic, tucked away above the Arctic Circle and comprising 34,287 km², making it slightly larger than the country of Belgium. The park is dominated by the Brooks Mountains and adjoins the Noatak Wilderness area, forming the largest contiguous wilderness in the United States. Like many Alaskan parks, Gates of the Arctic is completely isolated, with no roads and virtually zero infrastructure, earning it just 11,000 visitors per year. By comparison, the Great Smoky Mountains received nearly 11 million visitors in 2015. So if you’re looking to go into the wild, there’s clearly no better place. Just make sure you bring a jacket.