In the National Park Service’s annual park ranking report of recreational visitors for 2015, the agency identified how each of the 409 national park system units ranked in order of visitation. At the top of the list were perennial favorites like Great Smoky Mountains and Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as iconic parks like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone National Park.
However, it’s with the expected increase in visitation during this centennial year that park visitors are looking to lesser-visited parks to avoid the crowds. Here are some of the parks that, while ranked near the bottom in visitation, are no less grand.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Ranked 48th in 2015 with 169,535 visitors
Located in West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a geographically diverse landscape, home to mountain streams, dense woodlands and rocky canyons. This park offers more than 80 miles of hiking trails catering to every level of hiker. Using the National Park Service’s Fossil Identification Guide, park visitors can explore the park’s ancient past.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Ranked 49th in 2015 with 116,123 visitors
Located far from the bright lights of Vegas in remote eastern Nevada, Great Basin National Park is known for some of the darkest skies in the country. Explore the stunning Lehman Caves, fish in Baker Creek or climb Wheeler Peak. Great Basin is ideal for hikers, with varying levels of trails, including the Mountain View Nature Trail or visiting the Lexington Arch.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Ranked 52nd in 2015 with 70,862 visitors
Home to the famous 19th century Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park is located on a cluster of small islands, 70 miles off the coast of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to being an ideal destination for history buffs, the park, only accessible by boat or plane, is equally prized for its turquoise waters, beautiful beaches, majestic corals, tropical fish, starfish, and queen conchs. The park’s shallow waters make for excellent snorkeling.
Isle Royal National Park, Michigan
Ranked 55th in 2015 with 18,684 visitors
Similar to Dry Tortugas, Isle Royal National Park is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Surrounded by Lake Superior in Michigan, Isle Royale is known for its rugged terrain, scenic hikes, and unparalleled solitude. The park’s isolated wilderness attracts backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists and scuba divers from April through October. The park service offers guided hikes, trips to the historic Daisy Farm Area, as well as guided cruise tours.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Ranked 54th in 2015 with 20,677 visitors
By far the quietest of Washington’s three national parks, North Cascades National Park is located three hours northeast of Seattle. This quiet wilderness offers a range to outdoor activities for the front-country visitor to the most experienced outdoor adventurer. Park visitors can hike along Thornton Lake or through the Newhalem area trails; or any of the park’s many day hikes. Park activities include biking, hiking, birding, boating, and fishing.
To learn more about National Park Week, visit www.nationalparkweek.org.