Life

Want To Escape The Crowds? Visit These US National Parks This Summer

National Parks are all over the news lately — mostly with warnings of long lines, overcrowding, and confusion over hard to secure limited reservations. The truth is, many parks will be crowded this summer. And while I sometimes actually enjoy being surrounded by a throng of like-minded folks in the wilderness, there’s something especially magical about a park where you can get a little elbow room.

With 63 officially designated “National Parks” in the United States, there are many that — despite the wild spike in National Park interest — are still somewhat secluded and less visited. But don’t let the less visited or rarely instagrammed status stop you from going. The parks on this list are less visited mostly due to proximity. As in, they take some work to get to.

Trust us: Make the required effort for the seven gems below. Once you arrive, you’ll be glad you did.

New River Gorge — WEST VIRGINIA

Emily Hart

New River Gorge was just designated a National Park in December (it was previously a National River) and despite having long been a bastion for whitewater rafting, it is still fairly unknown. I visited this week and found it to be charming and sparsely occupied. Part of the reason for this is its location, it lies deep in West Virginia. Part may be due to its size, it encompasses a large swath of land around the New River.

Whatever the case, this is a special place and perfect for getting wet this summer.

Know before you go:

The New River is known for epic rafting, but if that’s not your speed there are many other ways to get onto the water. You can take a float trip, kayak, even SUP in the calmer sections of New River. Plan ahead and reserve some guided trips.

Pro tip:

There are many small towns and access points that make up the park. I stayed in Hinton, the southern gateway to the park and loved the small town charm (and the cabin on a private island I was able to stay in). Fayetteville is another great option with an eclectic vibe and no shortage of outfitters for guided trips. The park and the surrounding area feed into each other — you’ll be in the park then out then back in — but this works in your favor as there are amazing state parks in the same area. Pipestem Resort State Park is amazing and full of activities (I went on a gorgeous guided horseback ride there) while Bluestone State Park is a water lover’s dream.

Isle Royale — MICHIGAN

Like many of the parks on this list, Isle Royale requires a bit of a trek and some determination to visit. It is an island in the middle of Lake Superior, so getting there is just part of the fun. You can take a boat from either Michigan or Minnesota (there are person-only ferries from Houghton, Copper Harbor, Grand Portage, or Grand Marais) or opt for a seaplane or private boat to travel to the island. Once you’re there you have miles of trails to hike or backpack, campgrounds to relax in, and wildlife to find.

Know before you go:

Isle Royale is only accessible during the warmer months, and even then weather can change your trip quickly. Plan far ahead, check the weather leading up to your trip, and bring bug spray!

Pro tip:

Look out for wolves! Isle Royale is famously home to a now estimated 14 wolves, some that were recently transported there to help control the moose population. There have been researchers studying them since 1958 — making it the longest predator-prey study in the world.

Voyageurs — MINNESOTA

Voyageurs is another park that is somewhat difficult to get to, due to being almost entirely on water. The “park” is really more about the waterways you’ll be exploring than anything on land. Plan your trip carefully, there are NPS boat tours, private boat rentals, or you can bring your own. But you have to get on the water. That’s where the magic is.

Know before you go:

The only lodging (outside of camping) within the park is Kettle Falls Hotel. It has a super interesting history, and feels like stepping back into another time. I recommend staying for a night or two and arranging a boat shuttle through the hotel. Then explore the island and borrow the hotel’s canoe to explore.

Pro tip:

Visit Voyageurs and Isle Royale on the same trip. The drive is just over four hours from Grand Portage to Voyageurs, and takes you in part along the gorgeous Scenic 61 highway.

Dry Tortugas — FLORIDA

Surprise, another island park. The beauty of an island with limited options to reach it is that there is also a limited amount of people who will be on it. You can’t just drive up to an overlook at this park, you’re going to have to work for it. You can take the ferry from Key West or hop on a seaplane out to the gulf. You’ll soon find yourself in what seems like another world.

Explore the fort, lounge on the beach, snorkel, or camp under the deep dark skies.

Know before you go:

Reserve your tickets in advance! There are limited tickets each day and you don’t want to get all the way to the Keys and be turned away.

Pro tip:

Snorkel! I spent an entire afternoon snorkeling and laying on the beach — a truly special experience.

Big Bend — TEXAS

Big Bend might not be the greatest park to visit in the middle of summer — unless you love extreme heat — but it is a park to add to your list if you’re looking for some solitude. There is no reason this park is less visited other than that it’s hard to get to. But the longer the road the greater the reward (in this case, anyway).

This section of the Rio Grande River is truly breathtaking. Take a multi-day float trip for a remote adventure that should be way more talked about.

Know before you go:

Like I said, it’s hard to get to Big Bend. And once you’re there services are extremely limited. So plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. Include a lot of water in your planning — it’s hot.

Pro tip:

Road-tripping to Big Bend is an adventure in itself. When I visited I stopped in Marfa on the way (the sort-of-home to the insta-famous Prada Marfa), and really enjoyed the laid back artsy vibe of the town. It’s also hard to reach, so a great add on to a Big Bend trip.

North Cascades — WASHINGTON

I’m constantly surprised that North Cascades still manages to make the list of least visited US National Parks. Only three hours from Seattle, and with views like the one above, that’s hard to believe. But I doubt the secret can be kept much longer, so I’d add this park to your summer road trip list. The park is home to rugged mountains, bright blue lakes, forested trails and beautiful waterfalls. Your jaw will drop at every turn.

Know before you go:

The main thoroughfare can become crowded, but don’t let that deter you — just get off the beaten path a bit.

Pro tip:

Go swimming in Diablo Lake! It is the definition of #nofilter beauty.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison — COLORADO

Colorado parks are known for being overcrowded — and they often are… in most places. But somehow, not at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I’ve regularly visited without seeing more than 10 other people. This allows me to bask in the moment, just experiencing the solitude and the peace of the canyon.

Know before you go:

You can access Black Canyon at the South or North Rim. The south seems to be more crowded, but also easier to access.

Pro tip:

Watch the stars! Black Canyon is a certified dark sky park.

×