If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? What about if you’re in a forest, but are surrounded by hundreds of other people — can you still enjoy the trees? Visiting National Parks is a classic American pastime, no more so than during tourist season from about Mid-May to Mid-September. While parks like Zion, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier are some of the most popular — and for good reason — they often become unbearably crowded. But your options span far beyond the parks that are household names. The National Park System comprises 424national park sites in the United States, spanning more than than 84 million acres. Within the system, there are 63 sites that have “National Park” as part of their proper name, which include the ones listed above, but also dozens of other lesser known parks that offer an equally scenic and adventurous — if not more so — experience. Here are five off-the-beaten-path national parks to visit this summer.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Located in Washington State less than three hours from Seattle is North Cascades National Park (also known as the American Alps), which features jagged peaks, pristine alpine lakes and several waterfalls. The park’s many rivers offer ample adventure opportunities for both white water enthusiasts and those who enjoy trout fishing. North Cascades National Park is also a sanctuary for wildlife, and visitors will have the chance to see black bears, mountain goats, elk, bald eagles and gray wolves. The North Cascades Range, the park’s namesake, has the largest glacial system in the continental U.S., with more than 300 glaciers and 300 lakes.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Located in the pristine waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is a secluded island accessible only by boat or seaplane, making it one of the least-visited national parks. It’s perfect for those looking to disconnect, and offers unparalleled backpacking, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and even diving opportunities, as there are several shipwrecks to explore. Moose and wolves roam freely and are studied by scientists who investigate predator-prey relationships in a closed environment. It’s also the only known place that has moose and wolves, but not bears.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park is renowned for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, which is the largest of its kind in the U.S. Bottomland forest is a river swamp where trees like bald cypress, oaks, gums and tupelos are able to survive seasonal and sometimes year-round flooding. Of the estimated 30 million acres of bottomland forests that once covered the country, only 40% of them remain. Visitors to South Carolina’s only national park will find ample opportunities to stroll along the boardwalk that winds through the swampy (but not technically swamp) areas or take a canoe tour. You can also spot turtles, snakes, alligators, deer, woodpeckers, wild pigs, river otters and even bobcats
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Escape the crowds and delve into the solitude of Great Basin National Park. Known for its stark beauty and diverse landscapes, this park offers dramatic mountain ranges, ancient bristlecone pine groves that contain some of the oldest trees on earth and limestone caverns. Experience breathtaking stargazing opportunities at the park’s renowned Dark Sky site (low humidity and minimal light pollution give it one of the darkest night skies in the U.S.) and challenge yourself with a trek up Wheeler Peak, the second-highest peak in Nevada.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
While West Texas might not evoke images of the great outdoors the way Wyoming and Montana do, the region boasts an abundance of rugged landscapes and breathtaking vistas. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, which offers hikers a challenging yet rewarding trek to the summit. Explore diverse ecosystems, ancient fossilized reefs, and a variety desert flora and fauna as you traverse the park’s extensive trail system. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is also rich in cultural history. The remnants of ancient civilizations can be found in the form of Native American rock art, while the ruins of a 19th-century stagecoach station evoke the spirit of the region’s pioneer past.