Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon — every American has heard of the country’s touchstone national parks. However, the National Park Service consists of many smaller, lesser-known, and far-flung destinations that each provide the perfect opportunity to unwind and unplug. Here are three of the least visited, most remote U.S. National Parks.
Key West is well-known as “the end of the road” for road trippers seeking the southernmost point in the contiguous United States. However, 70 miles beyond the land of Jimmy Buffet lies the 100-square-mile Dry Tortugas National Park. The park consists almost entirely of water, plus seven tiny islands — all smaller than any of the Florida Keys. Garden Key, the main island in the archipelago, is home to Fort Jefferson. The 200-year-old fort is one of the largest in the country and remains well-intact to this day. Most visitors arrive by ferry or floatplane and quickly explore the fort for an hour or two before heading back to Key West. However, it’s worth planning a full-day visit to allow time for snorkeling or, better yet, diving. The surrounding waters are among the clearest and warmest of any in the United States. For an even more intense experience, book one of the few reservable camping spots near the fort. As the parks service allows few overnight guests, visitors are likely to have most of the park to themselves, and the sunsets and stargazing are out of this world.
Alaska is no doubt the most rugged and remote of any state in the country, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to one of the least visited parks in the entire National Park system. Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve stretches across 7 million acres (an area larger than Belgium) of Arctic wilderness where muskoxen, caribou, and millions of birds roam free. It’s also home to the state’s native tribes who have survived and thrived off the land for more than 10,000 years. As the northernmost national park in the country, a visit requires a long, arduous trek that usually combines plenty of driving and multiple (often weather-delayed) flights. The payoff? Little more than 12,000 visitors annually make it one of the least visited national parks and the perfect place for a digital detox.
Like Dry Tortugas, California’s Channel Islands National Park consists mainly of water and is only accessible by ferry. Of the eight islands that constitute the chain, five are protected and home to nearly 150 endemic species, prompting many to call it the “Galapagos of North America.” All are unique with their own points of interest. Santa Cruz Island is best known for its sea caves, making it an ideal spot for divers. East Anacapa Island boasts an early 20th-century lighthouse and hiking trails that lead to stunning Inspiration Point atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. San Miguel Island and Santa Barbara (the southernmost in the chain) are each home to massive seal colonies and nesting seabirds.