Outdoor World

The 22 best US national parks to escape the crowds, chosen by experts

Park visitation is at a record high good for tourism , not so good for peace and quiet. From Acadia to Zion, Bryce Canyon to Yosemite, leading writers and environmentalists share their alternatives to the most popular spots

1 The allure: Acadia national park, Maine( 3.5 m annual visits)
The alternative: Voyageurs national park, Minnesota( 237,000 visits)

Locating: Northern Minnesota, on the Canadian border
Best place to remain: Camping near Kabetogama lake, for the unbelievable quiet
Best entry level: Start paddling from Ash river visitor center

When you think of stunning waterscapes, places like Acadia national park in Maine and Olympic national park in Washington likely come to mind. Yet Voyageurs national park in Minnesota offers some of the same activities with a fraction of the crowds. Almost half the park is sea, with more than 500 islands and 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline. As someone who grew up in the Rockies, lived near the mountains of California and adventured in Alaska, I can tell you that Voyageurs is like no place else.

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  • The northern lights above an island at Voyageurs national park
  • Start your escapade at either Kabetogama Lake visitor center or Ash river visitor center. Rent a craft, canoe, or kayak and set about for a campsite across the water. From there you can expend the working day fishing or cruising around. If you’re visiting in July, the wild blueberries and raspberries are ripe for picking and make an excellent addition to your campfire flapjacks. There is beauty in taking a shatter from modern conveniences. When flipped over, the bottom of your canoe offer a great surface to prep your food and perhaps is a better tabletop than a picnic table.

    At Voyageurs, you can wrapping yourself in quiet that is both comforting and exhilarating. We’re not talking complete stillnes, but instead a stillnes that gives people space to enjoy the calls of wildlife from miles around. It’s one of my most favorite aspects of this park: you can literally move an entire day without hearing any human sounds.
    Will Shafroth is the president and CEO of the National Park Foundation

    2 The allure: Biscayne national park, Florida( 447,000 visits)
    The alternative : Dry Tortugas national park, Florida( 54,000 visits)

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  • Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas
  • Locating: Garden Key and six other small islands, 68 miles west of Key West, Florida
    Best place to remain: A rustic campsite( BYO tent, charcoal, water, flashlight, and food in a varmint-proof container)
    Best vision: Sunrise and starring rise over Florida Bay

    If you yearn for more solitude than that afforded by Biscayne national park, brain to the other end of the Florida Keys coral archipelago: Dry Tortugas national park.

    Three centuries after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon named small island developing Tortugas for the sea turtles- they still nest there- Fort Jefferson was constructed from 16 m bricks. Building stretched over 30 years, done largely by enslaved, quarantined or imprisoned laborers. The fort was never finished and never ensure combat. It was abandoned by the military, and its grim history ended in 1908, when it became a natural reserve. Like so many of our national parks, this beautiful place was once seared with human misery. Today, nature has restored peace on Garden Key. The country’s only breed settlement of splendid frigate fowls lives here, having moved west when developing encroached on their former rookery, closer to Key West.

    Garden Key is 40 minutes via seaplane or three hours via boat from Key West. There isn’t much to do here, which is precisely the allure. Watch pelicans and cormorants dive for fish, read books, and revel in absolute inaccessibility. Wander the massive fort’s bastions, battlements, ramparts, moats and lighthouse. The play of ocean light on the red-brick walls and the contrast with cadmium-green seas will mesmerize. Late each afternoon, the boat and seaplane spirit away daytrippers and the island belongs to the few campers. Sit on the sand beach or moat wall and watch frigate birds soar, scarlet balloons at their throats, as the sun burns from sky to sea. A thick shawl of starrings and stillnes unfurls over endless water, a sliver of beach, your tent, and nothing else.
    Wendy Call has been a writer-in-residence at five national parks, co-edited Telling True Stories and is the author of No Word for Welcome

    3 The allure: Bryce Canyon national park, Utah( 2.6 m visits)
    The alternative: Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, Utah( 983,000 visits)

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  • Hoodoo’ garden’ in the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument
  • Location: Southern Utah, about 200 miles north-east of Las Vegas
    Best places to camp: Anywhere in the backcountry( with a permit) or at the developed world campsites near the tiny town of Boulder
    Best hikes: Explore a classic slot canyon like Zebra, Peek-a-Boo or Spooky

    Utah is unrivaled for soul-juddering sceneries- untamed scenery that has defined the west in everything from John Ford’s films to HBO’s Westworld. I fell hard for this land of red boulder and sculpted geology while simply a wide-eyed teen from Jersey, and I’ve never tired of exploring it- along with the millions who visit Utah’s marquee national parks per year. But for an equally unforgettable experience, visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, which was designated 22 years ago by the former chairman Bill Clinton. The tombstone includes literally the last grounds to be mapped in the continental US, and most of them remain just how the cartographers received them.

    ( Note: By presidential proclamation, Donald Trump has attempted to split the virtually 1.9 m-acre monument into three much smaller components to allow drilling and mining. That’s being challenged in courtroom by the Sierra Club and others, and for now these unspoiled grounds remain accessible to the public .)

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  • Zebra slot canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante is huge and wild, so stop at one of the visitor centers on the monument’s two main paved highways to get oriented. You’ll find them in the towns of Kanab and Big Water( Highway 89) and in Escalante and Cannonville( Highway 12 ). Just driving these highways is astoundingly scenic. In dry weather, most automobiles can manage the gravel loop known as Hell’s Backbone between the cities of Boulder near the monument’s northern border and Escalante, 30 miles to the south, but don’t expect to make good time no matter what you’re driving. You’ll want to stop at every scenic viewpoint to gape anyway.

    Hell’s Backbone might whet your appetite to analyse more of the monument’s unpaved byways, such as Hole-in-the-Rock Road, which dates back to the Mormon wagon trains. It’s situated about five miles south-east of Escalante on Highway 12. Four-wheel drive is recommended for such explorations, but even then be kept in mind that wet weather could become your way into a quagmire or worse. Hikers and backpackers will want to check out some of the monument’s gorgeous slot canyons. Several spectacular ones are accessible from Hole in the Rock Road. Bring paper maps – your phone won’t help you here.
    Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club

    4 The attractivenes: Canaveral national seashore, Florida( 1.6 m visits)
    The alternative: Cumberland Island national seashore, Georgia( 52,000 visits)

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  • A live oak are covered under ferns on Cumberland Island, Georgia
  • Place: About 35 miles north of Jacksonville, Florida
    Best place to remain: The amenities at Sea Camp- restrooms, cold rains and potable sea- are welcome after a period hiking in coastal wilderness, though reservations are a must
    Best hike: Take Parallel trail from the ferry dock north toward Roller Coaster trail

    Cumberland is wild magics, the southernmost and largest in a chain of barrier islands along the Georgia coast. Its groves are dominated by wind-tortured live oaks draped with Spanish moss and greened by resurrection fern, gnomish and ceaselessly amazing. Painted buntings and summer tanagers flash among cabbage palms. Beyond white-sand dunes held in place by sea oat and beach morning exaltation, the restless Atlantic rises and falls in dramatic tidal fluctuations, ebbing 6ft to 8ft. In summer, loggerhead sea turtles lumber ashore to scoop out huge nests, from which hatchlings emerge and float out to sea.

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    The 18 -mile-long island is accessible only by ferrying or private barge, and I advise starting at the two sides of the strait township of St Marys. Because Cumberland is long and narrow, hikes will take you toward its wild north aim. A walk through the wreckings of Dungeness, a mansion constructed in the 19 th century, is highly recommended. Summer is almost unbearably hot, so I propose spring or autumn, when Pelican Banksis thick with rafts of shorebirds such as ruddy terns and American oystercatchers. You may want to treat yourself to a nighttime or two at private Greyfield Inn, halfway up the island.

    It is the profoundly beautiful salt creek that ever call me back to Cumberland. Below a 20 ft bluff overlooking a continent of marsh grasses, a kingfisher dives into Christmas creek. The water, though opaque, is so alive with shrimp and mullet and oysters that it jiggles, thrashes and grumbles as it rises and falls with the moon.
    Janisse Ray has written five volumes of nature penning, including Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

    5 The attractivenes : Denali national park and save, Alaska( 643,000 visits)
    The alternative : Wrangell-St Elias national park and save, Alaska( 68,000 visits)

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  • Hikers stand beside a pool on Root glacier
  • Location: Southern Alaska
    Best place to bide: Kennicott Glacier Lodge
    Top road: Root glacier trail, a four-mile hike gale beside Root and Kennicott glaciers

    Wrangell-St Elias is a vast, remote, and rarely visited wilderness of mountains and ice fields, alpine valleys and glacial rivers. At 13.2 m acres, it’s the nation’s largest national park and protected wilderness; it’s also part of the largest protected international wilderness left on countries around the world. It securely reminds you of humanity’s essential dispensability even as it opens you to your own vastness.

    The adventures are limitless: you can knapsack, flightsee, mountain-climb, river-raft, or simply wander trails near the quirky Alaskan town of McCarthy in the heart of the park. Whatever you choose, the experience begins on the drive there. It’s a full period through an surprise of mountains, rivers, and glaciers. Perhaps the most luminous is at the confluence of the Copper and Chitina rivers, where dipnetters clinging to high ridges fish for ruby-red salmon. The Chitina scribes the fault line which gave rise to the park’s peaks, some of North America’s highest.

    Here your route enters the park, for 60 miles of a narrow, often nasty, summer-only grime road- one to be driven gradually. My first time, sharp boulders blew out two tires. Take it easy; stop at a lagoon and listen for loons or trumpeter swans. The last leg you’ll do sans vehicle, strolling a footbridge across the roiling Kennicott river.

    Spend some time in McCarthy and drop in at the Golden Saloon. Tour the Kennecott copper mine and specter town. Hike beside Root glacier, marveling at cerulean crevasses marching off to the horizon. Continue as the white-crowned sparrow’s melody urges you farther upvalley, to views of the Stairway icefall, a magnificent ice formation spilling 6,000 ft off Mount Regal. Then, go farther.
    Marybeth Holleman is the author of several volumes, including The Heart of the Sound and Among Wolves

    6 Another alternative to Denali: Bering Land Bridge national conserve( 3,000 visits)

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  • Fall colors at the Serpentine hot spring
  • Place: North of Nome, Alaska
    Best place to stay: In Shishmaref, arrange accommodation through locals
    Best hike: From Shishmaref, tracing climate change along the rapidly eroding Chukchi Sea coast

    You may find yourself holding a gun for the first time not far from the Bering Land Bridge natural conserve. You may be with your father, who accoutered himself with a weapon in case you encountered births, wolverines, or worse. You may not be in search of play, but perspective, as you clamber up the slopes of the mountain called Grand Singatook. You may hope to see the conserve from up high and to glimpse Ugiuvak across the Bering Sea, small island developing of my mother’s childhood and home to my ancestors for countless generations until the the federal government shut the island’s school in 1959. You may bear your toddler son on your back and your younger son in the womb. Your father may offer to carry his grandson and promote you to take his canteen and firearm. You may hold the gun and regret it, and switching over. You may pause to note snowfall arnica nodding its battered bloom, stray bones and shed antlers, inuksuit. The land is genuinely sacred, and the mountain a weather-maker. From it, one may begin to comprehend our vast Inuit grounds and the histories of survival engraved within them.


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  • Left, stone arrangements stand on the rims of ancient volcanos. Right, reindeer on the beach at Ikpek lagoon
  • Within the save you are able visit the 100,000 -acre Imuruk volcanic fields or Serpentine hot springs (< em> Iyat in Inupiat) amid granite spires. Or you may remain on the life-thrumming coast. On the final night of my 2015 trip-up, we traveled along the Chukchi Sea coast toward Ikpek lagoon, across eroding strands of fine sand beaches. I was on foot, despite having had hip surgery some weeks before, and suffering through a cough that would afterward result in a positive TB test. We built a driftwood bonfire and gleaned starfish, shells, even plastic litter. The lagoon was still. We saw neither polar bear , nor walrus , nor seal. Neither did we visit whales on their migrations, yet the blue-white churn of the Chukchi Sea seemed to afford me and the dozen Inupiaq children who chose to invest the evening in the company of their guests a moment to consider the cerements of the sea and our rightful, if threatened, place on its shores.
    Joan Naviyuk Kane has authored nine books and creates her sons as a single mom in Alaska

    7 The attractivenes: Gettysburg national military park, Pennsylvania( 1m visits)
    The alternative: Manassas national battlefield park, Virginia( 606,000 visits)

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  • Henry Hill at the Manassas national battleground monument
  • Location: 30 miles west of Washington DC

    On Veterans Day last November, I traveled to one of my favorite hidden gems: Manassas national battlefield park. Situated a short drive west from Washington DC, on I-6 6, the battleground is available on Manassas, Virginia. Manassas was home to two significant duels in the civil conflict, including the first combat of Bull Run, and is an example of America’s military history. I rode a horse through the battleground, taking in the visions and sounds of a now-peaceful scenery that once saw intense fighting between fellow countrymen.

    As I journey and looked out on Manassas battlefield, I was astounded at how guests could see the style the terrain shaped the duel and troop motions over 150 years ago. I was also encouraging to note involved volunteers rebuilding fences and preserving the park. There were scout groups and school classes learning about the history and nature, families enjoying hikes on the park’s more than 45 miles of trails, and senior citizens taking advantage of the more than 20 miles of paved streets for driving tours.

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