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Undervisited parks across the U.S.

Head to these lesser-known gems for a nature experience without the crowds.
  1. Pinnacles National Park

    You're less likely to be cropping out strangers while framing photos of the jaw-dropping views at California's Pinnacles, which include rock spires, meadows, caves, and glassy waters.

    Eagles, falcons and the endangered California condor soar over this expanse, which lies east of Monterey. Pick a trail and leave the rest of the world behind.

  2. Great Basin National Park

    Tucked away at the eastern edge of Nevada, Great Basin holds surprisingly diverse landscapes within its 120 square miles of terrain.

    Eerie and enthralling caves combine with mountain peaks and desert valleys to create a place where it's exceptionally easy to unplug, especially given that the park regularly draws fewer than 200,000 visitors a year.

  3. North Cascades National Park

    While North Cascades "complex" got more than 800,000 visitors in 2017, the lion's share went to the Ross Lakes National Recreation Area, where traffic flows in from Seattle and Vancouver.

    The national park itself, along with the complex's third piece, the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, remain far quieter, attracting less than 10 percent of the total visits—Lake Chelan, after all, is accessible only by ferry, trail or plane. Venture off the beaten path and enjoy the southern side of this Washington state wilderness.

  4. Isle Royale National Park

    It takes a bit of planning to visit this island in Michigan's Lake Superior, but you'll be rewarded with rugged beauty and far fewer crowds: Isle Royale got just over 28,000 visits in 2017.

    When the island is open to the public May through October, you can take a ferry over and camp on its peaceful shores. Some reservations and permits are required, so check the website before you go.

  5. Voyageurs National Park

    Located at the far northern end of Minnesota, Voyageurs features a network of lakes and plenty of space for the modest number of visitors who make it there. Unique gardens and historic resorts are dotted along the shores of this boater's paradise. If the timing is right, you might even catch the Northern Lights.

  6. Robert Treman State Park

    People love the summer swimming and waterfalls at this destination in Ithaca, New York, yet it isn't overwhelmed with crowds, especially on the hiking trails.

    While the main attraction is an idyllic, lifeguarded swimming hole that is open seasonally, the park is open year-round and has 12 waterfalls and nine miles of hiking trails to explore, plus campsites open May through November.

  7. Catoctin Mountain Park

    U.S. presidents head here for downtime, why not you? While Camp David isn't open to the public, the surrounding land at this park in Maryland is.

    Adjacent to Cunningham Falls State Park and less than two hours by car from Washington, D.C., Catoctin has miles of forested trails and mountain overlooks, yet its visitor numbers have remained under 250,000 the past few years. It's especially beautiful in the fall, when the hills burst with color.

  8. Big Bend National Park

    Situated at the southwestern border of Texas, Big Bend offers plenty of room to spread out over its 1,252 square miles.

    Fewer than half a million visitors made it here in 2017, ranking it in the bottom third of national parks, but those who did could canoe along the Rio Grande and take in stunning canyon views.

  9. Congaree National Park

    One of the nation's newest national parks, Congaree is also among the least crowded.

    Covering nearly 27,000 acres in South Carolina, it offers lovely and accessible nature hikes and river trails for paddling, and lots of places to fish. Charleston and other attractions lie within a three-hour drive.

  10. Dry Tortugas National Park

    Floating at the farthest end of the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas encompasses 100 square miles of clear blue water and seven small islands.

    The park feels like a magnificent tropical getaway, with terrific diving and snorkeling sites, and most of it is open year-round—yet in 2017, fewer than 55,000 people made the trip. Schedule a ferry, boat or plane ride and take advantage of this public paradise.

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January 18, 2018 09:48 AM