More Americans than ever plan to vacation with their families this summer, according to a recent AAA survey. Many of them are going to America’s national parks. The Great Smoky Mountains expect about 10 million visitors this year, compared to five million each at the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.
Looking for a “road less traveled” experience? Five low profile national parks, based on the number of annual visitors, are listed below.
Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was created to preserve and protect 8.4 million acres of the diverse Arctic ecosystems of Alaska’s Brooks Range. It serves as the headwaters for six wilderness rivers. There are no facilities, roads or trails. Visitors should come equipped to backpack, hike, camp and cruise the rivers. Transportation in and out of the park, usually by plane, must be pre-arranged.
Annual visitors: 10,047
Sunken Ships: Isle Royale National Park is a remote island in Lake Superior near Michigan’s border with Canada. Cars aren’t allowed in this wilderness of forests, lakes and waterways where moose and wolves roam. There are dive sites where visitors plunge into the lake to explore several shipwrecks. Ferry is the only way to get there and camping reservations are required for visitors who want to spend the night.
Annual visitors: 18,684
Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink: Dry Tortugas National Park is a cluster of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The “Dry” in its name came from the Spanish explorers who determined the sea water surrounding the islands was not fit to drink. “Tortugas” is the Spanish word for the sea turtles that build their nests in the protected sandy shores. The waters around the islands particularly appeal to snorkelers because their coral reefs teem with interesting marine life.
Annual visitors: 70,862
South of the Equator: National Park of American Samoa, Territory of American Samoa, is 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii. It is America’s only national park south of the equator. Rain forests and extensive coral reefs are its main draw. Visitors should pack snorkel or diving gear; air tanks can be rented. The only land mammals are three types of bats, among them the fruit bats with three-foot wingspans.
Annual visitors: 13,892
Newest National Park: Pinnacles National Park in California was designated the 59th national park in 2013. It dates back millions of years ago, when multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form the land encompassed by this 26,000-acre park. Rock climbers and hikers are drawn to it. Another attraction are the condors. About 30 of them are tagged, but fly freely.
Annual Visitors: 206,533
A sequel to this blog post, scheduled for July 10, will acquaint readers with five more of the less-traveled parks around the country. The U.S. National Parks Service provides extensive information about the 59 parks it operates including trip planning information. https:www.nps.gov