3 Surprisingly Incredible National Parks
With the recent addition of the four newest national parks, there are now 417 parks recognized by the National Park Services, but half of all the visitation in 2017 occurred at only 27 of them. That leaves a lot of parks without the attention they might deserve — but hey, more space for those of us willing to take the road less traveled! From Alaska to the Southwest to the Great Lakes, here are three of the most surprisingly incredible national parks you should add to your list.
Wrangell–St. Elias National Park
We'd be remiss if we didn't tell you more about the superlative Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. While its location in Alaska may make it less accessible for those of us in the southern 49 states, if you have the opportunity to visit, this land of glaciers and lava fields is undoubtedly worth the trip.
There are three main glaciers in Wrangell–St. Elias: Hubbard, Kennicott, and Root Glacier. Hubbard is the largest at 76 miles long, and it commonly calves icebergs three and four stories tall. Root, on the other hand, is the easiest for expeditions and hikers to tackle, while Kennicott is the most conveniently located, near the historic mining town of Kennecott in the center of the park.
The majority of the park is considered backcountry, with opportunities for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, ice climbing, and more. There are various tour groups available, who also offer things like whitewater rafting and flightseeing.
You should know that lodges in the park are only operational from mid-May to the end of September, and you'll have a whopping 18 hours of sunlight in the height of summer — plenty of time to squeeze in everything you want to do.
The town of McCarthy, near Kennecott and its accompanying copper mine, has the only dining options within the park. There is also a convenience store here, but you'll want to be sure you're prepared from the outset; you don't want a lack of supplies to spoil the beauty and remoteness of your trip.
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park in Nevada is another awe-inspiring spot whose name we don't hear mentioned nearly enough. From ancient and otherworldly bristlecone pines to underground caves with their own strange and unique ecosystems, there is truly something for everyone.
Proving that Nevada is far more than just a desert and Las Vegas, the Great Basin area packs in an incredible variety of natural features — and their accompanying habitats and fauna. Wheeler Peak, in the eastern portion of the park, stands over 13,000 feet tall and is covered by snow in the winter months. Here and on the park's other peaks, you'll find alpine species and both conifer and deciduous trees, which means there are some stunning autumn colors. There are also six lakes in the park, all of which are either in glacial cirques or moraines.
Meanwhile, down in the valleys, the landscape becomes a desert. It creates an entirely different ecosystem. And the Lehman Caves — the primary cave system in the park open to the public — are an environment all their own with stalactites and other odd formations, not to mention bats, troglodytes and more.
The park's website gives a few great potential activities for your time in the Great Basin, depending on how much time you have to spend in the park. Hiking, camping, cave exploration, and fishing are all popular pastimes. Though, you can also enjoy the beauty of the park without ever leaving your car on the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive.
One sight you don't want to miss is directly overhead: the night sky. Great Basin was officially designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2016, thanks to its elevation, low humidity, and minimal light pollution. According to the National Park Service, "On a clear, moonless night in Great Basin National Park, thousands of stars, five of our solar system's eight planets, star clusters, meteors, man-made satellites, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye."
Isle Royale National Park
In the waters of Lake Superior lie the four hundred-plus islands of the archipelago that is Isle Royale National Park. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is mostly remote, rugged wilderness that is an ideal camping locale for those hardy and prepared enough to take on the challenge. Check it out, and read up on these facts you probably didn't know about the Great Lakes.
Unless you're planning on a private boat crossing or a flight with Isle Royale Seaplanes, you'll need to make reservations on one of the four-passenger ferries that service the park: Ranger III, Isle Royale Queen IV, Voyageur II, Seahunter III.
There are two areas in the park with services such as food, camping accessories, and souvenirs. Rock Harbor Lodge, on the northeast end of the park, also has full-service lodging with sixty rooms available, while Windigo, on the southwest end of the park, has only two one-room camper cabins available.
As in Wrangell–St. Elias, with few supplies available elsewhere in the park, it's a pack in, pack out policy. You'll need to bring everything you need with you — and bring it all back out.
As we said, Isle Royale is a camper's paradise. It has 165 miles of trails and 36 campgrounds, with views ranging from dense, lush forest to sunsets over secluded coves. You can also expect to see plenty of wildlife, including the moose and gray wolves whose unique prey-predator relationship is the park's most famous pairing.
Given that the park is a group of islands in the middle of the country's largest lake, exploring by water is also a popular choice. Canoes and kayaks can take you both between islands and on the open waters of Lake Superior, or you can go further afield by motorboat if paddling isn't your thing. Fishing is also common, though you'll want to be sure to know the rules and requirements.
Finally, the park is home to 10 shipwrecks, making it an incredible place for scuba divers to explore. Though, with the lack of services in the area, it's especially important to make sure you're prepared with diving experience and all necessary emergency equipment.