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Looking for solitude? Check out the least-visited national parks in the Lower 48 states

Sea Kayaking at Santa Cruz Island - Channel Islands National Par Sea Kayaking at Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park, off the coast of California. | Photo by Brian Swanson/stock.adobe.com

Although U.S. national parks are justifiably popular, every park offers the possibility of quiet and solitude—and some parks are so lightly visited that serenity is built in. All you need to do is make your way to any of these, 2020’s eight least-visited national parks in the Lower 48.

Channel Islands National Park, California

Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Photo by Travel Stock/stock.adobe.com

Channel Islands National Park is like a bonus California—equal in beauty to the nearby coast, but wild and unpopulated. Outfitter Island Packers runs frequent ferries to the nearest islands, Anacapa (pictured above) and Santa Cruz, where you can day hike and camp in solitude, or, on Santa Cruz, paddle in and around some of the world’s largest sea caves.

Pinnacles National Park, California  

The Bear Gulch Reservoir in Pinnacles National Park

Photo by Cheri Alguire/stock.adobe.com

Among our newest national parks, Pinnacles National Park is a realm of volcanic spires, boulders, and summits that rise out of the grassy hills east of the Salinas Valley. As you day hike or rock climb, watch for California condors soaring high above and Townsend’s big-eared bats in Bear Gulch Cave.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina 

Tree-lined banks of Cedar Creek, Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Photo by Jonathan/stock.adobe.com

Canoe amid old-growth hardwood trees in Congaree National Park, home to countless species of spiders and snakes, some aquatic. Swimming is not recommended. 

North Cascades National Park, Washington

North Cascades National Park

Photo by Nathan/stock.adobe.com

Picture multiple Matterhorns and you have an image of North Cascades National Park’s magnificent alpine scenery. You can camp, hike, climb, ogle some 300 glaciers, or go boating on adjacent Ross Lake.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas 

Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Hunter Peak summit view, Bowl Trail, sunrise with fog, hiker John Morlock

Photo by Laurence Parent

Meet the high country, Texas style: The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a one-time ocean reef turned desert sky island, rise 8,751 feet at Guadalupe Peak to deliver 100-mile views. You can bag the peak or take an easy streamside hike up McKittrick Canyon under a canopy of deciduous trees—gorgeous in fall.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Isle royale national park

Photo by Cyrezhd/stock.adobe.com

The signature adventure in Isle Royale National Park, an island in Lake Superior, is a roughly four-day hike on Greenstone Ridge Trail for stunning island and lake views, possible moose encounters, and the howls of wolves at night.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. Fort Jefferson.

Photo by Jay Patel/stock.adobe.com

The massive, all-masonry Fort Jefferson, built out of 16 million bricks between 1846 and 1875 to protect shipping, is the centerpiece of Dry Tortugas National Park island. It’s a great spot for birding and snorkeling, too.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Scenic vista overlooks mountain peaks from the Bristlecone pines, the longest living trees, can be seen on the Bristlecone Pine Grove trail in Great Basin National Park. These trees survive under the harshest conditions, including short growing season, high winds, and cold temperatures.

Photo by Sandra Foyt/stock.adobe.com

Great Basin National Park not only has a star-filled night sky, but it’s also home to some of the world’s oldest living trees—bristlecone pines. You can hike among them or drive high up 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak.

Robert Earle Howells is a national parks enthusiast. His previous articles include:

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