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15 Under-the-Radar National Parks

By: Jennifer Plum Auvil

The US National Park system boasts protected lands with astonishing nature and rich history. While some parks may host a million visitors each year, the visitors to these hidden national parks can be counted in the thousands. Take a break from the traffic and crowds, and appreciate the unspoiled beauty at 15 of the country's least-visited national parks.

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Photo: David Rasmus/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hidden But Great National Parks

If you're interested in exploring America's magnificent national parks but don't want the crowds and household name status of more popular parks like Yosemite National Park or Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the two-most visited national parks in 2020 according to the National Park Service, with a combined total of 15.9 million visitors), then try one of these less-charted parks.

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Photo: Courtesy of Under Lucky Stars and Unsplash

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

It's not likely you'll plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park: It requires serious planning to venture into this wild Alaskan spot above the Arctic Circle. The remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and — for the truly hardcore — on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. Once in the park, visitors are rewarded with sweeping valleys and rugged mountains, the tallest rising 8,510 feet at Mount Igikpak at the headwaters of the Noatak River.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Anna Abramskaya

North Cascades National Park

Washington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions. The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain. The mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley.

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Photo: Shutterstock/Arlene Waller

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. Go underground at Lehman Caves, an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and over 300 rare shield formations.

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