What Is the Hardest National Park to Visit?

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View of Gates of the Arctic National Park in the summer

Zion National Park has more than 5 million visitors soaking in the sandstone cliffs each year. About 4 million people basked in the beauty of Acadia National Park in 2021.

Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and Arches National Park have started timed-entry ticketing processes for popular hikes and drives because the crowds are getting uncontrollable.

But even in the midst of radical numbers like these, a handful of national parks remain out of the public eye.

These are the hardest national parks to visit because of their remote locations and vast wilderness areas.

Some don’t even have roads, and you can only access them via boat or plane.

Let’s take a closer look at five of the hardest National Parks to visit.

About the US National Parks 

Since 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) has been managing and preserving our nation’s treasures.

As of 2022, there are 423 units within the NPS, including national battlefield sites, seashores, historical parks, rivers, and more.

In fact, there are 19 naming designations within the system.

The largest are national monuments with 84 sites, next are national historical sites with 73, and the third largest designation is national parks with 63 locations.

Most people think of the national park designations when they think about the NPS. But the system includes so much more.

What Is the Most Visited National Park?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 522,427 acres between North Carolina and Tennessee.

There are 384 total road miles and 850 miles of backcountry trails, including about 70 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.

In addition to being a national park, the Great Smoky Mountains is also an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site.

Each year between 11 to 12 million visitors travel here to enjoy the rich forestry, diverse plant and animal life, and Appalachian Mountain culture.

Which State Has the Most National Parks? 

California has nine national parks and Alaska has eight national parks. With a total of 28 national park designated areas, California has over 28 million visitors to those locations each year.

Due to Alaska’s wilderness and remote location, all of its 23 national park designated areas see less than half a million visitors each year.

Are There Any States That Don’t Have Any National Parks?

There are numerous states that don’t have any of the 63 National Parks. But every state has at least one designated national park area.

For example, Delaware has no national park or location solely within its borders. But it shares four national park sites with surrounding states. 

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail runs through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, and New York.

The First State National Historical Park lies on the Delaware-Pennsylvania border.

Part of the Chesapeake Bay area and the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail are in Delaware.

The 5 Hardest National Parks to Visit

There are hundreds of locations to explore across the country and in several international locations.

They include Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

However, quite a few still don’t see many visitors because of their remote locations. Although still spectacular in beauty and grandeur, they’re very difficult to visit.

Keep in Mind: Have you heard? The most popular National Park will No Longer Be Free!

Gates of the Arctic National Park

Location: Alaska
Visitors in 2021: 7,362

Why It’s Hard to Visit: Located near the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic National Park is the least visited national park in the country. There are no roads and no trails.

The only way to reach the park is by plane or on foot. 

About: Ecosystems, landscapes, and cultures have remained intact for thousands of years. The park includes six Wild and Scenic Rivers where wildlife is abundant, and land is undeveloped wilderness.

Gates of the Arctic National Park also preserves the cultures of the earliest Alaskan inhabitants: the Athapaskan-speaking Koyukon, the Inupiaq-speaking Kuuvanmiit, and the Nunamiut.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Location: Florida
Visitors in 2021: 83,817

Why It’s Hard to Visit: Only accessible by boat or plane, Dry Tortugas National Park is also one of the hardest national parks to visit. It’s also very expensive to charter a boat or plane.

The park lies about 70 miles west of Key West and encompasses approximately 100 square miles.

About: Home to Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park preserves the history of the “Guardian of the Gulf.” The park also preserves numerous plant life and wildlife.

Snorkeling, diving, and swimming are common activities here because less than 1% of Dry Tortugas National Park is dry ground.

The Florida Keys reef system, the third largest in the world, is protected here.

View of Dry Tortugas National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Location: Michigan
Visitors in 2021: 25,844

Why It’s Hard to Visit: Isle Royale National Park is one of the most rugged and remote locations in the entire contiguous United States. Isolated in Lake Superior, you can only access the park by ferry or seaplane.

The park is also only open from April 16 through October 31. No vehicles are permitted on the island, so it retains its remote wilderness, free of development.

About: Backpacking and camping are common activities at Isle Royale National Park. There are 36 campgrounds accessible by foot or watercraft.

The trails in the park are rugged and wild but offer great opportunities for visitors to explore the wilderness.

Isle Royale National park also seeks to preserve the heritage of the Native American tribes that still call this land “home.”

Pro Tip:  You may be throwing away money if you don’t have a National Parks pass!

View of Isle Royale National Park

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Location: Alaska
Visitors in 2021: 24,764

Why It’s Hard to Visit: Although open year-round, most visitors come to Katmai National Park and Preserve between June and October because this is when transportation services are available.

The park is on the northern Alaska Peninsula, reached almost exclusively by plane or boat. Visitor center hours vary based on the season, and wildlife viewing is also limited to a few months out of the year.

About: In 1918, Katmai National Park and Preserve was established to protect the volcanically devastated land of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.

Today it now protects crucial brown bear and salmon habitats and 9,000 years of human history. Most people who do make it to Katmai National Park go there for one reason: to see the black bears at Brooks Camp.

The annual salmon run begins in late June and ends with approximately one million spawning salmon in the fall.

A mother bear and her cubs at Katmai National Park and Preserve

Kobuk Valley National Park

Location: Alaska
Visitors in 2021: 11,540

Why It’s Hard To Visit: Similar to Gates of the Arctic National Park, Kobuk Valley National Park is so remote that most Americans probably don’t even know it exists.

Located just west of Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley has no roads, no campgrounds, and no trails. Only skilled backcountry explorers and those experienced in winter survival techniques enter its boundaries.

About: Kobuk Valley National Park is home to hundreds of thousands of caribou. The annual migration across the Kobuk River is breathtaking.

At Onion Portage, archeologists found evidence of nine different cultures dating back at least 8,000 years. Like Gates of the Arctic National Park, Kobuk Valley National Park is wilderness.

There are no facilities within the park. Instead, 80 miles to the southwest, guests will find the park headquarters and visitor center, where they can learn more about the Arctic ecosystem and Inupiaq culture.

A group of caribou at Kobuk Valley National Park

The Hardest National Parks to Visit Are Still Worth Your Time

Everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Most people even hope to one day visit these national treasures and natural wonders.

But don’t forget about these other national parks. Even though they’re remote and wild, they’re worth visiting. In fact, they may be even more spectacular because of their rugged wilderness.

Start saving up now because the trip will be expensive. But it will be a trip of a lifetime.

Which of these hardest national parks to visit will you put on your bucket list?

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