Top Ten Most-Isolated National Parks

Lonely National Parks
  |  Gorp.com

We've all crowded onto the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to snap that unforgettable photo, only to find that the most memorable thing is bumping elbows with a Clark Griswold-type sporting a huge sombrero.

Welcome to our national parks. In 2002, 18 of them stockpiled at least one million visits each, making them feel more like a New York subway ride than a back-to-nature experience. You endure bumper-to-bumper traffic, only to hear cell phones ringing as Old Faithful erupts. Even in the middle of nowhere, space is a commodity: Getting that snapshot of the Grand Canyon means elbowing aside over four million people; cruising through the Smoky Mountains involves competing with a whopping nine million.

Visitor numbers alone don't tell the whole story, though: there are, after all, almost 81 million acres of park to accommodate everyone. A couple million people in Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias wouldn't matter much—the park is spread out over 13.2 million acres. But Maine's Acadia is allotted only 48,000 acres; the 2.5 million visitors per year have to endure an average of 54 people per acre. And if you really want to talk sardines, check out Arkansas's Hot Springs; with 1.4 million visitors squeezing into 5,550 acres, there were—get this—282 people per acre.

Of course, weather's key: Who visits North Dakota in January? According to stats from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, hardly anyone. Big surprise. But the 672 hardy souls who visited in January 2002 ballooned to 120,000 by peak season: August. Down south, it's the opposite: The 32,000 who jammed into Texas' Big Bend in March dwindled to a mere 16,000 by steamy July.

How do you escape the teeming masses? Head to one of America's lonely parks and snag some of your own space. We did the math to give you an idea how much acreage you'll have to yourself. Of course, the majority of these acres are in already-lonely Alaska, but a couple parks may just surprise you. So find your peace here, in places with space enough and few enough numbers to make them gloriously lonely.


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