America’s Deepest, Darkest and Grizzliest National Parks

Adventure Travel, United States — By on March 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm
Crater Lake Oregon


by Amanda Pressner
LG Executive Editor

Last year, Americans logged more than 285 million visits to our National Parks-that’s just 10 million tickets shy of the most visits ever since the Nat’l Park Service started in 1916. Of course, the biggest and most famous ones (Grand Canyon, Yosemite, etc) get the most traffic, but who wants to feel like they’re fighting for a parking spot-not to mention a little breathing room-in order to experience the natural wonders that our great country has to offer?

That’s why this month, the AARP The Magazine ( published a special feature on America’s “National Parks Less Traveled.”  The magazine dug deeper to find the top parks that excel in one surprising, spectacular category, from starry skies to soggy ferns, from deep water to daunting dunes. We’ve published some of the cooler superlatives, below. Read on for ideas of where to go-and possibly where to skip!-when road tripping this summer.

Smallest National Park: Hot Springs, Arkansas

At a mere 5,549 acres, Hot Springs could fit into the largest national park, 8.3 million-acre Wrangell-St. E Elias in Alaska, 1,500 times.  This little slice of Arkansas protects 47 thermal springs.

Most Bears: Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

The park boasts an average of two black bear per square mile.  In the fall, so many bears frequent Cades Cove – an open valley overflowing with grapevines, blackberries, and acorns – that cars of gawking tourist along its 11-mile loop road cause “bear jams.”  Best time to go is a weekday morning.

Wettest: Olympic, Washington

With 12 feet of annual precipitation, Olympic’s Hoh Rain Forest easily wins the soggy test.  Hoh is awash in lush ferns, moss, and lichens.  New growth on fallen trees, called nurse logs, starts to sprout seemingly overnight, particularly in early spring when, though it’s still wet and chilly, the leaves are beginning to bud and the rain forest is at its greenest.

Deepest: Crater Lake, Oregon

Set inside a volcanic basin, Crater is 1,943 feet deep, making it the country’s deepest lake – and the seventh-deepest in the world.  Fed almost entirely by snowfall, the water is ink-blue and incredibly pure.

Darkest: Big Bend, Texas

Experts at both the International Dark-Sky Association and the National Park Service’s Night Sky Program agree that a relatively cloud-free atmosphere and ultra remote desert location give this Texas park one of the nation’s darkest skies for stargazing

Least Visited: Kobuk Valley, Alaska

Only 1,565 people visited this national park in 2008.  To compare, 4.4 million people visit the Grand Canyon annually.  Kobuk is north of the Arctic Circle and accessible exclusively by airplane, boat, or snowmobile.  For those who make the trek, they never forget its spectacular expanse of white desert sand dunes surrounded by tundra forest.  PLUS – a half million caribou migrate across the Kobuk River every year.

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