Best Solitude in the National Park System? Here Are Traveler's Choices

Solitude is easy to find in the national parks, even in the most-visitied. Bote Mountain Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo by Kurt Repanshek.

Solitude. Who doesn’t treasure some from time to time? And some of the greatest draws of national parks is their peacefulness and the ability for you to pass through an entrance gate and escape the pressures of day-to-day life.

Where can you find some of the best solitude in the National Park System? Read on for some of the Traveler’s top picks for solitude.

Caveat
: It should be noted that while solitude and quietness are often deeply intertwined, the two concepts are different. Unlike quiet, solitude isn't something that can be measured. The feeling of solitude is something that each of us experiences in a different way, so in some respects, these rankings are subjective. Also, Alaska parks are in a league of their own, so we didn't feel it fair to include more than one in this group.

10.Great Basin National Park, Nevada. Great Basin resides in the same neighborhood as U.S. Highway 50, often called 'The Loneliest Road In America.' Perhaps due to the determination it takes to reach Great Basin, which lies 3 hours from Salt Lake and 5 from Las Vegas, the park is renowned for its dark skies and crystal-clear air. Solitude exists high atop Wheeler Peak, underground in Lehman Caves, or over at Lexington Arch.

9.National Park of American Samoa. Little-known by most Americans, this piece of the park system sits way out in the South Pacific on Tutuila, Ofu-Olosega, and Ta‘ū islands. Just getting to the park can be difficult - only two flights weekly from Honolulu serve Pago Pago International Airport. But once you are on the islands, you can hike, go birding, snorkle, or scuba dive to your heart's content.

8.Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Tennessee/Kentucky/Virginia. Nestled north of Knoxville lies the place Daniel Boone and others made famous as they streamed through this natural passageway across the Appalachians into the Ohio Valley. Once tarnished by a highway nicknamed Massacre Mountain, Cumberland Gap has been restored to its former self thanks to a tunnel that opened in 1996. But a visit to this park isn't just about the Gap. Make the trek to the Hensley Settlement to experience early Southern Appalachian life. Better yet, strike out for White Rocks, in the heart of the park. An imposing cliff-line, White Rocks was the landmark travelers used to know they were close to the Gap. It's a strenuous hike from any trailhead.

7.Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas. Like many in our list, Guadalupe Mountains is a park that you don't visit on a whim. Located two hours from El Paso, Guadalupe Mountain's 'gateway' community is Carlsbad, New Mexico, a full hour's drive away, and it's nearly 40 miles from the visitor center to a gas pump. Even park employees have a rough time getting to and from the office – the government operates a special shuttle service for them from Carlsbad. Journey to this seemingly-desolate part of West Texas, though, and you will be rewarded with lush streams, unending skies, meandering horse and hiking trails, and a park that will excite the geologist in all of us as we climb mountains and descend into canyons.

6. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia. Cumberland Island is one of the last largely undeveloped barrier islands on the Atlantic Coast, and the only one in Georgia. The island used to be a playground for the wealthy, including the Carnegie family, but now is managed by the National Park Service. As if having congressionally-designated wilderness isn't enough, standing at any one of the abandoned mansions will surely give you a sense of staring into the depths of time.

5.Big Bend National Park, Texas. Like its cousin Guadalupe Mountains, Big Bend is out in the desert - and we do mean out. Located on what seems to be on the other side of nowhere, Big Bend is a land of about 800,000 acres of mountains, deserts, rivers, and canyons. While the park has its fair share of visitors and development, there's more than enough room to spread out throughout the park.

4.Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in some respects the most-crowded place in America. But those crowds seem to cling to Cades Cove and narrow corridors along park roads and the Appalachian Trail. You can hike to some solitude at Big Creek, a hike-in campground with just a handful of sites. Or, if you feel particularly adventurous, voyage to the Twentymile Ranger Station on the south side of the park.

3.Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota. Here in the badlands of North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt found his own quiet part of America, and the landscape that so inspired him is still ready to welcome visitors today. To truly get away from it all, head to the park’s North Unit, or time your trip just right so you can float the Little Missouri River through the park. It will be an unforgettable trip, as you wind your way past bluffs, bison, prairie dogs, wildflowers, sage, and wild horses.

2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan. There’s no way you’ll 'accidentally' visit Isle Royale, considering that it sits out in the middle of Lake Superior. The island is home to wolves, moose, lighthouses, lodges, hiking trails, and pocket lakes. Stretching for 45 miles, this landfall is Superior’s largest island, and is a stunningly beautiful place to escape to. There are designated campsites in the park's wilderness, and the easiest way to access the park is via a ferry from Minnesota or Michigan. Isle Royale is so remote that it is one of the few parks that boards up for the winter season.

1. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Dick Proennecke knew exactly what he was doing when he headed off to Alaska and what one day would become this incredible national park. He wanted peace and quiet, and he certainly found it. Now, that was more than 40 years ago, and you know what? You can still experience what Dick enjoyed for decades. Heck, last year only 6,802 folks made it to Lake Clark, and that was a relatively busy year!

Those are our suggestions. Where do you find solitude in the parks?

Comments

Has anyone heard of Death Valley National Park? I spent two years living and working there and just about every weekend I was able to disappear into the desert. you want to talk solitude. it was the only place i have been where, if i wanted to, i could be 100 miles from another human being. It was like living in hell for 3 months a year but after that it was the most spiritual, soul rejuvenating place in the world. I love the desert.

Wayne -

Death Valley would be another fine choice for this list.

A wonderful thing about the National Park System is that there are a lot of areas where anyone who wants to experience solitude can do so. The challenge is deciding which ones to include on a list of 10 - or 50 - such sites :-)

We love the Smokies! I agree, it's easy to get off the beaten path. And even if you do want to go to Cades Cove, (we ride our bikes through there annually) if you go on a weekday in the off season, it's very peaceful.

Our favorite spot though, is in the Daniel Boone National Forest. I've purchased a book called The Hinterlands of Red River Gorge and there are paths that aren't marked and you can walk for hours and not run in to another person. Truly glorious!

Lake Clark certainly deserves to rank high on the list, but there are other national parks in Alaska that would rival or exceed the solitude found in Lake Clark. Aniakchak, particularly the volcanic caldera, is in a class of its own. I am particularly fond of Gates of the Arctic, because it has solitude on a human scale. By that I mean that a reasonably capable wilderness traveler can be immersed in true solitude in most regions of the park.

Chance, thanks for some fine suggestions for solitude in the NPS; however, your comments regarding Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS) need some clarification. If I read your correctly, you say CUIS - Georgia's only national seashore - is the only largely undeveloped barrier island in the state. Actually, there are several that meet the definition thanks to the foresight of the Georgia legislature about 40 years ago. Little Tybee, Wassaw, Ossabaw, St. Catherine's, Blackbeard, Sapelo, Wolf and several smaller islands are either under state or federal protection as refuges and even one wilderness area. St. Catherine's is privately owned, but is held as a conservation reserve. It's true that some of these islands have "development," but it is less than that on CUIS. In fact, solitude on some of these islands is beyond anything available on CUIS. Don't get me wrong. CUIS is a prominent NPS jewel, one of the most beautiful units in the system, but it has some stunningly beautiful company. Yes, there is development on several islands , but by far most of the Georgia barrier island coastline is wild, free and very remote and likely to stay that way.

Hey RoadRanger,

Thanks for correcting me. I didn't realize that there were that many places outside of Cumberland Island NS protected in Georgia. I really do appreciate it, since I'm working in Georgia this summer, and this is exactly the sort of thing I need to know.

You're welcome, Chance. I think the remote islands are meant to be well-kept secrets, but Traveler readers are now in the loop. Have a great time in Georgia and do get to some of those islands. I think they are a national treasure. Cumberland stands alone on the GA-FL border and there is that magnificent 100 mile long string of islands from Brunswick north to Savannah. Nothing else like it on the East Coast.

I love Death Valley - my favorite place on earth!