The national parks of the United States and Canada are some of the greatest in the world. However, most of the attention is taken up by the superstar parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Banff. Each of these parks gets millions of visitors per year, and visiting during the peak season it’s like visiting an amusement park.
These popular parks are not the only parks, however. There are some amazing parks in North America which get only a fraction of the visitors of the popular parks. Often times these parks are hard to reach and are expensive to get to. Sometimes, they just aren’t on anyone’s radar because they haven’t become popular.
Torngat Mountains National Park is a little-visited park on the northernmost tip of Labrador, yet one of the most spectacular national parks in North America.
The park is jointly run by Parks Canada and the Nunatsiavut government. Almost all of the staff who work at the park are Inuit people who live in the region.
To start with, Torngat Mountains National Park isn’t easy to visit. To get there you either have two options: travel by plane from Goose Bay, Labrador, or travel by boat.
Traveling by boat would mean being a passenger on one of the ships which go to the Canadian Arctic or sailing your own vessel to the park.
The plane option lands at a small landing strip just outside the park, which was built during the cold war for a radar installation which was part of the Distant Early Warning Line. From there you can take a boat which will take you to the park base camp, which is your only real option for staying in the park.
Independent camping in the park is discouraged because of danger imposed by polar bears and black bears, but there are options available.
While in the park, there are excursions offered daily, either on foot or by boat. Things to do while in Torangat Mountains include:
Visit the abandoned village of Hebron, a Canadian National Historic Site.
Hike along the hills around base camp.
Expereince Inuit culture, including drum dancing and throat singing.
Enjoy a shore lunch of freshly caught arctic char.
Explore the Sajlek Fjord.
Photograph polar bears and black bears
Visit Inuit archeology sites to learn about ancient Inuit culture.
Activities will be dependent on scheduling and weather.
Fundy National Park is located on the Southeastern coast of New Brunswick and is located on the Bay of Fundy, for which it is named. The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world, and in the park, you can actually walk on the ocean floor during low tide.
In addition to the sights along the coast, Fundy also has many amazing attractions in its interior as well. The photo above is of Dickson Falls, which is one of several waterfalls in the park. Inside the park, you will also find miles of hiking trails, a golf course, and a saltwater swimming pool. There is also a very photogenic covered bridge at Point Wolfe.
The environment is similar to what you might find in Northern Maine or in Acadia National Park in the United States. Heavily forested with a rugged coast. The landscape and environment are very different from Kouchibouguac National Park, which is 2 hours away in New Brunswick but is not on the Bay of Fundy. According to the data, Fundy gets more visitors than Kouchibouguac, but it doesn’t feel that way because the park is larger and it doesn’t have beaches.
The park is easily accessible by car from all the major cities in New Brunswick: Fredericton, St. John, and Moncton. Route 114 goes through the park and that is the highway you need to get on to visit.
If you are driving from Moncton, you will probably also want to stop at Hopewell Rocks, which is a provincial park about halfway between Fundy and Moncton. Hopewell actually gets far more tourists than Fundy, because it is at Hopewell where you can best see the dramatic change in the tides. In most places on the Bay of Fundy, the tide goes out a very long distance, but you can’t get a real sense of the height of the tides. At Hopewell, there are free standing rocks which give you a better sense of scale.
Camping is available in the park, including oTENTiks available for rent. These are permanent tents with wood floors which can be found in many Parks Canada locations. The nearest town is Alma, which is literally outside the northern border of the park on route 114. There are a few hotels in town which cater to park visitors.
Prince Edward Island National Park is one of the smallest national parks in Canada, at only 22 sq/km in size. It is located on the north shore of Prince Edward Island and is divided into 3 separate parts: Cavendish in the west, Brackley-Dalvay in the center, and Greenwich in the east.
The most popular segment of the park is the central part which pretty much a really long beach. I visited on a weekday in August and I couldn’t find a parking spot along this segment. It seemed like most of PEI had come out to enjoy the beach. Even though the air temperature was warm, the water temperature was still pretty cold, as the water was part of the northern Atlantic. Most people were on the beach and not out swimming.
The easternmost segment of the park, Greenwich, is very different. Here you will find more nature and fewer people. There are several trails which will let you see different coastal ecosystems in a very small area, including forests, salt marshes and sand dunes.
Visiting PEI National Park is very easy if you are on the island. It is approximately a 30 minute drive from the capital of Charlottetown and about a 2 hour drive from Moncton, NB, including the drive over the Confederation Bridge.
Camping is available at the park and there are a great many hotels on the island in easy driving distance.
Kouchibouguac National Park lies on the eastern shore of the province of New Brunswick. At 239 sq/km (92 sq/mi) the park is a mix of barrier islands, forest, salt marshes and beaches. It is much more of a recreational park than a nature reserve. I visited in August of 2015 and the park was very busy with what mostly seemed like visitors from New Brunswick, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
The park is easily accessible and is located 90 minutes from Moncton on Highway 11.
Camping is available in the park, but there are also hotels available in the nearby towns of Rexton and Miramichi. The park isn’t very big, especially when you compare it to the size of western parks. You can easily explore most of the park in a single day. There are hiking trails available through the park, but those too can be hiked in a day a do not require any serious backcountry hiking.
The image shown above were of two people who took some lawn chairs out on a sand spit at low tide.
Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States, with only 60,000 visitors per year. This is primarily due to its remote location 70 miles west of Key West.
It is also the most aquatic of all the US national parks with 98% of the park consisting of water. The 2% of the park which is land is largely taken up by Fort Jefferson. A Civil War era fort which was originally designed to protect shipping lanes, it was used as a prison during and after the Civil War. It’s most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Dry Tortugas National Park can only be visited by ferry (2.5-hour trip) or seaplane. To visit the park, you first need to get to Key West, which is the end of the road in terms of how far you can drive down the Florida Keys.
To fly there, and get great views of Fort Jefferson from the air, contact Key West Seaplane Charters. The flights are approximately 35 minutes. To take the ferry, you will need to take the Yankee Freedom III and it is approximately a 2.5-hour trip.
In addition to the history of Fort Jefferson, the island also has some great beaches. Because so few people visit Dry Tortugas National Park, it is one of the cleanest, least crowded beaches you will find in the entire Florida Keys.
You can camp in Dry Tortugas, but you will need to bring in all your own food and water. Campsites are right next to the fort and beaches.
I really loved my visit to Dry Tortugas. I’d love to return and actually camp there for 1-2 nights. I think it would be one of the closest experiences you could have to stay on a remote island, without actually being shipwrecked.
Camera NIKON D300S ISO 160 Focal Length 20mm Aperture f/3.5 Exposure Time 1/4000
Biscayne National Park consists of 95% water. The 5% which is dry land is mostly on islands which are inaccessible by car (they actually are the northern most of the Florida Keys). There is a small sliver of park which is on the mainland, which is the only place you can actually visit the park if you do not have a boat.
Biscayne is located just south of Miami, so in theory it is very easy to visit. It is about 40 minutes south of downtown Miami and just a 15 minute drive from the city of Homestead. The visitor center is easily accessible and it is not far from Everglades National Park as well.
However, even though the visitor’s center is easy to visit, the rest of the park is inaccessible without a boat, as it is mostly water. Also, there is currently no company with a concession to run boat tours in the park, so you would have to arrange transportation privately.
Given its aquatic nature, it was also a challenging park to photograph. Ideally, I would have taken underwater shots, but it was possible given my normal travel camera setup.
The story behind Shenandoah National Park is an interesting one. In 1930’s, all of the great national parks in the US were out west, yet most of the population in the US was in the east. The park was created by taking the land of over 1,000 people by eminent domain, as almost all the land east of the Mississippi River was held privately. The fact that the park was only 70 miles from Washington DC didn’t hurt either.
The park runs along the mountain range. The defining characteristic of the park is the Skyline Drive. It is a road which runs the entire length of the park from north to south along the top of the mountain. You can explore almost everything in the park from along the road, and as the park is extremely long an narrow in shape, there isn’t a whole lot on either side of the road which would require a very long hike.
The park includes several lodges including the Skyland Resort, around which the park was originally built.
Located less than 2 hours from Washington, Baltimore, and Richmond, it is one of the more accessible national parks in the United States.