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National Parks Without the Teeming, Sweaty Masses

National Parks Without the Teeming, Sweaty Masses
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National parks like Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks garner lots of press and visitors—with good reason, as they are gorgeous places. But lesser-known parks offer amazing beauty and fantastic recreation opportunities, too—and fewer people to block your view. Here are three for your bucket list.

Crater Lake National Park, Crater Lake, Oregon

The water has been called the bluest, most pure in the world. Fed only by snow and rain, Crater Lake is almost 2,000 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the United States. The lake is a caldera, what remains of Mt. Mazama after a huge eruption 7,700 years ago. Drive around the rim, hike around or down to the base, take photos, or take a boat cruise (available only certain times of the year.)

When to visit: Unless you’re a snow warrior—the park gets an average of 533 inches of snow each winter—you’re probably better off visiting in the summer, where the temperatures average 40 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 70 degrees during the day. Many roads close November 1. The Steel Visitor Center at Park Headquarters is open mid-April to early November 9-5 and 10-4 the rest of the year. Rim Visitor Center is open daily late May to Late September.

How to get there: The closest airport is Medford, Oregon, 80 miles from the park. Amtrak provides service to Klamath Falls, 60 miles from the park, where shuttle and rental cars are available. No public transportation currently reaches the park.

Where to stay: Crater Lake Lodge at Rim Village and the Cabins at Mazama Village are the two options in the park. You can also stay a short drive from the park in Fort Klamath, Diamond Lake, Chemult, or Chiloquin. Choose from three private cabins at Crater Lake Country Suites ( in Fort Klamath.

For more information, visit

North Cascades National Park, Washington State

Perhaps less famous than its National Park cousin, Mt. Rainier, it’s the same mountain range, but farther north. The North Cascades offer fantastic, rugged beauty with fewer crowds to distract you. Hiking, camping, interpretive walks, bird and wildlife viewing, fishing, bicycling, and even backpacking and climbing await you. Don’t miss Diablo Lake and its unique color.

When to visit: Winter fun is available: Try downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Sno-Park permits are $20 for a day or $40 for the season. From late May to October, you’ll have access to roads, campgrounds, and visitor centers for hiking, biking, boating, fishing, camping, and horseback riding. Winter avalanches may close the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), so be sure to check conditions before you go. No entry fee is required.

How to get there: Fly into SeaTac Airport in Seattle; head north on Interstate 5 to State Route 20 at Burlington; take the North Cascade Scenic Highway to Baker Lake Basin. Or start in Bellingham, Washington and take the Mt Baker Scenic Byway (State Route 542).

Where to stay: The North Cascades Scenic Highway takes you through several small towns (Rockport, Marblemount, Concrete). Or you can stay further east in Stehekin to see the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, which is not accessible by car—get there by hiking, boats, or a plane. In Concrete, Ovenell’s Heritage Inn has inn rooms and private cabins. (

For more information, visit

Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah

Utah’s five national parks have seen huge increases in attendance in recent years, especially at Zion and Arches, where visitors often endure long waits just to enter. You’ll find fewer people but much of the same red-stone desert beauty and endless skies at Capitol Reef National Park. You can’t say you’ve visited Utah until red mud is caked on your shoes, so after your driving tour through the Cathedral and Waterpocket districts, take one of the fifteen day hiking trails, or even go backcountry for more adventure.

Getting there: Fly into Salt Lake City (3-4 hours drive) or Las Vegas (5-6 hours drive). Or drive from Moab (about 2 hours.)

When to visit: Park and campgrounds are open year round, and the visitor center is open daily (except holidays). Griffin House Store and Museum opens March 14 and closes around October 31; hours are extended in summer.  Summers are warm, but the winter offers little snow, and this arid climate usually gets just eight inches of rain a year.

Where to stay: The park itself has no lodging except campgrounds. But several surrounding communities offer places to crash: the town of Grover has a ranch and cabins for rent, and Hanksville has a couple motels. Try the whimsically named Muley Twist Inn by Teasdale (, about 15 minutes from the park.

For more information, visit

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