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U.S. Parks: Take the road less traveled

By Greg Goodsell
May 13th, 2010
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

When taking the family out to enjoy America's abundant natural beauty, sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled. While Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone attract millions of visitors from all over the world, the lesser-known parks spread across the U.S. have a lot to offer.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Such a wondrous discovery was in store for a visitor to Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias Park. "I've been in wilderness all around the world, but Wrangell-St. Elias was something new," Stewart Lee says. "It was like going back to the period of discovery, well before industrialization or even civilization. I suddenly felt like a babe in the woods."

Reid Bramblett, a travel and leisure correspondent with MSNBC says that there is a wide variety of natural beauty in the United States, and that it pays to seek out the more obscure and less visited parks. "There are 58 national parks in the United States, many of them unsung natural oases full of majestic beauty."

He says that the more popular national parks have drawbacks, and while they "are well worth visiting, there are drawbacks, namely high admission prices and enormous crowds. An average of 26,542 people visit Yellowstone on a typical July day - nearly twice as many as Michigan's gloriously isolated Isle Royale National gets in an entire year. The famous park also charges a $25 entrance per adult - much more than Isle Royale's $4 admission price."

The lesser-known parks are frequently near the more well known ones, Bramblett says. "Barely 200 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains - which, with more than 9 million annual visitors, ranks as the nation's most popular park - lies Congaree National Park, where the total visitors for all of 2008 didn't quite break 105,000, or less than a third of what the Smokies saw in its slowest month (January) that year.

"What those lucky 105,000 visitors experienced, though, was a pristine tract of old-growth forest creating an unbroken hardwood canopy that has survived virtually unchanged since the days before Columbus," he says. 

Bramblett cites other preserves such as the North Cascades National Park and Utah's Capitol Reef, deep in the heart of Utah's former bandit country. "Somebody looked at our aerial footage of Capitol Reef and said it was computer generated," a film documentarian once exclaimed.

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