An Insider’s Guide toNational Parks in the Non-Contiguous US

Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa are home to the outliers of the national park system. Disconnected from the contiguous 48 states, these distant parks are infused with wilderness regions more wild, more pristine, and less traveled than most national parks. Alaska’s deep, mountainous, frontier is well-known but seldom experienced first hand; the Virgin Islands and American Samoa are tropical sanctuaries; Hawaii combines both in one landscape and adds in volcanic volatility to the mix.

Alaska’s national parks are as wild as they come. Anchored by Denali National Park (home to North America’s highest point, Denali at 20,310’), the glacier-lined mountains, remote valleys, and sprawling forests of the Alaskan landscape are rugged, raw, and beautiful. In the natural cycles of harsh seasonal changes, wildlife struggles and thrives in a winner-take-all battle for resources and survival. Four Alaskan parks in particular showcase the absolute solitude and undeveloped beauty of America’s most asperous parks: Lake Clark, Gates of the Arctic, Kobuk Valley, and Wrangell-St. Elias. There is little guidance for visitors to these amazing areas and thus they are ideal adventures for those who want to immerse themselves in a land where man’s influence is minimal and nature is the unequaled driver of life, death, and change.

Denali National Park
Denali National Park Ross Fowler

Alaska’s ocean shoreline is home to three much more accessible national parks: Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords, and Katmai. Here, ancient glaciers slide into the sea, slowly gliding down from the abrupt mountains that have fed their snowfields for centuries. On the land, moose, grizzly bears, wolves, and a host of other hearty critters mingle with the seals, whales, otters, and water-bound species that call this icy kingdom home. These parks are all closer to civilization (at least by Alaska’s standards) and everything from kayaking to mountain climbing is possible within their boundaries.

Far removed from the frozen Alaskan mountains are the volcanic peaks of Hawaii, where two national parks, Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes, present a hotter version of high-altitude terrain. Both parks are in a state of constant change, with active lava flows and volcanic eruptions building upon the sharp, igneous rock that has built up the island chain. At the tops of 13,000’ peaks, snow occasionally makes a rare appearance. Star gazing from these high reaches is astounding, while lush forests eventually prosper on the low slopes of mountains that reach all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

Finally, America’s two tropical outposts make up two very unique national parks. Virgin Islands National Park is a paradise of white sand beaches, lazy-swaying palm trees, and crystal blue ocean waters. National Park of American Samoa has the same charms, albeit on the other side of the Earth, and with much more unexplored forest terrain and trail-free mountains to challenge the adventurous.

America’s non-contiguous parks are wonderful places to experience wilderness regions unlike anything found in the lower 48. Travelers who dare to explore these parks will leave with a deeper understanding of the natural wonder waiting in these most remote national parks.

Featured photo by Kenny Louie.

Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour

RootsRated and Marmot are teaming up to celebrate the Outside by hosting Pint Nights in speciality retailers across the country. At each Fall In Love With The Outside Road Tour event, we will raise money for local conservation groups, while playing live music, pouring cold brews, hosting tent pitching contests, playing outdoor trivia, and having conversations about where to go outdoors and all things we love outside.

Find An Event Near You

Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour