North Cascades National Park

2009 Visitors: 26,972.

Beneath Sahale Peak, North Cascades National Park     Photo: Photograph by Stephen Matera/Aurora

Main Drag: Olympic National Park, Washington
2009 Visitors: 3,276,459
The first time I was invited to explore North Cascades National Park, I thought my friend had misspoken. "You mean Rainier?" I asked. Though it's just two hours from Seattle, this Rhode Island–size patch of peaks and valleys attracts only .01 percent of all national-park visitors. But what it lacks in warm bodies and breezy vehicle access (the park contains just 34 miles of paved roads), North Cascades makes up for in jaw-dropping alpine terrain. Ninety-four percent of the park is virgin wilderness, threaded by some 400 miles of hiking trails. Among hundreds of peaks, you'll find 312 glaciers—a third of all the glaciers in the lower 48—feeding 561 lakes and ponds and countless waterfalls. The adventure options are limitless, but I recommend the tough day hike to the 5,985-foot summit of Sourdough Mountain, where Beat poet Gary Snyder's old fire lookout still takes in the spectacular views of the majestic Picket Range. BEST CAMPSITE: The Colonial Creek Campground, on Diablo Lake ($12 per night, no reservations; nps.gov/noca). BEST LODGE: The Rolling Huts, a series of stylish cabins in Mazama (doubles from $95; rolling­huts.com).

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