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The 9 Quietest and Darkest National Parks


By Melissa Gaskill, Men's Journal

With roughly 84 million acres of national park lands, some of them hundreds of thousands of acres on their own, you’d think finding a quiet, dark space in one would be easy. Not so, say scientists in the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service, who have monitored light since 1999 and sound since 2000. “We found noise almost everywhere,” says senior scientist Kurt Fristrup, who was particularly surprised by the ubiquity of aircraft noise.

Night skies and natural sound are valuable natural resources, just like clear mountain streams and healthy forests. Their loss not only degrades our experiences at national parks, unnatural levels of light and noise in general can increase stress and affect our health. Excess noise and light affect wildlife as well, interfering with an animal’s ability to find prey or avoid becoming prey, hindering reproduction, increasing stress, and even causing animals to leave otherwise useful habitat.

A recent study found that elevated noise levels resulted in a one-third reduction in the number of bird species in parts of northern New Mexico. Excessive light at night can change the normal daily rhythms of wildlife, shift seasonal activities such as breeding or migration, and even change expression of some of their genes.

According to Fristrup, noise and light pollution are growing faster than the population of the United States, doubling or tripling every 20 to 30 years. Commercial and general aviation flights increase every year. Eighty-three percent of the land area of the continental U.S. lies within six-tenths of a mile from a road. But there’s good news too: Efforts to mitigate noise and light pollution can have an immediate impact. In the meantime, here are the Division’s recommendations for where to find the quiet and dark.


Darkest: Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

This park is famous for its moose and wolves that occupy a rugged, isolated island in Lake Superior. There are no shortage of activities here: hike, backpack, kayak, canoe, take a boat tour, fish (in Superior or lakes on Isle Royale), or scuba dive a wreck. Rock Harbor Lodge sits on the island’s northeast corner offers rooms, cottages, restaurants and a marina. The Park opens April 16.


Darkest & Quietest: Great Basin National Park, Nevada

This park contains the 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak,a  bristlecone pine forest, and rocky glacial moraines. Tour Lehman Caves to see marble formations, or explore wild caves on your own (permit required). There are more than 60 miles of trails to hike and great fishing on the Baker Lake trail, a 12-mile round trip hike that takes you to 10,730 feet.


Quiestest: City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho

This unique landscape of eroded granite by the Albion Mountains in southern Idaho offers more than 22 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, and 600-plus climbing routes, ranging from relatively easy (5.6) to extremely difficult (5.14). Aspen, juniper, mountain mahogany, and pine shade some of its 64 campsites.



Darkest: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Three massive sandstone bridges give this park its name; view them from overlooks or hike beneath them. Trails also lead into wooded canyons and an 8.6-mile loop takes in all three bridges and a Puebloan ruin. There is one 13-space campground and no food service in the entire park.


Darkest: Capital Reef National Park, Utah

Cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges cover this park in the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long geologic monocline, or wrinkle on the earth. Explore the red rock country on 15 day-hike trails and a number of rugged backcountry trails or check out technical climbing routes.


Darkest: Big Bend National Park, Texas

The largest expanse of roadless public lands in Texas, this hiker’s paradise offers some 200 miles of trails traversing desert, mountain ridges and canyons. Add 118 miles of riverfront, hot springs, historic ruins, incredible geologic formations and fossils, campgrounds, and a lodge and restaurant to your itinerary—and, of course, stargazing.


Quietest: Haleakala National Park, Hawaii

The park has two areas, the 10,023 foot Summit, a volcanic landscape, and the tropical Kipahulu coastal area’s rainforest, streams, and pools. Both offer hiking—30 miles of trails at the summit, including to three cabins in designated wilderness area—and three miles at Kipahulu. Driving to the summit, you traverse as many ecological zones as traveling from Mexico to Canada. There is a drive-up campground in Kipahulu and visitor center at the summit.


Quietest: Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado/Utah

The Green and Yampa Rivers converge in this park, straddling the border between Colorado and Utah, making it a rafting and fishing mecca. Dinosaur has more than 30 miles of trails and is one of the few parks to allow off-trail hiking. Some 1,500 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils are on view in Quarry Exhibit Hall, and petroglyphs and pictographs can be seen elsewhere in the park.


Darkest: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Hugging 40 miles of the Lake Superior shoreline, this park is named for 15 miles of sandstone cliffs and also features beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes, and forest. Hike more than 90 miles of trails, canoe or kayak, swim, fish, snorkel, scuba dive in summer; in winter, cross-country ski,ice climb, ice fish, and snowshoe.
National Parks, Adventure

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U.S. Daily News: The 9 Quietest and Darkest National Parks
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