America’s hidden gems: The 20 least-crowded national parks in 2009
The five isles of the Channel Islands -- Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara -- are isolated from the nearby Southern California coast (visitor centers are in Ventura and Santa Barbara), stimulating the evolution of new species of plants and animals.
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 248,720
Pictured: Water Canyon Beach on Santa Rosa Island (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)
Big Bend spreads over more than 800,000 acres in southwest Texas and includes mountain, desert and river environments. The park is named after the sharp northeast bend of the Rio Grande, which runs through the park. Visitors should carry plenty of water when exploring the park’s remote desert and be aware of the Mexican border across the Rio Grande.
Visitors in 2009 (through August): 239,452
Pictured: Santa Elena Canyon (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)