Dry Tortugas, Florida
With just 60,000 annual visitors, Dry Tortugas National Park -- a chain of seven islands located in the Gulf of Mexico -- is one of the United States’ least visited national parks. But if it’s so great then why don’t more people go there? you’re thinking. Well, it’s only accessible by boat or seaplane. But at just 68 miles off the coast of Key West and with a complex history and one-of-a-kind scenery… we’d swim if it were the only way to get there.
Why it’s worth going out of your way: Fort Jefferson, a massive, unfinished fortress, was built just after the War of 1812 in an effort to protect the eastern border of the United States. At its height, it housed 1,729 people and served as an island prison; its most notable inmates being Dr. Samuel Mudd and Samuel Arnold, both of whom assisted John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Fort Jefferson is included in your $10 entrance fee to the park (good for a week), and you can take yourself on a self-guided tour anytime. And of course, since you’re in the middle of the ocean, do yourself a favor and do some snorkeling or diving. There are countless recommended snorkeling spots on the various islands, and since the park is home to 67,000 acres of coral reef, there’s no wrong choice. If you’re a newbie, try Little Africa, a protected, shallow, and calm area right off the north side of Loggerhead Key. You’re bound to see lobster, barracuda, and various types of tropical fish.