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The Historical and Beautiful U.S. Island National Parks

Maybe someone is sitting at their desk in a cubicle somewhere in Middle America right this very moment dreaming of an island getaway. To some, this calls to mind piña coladas with tiny umbrellas, sandy toes, and easy-rolling waves. To others, it may be tropical waterfalls and tiki torched luaus to the strains of Polynesian music wafting on the gentle ocean breeze. Or maybe, it’s as simple as a sunset over a peaceful lagoon in shorts and flip-flops listening to a cover version of “Margaritaville.”

Not often does the mind shift too far away from scenes like these when thinking of an island adventure, but the outlying coastal areas (and those located in and around the Great Lakes) in the greater United States have much more to offer vacation seekers than just rum-filled drinks in sticky sunscreen hands.

The U.S. National Parks system preserves and protects some of America’s great natural treasures — many of which happen to be islands! 

Below are a few must-visits for a different strain of island outing:


In one of the farthest-flung corners of North America lies the hidden gem of Sitka. On an island off the coast of Alaska, amid giant spruce trees, Sitka National Park preserves the little-known history of these far North territories. Sitka was a battle site between indigenous Kiks.ádi Tlingit and invading Russian traders. Ancient totem poles from Tlingit and Haida areas line the park’s scenic coastal trail. Visitors can enjoy the many trails for hiking or learn a little about the semi-forgotten Russian colonial history in North America.

Photo Courtesy NPS


Explore a rugged, isolated island, far from the sights and sounds of civilization at this stunning national park. Surrounded by Lake Superior, Isle Royale offers unmatched solitude and endless adventures for backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoers, and even scuba divers. Visiting Isle Royale is a bucket list type of adventure. There are opportunities for reflection and discovery amid the breathtaking natural scenery and to make memories that will never be forgotten!

Photo Courtesy NPS


Channel Islands National Park is home to five ruggedly beautiful islands and their ocean environment. This park protects an embarrassment of natural resource riches. Because of the geographic isolation, the islands are a treasure trove of preserved flora, fauna, animal, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth. Visitors can experience the California coast as it was thousands of years ago. Hike, camp, kayak, scuba or simply enjoy the stunning panoramic views, but be sure to leave as little impact on the local habitats as possible when visiting to help preserve this natural jewel of the west coast for future generations to come.

Photo Courtesy NPS


A true gem of a national park right within the confines of Lake Superior, this national lakeshore preserve is an outdoors person’s dream come to life. Visitors can camp, kayak, and learn about the local indigenous cultures or perhaps charter an island cruise and take it easy. It’s indescribable! Be sure to find a day to get out extra early and catch the sunrise over the rocky shoreline. 


Ready to spend a little time on the edge? Visit this national seashore that is recreated each day by the wind and ocean waves. Visitors can explore coastal bays, sandy beaches, and salt marshes. But while enjoying the eastern edge of the continent, they should be on the lookout for the beautiful wild horses that live on the island. This is a truly unique national park experience. 

Photo Courtesy NPS


History buffs will love this national park. Every island tells a story, some dating back thousands of years. During World War II, the islands became a battleground between American troops and Japanese forces – one of the deadliest in the Pacific Theater. And the Unangax̂ (Aleut) people who had called this home for over 8,000 years were either captured or forced to relocate from this thousand-mile-long archipelago. This national historic area preserves those stories as well as the natural resources of this incredible area.

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