Area: 700 sq km
Best for… boating, snorkelling, dolphins
Why go? To get wet: 95% of Biscayne National Park is underwater, so hiking and biking options are limited here. To properly appreciate this protected mass of mangrove, coral limestone keys, offshore reef and 500-plus species offish, you ideally need to explore by boat or fin.
Unhelpfully, the park doesn’t have a current concessioner, meaning that at the moment there are few boat options (which would usually include glass-bottom boat trips and dive/snorkel excursions) and no on-demand canoe or kayak rentals. However, this should be a temporary hiccup; it’s hoped normal services will be resumed by the end of 2014.
The Convoy Point area (location of park HO) offers a variety of land-based and indoor opportunities: check the Schedule of Events. And from the land, you can still appreciate the vast mangrove forest (the longest stretch on the east coast) and the clear, shallow waters of Biscayne Bay.
When the boats are back up and running, make a beeline for the unique Maritime Heritage Trail, a snorkel tour that explores the remains of six shipwrecks.
When to go: Open year-round. Guided canoe trips run Jan-April; this is also the best time for camping, when there are fewer insects.
Plan your trip: Convoy Point is 50km south of Miami. Linger in the art deco city, and combine a trip to Biscayne with the Everglades and Florida Keys. Or plan an East Coast epic, riding the Amtrak Silver Service train from New York to Miami, via Washington DC, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville and Orlando, before hitting Biscayne itself.
Area: 2,314 sq km
Best for… canoeing, camping, wolves
Why go? The car-less, virtually untouched wilderness of Isle Royale, which floats in the north-west corner of Lake Superior, is officially the least-visited national park of the lower US states. There are a couple of campstores and a lodge, but otherwise this basalt-and-sandstone outcrop is given over to forest, inland lakes, bogs and wildlife.
Just getting here – by boat or seaplane – is half the fun. Exploring is best by canoe or kayak, using the basic campsites en route. The park comprises not just Isle Royale but 450 smaller islands, plus numerous bays and waterways; navigating these reveals secret beaches and coves plus wading moose, otters, ducks and more – it’s not uncommon to hear wolves howl.
Those who don’t want to paddle can take guided boat trips from Rock Harbor (Jun-Sept). Or head off on a hike: there are short routes, or try the 64km Greenstone Ridge Trail, which follows the island’s rugged spine.
When to go: Open 16 April-31 October. Mid-July to mid-August is busiest; mosquitoes are worst June-early July. Fall colours can be impressive.
Plan your trip: Boats and seaplanes for Isle Royale leave from Houghton and Copper Harbor (Michigan) and Grand Portage (Minnesota). Consider a loop up from Chicago (640km south of Houghton) – you could travel north thorough Wisconsin (via Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin and Chequamegon National Forest) and back south via Michigan (Hiawatha Forest, Mackinac Island, Saugatuck).