The old adage “silence is golden” doesn’t apply much to modern life. Thanks to big cities, automobiles, airplanes and the human tendency to expand until we run out of room, there aren’t many places left in the world where one can enjoy true peace and quiet.
But we like a good challenge, so we set out to find the 10 quietest remaining spots in the U.S. It’s no surprise that most of the places are in National Parks — it seems that land has to be governmentally protected before people will leave it alone. Read on to find out just where to go if you need a break from the noise pollution.
Olympic National Park/Hoh Rainforest
The popularity of the “Twilight” franchise really put Forks, Washington on the map. But head just an hour away, and you can escape not only the vampires, but pretty much everyone else. Olympic National Park is the largest area in the U.S. that doesn’t have roads, which definitely cuts down on the noise pollution. Located on the west side of the park and featuring a year round campground, the Hoh Rainforest is one of the nation’s best examples of a temperate rainforest, with both deciduous and coniferous trees. If you can handle the (up to) 14 feet of rain each year, it’s a prime spot for hiking.
Additionally, the Hoh Rainforest is home to One Square Inch of Silence, considered to be the quietest spot in the U.S., One Square Inch is an ongoing research project dedicated to maintaining the spot, and works on the principle that, “if a loud noise, such as the passing of an aircraft, can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100% noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles around it. It is predicted that protecting a single square inch of land from noise pollution will benefit large areas of the park.” (Photo Credit: Kgrr.)
Grand Canyon National Park
Sure, it’s a tourist attraction, and yes, helicopters fly over it, but Grand Canyon National Park does have some silent nooks and crannies. Yahoo! Travel recommends checking out the box canyons that run along the main river; some of them “have been measured to be half as loud as human breath.”
In addition, the Hualapai Reservation is situated in the park, and is home to slot canyons far away from the hustle and bustle of the main event. Milkweed Canyon is accessible by foot, and features pools, waterfalls, and pink limestone walls. Intrepid hikers can seek out more difficult to reach spots, such as Elves Chasm, Olo Canyon, Travertine Canyon and Matkatamiba Canyon. Since they can’t be accessed on foot (think boats and rappelling), they are far less populated than the Grand Canyon itself, and if you’re willing to make the trek, you’ll be rewarded with the rushing sound of the Colorado River — and not much else. (Photo Credit: Tobias Alt.)
The Muir Woods
Named for naturalist John Muir, this forest of giant redwoods is only a few miles outside of San Francisco, but fortunately, it mostly escapes the sounds from the city. First, it’s separated from San Francisco by the Golden Gate strait, which acts as a partial noise barrier. The trees themselves also help; their sheer size encapsulates the natural sounds of the forest. The park houses more than six miles of trails, and thanks to strict rules, they are likely to be relatively quiet. “Pets, bicycles, smoking, horseback riding and camping” are prohibited in the park, which helps to cut down on the noise pollution from tourists. Your best bet is to hit the park first thing in the morning on weekdays — that’s when it’s least crowded.
The National Park Service used to occasionally institute “quiet days” at Muir Woods, which certainly helped to keep visitor noise down, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that any are scheduled in the near future. Perhaps it’s time to contact the Park Service and request that the quiet time be reinstated? (Photo Credit: Richs5812.)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Like the Grand Canyon, this national park (located on the Big Island) also suffers from tourism and helicopter fly-bys, so if you can get there early in the day, before the aircrafts arrive, you’ll be better off. However, the Hawaiian Park Service is battling to prohibit the choppers and their noise pollution, so there’s a chance this may one day be a thing of the past. Until then, you can still get a fairly silent experience once you’re on the volcanoes themselves.
The park is home to Kiluaea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest. Despite the helicopter presence, rumor has it that once you’re on the volcanoes, the “only sounds you’ll hear are those created by the earth itself as the lava rumbles beneath the surface.” Indeed, there is definite lava activity here: Kiluaea’s Pu’u O’o cinder cone is one of the most active in the world; it has been continuously erupting since January of 1983. And located below the floor of the Kiluaea caldera, the Halema’uma’u crater (said to be the home of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess) is also active, although its last major event was in 2008. Both of these lively craters create lava lakes that are sure to be a thrilling, though fairly silent, sight. (Photo Credit: Steve Dunleavy.)
Big Bend National Park
This west Texas park is home to both mountains and desert, as well as flora and fauna native to each. In fact, the park’s biodiversity is one of the reasons it remains relatively peaceful. According to a Yahoo! travel article, because of Big Bend’s “mountains, deserts, river, [and] more species of birds, bats, and cactus than any other park in the country — only a few minutes’ change in location can dramatically change what you hear.”
Big Bend offers more than 150 miles of hiking trails, and is the “largest expanse of roadless public land in Texas.” Not only that, but the park isn’t on many major aircraft routes, so there’s almost no noise pollution from the ground or above, which means visitors can actually hear nature in all its varied glory. (Photo Credit: Leaflet.)
Cape Cod/Marconi Beach
Although it’s another popular tourist destination, Cape Cod National Seashore does have some quiet spots — if you go at the right time. Experts agree that early morning is best; once the tourists descend, all hope for quiet is lost. One of the best places for silence is Marconi Beach; located along the Atlantic Seashore, it features a noise buffer in the form of a forty-foot sand cliff (known as a scarp).
According to the NPS, “Swimmers and beach walkers feel a sense of solitude here because the scarp and ocean provide an unbroken, pristine natural scene in all directions.” And if you want a little break from the solitude and don’t mind the sounds of nature, hit the beach first thing in the A.M. to hear the gray seals bark and play. (Photo Credit: Daniel Schwen.)
Anza-Borrego State Park
Anza-Borrego is the largest park in the state of California. Because of both its size, and its distance from major cities (it’s about a four-hour drive from civilization, and located on the east side of San Diego county) the park is blessedly quiet. Its landscape is mostly desert, although it’s also famous for its wildflowers. Featuring twelve wilderness areas, the park provides plenty of opportunities to retreat into silence and commune with nature — which is plentiful. Anza-Borrego is home to roadrunners, eagles, foxes, deer, iguanas, and the endangered Borrego (bighorn) sheep.
For absolute silence, avoid the valley and aim for the mountains. According to the park’s website, “The valley spreads below, and there are mountains all around. The highest are to the north — the Santa Rosa Mountains. The mountains are a wilderness, with no paved roads in or out or through. They have the only all-year-flowing watercourse in the park. They are the home of the peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn.” The sheep are wary of humans, so the odds are good that your trek in the mountains will be very solitary, indeed. (Photo Credit: David Corby.)
Great Basin National Park
In terms of silence, this Nevada park has a lot of things going for it. First of all, it’s located off of U.S. Route 50, which is the most isolated highway in the nation. On top of that, the park doesn’t get cell reception, which means that even if there are other visitors in the area, you’ll be free from the ever-present tones of the marimba. Of course, it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll encounter other visitors; this isolated park doesn’t get many tourists. In fact, one former superintendent said Great Basin is so quiet, “you can hear the birds’ wings as they fly.”
The park is famous for its groves of bristlecone pines, which are the oldest known non-clonal organisms. It also houses jackrabbits, coyotes, marmots, bobcats, bats, foxes, sheep, ringtail cats and more. There’s a lot to experience here; as the NPS website puts it, “Come to Great Basin National Park to experience the solitude of the desert, the smell of sagebrush after a thunderstorm, the darkest of night skies, and the beauty of Lehman Caves. Far from a wasteland, the Great Basin is a diverse region that awaits your discovery.” (Photo Credit: Wing-Chi Poon.)
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
When it comes to escaping the sounds of daily life, it doesn’t get much more remote than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, the nearest city — Fairbanks, Alaska — is nearly 260 miles away. This arctic wonderland is comprised of more than 19 million barely-inhabited acres that are so remote visitors must venture in via floatplanes and ski planes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that the refuge was established to “preserve unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values [and] to conserve caribou herds, polar bears, grizzly bears, muskox, dall sheep, wolves, wolverines, snow geese, peregrine falcons, other migratory birds, dolly varden, and grayling…”
Apparently the mission is working, because Conde Nast Traveler claims that the only sounds you hear are those of nature. “‘It’s wonderful how lyrical the place sounds’…Hike to the Beaufort Lagoon to listen to the haunting cry of the arctic fox. Elsewhere, you can hear a wondrous echo as the wind whips through the empty valleys and across the tundra.” (Photo Credit: Steven Chase, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)
Voyageurs National Park
It’s no surprise that the main feature of this Minnesota park is water. Although winter freezes allow access to the park via snowmobile, it’s best enjoyed during the summer, when the snow has melted and the main portion of the park is accessible only by boat, with no land access. Because it’s comprised mostly of waterways, there isn’t much in the way of roads or automobile traffic in the park, which is a prime reason why it made our list.
According to the NPS, Voyageurs is a “a unique landscape formed by earthquakes, volcanic activity and mountain building…Voyageurs is where the Aurora Borealis glows brightly and brilliantly and constellations can be seen year round.” There are a number of interesting sites in the park, including the Kettle Falls Hotel. Built in 1910 and established on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, it’s one of the few places in the contiguous 48 states where one can actually look south into Canada. Other points of interest include the Ellsworth Rock Gardens and Little American Island. Home to a number of bird species, beavers and wolf packs, Voyageurs is five hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Photo Credit: Ed Lombard, National Park Service.)
So, if you’re in need of a little peace and quiet (and you live in the U.S.), check out these last remaining strongholds of silence. Hopefully, the government will continue to work to protect these lands and shield them from encroaching civilization, but just in case, you might want to plan your visit now. Go ahead — make your travel arrangements, and once you arrive, take a deep breath and revel in the sound of…nothing.
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