America's Five Quietest and Five Noisiest National Parks

WASHINGTON, DC, July 14, 2008 (ENS) – Finding peace and quiet in the national parks this summer just got a little easier with the help of coalition of National Park Service retirees who have compiled a ranking of America’s parks based on their soundscape.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, CNPSR, has put together some tips on a variety of parks to go to enjoy quiet or the sounds of nature, as well as some places visitors may want to avoid if what they seek is peace and quiet.

Mountain goats at Easy Pass in
Cascades National Park, Washington
(Photo courtesy NPS)

“Some parks remain natural cathedrals to silence and natural sounds, while others now face an onslaught of airplane overflights, traffic sounds, snowmobiles, jet skis and other man-made noise pollution,” says Bill Wade.

Wade serves as executive council chair of the 650-member Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, CNPSR. All members are former employees of the National Park Service – former national park directors and deputy directors, regional directors, superintendents, and rangers.

As a public service this summer, the CNPSR has put together a list of the five national parks in the lower 48 states where visitors can still find genuine peace, quiet and natural sounds.

They are – Great Basin National Park inNevada, Isle Royale National Park in Michigan, North Cascades National Park in Washington, Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana, and Muir Woods National Monument in California.

CNPSR members also have highlighted the five parks that are most at risk of growing noise pollution.

Noisy air tours make Mt. Rushmore
tough to tolerate from some visitors.
(Photo by Elsabellina)

They are – Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts, Mojave National Preserve in California, Mt. Rushmore National Park, South Dakota, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, and Everglades National Park in Florida.

Wade said, “When people think of national parks, they think of the scenery, the wildlife, and the historical icons they hold. Many also think of a place they can ‘get away from it all’ and that includes escaping ruckus of everyday life. Fortunately, National Park Service policies recognize the soundscape as an important park characteristic that needs to be protected.

CNPSR Executive Council Member Abby Miller is a former National Park Service deputy associate director for natural resources and stewardship. She says, “While our park selections are naturally subjective, they are based on the thousands of years of experiences of CNPSR members who are among those who know best of all.”

“We hope that park visitors will appreciate and pay attention to the preservation of natural sound,” she said, “an important aspect of our national treasures.”

Top Five Parks for Peace, Quiet and Natural Sounds

* Great Basin National Park, Nevada. (”You can hear the birds’ wings as they fly,” says a retired superintendent of this park. “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,” beckons the park’s Web site.

* Isle Royale National Park, Michigan ( Isle Royale is a remote wilderness park, at least remote for the Eastern half of the country. It is surrounded by the large, clear, cold, and untamed waters of Lake Superior. The land base is 99% designated wilderness, although the majority of the park acreage is in Lake Superior where motorized boating is allowed—requiring some attention to location and timing to find places where the sounds of nature prevail.

* North Cascades National Park, Washington State ( Jagged peaks and deep valleys, encompassing 9000 feet of vertical relief, cascading waterfalls, over 300 glaciers, temperate rainforests and ponderosa pine systems make the North Cascades National Park Service Complex scenic, diverse, and a great place to explore. Opportunities for solitude are greatest in the more remote cross-country zones. Overnight recreational use is closely managed to provide a high level of solitude, including permits, designated campsites, and party size limits. As in other parks, ask the rangers for their advice to help plan your trip to the quietest parts of the park.

* Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana ( The battle at Big Hole grew out of a long struggle between non-Indians, hungry for land and gold, and the Nimiipu, or Nez Perce. It is considered a sacred burial ground by the Nez Perce. The battlefield sits in the beautiful U-shaped Big Hole Valley near Wisdom, Montana.

* Muir Woods National Monument, California ( This small park in the greater San Francisco Bay area hosts daily crowds of tour buses from the city who come to enjoy the half-mile path through the redwood forest. But this park has a big commitment to a natural soundscape. When visitors commented that rambunctious kids were the main source of human noise, the parks’s Junior Ranger program was reworked to have quieting exercises and a new poetic treasure hunt that emphasizes listening and appreciating the natural soundscape. The park has also tested quiet days and quiet zones. In December 2007, a Winter Solstice celebration included quiet times and five Quiet Days are planned in 2008.

The retirees advise, “When you visit these or other national parks, tell the rangers you want to be away from the sounds of human activity as much as possible and ask their advice for the best sections of the park to visit quietly to enjoy the park and its natural sound.”

The Five National Parks With the Worst Noise Problems

* Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts ( This park in the Boston suburbs commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution. It is difficult enough in its current environment to experience the battlefield as it was and or find an atmosphere of reverence. “Visitors to these sites should be able to experience a soundscape that is as similar to the late 1700s as possible,” says the coalition of retirees.

* Mojave National Preserve, California ( Mojave, whose website indicates that it “provides serenity and solitude from the crowds of major metropolitan areas” is threatened by proposed new airport near the town of Primm, about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas, meant to alleviate air traffic at Las Vegas McCarran. If all goes as planned by the county, the new airport would be built by 2017 and handle about 35 million passengers a year. An environmental impact study for the proposal is scheduled to be finished in 2010.

* Mt. Rushmore National Park, South Dakota ( An air tour Interim Operating Authority is in place for over 5,000 flights annually, with activity concentrated during the summer holiday months. The primary operator has suspended operations, but the FAA maintains that their allocation could be picked up by anyone willing to purchase the company. The park is so small that air tours are audible throughout the park for most of their flight tracks.

Another issue that affects quiet at this and other parks is emerging. Sturgis, South Dakota is the focus of a two-week motorcycle rally in August. The noise from this event and those traveling to it affect Mt. Rushmore and other Dakota parks.

* Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii ( The Park is one of the few remaining natural areas in Hawaii protecting habitat from sea to summit, and there are 150 miles of trails to explore. But active volcanic eruptions are not always viewable by foot or car; and overflights are often the only way to see eruptions. There are tens of thousands of air tour flights per year. The routes in the park are subject to nominal Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, regulation, but orbiting time over eruption sites is uncontrolled. The Napau Crater wilderness hike lies directly underneath one of the most active air tour routes.

* Everglades National Park, Florida ( Everglades National Park preserves a million and a half acres of unique tropical water and grass environment along with hammocks, mangroves and other systems – most of it designated wilderness. Yet Everglades, as well as other south Florida parks are impacted by air boats, motor boats, generators, and other motors operating inside and outside the park.

The retirees omitted two national parks from the preceding list, the retirees said, “since their long-standing noise issues are well known – Grand Canyon and its aircraft overflight issue and Yellowstone’s snowmobile problem.”

“While Yellowstone has seen an unsatisfactory resolution of snowmobile-related noise issues, there has been some progress at Grand Canyon, where special legislation was passed aimed just at controlling overflight activities at this park and reducing their impact,” the retirees said.

The coalition of retirees wants to see the National Park Service retain jurisdiction on overflights, saying, “At no point in a FAA reauthorization process should changes be made to the Park Service’s current lead role in the regulation of aircraft overflights.”

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