The 61 National Parks contain some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in the United States. From Acadia to Zion, these parks attract over 300 million visitors each year. However, not all national parks receive the same level of attention and visitation. Some parks are less visited than others, for reasons including their remote locations, lack of awareness, and limited accessibility. Despite their lower visitation numbers, these lesser-known parks offer unique features and experiences that make them well worth exploring.
While some of these parks may be tough to reach, they each allow visitors to experience the natural beauty and tranquility of these hidden gems without the crowds and congestion often found in more popular parks.
The 10 Least visited National Parks
|Park||Location||Visitors in 2022 (source)|
|Great Basin National Park||Utah||142,115|
|Dry Tortugas National Park||Florida||78,488|
|Wrangell-St. Elias National Park||Alaska||65,236|
|Katmai National Park and Preserve||Alaska||33,908|
|North Cascades National Park||Washington||30,154|
|Isle Royal National Park||Michigan||25,454|
|Lake Clark National Park||Alaska||18,187|
|Kobuk Valley National Park||Alaska||16,925|
|Gates of the Arctic National Park||Alaska||9,457|
|American Samoa National Park||American Samoa||1,887|
10. Great Basin National Park
Visitors in 2022: 142,115
Located in eastern Nevada, Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. Despite its remote location, the park offers unique features and activities that make it a hidden gem worth exploring. The park is known for its ancient bristlecone pine trees, some of which are over 5,000 years old, as well as its stunning limestone caves. Visitors can explore Lehman Caves on guided tours and marvel at the intricate formations and underground wonders.
It’s not just caves, though; Great Basin National Park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, and stargazing. The park is home to Wheeler Peak, the second-highest peak in Nevada, which offers challenging hiking trails and breathtaking views. The park’s remote location and lack of amenities contribute to its low visitation numbers. However, for those willing to make the journey, Great Basin offers a unique and rewarding experience.
9. Dry Tortugas National Park
Visitors in 2022: 78,468
Located off the coast of Key West, Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the United States. The park is known for its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and historic Fort Jefferson. Dry Tortugas is a tropical paradise, offering visitors the opportunity to snorkel, dive, and explore the park’s pristine beaches.
Visiting Dry Tortugas National Park can be a challenge due to its limited accessibility and high cost. The park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, and there are limited transportation options available. Additionally, the cost of visiting the park can be prohibitive for some visitors, as it requires ferry tickets, or a boat or seaplane charter. However, for those who are able to make the journey, Dry Tortugas National Park offers a truly unique and unforgettable experience in a tropical paradise.
8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Visitors in 2022: 65,236
Located in Alaska, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest national park in the United States, covering 8.3 million acres. Despite its vast size and stunning beauty, the park receives relatively few visitors. Wrangell-St. Elias is known for its vast wilderness, towering glaciers, and abundant wildlife.
Visitors to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park can explore the park’s hiking trails, go fishing or kayaking in its rivers and lakes, or simply enjoy the solitude and tranquility of a remote wilderness. The park’s remote location and lack of infrastructure contribute to its low visitation numbers. But, if you can make it there, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park offers a truly unforgettable experience in one of the last remaining wild places on Earth.
7. Katmai National Park and Preserve
Visitors in 2019: 33,908
Katmai National Park is a stunning wilderness area located in southern Alaska, USA. Established in 1980, the park covers an impressive 3.6 million acres and is renowned for its diverse and unspoiled landscapes. It is situated on the northernmost part of the Alaska Peninsula and is accessible by air and water. The park is named after Mount Katmai, a volcano that erupted in 1912, leaving behind the magnificent “Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes” – a surreal landscape of ash and steam vents.
One of the park’s main attractions is its abundant population of brown bears. In fact, Katmai is one of the best places in the world to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The Brooks River area, in particular, is famous for its bear viewing opportunities, where visitors can observe bears catching salmon as they swim upstream to spawn. This unique spectacle draws wildlife enthusiasts and photographers from around the globe.
The scenery in Katmai National Park is nothing short of breathtaking. Its vast wilderness encompasses rugged mountains, dense forests, expansive tundra, and pristine coastlines along the Bering Sea. From snow-capped peaks to lush valleys, visitors are treated to awe-inspiring vistas at every turn. The park also boasts numerous active volcanoes and geothermal features, adding to the area’s geological diversity.
Whether you are an outdoor adventurer seeking challenging hikes, a wildlife lover yearning to witness bears in their natural environment, or simply a nature enthusiast looking for solitude and grandeur, Katmai National Park can offer an unforgettable experience.
6. North Cascades National Park
Visitors in 2022: 30,154
Located in Washington state, North Cascades National Park is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, such as Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park. However, this hidden gem offers some of the most rugged and pristine wilderness in the country. The park is known for its jagged peaks, glaciers, and alpine meadows, making it a paradise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
North Cascades National Park offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy day hikes to challenging multi-day backpacking trips. Visitors can explore the park’s stunning landscapes, spot wildlife such as mountain goats and black bears, and enjoy the peace and tranquility of this remote wilderness. Despite its natural beauty, North Cascades National Park receives relatively few visitors due to its lack of infrastructure and accessibility. However, for those willing to venture off the beaten path, the park offers a truly unforgettable experience.
While it’s true that the National Park itself only sees a few thousand visitors each year, it’s part of a larger parks complex that includes Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which receives nearly one million annual visitors. Below is a photo of the North Cascades National Park boundary marker, which I took on a backpacking trail that crossed between Ross Lake and North Cascades:
5. Isle Royale National Park
Visitors in 2022: 20,454
Located in Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park is one of the most isolated national parks in the United States. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park offers a pristine wilderness experience that is unmatched by other parks. Isle Royale is known for its rugged beauty, with dense forests, rocky shores, and crystal-clear lakes. The park is also home to a thriving population of wolves and moose, making it a unique destination for wildlife enthusiasts.
Visiting Isle Royale National Park can be a challenge due to its remote location and limited transportation options. However, for those willing to make the journey, the park offers a truly unforgettable experience. Visitors can explore the park’s hiking trails, go fishing or kayaking in the lakes, or simply relax and enjoy the solitude of this remote wilderness.
I can anecdotally speak to the remoteness and inaccessibility of Isle Royal: I was going to go there for a few days for my bachelor party, but it was too tough to plan so we scrapped the idea. I’ll get there one day!
4. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Visitors in 2022: 18,167
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, also located in southern Alaska, is a remote and captivating wilderness area that spans over 2.6 million acres. Established in 1980, the park is characterized by its diverse landscapes, ranging from majestic mountains to pristine lakes and coastal regions. The centerpiece of the park is the stunning Lake Clark, a vast body of water surrounded by breathtaking mountain ranges, including the volcanic peaks of the Alaska Range. This remote and rugged terrain attracts adventurous souls seeking a truly off-the-beaten-path experience.
The park’s rich biodiversity is another draw for nature enthusiasts. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and numerous bird species, making it a prime location for wildlife watching and photography. The coastline along Cook Inlet and the Pacific Ocean provides essential habitat for marine mammals such as sea otters and seals, enhancing the park’s ecological significance.
Lake Clark National Park offers a wide range of recreational activities for visitors to immerse themselves in the Alaskan wilderness. Popular activities include backcountry hiking, fishing, kayaking, and rafting, providing ample opportunities to explore the park’s rugged beauty. The park’s remote location and limited infrastructure ensure that visitors who venture here are rewarded with a sense of tranquility and an authentic Alaskan wilderness experience that is truly unforgettable.
3. Kobuk Valley National Park
Visitors in 2022: 16,925
Located in remote northwestern Alaska, Kobuk Valley National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. The park is known for its frozen tundra, vast sand dunes, and unique wildlife. Kobuk Valley is home to the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic, which can reach heights of up to 100 feet. The park is also a critical habitat for caribou, which migrate through the area in large herds.
Visiting Kobuk Valley National Park can be a challenge due to its remote location and lack of infrastructure. There are no roads or facilities within the park, and visitors must rely on small aircraft or boats to access the area. However, for those who are willing to make the journey, Kobuk Valley National Park offers a truly unique and untouched wilderness experience.
2. Gates of the Arctic National Park
Visitors in 2022: 9,457
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is an awe-inspiring expanse of wilderness located in the northernmost part of Alaska. Established in 1980, it is the second-largest national park in the United States, covering over 7.5 million acres of pristine landscapes, and the northernmost. What sets this park apart is its lack of roads, park facilities and marked trails, making it a truly remote and untouched wilderness that offers a genuine backcountry experience. It can only be accessed by airplane, or by hiking in from outside the park boundaries.
The park’s name is derived from the dramatic geographic features found within its boundaries, including the rugged peaks of the Brooks Range and the meandering rivers that cut through the expansive valleys. These natural “gates” provide access points to the vast wilderness beyond, where solitude and adventure await intrepid travelers.
Gates of the Arctic is a land of extremes, with harsh winters and short summers. However, its challenging climate also sustains an incredible diversity of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, and migratory birds. For those seeking solitude and a deep connection with nature, the park offers unparalleled opportunities for backcountry backpacking, mountaineering, and wilderness exploration. Visitors must be well-prepared and self-reliant, as there are no visitor centers or amenities typical of more developed parks.
The rugged and untamed beauty of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve makes it a paradise for wilderness enthusiasts, photographers, and those in search of a true escape from the modern world. It remains one of the last remaining expanses in North America where nature reigns supreme, offering an unparalleled opportunity to experience the raw and unadulterated wilderness of Alaska’s Arctic region.
1. American Samoa National Park
Visitors in 2022: 1,887
American Samoa National Park is a tropical paradise and a hidden gem among the United States’ national parks. Established in 1988, it is located in the remote South Pacific territory of American Samoa, encompassing three main islands: Tutuila, Ta’u, and Ofu. The park covers approximately 8,200 acres, consisting of lush rainforests, pristine coral reefs, and beautiful beaches that showcase the untouched beauty of the South Pacific.
One of the park’s most captivating features is its vibrant marine life and coral reefs. The crystal-clear waters teem with a kaleidoscope of marine species, making it a haven for snorkelers and scuba divers. Coral formations, colorful fish, and even the occasional sea turtle can be found beneath the surface, offering a truly mesmerizing underwater experience.
The park’s islands are also home to a rich cultural heritage, and visitors can explore traditional Samoan villages and learn about the customs and way of life of the local people. The park’s rainforests are inhabited by unique flora and fauna, including endangered species like the Samoan flying fox and the Pacific boa. Hiking trails lead to breathtaking viewpoints, secluded waterfalls, and ancient archaeological sites, providing a wonderful blend of natural beauty and cultural exploration.
Due to its remote location, American Samoa National Park remains relatively untouched by mass tourism, which adds to its allure for those seeking a serene and off-the-beaten-path adventure. Whether snorkeling through vibrant coral gardens, hiking among lush tropical forests, or immersing oneself in the warm hospitality of the Samoan people, American Samoa National Park promises an unforgettable and enriching experience that captures the essence of the South Pacific’s pristine beauty and cultural heritage.
There are many national parks in the United States that receive fewer visitors than others. These hidden gems offer unique features and experiences that make them well worth exploring. From the rugged beauty of Great Basin National Park to the isolated wilderness of Isle Royale National Park, each of these lesser-known parks has something special to offer. By visiting these hidden gems, not only can visitors enjoy a more intimate and immersive experience with nature, but they can also support the conservation efforts of these parks. So, the next time you’re planning a trip to a national park, consider venturing off the beaten path and exploring one of these hidden gems. You won’t be disappointed.