The 15 Least-visited National Parks in the U.S. for Beautiful Views and Adventures Without the Crowds
All of America's national parks have their own treasures to offer visitors, but some are more popular than others.
Each year, the National Park Service (NPS) tracks the total number of tourists in each park, revealing the most and least visited. While the country's least-visited parks can take a bit more planning to reach, they offer incredible experiences to all those who make the trek. You can watch synchronous fireflies, hike among the world's oldest trees, take in views of the northern lights, or enjoy wildflower blooms at these lesser-known national treasures.
The following 15 national parks had the fewest visitors in 2020, according to the NPS. So, if you're looking for adventure and scenery without the crowds, here are the least-visited national parks to travel to next.
Related: More national park trip ideas
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska
With no roads or trails and a landscape carved by glaciers, Alaska's Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is for the traveler looking to truly get away from it all. With just 2,872 visitors in 2020, it was the least-visited national park of the year.
Park representatives refer to the area as "one of the last truly wild places on Earth." The park's natural habitats can indeed be harsh, and only experienced wilderness travelers are advised to visit. However, there are companies that can organize day trips and overnight campouts to give visitors at every level the chance to enjoy aurora-lit skies and a natural setting unlike any other.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve may be the nation's second least-visited national park, but avid travelers who have seen all of America's national parks cite it as one of the best.
The park offers an iconic Alaskan experience, where visitors can get magnificent views of turquoise lakes, brown bears, soaring mountains, and glaciers. Take all of it in while kayaking, hiking, powerboating, or biking along the lakes and rivers.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
To say Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a behemoth would be an understatement. The park and preserve cover a total of 3,223,384 acres, making it a place where anyone can go to find complete peace and quiet. It's also a place where travelers can choose their own adventure, from exploring fjords to hiking through lush green forests to heading out on a boat to see the marine park. Of course, animals abound here, so make sure to pack some binoculars to spot them all from a safe distance.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Isle Royale National Park is located on an isolated island that sits in the middle of Lake Superior. The national park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, and transportation services are available from nearby locations. Once at the park, travelers will find forests, rugged shorelines, backcountry trails, and some 400 satellite islands to explore by boat. Thanks to the cold waters of Lake Superior, the national park is also a prime location for scuba diving, as sunken shipwrecks have remained intact.
Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
Half a million caribou migrate through Kobuk Valley National Park, tracking across the sculpted dunes. The park is home to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, the largest active sand dunes in the Arctic, which formed over thousands of years as glaciers gradually ground the rocks beneath them. The ice age relics are also often dotted with the tracks of bears, wolves, foxes, and moose that roam the park. The Kobuk River weaves through the park, offering visitors a unique vantage point to view the flora and fauna by boat.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
At 13.2 million acres, Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the nation's biggest, but it only saw 74,518 visits last year.
The park is roughly the same size as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and all of Switzerland combined. It's home to the nation's largest glacial system (close to 35% of the park is covered in glaciers), which is why NPS representatives say visitors following any braided river or stream to its source are sure to find a receding, advancing, or a tidewater glacier to admire. The park also has some of the country's tallest mountains, and visitors can even see Mount Wrangell (one of the world's largest active volcanoes) smoking on clear days.
National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa
Located some 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii sits the National Park of American Samoa. As one of the most remote national parks, it's little surprise that it gets so few visitors per year, and 2020 was no different. According to the NPS, it recorded just 4,819 visits in the calendar year. However, just because it's not popular doesn't mean it's not worthy of a visit.
Those who are fortunate enough to make the trip are rewarded with gorgeous views of the crystalline sea, coral sand beaches, and an abundance of aquatic life — the park is home to a whopping 950 species of fish for guests to spot.
On land, visitors can hike through a vast trail system that offers epic views, as well as learn more about the Samoan culture through its visitors center and unique homestay program.
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Three hours from Seattle, North Cascades National Park offers the most glacier views in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Though the North Cascades National Park Service Complex is one of the world's snowiest places, it still provides visitors with a range of activities year-round, from river rafting trips to horseback riding, backpacking, climbing, and hiking hundreds of trails. The alpine landscape hosts short and scenic strolls for beginner hikers, as well as lengthier trails that pass alongside glaciers for the more advanced.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park is 100 square miles of natural and historic gems located about 70 miles out from Key West, Florida. Most of the national park, which includes seven small islands, is part of the Florida Keys reef system — the third largest in the world — and its remote location offers visitors a rich abundance of marine life and shipwrecks to explore. Head to Garden Key to explore Fort Jefferson, one of the nation's largest 19th-century forts, where you can camp and take in the night sky views that the park is known for.
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Designated as a national park and preserve in 1980, Katmai National Park and Preserve on Alaska's northern peninsula is home to dramatic landscapes and a rich array of wildlife. The national park is almost exclusively accessed by plane or boat, and various operators offer air taxi service and flightseeing tours.
Flightseeing tours are one of the "more dramatic" ways to see the national park and preserve, according to park representatives, as the aerial view reveals the vast size and diversity of the area and its combination of tundra, freshwater lakes, and volcanoes. Those flying over can also take in views of the bears and moose that live here. There are more than 2,000 brown bears in Katmai, and the animals are so beloved here that there's an annual Fat Bear Week to determine the fattest in the park.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Denali is yet another underrated and under-visited national park in Alaska. Made up of a whopping six million acres, guests of the park get to see some truly stunning and varied terrain, including Mount McKinley, which tops out at 20,310 feet, making it the tallest peak in North America. Of course, the wildlife is abundant here, too, and includes 37 species of mammals, as well as 30 different bird species for guests to try and spot during their adventures.
Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Located on the end of the Kenai Peninsula sits Kenai Fjords, a national park consisting of approximately 600,000 acres and nearly 40 glaciers that flow from the Harding Icefield. At the national park, guests can gaze upon the glaciers and spot the plentiful wildlife that thrives in these extremely cold conditions, including bears, moose, sea otters, and both humpback and killer whales. Visitors are invited to enjoy the park via boat tours, hiking, or kayaking, and can even book a public use cabin to stay overnight for complete and utter solitude.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
South Carolina's Congaree National Park is home to both the country's largest expanse of old-growth forest and some of eastern America's tallest trees. Some of the trees reach as high as 170 feet, and visitors can admire them on more than 25 miles of hiking trails — or even by canoe or kayak.
The park is also one of the few places in the world where travelers can witness two magnificent natural displays. These include synchronous fireflies, which typically appear between mid-May and mid-June, and a fascinating view that happens when the park experiences flooding. Thanks to elevated pathways that line the park, those who visit when heavy rainfalls occur can see close to 90% of the park completely submerged underwater.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Great Basin National Park offers visitors some of the country's best stargazing.
Thanks to drastic elevation changes (from 5,000 to 13,000 feet), the park is immensely diverse in its flora and fauna. Here, you'll find everything from deserts and playas to mountains, fossils, springs, caves, and glaciers. The park is home to 73 different mammal species, more than 200 bird species, 11 species of conifer trees, and more than 800 plant species (like alpine wildflowers that cover the area in the spring). In the fall, pine nuts adorn the park, and come winter, mule deer make their seasonal migration through the grounds. Visitors will also find the oldest trees in the world and ancient caves at Great Basin.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Guadalupe Mountains National Park combines mountain and canyon scenery with desert terrain and impressive dunes. The national park is home to more than 80 miles of hiking trails that weave through the desert, canyons, and even to the "Top of Texas" at Guadalupe Peak, where those who make the trek can see mesmerizing views from every angle.
Four of the state's highest peaks are located within the park, which also offers spectacular foliage in the fall. Hit the McKittrick Canyon Trail in the northern portion to see just how magnificent the park's fall colors can be.