For travelers who love to avoid the crowds, the 15 least-visited national parks in America may be perfect spots for a vacation.
But be prepared: There’s a reason these parks don’t see a ton of visitors. Many are located in very remote parts of the country.
So if you plan to see them all, you’ll need a huge budget, reliable transportation, and even a bush plane in some cases. You can always use my budget travel tips to stretch your dollar!
There are now 63 official national parks in America. Four have been added in the past five years: Gateway Arch National Park in 2018 (that’s right – the Arch in St. Louis is now a national park), Indiana Dunes National Park and White Sands National Park in New Mexico in 2019, and White River Gorge in West Virginia in 2020.
All of the national parks are amazing, but these are the 15 that, for various reasons, aren’t seeing as much traffic as the others.
By the way, I’m doing my part to help these overlooked parks – I’ve personally visited 12 of the 15 on the list. I’m trying to visit all the national parks, after all!
All photos taken personally by Quirky Travel Guy.
Changes in the 2023 Rankings
Rankings have been updated for 2023 based on NPS attendance statistics for ’22. We’re using the most current figures to create the most accurate list of the least popular parks.
Attendance figures have varied wildly over the past few years due to the pandemic and inflation. The eight national parks in Alaska have taken the biggest hit in traffic.
Not as many people have been willing to fly to Alaska the past few years, so attendance there has dropped quite a bit.
In our updated list for 2023, there are two new parks in the Top 15. Pinnacles NP and Virgin Islands NP, both of which dropped off the list last year, are back in the least 15.
Meanwhile, two parks in Alaska – Denali NP and Glacier Bay NP – saw their visitation rebound to the point that they’re no longer on the list of least-visited parks.
The 15 Least-Visited National Parks in America, Updated for 2023
Annual visitors: 275,023
Previous ranking: Not in the top 15
It’s surprising to see a California national park on this list, because there are so many people in that state! Yet, barely a quarter-million made it to Pinnacles National Park last year.
Located 3 hours south of San Francisco, Pinnacles features protruding volcanic spires and forested cliffs. It’s one of the smaller national parks, but it does have 32 miles of hiking trails.
Don’t forget to look up – Pinnacles is home to some California condors, the famous vultures with the 9-foot wing-span. They’ve have been reintroduced to the area, much as they were at the Grand Canyon.
Annual visitors: 221,434
Previous ranking: #14
Those into boating and bald eagle-watching should consider visiting Voyageurs, a national park in northern Minnesota along the Canadian border. There’s some hiking and camping here, but much of the park is not accessible by car.
Here, it’s all about the water. Take a ferry cruise to explore some of the islands. During my visit, I saw more than a dozen bald eagles. A whopping 1300 eagle pairs live in the park!
#13: Guadalupe Mountains
Annual visitors: 219,987
Previous ranking: #15
Big Bend is the most well-known national park in Texas, while the much smaller Guadalupe Mountains NP gets overlooked. Much of the park is desert, but there are also high-elevation areas above 7000 feet.
There aren’t many places in Texas to see alpine forest, so this place is unique in that regard. It’s only a 30 minute drive from Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico, so make the trip the next time you’re in the area.
It’s a good detour if you’re taking a road trip between California and Texas.
I finally visited Guadalupe this spring, and found some great hikes in the mountains. And some awesome sunsets!
Guadalupe Mountains National Park actually set an all-time record in attendance in 2021 with 243k visitors, before declining slightly in 2022. Perhaps in the next year or two, it will drop off this list entirely as more people find out about it!
State: South Carolina
Annual visitors: 204,522
Previous ranking: #12
South Carolina’s Congaree, which became a national park in 2003, includes forest and swampland ecosystems. Many visitors rent canoes or kayaks in Columbia and spend a few days on the water in Congaree.
Primitive and backcountry camping are available for those brave enough to give it a shot. The 204k people who visited Congaree last year were only 10k short of the park’s all-time high.
I was excited to finally visit Congaree last summer, because it’s so different from many other national parks. They offer nightly owl hikes where the group heads into the forest with flashlights looking for the nocturnal birds. We spotted two!
There’s a boardwalk through the forest that visitors can use to hike when the ground beneath is swampy.
#11: Virgin Islands National Park
State: U.S. Virgin Islands
Annual visitors: 196,752
Previous ranking: Not in the top 15
Here’s the other newcomer to this year’s list. Virgin Islands National Park is located on the island of Saint John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The tropical environment is a rarity among U.S. parks.
The park’s 14,000 acres include a number of beautiful beaches and protected bays and coral reefs. Among several hiking trails is the Reef Bay Trail, which leads to petroglyphs believed to have been created by the Taino people more than 500 years ago.
#10: Great Basin
Annual visitors: 142,115
Previous ranking: #11
There’s a glacier in Nevada! Who knew? Great Basin National Park is five hours north of Las Vegas.
One of its coolest features is the Wheeler Peak Glacier, which sits at the base of the 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak. Guests can reach the glacier with a two-mile, uphill hike.
Unfortunately, the glacier is almost entirely covered by rocks. I could barely see any actual ice when I visited last year. So set your expectations properly if you decide to book a trip here.
At last measurement, the glacier was only 300 feet long by 400 feet wide, and scientists predict it will disappear entirely within 20 years. So visit now!
It seems that word is getting out – Great Basin’s tourist traffic has risen 94k to 142k in the past ten years.
#9: Dry Tortugas
Annual visitors: 78,488
Previous ranking: #9
Everglades is known as the premiere national park in southern Florida, but Dry Tortugas is even more interesting in a lot of ways. It’s a series of islands located 68 miles west of Key West out in the Gulf of Mexico.
You can only reach Dry Tortugas by seaplane or boat. There are ferries that will take you directly there from Key West.
#8: Wrangell-St. Elias
Annual visitors: 65,236
Previous ranking: #8
Since it’s located just off a highway, Wrangell-St. Elias is one of the most easily accessible parks in Alaska. It’s also the largest national park in the U.S., so I recommend stopping by during any visit to the state.
I was one of the visitors to Wrangell-St. Elias a few years back, though I never made it past the visitor center. I’m guessing that’s true for a lot of folks who make a quick visit on their Alaska road trip.
Those who pay to take the shuttle bus deeper into the park can check out the abandoned mining town of Kennecott.
Annual visitors: 33,908
Previous ranking: #6
Katmai National Park is one of the best places in the world to see brown bears. The southern Alaska park is difficult to reach, but thousands make the effort because more than 2,000 bears live in the park.
I saw more than 50 brown bears during my two days at Katmai, at much closer range than I had ever seen them before.
#6: North Cascades
Annual visitors: 30,154
Previous ranking: #4
The lucky residents of Washington state (hey, that’s me!) have three national parks to choose from. So while Olympic and Mt. Rainier get lots of traffic, North Cascades lags behind.
North Cascades NP only appears on this list because of a technicality. The main road going through the park (Route 20), plus the visitor center and attractions like Diablo Lake, are technically located in adjacent Ross Lake National Recreation Area, rather than the national park itself.
There are only two roads actually within the official park boundary, and both are gravel roads that are typically only traveled by adventurous hikers.
This place is more appropriate for climbers and campers than your typical weekend RV traveler. There are some nice day hikes here, though. You can include North Cascades as part of a road trip to all three Washington national parks!
#5: Isle Royale
Annual visitors: 25,454
Previous ranking: #7
When it comes to the least visited national parks in the lower 48 states, Isle Royale almost always takes the prize.
Two years ago, Isle Royale saw more visitors than North Cascades for the first time, but last year, Isle Royale was back in last place among parks in the lower 48.
Isle Royale National Park is a remote island (45 miles by 9 miles long) way up along the Canadian border. With 36 different campgrounds in the park, there’s no question what the main recreational activity is here.
Isle Royale is a great place to watch for moose and go on lengthy hikes, far from other people.
The park is only reachable by ferry or seaplane, so most visitors tend to stay for a minimum of a few days. You’ll have to plan ahead to secure your ferry reservation.
#4: Lake Clark
Annual visitors: 18,187
Previous ranking: #5
Situated 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, Lake Clark is the home of glaciers and active volcanoes (one erupted in 2009.)
It also provides boating and fishing opportunities, plus wildlife such as bears, Dall sheep, bears, caribou, coyotes, wolves, fox, lynx, and wolverines.
This is another park which is typically reached by small plane, which explains why it doesn’t see a lot of visitors.
Lake Clark is yet another Alaska park where bear-watching is a primary activity, especially in Chinitna Bay, where bears are accustomed to humans and may walk alongside them while they forage for clams in the sand.
#3: Kobuk Valley
Annual visitors: 16,925
Previous ranking: #3
Once America’s least-visited national park, Kobuk Valley has improved its position in recent years. The park now consistently sees between 11-15k visitors annually.
Located entirely within the Arctic Circle, and accessible only by bush plane, snowmobile, or river float, Kobuk Valley is known for its annual migration of 400,000 caribou and its 20,000 acres of sand dunes.
Nobody expects to see sand dunes in a place like Alaska, so that natural feature makes Kobuk Valley stand out! You can camp in the dunes and go on hikes looking for the tracks of bears, wolves, and caribou.
#2: Gates of the Arctic
Annual visitors: 9,457
Previous ranking: #1
About 9,450 people visited Gates of the Arctic National Park last year. That works out to about 26 per day. Twenty six!
When you consider that the park consists of more than 8 million acres, you can see why this place is easily your best opportunity within the national parks system to get away from civilization.
Gates of the Arctic is not directly accessible by car, though you can reach the edge of the park by hiking a couple miles west from the Dalton Highway on an Arctic Circle road trip.
Those who do make it here come for the scenery and the wildlife. If you’re considering becoming one of the rare visitors to Gates of the Arctic, check out this lengthy park video put together by the National Parks Service:
#1: National Park of American Samoa
State: American Samoa (U.S. territory)
Annual visitors: 1,887
Previous ranking: #2
A lot of people aren’t even aware that part of Samoa is a U.S. territory, or that it has a national park.
Established in 1988, the National Park of American Samoa covers three islands and more than 13,000 acres, one third of which is ocean. Snorkeling and hiking are among the top activities in this protected region.
Traffic to the American Samoa park has fluctuated wildly in recent years, reaching a peak of 69,000 in 2017 before falling drastically during the past few years.
Why did the park have so few visitors last year? Probably the combination of Samoa still having covid restrictions in place, and the fact that it takes 14 hours to get here from California or 5.5 hours from Hawaii.
You have to really want to see the National Park of American Samoa to make that journey.
That’s it for our countdown of the 15 least visited national parks in the USA! Just because they are the least crowded parks doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to offer. Which one would you most like to visit?