The 15 Least-Visited National Parks in America (Updated for 2024)

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, like Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic and northern Nevada’s Great Basin, 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!

national park service sign

There are now 63 official national parks in America. Four have been added in the past six years: Gateway Arch National Park in 2018 (that’s right – the Arch in St. Louis is now a national park), Indiana Dunes NP 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 13 of the 15 on the list.

All photos taken personally by Quirky Travel Guy.

least popular parks

Quick Summary: The 15 Least-Visited USA National Parks Last Year
15 Pinnacles
14 Channel Islands
13 Congaree
12 Guadalupe Mountains
11 Voyageurs
10 Great Basin
9 Dry Tortugas
8 Wrangell-St. Elias
7 North Cascades
6 Katmai
5 Isle Royale
4 Kobuk Valley
3 Lake Clark
2 American Samoa
1 Gates of the Arctic

Changes in the 2024 Rankings

Rankings have been updated for 2024 based on NPS attendance statistics for ’23. We’re using the most current figures to create the most accurate list of the least popular parks.

In our updated list for 2024, there is one new park in the Top 15. Channel Islands NP moved back into the top 15 least visited U.S. parks, while Virgin Islands NP earned enough visitors to fall off the list.

And congrats to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Kenai Fjords, and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks, which all saw just enough visitors last year to avoid appearing on this list.

complete national parks

The 15 Least-Visited National Parks in America, Updated for 2024

#15: Pinnacles
State: California
Annual visitors: 341,220
Previous ranking: #15

It’s surprising to see a California national park on this list, because there are so many people in that state! Yet, despite an increase of 70k visitors last year, Pinnacles National Park holds at #15 on the list.

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.

#14: Channel Islands
State: California
Annual visitors: 328,746
Previous ranking: Not in the top 15

The Channel Islands remain mysteriously off the radar for many travelers, despite being a short ferry ride off the coast of Los Angeles.

On these remote islands, you can hike and camp away from the crowds. You can kayak through natural arches on the islands’ coastlines.

channel islands
Kayaking through a sea cave at the Channel Islands.

If you visit, keep an eye out for the island fox, a tiny species of fox that weigh only 4 pounds each. They can be found all over Santa Cruz Island, so you won’t have any difficulty seeing them.

#13: Congaree
State: South Carolina
Annual visitors: 250,114
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.

congaree national park

Primitive and backcountry camping are available for those brave enough to give it a shot. The 250k people who visited Congaree last year were an all-time record for the park.

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.

#12: Guadalupe Mountains
State: Texas
Annual visitors: 227,340
Previous ranking: #13

Big Bend is the most well-known national park in Texas, while the much smaller Guadalupe Mountains NP tends to get 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.

guadalupe mountains

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 the years since.

Perhaps in the next year or two, it will drop off this list entirely!

#11: Voyageurs
State: Minnesota
Annual visitors: 220,825
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.

bald eagles voyageurs
Two bald eagles watch over the waterways of Voyageurs, America’s 11th least-visited national park.

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!

#10: Great Basin
State: Nevada
Annual visitors: 143,265
Previous ranking: #10

There’s a glacier in Nevada! Who knew? Great Basin National Park is five hours north of Las Vegas.

great basin least visited
The small glacier is under that dark pile of rocks in the center.

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 143k in the past ten years.

#9: Dry Tortugas
State: Florida
Annual visitors: 84,285
Previous ranking: #9

dry tortugas
Dry Tortugas offers remote island camping outside a historic military fort.

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.

Besides being a great place to snorkel and go camping, Dry Tortugas is the home of Fort Jefferson, an unfinished pre-Civil War fort built to combat Caribbean piracy.

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
State: Alaska
Annual visitors: 78,305
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.

wrangell st elias park

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.

#7: North Cascades
State: Washington
Annual visitors: 40,351
Previous ranking: #6

north cascades least visited national parks
North Cascades on a rainy autumn day.

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!

#6: Katmai
State: Alaska
Annual visitors: 33,763
Previous ranking: #7

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.

brooks falls bears

Guests are encouraged to check out Brooks Falls, where the bears feed on salmon in July and September. The brown bear salmon cam there is one of the best national park webcams in America!

I saw more than 50 brown bears during my two days at Katmai, at much closer range than I had ever seen them before.

Smart visitors make sure to add an extra day to their trip in order to tour the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, a unique landscape created when a 1912 volcano smothered the forest and rivers with ash and pumice.

#5: Isle Royale
State: Michigan
Annual visitors: 28,968
Previous ranking: #5

When it comes to the least visited national parks in the lower 48 states, Isle Royale almost always takes the prize.

isle royale national park
A view from Isle Royale, one of the least visited national parks in the lower 48 states.

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: Kobuk Valley
State: Alaska
Annual visitors: 17,616
Previous ranking: #3

Once America’s least-visited national park, Kobuk Valley has improved its position in recent years. The park now consistently sees around 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.

kobuk valley 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. I spent two nights here in 2023 and loved the experience.

#3: Lake Clark
State: Alaska
Annual visitors: 16,728
Previous ranking: #4

Situated 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, Lake Clark is the home of glaciers and active volcanoes (one erupted in 2009.)

This is another park which is typically reached by small plane, which explains why it doesn’t see a lot of visitors.

lake clark bears

It also provides boating and fishing opportunities, plus wildlife such as bears, Dall sheep, bears, caribou, coyotes, wolves, fox, lynx, and wolverines.

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.

I saw dozens of grizzly bears here, as well as a few bald eagles soaring overhead.

#2: National Park of American Samoa
State: American Samoa (U.S. territory)
Annual visitors: 12,135
Previous ranking: #1

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.

#1: Gates of the Arctic
State: Alaska
Annual visitors: 11,045
Previous ranking: #2

About 11,000 people visited Gates of the Arctic National Park last year. That works out to about 30 per day. Thirty!

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.

I was one of the few visitors here last year, and loved the solitude of camping out in the wilderness, miles from civilization.

gates of the arctic np

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:

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?

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least visited national parks