So, you couldn’t persuade your friends to come along on your road trip adventure? Not to worry. Just hit the road on your own!
As someone who’s traveled by myself all across the country, I have a unique perspective on the best national parks to visit alone. I’ve visited 35 U.S. national parks so far, and 19 of those were solo adventures. I know what it’s like to try to plan out hiking and lodging and sightseeing on your own in some of the country’s busiest tourist spots!
What are the best national parks for solo travel? They range from places where solo travelers can easily join group tours (Voyageurs, Carlsbad Caverns) to places where you can drive to most of the important attractions (Petrified Forest, Badlands.)
We’re also taking special note of parks that are ideal for hiking alone (Roosevelt, Glacier) or camping alone (Dry Tortugas, Channel Islands, Isle Royale.)
The good thing about traveling alone is that you don’t have to coordinate a schedule with somebody else. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, and that kind of freedom is nice.
This collection of parks represents some of the best solo trips in the U.S. Even on your own, you can create memories and enrich yourself with awesome life experiences.
What Makes a Good National Park for Solo Travelers?
Here’s a quick explanation of the main criteria used to put this list together. These are some of the elements we looked for.
Hiking trails. The best national parks to hike alone have popular trails with lots of other people around, so you’re never out there hiking in some remote area by yourself. At the same time, the trails should not be so crowded that they’re uncomfortable. We’re looking for those “Goldilocks trails” that are juuuust right. Is “Goldilocks trail” an actual hiking term? It is now!
In general, solo hiking trips in the U.S. that are fun and safe can be hard to come by. But national parks are the perfect spots to find them.
Driving attractions. As a solo traveler, it’s always nice to have a few natural attractions along the road you can pull over for.
That might be the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed visitor center in Rocky Mountain NP, or the Badwater Basin pond below sea level at Death Valley NP, or the alligator-infested Anhinga boardwalk in the Everglades.
Any time you can drive straight to a point of interest, pop out of the car and take pics without having to walk too far, that’s a win!
Moderate temperatures and altitude. We don’t want you hiking in the desert alone in 100-degree summer heat. I did that once in the eastern unit of Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, and it was no fun. And a little dangerous, especially when I started to get dizzy!
Similarly, it wouldn’t be wise to camp in the Denali backcountry of Alaska alone since a solo traveler could get lost or get too cold at night. And hiking to the glacier in Great Basin NP would be risky, since altitude sickness is a real danger there. So we’re sticking to parks where the temps and elevation are moderate enough that you can hike comfortably.
Not an iconic destination that you’d regret visiting alone. Sure, you could visit the Grand Canyon alone, but that’s not a fun travel story to tell your grandkids, is it? Similarly, I think Yellowstone is so revered that it would almost be a bummer to go by yourself. (I did actually visit Yellowstone alone, but in retrospect would’ve preferred going with friends.)
So this list excludes those two parks, since they are generally regarded as the most iconic national parks. Save those for a group trip if possible.
With all that out of the way, let’s get to the list! These parks are not in any specific order. Ranking them just doesn’t feel right, because everyone’s interests are different, you know? Someone who prefers hiking would rank these parks differently than a traveler who prefers scenic drives or wildlife watching.
So we’ll just present the full list of the 15 best solo trips in the U.S. Choose the ones that grab your attention most.
Note that these are USA national parks only. If you’re the international type, see the end of the article for a handful of recommended national parks for solo travel in other countries.
The Best National Parks for Solo Travel (USA)
1 Mount Rainier (Washington)
Best solo hike: Skyline Trail via Panorama Point (5.5 mile loop, 4.5 hours, △1700 feet elevation gain)
The most glaciated peak in the lower 48 states (it’s got 25 glaciers!), Mount Rainier’s 14,000-foot summit towers so high that it can be seen 60 miles away in Seattle.
Don’t worry, you’re not actually hiking to 14,000 feet. Most visitors go as high as Panorama Point on the Skyline Trail, which is located at about 7000 feet and features views of at least a half-dozen glaciers. I’ve never eaten lunch in a more scenic place!
Rainier has some of the best hiking you’ll find anywhere in the U.S. Besides the Skyline Trail, Pinnacle Peak and Mount Fremont Lookout Tower both offer great views of the mountain. All are moderately crowded trails, so there’s no fear of getting lost on your own.
Rainier is so awesome that it’s worth visiting even if you’re not into hiking. Drive to Reflection Lakes early in the morning for stellar photo opportunities. There’s a parking lot right next to the viewing platform at Narada Falls, one of several accessible waterfalls in the park.
Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glimpse of one of the most rarely-seen mammals in the continental U.S. – the wolverine! Wolverines have been reclaiming their old habitat in the park, and sightings have become more common the past couple years.
2 Mammoth Cave (Kentucky)
Best solo hike: Historic Cave Tour (2 miles roundtrip, 2 hours, △700 feet)
Everytime I get a chance to promote Mammoth Cave, I go for it. This overlooked Kentucky park is home to the world’s longest cave system, yet many people still don’t know about it. And it’s super convenient – Mammoth Cave is easily reachable from anywhere in the Midwest and it’s a great road trip from Chicago.
Solo travelers can join cave tours to explore some of the park’s 400 miles of caves. These tours typically have 20+ people, so you won’t feel out of place traveling by yourself.
The Historic Tour is probably the most common tour, and travels for 2 miles through a cave near the visitor center. The Domes & Dripstones Tour is only one mile long, but offers the added bonus of entering the cave through a locked door. It’s probably your only chance to enter the inside of the earth through a door!
The Green River Bluffs Trail is decent, but the hiking at Mammoth Cave isn’t anything special. Spend as much time as you can underground instead.
3 Theodore Roosevelt (North Dakota)
Best solo hike: Prairie Dog Town via Buckhorn Trail (1.9 miles roundtrip, 50 minutes, △104 feet)
Roosevelt NP is a vehicle driver’s paradise. Just follow the Scenic Road in the southern unit, and pull over whenever you encounter a crowd of animals. You’ll see prairie dog villages, bison communities, herds of deer, and even groups of wild horses, which roam free in the park.
Hiking in Roosevelt NP is easy because the ground is mostly flat, and you can walk off trail if you like. Don’t miss the Prairie Dog Town in the park’s northern unit, which can be reached in less than 30 minutes via the Caprock Coulee and Buckhorn Trails.
Watch your step while walking around in this area. I saw two rattlesnakes right on the trail – one small, and one absolutely massive (more than 6 feet long.)
Roosevelt’s location in western North Dakota puts it well off the beaten path. It’s a full 5 hours away from Mount Rushmore. I visited Roosevelt while on a cross-country road trip from Seattle to Chicago.
4 Dry Tortugas (Florida)
Best solo hike: Fort Jefferson Loop (0.5 mile loop, 15 minutes, △4 feet)
Dry Tortugas is one of the most unique entries in the U.S. national park system! It’s a series of seven small islands in the Gulf of Mexico, 68 miles west of Key West.
One of the islands was the site of a Civil War-era military outpost called Fort Jefferson. The imposing brick fort has a moat around it and dozens of cannon holes in the side.
The fort later became a jail, but these days, it’s a tourist attraction. There’s a small campground outside the fort where you can stay overnight. Folks who enjoy tent camping will find this a very cool place to camp alone.
You could take a day trip to Dry Tortugas via ferry from Key West. Or bring a tent and camp overnight. I did the latter. It was very cool to spend a night far away from the rest of civilization on a remote island, with only a couple dozen other campers.
There’s no real hiking here, as the island is quite small. You can walk the entire boardwalk around the fort at sunset for a nice half-mile loop. During the day, take guided tours of Fort Jefferson, or borrow snorkel equipment and explore the waters around the dock.
Some visitors saw small sharks and octopus in the water. I saw several barracuda, and, most incredibly, four tarpon fish that were as long as humans!
5 Glacier National Park (Montana)
Best solo hike: Grinnell Glacier Trail (10.6 miles roundtrip, 6 hours, △1600 feet)
Glacier National Park will always be one of my favorites, because of the amazing wildlife, hiking trails, and Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 52-mile feat of engineering that meanders through the mountains and valleys of the park grounds.
Glacier NP is heavy grizzly bear territory. Normally, it wouldn’t be wise to hike alone in a place like this. But, as I discovered during a solo trip to Glacier a couple years back, park rangers lead free daily hikes during the summer. So you can join the group and go deep into the heart of the park with the safety of the group!
These ranger-led hikes aren’t just rinky-dink nature trails. They’re the real deal – long and challenging treks. I joined group hikes on consecutive days to two of Glacier’s most noteworthy spots: Grinnell Glacier (10.6 miles roundtrip) and Granite Park Chalet via the Highline Trail (11.2 miles.) Find the ranger-led hikes listed in the park newspaper that is given to every person who enters the park.
Meanwhile, solo travelers can walk to the Hidden Lake Overlook (1.4 miles each way) on their own. You won’t see bears on this trail, but you may see bighorn sheep, and you’ll very likely see mountain goats up close!
Not into hiking? Rent a kayak and paddle around on Lake McDonald or Swiftcurrent Lake for some of the most scenic kayaking possible in any park. And enjoy the many pullouts on Going-to-the-Sun Road with incredible views.
6 Gateway Arch (Missouri)
Best solo hike: Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (1.8 mile loop, 35 minutes, △75 feet)
Yes, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a national park now! It’s unusual for a man-made attraction to attain this status, but Congress declared the Arch the USA’s 61st National Park in 2017.
There’s actually a small elevator inside the Arch that takes visitors all the way to the top. Ride the tram up 630 feet and enjoy the views from the tiny windows at top of the Arch.
Stop in to the Museum at the Gateway Arch to learn about the history of St. Louis and the Midwest in the colonial era.
There is a 1.8-mile loop trail on a paved sidewalk that circles the Arch and goes from one end of the grounds to the other. That’s worth walking just to see the Arch from every possible angle and perspective.
At the Arch, you’re obviously not getting the nature and forest that you’d find at other national parks. Instead, you’re getting a vibrant city with lots of fun activities, like the quirky City Museum, and the Budweiser Brewery Tour. Also don’t miss the Loop neighborhood and the Citygarden urban park.
7 Channel Islands (California)
Best solo hike: Smugglers Cove (7.7 miles roundtrip, 4 hours, △1414 feet)
If you’re an experienced camper, then Channel Islands is one of the best national parks for solo travel. You can only get here by ferry from Ventura, a city slightly north of Los Angeles.
Solo travelers can join daily kayaking tours around the cove. From my kayak, I saw seals swimming past, and I got to eat kelp straight from the ocean. It tastes salty and kale-like, if you’re curious.
Some of the kayak tours go through sea caves that formed naturally in the rocks. Paddling through an ocean cave inside an island was an awesome life experience!
Hiking and camping alone here is stress-free, because Channel Islands have no big animals to worry about. No bears, no mountain lions, not even coyotes. In fact, the only land animal of any size here is the adorable island fox. It’s the size of a house cat and wanders around the campgrounds looking for scraps of food (don’t feed them!)
On Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands NP, I broke my rule about not hiking remote trails alone. And it was worth it, because Smugglers Cove is a hidden beach you can only reach with a 4-mile hike each way.
I went to Smugglers Cove early in the morning and found myself with this entire beach to myself for a full hour, aside from a couple foxes and a gaggle of pelicans. That was truly one of my favorite national park memories.
Read about things to do on Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands. (article coming soon)
8 Petrified Forest (Arizona)
Best solo hike: Blue Mesa Trail (1 mile roundtrip, 30 minutes, △111 feet)
Petrified Forest National Park is home to large deposits of petrified wood, which is essentially a fossilization process where trees partially turn to stone or minerals.
It’s one of the best national parks to visit alone because it’s loaded with incredible natural features that can be accessed via short walks from the 28-mile park road.
The half-mile Giant Logs Trail gives an up-close look at some of the park’s most remarkable petrified logs, some of which are more than 200 million years old. That’s older than the dinosaurs! The two-mile Agate House Trail take visitors to an 8-room home that was occupied around 700 years ago.
Walk the 1-mile Painted Desert Rim Trail – or just stop at the many overlooks on the park road – to view the Painted Desert, a vast landscape with mountains displaying brilliant shades of red and lavender.
Head to the paved 1-mile Blue Mesa Trail to see a completely different set of colors – blue, gray, and white – in an area of badlands that feels almost like an alien landscape.
Drive to Newspaper Rock to see 2000-year-old petroglyphs. See an old, rusting 1932 Studebaker car at the spot where Historic Route 66 once ran through the park. There are so many things to see at Petrified Forest, and most can be accomplished in a single day.
Read about everything to do at Petrified Forest National Park. (article coming soon)
9 Isle Royale (Michigan)
Best solo hike: Stoll Trail to Scoville Point (4.7 miles roundtrip, 1.5 hours, △177 feet)
Isle Royale is one of the least-visited national parks in America, mainly because of its remote location in northern Michigan near the Canadian border. The only way here is by ferry across Lake Superior from Copper Harbor or Houghton, Michigan, or Grand Portage, Minnesota.
Like the Channel Islands, Isle Royale is good for solo travelers who enjoy hiking and camping and are self-sufficient. The waters of Tobin Harbor are ideal for kayaking or canoeing. Both types of vessel can be rented from the Rock Harbor Visitor Center.
The island is 48 miles long by 9 miles across, so there are plenty of forest hiking opportunities. And there aren’t even any bears to worry about! There are moose and a small number of wolves, but no predators that hikers should be concerned about.
I did a couple of solo hikes around the Rock Harbor area. Just be sure not to wander too far, because these hikes are much less crowded then those at other national parks. On some of the hikes on the interior of the island, especially, you may not encounter many other people.
Fun fact: Isle Royale has the longest average stay of any U.S. national park (more than two days.) Since there’s so much effort involved in getting here, most visitors stay overnight on the island for at least a night or two.
10 Badlands (South Dakota)
Best solo hike: Castle Trail to Medicine Root Loop (7.9 mile loop, 2.5 hours, △226 feet)
For me, the best solo trips in the U.S. usually have some wildlife watching component. That’s why I like Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
Here, there are three animals that visitors can expect to see. The bison are a must-see. More than 1200 bison roam freely around the park, so you will encounter them at campgrounds or on trails.
Next, visit the prairie dog towns to watch the adorable little critters play. And finally, look for bighorn sheep in the forested ravines below the main park road. You may be able to see them from very close range in these areas!
The Badlands have a number of interesting natural features as well. The rolling hills of rock are unlike anything I’ve seen in any other park.
Hiking in the Badlands is all through grassy prairies. Expect virtually no shade and potentially a lot of wind. Take plenty of water. And be on the lookout for the bison, who wander through these very same fields. Give them lots of space.
The mostly-flat Castle Trail is a good day hike. Walk 2 miles until it meets up with Medicine Root Loop. From there, turn back to the start for a tidy 4-mile hike. Or, complete the Medicine Root Loop before heading back, which brings the full hike to 7.9 miles.
11 Hot Springs (Arkansas)
Best solo hike: Hot Springs Mountain Trail (3.3 mile loop, 1.5 hours, △672 feet)
Hot Springs National Park is an anomaly in the park system. It’s located right next to the city of Hot Springs, a busy town of more than 37,000 residents.
That setting makes it one of the best national parks for solo travel, since it’s easy to drive to the park highlights and then head back to your hotel in the city.
The hot springs here have been federally protected for nearly 200 years, and Hot Springs officially became a national park in 1921. The springs are located around the base of Hot Springs Mountain. You can indeed take a bath at one of the park’s two operational bathhouses. Some of the pools feature luxuriously warm water at a temperature of close to 100 degrees.
Drive right to the Hot Springs Mountain peak at 1034 feet and climb the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, which provides a view of the surrounding area. The hiking here isn’t the best, because all of the trails basically circle the peak, but there are a couple worthwhile 2- to 3-mile treks.
12 Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee/North Carolina)
Best solo hike: Chimney Tops Trail (3.6 miles roundtrip, 2 hours, △1286 feet)
The Great Smoky Mountains happen to be the most-visited national park in America, seeing more than 14 million visitors every year. No doubt a huge chunk of those folks are solo travelers!
There’s no entrance fee here. On the downside, there aren’t many points of interest you can drive to, either. It’s mostly about hiking here. But that’s ok, considering the park has more than 850 miles of trails.
Just locate your preferred trailhead and begin hiking. I hiked the Chimney Tops Trail and would recommend it, as it’s moderately challenging but suitable for most anyone in decent shape. And it ends with a fun scramble up a steep section of rocks.
Also consider the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. That’s a 6.5-mile one-way trail that takes visitors past many of the park’s nearly 100 preserved or restored log buildings, including cabins, churches, and schools.
The Smokies have a lot of campgrounds as well. Camping is one of my favorite activities as a solo traveler, and this area of Tennessee and North Carolina has some appealing spots to put up a tent for the night.
Visit during autumn to see the coolest views of colorful leaves. For more awesome colors, head from the national park right to Blue Ridge Parkway through North Carolina and Virginia. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the USA!
13 Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)
Best solo hike: Juniper Ridge Trail (5.5 miles roundtrip, 2.5 hours, △741 feet)
Like Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns is another underground national park that offers group cave tours. Solo travelers can easily join the King’s Palace Tour, a 90-minute stroll through the deepest part of the canyon that is open to the public (830 feet below ground.)
Down there, you’ll be amazed at the stalagmites and stalactites that have formed over thousands of years on the cave ceiling and the ground. Take a good camera to get decent pics in the dark space.
During summer, stay until dusk for a ranger-led program at the Bat Flight Amphitheater to watch thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the cave at the same time.
Carlsbad Caverns isn’t among the best solo hiking trips in the U.S. In fact, the park isn’t known for its hikes at all. The main reason people visit is for that big cave.
That said, there are a couple good desert hikes that solo travelers can try. Juniper Ridge is a good trail since it gains 400 feet of elevation in the first mile, then follows a mostly flat ridge along the park’s northern border. It offers nice views of the surrounding landscape.
14 Voyageurs (Minnesota)
Best solo hike: Blind Ash Bay Trail (3 miles roundtrip, 2 hours, △308 feet)
Why is Voyageurs one of the best national parks to visit alone? Roughly 40% of this Minnesota park is water, and that means the best way to see it is by joining a large group ferry tour.
These daily excursions allow guests to spend a few hours cruising through the park’s waterways and looking for bald eagles, which are more abundant here than just about anywhere else in the lower 48 states. I saw 10 bald eagles on a single ferry ride!
The cruises range from 2.5 to 5.5 hours and may include stops at historic Kettle Falls Hotel, or Little American Island, a piece of land where you can see an abandoned gold mine from a previous era. Book your cruise in advance, since they do sell out during peak season.
Stop into the visitor center to learn about how these waterways were crucially important for early French settlers and Native American traders in the 1700s. If you have time, hike the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a 3-mile trek that is the best of the park’s seven hiking trails which are accessible by vehicle.
15 Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado)
Best solo hike: Oak Flat Loop Trail (1.3 miles roundtrip, 45 minutes, △311 feet)
As noted up front, I would save the Grand Canyon for a trip with friends rather than going alone. But a nice substitute would be Colorado’s underrated Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which has views that rival the Grand Canyon. It’s super easy to drive to all the major viewpoints there, since the park road hugs the canyon rim.
You’ll be looking a half-mile straight down into the canyon. It’s truly hard to express how awe-inspiring the views are. And it’s far less crowded than the Grand Canyon! Here you can breathe in the clean mountain air in peace.
The Oak Flat Loop Trail is an easy hike that goes below the canyon rim. There’s a “River Access” spur trail for folks who want to hike even further in.
If you’re really up for a challenge, hike the Gunnison Route Trail all the way to the canyon floor. But be ready for 1800 feet of elevation gain in just under a mile on the way back up!
Other National Parks to Visit Alone – And Ones to Avoid
Hawaii’s two national parks – Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala – are both pretty good parks to visit alone, if for some reason you find yourself on a solo vacation in Hawaii. At Hawaii Volcanoes, you can take a helicopter ride over active lava flows and hike to 1000-year-old petroglyphs!
I visited Redwoods NP alone and had a good experience looking for the elk herds and walking around among the massive redwood trees. Florida Everglades NP is another excellent solo road trip, since you can drive right to Anhinga Trail, where numerous wild alligators hang out.
On the other hand, there are several NPs that are not good national parks to hike alone. As mentioned earlier, Great Basin in Nevada is a fantastic park with awesome views, but the peaks go as high as 13,000 feet, so elevation sickness is a concern on the uncrowded trails there.
Meanwhile, Saguaro in Arizona, Death Valley in California, and Big Bend in Texas are way too hot to be hiking out there alone. But another desert park, Joshua Tree, isn’t bad for solo visitors, since its points of interest tend to be short, close to the road, and fairly busy with plenty of other folks around.
As for the five Utah national parks? They’re somewhere in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to visiting alone. None of them are necessary ideal for solo travelers, but motivated folks can use the Zion shuttle system to explore all the park’s highlights, while Bryce Canyon and Arches have iconic viewpoints you can drive to.
Bonus: Great National Parks to Visit Alone in Other Countries
Though this article is mostly focused on the USA, I’d be remiss to not include some personal suggestions for international national parks that I recommend for solo travelers.
Banff & Jasper (Canada)
Banff and Jasper are revered national parks in the Canadian Rockies. These parks are always crowded, but the reward is soaring snow-capped mountain peaks, glaciers, wildlife, and gorgeous hiking. Be sure to see all of Jasper’s famous waterfalls, like Sunwapta, a remarkably powerful fall with a convenient viewing platform.
Los Arcos (Mexico)
Los Arcos Marine National Park is located in Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta. Leave the beach behind for a day, and take an affordable boat trip to go snorkeling at Los Arcos. You’ll see lots of tropical fish and enjoy the calm waters of the bay.
Iceland is a pretty easy country to navigate as a solo traveler. Driving is low-stress, most people speak English, and you can follow the Ring Road to see all the major highlights. Thingvellir National Park is cool because you can literally see the cracks in the earth where two tectonic plates meet.
Table Mountain (South Africa)
Most of Table Mountain National Park is located right in Cape Town, so you can drive or Uber there. Take a couple hours to hike from the base to the summit, or just ride the tram to the top for remarkable views of the city.
There’s another section of Table Mountain NP further south, encompassing the famous Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach. Boulders is where you can find wild penguins living on the shore. Watch them as they swim around and discreetly steal sticks from their neighbors’ nests.
Disclaimer About Solo Travel to National Parks
Remember that solo travel requires a few extra precautions, especially if you’ll be hiking in the backcountry. Anytime you’re traveling alone on a hiking trail or in a national park, be sure to tell someone where you’re going.
Take a cell phone and extra battery, but don’t expect to have cell service in many of these parks. Bring the necessary hiking essentials (food, water, flashlight, extra clothing) in case something goes wrong.
And most of all, just enjoy the solitude. Sometimes being alone in nature can be the best feeling in the world, so embrace it!
What are your picks for the best national parks for solo travel?