Curious what the least visited national parks in the US are and what is keeping them a secret?
This guide will list the 25 least visited US national parks and why you should add them to your USA bucket list!
There are 62 designated US national parks but there are over 2,000 federally registered sites in the country. This list only covers the designated national parks.
We are also including the 2019 visitation numbers for each park as well as some of the top sights and attractions within the respective parks. Click here if you’re keen to know more about the most visited parks in the US.
Is your favorite park on this list? If so, why are people not visiting it, and what is keeping it a secret? Let us know your favorite!
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Least Visited US National Parks – The Map
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Least Popular US National Parks
1. Gates of the Arctic National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 10,518
If you’re looking to escape far off the grid in the US, definitely venture to the far north to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
Despite the serenity and mind-blowing nature of this part, its location leaves it at number one on the list of the least visited national parks in the United States.
Gates of the Arctic does not have any well-defined or marked trails and roads which also restricts its access. However, if you’re a true adventurer, you can enjoy camping at this US national park … and, of course, the midnight sun during the summer months. This Alaska national park sits underneath aurora-filled skies during the winter months.
Top attractions near and in Gates of the Arctic National Park: Arrigetch Peaks, Alatna National Wild and Scenic River, Takahula Lake, Walker Lake, Mount Igikpak, Oolah Valley, Sukakpak Mountain, Nutirwik Creek
2. Kobuk Valley National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 15,766
Kobuk Valley National Park is located in Northwest Alaska and is famous for its sand dunes. These sand dunes are a result of glaciers grinding the rocks beneath them for thousands of years. It is also common to see a caribou casually strolling around in this park.
The Kobuk River flows throughout this park attracting animals like bears, wolves, foxes, and moose. Visitors can often catch sight of all these animals in their natural habitat. This is the second least visited national park in the US, mainly due to its inaccessibility.
Top attractions near and in Kobuk Valley National Park: Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Salmon River, Waring Mountains, Hunt River, Akillik River, Mount Angayukaqsraq
3. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Visitor numbers (2019): 17,157
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is located in some of the most remote areas of Alaska. This park is a combination of many natural phenomenons – steaming active volcanoes, rugged mountains, calm lakes, and an array of wildlife that includes brown bears, moose, and wolves.
Tourists who have visited this park swear that this is one of the best national parks in America, but even then, it is the nation’s third-least visited one. Kayaking, hiking, powerboating, and biking are a few of the major activities one can enjoy here while experiencing the beauty this park offers.
Top attractions near and in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve: Newhalen Lodge, Mount Neacola, Two Lakes, Kontrashibuna Lake, Tanalian Mountain, Tlikakila River, Upper Tazimina Lake, Turquoise Lake, Telaquana Lake
4. Isle Royale National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 26,410
Isle Royale National Park is an island(s) in Michigan surrounded by Lake Superior. This park gives a soothing and peaceful experience because of its isolated location away from the hustle of city life. The only way to visit here is via a private boat, ferry, or seaplane.
Upon reaching the Michigan national park, visitors will find rugged shorelines, forests, trails for trekking, and many other islands that can be visited by boats.
The cold waters of Lake Superior have helped keep shipwrecks intact and this has turned this national park into an unassuming scuba diving location.
Top attractions near and in Isle Royale National Park: Ryan Island, Siskiwit Falls, Huginnin Cove, Tobin Harbor, Isle Royal (Menagerie Island) Lighthouse, Passage Island Lighthouse, Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Mount Ojibway, Rock of Ages Lighthouse, Lake Desor, Siskiwit Lake, Scoville Point, Minong Ridge, Lookout Louise, Windigo, Chickenbone Lake
5. North Cascades National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 38,208
In the northern part of Washington state, North Cascades National Park is a top-rated US destination, but not that frequented by visitors. This underrated national park is located merely 3 hours from Seattle, making it relatively accessible on a Seattle weekend getaway.
Also known as the “American Alps”, this Washington national park is one of the snowiest places in the United States (and the world!). Despite this, there are many activities to keep visitors occupied and some of these include river rafting, horseback riding, climbing, and backpacking over hundreds of different hiking trails.
North Cascades has a combination of shorter trails and longer ones, and while there is a trail for every skill level, this PNW park is renowned for its challenging hikes.
Top attractions near and in North Cascades National Park: Diablo Lake, Ross Lake, Mt. Baker Ski Area, Mount Shuksan, Cascade Pass, Washington Pass, Baker Lake, Sahale Mountain, Maple Pass, Desolation Peak, Artist Point, Sahale Glacier, Hidden Lake Lookout, Gorge Creek Falls, Ladder Creek Falls, Bagley Lakes, Picture Lake, Stehekin Valley Ranch
6. National Park of American Samoa
Location: American Samoa
Visitor numbers (2019): 60,006
The National Park of American Samoa is one of the most secluded national parks as it is located in the South Pacific. The entire park is spread throughout three islands, Tutuila, Ofu, and Tau. It is located over 2,600 miles away from Hawaii in a southwest direction.
American Samoa is home to a variety of species of fish and corals. Visitors can bring their snorkeling gear and dive for an unforgettable experience.
The hiking trails throughout the American Samoa national park are along the open ocean, giving scenic views to trekkers. These islands are full of Samoan culture and tourists can stay with Samoan families and learn about their culture and heritage.
7. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Visitor numbers (2019): 74,518
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is spread over 13.2 million acres, and yet it is one of the least visited national parks in the USA. Located in Alaska, the designated national park is saturated with glaciers, covering about 35% of the entire area.
Tourists can start following a receding river in the opposite direction to find the source of the glacier and have a captivating experience.
Sixteen of the country’s tallest mountains are in this national park- which is a pretty astounding number! The name of this park is derived from Mount Wrangell, which is one of the largest, active volcanoes in the world.
If a tourist visits this park on a clear day, he or she could catch sight of the smoke released constantly from inside of it. This is one of the least visited US national parks, but most definitely one of the most epic and worthy of visitors.
Top attractions near and in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: Mount Wrangell, Mount Blackburn, Kennicott Glacier, Root Glacier Trail, Kennecott Mines National Historic Sight, Gilahina Trestle & Hiking Trail, Liberty Falls State Recreation Site, Disenchantment Bay
8. Dry Tortugas National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 79,200
Dry Tortugas National Park is located about 70 miles from Key West, Florida to its west. This park is 100 miles of beautiful views and captivating flora and fauna.
However, most of this Florida national park is made of water and includes seven small islands which are a part of the third-largest reef system in the world, the Florida Keys reef system.
Tourists can visit shipwrecks and explore the abundant and rich marine life at this national park. They can also explore one of the largest forts of the 19th-century, Fort Jefferson, on gorgeous Garden Key. This place is known for its camping and stargazing experiences.
Top attractions near and in Dry Tortugas National Park: Garden Key, Loggerhead Key, Bush Key, Garden Key Lighthouse, Fort Jefferson
9. Katmai National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 84,167
Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. This park is home to so many different wildlife species.
If you are an enthusiast of brown bears and love them (I wouldn’t run up to try to pet them, on the other hand), this is the right national park for you! Katmai is filled with over 2,000 brown bears and you can experience their way of living right in front of you, albeit from a safe and respectable distance.
Along with the diverse number of mammals in the park, there is also plenty of sea life to see there, including humpback whales and sea otters. Outdoor enthusiasts, especially fishermen and hikers, are fascinated with this park once they visit it!
This is definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Alaska!
Top attractions near and in Katmai National Park: Brooks Falls, Mount Katmai, Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Hallo Bay, Novarupta, Katmai Bay, King Salmon Visitor Center
10. Great Basin National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 131,802
Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited national parks and it is located in eastern Nevada. This Nevada national park has an elevation ranging from 5,000 feet to 13,000 feet.
This lesser-known park contains every possible habitat like desert, mountains, glaciers, caves, and springs. The presence of all these different landscapes and geological formations also showcases a lot of different vegetation.
Great Basin National Park is home to a variety of mammals, bird species, conifer tree species, and various other plant species. It is one of the top places to visit in Nevada.
Top attractions near and in Great Basin National Park: Wheeler Peak, Lehman Caves, Teresa Lake, Stella Lake, Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, Lehman Caves Visitor Center, Jeff Davis Peak, Baker Lake, Baker Archeological Site
11. Virgin Islands National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 133,398
It might come as a surprise to many tourists, but yes, the US Virgin Islands is home to one of the beautiful US national parks, too!
Virgin Islands National Park is located mostly on St. John, the largest island there, and it provides an opportunity for visitors to get information about the abandoned trade of sugarcanes and have a look at their ruined plantations and the island’s tumultuous and tragic history.
Boating enthusiasts can relax and have fun in the calm waters at Trunk Bay, which is home to a magnificent beach. This national park is so rich in nature and activities. A snorkeling or diving trip will allow you to experience the clear Caribbean waters along with an array of coral reefs.
- Things to do in St. Thomas
- Best beaches in St. Thomas
- Things to do in St. John
- St. Thomas tours and excursions
- Things to do in St. Croix
12. Congaree National Park
Location: South Carolina
Visitor numbers (2019): 159,445
Congaree National Park in South Carolina is the largest old-growth forest range consisting of the country’s tallest trees.
Some of the tallest trees in the South Carolina national park are over 550 feet in height. You can follow the park’s many trails to admire and view these trees.
The Congaree and the Wateree Rivers meet in this national park. This gives a chance for tourists to experience canoeing, hiking, fishing, and hiking, of course. This makes it one of the best weekend trips from Wilmington, Charleston, and other Southeastern cities.
Between mid-May and mid-June, this national park experiences heavy rainfall with flooding.
But this also gives a fantastic view of synchronous fireflies which can be viewed easily from greater heights. In the rainy season, this park is around 90% submerged in water.
Top attractions near and in Congaree National Park: Poinsett State Park, Millford Plantation Historic Site, Cedar Creek Canoe Launch, Congaree Bluffs Heritage Preserve, Sampson Island, Hopkins Graded School
13. Pinnacles National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 177,224
Unlike Yosemite and the Redwood National Parks in California, Pinnacles National Park is smaller and lesser-known but full of freshness and cool things to do.
The underrated California national park is renowned for its pinnacles (towering rock formations) which is the same formation that gives the park its name. These pinnacles were formed due to volcanic activities in this region over 23 million years ago.
Visiting Pinnacles National Park will be a treat for your eyes as you can witness the blooming wildflowers and poppies if you arrive during spring. It is very common to catch sight of peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and California condors because this park is their home!
Hiking in Pinnacles is also an experience because some trails start in gorges in between the pinnacles that make you feel like you’re starting off in a cave of some sort.
Top attractions near and in Pinnacles National Park: Bear Gulch Nature Center, Peaks View, North Chalone Peak, High Peaks, Old Pinnacles Trail, Moses Spring Trail, Bear Gulch Cave Trail
14. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 188,833
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a mixture of canyons and mountains with desert terrain and sand-dunes. All the four tallest mountains in the state of Texas are situated in this park. It is a perfect long-duration trip from Dallas and other parts of the state.
All these mountains together form a series of hiking trails with more than 80 miles. These awesome trails offer some spectacular views throughout the barren landscapes.
The Guadalupe Mountains are home to a variety of species of bats and exhibit a wide range of flora and fauna, making this Texas national park very colorful and appealing to visit.
Top attractions near and in Guadalupe Mountains National Park: Guadalupe Peak, El Capitan, Mckittrick Canyon, Frijole Ranch Cultural Museum, Salt Basin Dunes, Pine Springs Visitor Center, Pratt Cabin, The Pinery Butterfield Stage Station Ruins, Devil’s Hall, Bartlett Peak
15. Voyageurs National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 232,974
If you want to change up the scenery a bit, this Minnesota national park is the place for you. Voyageurs National Park is a series of lakes with interconnected waterways, giving visitors a chance to explore their own private islands!
In spring and summer, this is the perfect weekend getaway to cool yourself down in the water while enjoying the region’s organic strawberries, blueberries, and hazelnuts.
It is a great extended weekend escape from Minneapolis and one that will send you back rejuvenated!
And in winters when the lakes are frozen, one can enjoy riding snowmobiles and going cross-country skiing. Namakan Lake is especially sought after during fall as its shore gets extremely colorful from the foliage of the maple trees.
Top attractions near and in Voyageurs National Park: Ash River Visitor Center, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Northern Lights Resort and Outfitting, Vermilion Gorge, Sand Point Lake, Rainy Lake Visitor Center, Cruiser Lake Trail, Birch Grove Resort, Namakan Lake, Grassy Bay
16. Kenai Fjords National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 356,601
Kenai Fjords National Park may be Alaska’s most visited national park but it still makes the least of the least visited national parks in the US due to numbers.
The park is situated at the edge of the Kenai Peninsula and is known for its mind-blowing glaciers flowing from Harding Icefield, as well as many other natural phenomenons that take place in the park.
There are many ways to experience Kenai Fjords National Park from taking a boat tour to visiting the Exit Glacier to attending a ranger-led program where you can learn more about the park and the Sugpiaq people that have relied on the resources and nature around this park for centuries.
Top attractions near and in Kenai Fjords National Park: Exit Glacier, Bear Glacier, Aialik Glacier, Kachemak Bay State Park, Tonsina Point, Lost Lake Trail, Mount Marathon, Pedersen Glacier, Chiswell Islands, Exit Glacier Nature Center, Fort McGilvray, Resurrection River Trail
17. Channel Islands National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 409,630
Channel Islands National Park offers some of the most pristine and untouched scenery of any of the national parks in the US due to the effort needing to be made to reach the five islands that make up this California National Park.
If you do get to make it to this lesser-visited US national park, you will be greeted with unique scenery and flora/fauna that can be found nowhere else on Earth.
The best way to reach Channel Islands National Park is by a ferry from mainland California (Ventura is one of the cities) and once you reach the islands, there are many hiking trails and beautiful vistas you can visit to take in the scenery. You can also camp in Channel Islands National Park.
The 5 islands making up Channel Islands National Park are Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, and San Miguel.
Top attractions near and in Channel Islands National Park: Anacapa Island, Santa Barbara Island, Cavern Point, The Robert J Lagomarsino Visitor Center (in Ventura), Potato Harbor Road, Scorpion Ranch, Anacapa Island Lighthouse, Smugglers Cove, Water Canyon Beach
18. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 432,818
This gorgeous Colorado national park does not seem to be on the radar of many people, but it most definitely should be!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is large but has an intimate feeling, nonetheless. It contains some of the oldest rocks and steepest cliffs in North America and 2 million years of erosion and changes have helped the Gunnison River form some of the United States’ most spectacular landscapes.
Top attractions near and in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: Chasm View Nature Trail, Museum of the Mountain West, South Rim Visitor Center, Painted Wall, Warner Point Nature Trail, Tomichi Point, Pulpit Rock Overlook, Sunset View
19. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Location: New Mexico
Visitor numbers (2019): 440,691
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is located in southeastern New Mexico in the Guadalupe Mountains close to the Texas border. The main attraction in the parks is the jaw-dropping Carlsbad Cavern show cave.
There is an elevator that can take guests down to the caves or you can go via the natural entrance. Carlsbad Cavern is one of the best places to visit in New Mexico and it contains a big limestone chamber called the Big Room that is the largest chamber on the entire continent (and 31st largest in the world).
Top attractions near and in Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center, Slaughter Canyon Cave, Slaughter Canyon Trail, Rattlesnake Historic District, Black River Recreation Area
20. Big Bend National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 463,812
Located in West Texas, Big Bend National Park borders Mexico and is known for its notable Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology.
The national park is renowned for its hiking trails and barren landscapes but it is home to over 1,200 plant species, 450 bird species, and 75 mammal species.
One of the most popular things to do in Big Bend National Park is to go for a drive along the Texas park’s many scenic routes. It is also a famous stargazing place.
While hiking may be the main attraction in Big Bend, you can also find sea fossils and dinosaur bones in the park which makes it a great place for those into history and geology. It is a great park for families to visit.
Top attractions near and in Big Bend National Park: Santa Elena Canyon, Lost Mine Trail, Emory Peak, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Cattail Falls, Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, Sam Nail Ranch, Fossil Discovery Exhibition, Boquillas Canyon Trail, Langford Hot Springs, Homer Wilson Ranch, Balanced Rock, Santa Elena Canyon Overlook, Window Trail
21. Redwood National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 504,722
Redwood National Park is often listed along the state park of the same name and they are a collection of several state and national parks in Northern California. They are comprised of Redwood National Park (1968), Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks, and much more.
These parks make up at least 45% of the remaining redwoods, some of the oldest and tallest trees on the planet. This is truly a spectacular sight and one of my favorite places to visit not only in California but also the entire United States!
Top attractions near and in Redwood National Park: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Redwood State Park, Fern Canyon, Prairie Creek, Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, Trees of Mystery, Stout Grove, Boy Scout Tree Trail, Stone Lagoon, Klamath Tour Thru Tree, Humbolt Lagoons State Park, Crescent Beach Overlook, Tolowa Dunes State Park, Big Tree Wayside
22. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 517,039
Northeastern California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park is a must-visit for those obsessed with hiking and geothermal landscapes.
The main attraction in the California national park is Lassen Peak, the world’s largest plug dome volcano. It is also the southernmost volcano in the renowned Cascade Range and one of the top sights to visit in California.
Another famous attraction in Lassen Volcanic NP is the Cinder Cone National Monument, a national monument that was designated by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907.
What makes this US national park so unique is that you can find boiling mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles throughout. It truly is a spectacle and you can see all four types of volcanoes inside – plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and stratovolcano. It is one of the few places in the world where you can see all four.
Top attractions near and in Lassen Volcanic National Park: Lassen Peak, Manzanita Lake, Lassen National Forest, Cinder Cone, Lake Helen, Kings Creek Falls, Butte Lake, Sulphur Works, Juniper Lake, Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, Emerald Lake, Loomis Museum, Bumpass Hell, Devil’s Kitchen, PCT- Warner Valley Trailhead
23. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 527,546
Another Colorado national park and one of the least visited national parks on this list is Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in southern Colorado.
Some of the sand dunes inside can be up to 750 feet tall! These are the tallest sand dunes in the United States and they cover around 30 square miles.
While the sand dunes will surely blow your mind, there are also many cool experiences in the park that don’t contain (much) sand. You can go hiking or hang out around picturesque Medano Creek.
Sandboarding and sand sledding are popular activities to do on the actual dunes.
Top attractions near and in Great Sand Dunes National Park: Zapata Falls, High Dune, Zapata Ranch, Medano Pass, San Luis State Wildlife Area, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Tijeras Peak
24. Mammoth Cave National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 551,590
Mammoth Cave National Park is the only national park in Kentucky and it is located in the central part of the state and is part of the world’s largest cave system.
The Kentucky national park is not only a designated national park, but it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been since 1981.
Mammoth Cave NP is located on 52,830 acres of land and the Green River runs through it. There are over 400 miles of surveyed passageways in Mammoth Cave and it is nearly twice as long as the second-largest cave system in Mexico (Sac Actun underwater cave).
Top attractions near and in Mammoth Cave National Park: Diamond Caverns, Dinosaur World, Nolin Lake State Park, Crystal Onyx Cave, Froggett’s Guntown Mountain, Cedar Sink, River Styx Spring, Turnhole Bend Nature Trailhead, Sloans Crossing Pond Trailhead
25. Mesa Verde National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 556,203
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the 25th least visited national park in the US, Mesa Verde National Park is located in Montezuma County, Colorado and it is one of the coolest parks, in my opinion.
This park contains (and protects) some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan sights in the US and was designated a national park by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
There are over 5,000 sites in this southwestern Colorado national park, including 600 cliff dwellings, making it the largest archaeological preserve in the US.
Top attractions near and in Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, Long House, Square Tower House, Mesa Top Loop, Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, Step House, Cortez Cultural Center, Oak Tree House, Far View House, Montezuma Valley Overlook
Planning Your National Parks Trip?
Are you looking for the best times of the year to visit national parks? These guides break down our curated list of the best US national parks to visit in different months:
- Best national parks to visit in December
- Best national parks to visit in January
- Best national parks to visit in February
- Best national parks to visit in March
- Best national parks to visit in April
- Best national parks to visit in May
- Best national parks to visit in June
- Best national parks to visit in July
These parks are the least visited national parks that you definitely need to add to your USA bucket list! Have you been to any of them?
Be sure to check out our guide to the most visited US national parks too! Which National Park is your favorite?
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