15 Least Visited National Parks You Need to Explore NextPin

15 Least Visited National Parks You Need to Explore Next

These are the least visited National Parks in the US that are absolutely worth visiting.

We love our National Parks like Yosemite or Zion, but they get extremely crowded even when they limit the number of people entering the parks. It can feel like waiting in line for a Disney ride rather than hiking and connecting with nature.

Now that the states are cautiously opening up, I’m sure you’re itching to get out and explore. I know we are, but we also want to travel responsibly, which means avoiding the crowded national parks.

Least Visited National ParksPin

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Last Updated: July 20, 2020

When putting together this list, we looked at the 2019 visitation data. After compiling all our info, we decided to omit the parks that are extremely difficult to access. If you want to compare the parks by numbers, you can see the visitation numbers below.

15 Least Visited National Parks in USA You Need to Explore Next

Although it’s less than three hours away from Seattle, North Cascades National Park is hard to access because there are no developed roads going into the park. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. Most of the park you can only access on foot backpacking, but there are some areas that are easy to drive to.

The North Cascades National Park Complex is made up of North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. 

Be sure to see Diablo Lake for its stunning colors and check out Sourdough Mountain hike. You can also drive over to Ross Lake and spend some time relaxing on the shores.

Pro Tip: The summer season is really short at this park! Even on our visit, the hike we were hoping to do was closed due to snow. Check the site or call the visitor center to help you plan ahead.

Diablo Lake - Ross Lake National Recreation Area in North Cascades National Park Complex, WA USAPin
Diablo Dam North Cascades NP Washington // localadventurer.comPin

After driving through endless desert landscapes in Nevada, Great Basin National Park transports you to a completely different world. Explore the Lehman Caves, stand next to the oldest trees in the world, or summit the second tallest peak in Nevada. 

Pro Tip: Great Basin is an amazing place to stargaze and for astrophotography. They have an annual astronomy festival every September, which we hope to make this year.

Bristlecone Trail, Great Basin National Park, Nevada + Essential Tips for Your Visit to the Park // localadventurer.comPin
Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park, Nevada - Everything You Need to Know // localadventurer.comPin

Congaree National Park is located just outside of Columbia, SC, and has multiple trails to hike or you can see the park on a kayak. It’s also home to one of the most awe-inspiring displays of synchronous fireflies, where thousands of fireflies sync up and light the night sky together.

There are a lot of bugs in the park but they are what make this place special. To help protect them, use bug spray in the parking lot or bring wipes with you so you don’t harm them, especially if you’re there for the synchronous fireflies.

Pro Tip: The synchronized fireflies are difficult to time. We ended up missing them by two days.

Looking for the best things to do in Columbia SC? Congaree National Park needs to be on your list! Click through and save this pin to find the ultimate guide to this national park. Find out what you can't miss, which ranger program you need to sign up for, when to visit to see the synchronous fireflies, and more. // Local Adventurer #localadventurer #discoverSC #southcarolina #visittheusa #realcolumbiascPin
7 Unique Things to Do in Congaree National Park in Columbia South CarolinaPin

4. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is a popular park for hikers and rock climbers. You can also see wildflowers and try to spot the California condors. Because it gets so hot in the summer, it’s much more popular in the cooler months.

We RV camped here a couple of nights, and they had the most spacious sites.

Pro Tip: The park has an entrance on the east and an entrance on the west with no connection between the two besides hiking trails. Be sure to plan accordingly.

Pinnacles National Park TrailsPin

5. Redwood National Park

This park is famous for its massively tall trees, the tallest trees on Earth in fact. But within its borders, you can also find prairies, woodlands, river-ways, and rugged coastlines. It’s the perfect escape to get out in nature and feel like a tiny person walking among giants. 

Redwood National Park - Least Visited National Park in USPin

To get to these Islands, you need to plan ahead in order to catch a ferry ride there. Once you arrive, you can explore the trails or picnic, but I highly recommend booking a kayak tour. Exploring the caves and surrounding waters was the highlight of our visit.

Pro Tip: The island has a fox population, and they’re really sneaky. If you’re not watching carefully, they’ll take your food. Please don’t feed them and let nature be nature.

Channel Islands KayakingPin

A visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison can be as leisurely or adventurous as you want. The South Rim, which is the most established part of the park has tons of pullouts and short hikes where you can enjoy the dizzying views into the canyon.

If you’re looking for something more adventurous, you can rock climb, hike into the canyon, or kayak down the river. At its narrowest point, the canyon is only 40 feet wide and portions of it only get 30 minutes of sunlight each day.

Pro Tip: Your eyes will be drawn to the canyon, but don’t miss the beautiful juniper trees along the rim. The way they twist and twirl is beautiful.

9 Amazing Things to Do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park // Local AdventurerPin

8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

You can start on the surface by exploring the Chihuahuan Desert and seeing the dramatic ledges, rocky canyons, and desert flora and fauna.

Then you descend to explore some of the 119+ caves hidden below. Some of the caves are self-guided, while others can only be seen on a ranger-guided tour. Also, don’t forget to check out the bats as they fill the skies each evening in search of food.

Pro Tip: Bring a light jacket no matter what time of year you’re visiting. The caves stay around 56°F year-round.

Big Bend National Park is a massive park! Our favorite things to do were soaking in beautiful hot springs that sit right along the river, hiking to Balanced Rock, and enjoying sunset at Santa Elena Canyon.  On the west side of the park, you can also SUP along the river with Mexico on one side and the US on the other.

Pro Tip: If you’re spending any time on the water, be sure not to land on the Mexican bank. It’s considered an illegal crossing.

Hot Springs Big Bend National Park + Amazing Things to See in West TexasPin
Balanced Rock Big Bend National ParkPin

10. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to steaming fumaroles and clear alpine lakes. The landscape was formed by volcanoes and continues to be shaped by hot water. There are also multiple lakes you can explore where you can spot wildlife and wildflower-covered meadows.

Below is a photo from our hike to Boiling Springs Lake, the first hot lake we’ve ever encountered. The temperatures of the water stay around 125 degrees F. You can walk around the lake and find bubbling mud pots and steam vents.

Lassen Volcanic National ParkPin

We’ve been to multiple sand dunes throughout the US, but these were by far the biggest we’ve seen and climbed. Another fun way to experience the sand dunes is by sand sledding or sand boarding.

Pro Tip: Bring lots of water with you and assume that the hikes will take you way longer than you expect. Sand is hard to hike in! Also, watch out for the crazy winds at sunset. One of our cameras got destroyed here.


12. Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park has the world’s longest cave below ground running over 400 miles. After exploring the cave,  you can check out one of the 70+ miles of trails in the forest above.

We typically don’t travel for history, but the views at Mesa Verde National Park are absolutely breathtaking. It’s amazing to think that people built these cliff dwellings so long ago. You can enjoy them from different vantage points and even explore some on your own, but be sure to book a tour of one of the main dwellings to see the best ones.

Pro Tip: Not everything is open year-round. Check the site to see what is currently open.

Mesa Verde Balcony House Tour where you can step into cliff dwellings built by Ancestral Puebloans // localadventurer.comPin

Most of the parks in Alaska will be off the beaten path, but Denali is the easiest to access. The summer days are incredibly long, which gives you time to see the park via the bus tours, whitewater raft, or on a flightseeing tour. It’s an odd feeling seeing light out of your window at midnight.

Pro Tip: To help protect the environment and its wildlife, there is a bus system that takes you throughout the park. Read our post below to learn more.

Best Things to Do in Denali National Park AlaskaPin

The brilliant white sand dunes here are absolutely beautiful. We ended up walking around for hours during our visit and sledding down the hills. When we visited, it had just rained so the sand was packed in harder, but there were a few pools of water which made for awesome reflections.

Pro Tip: You can pick up a sled at when you get there, but it’s better to buy your own so you can use it afterwards too!

White Sands New MexicoPin
Popular White Sands in New MexicoPin

Map of the Least Visited National Parks

Least to Most Visited in 2019

Our top 15 didn’t include many of the parks in Alaska, since they’re not as easily accessible, but you can compare visitation numbers with this list.

10,518 at Gates of the Arctic is a stark contrast to the Great Smoky Mountains’ 12,547,743 visitors.

  1. Gates of the Arctic, AK – 10,518
  2. Kobuk Valley, AK – 15,766 
  3. Lake Clark, AK – 17,157 
  4. Isle Royale, MI – 26,410 
  5. North Cascades, WA – 38,208 
  6. Wrangell-St Elias, AK – 74,518
  7. Dry Tortugas, FL – 79,200 
  8. Katmai, AK – 84,167 
  9. Great Basin, NV – 131,802
  10. Virgin Islands, VI – 133,398 
  11. Congaree, SC – 159,445 
  12. Pinnacles, CA – 177,224 
  13. Guadalupe, TX – 188,833 
  14. Voyageurs, MN – 232,974 
  15. Kenai Fjords, AK  – 356,601 
  16. Channel Islands, CA – 409,630
  17. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO – 432,818
  18. Carlsbad Caverns, NM – 440,691
  19. Big Bend, TX – 463,832
  20. Redwood, CA – 504,722
  21. Lassen Volcanic, CA – 517,039
  22. Great Sand Dunes, CO – 527,546
  23. Mammoth Cave, KY – 551,590
  24. Mesa Verde, CO – 556,203
  25. Denali, AK – 601,152
  26. White Sands, NM – 608,785
  27. Wind Cave, SD – 615,350
  28. Kings Canyon, CA – 632,110
  29. Petrified Forest, AZ  – 643,588
  30. Glacier Bay, AK – 672,087
  31. Theodore Roosevelt, ND – 691,658
  32. Crater Lake, OR – 704,512
  33. Biscayne, FL – 708,522
  34. Canyonlands, UT – 733,996
  35. Badlands, SD – 970,998
  36. Haleakala HI – 994,394
  37. Saguaro, AZ – 1,020,226
  38. Everglades, FL – 1,118,300
  39. Capitol Reef, UT – 1,226,519
  40. Sequoia, CA – 1,246,053
  41. Hawaii Volcanoes, HI – 1,368,376
  42. Shenandoah, VA – 1,425,507
  43. Hot Springs, AK – 1,467,153
  44. Mount Rainier, WA – 1,501,621
  45. Arches, UT – 1,659,702
  46. Death Valley, CA – 1,740,945
  47. Gateway Arch, MO – 2,055,309
  48. Indiana Dunes, IN – 2,134,285
  49. Cuyahoga Valley, OH – 2,237,997
  50. Bryce Canyon, UT – 2,594,904
  51. Joshua Tree, CA – 2,988,547
  52. Glacier, MT – 3,049,839
  53. Olympic, WA – 3,245,806
  54. Grand Teton  WY – 3,405,614
  55. Acadia, ME  – 3,437,286
  56. Yellowstone, WY  – 4,020,288
  57. Yosemite CA  – 4,422,861
  58. Zion, UT  – 4,488,268
  59. Rocky Mountain, CO  – 4,670,053
  60. Grand Canyon, AZ  – 5,974,411
  61. Great Smoky Mountains, TN – 12,547,743
*numbers reported via NPS.

Essential Tips

  • Not all National Parks are fully open yet. Check their site to see updates on closures.
  • Pick up an Annual National Park Pass if you plan on visiting multiple parks. It also saves you time at the gate.
  • Most National Parks won’t have cell service. Plan ahead by having a physical map or save your google maps to access them offline with your points of interest marked (we do this a lot)
  • Always have plenty of water with you.
  • Bring layers. It’s always good to have the option to throw on layers if you’re cold or need protection from the sun. Many of the parks can have a drastic change in temperature when the sun goes down.

How many of these least visited national parks have you been to? Any favorites?

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Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, which is one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found both near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. I loved reading about these national parks – I’m planning on visiting Pinnacles National Park this fall! Redwood National Park is one of my favorites and I’m always surprised by how few people have been. I visited over Memorial Day Weekend a few years ago and barely saw other people on the trails, making for some serene hikes among the giant redwoods :) I can’t wait to visit all the others on this list one day!

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