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 and avoid the most crowded national parks.
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Last Updated: January 31, 2023
15 Least Visited National Parks in USA You Need to Explore Next
When putting together this list, we looked at the 2021 visitation data (we will update it with 2022 once that’s out). 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.
Also, before you go, see which National Parks require reservations due to overcrowding.
The Grand Canyon National Park is in Arizona and covers 277 miles of the Colorado River. It’s up to a mile deep, and 18 miles wide and is known for its layered red rocks and beautiful landscapes.
Contrary to popular belief, did you know that the Grand Canyon isn’t the deepest or longest canyon in the world?
Local Tip: You can easily get around the Grand Canyon Village with the free shuttle bus.
Although it’s less than three hours away from Seattle, North Cascades National Park is hard to access because no developed roads go into the park. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. You can only access most of the park on foot backpacking, but some areas are easy to drive to.
The North Cascades National Park Complex comprises 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 the Sourdough Mountain hike. You can also drive 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 hoped to do was closed due to snow. Check the site or call the visitor center to help you plan ahead.
100 Great Basin, Baker, NV 89311, map
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.
100 National Park Rd, Hopkins, SC 29061, map
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.
4. Pinnacles NATIONAL Park, California
5000 CA-146, Paicines, CA 95043, map
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 for a few 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.
US-101 & Redwood Hwy, Orick, CA 95555, map
This park is famous for its massively tall trees, the tallest living things on Earth. Within its borders, you can also find prairies, woodlands, riverways, and rugged coastlines. It’s the perfect escape to get out in nature and feel like a tiny person walking among giants.
Our favorite parts of the park are Stout Grove, Endert’s Beach, and Fern Canyon.
Pro Tip: The park is made up of multiple state parks and the National Park and covers a lot of area. Give yourself plenty of time in between spots.
1901 Spinnaker Dr, Ventura, CA 93001, map
To get to these Islands, you need to plan ahead 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.
10346 CO-347, Montrose, CO 81401, map
A visit to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison can be as leisurely or adventurous as you want. The South Rim, the most established part of the park, has tons of pullouts and short hikes where you can enjoy the dizzying views of 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.
8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
727 Carlsbad Cavern Hwy, Carlsbad, NM 88220, map
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 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.
310, Alsate Dr, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, map
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 the 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 time on the water, be sure not to land on the Mexican bank. It’s considered an illegal crossing.
10. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
21820 Lassen Peak Hwy, Mineral, CA 96063, map
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.
11999 CO-150, Mosca, CO 81146, map
We’ve been to multiple sand dunes throughout the US, but these were 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, Kentucky
1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, map
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.
35853 Rd H.5, Mancos, CO 81328, map
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.
Park RD, AK 99755, map
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 bus tours, whitewater raft, or on a flightseeing tour. It’s an odd feeling seeing the 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.
19955 US-70, Alamogordo, NM 88310, map
The brilliant white sand dunes here are stunning. 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.
Map of the Least Visited National Parks
Least to Most Visited National Parks
Our top 15 didn’t include most of the parks in Alaska since they’re not as easily accessible, but you can compare visitation numbers with this list.
7,362 at Gates of the Arctic is a stark contrast to the Great Smoky Mountains’ 14,161,548 visitors.
- Gates of the Arctic, AK – 7,362
- National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa – 8,495
- Kobuk Valley, AK – 11,540
- North Cascades, WA – 17,855
- Lake Clark, AK – 18,278
- Katmai, AK – 24,764
- Isle Royale, MI – 25,844
- Wrangell-St Elias, AK – 50,189
- Dry Tortugas, FL – 83,817
- Glacier Bay, AK – 89,768
- Great Basin, NV – 144,875
- Congaree, SC – 215,181
- Denali, AK – 229,521
- Voyageurs, MN – 243,042
- Guadalupe Mountains, TX – 243,291
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO – 308,910
- Channel Islands, CA – 319,252
- Virgin Islands, VI – 323,999
- Pinnacles, CA – 348,857
- Carlsbad Caverns, NM – 349,244
- Lassen Volcanic, CA – 359,635
- Kenai Fjords, AK – 411,782
- Redwood, CA – 435,879
- Mammoth Cave, KY – 515,774
- Mesa Verde, CO – 548,477
- Kings Canyon, CA – 562,918
- Big Bend, TX – 581,220
- Petrified Forest, AZ – 590,334
- Great Sand Dunes, CO – 602,613
- Crater Lake, OR – 647,751
- Biscayne, FL – 705,655
- Wind Cave, SD – 709,001
- White Sands, NM – 782,469
- Theodore Roosevelt, ND – 796,085
- Haleakala HI – 853,181
- Canyonlands, UT – 911,594
- Everglades, FL – 942,130
- Sequoia, CA – 1,059,548
- Saguaro, AZ – 1,079,786
- Gateway Arch, MO – 1,145,081
- Death Valley, CA – 1,146,551
- Badlands, SD – 1,224,226
- Hawaii Volcanoes, HI – 1,262,747
- Capitol Reef, UT – 1,405,353
- Shenandoah, VA – 1,592,312
- Mount Rainier, WA – 1,670,063
- New River Gorge, WV – 1,682,720
- Arches, UT – 1,806,865
- Bryce Canyon, UT – 2,104,600
- Hot Springs, AK – 2,162,884
- Cuyahoga Valley, OH – 2,575,275
- Olympic, WA – 2,718,925
- Joshua Tree, CA – 3,064,400
- Glacier, MT – 3,081,656
- Indiana Dunes, IN – 3,177,210
- Yosemite CA – 3,287,595
- Grand Teton WY – 3,885,230
- Acadia, ME – 4,069,098
- Rocky Mountain, CO – 4,434,848
- Grand Canyon, AZ – 4,532,677
- Yellowstone, WY – 4,860,242
- Zion, UT – 5,039,835
- Great Smoky Mountains, TN – 14,161,548
*numbers reported via NPS.
- 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 visit 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)
- If you plan on doing some hiking, download Alltrails+ so you can have the trail maps offline.
- 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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“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes” – M. Proust
Esther + Jacob
Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found 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.