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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.

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Last Updated: October 11, 2022

When putting together this list, we looked at the 2021 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.

Also, before you go, see which National Parks require reservations due to overcrowding.

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

This park is famous for its massively tall trees, the tallest living things on Earth, in fact. 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. 

Our favorite parts of the park are Stout Grove, Endert’s Beach, and Fern Canyon.

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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.

Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance + 17 Best National Parks to Visit in SeptemberPin

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

15. Kenai Fjords

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Pro Tip: Y

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.

 7,362 at Gates of the Arctic is a stark contrast to the Great Smoky Mountains’ 14,161,548 visitors.

  1. Gates of the Arctic, AK – 7,362
  2. National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa – 8,495
  3. Kobuk Valley, AK – 11,540
  4. North Cascades, WA – 17,855
  5. Lake Clark, AK – 18,278
  6. Katmai, AK – 24,764
  7. Isle Royale, MI – 25,844
  8. Wrangell-St Elias, AK – 50,189
  9. Dry Tortugas, FL – 83,817
  10. Glacier Bay, AK – 89,768
  11. Great Basin, NV – 144,875
  12. Congaree, SC – 215,181
  13. Denali, AK – 229,521
  14. Voyageurs, MN – 243,042
  15. Guadalupe Mountains, TX – 243,291
  16. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO – 308,910
  17. Channel Islands, CA – 319,252
  18. Virgin Islands, VI – 323,999
  19. Pinnacles, CA – 348,857
  20. Carlsbad Caverns, NM – 349,244
  21. Lassen Volcanic, CA – 359,635
  22. Kenai Fjords, AK  – 411,782
  23. Redwood, CA – 435,879
  24. Mammoth Cave, KY – 515,774
  25. Mesa Verde, CO – 548,477
  26. Kings Canyon, CA – 562,918
  27. Big Bend, TX – 581,220
  28. Petrified Forest, AZ  – 590,334
  29. Great Sand Dunes, CO – 602,613 
  30. Crater Lake, OR – 647,751
  31. Biscayne, FL – 705,655
  32. Wind Cave, SD – 709,001
  33. White Sands, NM – 782,469
  34. Theodore Roosevelt, ND – 796,085
  35. Haleakala HI – 853,181
  36. Canyonlands, UT – 911,594
  37. Everglades, FL – 942,130
  38. Sequoia, CA – 1,059,548
  39. Saguaro, AZ – 1,079,786
  40. Gateway Arch, MO – 1,145,081
  41. Death Valley, CA – 1,146,551
  42. Badlands, SD – 1,224,226
  43. Hawaii Volcanoes, HI – 1,262,747 
  44. Capitol Reef, UT – 1,405,353
  45. Shenandoah, VA – 1,592,312
  46. Mount Rainier, WA – 1,670,063
  47. New River Gorge, WV – 1,682,720
  48. Arches, UT – 1,806,865
  49. Bryce Canyon, UT – 2,104,600
  50. Hot Springs, AK – 2,162,884
  51. Cuyahoga Valley, OH – 2,575,275
  52. Olympic, WA – 2,718,925
  53. Joshua Tree, CA – 3,064,400
  54. Glacier, MT – 3,081,656
  55. Indiana Dunes, IN – 3,177,210
  56. Yosemite CA  – 3,287,595
  57. Grand Teton  WY – 3,885,230
  58. Acadia, ME  – 4,069,098
  59. Rocky Mountain, CO  – 4,434,848
  60. Grand Canyon, AZ  – 4,532,677
  61. Yellowstone, WY  – 4,860,242
  62. Zion, UT  – 5,039,835
  63. Great Smoky Mountains, TN – 14,161,548
*numbers reported via NPS.
things to do in guadalupe mountains national parkPin

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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