Though the United States’ national parks are more popular than ever these days, there are still plenty that offer you a chance to escape the crowds and enjoy nature without bumping into other tourists all the time. This list of the ten least-visited national parks will help you plan a trip to some of these uncrowded vacation spots. Spanning from the South Pacific (yes, really!) to Alaska to Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, these spectacular but relatively unknown national parks include volcanoes, sand dunes, turquoise water, untamed nature, rainforest, and just about everything in between. I won’t lie – just getting to some of these parks can be a challenge, but once you see the scenery it’ll all be worth it. Starting from the least-visited park, check out these ten spectacular and relatively unknown parks that will allow you to escape the crowds. Only the final one on this list received more than 100,000 visitors in 2019, so overcrowding won’t be an issue.
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Gates of the Arctic may be the least visited national park in the United States, but it packs a big punch when it comes to adventure. Any outdoorsy nomad or national parks enthusiast who makes the effort to visit this stunning wilderness will not be disappointed. The park is located entirely above the Arctic Circle in remote Alaska. There are a few different ways to reach Gates of the Arctic, though none are particularly easy.
The least expensive option is to drive up the Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks and walk into the park boundaries. At the closest point, the road is about 4 miles from the park. Keep in mind that this is off-trail hiking and there is no trail that leads from the highway to the park. The most common way to visit Gates of the Arctic National Park is to fly. I spent 5 days backpacking through the park in 2019, and I flew into Anaktuvuk Pass from Fairbanks to begin my trip. Flights to this village leave from Fairbanks daily. You can also pay extra to have a charter flight drop you off anywhere in the park.
Your final option is to arrive by water. One of the most popular ways to experience Gates of the Arctic is an epic float trip on one of its many rivers. This usually requires a flight as well. You could fly to Bettles, another native village near the park, and begin your float trip here.
In addition to backpacking and floating, there are a variety of things to do in Gates of the Arctic. Scenic flights, hiking, hunting, and rock climbing are some of the most popular activities here.
No matter how you get there or which adventures you choose to embark on, your trip is sure to be one of your most memorable.
By Riley from Parks Expert
Kobuk Valley National Park
Like many on this list, one of the reasons Kobuk Valley National Park doesn’t receive many visitors is that it’s so hard to get to. There are no roads to the park, so visitors must arrive by air taxi from one of the nearby Alaskan cities. There are also no roads or designated trails inside the park, so visitors must come prepared for backcountry camping and have some level of outdoor skills. Be sure to also prepare for the weather as the park, which is larger than the entire state of Delaware, is located north of the Arctic Circle.
One of the park’s main features are the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, which can reach up to 100 feet tall. These dunes look completely out of place among the other Arctic scenery. A variety of wildlife, including bears and wolves inhabit this area. Caribou also pass through as part of their annual migration.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Lake Clark is another one of Alaska’s national parks that are inaccessible by road. Located southwest of Anchorage, visitors must arrive by air taxi or boat to begin their adventure. Due to its wilderness nature, amenities are limited inside the park though there are some privately run lodges within the boundaries. Otherwise, most of the park is open for rustic camping.
Lake Clark National Park protects a variety of terrain ranging from coastal rainforest to volcanoes as well as – as its name would suggest – numerous lakes. Salmon fishing is a popular activity, not just for humans, but also for the many bears who live in this wilderness. Boating, kayaking, and hiking are other great ways to enjoy the scenery. The historic Proenneke cabin on Twin Lakes is another popular spot that can be accessed by float plane in the summer. Richard Proenneke built it by hand with materials from the surrounding area and lived there alone for 30 years. Film he took was released as the documentary Alone in the Wilderness.
Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is one of the most unique National Parks in the entire park system. Located in the middle of Lake Superior, this national park is closer to Minnesota and Canada than Michigan, but belongs to the state of Michigan. It is the only National Park to close down completely for a season. Isle Royale is only open from April 16 to October 31 each year.
Isle Royale can only be accessed via boat or seaplane. Passenger ferries leave from the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan, and Grand Portage, MN. The National Park is made up of over 400 islands.
Accommodations on Isle Royale are simple. There is a small lodge and cabins at Rock Harbor and cabins at Windigo. Rock Harbor and Windigo are the two ranger stations and all island visitors should check in here. The other option is staying at one of the park’s 36 campgrounds. Other than the campgrounds at Windigo and Rock Harbor, the campgrounds can only be reached via a combination of hiking, boating, canoeing, or kayaking.
Visitors to Isle Royale don’t typically come for a quick visit. Most spend 4+ days hiking, kayaking, boating, or canoeing. There are miles of hiking to explore and plenty of places to get out on the water and explore the many small islands near the main island. Backpackers have the option to hike along the lakeshore as well as climb the island ridge and enjoy views of Canada and the Keweenaw Peninsula. The campsites are nicely spaced for both long and short hikes between campgrounds. All park visitors should keep an eye out for the park’s two main permanent residents – wolves and moose. The island is famous for its long term study on the predator and prey relationship between these two animals.
By Jennifer from National Park Obsessed
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades is one of the most remote US National Parks, located in the northwest corner of Washington State near the Canadian border. I was fortunate enough to have once lived just on the edge of the North Cascades when I had a house on the shores of Lake Whatcom in Bellingham. Mt. Baker, visible from Bellingham and Vancouver, is outside the park limits, but Mt. Shuksan is in the park, as are Ross and Chelan Lakes.
The North Cascades include the usual activities of a national park – camping, boating, biking, horseback riding, wildlife spotting and lots and lots of hiking. Stehekin Valley is the gem of the park, located at the northern end of Chelan Lake (the third deepest lake in the US). There are no roads into the valley; you can only get there by boat, plane or on foot. Bring your food with you and go camping in pure nature to escape from the world for a few days.
There are a handful of lodgings, mostly along Highway 20, but I’d recommend going camping. There are five campsites throughout the North Cascades you can access by car, and more that are only accessible by foot or boat (such as those in Stehekin). To get to the North Cascades from Seattle, take the I-5 north to Burlington and then due east on Highway 20. You’ll be in the park within 2 hours. Take your backpack and your hiking boots and have fun!
By Skye from SkyeTravels
National Park of American Samoa
As the only United States National Park in the southern hemisphere, it’s no wonder the National Park of American Samoa is one of the least visited US parks. For those who make the trek to the South Pacific island of American Samoa, you are rewarded with incredible beauty, empty trails, and an authentic Polynesian culture.
Embrace the quiet and slow island pace when you travel to American Samoa, and aim to explore both the trails of the National Park and the protected reef of the National Marine Sanctuary. The four maintained National Park trails on the main island of Tutuila highlight both the territory’s history in World War II and the breathtaking South Pacific island views. There are short trails leading to a wild, rocky coastline, or for those who want the workout, hike the ridges of the ancient volcanoes to reveal panoramic views of the island.
To fully explore the National Park of American Samoa, schedule enough time to travel to the outer Manu’a Islands of the chain, and visit picturesque Ofu Island. Envision white sandy beaches and pristine corals all to yourself on this tiny, remote island.
Since tourism is not a main component of the American Samoan economy, don’t expect 5-star lodging and dining. Instead incorporate the homestay option from the National Park, and join a Samoan family during your trip to experience ancient culture still practiced in today’s modern life.
From the United States, American Samoa is only serviced by twice weekly flights from Honolulu to Pago Pago (on the main island of Tutuila) via Hawaiian Airlines. For travel to the outer islands, book one of the twice weekly interisland flights on Samoa Airways from Tutuila to Ofu Island.
By Meredith from Chasing Abandon Travel Blog
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Although Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is one of the least visited parks, it’s also the largest national park in the USA. It’s located in the southeast part of Alaska, north of the Alaska panhandle and bordering Yukon Territory. It’s home to the Wrangell Mountain range, a series of glacier-covered volcanoes, and the second highest mountain in the USA (after Denali).
Unlike other little visited parks in Alaska that are only accessible by airplane and/or boat, Wrangell St. Elias is accessible by road. There are two main roads that enter the park – the Nabesna and McCarthy Roads, both of which are gravel and quite rough. The main visitor center is located just north of Copper Center on the Richardson Highway.
One of the most popular places to visit in the park is the Kennecott Mill and mines near McCarthy. This mill town was built in the early 1900s. Here you can take the shuttle bus to the abandoned mill town, tour the fascinating copper mill, and hike to the beautiful Root Glacier. It’s possible to walk on the glacier either by tour or by yourself if you’re well prepared. It’s one of the few glaciers in Alaska that is accessible by foot.
For overnight stays, there are several established campgrounds and backwoods camping. There are B&Bs around the small town of McCarthy and a historic hotel and restaurant in Kennecott. If you’re looking for wildlife, it’s possible to spot animals such as moose, black and grizzly bears, lynx, and Dall sheep in this park.
By Lisa from TheHotFlashPacker
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park is a group of islets that are located about 70 miles southwest of Key West. The only way to get here is either by plane or an organized ferry boat.
The white sand beach of the Dry Tortugas islands is pristine, thanks to the very regulated number of visitors who come here every year. Most visitors would visit the National Park to enjoy the white-sand beach with crystal-clear, turquoise blue water. If you want to take an advantage of the water, you can go swimming and snorkeling in the surrounding Dry Tortugas coral reef system.
In addition to the beach activities and the historical Fort Jefferson guided tour, Dry Tortugas National Park maintains a small visitor center with a museum, as well as several kayaking programs.
Most visitors to Dry Tortugas will have to do a day trip from Key West, where the nearest accommodation and tourist infrastructures can be found. However, it is also possible to do some “primitive camping” here. There is limited space and it’s first-come, first-served. If you camp, you have to secure a permit way in advance, and be prepared with your own food, water and necessities. There will be no electricity or running water, and there is no store to purchase anything once you’re on the island.
To get to Dry Tortugas National Park, you can start your journey in Key West with either the Yankee Freedom III ferry or via a seaplane for a day trip.
By Halef and Michael from The Round the World Guys
Katmai National Park & Preserve
Katmai National Park, in Southern Alaska, is known primarily for being the best place to watch bears catch salmon. This thrilling bucket list adventure happens twice a year during the two annual salmon runs. The first is in July and the second in September.
After you arrive at Brooks Falls, you will attend a ranger orientation about bear safety. You’ll learn how to properly navigate the easy hiking path to the bear viewing platforms. Five elevated platforms including one that goes over the Brooks river, give you the chance to get up close and personal, in a secure spot.
The best part of seeing the bears at Katmai National Park is the intimate look at Grizzly bear life. At least 50 bears live in the area. See female bears care for their cubs, young bears learn to fish, and dominant grizzlies lord over their favorite lunch spot. For those that are able to stay overnight at Brooks Lodge, you will have extra bear viewing time without the day trippers.
Other activities in Katmai National Park include fishing, hiking, a flightseeing tour and a visit to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. In 1912, this was the site of the most powerful 20th century volcanic eruption of the Novarupta Volcano, 30 times bigger than Mt. St. Helens.
Since there are no roads to get to Katmai National Park from other parts of Alaska, the only way to get there is by plane. Typically you will fly to King Salmon Airport and catch a float plane to Brooks Lodge. There are also day trip flights from Kodiak, Homer and Anchorage. This is an expensive excursion but the highlight of a trip to Alaska.
By Jenifer from The Evolista
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park doesn’t always get the accolades of more famous national parks, but it is a hidden gem of gorgeous and unique terrain. Plus, the lack of crowds means you can find some solitude while exploring the stunningly rugged landscape and the ancient groves of bristlecone pine trees, which are some of the oldest trees in the world.
Located in eastern Nevada near the Utah border, Great Basin National Park is most easily accessed from Salt Lake City (~4-hour drive) or Las Vegas (~5-hour drive). The roads around and in Great Basin can be a little rough, so a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is recommended. There is currently no entrance fee to visit the park.
Even before you enter Great Basin, you’ll see the tallest mountain in the Snake Range, Wheeler Peak rising in the distance. You can attempt the challenging hike to the summit, or simply admire the view from the Scenic Drive or one of the other many Great Basin hiking trails.
A not-to-be-missed highlight of Great Basin National Park is the Lehman Caves. These limestone caves were formed by water and feature a variety of cool natural features like stalactites and stalagmites. The only way to access the caves is through a ranger-guided tour which requires reservations and a small fee.
With so much to explore and so few people, Great Basin National Park exceeds expectations and is definitely worth a visit despite its lack of hype.
By Allison from She Dreams of Alpine
Have you made it to any of the least-visited national parks on this list? What was your experience like? Let me know in the comments!
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