Each year, the tracks the total number of visits made to each of the parks, revealing the most and least visited. While the country’s least-visited parks can take a bit more planning to reach, they offer incredible experiences to all those who make the trek: Watch synchronous fireflies, hike among the world's oldest trees, or enjoy at these lesser-known national treasures.
As travel becomes ever more popular and visitors get even more obsessed with making sure they get the perfect Instagram shot of that stunning landmark, it’s understandable to start planning trips around dodging crowds.
So we put together this list of the least visited national parks to give you some options to consider if you’re busy putting together your next itinerary. We’ll start with the most visited least visited national park (say that five times fast) and end with the one that got the fewest visitors in 2020
The 10 Least-visited National Parks You Must Visit Once
1. National Park of American Samoa
A lot of people aren’t even aware that Samoa is a U.S. territory, or that is has a national park. Established in 1988, the National Park of American Samoa covers three islands and more than 13,000 acres, one-third of which is the ocean. Snorkeling and hiking are among the top activities in this protected region.
A view of two worlds
Traffic to the American Samoa park has fluctuated wildly in recent years, going from barely 3000 visitors in 2010 all the way to 69,000 in 2017 before receding to 28,000 in 2018 and then jumping back to 60k in 2019. Getting here takes 14 hours by plane from California or 5.5 from Hawaii.
2. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
Black Canyon is "big enough to be overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time," according to the National Park Service. You'll feel small as you stand next to 2,000-foot tall canyon walls, but don't let that stop you from lacing up your boots and seeing just what this park is made of.
For your best view of the park, take a hike along the rim. On the south rim, you'll find four trails, which range from a 1-mile loop to a 2-mile round trip. If you want a longer hike, try the 5-mile Deadhorse Trail on the north rim. Or just find a spot next to the Gunnison River and sit back with a fishing pole in hand. At the end of the day, you can relax at one of the two developed campgrounds.
3. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
There’s a glacier in Nevada! Who knew? Great Basin National Park is five hours north of Las Vegas, and one of its coolest features is the Wheeler Peak Glacier, which sits at the base of the 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak.
Stella Lake, Great Basin National Park
Guests can reach the glacier with a two-mile hike. At last measurement, the glacier was only 300 feet long by 400 feet wide, and scientists predict it will disappear entirely within 20 years. So visit now! Great Basin’s tourist traffic rose from 94k to 168k in just five years, so it might not be long before it works its way off this list.
4. Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands (U.S. territory)
We’re starting out this list of least-visited parks with one that’s, honestly, a little tough to get to by RV. Tucked away in the Caribbean Ocean, Virgin Islands National Park covers most of the island of St. John, a U.S. territory characterized by stunning sandy beaches and coral reefs.
What visitors do make their way out to Virgin Islands National Park are drawn there for good reason: along with the serenity of sand and sun, this park is also home to the ruins of Annaberg Plantation, which produced sugarcane back in the 18th century. It’s also a home and spawning site for sea turtles, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers and history buffs alike.
5. Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska
The National Park of American Samoa is spread across three different islands, about 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii.
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park
This national park is one of the most remote, with secluded villages, coral sand beaches, and open vistas of land and sea in place of tourist facilities. Those who visit can bring their own snorkel gear to explore an underwater world home to over 950 species of fish and over 250 coral species.
Attractions include hiking trails along cliffs with ocean views, islands dotted with tropical rain forests, and preservations of the Samoan culture. The park even offers a homestay for visitors looking to stay with local Samoan families and learn about the culture.
6. Petrified Forest National Park
It’d be hard to find a more extreme change in climate than to go from Denali to here, a small park in Northeast Arizona which offers a variety of activities for visitors. In the northern part of the park, the Painted Desert Inn, a 1930s adobe building, is open for exploration, offering stunning murals painted by the native Hopi people. In the center of the park, petroglyphs, dating back millennia, cover Newspaper Rock.
Petrified Forest National Park
But it’s the southern portion of the park that most visitors come to see, for it's the location of the extensive petrified wood, fossils of the forests that once stood in the desert. Petrified wood is not just of geologic interest; it’s also quite beautiful, the wood’s organic material replaced by minerals of varying colors.
Just don’t be tempted to tuck a piece in your pocket – the visitor center includes a display about the supposed “curse” on those who do, complete with letters of abject apology from those who claim to have felt its effects...and who mailed the wood back.
7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park combines mountain and canyon scenery with desert terrain and impressive dunes. The national park is home to more than 80 miles of hiking trails that weave through the desert, canyons, and even to the “Top of Texas” at the Guadalupe Peak Trail, where those who make the hike can see mesmerizing views from every angle.
Guadalupe Mountains, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, USA
Four of the state’s highest peaks are located within the park, which also offers spectacular foliage viewing in the fall. Hit the McKittrick Canyon Trail in the northern portion to see just how magnificent the park's fall colors can be.
Sunrise cloud inversion, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
8. Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is located on an isolated island that sits in the middle of Lake Superior. The national park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, and transportation services are available from nearby locations.
Once at the park, travelers will find forests, rugged shorelines, backcountry trails, and some 400 satellite islands to explore by boat. Thanks to the cold waters of Lake Superior, the national park is also a prime location for scuba diving as sunken shipwrecks have remained intact.
9. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Alaska has long been a dream destination for many outdoor lovers, campers, and hikers, and for good reason: this state is home to four of the largest national parks in the country, including Wrangell-St. Elias, which takes the number one spot.
Instead of visiting the most popular parks, take the road less followed—literally; there are no roads or trails in the Gates of Arctic National Park, but that shouldn't stop you from visiting.
At Gates of the Arctic, the number one least-visited national park, you're immersed in a pristine wilderness straight out of a storybook. But, it's not for the faint of heart. "Gates of the Arctic is one of the last truly wild places on earth," according to NPS.gov.
All camping here is backcountry, and you need to be taken in and out of the park by pre-arranged transportation, most often a plane. If you're up for an adventure, now's the chance to test your skills.
10. Dry Tortugas National Park
Here’s another park that’s a little bit more difficult for RVers to visit, at least without hopping on a boat at some point. Dry Tortugas National Park has the distinction of being the southernmost park in the system, lying smack in the middle of some of the most beautiful waterways in the country just 70 miles west of Key West.
The good news? Key West is a worthy destination anyway, and it’s one you can make the drive to in your rig. Find a cozy spot on the island and then hop on board the ferry for a two-hour ride out to the park itself. Just be sure you don’t forget your national parks passport when you’re visiting this one: that’s one hard-won stamp you don’t want to forego!