America’s national parks are getting busier each year and it can be challenging at times to escape the crowds. During my road trip to visit all of them, I typically found myself enjoying the least crowded national parks the most. It was those moments of solitude that I look back on with some of the fondest memories of my whole trip! So you can have a similar experience, I went ahead and put together this list of the 15 least crowded national parks in the US… from my firsthand experience traveling to all of them!
Let me clarify that this isn’t just another list of statistics of the least visited national parks. This is a first-hand report of which parks were actually the least crowded. During our road trip, my husband and I found that the terms least crowded and least visited national parks don’t always mean the same thing. For example, we found some of the national parks to be tiny in size, thus felt super busy despite having small visitation numbers.
New to the blog? In 2017, my husband and I road tripped to all the U.S. National Parks. It took us 7 months, 25,000+ miles of driving (see our route), 26 flights, and countless trails hiked. Along the way we passed through 39 U.S. States, 2 U.S. Territories, and drove some of the most beautiful roads in the country. We ranked all the national parks from best to worst – check it out here!
I also put together a checklist of all the national parks, so you can mark each off as you visit them! It’s free to download via my travel resource library! Click the image below.
15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US
(featured in no particular order)
Lake Clark National Park
Lake Clark National Park ranked very highly for us, mostly for its beauty, wildlife, history, and lack of crowds. Located only 100 miles southwest of Anchorage (by plane), Lake Clark is home to some of Alaska’s most breathtaking scenery – an abundance of mountains, jagged granite spires, impressive glaciers, active volcanoes, thundering waterfalls, the largest lake in the state, and a lively coastline. Going by statistics, Lake Clark is also one of the least visited parks (22,755 people in ’17) and we can vouch that it was definitely one of the least crowded national parks!
Most iconic view: Lake Clark is famous for its beauty and natural diversity, though many visitors come to the area to experience Richard (Dick) Proenneke’s cabin on Upper Twin Lake (find out more about Dick’s story in my park guide). Park staff are located on site during the summer months and are available to give tours of the cabin and surrounding exhibits. There are also numerous hikes to take around Proenneke’s cabin, including one of his favorites – Teetering Rock.
Interesting fact: Lake Clark has one of the most abundant brown bear populations in the world. Park biologists have counted as many as 219 brown bears within a 54 square mile area on the coast in recent years!
North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is located just 3 hours from Seattle, though it remains one of the least visited national parks in the country. We feel that North Cascades deserves a lot more love given its breathtaking mountain peaks, abundant glaciers, vibrant lakes, forested valleys and endless opportunities for adventure! The park consists of two main units, North and South, and two adjoined recreation areas, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan. These three areas make up the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, the only one of its kind in the country.
Most iconic view: The jagged mountain peaks of the North Cascades are by far the most breathtaking view in the park. These dramatic “American Alps” are covered in snow most of the year and provide a playground for mountaineers and hikers. Various scenic overlooks provide views of the peaks for those unable to summit a mountain themselves, including Artist Point (by the northwest entrance of the park) and Washington Pass Overlook (by the southeast entrance of the park).
Interesting fact: There are 300+ glaciers in North Cascades National Park, thus more than any other national park outside of Alaska.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Badlands National Park (in South Dakota). Don’t let that fool you, we had an amazing time escaping the crowds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and also felt like its beautiful scenery justified more attention.
Location: North Dakota
Most iconic view: Painted Canyon Overlook in the South Unit is one of the most well-known spots in the park and provides magnificent panoramic views of colorful badlands. Nearby Painted Canyon Nature Trail (1-mile loop) is a wonderful way to explore the badlands geology from top to bottom. River Bend Overlook is arguably the best-known feature in the North Unit of the park. The viewing deck and nearby overlook shelter provide vast scenic views over the entire park.
Interesting fact: Many say that Theodore Roosevelt’s love for nature was established during his days ranching in lands that would go on to become the national park. During his presidency (1901-09) he established the US Forest Service, 18 national monuments, 5 national parks, 150 national forests, and numerous federal reserves – a total of over 230 million acres of protected land!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison was definitely one of the least crowded national parks on our road trip. I think we saw a total of 5 people in the park, and that included staying overnight! The park contains the deepest and most dramatic sections of the Black Canyon… running so deep that you could fit the Empire State building into it – not once, but twice!
Most iconic view: Two of the most epic viewpoints in the park are Gunnison Point (right by the Visitor Center), and Dragon Point (towards the end of the South Rim drive). Both provide picturesque views of the Black Canyon and also the Gunnison River.
Interesting fact: Many believe the park received its name due to the color of its rock. Rather, the canyon is so deep and narrow that sunlight only hits the bottom for a short period each day, hence remaining “black” most of the time.
National Park of American Samoa
The National Park of American Samoa is quite possibly the least heard of park in the whole NPS. Given its remote location in the Pacific some 2,600 miles southwest of Hawai’i, it’s not surprising that this makes the list of the least crowded national parks. The National Park of American Samoa is bursting with beautiful beaches, rare plants and animals, extraordinary coral reefs, a rich culture, and fascinating volcanic history. The park is spread out over 3 islands – Tutuila, Ta’ū and Ofu, with Tutuila being the easiest to visit.
Location: Territory of American Samoa in the United States
Most iconic view: One of the most well-known views in the National Park of American Samoa is overlooking Pago Pago Harbor from Afono Pass. This lookout is a short drive from Pago Pago and just inside the National Park entrance, on the way to Vatia. We were blown away by the lush greenery and blue waters of Tutuila, which is even more accentuated from the lookout.
Interesting fact: The National Park of American Samoa is the only United States national park located south of the equator.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the definition of a secluded and laid back park. We barely saw another soul when exploring Guadalupe Mountains, so it was a given it would make our list of the least crowded national parks. A ranger told us that the park is full of hidden gems, they are just a little harder to find compared to some of the famous parks. We would definitely agree!
Most iconic view: Guadalupe Peak is the most well-known feature of the park and boasts spectacular views from the summit. Known as the ‘Roof of Texas’, Guadalupe Peak sits at 8,751 feet and can be completed during a day hike or overnight backcountry trip.
Interesting fact: The Guadalupe Mountains were once a reef (Capitan Reef) developing beneath the waters of an ancient inland sea.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is full of surprises! We weren’t prepared for Big Bend’s sheer beauty, diverse landscapes, abundant flora and fauna, and photographic opportunities. The best part? It was dead quiet! We visited in early May and very much enjoyed how few visitors there were in the park. Read more: Big Bend featured in my blog post on the most underrated national parks, check it out!
Most iconic view: The beautiful Rio Grande river is the most well-known sight in the park. Acting as a natural border between the United States and Mexico, the Rio Grande can be explored via rafting and canoeing trips, bathing in the hot springs along its banks, hiking through the Santa Elena Canyon, or simply viewing it from some of the many trails and overlooks.
Interesting fact: Big Bend is the only national park to have an entire mountain range within its borders, the Chisos Mountains.
Great Basin National Park
Great Basin National Park is one of the least known, most secluded, and least visited national parks in the country. Located in east-central Nevada, visitors must travel along ‘the loneliest road in America’ (Highway 50) to access the park’s beauty. We loved our time exploring the park and are planning a return trip to see more.
Most iconic view: Many people come to Great Basin National Park to see the world’s oldest living organism – the bristlecone pine. These rugged trees can live to be more than 5000 years old and are known to withstand extreme conditions. The 2.8-mile (roundtrip) Bristlecone Trail is a wonderful way to experience these unique trees. The thick and twisted trunks of the bristlecone pines are an impressive sight, and interpretive signs along the trail provide interesting facts about their history and means of survival.
Interesting fact: There is proof of human inhabitance in Great Basin dating back 12,000 years ago.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park is nestled against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is home to the tallest dunes in North America. We found the park to be extremely quiet and only saw a handful of people during our May visit. I have heard it can get a little busier on a summer weekend, but overall Great Sand Dunes is said to be one of the least crowded national parks in the country.
Most iconic view: The dunes themselves are the most well-known view in the park. Visitors can view the dunes at a distance from the Visitor Center and can easily access the sand via a short walk from the Dunes Parking Lot. The most prominent (and tallest) dune is 755-foot “Star Dune” and it takes about 5-hours to make the round-trip hike to-and-from the parking lot.
Interesting fact: Research projects conducted by the National Park Service found that Great Sand Dunes has the lowest noise pollution levels of all the national parks in the lower 48 states – so everyone can enjoy some much needed quiet time!
Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Park is just like it sounds – a slice of natural beauty within the parameter of the Arctic Circle. It’s wildly rugged and at only 11,177 visitors in 2017, it may just top the list of least crowded national parks. Similar to its neighboring park Kobuk Valley, Gates of the Arctic is extremely remote and does not have developed facilities of any kind. There are no roads or maintained trails and visitors have a choice of plane or foot for accessing the park.
Most iconic view: The Arrigetch Peaks are arguably the most famous section of the park. Adventure seekers come from all over the world to experience the mesmerizing views of the Arrigetch, to climb the jagged granite spires, and to spot wildlife in the valleys. The Arrigetch is best appreciated via a backcountry trek, though the peaks can be viewed via air for those unable to make such a journey. Read about my Arrigetch trek here.
Interesting fact: Numerous subsistence communities still thrive within Gates of the Arctic, with several Eskimo tribes living in the area as well as natives of the Koyukan tribes.
Voyageurs National Park
We visited Voyageurs National Park during the peak of summer and felt like we practically had it to ourselves. Being a water-based park, Voyageurs is best experienced by boat or kayak, which brings another level of seclusion and peacefulness. We also found the forested trails to be extremely quiet, so overall Voyageurs seemed to us to be one of the least crowded national parks in the country.
Most iconic view: Voyageurs National Park is best-known for its rocky islands, lush foliage, and wild lakes. It is one of the only places in North America where you can see and touch rocks half the age of the Earth. Getting out on the water and touring the park is by far the best way to experience these ancient rocks that form islands full of thriving vegetation and wildlife. The Ellsworth Rock Gardens is a particularly interesting spot to witness prehistoric rocks with a modern twist.
Interesting fact: The park is made up of 218,054 acres of land and water, with 500+ islands and 655 miles of shoreline to explore.
Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park is comprised of towering 14,000-foot mountain peaks, lush meadows, swift-flowing rivers, and some of the world’s largest giant sequoia trees. As John Muir said, Kings Canyon is “a rival to Yosemite” and we found ourselves seeing the similarities on numerous occasions. We only saw a handful of people during our visit to the heart of Kings Canyon, despite exploring the popular trails and scenic drives.
Most iconic view: The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is the most unique section of the park, and also one of America’s most remarkable drives. The 50-mile mountain pass winds down 2,700 feet, past some incredible mountain views, and into a vibrant valley where the Kings River flows. At 1.5-miles deep, Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the United States. The beginning of the drive passes by Grant Grove and the famous General Grant Tree (the second largest tree in the world, measured by trunk volume).
Interesting fact: Kings Canyon runs deeper than the Grand Canyon, reaching 8,200 feet in some places.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a nature lovers dream – geothermal hot spots, colorful mountain vistas, forests of conifer trees, and an abundance of wildlife. It’s also the perfect place to escape the crowds, especially if you get out on the trails and into less-visited sections of the park (e.g. Butte Lake). Lassen Volcanic also made our list of the most underrated national parks in America, so I guess you can say we had a good experience!
Most iconic view: Manzanita Lake is a must-visit when exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park. Located near the northwest entrance, Manzanita Lake provides unparalleled views of Lassen Peak (10,457-feet). Visitors can meander the 1.5-mile trail that circumnavigates the lake, with ample of opportunities of mountain, forest and lake views. The lake is also a popular spot for paddling, swimming and birding.
Interesting fact: During the years of 1914 and 1915, Lassen emitted steam and ash in more than 150 eruptions. Then on May 19, 1915, the mountaintop exploded. Massive amounts of steam, ash, and gas shot out of Lassen during the explosion, bursting up to 30,000 feet. Lassen Peak has remained quiet since 1921, but is still considered an active volcano.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s largest cave system, with a 400+ mile labyrinth of subterranean caverns to explore. Often going unnoticed to visitors, Mammoth Cave also has a variety of beautiful above-ground trails, which is where we found solitude and some of the quietest hikes of our parks adventure. Mammoth Cave National Park was the perfect example of how the main attraction isn’t necessarily the only thing worth seeing.
Most iconic view: Visitors flock to Mammoth Cave to explore the infamous cave system and guided tours. The park service offers a selection of ranger-led tours with varying levels of exertion and accessibility. The most well-known section of the cave system is probably the magical Frozen Niagara. Here visitors witness cave rock formations that look like an underground waterfall frozen in time.
Interesting fact: The park offers a free holiday event inside the cave each year and in the past there have been shows conducted by orchestras, A Capella choirs, barbershop quartets and local bands.
Kobuk Valley National Park
Last but not least, Kobuk Valley National Park is one of the most remote parks in the country, due to its location in the Arctic Circle of northwest Alaska. The park is only accessible by plane or boat in the summer, and by snowmobile in the winter months, automatically making it one of the least crowded national parks. Despite its isolation, Kobuk Valley boasts an array of outdoor activities, including backpacking, fishing, hiking, boating, dog sled trips, and flightseeing tours. Be sure to come prepared as the park has no developed facilities, roads, or maintained trails.
Most iconic view: The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are the most well-known feature in the park. You might be thinking “sand dunes in the Arctic Circle?!” It’s true! At 25 square miles, the dunes are North America’s largest arctic dunefield. Visitors can experience this unique location via wheeled aircraft that land directly on the sand, or via float plane on the Kobuk River.
Interesting fact: The first known inhabitants of the Kobuk Valley area, the Paleo-Arctic people, were thought to live 12,500+ years ago. Today, the Inupiat people are native to Kobuk Valley, where they hunt the caribou and otherwise continue to practice a subsistence lifestyle. In the Inupiat language ‘Kobuk’ means ‘big river’.
More On The National Parks
PIN For Later
Disclaimer: All photographs copyright of Renee & Matthew Hahnel