15 Least Crowded National Parks & Why You Need To Visit Them

America’s nationals parks are getting busier each year and it can be challenging at times to escape the crowds. Having personally visited all of them, I typically enjoyed the secluded and least crowded national parks the most. 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. We found that least crowded national parks and least visited didn’t always mean the same thing, as some parks are tiny and felt super busy despite having small visitation numbers.

New to the blog? In 2017, my husband and I road tripped to all 59 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.

Update: since our trip, another national park has been added to the list – Gateway National Park in St. Louis, Missouri.  We will update our park blog posts once we get a chance to visit later this year. For now, this is based on the 59 National Parks that were designated as of 2017.

15 Least Crowded National Parks & Why You Need To Visit Them

(featured in no particular order)

15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Renee Roaming

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!


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park- Renee Roaming

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!

Location: Colorado

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - National Park of Americam Samoa - Renee Roaming

National Park of American Samoa

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Renee Roaming

Guadalupe Mountains National 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!

Location: Texas

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Big Bend National Park- Renee Roaming

Big Bend National Park

As mentioned in my underrated national parks post, Big Bend surprised us from all angles. We weren’t prepared for its 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.

Location: Texas

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Great Basin National Park - Renee Roaming

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin 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.

Location: Nevada

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Great Sand Dunes National Park - Renee Roaming

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Nestled against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park 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.

Location: Colorado

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!


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Lake Clark National Park - Renee Roaming

Lake Clark National Park

Lake Clark is one of our most loved national parks, 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!

Location: Alaska

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!


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Gates of the Arctic National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Alaska

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Voyageurs National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Minnesota

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - North Cascades National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Washington

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Kings Canyon National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: California

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Lassen Volcanic National Park - Renee Roaming

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!

Location: California

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Mammoth Cave National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Kentucky

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Kobuk Valley National Park - Renee Roaming

Kobuk Valley National Park

Last but not least, Kobuk Valley is one of the most remote national 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.

Location: Alaska

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’.


And That’s A Wrap! I hope you enjoyed this round-up of the least crowded national parks.

 

More On The National Parks

America’s National Parks – Ranked Best To Worst

The 15 Most Underrated National Parks in America

Our National Parks Road Trip Route (+ Maps!)

Exploring Lake Clark National Park – The Best National Park?

A Guide To Gates of the Arctic National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide

Read our individual park guides on the Evolve blog

 

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15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Renee Roaming

 

Disclaimer: All photographs copyright of Renee & Matthew Hahnel. This trip was sponsored by Evolve, though as always my opinions are honest and unbiased. 

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America’s nationals parks are getting busier each year and it can be challenging at times to escape the crowds. Having personally visited all of them, I typically enjoyed the secluded and least crowded national parks the most. 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. We found that least crowded national parks and least visited didn’t always mean the same thing, as some parks are tiny and felt super busy despite having small visitation numbers.

New to the blog? In 2017, my husband and I road tripped to all 59 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.

Update: since our trip, another national park has been added to the list – Gateway National Park in St. Louis, Missouri.  We will update our park blog posts once we get a chance to visit later this year. For now, this is based on the 59 National Parks that were designated as of 2017.

15 Least Crowded National Parks & Why You Need To Visit Them

(featured in no particular order)

15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Renee Roaming

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!


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park- Renee Roaming

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!

Location: Colorado

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - National Park of Americam Samoa - Renee Roaming

National Park of American Samoa

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Guadalupe Mountains National Park - Renee Roaming

Guadalupe Mountains National 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!

Location: Texas

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Big Bend National Park- Renee Roaming

Big Bend National Park

As mentioned in my underrated national parks post, Big Bend surprised us from all angles. We weren’t prepared for its 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.

Location: Texas

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Great Basin National Park - Renee Roaming

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin 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.

Location: Nevada

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Great Sand Dunes National Park - Renee Roaming

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Nestled against the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park 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.

Location: Colorado

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!


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Lake Clark National Park - Renee Roaming

Lake Clark National Park

Lake Clark is one of our most loved national parks, 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!

Location: Alaska

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!


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Gates of the Arctic National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Alaska

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Voyageurs National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Minnesota

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - North Cascades National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Washington

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Kings Canyon National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: California

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Lassen Volcanic National Park - Renee Roaming

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!

Location: California

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Mammoth Cave National Park - Renee Roaming

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.

Location: Kentucky

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.


15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Kobuk Valley National Park - Renee Roaming

Kobuk Valley National Park

Last but not least, Kobuk Valley is one of the most remote national 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.

Location: Alaska

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’.


And That’s A Wrap! I hope you enjoyed this round-up of the least crowded national parks.

 

More On The National Parks

America’s National Parks – Ranked Best To Worst

The 15 Most Underrated National Parks in America

Our National Parks Road Trip Route (+ Maps!)

Exploring Lake Clark National Park – The Best National Park?

A Guide To Gates of the Arctic National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Guide

Read our individual park guides on the Evolve blog

 

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15 Least Crowded National Parks in the US - Renee Roaming

 

Disclaimer: All photographs copyright of Renee & Matthew Hahnel. This trip was sponsored by Evolve, though as always my opinions are honest and unbiased. 

Renee Hahnel

Hi! My name is Renee and I'm an Australian photographer, blogger & travel addict. I now call the U.S.A home but you can usually find me wandering the globe with a camera in hand ✈ Let's get lost!

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18 Comments

  1. Jackie on September 24, 2018 at 2:57 am

    Thank you Renee for this fantastic guide of the more quiet NPs. I’m definitely going to visit a couple of them on my next trip.

    • Renee Hahnel on October 21, 2018 at 6:37 pm

      Thanks for reaching! It definitely makes enjoying the parks a little easier when the crowds aren’t so crazy!

  2. Suzanne on September 24, 2018 at 3:46 am

    I need to get to Kings Canyon ASAP! Yosemite is my favorite–I LOVE that type of scenery. I almost went to North Cascades last month (Scott Kranz’s photography of the area is stunning), but I was only booking 2 weeks in advance and lodging was basically nonexistent. We went to Rainier instead, which was more compatible with a last-minute weekend trip. Next time!! Thanks for the roundup–there are so many hidden gems (NP’s and otherwise!) in so many places!

    • Renee Hahnel on October 21, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Thanks Suzanne. I agree, Scott Kranz’ photography of the North Cascades is incredible!

  3. Courtney on September 24, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Absolutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing!!!

    • Renee Hahnel on October 21, 2018 at 6:39 pm

      Thank you Courtney!

  4. RILEY VS GLOBE on September 24, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    My favorite national park has to be the Great Sand Dunes National Park. I wrote an article all about it. I have to get to visiting more ASAP!
    RILEY VS GLOBE | Check out my Guide to GSDNP: http://www.rileyvsglobe.com/2018/09/19/a-guide-to-great-sand-dunes-national-park/

    • Renee Hahnel on October 21, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      It’s such a beautiful place! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  5. Anonymous on October 17, 2018 at 4:15 am

    We went to the wragell st elias national park in Alaska. It is remote and beautiful. 6 Yellowstones can fit in this largest national park in the us. Next trip will be lake Clark n kodiak.

    • Renee Hahnel on October 21, 2018 at 6:41 pm

      Isn’t it crazy?! I would love to visit Kodiak someday!

  6. […] 15 Least Crowded National Parks & Why You Need To Visit Them […]

  7. Ali on November 1, 2018 at 10:02 am

    My husband and I recently finished up a 3+ week road trip through several national parks in the west/southwest US, and I definitely agree about Kings Canyon. It ended up being one of my favorites on the trip because not only was it beautiful, but it was so enjoyable without so many people around! I haven’t been to any of the others on this list, but they all look amazing.

    • Renee Hahnel on November 17, 2018 at 3:59 am

      Oh that would have been an amazing trip! I am glad you also liked Kings Canyon 🙂

  8. Bridgette on November 18, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    I feel like you’ve left out a true gem– Dry Tortugas National Park! While it can be quite crowded during peak season (it is an island, after all), if you visit during the off season, the crowds are pretty thin. And, if you don’t mind primitive camping, there are only 10 campsites on the whole island, so you can experience its beauty and even more solitude after the day trippers have left for the day! Truly an amazing experience!

  9. Retsbol on December 27, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    You left out the actual least visited national park: Isle Royale!
    It’s a tiny island that takes a good effort to get to, but it’s nothing but beautiful nature, a ton of moose, and a few wolves.
    There’s a reason why it’s the most revisited national park!

    • Renee Hahnel on December 29, 2018 at 6:23 am

      We loved Isle Royale! But as you can see in my disclaimer, these were the least crowded National Parks in our experience… not necessarily the statistically least visited. We found Isle Royale to feel very busy given how small it is, and the backcountry campgrounds often felt like roadside ones. Overall it was still great experience, but more on the crowded side for the most part

  10. Rob - Parkcation on January 24, 2019 at 3:34 am

    In my experience, I would swap in Isle Royale and take off Mammoth Cave. Yes, the backcountry campgrounds were busy everywhere at Isle Royale (we were there in August) and we stayed with strangers in group sites every night. But we hardly ever encountered anyone outside of a campsite.

    We visited Mammoth on a Saturday night and it was PACKED at the campground and many Sunday tours were sold out. Although – in your favor – we stayed Sunday night at Mammoth too and it was the emptiest we have seen a park – so I guess it probably depends on your timing.

  11. Emily on January 31, 2019 at 4:31 am

    North Cascades isn’t so empty anymore. 10 years ago it was a quiet refuge, but now it’s pretty crowded come July and August. Camping used to be a lonely affair, but now it’s loud and raucous. Miss the North Cascades of the past.

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Renee Hahnel

Hi! My name is Renee and I'm an Australian photographer, blogger & travel addict. I now call the U.S.A home but you can usually find me wandering the globe with a camera in hand ✈ Let's get lost!

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