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17 Least-Visited National Parks (Lower 48)

17 Least-Visited National Parks (Lower 48)

There’s no doubt that the United States is home to some of the world’s most famous and breathtaking national parks. From the Grand Canyon to Yosemite, these natural wonders draw millions of visitors each year.

But beyond these well-trodden paths lie a collection of lesser-known, yet equally stunning national parks, which offer an unparalleled opportunity for solitude, adventure, and exploration.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the least-visited national parks in the United States, each offering unique landscapes, ecosystems, and experiences that deserve a spot on your travel bucket list.

17 least visited National Parks in the lower 48:

1. North Cascades National Park, Washington


Annual visitors: Approximately 30,000

Nestled in the northern reaches of Washington State, North Cascades National Park is a rugged and wild expanse of glaciated peaks, lush forests, and pristine alpine lakes.

With over 500,000 acres to explore, this park boasts more than 300 glaciers, making it one of the most glaciated areas in the contiguous United States.

Despite its breathtaking beauty, North Cascades remains one of the least-visited national parks, largely due to its remote location and challenging terrain. However, those willing to venture off the beaten path will be rewarded with unrivaled opportunities for hiking, climbing, and backcountry camping.

Don’t miss: The Cascade Pass Trail offers a moderate, 7-mile round-trip hike, providing stunning views of glaciated peaks and wildflower meadows.

2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan


Annual visitors: Approximately 25,000

Isle Royale National Park is a remote, rugged island located in the heart of Lake Superior, the largest of North America’s Great Lakes. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park’s isolation has helped to preserve its pristine wilderness, which includes dense forests, rugged cliffs, and secluded coves.

With over 165 miles of hiking trails, Isle Royale offers unparalleled opportunities for backpacking and wildlife spotting. Visitors can also explore the island’s crystal-clear waters by kayak or canoe, discovering hidden inlets, and offshore shipwrecks.

Don’t miss: The Greenstone Ridge Trail, a challenging 40-mile trek that traverses the entire length of the island, offering breathtaking views and encounters with the island’s resident moose and wolves.

3. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida


Annual visitors: Approximately 80,000

Located 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is a small cluster of islands surrounded by crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs. The park’s centerpiece is Fort Jefferson, a massive, unfinished 19th-century fortress that once housed prisoners and served as a military outpost.

Despite its relatively small size, Dry Tortugas offers a wealth of experiences for visitors, from snorkeling and diving among the colorful reefs to birdwatching and exploring the history of Fort Jefferson.

The park’s remote location and limited access by ferry or seaplane contribute to its low visitor numbers, making it an ideal destination for those seeking tranquility and unspoiled natural beauty.

Don’t miss: The Windjammer Wreck, a 19th-century shipwreck that now serves as an artificial reef, teeming with marine life and offering a unique underwater experience for divers.

4. Congaree National Park, South Carolina


Annual visitors: Approximately 145,000

A hidden gem in the heart of South Carolina, Congaree National Park protects the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States.

The park’s unique floodplain ecosystem features towering bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, creating an enchanting, primeval landscape.

Visitors to Congaree can explore the park’s 25 miles of hiking trails, or take to the water on a guided canoe or kayak tour. The park also offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching, with over 200 species recorded, as well as a chance to spot other wildlife, such as river otters, deer, and the elusive bobcat.

Don’t miss: The Boardwalk Loop Trail, an accessible, 2.4-mile elevated walkway that winds through the heart of the park’s ancient forest, offering a unique perspective on this remarkable ecosystem.

5. Great Basin National Park, Nevada


Annual visitors: Approximately 131,000

Located in the remote high desert of eastern Nevada, Great Basin National Park is a land of extremes, encompassing everything from towering, 13,000-foot peaks to deep, underground caves.

The park’s diverse landscape supports a wide range of ecosystems, including ancient bristlecone pine forests, alpine tundra, and sagebrush-covered valleys.

Great Basin offers a variety of recreational opportunities, including hiking, stargazing, and exploring the park’s fascinating cave systems. Due to its remote location and relatively low visitation, Great Basin is an ideal destination for those seeking solitude and an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

Don’t miss: Lehman Caves, an intricate network of limestone caverns filled with stunning formations, such as stalactites, stalagmites, and rare shield formations, which can be explored on guided tours.

6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas


Annual visitors: Approximately 200,000

Located in the rugged landscapes of West Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park showcases a diverse range of natural beauty, from the towering peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains to the vast expanses of the Chihuahuan Desert.

The park’s most prominent feature is Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, which stands at 8,749 feet above sea level. Guadalupe Mountains is a lesser-visited national park in the United States, primarily due to its isolated location and limited facilities.

However, those seeking a genuine wilderness experience will be rewarded with miles of hiking trails, opportunities for stargazing, and an abundance of wildlife, including elk, mule deer, and golden eagles.

Visitors to the park can explore its many geological wonders, such as the ancient fossilized reef and the striking limestone cliffs of El Capitan. The park also boasts several well-preserved historic sites, like the Frijole Ranch and the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach route.

Don’t miss: McKittrick Canyon, a hidden gem within the park that offers a vibrant display of fall foliage amid its towering canyon walls. Hikers can follow the trail through the canyon to the historic Pratt Cabin, built in the 1930s, and further on to the breathtaking Grotto and Hunter Line Cabin.

7. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota


Annual visitors: Approximately 240,000

Voyageurs National Park, situated near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota, is a vast expanse of interconnected lakes, dense forests, and rugged landscapes. The park’s unique geography, defined by water, is primarily accessible by boat, offering visitors an immersive wilderness experience.

Boasting over 200 miles of canoe and kayak routes, Voyageurs provides exceptional opportunities for paddling and fishing in its pristine waters, while more than 27 miles of hiking trails wind through the park’s lush forests and rocky terrain.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be delighted by sightings of moose, black bears, and bald eagles.

Don’t miss: The Kabetogama Peninsula, an extraordinary area that offers a mix of challenging hikes, secluded beaches, and incredible vistas, all teeming with the region’s diverse wildlife.

8. Pinnacles National Park, California


Annual visitors: Approximately 200,000

Pinnacles National Park is a striking, otherworldly landscape situated in central California, known for its unique rock formations, remnants of an ancient volcanic field. The park is divided into two distinct sections – the east and west – each boasting its own character and entrance.

With more than 30 miles of hiking trails, Pinnacles offers a diverse range of experiences, from leisurely strolls through wildflower meadows to challenging treks up steep canyon walls.

Visitors can also enjoy rock climbing, birdwatching, and exploring the park’s fascinating talus caves, home to a colony of endangered Townsend’s big-eared bats.

Don’t miss: The High Peaks Trail, an awe-inspiring 8.4-mile loop that takes hikers through the park’s iconic rock spires, providing stunning panoramic views and the chance to spot California condors soaring overhead.

9. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota


Annual visitors: Approximately 750,000

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, nestled in the rugged badlands of western North Dakota, is a testament to the conservation legacy of its namesake, the 26th president of the United States.

The park’s striking landscapes encompass vast prairies, rugged cliffs, and striking geological formations, providing a haven for diverse wildlife.

With more than 100 miles of hiking trails, Theodore Roosevelt National Park invites visitors to explore its breathtaking vistas and abundant flora and fauna. Scenic drives, mountain biking, and horseback riding are other popular ways to experience the park’s beauty.

Wildlife enthusiasts can spot bison, elk, prairie dogs, and even wild horses roaming the park’s vast expanses.

Don’t miss: The Painted Canyon Trail, a moderately challenging 1.1-mile hike that leads visitors through vibrant, multicolored badlands, offering incredible views of the park’s unique geological features and opportunities to spot native wildlife.

10. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado


Annual visitors: Approximately 430,000

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, situated in western Colorado, is renowned for its awe-inspiring, steep-walled canyon carved by the Gunnison River.

The park’s dramatic topography, which includes sheer cliffs, narrow spires, and rugged outcrops, provides a stunning backdrop for a variety of outdoor activities.

Featuring more than 40 miles of hiking trails, the park caters to adventurers of all skill levels, from gentle riverside walks to strenuous treks along the canyon rim. Visitors can also experience the park’s breathtaking vistas through rock climbing, fishing, and scenic drives.

Don’t miss: The Warner Route, a challenging 1.8-mile round-trip hike that descends 1,800 feet into the depths of the canyon, offering spectacular views of the Gunnison River, the Painted Wall, and the surrounding cliffs.

This trail is not for the faint-hearted but rewards those who dare with an unforgettable experience.

11. Big Bend National Park, Texas


Annual visitors: Approximately 500,000

Big Bend National Park, located in the remote and rugged region of West Texas, encompasses a vast and diverse landscape that includes the Chihuahuan Desert, the Chisos Mountains, and a scenic stretch of the Rio Grande River.

The park’s isolation and expansive terrain have preserved its pristine wilderness, which features dramatic canyons, colorful mesas, and a rich array of flora and fauna.

With over 150 miles of hiking trails, Big Bend offers a wide range of opportunities for backpacking, wildlife spotting, and stargazing under some of the darkest skies in North America.

Visitors can also explore the park’s picturesque river canyons by kayak or canoe, and enjoy scenic drives through its striking landscapes.

Don’t miss: The South Rim Trail, a challenging 12 to 14.5-mile loop that takes hikers through the rugged high country of the Chisos Mountains, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding desert, mountains, and river canyons.

12. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado


Annual visitors: Approximately 530,000

Great Sand Dunes National Park, situated in southern Colorado, is home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, rising up to 750 feet above the surrounding landscape.

The park’s unique natural features include not only the expansive dune field but also alpine tundra, wetlands, and forests, creating a diverse ecosystem that supports an array of wildlife.

With over 30 miles of hiking trails, Great Sand Dunes offers a variety of opportunities for exploration, from challenging treks through the dunes to leisurely strolls along Medano Creek.

Visitors can also enjoy sandboarding, sand sledding, and horseback riding, as well as exploring the park’s diverse habitats and stunning vistas.

Don’t miss: The High Dune Trail, a moderately difficult 2.5-mile round-trip hike that takes visitors to the summit of one of the park’s tallest dunes, offering panoramic views of the dune field, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the San Luis Valley.

13. Kings Canyon National Park, California


Annual visitors: Approximately 700,000

Kings Canyon National Park, nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, is renowned for its deep, glacier-carved valleys, towering granite cliffs, and ancient sequoia groves.

The park’s remote location and diverse terrain have helped preserve its pristine wilderness, which includes alpine meadows, roaring rivers, and abundant wildlife.

With over 800 miles of hiking trails, Kings Canyon offers a wide range of opportunities for backpacking, wildlife spotting, and exploring its dramatic landscapes.

Visitors can also take scenic drives through the park, marvel at the towering sequoias in the Grant Grove, and gaze at the stars under the park’s exceptionally dark skies.

Don’t miss: The Rae Lakes Loop, a challenging 41.4-mile backpacking trip that takes hikers through some of the park’s most stunning scenery, including glacier-carved valleys, alpine lakes, and breathtaking vistas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

14. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California


Annual visitors: Approximately 500,000

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a geothermal wonderland located in the northeastern corner of California. The park is home to Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range.

Its remote location and unique geological features have helped preserve the park’s pristine wilderness, which includes lush forests, crystal-clear lakes, and a variety of hydrothermal features.

With over 150 miles of hiking trails, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a wide range of opportunities for backpacking, wildlife spotting, and exploring its diverse landscapes.

Visitors can also enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter months or take a scenic drive through the park to witness the striking contrast between its volcanic and forested areas.

Don’t miss: The Bumpass Hell Trail, a 3-mile round-trip hike that leads to the park’s largest hydrothermal area, showcasing boiling mud pots, hissing steam vents, and vibrant-colored pools, offering a glimpse into the park’s fascinating geothermal activity.

15. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky


Annual visitors: Approximately 550,000

Mammoth Cave National Park, located in central Kentucky, is home to the world’s longest known cave system, with over 400 miles of explored passageways.

The park’s unique subterranean landscape has helped to preserve its intricate labyrinth of underground chambers, vast caverns, and stunning geological formations.

In addition to guided cave tours, the park offers more than 80 miles of hiking trails above ground, providing opportunities for wildlife spotting, bird watching, and exploring the park’s diverse ecosystems, which include dense forests, river valleys, and rolling hills.

Don’t miss: The Frozen Niagara Tour, a 1.25-hour guided excursion that showcases one of the most visually striking sections of Mammoth Cave, featuring an array of delicate cave formations, including stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone draperies, reminiscent of a frozen waterfall.

16. White Sands National Park, New Mexico


Annual visitors: Approximately 600,000

White Sands National Park, located in the Tularosa Basin, is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune field, covering 275 square miles of stunning white desert landscape.

This unique park offers visitors a surreal, otherworldly experience as they traverse the sparkling white sands that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Visitors can explore the park’s five established trails, which range in difficulty and provide opportunities for hiking, sand sledding, and wildlife viewing. The park also offers a scenic drive, the Dunes Drive, which takes visitors on a 16-mile round trip journey through the heart of the dune field.

Don’t miss: The Interdune Boardwalk, a 0.4-mile elevated walkway that provides an accessible route through the dunes, offering interpretive exhibits and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Additionally, be sure to catch a sunset or sunrise at White Sands, when the changing light casts a mesmerizing glow across the dunes.

17. Badlands National Park, South Dakota


Annual visitors: Approximately 1,000,000

Badlands National Park, located in southwestern South Dakota, is a striking landscape of eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires, which has been carved over millions of years by the forces of water and wind.

The park’s unique geology reveals a fascinating history of ancient ecosystems, including rich fossil beds that provide a glimpse into the prehistoric world.

With over 30 miles of hiking trails, Badlands offers a range of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, from easy walks to challenging treks, all while providing stunning views of the park’s colorful geological formations.

Wildlife spotting is also popular, with the chance to see bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets.

Don’t miss: The Notch Trail, a moderate 1.5-mile round-trip hike that takes visitors through a dramatic landscape of canyons, cliffs, and ladders, culminating in a stunning viewpoint overlooking the White River Valley and the park’s iconic formations.

Tips for Avoiding Crowds at National Parks

The best tip for avoiding crowds at national parks is to avoid national parks altogether. The United States has over 640 million acres of public lands to explore, which include national forests, state parks, and much more.

However, if those national parks are on your bucket list and you can’t miss out, here are a few tips for helping you experience some solitude while you’re there.

Visit during off-peak seasons:

Most national parks experience a surge in visitors during popular vacation times, such as summer and holidays. Plan your trip during the shoulder seasons, like spring and fall, when crowds are generally thinner, and you can enjoy a more peaceful experience.

Arrive early or stay late:

Many visitors tend to arrive at national parks during the late morning and afternoon. To avoid crowds, aim to arrive early in the morning or plan to stay until late afternoon or evening.

Not only will you encounter fewer people, but you’ll also have better opportunities for wildlife sightings and enjoy spectacular sunrises or sunsets.

Explore lesser-known trails and attractions:

National parks often have popular trails and viewpoints that draw the majority of visitors. Do some research and find lesser-known trails or areas within the park that are off the beaten path. These locations will typically be less crowded and offer unique perspectives of the park.

Utilize park shuttles and public transportation:

Many national parks offer shuttle services or public transportation options to help manage traffic and reduce congestion. Utilizing these services can help you avoid the stress of finding parking, and you may discover new areas of the park that are less crowded.

Be flexible with your itinerary:

Having a flexible itinerary can help you avoid crowds by adjusting your plans based on real-time conditions. If a particular area or trail is crowded, be prepared to explore an alternative location within the park.

Keep an eye on the park’s social media accounts or website for updates on crowd levels, and use that information to plan your day accordingly.

My Top 2 National Park Picks for Little to No Crowds

My top choices out of this list of the least-visited national parks in the Lower 48 would have to be North Cascades National Park for its stunning views and world-class hiking.

Growing up by Glacier National Park, I love mountain vistas and North Cascades National Park offers a similar backdrop without hordes of people.

My second choice would be White Sands for an entirely different reason. While there are hiking trails, the main reason to visit is for the unique landscape–the only one like it in the world. If you want a truly one-of-a-kind park, this is the place.

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