Don’t get us wrong: we love each and every national park in the register, including the uber-famous and popular ones like Arches and the Grand Canyon.
But every once in a while, you want to experience the great outdoors without quite so much company.
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 2018 — because while numbers aren’t available for 2019 travel trends quite yet (since we’re still in the middle of it!), these statistics can give you a pretty good sense of which parks are less likely to be total zoos.
10. Virgin Islands National Park – 112,287 visitors
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 Carribean 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.
9. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve – 79,450 visitors
Starting at sea level and ranging up past 18,000 feet, there truly is a whole world to explore inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve — but it makes sense that few explorers get that far, since it’s all the way up in Alaska.
If you do go, however, you’ll be sure to get the space you’re craving. This national park is as large as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland… all put together. From exploring glaciers to observing unique wildlife you can’t find anywhere else on Earth, it’s well worth the trek to get there.
8. Dry Tortugas National Park – 56,810 visitors
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!
7. Katmai National Park and Preserve – 37,818 visitors
Yet another Alaskan park — are you sensing a theme, here? Seems as though the long drive to Alaska or crossing open water are both surefire ways to keep the multitudes out of a park.
Along with a vast and unique ecosystem populated by some of the most fascinating wildlife and plants in America, Katmai National Park also preserves almost 9,000 years of human history. An important salmon spawning site, people have been inhabiting these lands for almost as long as we’ve roamed the Earth, making it a truly sacred place to have the privilege to visit.
6. North Cascades National Park – 30,085 visitors
It’s pretty shocking that this park, which is situated just three hours outside of downtown Seattle, makes this list at all — let alone occupying such a high place on it. But it seems as though its neighboring Olympic National Park gets all the glory… which is all the better for you, if you’re seeking space and serenity.
With jagged alpine peaks and more than 300 glaciers, there’s no arguing that the landscape is challenging. But it’s also one of the most scenic you’ll ever get the chance to lay eyes on, and the perfect place to take on a multi-day backcountry hiking trip that’ll get you thoroughly disconnected from city hustle-bustle.
5. National Park of American Samoa – 28,626 visitors
Yet another island destination, this one’s really out there — and by “out there,” we mean out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
National Park of American Samoa is a full 2,500 miles from Hawaii, and 3,500 from Australia. In other words, it is seriously remote… and also seriously beautiful. Home to coral reefs, tropical flora, and fruit bats, it’s a worthy adventure if you can hoof it. But we’ll be honest: that flight ain’t gonna be cheap!
4. Isle Royale National Park – 25,798 visitors
If you find your travels take you to Minnesota or Michigan’s celebrated Upper Peninsula, it’s well worth taking the extra time to make a detour to Isle Royale. A remote island nestled near the center of Lake Superior, this archipelago offers hiking, kayaking, and scuba diving… as well as just plain old beauty and peace and quiet.
3. Kobuk Valley National Park – 14,937 visitors
What landscape can you name that includes migrating caribou, massive sand dunes, and an indigenous history spanning back centuries?
If you’re coming up blank, don’t worry: it’s exactly this unique combination of features that makes Kobuk Valley National Park such a special place. And given its remote location in the Alaskan wilderness, it’s not that surprising that fewer than 15,000 visitors made their way to the site last year… which makes it a perfect spot to consider if you’re after a wilderness retreat with a heaping helping of silence.
2. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve – 14,479 visitors
Home to foraging bears, spawning salmon, and massive volcanic peaks, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is a sight to behold — and not one many eyeballs get the chance to. It’s so remote and wild that there are no roads to get to it; visitors have to find their way in via small plane or watercraft, and then rely on their wayfinding skills and strength once they arrive.
In short, it’s not for a beginning adventurer… but if you’re looking to level up your current backcountry repertoire, a trip to Lake Clark may be exactly what you’re after. Either way, your photos are gonna be downright epic!
1. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve – 9,591 visitors
Yet another too-beautiful-to-believe Alaskan national park, we have to say it’s kind of a shame that Gates of the Arctic was the least-visited park last year. I mean, just look at it.
Of course, given its extremely remote location — hundreds of miles north of even Fairbanks — we understand why most people don’t end up visiting in person. The only way to get there is by bush plane, or, as some particularly brave (and maybe slightly crazy) adventurers opt, hiking from the nearest settlements, which are still tens of miles away. There aren’t even any established trails once you get there, so you’re seriously on your own — so much so that NPS specifies the park is only suitable for very experienced adventurers: “Visitors to the park should be PROFICIENT in outdoor survival skills, and be prepared to care for their own life and their partner(s) if an emergency arises,” the website reads.
Of course, thanks to the wonder of the internet, there are plenty of epic photos to enjoy from the comfort of your home… or your RV, even if you don’t want to drive it all the way to Fairbanks.
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