Post Summary: Find out which are the US’s Least Visited National Parks

I canceled visits to dozen-plus national parks and I avoid my local National Park due to the crowds so I was expecting National Park visitation to down as a whole this year. As I dug into the National Park Service’s 2020 Annual Visitor’s Statistics report I found some interesting things. Overall, 68 million people visited the 63 National Parks. That is a 25% decrease in total park visitors which makes sense given that the country was shutdown for about 3 months. Most parks saw a decrease in visitation. The average decrease is about 32%

There are 3 new additions to this year’s least visited National Park. Unsurprisingly, all three are in Alaska. The most surprising change is that Virgin Islands National Park is out of the top 15 least visited National Parks and saw a 26% (34,000 visitors) increase in visitors. The 15 least visited national parks account for just 1.1% of those 68 million visitors. Here are the best national parks to visit and avoid the crowds.

The least visited parks are a little more difficult to reach and require some extra planning to visit but for those avid national park junkies who make the effort. They are well worth the reward.

All visitation numbers and calculations in this post are from the National Park Service’s 2020 Annual Visitor’s Statistics report. Every year the NPS tracks the total number of visitors each park received and shares the most and least visited of their 423 units. This comprehensive document is released yearly by NPS and provides the visitation statistics for all 423 National Park Service units.

Click here to check out the most visited National Parks.

** This post focus on the least visited parks from the list of 63 that hold National Park title .

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Read the full disclosure policy here

Map of the Least Visited National Parks in 2020

Least Visited National Parks  Placeholder
Least Visited National Parks

Fun Facts about 2020’s least visited National Parks

  • Both of the US territory national parks are among the least visited.
  • Eight of these national parks can only be reached via boat or air place.
  • You need a passport to reach the National Park of American Samoa.

The 15 Least Visited National Parks in 2019

15. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

151,256 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 14 (Up 1 spot)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in western Texas along the New Mexico/Texas border. This mountain desert park is 86,367 acres and home to the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak. Due to its desert and southern location, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is best visited in the fall or springs. The temperatures are cooler and allow for better hiking. Fall brings some of the most amazing fall foliage. Much of Guadalupe Mountains National Park is only accessible via the 80 miles of hiking trails. Hikers will find a range of hikes from short desert hikes to strenuous mountain peaks.

This park saw a slight drop in visitation. This is most likely due to be closed during March and didn’t get the normal spring break visitation.

Best things to do in Guadalupe Mountains National Park:

Hike to the summit of Guadalupe Peak.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201914188,883
201813172,347
Guadalupe Mountains National Park

14. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

120,248 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 10 (Up 4 spots)

Great Basin National Park is like the forgotten western park. Located in central Nevada near the Utah border this remote park is a significant drive from the nearby major cities and is overshadowed by nearby parks. Great Basin National Park is 77,180 acres and is located between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch Mountains.

The park is home to a grove of ancient bristlecone pines. Bristlecone pines have some of the longest lifespans of any living organisms. Some of the trees in the park are estimated to be 5,000 years old. The park is dominated by Wheeler Peak and the southernmost glacier in the United States.

Great Basin National Park is also known for it’s stargazing. Its remote location means it has some of the darkest skies in the United States. Visitors to Great Basin find a park full of different activities from scenic drives to a tour of Lehman Cave to hiking to Wheeler Peak.

Great Basin saw a minor drop in visitation COVID contributed to the visitor drop but it may have other causes. Given the traffic drop from 2018 to 2019.

Best things to do in Great Basin National Park:

Tour Lehman Cave

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201910131,802
201812153,094

13. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

119,306 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 12 (Up 1 spot)

Congaree National Park in central South Carolina gets a bad rap for being a swamp. But this 26,539-acre park isn’t all it seems. Congaree is the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland in the eastern United States. The park is home to some of the tallest trees east of the Rocky Mountains.

As bottomland, the area often experiences flooding and heavy rain leads to 90% of the park is underwater. The park has 25 miles of hiking trails and several areas of elevated pathways that provide access during flooding. Like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Congaree often sees the synchronous fireflies.

Congaree actually came up in least visited ranking despite seeing a drop in visitors. Most the visitation loss was due to the spring closure.

Best things to do in Congaree National Park:

Hike the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201912159,445
201811145,929

12. Kenai Fjords Park, Alaska

115,882 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 16 (Down 4 spots)

Kenai Fjords National Park is a National Park located in the Kenai Peninsula near the town of Seward. This park protects a unique marine ecosystem, coastal region, the massive Harding Icefield. The Harding Icefield is one of the largest ice fields in the United States. The Harding Icefield has spent the last couple of million years carving an amazing collection of fjords. The park is home to a range of Alaskan wildlife and marine life.

Kenai Fjords saw a 68% drop in visitors which pushed it down far enough to be included on this list. This park was hit by the Alaska travel restriction and lack of cruise ship traffic.

Best things to do in Kenai Fjords National Park:

Take a boat tour out to see a glacier

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201916356,601
201817321,596

11. Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska

54,850 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 926 (Down 15 spots)

Denali National Park and Preserve is home to the tallest mountain in North America. The park is located on the road system and is one of the most accessible National Parks in Alaska Park visitors are only allowed to drive the first 15 miles of the park’s 92 mile park road.

Visitors to Denali find a 6 million acre national park and preserve. As big as the park is it only has which only has a 92-mile road. Only the first 15 miles are accessible to private vehicles, the remaining road is only accessible via guided tours and transit buses. While most visitors only take the bus tours, more adventurous visitors will backpack in the remote areas of the park and a select few will attempt to climb Denali the mountain.

Denali’s visitation was devastated by COVID. Denali’s park bus were limited in operations and with no cruise ship traffic, the park saw a 91% drop in visitation and landed from an almost top visited park to a least visited park.

Best things to do in Denali National Park:

Take a bus tour to wonder lake

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201926601,152
201827594,660

10. Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska

51,511 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 9 (Up 1 spots)

Katmai National Park is best known for its population of Alaska Brown Bears. The park is home to about 2,000 bears. Katami is located in southeastern Alaska. Katmai is 3,674,529 acres and the fifth largest National Park in the United States. While Katmai is renowned for its bears, the park is more than just one waterfall and its population of fishing bears. The park is a vast wilderness waiting to be explored.

Most of the park visitors spend a day or two in near Brooks Falls watching the bears but visitors can take a floatplane and explore more of the interior areas of the park. Hikers will often spend several days hiking in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.

Of the Alaska National Parks, Katmai saw one of the smallest visitation reduction. Much of Katmai’s 39% loss of visitors was due to the late opening of the campground and lodge.

Best things to do in Katmai National Park:

Hike to Brooks Falls and see the bears fish for salmon.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019984,167
2018737,818
Get help planning your trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve

9. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

48,543 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 8 (Up 1 spot)

Dry Tortugas National Park is of the southernmost national park in the lower 48 United States. Dry Tortugas is located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. This water-based park is most famous for its Civil War coastal fort. Access to the park is limited to boats and seaplanes.

Most visitors to Dry Torguas arrive via ferry and spend a couple of hours exploring Fort Jefferson and the surrounding island. There are several nearby coral reefs for snorkelers. Several SCUBA dive operators run trips out to Dry Tortugas to dive on its reefs. There are several campsites for campers to spend the night in Dry Tortugas and enjoy the stars in an area with no light pollution.

Dry Tortugas saw a modest 39% reduction in visitation and most of this is due to the ferry reducing capacity.

Best things to do in Dry Tortugas National Park:

Go for a snorkel

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019879,200
2018856,810
Get help planning your trip to Dry Tortugas National Park

8. North Cascades National Park, Washington

30,885 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 9 (Down 2 spot)

North Cascades National Park is located in northern-central Washington near the Canadian border. This 504,780-acre park is part of three units that make up the North Cascades National Park Complex. These three units protect the rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades Range.

The park has one of the most expansive glacier systems in the lower 48. There are over 300 glaciers in the park. The park is a hiker’s dreamland. The park has limited road access but there are many hiking trails and routes to explore.

North Cascades National Park saw its normal visitation. Its a hiker park with remote mountain trails that only attracts diehard hikes.

Best things to do in North Cascades National Park:

Hike to Hidden Lake

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019532,208
2018630,085

7. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska

16,655 Visitors in 2019

Rank in 2019: 7 (No Change)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the United States’ largest National Park at 8,323,146 acres. This park is home to 16 of the country’s tallest mountains and some of the world’s most active volcanoes. About 35% of the park is covered by glaciers.

This is one of the few Alaska National Park that one can drive to but the road system provides very limited access into the park.

Most visitors explore the park via the Nabesna Road and McCarthy Road. Both roads pass through former mining areas and explore the history of mining in Alaska. There are few maintained trails in the park.

Most of the park’s backcountry is accessed via air taxies. Here hikers are welcome to explore where ever they want. Several outfitters offer float trips on the Copper, Nizina, Kennicott and Chitina rivers.

Wrangell – St. Elias saw a 78% drop in visitors. This park was hit by the Alaska travel restriction and lack of cruise ship traffic.

Best things to do in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park:

Tour the Kennicott Mine.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019774,518
2018979,450

6. Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska

11,185 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 2 (Up 4 spots)

Kobuk Valley National Park is one of the most remote National Park and is one of two national parks located north of the Arctic Circle. This park can only be reached via flight or boat. The park is famous for is massive sand dunes and amazing river valley.

Most visitors arrive via air taxies and will hike or float along the parks rivers.

Surprisingly, Kobuk Valley saw the smallest reduction in park visitation of the Alaska National Park. The park only saw a 29% drop in visitors.

Best things to do in Kobuk Valley National Park:

Hike to the summit of the great dune.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019215,766
2018314,937
NPS Photo by Neal Herbert
NPS Photo by Neal Herbert

5. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

6,493 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 4 (Up 1 Spot)

Isle Royale National Park is the most remote National Park in the lower 48. This island National Park is located in the middle of Lake Superior and is only accessible via boa. This park is a hiker and kayaker’s dreamland.

Isle Royale saw a 75% drop in visitation which is due to only two of the three ferries running at reduced capacity.

Best things to do in Isle Roayle National Park:

Hike to along Rock Harbor to Mount Franklin

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019426,410
2018425,798

4. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

5,748 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 31 (Down 27 spots)

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of the most visited National Parks of Alaska. This rugged park is a diverse mix of rainforests, ocean, mountains, glaciers, and glacier fjords. This park has an amazing range of wildlife from grizzly and black bears to orca whales.

Glacier Bay saw the greatest reduction in visitation of any park. It saw a 99% drop in traffic due to the cruise ship ban.

Best things to do in Glacier Bay National Park:

Boat tour to glaicers

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201930627,087
201835597,915
NPS Photo

3. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska

17,157 Visitors in 2019

Rank in 2019: 3 (Down 1 spot)

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The park is made up of three mountain ranges, has a plethora of glaciers and glacial lakes, volcanoes, alpine tundra, and a coastline rainforest. The last volcanic eruption in the park was 2009. The park is home to a large population of Brown Bears.

Lake Clark saw a modest reduction in park visitation 71 % drop in visitors. Most this loss is due to Alaska travel restrictions.

Best things to do in Lake Clark National Park:

Take a floatplane tour

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019217,157
2018314,497

2. National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa

4,819 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2018: 2 (Down 4 spot)

The National Park Of American Samoa is located in the remote territory of American Samoa. It is the only National Park where one needs a passport to visit and south of the Equator. The 13,500-acre park is split between the islands of Ta’u, Tutuila, and Ofu. Visitors to American Samoa will find a national park unlike any other and face some unique challenges. American Samoa can only be reached by flights from the island nation of Samoa or via twice weekly flights from Hawaii.

These flights land on the island of Tutuila which is home to the capitol city of Pago Pago. The Ofu unit can be reached via inter-island flights and Ta’u is only reached by boat charter. There are hotels on the islands but tourism is not a huge industry on the islands.

American Samoa closed its borders to flights for most of 2020 so park visitation was limited to locals living on the island.

Best things to do in American Samoa National Park:

Hike the adventure trail to Mount Alava

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019660,006
2018526,626

1. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska

2,872 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 1 (No change)

Gates of the Arctic National Park is one of the northernmost park and is entirely above the Arctic Circle. This remote national park can only be reached via bush flight.

Gates of the Arctic saw a modest reduction in park visitation 73% drop in visitors. Most this loss is due to Alaska travel restrictions.

Best things to do in Gates of the Arctic National Park:

Spend a couple of days hiking in the park.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019110,518
201819,591
NPS Photo / Sean Tevebaugh
NPS Photo / Sean Tevebaugh
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Jennifer is a long time national park blogger and the founder of National Park Obsessed. She is a dedicated National Park lover who is working on visiting all 62 US National Parks. She has currently been to 53 of the National Parks. She is dedicated to sharing her knowledge of the Parks with others and helping them learn to love the parks as much as she does.

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