As of 2020 there are 62 National Parks located throughout the United States. These parks are as beautiful as they are diverse. They contain lush forests, stunning beaches, imposing mountains, and extraordinary wildlife.
However, not all National Parks receive equal attention. While destinations such as Yellowstone and Yosemite are likely to capture ones imagination, some are simply not on our radar.
With this in mind, we want to highlight these lesser-known National Parks and examine what makes each one unique. Join us as we take a journey to the 10 least visited National Parks in the United States.
10. Virgin Islands National Park (US Virgin Islands)
Starting off our list is Virgin Islands National Park, which saw 112,287 visitors in 2018.
Virgin Islands is both the name of the National Park as well as the unincorporated territory of the United States (near Puerto Rico). The National Park is primarily located on the island of Saint John and it makes up approximately 60% of the total land area on this island. The park also encompasses the majority of Hassel Island, which is located near Saint Thomas.
The most popular activities within Virgin Islands National Park are swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and hiking. The park contains a multitude of pristine Caribbean beaches as well as scenic hiking trails that wind through tropical forests. Some of the most stunning beaches within the park include Cinnamon Bay, Trunk Bay, Maho Bay, and Honeymoon Beach.
With immense beauty around every corner, it's honestly surprising that Virgin Islands National Park is even on this list.
9. Wrangell - St. Elias (Alaska)
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest protected area managed by the National Park Service and is said to be six times larger than Yellowstone National Park. If you're trying to visualize how big that is, let's just say that Yellowstone itself is massive.
Some of the tallest mountains in North America, which include Mount Saint Elias, are found within the Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve. In fact, Mount Saint Elias is actually the fourth highest peak in all of North America with an elevation of 18,000 feet. Aside from mountains, one can also find volcanoes, rivers, and glaciers throughout this expansive protected area.
Overall, this National Park is perfect for anyone who likes to explore vast expanses of nature and find tranquility within the Alaskan wilderness.
8. Dry Tortugas (Florida)
Dry Tortugas National Park features a unique combination of diverse sea life, vibrant coral reefs, and historic artifacts. The main attraction within the park is Fort Jefferson, an unfinished fortress that was built between the years 1846 and 1875. Fort Jefferson is comprised of over 16 million bricks, which makes it the largest brick masonry structure in the entire Western Hemisphere.
The park is located at the westernmost part of the Florida Keys and is only accessible by boat or seaplane. A largely undisturbed ecosystem makes Dry Tortugas an excellent location for snorkeling and scuba diving. Other popular activities include kayaking, birdwatching, camping, and saltwater fishing.
Dry Tortugas National Park may seem isolated in relation to the rest of the Florida Keys. However, the park's isolation and well-preserved condition are what make it truly unique.
7. Katmai (Alaska)
Katmai is a National Park and Preserve located in southern Alaska. The park contains the world's largest protected brown bear population, which makes it a popular destination among wildlife photographers. Additionally, visitors can watch these Alaskan brown bears fish for salmon during certain periods of the year.
Another notable attraction within Katmai is an area called the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. This valley was formed in 1912 during the eruption of Novarupta, which was the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. For context, this volcanic event released 30 times as much magma as the more famous Mount Saint Helens eruption in 1980. For years after the eruption, the valley was filled with thousands of cracks in the Earth's crust. These fissures emitted large amounts of steam and gases, which caused the area to become known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
If you like the idea of visiting a National Park that's filled with volcanoes and brown bears, Katmai may be the perfect destination.
6. North Cascades (Washington)
North Cascades National Park is a protected region that comprises 500,000 acres of the Cascade Mountain Range in northern Washington. The park is extremely rugged and it mostly draws in visitors that are interested in mountaineering or hiking. North Cascades is also said to contain the most diverse flora out of any National Park in the United States.
Perhaps the main attraction of North Cascades National Park is the fact that it's somewhat difficult to enter. For example, anyone wishing to camp inside of the park must enter by means of hiking, horseback riding, or boat. There are a limited number of roads and structures found within the park, which helps to protect the mostly undisturbed wilderness.
With that being said, North Cascades National Park is a fantastic option for anyone who wants to be completely surrounded by lush forests and enormous mountains.
5. American Samoa (American Samoa)
American Samoa is a National Park located within the United States territory of the same name. The park spans three different islands and is the only National Park Service site located south of the Equator. American Samoa is notable for its pristine beaches, tropical rainforests, coral reefs, and Samoan culture.
Interestingly enough, one of the main reasons for the foundation of the park was to protect two species of Fruit Bats called Flying Foxes. These bats play an crucial role in pollinating the territory's various plants, 30% of which are endemic to the American Samoa archipelago.
Overall, the National Park of American Samoa is a lush tropical paradise unlike any other destination in the United States.
Photo by Michael Palko from NPS.gov
4. Isle Royale (Michigan)
Isle Royale is a National Park and UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve located within Michigan's Lake Superior. The park consists of Lake Superior's largest island, also called Isle Royale, as well as over 400 smaller islands.The main attraction of this National Park is the solitude that it offers visitors. Some of the most popular activities within the park include camping, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, boating, and scuba diving.
Isle Royale is the least visited National Park in the continental United States and it's also the only one to close entirely during winter months. This is due to the extreme weather conditions and the safety concerns associated with this winter weather. During summer the park receives visitors from Michigan, Minnesota, and, to a lesser degree, Ontario. Similar to many other National Parks on this list, Isle Royale is difficult to reach and can only be accessed by means of boat or floatplane.
For anyone who can appreciate a remote island and the tranquility associated with it, Isle Royale is certainly an alluring destination.
Photo by NPS Photo from NPS.gov
3. Kobuk Valley (Alaska)
Speaking of National Parks that are difficult to reach, Kobuk Valley is one of the least accessible destinations on this list. This National Park literally has no roads and visitors can only enter the park by way of air taxi. Additionally, there are no designated hiking trails within the park.
Kobuk Valley National Park was established to protect the Kobuk River as well as some of the largest sand dunes found in the Arctic. Every year visitors can watch as half a million Caribou migrate across these sand dunes and swim across the Kobuk River. For thousands of years this migration has been an important event among the native Inupiaq people as they used the migration as an opportunity to hunt Caribou.
If you like the sound of arctic sand dunes and vast Caribou migrations, Kobuk Valley may the perfect National Park for you.
2. Lake Clark (Alaska)
Lake Clark was originally designated as a National Monument in 1978 but then was subsequently upgraded to a National Park and Preserve in 1980. This protected area in southwest Alaska features streams, lakes, volcanoes, and wildlife. In fact, the diversity of wildlife within the park is so extreme that most species of animals found throughout all of Alaska can be found within this specific park.
Similar to Katmai, there's an abundance of Alaskan brown bears that can be seen fishing for sockeye salmon throughout the park. Aside from viewing the wildlife, other common activities within the park include rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, and kayaking.
It's safe to say that Lake Clark is the perfect destination for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts.
1. Gates of the Arctic (Alaska)
We've finally arrived to the least visited National Park in the USA! Unsurprisingly, it's also located in Alaska.
Gates of the Arctic is both the second largest and the northernmost National Park in the United States. The primary purpose of this park is to protect a region of the Brooks Mountain Range in northern Alaska. There are no roads within Gates of the Arctic, nor are there any park service facilities. The main attraction of this park is the pristine nature that has been left largely undisturbed throughout the region's history.
Packed with mountains, rivers, valleys, and wildlife, Gates of the Arctic may be as close to the edge of civilization as one can find in the United States.
Have you visited any of these fascinating National Parks? Let us know in the comments below!
Find These Sites On Our USA National Parks Maps
Our USA National Parks Maps are the perfect tool for tracking your National Park adventures! These unique maps feature all 62 National Parks as well as National Monuments, major cities, historic sites, scenic trails, and much more.
Planning a National Park road trip? Use our handy National Park Checklist to mark off which locations you've visited and which ones are still on your list.