Wherever you live or wish to travel, there’s bound to be a National Park waiting for you nearby. With over sixty options to choose from across the country, these parks are one of the best ways to explore and experience nature in all its forms.
Founded back in 1916, the U.S. National Park Service works diligently to preserve these geographically significant lands throughout the country. While each and every one of the parks deserves attention and offers up unique and inspiring sights and adventures, not all are created equal, however, when it comes to recreational visitors. This is a good thing. The less crowded national parks offer an opportunity to explore at your own pace and may be just what you’re looking for.
Here are 10 of the least visited national parks for you to consider adding to your own bucket list.
1. Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)
Most likely, you’ve already heard about the beautiful waters off the Florida Keys, as well as Key West being the southernmost point in the United States. But how many of you have heard of, much less visited, Dry Tortugas National Park?
The Dry Tortugas, a set of tiny remote islands approximately 70 miles off of Key West, sports a national park unlike any other. With see-through blue waters surrounding the park, you can snorkel or scuba dive the day away. In addition to abundant marine life and protected coral reef, there are also shipwreck dive sites to explore.
If you prefer to stay topside instead, there’s plenty to do as well. Be sure to check out the large number of birds, including boobies, terns, and pelicans.
For a unique historical adventure, explore Fort Jefferson, a 19th century coastal fort, initially built to protect the shipping channels in the area. Later it would become a prison for Civil War deserters and other misdeeds, as well as for civilian prisoners. Learn about the most well-known of them all, Dr. Samuel Mudd, who is claimed to be involved in President Lincoln’s assassination.
You’ll need to schedule a ferry or seaplane to take you to and from the Dry Tortugas National Park. If you desire to spend more than a day there exploring and relaxing, you’ll need to pack your own camping gear. Tent sites surrounding Fort Jefferson are available by reservation.
2. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)
One of the newest parks, Congaree National Park, sits in the central part of the state of South Carolina. Its name derives from the tribe of Native Americans who once lived in the area.
Containing the largest section of an old growth forest remaining in the country today, you’ll be able to see the tallest trees in the country. Also, spend time exploring the banks of the Congaree River as it winds its way from east to west. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of river otters playing there as well.
Other options are to explore groves and swamps by canoe or kayak, or meander along the 3.9km boardwalk and enjoy nature. If you’re up to it, bring your best hiking shoes and explore the 25-mile stretch of hiking trails available within the park also.
3. Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
The Great Lakes have long held the attention and curiosity of the public, yet one of the least visited national parks is located there. Isle Royale National Park, situated on the northern tip of Lake Superior, is only accessible by ferry, boat, or seaplane, which may have something to do with that.
Covered with densely wooded areas and photographic rocky shorelines, the island is ideal for hiking and getting away from the crowds. It contains almost 900 square miles to explore at your own pace.
You can also venture into the depths of the lake and scuba dive on the well-preserved shipwrecks found there. These include a passenger ferry from 1877 and a steam engine freighter from 1898.
Pitch your tent at one of the rustic campsites, or rent one of the rustic cabins on the island.
4. Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)
Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota borders Canada and is an ideal spot for those who enjoy water sports of all kinds. With a variety of waterways to choose from and four lakes within the park’s boundaries, you can take an arranged water tour by boat, kayak, or canoe, or venture out on your own. Don’t forget your fishing gear as well.
The park is also known for its bald-eagle population, so binoculars are a must.
Winter is another great time to visit this Minnesota national park. You can spend your time exploring the frozen landscape and travel along the accessible snowmobile trails.
5. Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)
Although one of the smaller parks in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of the most geologically diverse national parks in the continental United States. Here you can explore your share of not only desert landscapes, but also a unique alpine forest.
Flowing mountain streams, rocky canyons, and thick woodlands provide nature at its best. With over 80 miles of hiking trails available, you’ll never run out of things to see.
The park contains its own ancient history by way of a rare fossilized reef. Once covered by a tropical sea, its marine inhabitants built the reef, which was then buried deep in sediment and mineral salts once the sea water evaporated. Today portions of the fossilized reef are visible and have become a major destination for scientists across the globe.
6. Great Basin National Park (Nevada)
Head to eastern Nevada to see all that Great Basin National Park has to offer.
One of the park’s most unique sites to see is the Wheeler Peak Glacier, the southernmost glacier in the United States. Sitting at the base of Wheeler Peak, the glacier covers approximately two acres. After spending time here, continue on to the summit of Wheeler Peak at 13,064-feet for a dynamic and photographic panoramic view.
Within the park itself, you’ll find conifer forests to explore and a wealth of ancient bristlecone pines to admire. Also, take a guided tour through Lehman Caves and enjoy its unique rock formations.
Stay overnight so you can enjoy spectacular stargazing in one of the darkest night skies across the country. Rangers at the park often lead astronomy programs for visitors as well.
The park contains five campgrounds to choose from, but only one, Lower Lehman Creek, is open year-round.
7. Pinnacles National Park (California)
California has its share of natural beauty, and Pinnacles National Park showcases that beauty yet is mostly unknown. The park sits about 125 miles south of the city of San Francisco and was only added to the national park registry in 2013.
Named for its eroded volcanic mountain peaks, Pinnacles is an ideal location to participate in rock climbing, hiking, and even cave exploration.
It doesn’t disappoint with wildlife either. The area is well known for the various birds of prey that inhabit the park, including the enormous California condors, an endangered species. Another you will most likely see is prairie falcons.
8. North Cascades National Park (Washington)
With over 300 glaciers and hundreds of lakes, North Cascades National Park in Washington provides plenty to see and experience any time of year. Located on the border of British Columbia in Canada, the park is largely considered a vast wilderness area.
Hiking is one of the biggest draws here. You can find advanced hiking trails that run alongside the glaciers as well as less strenuous hikes that take you through the alpine landscape. If you’re looking for more intensity, spend your time here climbing rugged terrain, or backpacking to the Cascade Pass.
Be sure to take along your book of wilderness flora for identifying and enjoying the over 1600 plant species found throughout the park’s old-growth forest.
9. Gates of the Arctic National Park (Alaska)
It’s no wonder the parks in Alaska are among the least visited of all national parks, due to the travel needed to get there. The least visited of these is the Gates of the Arctic National Park, where you’re only way in is by bush plane. If this isn’t reason enough to add this park to your bucket list, take note that this is considered one of the last truly wild places left on the planet.
Sitting within the Arctic Circle, this park covers some 8 million acres, providing ample opportunities for you to explore and get away from it all for a time. If it sounds a little daunting, don’t worry. There are options to take a day trip to the park or go on an overnight camping trip, all arranged by a local company near the park.
You’ll be able to watch as herds of caribou roam about, or be swept away by the views of Brooks Range.
If you want to see additional landscapes in Alaska, check out any of these national parks there as well:
- Kobuk Valley National Park
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
- Katmai National Park and Preserve
10. Virgin Islands National Park
Often forgotten are the territories of the United States, which also boast beautiful national parks. One of these is the Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean, mostly located on the isle of St. John, a water lovers paradise.
You’ll have to fly into St. Thomas, then take a ferry over to the island of St. John. Here you can lounge on the white sandy beaches and snorkel the coral reefs. See even more by submerging yourself. Scuba diving the reefs is one of the most popular pastimes here, with plentiful marine life to see.
The interior of the island is a tropical rainforest and provides several hiking trails to help you explore also. A few of these lead to secluded waters to take a swim in before continuing on.
While there are over sixty national parks to choose from for your next visit, these 10 provide a less crowded experience and plenty of nature and fun. They are definitely worth adding to anyone’s bucket list.