We all know the magic of national parks, don’t we? But let’s be real, who enjoys competing with a gazillion tourists for that perfect sunrise shot in Yosemite? (Spoiler alert: Not us!)
So, we decided to drop the beaten path and venture into the wild unknown.
And guess what? We discovered the national park version of hidden gems. The least visited national parks that are yet to be plastered all over socials.
And because we’re adventurous souls, we’ve already knocked off two from the list just this year.
Ready to break free from the crowds? Stick with us, and we’ll unveil these under-the-radar beauties.
Who knows? You might even get a bear all to yourself. Just kidding! Or are we?
The Least Visited National Parks
Well, nature nerds, it’s about to get really wild and woefully uncrowded in here.
Ready for the grand reveal of our list of the least stampeded national parks? We’re talking zero lineups for bathroom stalls and no tourist’s elbow in your panoramic shot.
Breathtaking, isn’t it? Let’s dive in.
7. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Alright, let’s paddle our way to Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Don’t be fooled by its French-sounding name; it’s as Minnesotan as lutefisk and hotdish.
Last year, this frosty beauty had 221,434 visitors, probably all certified Eskimos.
It’s so unique that 40% of the park is water, so you better bring your swimsuit and floaties.
Plus, it’s one of the few places in the U.S. where you can see the Northern Lights, so get ready to light up your social feed.
Let’s talk about a to-do list:
- Boating: With all that water, you’d be remiss not to rent a boat and explore this park from a duck’s perspective. Plus, it’s a great way to work on your tan.
- Hike on the Kab-Ash Trail: It’s a challenging 27.9-mile trail, but the scenic views? Totally worth the sweat, tears, and inevitable mosquito bites.
- Aurora Borealis Camping: Set up a tent, get a campfire going, and wait for nature’s light show to start. Just remember, no flash photography; you’ll scare the lights away.
Our Tip: Hop on a boat tour for the day. We spent the day with a private tour company and not only enjoyed a beautiful day out on the water but also got to get off the boat and explore several areas of the park throughout the day.
6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas is a place so grand; it’s like Mother Nature’s own amusement park.
Last year, it pulled in a whopping 219,987 visitors. Now, that’s more people than the number of cowboy hats in a country music video, but not by much!
This gem holds the title for having the highest peak in Texas; talk about a state with a serious height complex.
Oh, and did you know it houses the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef? It’s older than your grandpa’s grandpa’s grandpa.
The menu for fun in Guadalupe:
- Hike Guadalupe Peak: Take a stroll up to the highest point in Texas. The view? It’s better than the top shelf at your local liquor store.
- Visit McKittrick Canyon: Arguably the park’s best feature and less crowded than a vegan butcher’s shop. Be sure to visit in the fall for a color show that would put a box of Crayolas to shame.
- Explore the Frijole Ranch: A slice of history tastier than Grandma’s apple pie. This pioneer ranch house turned museum is a must-see.
5. Congaree National Park, South Carolina
You’ve just stepped into Congaree National Park, South Carolina – where nature’s skyscrapers put man-made ones to shame, and the flying critters might just require their own air traffic control.
This park flaunts the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States.
It also boasts the record for the tallest loblolly pine.
With a humble 204,522 visitors last year, you’re more likely to bump into a tree than another tourist.
Here’s what’s on your to-do list:
- Canoeing on Cedar Creek: This isn’t your average swim in the kiddie pool. Think nature’s gym with a view.
- Hike the Boardwalk Loop: It’s a high-rise walk minus the skyscrapers. Swap the city noise for swamp sounds.
- Join the Fireflies Festival: Who needs strobe lights when you have glow-in-the-dark bugs? Eat your heart out, Coachella.
4. Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Great Basin National Park in Nevada is where you’ll find mountains that have been around longer than your great-great-great-great-grandparents’ love letters. And they’ve got the wisdom to match.
Get lost among the ancient bristlecone pines, some of the oldest survivors on Earth.
Then, squeeze yourself into the Lehman Caves, a marble cave system older than the concept of calendars.
All this serenity was shared with a mere 142,115 visitors last year, so you’re more likely to hear the wind rustling through the pines than a chorus of motor-mouth tourists.
What to do besides staring at the beauty around you:
- Go Stargazing: It’s an IMAX movie where Mother Nature is the director, and the sky is the screen. Remember, you might feel like a tiny, insignificant creature under the vast cosmic expanse—but hey, no pressure.
- Hike to the Bristlecone Pine Grove: Meander through a woodland history lesson with these stoic trees, standing tall for over 5,000 years. They might not say much, but they’ve seen it all.
- Break a sweat in the Lehman Caves: Think navigating your one-bedroom apartment after a night out is tough? Try these ancient marble tunnels on for size.
3. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Who needs civilization when you can have your own private paradise?
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida, floats around in the Gulf of Mexico – a collection of seven petite islands surrounded by the kind of turquoise waters you usually only see on heavily-filtered social posts.
It’s a place where you can hear yourself think, mostly because there’s water, water everywhere, and not a drop of WiFi.
Boasting the largest masonry structure in the Americas, Fort Jefferson, this park is like a massive sandcastle sans the annoying beach crowd.
In fact, only 78,488 visitors ventured here in 2022.
On to the agenda:
- Dive Under: Go snorkeling or diving and play hide-and-seek with an array of exotic fishes—just remember, they’re better swimmers. A great way to visit is to jump on a boat leaving from Key West.
- Tour Fort Jefferson: Take a walk through history and marvel at this architectural feat. No spoilers, but the view from the top—chef’s kiss.
- Bird Watching: You can’t miss the birding here. From frigates to terns, it’s like a feathery soap opera. Just remember to bring your binoculars. And patience. Lots of patience
While this national park isn’t that crowded, one surefire way to have a bit of solitude is to visit Florida’s enticing state parks that are just as beautiful as the national parks.
2. North Cascades National Park, Washington
Welcome to the incredibly underrated North Cascades National Park in Washington.
This place is so off-the-grid, even the marmots have more friends than followers (and they’re not on any social media).
In 2022, this park was visited by a whopping crowd of 30,154.
This park is so exclusive; it’s like the VIP section of nature. Here, you’ll find more glaciers than any other park in the U.S. outside of Alaska.
Plus, it’s not just the cold shoulder you’ll be getting here; this place is known for its 300 species of lichen. Pretty lichen-tastic, huh?
Now let’s talk to-dos:
- Boat Tours: Enjoy stunning views from the comfort of a sturdy vessel. Just remember, if you’re prone to seasickness, the fish are not responsible for your lunch.
- Stargazing: On a clear night, the North Cascades sky transforms into a celestial theater. With no city lights to steal their thunder, the stars really know how to put on a show.
- Hiking the Cascade Pass: This 7-mile round-trip journey is affectionately known as the “StairMaster of Nature.” Be sure to pack your camera because the views are so stunning they could make a mountain goat weep. And remember, the only “refresh” here is the cool, crisp mountain air filling your lungs; there’s no Ctrl+Z in the wild, so watch your step.
Our Tip: While you are in Washington, you can’t miss one of the prettiest national parks in this U.S., Olympic National Park. We recommend staying in Seattle as these parks are both only about 2 hours from the city. Make time for both, you won’t regret it!
1. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Imagine being able to meet a crowd smaller than an elementary school reunion. That’s what we’re talking about here at Isle Royale National Park, Michigan.
In 2022, this park was graced by just 25,454 visitors, or as we like to call them, “mosquito-buffet volunteers.”
Isle Royale boasts the title of being the least visited national park in the lower 48 states. How’s that for a conversation starter?
And did we mention it’s an island? Yeah, that’s right, it’s an island in the middle of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.
Now, for the fun stuff:
- Wildlife Viewing: With a moose population that would make the Scandinavians jealous, it’s a herbivore heaven. Please, moose selfies are not recommended.
- Fishing: Channel your inner old man and the sea. Just don’t be offended if the fish aren’t biting.
- Bird Watching: An ornithologist’s dream. Keep an eye out for the rare Kirtland’s Warbler, which makes its home on the island.
Our Tip: Go for an overnight. We couldn’t coincide the ferry with an overnight, so we just went for the day. While it was amazing to explore the island (and we even saw a moose), the couple hours you get on the island wasn’t nearly enough. We barely got in one hike.
To Finish – Visit These Least Visited National Parks Before They Become Popular
The road less traveled, or in this case, the parks less visited.
Think of these places as the unsung heroes, kind of like the secret menu at your favorite restaurant.
Not only do you get to experience untamed nature in all its glory, but you’ll also have bragging rights at your next social gathering. Plus, you won’t have to elbow your way through throngs of tourists just to catch a glimpse of a squirrel.
So chart a course for these off-the-beaten-path parks. Because in the wild, the WiFi may be weak, but the connection is always strong.
If you are not one for crowds (which we suspect is correct based on you being here for the least visited national parks), consider visiting these cities in the off-season for fewer crowds and better rates.