lake and mountain views in North Cascades National Park
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Enjoy Natural Wonders Without the Crowds! Here Are the Least Visited National Parks in the Lower 48

When I first saw Carlsbad Caverns as a teenager, I fell in love with national parks. To this day, my heart swells with joy whenever I visit one. Admittedly, I get uncomfortable in crowded areas, and unfortunately, many national parks draw swarms of visitors. So, where can you go?

Thankfully, the National Park Service (NPS) provides annual visitation statistics so we can blaze our path. Let’s explore the least visited national parks in the Lower 48 so you can enjoy nature but skip the crowds.

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park. Photo credit: NPS

If you enjoy solitude in nature, Isle Royale National Park is your place. It is the least visited national park in the Lower 48, drawing fewer than 30,000 visitors annually. The park, a cluster of islands on Lake Superior between Michigan and Canada, harbors moose and wolves within its lush forests and vast waterways.

It is essential to note the park is only accessible by boat or seaplane and is open only from mid-April through October. If you want the park to yourself (well, almost), visit in late April or October.

North Cascades National Park

America's least visited national parks - North Cascades
North Cascades National Park. Photo credit: billperry via Deposit Photos

A three-hour drive north of Seattle, Washington, the “American Alps” park showcases jagged snowy peaks, forested valleys, cascading waterfalls, and over 300 magical glaciers. This park has more glaciers than any other United States park outside Alaska. Last year, the snowy paradise saw just over 40,000 guests.

Although open year-round, North Cascades National Park provides operational services from late May through September. If you are okay with the lack of operational services, October through April delivers the most solitude. For those who prefer more amenities and activities, June is the least busy month during the primary travel season.

Dry Tortugas National Park

least visited national parks - Dry Tortugas
Aerial view of Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo credit NationalParked via Deposit Photos

Nestled along Florida’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park sees approximately 80,000 guests a year. Park highlights include coral reefs teeming with marine life, shipwrecks, an old war fort, and world-class birding.

It is essential to note the park is only accessible by seaplane, ferry, or private boat. Travelers regularly book these transportation services months in advance. With some planning, you can enjoy a unique national park experience. Crowd levels remain consistent throughout the year. However, the park had the fewest visitors in October for the past two years.

Great Basin National Park

least-visited national parks: Great Basin National Park
Bristle cone pine tree and night skies in Great Basin National Park. Photo credit: Kelly Carroll

Eastern Nevada’s Great Basin National Park receives over 140,000 visitors annually. The International Dark Sky Park offers ancient bristlecone pines that have survived for thousands of years, limestone caves, pristine alpine lakes, and excellent stargazing.

While the park is open year-round, its visitor center closes from December through February. Winters are cold but an excellent time to explore the park on skis or snowshoes, with hardly a person in sight. While more manageable than most parks, summer is the busiest season. If your schedule allows it, you will regularly see a dip in attendance in May and October.

Voyageurs National Park

least visited national parks - Voyageurs
Sunset at Voyageurs National Park. Photo credit: kvddesign via Deposit Photos

Approximately 221,000 guests visit Voyageurs National Park, located along the Canadian border in northern Minnesota. The park has natural treasures like island-dotted lakes, marshy wetlands, rugged ridges, gurgling streams, and dense forests. Bobcats, moose, beavers, and gray wolves inhabit the primarily untouched wilderness. Although more incentives are unnecessary, Voyageurs National Park is an excellent spot for stargazing, with the potential to see the dreamy northern lights. 

The busiest season is from mid-May through September, when many visitors freely explore the park’s waterways on a rented houseboat. If you want the houseboat experience, visit in May or September with slightly reduced crowds. Very few travelers visit in the off-season, for those who can handle colder weather and fewer amenities.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Devil's Hall in Guadalupe Mountains NP
Devil’s Hall in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

The Chihuahuan Desert in west Texas houses the often-overlooked Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which fewer than 230,000 people visit annually. Although rarely mentioned, the park offers many rewarding hikes and breathtaking panoramic views. One of my all-time favorite national park hikes is Devil’s Hall, which challenges you with bouldering and ascending a natural staircase before you find yourself wedged between two narrow, towering canyon walls. 

Contrary to many parks, summer is the least busy season. With a desert ecosystem, the temperature can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit anytime from May through October. The other seasons see fewer guests than your typical park. We visited in March, one of the busiest months, and only encountered a few people.

It is essential to note that the park is renowned for gusty winds year-round. During our visit, we experienced 40-mile-per-hour winds with 60-mile-per-hour gusts. Did I mention the hikes are challenging?

Congaree National Park

Miles with McConkey at Congaree National Park
Walking Boardwalk Loop Trail. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Old-growth floodplain hardwood forests are rare. Congaree National Park in central South Carolina has the most significant intact stretch in the southeastern United States. Although the park set a record in 2023 with over 250,000 guests, visitors are rare compared to most parks. The park has a fantastic, accessible boardwalk trail that takes you into the floodplain, where you fully realize the forest canopy exceeds 100 feet.

Crowds are relatively steady throughout the year but drop a bit in summer when the heat and humidity bring swarms of mosquitoes. If you genuinely want solitude, winter regularly has the lowest crowds. We visited in February and saw only several people, a few with a furry companion. Spring and fall crowds are manageable, and each season delivers a more colorful landscape.

Channel Islands National Park

Island fox in Channel Islands National Park
Island fox in Channel Islands National Park. Photo credit: Tim Noonan/NPS

The Channel Islands National Park, which has five islands dotting Southern California’s coast in the Pacific Ocean, has a surreal underwater world, sea caves, and stunning beaches with unique flora and fauna, such as island foxes, brown pelicans, bald eagles, sea lions, and harbor seals. About 325,000 people visit the park yearly, participating in boating, paddling, snorkeling, surfing, tide pooling, birding, and whale watching.

Please note that you can only access the islands by boat. Island Packers Cruises is the park’s official boat concessionaire. Due to limited boat capacity, advance planning is critical. Channel Islands National Park’s most busy season is summer, and its least busy season is winter. Thankfully, Island Packers Cruises offers boat rides year-round.

Pinnacles National Park

least visited national parks - Pinnacles
Pinnacles National Park. Photo credit: kinolebid via Deposit Photos

Known for its talus caves and rocky spires, Pinnacles National Park is a 3-hour drive south of San Francisco. The park offers 30 miles of hiking trails through caves and grasslands, culminating in breathtaking views of its namesake pinnacles. It is also home to North America’s largest land bird, the endangered California condor.

Last year, the park welcomed over 341,000 guests. Crowd levels rise in spring and early summer. Visitation numbers drop slightly as average temperatures hover in the nineties in August and September. Although the park receives a relatively low number of guests, a line of cars tends to build by late morning. Whenever you visit, I suggest arriving early.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

A tourist looks down into the canyon at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo credit: kamchatka via Deposit Photos

Home to some of North America’s oldest rock and steepest cliffs, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park feels like a geology lesson amidst striated canyon walls and craggy spires. The Colorado park’s coursing namesake river continues to carve a canyon, exposing Precambrian-aged rocks nearly 2 billion years old. Popular activities include scenic drives, hiking, and stargazing.

While over 357,000 people went to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park last year, it is still one of America’s least visited national parks in the Lower 48. Park roads are fully open from mid-April to mid-November, the busy season. Fewer people go in the off-season. You can explore the park during this time by cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. I suggest going early in the morning if you prefer to experience the park by a scenic drive during the prime travel season.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns NP
The Big Room. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

The place that started my passion for national parks is in southeastern New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National Park lies deep below the surface, protecting a magical world of stalactites and stalagmites. Just thinking about hiking the Big Room Trail gives me chills.

The park typically gets over 390,000 visitors a year. You can visit anytime since the cavern is consistently 56 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. However, you can only see bats emerge from the cave each evening from late May through October. During that stretch, August and September are the least crowded months.

Redwood National and State Parks

Walking through giant redwood logs in Redwood National & State Parks
Walking between giant coastal redwood logs. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

I highly recommend visiting Redwood National & State Parks in Northern California, where you can see the world’s tallest trees. Your neck may be sore from staring toward the sky all day, but the coastal redwoods delight you with their majestic beauty and size. Plus, I have never experienced a forest so quiet. If you seek peace and tranquility, this is your place.

The park regularly receives over 400,000 travelers annually. October through May sees fewer guests, but rain is likely during this time. How do you think the trees got so tall?

Enjoy Nature Without the Crowds

Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA
Battery Point Lighthouse along the edge of Redwood National and State Parks. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Despite low visitation numbers, these twelve parks are not a carton of rotten eggs. They are more like golden eggs waiting for you to discover them. 

I like a little breathing room and quiet time to savor the view. If you are like me, plan a trip to one of the least visited national parks in the Lower 48. It will be our secret!

Featured image credit: kamchatka via Deposit Photos

Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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