Great Basin National Park

Love Nature but Despise Crowds? Visit These National Parks

Beauty attracts attention like a powerful magnet, whether a person or place. When that beauty exists in a national park, nature feels much less natural for visitors who dislike crowds. Where can you go if you love nature but hate crowds?

The United States houses 63 national parks. According to National Park Service (NPS) statistics, twenty-seven parks had over one million visitors last year. Of the remaining sites, several sit in Alaska or a United States territory. Removing those parks from the picture reveals the fifteen least-visited national parks in the Lower 48, where you can avoid crowds and enjoy nature’s beauty.

America’s Least-visited National Parks Offer Unparalleled Beauty and Unique Experiences

Why should you visit these parks? Beyond the smaller crowds, each park offers something unique through landscapes, wildlife, or activities. Here is a glimpse of what you can experience at these overlooked parks.

Isle Royale National Park

  • State: Michigan
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 25,454
Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park. Photo credit: NPS

Isle Royale National Park is a cluster of islands between the Michigan and Canada borders where you will not find any cars but a rugged wilderness with lush forests and vast waterways where moose and wolves roam free.

North Cascades National Park

  • State: Washington
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 30,154
one of America's least-visited national parks - North Cascades National Park
Camping near Easy Pass in North Cascades National Park. Photo credit: NPS

Three hours north of Seattle, North Cascades National Park harbors jagged snowy peaks, cascading waterfalls, forested valleys, and over 300 glaciers. The surreal park is often called the “American Alps.” Outside of Alaska, it contains more glaciers than any other park in the United States.

Dry Tortugas National Park

  • State: Florida
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 78,488
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo credit: 12019

Off Florida’s coast in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park features shipwrecks and coral reefs teeming with marine life below the water’s surface, a snorkeling and diving paradise. On land, visitors can enjoy world-class birding and tour an old war fort. 

Great Basin National Park

  • State: Nevada
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 142,115
least-visited national parks: Great Basin National Park
Bristle cone pine tree and night skies in Great Basin National Park. Photo credit: Kelly Carroll

Resting along the eastern Nevada border, Great Basin National Park houses ancient bristlecone pines that have survived for thousands of years, pristine alpine lakes, and limestone caves. It is an International Dark Sky Park, where the Milky Way glitters against a black canvas, a stargazing nirvana.

Congaree National Park

  • State: South Carolina
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 204,522
Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park. Photo credit: NPS / Victoria Stauffenberg

South Carolina’s only national park, Congaree National Park, quietly holds the most extensive intact stretch of old-growth floodplain hardwood forest in the southeastern United States, with an average canopy height exceeding 100 feet. Visitors can explore the park’s peaceful woodlands and biodiversity along paths, boardwalk trails, and waterways.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

  • State: Texas
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 219,987
El Capitan in Guadalupe Mountains NP
El Capitan in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Nestled in the Chihuahuan Desert in west Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park provides extensive hiking trails for those who enjoy a challenge. Paths slice through rocky canyons, over mounds of boulders, and ascend iconic peaks, resulting in breathtaking panoramic views and a deep sense of accomplishment.

Voyageurs National Park

  • State: Minnesota
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 221,434
View of northern lights from Voyageurs National Park
View of the northern lights from Voyageurs National Park. Photo credit: NPS/Dimse

Voyageurs National Park sits in northern Minnesota near the Canadian border, spilling over with natural treasures like island-dotted lakes, rugged ridges, marshy wetlands, gurgling streams, and dense forests. Largely untouched, the area teems with wildlife, including bobcats, moose, beavers, and gray wolves. Many visitors rent a houseboat, allowing them to explore the park’s waterways freely. The park is an excellent spot for stargazing, with the potential for visitors to observe the dreamy northern lights.

Pinnacles National Park

  • State: California
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 275,023
California Condo
California Condor captured on the Pinnacles CondorCam. Photo credit: NPS/Pinnacles National Park

A 3-hour drive south of San Francisco, Pinnacles National Park is renowned for its rocky spires and talus caves. Visitors can explore 30 miles of hiking trails through grasslands and caves, gaining spectacular views of the rocky spires along the journey. Many guests hope to glimpse the endangered California condor, North America’s largest land bird with a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

  • State: Colorado
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 297,257
least-visited national parks in U.S. - Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Photo credit: Joshua J. Cotten

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park delivers a unique geology lesson, displaying craggy spires and some of North America’s oldest rock and steepest cliffs. The Gunnison River continues to carve a canyon, exposing Precambrian-aged rocks nearly 2 billion years old. Scenic drives and hiking trails give visitors spectacular views of the striated canyon walls, showcasing dark volcanic and metamorphic rocks. An International Dark Sky Park, it is an excellent spot for stargazing.

Channel Islands National Park

  • State: California
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 323,245
Island fox in Channel Islands National Park
Island fox in Channel Islands National Park. Photo credit: Tim Noonan/NPS

A set of five islands along Southern California’s coast in the Pacific Ocean, Channel Islands National Park, offers a surreal underwater world, sea caves, and stunning beaches with unique flora and fauna, including island foxes, brown pelicans, bald eagles, sea lions, and harbor seals. Popular activities include boating, paddling, diving, snorkeling, fishing, whale watching, tide pooling, and surfing. The park houses Anacapa Lighthouse, the last permanent lighthouse built on the west coast.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

  • State: New Mexico
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 390,932
Big Room Trail cave decorations
Cave decorations along the Big Room Trail. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

In southeastern New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park houses a massive cavern that quietly hides undetected below the surface. Dripping water and limestone teamed up to create a surreal world of cave formations, demonstrating an exercise in patience and creativity over thousands of years. Visitors gain close views of stalagmites, stalactites, and more along the 1.25-mile Big Room Trail, where the temperature consistently sits at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. From late May through October, guests can watch swarms of bats emerge from the cave’s mouth at dusk in search of food.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

  • State: California
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 446,291
mountain selection in lake at Volcanic National Park, CA
Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo credit: Anna French

Lassen Volcanic National Park is renowned for its volcanoes, steaming fumaroles, bubbling mud pots, crystal-clear mountain lakes, and wildflower-filled meadows. In winter, guests enjoy sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, while popular summer activities include scenic drives, hiking, and biking. Lassen Volcanic National Park is an underrated place for stargazing due to minimal light pollution.

Redwood National and State Parks

  • State: California
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 458,400
Walking through giant redwood logs in Redwood National & State Parks
Walking between giant coastal redwood logs. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Nestled along the coast of northern California, Redwood National & State Parks boast the world’s tallest trees. Visitors can hike along the park’s serene trails underneath the giant coastal redwoods, some towering more than 300 feet. The park offers tide pooling on its beautiful beaches and a unique experience where you can cross a land bridge during low tide to reach a lighthouse.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

  • State: Colorado
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 493,428
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Walking in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. Photo credit: NPS Photo / Mackenzie Reed

Nestled in southern Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve harbors North America’s tallest dunes amongst varied landscapes, including wetlands, grasslands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Visitors can enjoy sand sledding or boarding and, depending on flow conditions in late spring and early summer, floating in a raft in Medano Creek, a seasonal stream. A common theme with the least-visited parks, Great Sand Dunes is also an International Dark Sky Park, perfect for observing stars.

Mesa Verde National Park

  • State: Colorado
  • 2022 Recreation Visits: 499,790
brown rock formation during daytime
Mesa Verde National Park. Photo credit: MARIOLA GROBELSKA

For a place with little name recognition, Mesa Verde National Park holds a lot of distinctions, including:

The park contains over 5,000 known archaeological sites, pit houses, and cliff dwellings, including some of North America’s best-preserved archaeological sites. Visitors can hike its trails and explore the archaeological sites, learning about the history and culture of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived there for more than 700 years.

Escape the Crowds, Not Nature

Although national parks attract visitors, avoiding crowds while enjoying nature is possible. The fifteen least-visited national parks in the Lower 48 deliver beautiful scenery, excellent stargazing opportunities, unique experiences, and wildlife with smaller crowds. Consider planning a trip to one of these parks where nature feels natural.

This article originally appeared on Media Decision.

Featured image credit: NPS

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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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