A seaplane flying over Alaska

Why You Need to Visit The Least Visited National Parks

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If you’re trying to take the road less traveled, you might have been frustrated in 2021! With the new year and RVing season upon us, here are the least visited national parks of 2021 – and why you should be visiting them now!

Thanks to the pandemic and limited international travel, it seems like everyone and their mom were traveling to some of the country’s most famous national parks last year. As a result, places like Yellowstone and Yosemite National Park repeatedly made the news for being overcrowded.

Record crowds like these kill the vibe that many are looking for when traveling to these breathtaking national park sites. Plus, it is not sustainable for the parks. If you’re looking for a little more solitude for your next outdoor adventure, you’re in luck. The United States has 63 national parks – not to mention countless national monuments, preserves, and sites.

So this year, check out one of the least visited national parks in 2021 to avoid the crowds and help preserve our country’s greatest treasures! (For some, you might have to leave the rig at home).

North Cascades – Washington

Snowcapped mountains in North Cascades National Park

Do you dream of trekking around jagged, snow-capped mountains, alpine lakes, glaciers, and pristine forests? Then you should not be sleeping on North Cascades National Park in Washington! A quick google image search will have you wondering how this park possibly made the list of least visited in the country.

The park is known by many hikers and climbers as the American Alps. The epic peaks here attract adrenaline junkies from around the globe with apocalyptic names like Mount Terror and Poltergeist Pinnacle. While some of the hikes and climbs here are better left for the professionals, there are plenty of options for the rest of us as well. And considering it is only three hours from Seattle and has no entrance fee, it’s easy to visit and should be at the top of your list for 2022.

North Cascades has just over 300 glaciers, which is the most you can find anywhere in the continental US. The park is designed to offer solitude and an authentic backcountry experience. There are no campgrounds that you can drive straight to, so all overnight spots are hike-in and hike-out. Group sizes are limited to six, and permits must be attained ahead of time to keep crowding under control. 

Isle Royale – Michigan

A hiking path on Isle Royale

Repeatedly on the list of least visited parks in the US, Isle Royal typically has less than 20,000 visitors per year! Compare that with the millions of visitors that other locations get, and you’ll realize this is the ultimate national park to escape the crowds. 

The low visitor rates are likely because Isle Royale is not the most accessible park in the country. The Great Lakes island is located in Lake Superior, close to the border with Canada. Because of its location, you can only reach it by boat or seaplane. Plus, the jumping-off point is nearly a ten-hour drive north of Detroit. It’s also closed in the winter, thanks to the harsh temperatures.

If you do make the journey to Isle Royale (you might have to leave your RV at home), you will be rewarded with a true primitive wildness experience. While there, you can hike through deep woods, explore the island by water in a kayak or canoe, search for wildlife such as moose, beavers, and otters, or even scuba dive shipwrecks. 

Lake Clark – Alaska

A grizzly bear’s reflection on the water at Lake Clark

If you need even more solitude, make your way over to Alaska. Lake Clark National Park is another little-visited national park due to its location. You will need to go by plane or boat to get here. This park is perfect for those who love backcountry camping, hiking, birding, kayaking, rafting, and fishing. 

The national park combined with the surrounding preserve is enormous at more than four million acres. While you won’t find any roads and only a few trails, there are two active volcanoes, glaciers that have been around since the ice age, the 42-mile-long namesake, Lake Clark, and the Chigmit Mountain Range. 

There are also quite a few ancient remains and sites from the Athabascan people who have lived in the region for thousands of years.

Kobuk Valley – Alaska

A group of caribou swim across the Kobuk River in Kobuk Valley National Park
Caribou crossing the Kobuk River. Photo from the National Park Service

When most people think of Alaska, they don’t think of sand dunes. However, Kobuk Valley National Park is known for the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes – the largest active sand dunes in the arctic.

These dunes were created in the last ice age as glaciers retreated and advanced, riding down the rocks beneath them into sand. Now that the glaciers have retreated consistently, the sand has blown into the Kobuk Valley, where it’s been secured by vegetation and can stand up to 150 feet tall.

One main attraction of Kobuk Valley is the annual caribou migration, where up to half a million animals head to their calving grounds and back each year. There is plenty of other wildlife to be spotted here, such as black and grizzly bears, moose, wolves, and foxes. To get there, be prepared to take a small air taxi and have a hardcore backcountry experience. 

Gates of the Arctic – Alaska

Mountains reflecting on a lake in Gates of the Arctic

These Alaskan national parks keep finding their way onto the list of least visited national parks, and it makes sense. First, it’s quite a trek for most people living in the lower 48 even to get to Alaska, and these parks are so remote you often need a plane to get there. Gates of the Arctic is no exception – you’ll need to grab an air taxi from Fairbanks to reach the park.

Not too far from Kobuk Valley, this national park also protects the habitat of many caribou as well as wolves, bears, wolverines, and foxes. This park is an extremely rugged wilderness destination with no facilities or trails. To visit, you’ll need to bring all your supplies to survive and carry everything out. 

The adventurous souls with backcountry skills can float the rivers or wander in the wild. But there are also options for those with less experience, such as flight-seeing trips or organized overnight camping trips with a guide.

Great Basin – Nevada

An ancient bristlecone pine in Great Basin

We hope you haven’t had enough glaciers yet, because you can see them down in Nevada too! You will be totally in awe at the diversity of landscapes you can find at Great Basin if you decide to visit this less-visited national park. On top of glaciers, you’ll be able to check out alpine lakes, bristlecone pines, and the Lehman caves.

The bristlecone pine trees are some of the oldest living organisms on our planet, with some reaching thousands of years old thanks to their resilience to harsh weather. There are three groves in Great Basin where visitors can enjoy marveling at these ancient trees.

Another main attraction of Great Basin National Park is the marbled Lehman cave system. You can have your mind blown by the ancient stalactites, stalagmites, and over 300 flag formations, something unique to the Lehman caves. 

Dry Tortugas – Florida

Fort Jefferson and the turquoise waters of Dry Tortuga

Dry Tortugas must also be accessed by plane or boat, but rather than being located in the deep Alaskan wilderness, it sits at the tip of the Florida Keys. Made up of seven small islands, the park has a rich history that you can discover while visiting. For example, you can check out Fort Jefferson, once one of the county’s largest forts.

On top of learning about the area’s history, visitors enjoy snorkeling, swimming, or diving in the breathtaking, pristine waters. With abundant coral reefs, a current that brings tons of marine life to the area, and various shipwrecks, it’s a unique and special place to explore underwater in the US.

Once you’ve had enough time underwater, visitors enjoy fishing, paddle sports, and even camping on the islands. With the remote location far away from light pollution, it makes an epic spot for stargazing too.

There Are Plenty of Less Busy Options to Explore

Despite being the least visited national parks in 2022, these national parks offer incredible experiences and adventures to those who make the more difficult trek to visit them. If you do put in the extra effort to visit these spots, you will be completely rewarded with untouched wilderness and absolute solitude. 

With so many lesser-known options out there, there’s no need to head to a crowded national park. If you’re looking for inspiration and insider insights on what other parks you can visit in 2022, check out @nationalparksguide on Instagram.

12 thoughts on “Why You Need to Visit The Least Visited National Parks”

  1. The country has made Idaho a place to pass through on their busy way to another national park. Pity them as this state has the best to offer of all of them. Take time to take a look at thousand springs from the lost river sinks or Teton falls on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, just two examples of hundreds of scenic sites, and no crowd’s.

  2. love to visit, but in a RV, and I would be very reluctant to pull my RV from Texas to Alaska. I would be on the road for a week getting there (if I ever made it) and another week pulling it back. Now let’s go the other way. Off to Florida. Let see, two days to get to Pensacola, make the right turn, another two days down the peninsula, and there you go, another 6 hours getting through the keys to Key West, and bam, leave your RV behind, jump in a boat and go to the Dry Tortugas. Love the idea of visiting less traveled places, but let’s try and keep them inside what would be a reasonable distance for travel, in a RV, pulled by a truck, not driving 3000+ miles to get there. SMH

  3. Just wanted to note there is drive in camping in North Cascades. I stayed at colonial campground last summer and parked right at my spot. There are others as well. It’s a really beautiful park and I loved it!

  4. While interesting, most of these locations aren’t very applicable to those of us who don’t tow a seaplane

  5. I’m not convinced. Since this is a RV site listing National Parks that an RV can’t get to doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  6. Well, I wouldn’t start from Detroit to go to Isle Royal. Maybe Minneapolis Saint Paul or Duluth. You could tell the ferry comes from Houghton or Copper Harbor or Grand Portage.

  7. For the three Alaska nation parks mentioned, yes, you may as well fly to Alaska and leave your RV at home. None of the three have any road access from any town in Alaska. They all require a charted airplane ride from Anchorage, Fairbanks, or perhaps Kenai or Homer for Lake Clark. These are huge parks with not only no road access, but also no Five Star hotels, no Michelin restaurants, no services of any kind. You fly in, get dropped off and hike or boat and camp for the duration of your stay. Not exactly an alternative to Yellowstone or Grand Canyon for 98% of American RVers. I haven’t been to Lake Clark, but have been to the other two. However, I would bet the author of this article has never been to any of them!

  8. Unfortunately most of these sites less travelled are not practical for me. Try again and find some in the lower 48. For example, Capital Reef in Utah or even some of the ones in Texas.

  9. It’s too bad that some previous commenters just need to find something to complain about. These parks look spectacular. Someday, maybe in a scenario I can’t imagine yet, I hope to see some of them.

  10. Bob..You aren’t supposed to tell folks about the North Cascades campgrounds..Although they have sold out to concessionaires who have closed the dump stations..They just want our cash$$$$$

  11. If you are looking for a more RV-friendly trip in the lower 48, try Guadalupe in Texas, Teddy Roosevelt in ND, International Peace Gardens in ND, Congaree in SC, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, Saguaro in AZ – there are lots of options for less populated parks, esp if you travel in the “shoulder” seasons.
    The ones listed above aren’t places you will just scoot off to for the weekend, but they aren’t impossible. The Alaska Highway is beautiful and not nearly as difficult as it once was. Unfortunately these parks are not for everyone, esp some of us no longer into primitive hiking/camping. Voyageurs Boundary Waters in northern MN fits into this difficult category as well.

  12. Our bucket list is to visit all 63 National Parks. Notably,some of them are not accessible with our RV. Visiting our National Parks encourages you to visit some of the most awesome landscapes in the United States. No matter how you get there, GO!!!

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