With a total of 419 national parks across the United States, many of them popular destinations for locals and tourists alike, it is no surprise that some national parks tend to be overlooked.
These parks offer densely forested landscapes and magnificent, untamed wildlife to any explorer brave enough to seek them out. Picturesque canyons carved into ancient rock while streams pierce through dense foliage make these secluded parks one of America’s best-kept secrets.
Here we highlight nineteen national parks that often go overlooked but still offer spectacular landscapes, fascinating history, and lots of outdoor activities.
1. Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Park is an intriguing and pristine expanse of nature tucked away in Alaska’s northern Arctic region, making it one of the least visited national parks in the United States. Established in 1980, this park covers an incredible 8.4 million acres and remains one of the few large tracts of land left that remain untouched by human hands.
With its endless rolling hills, majestic mountains, wild rivers, expansive tundras and thousands of lakes, Gates of the Arctic National Park truly constitutes a grand spectacle for any visitor fortunate enough to explore it.
2. National Park of American Samoa
Many travelers may not have even heard of the National Park of American Samoa, located in the beautiful South Pacific. Despite its stunning setting and natural attractions, this national park is typically overlooked as a destination for nature enthusiasts.
This lack of attention to American Samoa’s glossy beaches and undisturbed rainforests might be due to its remote location. From being surrounded by jungles inhabited by flying foxes and harboring sea turtles nesting on its shorelines there’s no doubt that paying a visit to this often forgotten national park is sure to be an unforgettable adventure.
3. Kobuk Valley National Park
Kobuk Valley National Park is located deep in the remote north of Alaska. Home to the Richardson Highway, rolling sand dunes, and caribou herds migrating across them every year, Kobuk Valley National Park offers breathtakingly diverse and stark landscapes that astound every visitor.
During the summer months from mid-May to late September, visitors can explore by foot, canoe or kayak along the winding rivers and valleys of this park while watching for grizzlies, lynxes and caribou.
In the winter months, cross country skiing and snowmobiling are popular activities and a chance to observe different species such as wolves who hunt together in family packs. Whether it’s a relaxing fishing vacation or an exhilarating adventure hike with sled dogs that you seek, Kobuk Valley National Park is an unforgettable natural experience with something for everyone.
4. North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited national parks, making it a special and serene experience for any adventurer. It’s located just over two hours north of Seattle and is an outdoor trekker’s paradise.
Here you can take in sweeping views of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, pristine alpine lakes, and old-growth forests. There are over 300 glaciers within the park’s borders too! For those looking to do some climbing, challenges range from manageable hikes to groundbreaking climbs. Activities vary seasonally here – many overlooks are accessible in the summer months while the winter brings opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing.
What’s more, there is plenty of wildlife to explore including bears, wolves, deer, and other native American species.
5. Lake Clark National Park
With a small fraction of the visitors that some of the more well-known National Parks receive, Lake Clark National Park in Alaska is one of America’s least visited.
The park features interesting landmarks such as Mt. Iliamna, where two volcanoes converge; Lake Clark itself, an expansive lake formed thousands of years ago by retreating glaciers that was once home to Alutiiq communities for centuries prior; Kontrashibuna Glacier – one of the most active glaciers in the region and Redoubt Mountain, characterized by its striking reddish hue from iron oxide deposits left behind from past eruptions.
If you are looking to explore this hidden gem further, you can go rafting or kayaking down the Newhalen River or Chilikadrotna River or take a flight tour located right outside the park’s boundaries near Iliamna Airport which can take you over grizzly bears mining for salmon or soaring between sheer cliffs that drop off almost 5500 feet into drainage valleys below.
6. Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska is an impressive but seldom visited place, making it the least visited national park in the United States. Home to incredible land and seascapes, it offers some of the most breathtaking nature views in the world.
The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes remains hugely popular, boasting a showcase of volcanic activity that dates back thousands of years; its landscape dotted with multicolored ash and steam fumaroles. Visitors can also take in the abundant wildlife that inhabits the area, including brown and black bears, whales, bald eagles and Arctic terns.
Fishing is one of Katmai’s biggest attractions, bringing keen anglers to the park year-round; renowned for its King Salmon runs that can grow to extraordinary sizes – sometimes reaching up to 80lbs!
7. Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is a delightful group of islands located in the heart of Lake Superior. Unlike other national parks in America, it does not receive many visitors due to its remote location.
This hidden paradise provides a unique wilderness experience for those brave enough to explore it. With over 152 islands, it promises unspoiled natural grandeur from rich forests and over 420 miles of shoreline; to rocky cliffs and isolated bays. The island is home to moose, wolves, and hundreds of smaller mammals as well as various birds.
Opportunities abound for boating, camping, hiking, canoeing and fishing. Isle Royale continues to be one of the least visited yet most exquisite national parks in all of America.
8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is truly a hidden gem in the US National Parks system. Situated in extreme south central Alaska, the park encompasses a staggering size of nearly 13 million acres that are known to be largely untouched by humans.
It is home to some of the nation’s highest peaks with several exceeding 16,000 feet, plus seven major glaciers and more than 100 other dominant glaciers. Among its iconic wildlife species, you can find both brown and black bear, bald eagles, wolves, mountain goats and moose.
Visitors can explore the land by going on guided hikes along mountaintops or take a rafting river trip through a remote mountain range for some stunning views of cerulean waters surrounded by evergreen trees, cascading waterfalls and snow-capped mountains all seen from below.
9. Dry Tortugas National Park
Located just 70 nautical miles off the coast of Key West in Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is an incredible adventure destination for travelers looking for something new and exciting. With its far-off location, equidistant from both Florida and Cuba, you will feel like you’re stepping into a distant world and taking a peek into the past.
The national park gets its name from the abundance of sea turtles that can be found near the small islands that make up the park, but it is also home to fascinating historic sites. Fort Jefferson is one of the highlights at Dry Tortugas National Park which dates back to 1846, when it was built as an outpost to protect shipping lanes.
Other interesting attractions include crystal clear waters ideal for snorkeling, bird watching as more than 80 species of tropical birds call this area home, and roaming around miles of untouched coral reefs.
10. Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is an incredibly underrated national park located in Alaska that is home to an array of untouched wilderness. Spanning over 3.3 million acres of unrivaled beauty, Glacier Bay National Park offers visitors the opportunity to explore awe-inspiring glaciers and embark on once-in-a-lifetime outdoor adventures.
Getting here can involve seaplanes, boats, or small aircrafts, but if you are willing to go the extra length Glacier Bay offers stunning views and extraordinary wildlife experiences that other parks may not have.
Boasting plentiful wildlife such as humpback whales, harbor seals, sea lions, otters, bald eagles, and many other species, visiting the park will make you feel like you`ve stepped into another world.
11. Great Basin National Park
At Great Basin National Park, nature enthusiasts are rewarded with extraordinary sights and experiences. Located in eastern Nevada and hugging the border of Utah, this park is filled with captivating gems such as 13,063-foot high Wheeler Peak and ancient bristlecone pines.
The star-filled night skies here will have you mesmerized for hours, as the darkness provides a clear path for the stars to shine. With its many hiking trails, cave tours, and stunning Lehman cave formations; your time spent exploring this least visited national park will be time well spent.
Wild horses gallop over the mountain meadows in search of plentiful spring water; creating a perfect backdrop for all visitors to relax, take a breath from their hectic lives and appreciate nature’s wonders.
12. Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park is an incredible and often overlooked park located in central South Carolina. With a 26,200-acre area of mostly primeval forest, the park is home to some of America’s tallest trees as well as copious species of amphibians and bird life.
The ancient bald cypress trees that rise from the Congaree River thrive within the three habitats found in the park – one of the eastern USA’s few remaining old-growth swamp forests, bottomland hardwood forests, and floodplains.
Despite its beauty, this park remains off-the-radar to many nature lovers. Even so, those who visit Congaree National Park can expect a great outdoor experience with plenty of outdoor activities including hiking trails and canoeing on Cedar Creek as well as birdwatching opportunities. With its picturesque scenery, this park is well worth visiting for admirers of nature at its best.
13. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is a pristine Alaskan gem located in Denali Borough, Alaska. It spans an impressive six million acres and includes the highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley (now called Denali).
The park was established to protect its unique environment, untainted by human interference. Despite its sparkling beauty and accessibility to the public, Denali National Park is one of the least visited national parks in America.
It is free to enter, yet it only sees a fraction of guests compared to other parks throughout the country. Some speculators say it has something to do with the lack of amenities like hotels or dining options; while others suggest it’s simply because most people don’t know about it!
14. Voyageurs National Park
Nestled within the heart of Northern Minnesota in the United States, Voyageurs National Park is an unbelievable destination for outdoor adventurers. Spanning over 218,000 acres of lakes, forests, and islands, it’s a wonderland unlike any other.
An amalgam of thick evergreens, spectacular waterways and craggy cliffs forms the serene backdrop at this remote site. Although somewhat ignored by many tourists due to its unique location and isolated environment, Voyageurs National Park still promises something enriching and special to those who venture there.
The park’s abundant sights make it perfect for paddling through its tranquil waters, or exploring its rich ecosystems which are home to an amazing array of wildlife. It’s also a great place for camping with rustic cabins situated on many of the island sites.
15. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Situated in the northwest corner of Texas, the rugged Guadalupe Mountains National Park is known for its stunning desert vistas and limestone canyons. It makes for an unforgettable experience, yet this majestic park is part of an unfortunate trend: it’s one of the least visited national parks in America.
In a state often defined by cities like Austin and Dallas, Guadalupe Mountains are an entirely different kind of Texas landscape entirely – one that allows visitors to enter a world full of mountains, canyons, and other geological wonders shaped over millennia by wind and water.
Hiking trails across the region offer breathtaking views – from El Capitan Peak and Salt Basin Dune to McKittrick Canyon’s spectacular autumn foliage – while camping beneath one of the night skies makes for unforgettable stargazing.
16. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park truly lives up to its name. Located in western Colorado, this national park is a canyon carved out by the Gunnison River at depths of more than 2,000 feet.
In addition to the steeply-sided rock walls, visitors can also explore two otherworldly mesas – Painted and Gunnison – made up of millions of years of sedimentary and volcanic rocks.
Visitors will also find plenty of opportunities for boating and fishing on either side of the river along with full campgrounds and lodges should they choose to extend their stay. Considering Black Canyon’s remote location and lack of signposting compared to more popular national parks, it’s no wonder that fewer people have heard about this special place making it one of America’s least visited yet unconventional national parks destinations.
17. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is located just off the coast of California in the Pacific Ocean, and while it is one of many national parks, it’s certainly not among the most popular.
Sitting atop an underwater mountain range, there are five islands that make up the park which visitors can easily access via boat from nearby Ventura or Santa Barbara harbors. Once in the park, visitors can experience a variety of activities like hiking, kayaking, camping, scuba diving and wildlife observation.
When it comes to wildlife viewing at Channel Islands National Park, there have been sightings of dolphins, whales and sea lions along with land animals such as foxes and bald eagles. Hiking trails offer views of coves, beaches and even some kelp forests that inhabit the waters.
18. Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park is one of the most underappreciated national parks in the United States. Located on the stunning island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands, it offers visitors an unforgettable experience.
With more than 7,000 acres of beautiful Caribbean beaches and rainforest, this park is a nature lover’s paradise. Hiking and snorkeling are popular activities here, with trails winding their respective ways along pristine coral reefs and down to tropical, secluded cays. Visitors can also explore ruins and petroglyphs left behind by ancient cultures long ago.
During certain times of year, whales come to swim along its coastline while leatherback turtles nest on its beaches in June or July.
19. Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is an often-overlooked jewel in the National Park system. Boasting amazing rock formations, winding caves, and sweeping vistas, it makes an excellent and unique choice for a visit whether you are after casual sightseeing or more serious exploration.
The wildlife is abundant and varied, ranging from California condors to mountain lions, with hundreds of species in between.
Pinnacles National Park also has a wide variety of trails available to visitors, both strenuous and moderate. With activities like camping, bird watching, hiking, and rock climbing on offer here too – there truly is something for everyone!
Despite being some of the least visited national parks in the United States, these stunningly beautiful places offer a unique and convenient environment for outdoor adventurers and explorers alike. Every park is home to fascinating geological formations, abundant wildlife, and an immersive natural environment.
Even though these parks may be less popular than others, they have so much to offer visitors who take the time to explore them.
Regardless of whether visitors choose to travel through all four of these majestic parks on a cross-country road trip, or simply spend a weekend in one destination, exploring America’s lesser-known gems is sure to be an unforgettable experience that will create lasting memories.