Least visited national parks in the United States in 2022

Editor’s note: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that explores some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In March we go into nature.


America’s least-visited national park is quite a distance from the US mainland coast. Almost 5,000 miles away, in fact.

The National Park of American Samoa in the South Pacific is the only National Park Service site south of the equator. In 2022, it had just 1,887 visits, according to new visitor numbers released this week by the National Park Service.

Compared to 2021, that number is down 78%. The park has had multiple Covid-19 closures over the past year, NPS said.

Spread across three islands with tropical rainforests, volcanic slopes, pristine beaches and thousands of acres of marine habitat, the national park is interwoven with a rich culture.

“According to the meaning of the word Samoa – ‘holy earth’ – the park helps to protect it fa’asamoathe customs, beliefs and traditions of the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture,” according to the park’s website.

The island park is far from the only uncrowded NPS site.

Nearly 400 of the 424 National Park Service Sites have visitors. And three quarters of all visits are on just 64 pages. So there is many to explore from less visited places.

Even among the 63 natural expanses that have “national park” in their proper name, there are parks that see thousands or tens of thousands of visitors — far fewer than the nearly 13 million who visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2022 . It was the most visited of the 63 national parks last year.

The massive state of Alaska — which covers 665,384 square miles — is home to five of the 15 least visited national parks in 2022.

But despite being sparsely visited compared to other parks, some of them have seen significant increases in visitor numbers over the past year, with a 30% to 50% increase from 2021.

And an Alaskan park that was among the least-visited in 2021 — Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve — has been catapulted off the list with a 500% increase in visitors thanks to a more robust return from cruises.

As more travelers head out for the busy spring and summer season, the least-visited national parks have much to offer those who venture off the beaten path.

1. American Samoa National Park – 1,887 recreational visits

Most park visitors need a passport to visit this site in a remote part of the South Pacific. Hawaiian Airlines has direct flights from Honolulu to American Samoa twice a week. Covid-19 travel regulations were eased late last year and the first cruise ship in three years arrived in January.

The park has units on three islands and covers 13,500 hectares, of which about 4,000 hectares are marine areas, which are mostly coral reefs.

2. Gates of the Arctic National Park & ​​PreserveAlaska – 9,457 recreational visits

With no roads, no trails, no cell phone service, and no established campgrounds, this vast expanse is a true wilderness experience. The Park and Preserve has six designated Wild Rivers.

“Visitors are free to wander over 8.4 million acres of superlative natural beauty at their leisure,” according to the park’s website. Visitors must be self-sufficient, flexible and “able to self-extract and communicate should an emergency situation arise”. Arrive prepared.

3. Kobuk Valley National ParkAlaska – 16,925 recreational visits

There are no roads, campgrounds, or gated entrances for human visitors to this 4.5-million-acre expanse. According to the National Park Service, half a million caribou migrate through this park, crossing the Kobuk River and Onion Portage. An 8,000-year tradition of caribou hunting continues here to this day.

Lake Clark National Park & ​​Preserve had fewer than 20,000 visitors in 2022.

4. Lake Clark National Park and PreserveAlaska – 18,187 recreational visits

This national park and preserve covers more than 4 million acres and is home to three designated Wild Rivers and two National Natural Landmark volcanoes. The land holds 10,000 years of human history and preserves the ancestral homelands of the Dena’ina.

5. Isle Royale National ParkMichigan – 25,454 recreational visits

Isle Royale is an isolated archipelago in Lake Superior offering 165 miles of hiking trails and more than 30 campgrounds. It is open from mid-April to the end of October. The ferry and seaplane service typically operates from mid-May to late September, according to the NPS.

There are fewer species of mammals here — just 18 — than on the mainland, as the animals have to cross at least 14 miles of Lake Superior. Wolves and moose are among the notable animal residents.

The Trail of the Cedars winds through giant ferns and moss-covered cedars in North Cascades National Park.

6. North Cascades National ParkWashington – 30,154 recreational visits

Peaks crowned by more than 300 glaciers tower over this alpine landscape. More than 1,600 plant species have been identified on this land, which ranges from temperate rainforest to an arid ponderosa pine ecosystem. There are over 400 miles of trails.

7. Katmai National Park & ​​ReserveAlaska – 33,908 recreational visits

Katmai is an important habitat for thousands of brown bears. According to the Park Service, Katmai is one of the world’s top bear-watching spots and is home to an estimated 2,200 brown bears. Brooks Camp on the Brooks River is one of the most popular spots to see bears feasting on salmon.

Most of Wrangell-St.  Elias National Park & ​​Preserve is a rugged backcountry with limited visitor services.

8th. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & ​​ReserveAlaska – 65,236 recreational visits

America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias spans 13.2 million acres — or about the size of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined, says the Park Service. Most of the park is backcountry and visitor services are limited. There are some maintained trails in the frontcountry areas of Nabesna and McCarthy.

9. Dry Tortugas National ParkFlorida – 78,488 recreational visits

About 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas is mostly open water with seven small islands. Garden Key is home to one of the country’s largest 19th-century forts, Fort Jefferson. Accessible by boat or plane, the park is home to nearly 300 species of birds. Bush Key closes February through September each year to allow sooty terns and brown noddies to breed undisturbed.

10 Great Basin National Park, Nevada – 142,115 recreational visits

Mountain peaks meet hot desert valleys here. Great Basin National Park is home to 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak, ancient bristlecone pines, about 40 caves and a wide variety of plants and animals. Elevation ranges from 5,000 to 13,000 feet with trails for all skill levels.

The Virgin Islands National Park, pictured with Trunk Bay, has seen a nearly 40% drop in visitor numbers over the past year.

11. Virgin Islands National Park – 196,752 recreational visits

About two-thirds of the US Virgin Island of St. John is national parks with sandy beaches, abundant marine life, Taino petroglyphs and sites associated with the rich history of the island’s enslaved workers. There are more than 20 hiking trails in the park, which is typically busiest from November through April.

12. Congaree National ParkSouth Carolina – 204,522 recreational visits

Congaree National Park’s landscape is “defined by the presence of floods and flames,” says the park service.

Flooding from the Congaree and Wateree rivers regularly blankets the old growth hardwood forest in the park’s lowlands, and the highland pine forest relies on wildfires to clear competing vegetation. Canoeing and kayaking are popular ways to explore the park. There is a 24 km long marked canoe trail.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the four highest mountains in Texas.

13. Guadalupe Mountains National ParkTexas – 219,987 recreational visits

This park features the four highest peaks in Texas and the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef. Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness has more than 80 miles of hiking trails, including a hike in the Salt Basin Dunes, which rise 100 feet from the desert floor.

14 Voyageurs National ParkMinnesota – 221,434 recreational visits

Dubbed the park of “water, islands and horizons,” Voyageurs spans 218,055 acres — 84,000 of which are water. There are more than 500 islands and four major lakes as well as more than two dozen smaller lakes in the park, which is best explored by boat. Voyageurs shares its northern border with Canada, and lucky visitors may even see the Northern Lights.

15 Pinnacles National Park, California – 275,023 recreational visits

Pinnacles was formed when volcanoes erupted about 23 million years ago. Talus caves and towering crags attract hikers and climbers; There are more than 30 miles of hiking trails and hundreds of climbing routes.

While Pinnacles ranks among the top 15 least-visited national parks, according to a note on the park’s website, it gets very crowded on weekends, holidays, and in the spring. Arrive early to beat the crowds.

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