You've heard of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Zion. You could name in which state you'd find the Grand Tetons (Wyoming), the Grand Canyon (Arizona), and the Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee). You've been to Bryce Canyon, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain.
Okay, maybe not that last one, but the point is that these national parks have most likely been on your radar for one reason or another at some point in time. You've either been there or thought about going. You're aware of their existence in some way, shape, or form.
But the most-visited national parks — the ones mentioned above being among them — constitute just a fraction of the beautiful federally-protected lands that you can visit in the United States. There are 59 of these suckers, after all, and I present you now with a list of nine that attract the least amount of visitors annually on average (per National Park Service data).
1. Great Basin National Park (~97,000 visitors/year)
Have you ever dreamt of being plopped down in eastern Nevada, right in the middle of the dry and mountainous Great Basin region? No? Well you might want to change your mind about that. Located off of Nevada State Route 488 in White Pine County, Great Basin National Park, which was established in 1986, constitutes more than just desert landscapes. There is also the 13,000-foot summit of Wheeler Peak, the subterranean wonders of the Lehman Caves, and countless views of some of the darkest skies in the country (hello, stargazing).
2. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve (~72,000 visitors/year)
The largest by land area compared to any other national park — and it's not even close — and yet Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve remains the eighth least-visited of all the nation's federally-protected lands. This place, with its 13.2 million acres in south central Alaska, is the same size as Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks and the country of Switzerland combined, so says the National Park Service. Beyond the volcanoes and the glaciers and the extremely diverse wildlife population, you can also check out Kennecott, an abandoned copper mine located within the park.
3. Dry Tortugas National Park (~63,000 visitors/year)
With a name like that, how is this place one of the least visited national parks in the country? Answer: the 100-square-mile park is almost entirely comprised of open water, meaning it is only accessible by boat or seaplane.
Dry Tortugas National Park is about 68 miles west of Key West, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico, and home to historic Fort Jefferson, which is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas. Plus, with all the corals, seagrass, shipwrecks, and whatever else is beneath the deep blue sea within the park, diving and snorkeling must be absolutely fantastic.
4. Katmai National Park & Preserve (~41,000 visitors/year)
Another stop in Alaska, this time at Katmai National Park & Preserve, another one of the larger national parks in the U.S. at four million acres or so. Home to thousands of Alaskan brown bears and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes — a landscape created by the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century — Katmai is named after its centerpiece stratovolcano. The park is almost exclusively accessed by plane or boat, according to the National Park Service, but the opportunities for incredible wilderness experiences make getting there worth it.
5. North Cascades National Park (~23,000 visitors/year)
If you're at all familiar with the psychological thriller video game Alan Wake (okay, that's probably just me), this one is especially intriguing. A few hours north of Seattle, close to the border with Canada, North Cascades National Park features plenty of mountainous terrain, over 300 glaciers, and the glorious sound of cascading waters rushing through forested valleys.
Fun fact: three notable mountains that stand over 9,000 feet in the southern portion of the park include Goode Mountain, Buckner Mountain, and Mount Logan (!!). Camping, hiking, and climbing are not in short supply here.
6. Isle Royale National Park (~17,000 visitors/year)
Isle Royale National Park, situated on the largest island in Lake Superior, has been on my radar for a couple years now. I'm guessing the National Park Service is not lying when they describe the island as offering "unparalleled solitude" — it is the fourth least-visited of the U.S.'s 59 national parks, as the numbers will show.
Moose, grey wolves, red foxes, beavers, mink, and a host of other wildlife species call the island home, and so too did a community of a little more than 100 people in the late 19th century when the Wendigo Mining Company was in operation. Tip: skip the boat, take the 35-minute scenic seaplane ride.
7. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve (~12,000 visitors/year)
I promise Lake Clark National Park has more to offer you than a fun rhyming name. Take, for instance, the fact that this is another national park in the great state of Alaska — that's reason enough to be excited — and that it features a variety of characteristics not found together in any of the other parks in the state (according to the Wikipedias): the junction of three mountain ranges, a coastline with rainforests along the Cook Inlet, a plateau with alpine tundra on the west, glaciers, glacial lakes, major salmon-bearing rivers, and two volcanoes. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
8. Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve (~11,000 visitors/year)
Goodness gracious, Alaska is killing it on this list — which is not a good thing (or is it?) because that means its parks aren't getting a ton of visitors. But that probably makes preservation efforts easier, so I don't know how to gauge that exactly. Anyway, Gates of the Arctic National Park wins the coolest name award out of these nine parks and distinguishes itself further by virtue of the fact that it contains no roads or trails; it is just vast wilderness in its purest and most beautiful form. Located entirely above the Arctic Circle, the U.S.'s northernmost national park is also its second largest at 8.4 million acres.
9. Kobuk Valley National Park (~8,000 visitors/year)
Finally, we have the winner (or loser), Kobuk Valley National Park, the least-visited park in the country, drawing less than 10,000 visitors per year on average. Would you like to guess which state it's in? That's right, five of the nine least-visited national parks in the country are in Alaska, so shame on all of you for showing no interest in The Last Frontier.
Half a million caribou migrate through this Delaware-sized park (I'm assuming every year?), which is home to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes and which is typically only accessed via chartered air taxi from nearby communities, such as Nome and Kotzebue. In other words, when you're here, you're really out there.