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Empty wilderness, mountain landscapes, sweeping beaches, and untamed wildlife: these are just some of the reasons that many of us are drawn to visit national parks across the U.S. And while you might think of iconic sights like geysers and granite valleys, there is a huge diversity of natural wonders on the list of National Parks.
I’ve been fortunate to visit over half of America’s “best idea” (29 of 63 and counting!) and love writing about my travels to each one (plus tips on how you can visit.) In addition to being a writer, I am also a data nerd. As I’ve begun writing more about national parks across the American West (and beyond), I wanted to share some of the interesting stats and facts I’ve discovered.
Using the 2022 visitation data (released in February 2023), I built a spreadsheet and crunched the numbers to share the lists of the most visited national parks and the least visited national parks across the country.
Below you’ll find a list of the “bottom” 10 national parks by visitation numbers from 2022, including some that might surprise you… but don’t be fooled: these parks at the bottom of the list are winners in their own right and well worth a visit.
In this post, I promote travel to national parks, nearly all of which are the traditional and/or sacred lands of many Native American and Indigenous groups. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published as a single post with the least-visited parks list in May 2021.
It was split into two posts and updated in March 2023 to reflect the latest year’s data.
The Least-Visited National Parks in 2022
Everyone wants to know: what are the least visited national parks?
In 2022, pretty much the same ones as every other year! The top 10 least visited national parks are pretty consistent – and were even consistent through the pandemic. This year’s least visited national parks list is actually identical to 2019, so if you’re looking to escape the crowds, these are the parks to visit in 2023 – or any other year.
Here’s a chart showing how each of the most visited national parks ranked compared to 2021, so you can get a sense of how the list moved around.
|10||Great Basin National Park||142,115||11||↓1|
|9||Dry Tortugas National Park||78,488||9||–|
|8||Wrangell-St. Elias National Park||65,236||8||–|
|7||Katmai National Park||33,908||6||↑1|
|6||North Cascades National Park||30,154||4||↑2|
|5||Isle Royale National Park||25,454||7||↓2|
|4||Lake Clark National Park||18,187||5||↓1|
|3||Kobuk Valley National Park||16,925||3||–|
|2||Gates of the Arctic National Park||9,457||1||↑1|
|1||National Park of American Samoa||1,887||2||↓1|
Now let’s dive into each of these parks in turn, explaining why they’re worth planning to visit even though so few people make the trip.
10. Great Basin National Park, NV – 142,100
After dabbling around the top of the least visited national parks list for a few years, Nevada’s Great Basin National Park is back on the list – though it receives almost twice as many visitors as the next park on the list. This means it definitely has fewer crowds than more popular parks, but you’ll also see people there.
I’ve actually visited Great Basin twice, most recently in late 2022; it’s definitely one of my top 10 personal favorite parks. I was recently accused of ruining it by promoting travel there in my Great Basin itinerary, but I’m still going to shout it from the roofs: exploring Lehman Caves, hiking to Nevada’s only glacier, seeing the bristlecone pines, and stargazing under inky skies are all too incredible to pass up if you love visiting national parks as much as I do.
9. Dry Tortugas National Park, FL – 78,500
Dry Tortugas National Park shares a similar story with many of the other parks that make the list of the least visited national parks; it is remote and can only be reached by plane, so fewer people are able to visit than many other parks that receive more visitors due to their ease of access.
Additionally, Dry Tortugas actually saw a decrease in visitation from 2021 to 2022; about 6% fewer people came to visit – about 5,000 people – which doesn’t seem like much, but is actually a substantial amount for a lesser-visited park like this one.
8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK – 65,200
While Wrangell-St. Elias saw a good recovery from 2020, visitation in 2022 was still below pre-pandemic levels – only about 65,000 people made the trip to this part of Alaska. This is actually an increase of 30% showing that people continue to travel to Alaska in record numbers – and more people than ever are taking themselves off the beaten path to visit some of these harder-to-reach parks in The Last Frontier.
I was fortunate to visit Wrangell-St. Elias briefly in 2021; I stopped at the Copper River Visitor Center as part of my John Hall’s Alaska tour. I am eager to make it back to explore further into the park… maybe that’s a trip for 2024.
7. Katmai National Park, AK – 33,900
Katmai National Park was one of the few parks to see a decrease from 2020 to 2021, but that drop – which I wasn’t quite sure how to explain last year – has begun to recover, with a roughly 40% increase in visitation from 2021 to 2022. However, Katmai’s visitation is still well below pre-pandemic levels, meaning it’s a great year to visit with less than half the visitors that used to come see the bears in the past.
I haven’t yet been to Katmai (or its neighbor Lake Clark, which also makes this list), though it’s definitely on my list to try and make a flightseeing tour to watch the feasting bears during one of my Alaska trips!
6. North Cascades National Park, WA – 30,100
Hey, whaddya know – North Cascades was the only new national park that I visited in 2022! This park, while accessible by car during the summer months, is consistently among the lesser-visited… and that’s a shame as it is home to some of the most stunning mountain scenery in the contiguous U.S. It’s only a two-hour drive from Seattle, and Seattleites love to get out and go hiking – but let’s not complain about the lack of crowds at this park.
On my end, I made the trip into North Cascades by way of Chelan, spending a day in the town of Stehekin. This small town is called “Little Alaska” for its scenery, and I can definitely attest to its similarity to my favorite state. It’s also on the edge of North Cascades and home to one of the visitor centers, so well worth a day trip at minimum.
5. Isle Royale National Park, MI – 25,400
Isle Royale National Park is located north of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where I have family – so I’m excited to get up there now that we’re living in the Midwest.
As its name suggests, this park is only reachable by boat, so the pandemic definitely reduced visitation when those operators just weren’t running. However, as of 2022, visitation is almost back to pre-pandemic levels, and visitation is quite stable year over year.
4. Lake Clark National Park, AK – 18,200
Lake Clark National Park, which neighbors Katmai and also draws visitors for bear-watching, is similarly a low-visitation national park – but that’s a good thing as it helps protect the natural beauty and wildlife that call this park home.
Lake Clark had almost identical visitation between 2021 and 2022: just 89 fewer people visited last year compared to the year before. (It’s one of only two parks that was completely stable year-over-year, the other being Joshua Tree on the most visited national parks list.)
3. Kobuk Valley National Park, AK – 16,900
Remote Kobuk Valley National Park is hard to reach, like so many Alaska national parks. Despite that, nearly 17,000 people made the journey in 2022, which makes it one of the few parks that is seeing consistently higher visitation after the pandemic.
Given that you must take several flights to reach this park, this is a real testament to the park’s beauty and draw for those who want to go way off the tourist track.
2. Gates of the Arctic National Park, AK – 9,400
After six years of being the least-visited national park in the entire system, Gates of the Arctic moved up to the #2 spot this year (and I’ll discuss why in a moment when looking at the least-visited park).
Hard to reach in a normal year (usually by air taxi; my blogger friend Nicole has a well-researched guide to visiting if you want to make the journey), Gates of the Arctic continued to see lower-than-usual visitation, with just 9,400 people making the journey in 2022. That’s a 28% increase from 2021, and on par with pre-pandemic levels – but still just a tiny drop in the bucket of visitors to other parks.
1. National Park of American Samoa – 1,900
Last but certainly not least, the National Park of American Samoa reported astonishingly low visitation in 2022: just 1,887 people were recorded as visiting, the lowest number since the National Park Service started tracking visitation for this park twenty years ago. It also makes it the least-visited national park by a long shot.
To be honest, I can’t explain why this park saw such low visitation: American Samoa re-opened to international travelers in August 2022, and the park saw consistent five-figure visitation pre-pandemic (peaking at 60,000 people in 2019). Why fewer than 2,000 visited in 2022 is a great mystery of this list and one I’d love to hear your hypothesis to explain.
Which Park Grew Off the Top 10 List in 2022?
There is just one park that is no longer on the list of least-visited national parks this year, compared to the past few years: Glacier Bay National Park.
Like other parks on the list, Glacier Bay is only reachable by boat, and during the pandemic, the lack of cruises in Alaska greatly reduced visitation to the park: 2020 visitation was just 1% of 2022 visitation!
But with cruises back in Alaskan waters, lots of people visited Glacier Bay last year, over 545,000 in total. This jumped Glacier Bay back up to #36 on the list of 63 national parks.
In any case, there you have it: the 10 least visited national parks in 2022, based on the visitation data provided by the National Park Service. Have any questions about how to plan your own trip to these harder-to-reach and lesser-visited parks? Let me know in the comments!