You don’t have to venture outside of the country to explore new landscapes, glimpse wildlife or take in some stunning vistas. America’s national parks offer all that and more — although some are more popular than others.
Whether due to a remote location or seasonal accessibility, some of the country’s parks don’t attract as many tourists as you might think. Based on annual visitation data from the National Park Service on visitors to national parks only (not national monuments, national recreation areas or other properties under the NPS), here are the most-visited and least-visited national parks in the U.S., starting with the parks that saw the fewest visitors in 2018.
No. 15 Least-Visited Park: Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
This park only had 239,000 visitors in 2018, but it’s beloved by canoeists, kayakers and fisherman — and for good reason. The park is made up of over 40% water and includes four major lakes. Campsites and hiking trailers are accessible only by boat. In the winter, you can also snowmobile, ski or snowshoe to the main part of the park.
No. 14 Least-Visited Park: Pinnacles National Park, California
Though it gets hit with brutal heat in the summer, Pinnacles is a pleasant destination in the fall or spring. In March and April, visitors can enjoy blooming displays of wildflowers that line several of the various hiking trails. Other paths lead to high vistas of the pinnacle formations or through the park’s caves, which open seasonally and house bat colonies. Also keep an eye out for prairie falcons, which breed in high densities in this area. The park only received 222,000 visitors in 2018.
No. 13 Least-Visited Park: Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Located in the remote Guadalupe Mountains east of El Paso, Texas, this park contains three different major ecosystems: the Chihuahuan Desert, the mountain’s canyon interiors and the peaks’ alpine areas that reach up to 7,000 feet above sea level. The diverse landscape makes Guadalupe Mountains home to a wide range of animals. Among them: elk, gray foxes, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, bats and more. There are several hiking trails; the Guadalupe Peak Trail offers mesmerizing views of the surrounding ranges and landmark El Capitan peak. Only 172,000 people visited last year.
No. 12 Least-Visited Park: Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Great Basin National Park, which sits 300 miles away from the crowds of Las Vegas, is known for incredibly diverse floral and fauna. It’s home to groves of ancient pines, including some of the oldest trees on earth, as well as 11 species of conifers and more than 800 species of plants. It also shelters plenty of wildlife, including more than 200 bird species, and a wide array of mammals, such as cougars, bobcats, mountain sheep and mule deer.
No. 11 Least-Visited Park: Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Though Congaree only garnered a little over 145,000 visitors in 2018, the park has a lot to offer. A designated wildness area, it features various campsites and offers a variety of nature-driven activities, including hiking, canoeing, kayaking and bird watching. On summer nights, you can also watch firefly displays.
And don’t forget the main attraction: the Boardwalk Loop, a 2.4-mile walkway through the forest that gives you a peek at some of the centuries-old cypresses and some of the tallest trees in the nation.
No. 10 Least-Visited Park: Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, Virgin Islands
About 60% of the island of St. John lies in this national park, along with more than 5,500 acres of adjacent ocean. So it’s no wonder this place is a paradise for scuba divers and snorkelers, who access the park via ferry. The area also offers miles of hiking trails through the tropical rain forest. Depending on which trail you take, you may end up at a secluded waterfall, a reflection pool or an observation platform with sweeping views.
No. 9 Least-Visited Park: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska
Wrangell-St. Elias is the biggest national park, stretching over 13 million acres — the equivalent of six Yellowstones. But it’s also one of the least-visited, drawing only 79,450 visitors in 2018. Though isolated with few roads for access, it does offer some stunning views of pure Alaskan landscape. The park contains nine of the 16 highest mountain peaks in the U.S. and a multitude of glaciers.
No. 8 Least-Visited Park: Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Located about 70 miles west from Key West, Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park consists of several islands that are home to the least-disturbed coral reefs in the entire area. Only accessible by seaplane or boat (which may explain why only 56,000 people visited last year), the park is most well-known for its abundance of sea life, tropical birds and deepwater shipwrecks. It also houses Fort Jefferson, one of the country’s largest fortresses.
No. 7 Least-Visited Park: Katmai National Park, Alaska
Initially designated a nature preserve in 1918, Katmai is best known for its wide array of wildlife — most notably, its extensive population of Alaskan brown bears. The plethora of salmon at Brooks Falls draws congregations of bears, making it a popular spot for photographers. Brooks Camp is one of the only developed areas of the park, drawing the majority of the 37,000 visitors in 2018.
No. 6 Least-Visited Park: North Cascades National Park, Washington
At more than 500,000 acres, this Washington state park contains the most expansive glacial system in the contiguous United States. Access is severely limited in the winter due to heavy snows and risk of avalanche. The park is almost entirely protected as wilderness and there are few structures or roads — so it’s no surprise that the park only had 30,000 visitors last year. Camping inside the park requires hiking in by trail, horseback or boat. The range is also a favorite destination for mountaineering enthusiasts.
No. 5 Least-Visited Park: National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa
The National Park of America Samoa is distributed across three islands: Tutuila, Ofu and Ta‘ū. As the only part of the park accessible by car, Tutuila tends to attract the majority of visitors. The island of Ofu is only accessible via small fisherman boats, and Ta‘ū can only be reached by flight. Hiking and snorkeling are among the most popular activities in the area, which consists of 9,000 acres of land and 4,500 acres of ocean and coral reefs.
No. 4 Least-Visited Park: Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
During the summer, Isle Royale National Park is accessible by ferries, floatplanes and passenger ships from nearby locations. It’s most popular for day trips in private boats or local ferry services. The park has received an average of about 20,000 annual visitors for the last decade — partly due to its closure during a large portion of the year. Isle Royale is the only national park in America to shut down entirely in winter, due its extreme weather conditions.
No. 3 Least-Visited Park: Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
With just under 15,000 visitors last year, Kobuk Valley is the third-least-visited national park. Located in the Arctic region of northwestern Alaska, the park is not accessible by any trail or road. To arrive, visitors must take a chartered air taxi from one of three cities in Alaska. Once there, tourists can enjoy backcountry camping, hiking, boating and dog sledding or a visit to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. One catch: You have to bring all your own gear.
No. 2 Least-Visited Park: Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
No roads lead to Lake Clark Park, which means visitors can only get there by boat or small aircraft. It may be worth the trek to reach this park between Alaska’s better-known Denali and Katmai national parks, though. Lake Clark offers kayaking, rafting, fishing, hiking and camping. Plus, with such a diverse range of ecosystems in the park, (including tundra, glaciers, lakes, rivers, forests and more), virtually any kind of Alaskan animal can be seen in the area. Only 14,479 people visited last year.
No. 1 Least-Visited Park: Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska
Gates of the Arctic is the least-visited national park in the U.S. and one of the least-visited areas of the entire U.S. national park system, due to its remote location in northern Alaska. There are no roads in the park, and though camping is permitted, the wild habitat is too harsh for inexperienced adventurers. In 2018, the park only received a little over 9,500 visitors.
No. 15 Most-Visited Park: Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
Now, on to the most-visited national parks. Over 1.75 million tourists paid a visit to this Indiana park in 2018. The 15,000-acre park runs for nearly 25 miles along the south shore of Lake Michigan. It contains five different ecosystems, including prairies, wetlands, rivers, forests and the famous sand dunes. Also within the national park are the Calumet Prairie State Nature Preserve and the Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve.
No. 14 Most-Visited Park: Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
Originally designated as a national memorial, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch wasn’t reclassified as a national park until 2018. That same year, it drew a little over 2 million visitors, making it the 14th most-visited park of the year.
The park consists of three main attractions: the iconic Gateway Arch, a 630-foot steel monument that also ranks as the tallest man-made structure in the Western Hemisphere; the Old Courthouse, a former federal and state courthouse with stunning architecture details, including a Renaissance-style cast-iron dome modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City; and the Museum at Gateway Arch, which features exhibits on the construction of the arch and the role the city of St. Louis played in early westward expansion.
No. 13 Most-Visited Park: Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Cuyahoga Valley is the only national park in the state of Ohio. It features natural, man-made and private attractions, which sets it apart from other national parks. Natural areas include rivers, forests, hills and a multitude of waterfalls, like the popular, 65-foot Brandywine Falls. Visitors can also go hiking and bicycling on the trails or take scenic excursions on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
No. 12 Most-Visited Park: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park takes its name after its most distinctive feature — which, contrary to popular belief, is not a canyon, but a towering grouping of natural amphitheaters. Though located near Zion National Park, this park is smaller and sits at a higher elevation. This otherworldly canyon’s rim rises up to 9,000 feet in certain areas.
No. 11 Most-Visited Park: Joshua Tree National Park, California
Named for the peculiar Joshua trees that populate its landscape, this park includes parts of two deserts: the higher-elevated Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. Visitors can partake in a range of activities, from camping at one of the nine campgrounds to traversing the various hiking trails or rock climbing. The secluded spot is also a popular site for birdwatching and stargazing.
No. 10 Most-Visited Park: Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park attracted almost 3 million people in 2018. The park encompasses over 1 million acres that include more than 130 lakes, over 1,000 species of plants and hundreds of animal species. Though the area was once home to around 150 glaciers, only a couple dozen now remain. Another highlight for many visitors is the stunning vistas on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.
No. 9 Most-Visited Park: Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park encompasses three main areas: the 60-mile long rugged, sandy beach at the coastline, the towering Olympic mountains topped with massive glaciers at the center and the temperate rainforests on the western side of the park. More than 3.1 million visitors traversed this terrain last year, enjoying the network of hiking trails, walking along the beach or participating in winter sports at Hurricane Ridge.
No. 8 Most-Visited Park: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Only 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park sits another national treasure: Grand Teton National Park. The park is named for Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, which rises more than 7,000 feet above the Jackson Hole valley floor. About a dozen small glaciers reside near the highest peaks in the range, and the park is also home to numerous lakes, including 15-mile-long Jackson Lake. The park had nearly 3.5 million visitors in 2018.
No. 7 Most-Visited Park: Acadia National Park, Maine
With 27 miles of motor roads, 125 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads, there are a lot of different ways to explore majestic Acadia National Park. Whether horseback riding on a carriage road, climbing Otter Cliff or swimming at Echo Lake Beach, visitors can enjoy the best of both mountain and sea here. Each September, the park also hosts the Acadia Night Sky Festival, which draws speakers, photographers and artists to the area.
No. 6 Most-Visited Park: Yosemite National Park, California
In 2018, more than 4 million tourists paid a visit to California’s grand Yosemite National Park, which boasts a wide variety of topographical features, including waterfalls, mountains, sequoia groves, granite cliffs, glaciers, meadows and lakes. The park’s main destination is Yosemite Valley. It remains open year-round and offers everything from nature walks and bike tours to rafting and rock climbing to photography and art classes.
No. 5 Most-Visited Park: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
The first national park in the U.S. and considered by many to be the first national park in the world, Yellowstone remains one of the most popular destinations around the globe. It’s known for its wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, wolves, bison and elk, Full of vast forests, lakes, grasslands and the largest concentration of active geysers in the world, the site is also home to a multitude of recreational activities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing and sightseeing.
No. 4 Most-Visited Park: Zion National Park, Utah
Located at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and Mojave Desert regions, Utah’s Zion National Park has unique geography that allows for a huge range of plant and animal species. The park is known to inhabit 289 species of bird, 75 mammals and 32 reptiles — not to mention the diverse plant life growing there. Nature walks, hiking trails, rock climbing, guided horseback rides and camping allow visitors to take in the park’s striking landscapes, which includes mountains, rivers, natural arches, canyons and more. In 2018, 4.3 million people came to Zion to take in its wonders.
No. 3 Most-Visited Park: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
It’s no wonder that Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park drew 4.5 million visitors in 2018, given the plethora of activities it offers. Visitors can enjoy scenic views while hiking along one of the many trails or out the car window on Trail Ridge Road. Horseback riding, rock climbing and fishing are also available, while winter visitors enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
No. 2 Most-Visited Park: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
In 2018, nearly 6.4 million people traveled to this national park to witness one of the great wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. The vast, steep-sided canyon offers stunning views for both amateur and experienced hikers, although even the best vantage points offer only glimpses of the 277-mile-long expanse. Besides sightseeing, the Grand Canyon also offers adventurous activities, like river rafting and helicopter tours.
No. 1 Most-Visited Park: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains is the most-visited national park in the United States, with over 11.4 million visitors in 2018. Visitors can access several of the park’s trailheads and overlooks by car via U.S. Highway 441, which intersects the park, or take advantage of one of the many hiking trails available. The park also features several historical attractions to visit. The most popular is Cades Cove, a valley with a number of preserved historical cabins, barns and churches.