In 2016, the national parks alone (just the 59 big 'uns, that is) saw 82,895,409 recreational visits. That might sound like a lot, but those visits are hardly spread out — Great Smoky Mountains National Park had 11,312,786 of those visits — nearly 14%! 

That means there's a bunch of national parks that are flying under the radar, where visitors are more likely to get some quality R&R in with Mother Nature on their own time. No photo bombings by waves of unrelenting tourists, no strollers bottlenecking hiking paths, no pressure to move from the very spot you feel you belong. 

So in honor of National Park Week, let's highlight the 10 least-visited parks in the Continental 48 (sorry, Alaska. If we included you, you'd win everything). If you get a chance, be sure to spread the love to these #stillsingle beauties.


10. Channel Islands National Park, California

Photo by Aaron Zhong

Photo by Aaron Zhong

Visits in 2016: 364,807

Why it's on the list: These islands are only accessible by park concessionaire boats, private boat, or plane. Boat operators run year-round out of Ventura and Santa Barbara, but the islands are just out of the way enough — and not at all commercialized — that the Channel Islands aren't a super popular destination (despite California's booming population).

Why you should go anyway: An island escape an hour outside of Santa Barbara and away from California's massive urban sprawl? Yes, please. What's more, these islands are super isolated and, as a result, have flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth.

9. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Photo by jck_photos

Photo by jck_photos

Visits in 2016: 241,912

Why it's on the list: It's practically in Canada, and newsflash: Canada can be quite cold half the year. What's more, who gets up to northern Minnesota during their two weeks of vacation? And we mean nooooooooorthern.

Why you should go anyway: You'll have a lakeside campsite all to yourself, peeking in on Canada. There's also waterfalls, plenty of hiking, rocks almost as old as Earth itself, and the fact that the Midwest doesn't have a ton going on naturally — so you know this place must be something special.

8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Photo by Kyle Kress

Photo by Kyle Kress

Visits in 2016: 238,018

Why it's on the list: Honestly, I'm not too sure. My guess is simply that Colorado has too much going on, and everyone's busy going to Rocky Mountain or to nearby Utah.

Why you should go anyway: This canyon is the deepest, narrowest thing you'll ever see — seriously, everyone who goes raves about it. Certain parts only get 33 minutes of sunlight per day, hence the name "Black Canyon." It's not actually black; it's just that the walls are so steep they're usually cast in shadow. What's more, the Gunnison River drops 240 feet per mile around Chasm View. Go check it out ASAP.

7. Pinnacles National Park, California

Visits in 2016: 215,555

Why it's on the list: Pinnacles NP has been dealt the unfortunate hand of becoming a national park in 2013 — the world doesn't seem to have caught on yet. What's more, it can't be easy having Yosemite, Redwood, Lassen, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia as neighbors.

Why you should go anyway: 23 million years ago, a bunch of volcanoes erupted, and their lava slowed to eventually form the crazy terrain that is this park. Also, let's be honest: If Obama says it's cool enough to be a national park, you don't question it.

6. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Photo by joevare

Photo by joevare

Visits in 2016: 181,839

Why it's on the list: When most people think of mountains, they're not picturing west Texas, about two hours east of El Paso. 

Why you should go anyway: This is the best example of a fossil reef from the Permian era, and the wilderness here is virtually untouched. There's 80 miles of trails, plenty of wildlife, and really it's not like being anywhere else in the Lone Star State would be better.

5. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Photo by skeeze

Photo by skeeze

Visits in 2016: 144,846

Why it's on the list: The curse of central Nevada.

Why you should go anyway: It's an International Dark Sky Park. Just google the photos already, and be prepared to scrape your brains off your chair afterward.

4. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Visitors in 2016: 143,843

Why it's on the list: Great Smoky Mountains National Park steals all the glory. That and...it's a swamp.

Why you should go anyway: Humans have destroyed this ancient forest everywhere else on the East Coast — these riverine woodlands once blanketed the area, and it's the only chance we now have to step back in time.

3. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Photo by Brian Garrett

Photo by Brian Garrett

Visitors in 2016: 73,661

Why it's on the list: When's the last time you were 70 miles west of Key West? Also, it's only accessible by boat or seaplane.

Why you should go anyway: It's an island fortress you can snorkel around. Literally. How is it not selling itself?

2. North Cascades National Park, Washington

Photo by WikiImages

Photo by WikiImages

Visitors in 2016: 28,646

Why it's on the list: Rainier and Olympic are both closer for Seattleites, and anyone coming in from the East is probably distracted by Glacier (can't blame 'em). Harsh winters don't help the final annual tally, either.

Why you should go anyway: ...Are you seeing this picture? It's this beautiful AND there's no crowds!

1. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Photo by Ray Dumas

Photo by Ray Dumas

Visitors in 2016: 24,966

Why it's on the list: There's an island towards the northwest edge of Lake Superior, and that's Isle Royale. Not only do you have to get to it by boat or plane (and then once there it's all backroads and ruggedness), but you have to be in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the first place. Far from any urban center, you have to really want this one under your belt to go. What's more, it's only open April - October.

Why you should go anyway: Because it would make you a national park rockstar, that's why. That and rugged, isolated outdoor experiences rarely come on this level in the States. Few people, few amenities — this is as close to virgin earth as you can get without needing a passport.


Bucket list, check.

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