6 Underrated National Parks for Avoiding the Crowds

July 5, 2016Travel Ideas

One thing is for sure as summer gets into full swing: some of our most popular national parks are going to get a little crowded. But if you intend to visit a national park this summer to get away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, don't worry. Some of the least visited national parks in the country are also some of the most fun, and there are still plenty of unique places to get away from the summer crowds.

National Park of American Samoa

Pago Pago, National Park of American Samoa

Scattered across three distinct islands in the South Pacific, National Park of American Samoa is a winsome tropical paradise that remains bafflingly under the radar. In addition to all the activities that typically come with any beach getaway – you'll find opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing galore – American Samoa also offers the chance to explore a unique culture and history, a stunning volcanic landscape, and a dizzying assortment of colorful birds and wildlife.

North Cascades National Park

Snow-covered mountain at North Cascades National Park

Way up at the northern border of Washington state, North Cascades National Park is startling in its beauty. Despite being less than three hours from Seattle, this park receives relatively few visitors. All the better for anyone who wants to explore its jagged peaks, alpine forests, pristine lakes, and more than 300 glaciers in peace.

Waco Mammoth National Monument

Visitors at Waco Mammoth National Monument
National Park Service

One of the newest additions into the National Park System, Texas’ Waco Mammoth National Monument was created on July 10, 2015, when President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation to protect its rich fossil deposits. Scarcely 20,000 people visited the park in its first year – for comparison, more than 200 times that many people visited Grand Canyon National Park –which means you can view its unique fossil herd of Columbian mammoths without fighting the crowds for a view.

Isle Royale National Park

Rock Harbor at Isle Royale National Park

On a remote island surrounded by the capricious waters of Lake Superior, Isle Royale National Park offers a level of solitude almost unheard of in the lower 48 states. Accessible only by ferry or private boat, the island is covered in dense forest, crisscrossed by hiking trails, and dotted with remote backcountry tent campsites that lack amenities of any kind.

César E. Chávez National Monument

Garden entrance at César E. Chávez National Monument
Ruben Andrade, National Park Service

César E. Chávez led California farm workers and supporters to establish the United States' first permanent agricultural union, which resulted in widespread increases in wages and improvements to working conditions across the country. Though Chávez is widely regarded as the United States’ most important Latino leader of the 20th century, a national monument in his honor was not dedicated until 2012. Today, César E. Chávez National Monument represents a fascinating and often-overlooked chapter in our history.

Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

Alaska's Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve was visited by just 1,133 people in 2015. Let that number sink in for a second. That's fewer people than visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the average hour. Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve offers more than 2.5 million acres of untouched wilderness without a single road and nary a soul in sight. You'll find rolling whitewater, remote hiking trails, pristine fishing streams, and rustic backcountry cabins, but keep one thing in mind – this is true wilderness, with all the thrills, solitude, and potential dangers that go with it. Don't approach it lightly.

Float hunters at Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve
Josh Spice, National Park Service

This summer, you can skip the long lines and steer clear of the masses by taking a trip to one of America's least crowded national parks. It's been said that there are no blank spaces left on the map, but these hidden national parks prove there are still some forgotten corners.

Interested in finding other hidden gems of the National Park System? Get your free copy of our national park guide, “The Places Nobody Knows,” packed with 25 extraordinary destinations where you can #FindYourPark.


Loved Waco Mammoth. Small group tours. It was my 296th NPS site.
296?! That's incredible!
I love National Parks, my favorite is Cinnamon Bay in the VirginIslands. So beautiful but sadly rather poorly run. I've been there four times and so few know it's even there so close to the southeast USA.
I think Theodore Roosevelt National park is a beautiful park to visit. I have been there many times and it is never crowed. The town of Madora is alot of fun.
Got to experience North Cascades last December during heavy snow, and despite it being spur-of-the-moment, unprepared for a wintery hike, and most everything closed for the season, it was STILL amazing! Theodore Roosevelt NP is definitely another, found it by accident because it was along the road in our way to Glacier...totally worth the visit!
I agree. When I saw the title of this article, Theodore Roosevelt was the first park I thought of.
I agree with Cindy about Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I was just there for the first time this month and it is quite beautiful and not crowded. The bison were entertaining at this time of the year and the wild horses were amazing to see.
Don't pass up the North unit of the park, if you like solitude. Very beautiful and one can get a sense of the peacefulness that TR must have experienced as he tended his cattle. I love TR National Park and all it has to offer.
Isle Royale can also be accessed by seaplane
Yes, and they just started offering sea plane flights from Grand Marais, MN this year too!
The problem with this park is that it cost so much to get to it. The park needs to provide more reasonable access to the park.
Getting to Isle Royale is not expensive because the price is determined by supply and demand. Boats are always filled during peak times and even during non peak times. The beauty and enjoyment of Isle Royale is enhanced because of the limited number of people that can get there at any one time.
I just spent 10 minutes trying to find a flight to American Samoa with no luck. That might be part of why it falls under the radar ;)
Try HA466 out of Honolulu. This is a park I want to visit too.
I ❤️ The National Park System. I've been to Lake Clark and Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Bryce and Zion in Utah, Mt. Rainier in Washington and Glacier in Montana all in the past month. And yes it's crowded in summer. And yes it's so worth it. Always a quiet corner in every park.
Waco Mammoth Site is wonderful, and getting better all the time. Thank you for stepping in and promoting this fantastic endeavor.
Echo the comments on Waco Mammoth. Not only do you get to see the skeletons close up, the small group tours get you up close and personal with the real science going on there.
Living in the West means we have a plethora of National Parks to choose from. I just spent 2 weeks visiting 7 of them in 4 different states! While Yosemite and Zion are spectacular, they are also extremely crowded (#ihiketogetawayfrompeople)! The parks that I've also found stunning, but far less crowded are Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It seems like if accommodations are limited, and services are minimal, you can rest assured that you'll not find the huge crowds of people that generally only stop their car, step out and take pics, and are only interested in the visitor center!
We found Capitol Reef to be a beautiful, quite and restful place. Liked it so much we detoured to visit a second time.
Yup!! We spent two days there, after having spent a day and a half in super-crowded Zion! Loved Capitol Reef!
Felt like we might run into dinosaurs there
Not many people visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument during the summer....
Ha! Ha! I know of a really great one...but I ain't tell'
Mac Geough
You missed the Petrified Forest. It has people, but compared to the others in the area, you will see scenery spectacular and archaeology and fossils and wildlife. It has everything and is all of 28 miles long. A stupendous day trip. (No place inside the park to stay unless you are a wilderness camper so it has some very pristine spots.) It is not exotic or hard to find, in fact most people drive right over it on highway 40 and miss the old Route 66 right by it. It lets you avoid crowds but not be alone.
I hope to make my second visit to Petrified Forest next month on my way from California to New Mexico. I'm taking my 9 year old great-granddaughter.
We enjoyed visiting PF in June! Loved it!
Isle Royale is amazing. In all my travels, I've never experienced anything else quite like it. Be prepared though: when they say it's wild, they mean it. You will quite often never see another soul the entire time you hike and camp the island, leaving just you, the moose, the unique flora, unique geology, and the archipelago of more than 200 islands & islets in the seemingly-endless waters of Superior. Added bonus: be sure to look up at night, as the northern lights can be seen fairly frequently at the isle.
Read Nevada Barr's books on Isle Royale. They'll give you a sense of the isolation, but may scare you out of a visit!
Just finished her first book and ready to start "A Superior Death". Hooked on her books! Visited Isle Royale a few weeks ago on a day trip. A beautiful place!
Dry Tortugas off Key West is also very under-visited. If you camp, the ferry crowd is only there from about 10 -2:30, so you have this gorgeous little island with easy walk-out snorkeling and an amazing pre-Civil War era fort to explore. A few years ago, I took my kids out of school for the year and we drove around and camped at National Parks for the academic year...BEST YEAR EVER. Shoestring budget, rustic camping, broken down car and all...the stuff we all learned continues to shape the kids' AND mom's lives.


Add new comment

Stay Inspired
Connect with the parks you love. Sign up to receive the latest NPF news, information on how you can support our national treasures, and travel ideas for your next trip to the parks. Join our community.