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.

Comments

We are lucky to live in Utah with The Mighty Five National Parks and multiple National Monuments. Canyonlands is considerably less crowded than nearby Arches and I've heard Capitol Reef is not crowded, but I have yet to go there. My favorite is Cedar Breaks National Monument. It is not busy at all, the geological features and scenery of this high elevation park are incredible, it is a dark sky park, the campground is small and beautiful, and the park rangers are the best.
Debra
Larsen
I agree. I've been to over 30 of our National Parks and Monuments. Cedar Breaks is one of my favorites. I enjoyed it more than Bryce Canyon.
Helen
Peterson
I agree with others who mentioned Capitol Reef NP. We were there last year in mid July and there were very few people. At the trail heads was no problem getting a parking spot. We did one trail and were on it for 2 hours before we saw another person. Plus it is just stunningly beautiful.
Dave
Gochis
Best to keep judiciously quiet about the underused parks, forests and wildernesses..... otherwise crowds starts appearing and soon there will be reasons to pave more, park more and provide more access. I've seen it happen.... for instance, Pictured Rocks Nattional Lakeshore has been irrevocably changed by its over popularity,,,, since they paved the boundary road one can now hear motorcycles in places where you could hear nothing but the lake, birds and the wind.
Bob
Vance
Dawn at Grand Canyon has some people but not crowded. It is so beautiful.
Cathy
Jones
Great Basin really deserves a spot on this list. Hardly anyone has been there the three times I've visited in the past couple years, and it's gorgeous. Not to mention, it's one of the best places for stargazing and astronomy, because it's out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.
Will
Courtney
Even the most crowded parks become less crowded once you get out of the car and take a hiking trail.
Margaret
Kusner
You've hit the nail on the head. There are vast areas in many parks where you can find quiet and solitude if you're willing to hike for a bit. This would even apply to Yellowstone in the Summer. We went to Grand Teton in September and it wasn't crowded. My son lives in Utah and we've been to Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches there. He's very fond of hiking and camping in Capitol Reef.
Jim
Peale
Our family has visited quite a few NP and enjoyed it so much. One of the lesser known ones that was just so beautiful was Lassen Volcanic near Redding, CA.
Leslie
Coffey
My wife and I are planning a trip to Zion & Bryce Canyon in 2018. We want to go while it is temperate and yet still avoid the crowds. We just got back from Yellowstone & Grand Teton in May. It was sometimes colder than I'd like, but not crowded. A little slice of heaven!
Joe
Buchler
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH should be added to this list. The views across the grounds and of Mount Ascutney are beautiful and a person has the opportunity to explore the gardens, home and studios, along with viewing the artwork, of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Sunday concerts during the summer are wonderful.
G.C.
Keilty
Visited Death Valley in December a few years ago. Stunning formidable park, and almost no other people on the hiking trails, which are fantastic. Watching a sunrise over the sand dunes, then a pre-breakfast short trek and then a big brunch at Stovepipe Wells eatery - that's Morning in America for you :)
Mark
Tarallo
We love Canyon De Chelly in Arizona. We have visited it twice. It has an interesting visitor center and the tour up the canyon is great as they Navajo guide explains the history of the cliff dwellings and the faming that still takes place in the beautiful canyon.
Mary
Swihart
North Cascades is VERY crowded on the summer weekend the softball tournament is held at the SP&L "town" Newhalem near the Visitor Center. Traveling tourists and Park visitors will find no space at the campgrounds during that time.
Zan
Zhin
North Cascades requires that you either drive straight through, a beautifulbut relatively short visit, or you leave the car. If you drive through, you see but don't step foot in the park, since highway 20 isn't technically in the park. If you want a great hike, take Thornton Lakes or Maple Loop Pass. You can also drive up to Hart Pass, or take an overnighter down from 20 to Stehekin, a boat or fly in only wilderness town. Great park. You should visit.
Nathan
Hart
Why omit Lake Clark National Park?
Fred
Miller
Getting to Isle Royale National Park is half the fun. The trip over in the boat is informative with ranger presentations and Lake Superior is one of the most amazing bodies of water in the world.
Robert
Rhoden
I’m not gonna why these parks are referred to as “underrated.” If that’s only because of the lower number of visitors, of course they would have far less visitors in most cases, due to fheir remote locations. I don’t know anyone who has ever spoken of visiting or wishing to visit Somoa. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a trip... Natl. Monuments are usually far less known that National Parks and I didn’t even know there was a Natl. Mnmt. for Caesar Chavez and it’s only about 100 miles away. If the monuments or parks are newly dedicated in recent history, most wouldn’t know about them. Who knew there were rocks in Waco? But, it looks like a visit would be interesting if one is in the area. Of course, the Great Smokies would have an exponential amount of visitors compared to the Yukon park. How many millions live within a few hours drive of GSMNP, compared to the Yukon?! I’ve been to North Cascades N.M. once and I’d go back in a heart beat. However, there aren’t many services in that park, so that keeps people away, too. We went to Santa Fe, N. M. a couple years ago. We did know of Bandelier N.M., which was awesome, but how many have heard of Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks N.M.? We discovered it once we were in the area and it was very interesting with its white pointed circular formations. Bring your camera! Too many people nowadays don’t know how to read a paper map, because they use GPS devices, which focus on small areas at a time. I discovered many natural wonders just by looking a maps and taking road trips. Oftentimes, the fly over states have many things which are very interesting, but people don’t take the time to discover! Our national parks are true gems preserved for our enjoyment! So get out and open your eyes.
Ronald
Cole

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