In 2016, USA National Park visits hit record-high numbers. More than 325 million people visited the National Parks, which is a huge jump from the 307 million visitors in 2015. Considering that National Park attendance was ebbing for the few decades before this, we should be happy that more people are getting out to enjoy the great outdoors.
But, on the other hand, those crowds of loud tourists coming in on organized tours can be a bit distracting! I don’t know about you, but I like to enjoy nature in peace, quiet, and solitude!
Before you get turned off by the idea of loud crowds at the national parks, keep in mind that most of these visitors went to a small handful of popular National Parks.
The most-visited National Parks in 2016 were:
- Great Smoky Mountains NP: 15 million visits
- Grand Canyon NP: 5.9 million visits
- Yosemite NP: 5 million visits
- Rocky Mountain NP: 4.5 million visits
- Zion NP: 4.3 million visits
- Yellowstone NP: 4.2 million visits
- Olympic NP: 3.4 million visits
- Acadaia NP: 3.3 million visits
- Grand Teton NP: 3.3 million visits
- Glacier NP: 2.9 million visits
- Joshua Tree NP: 2.5 million visits
- Cuyahoga Valley NP: 2.4 million visits
- Bryce Canyon: 2.4 million visits
- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: 1.9 million visits
- Arches NP: 1.6 million visits
(To see how many visitors a park got, see the NPS Annual Park Ranking Report here)
Before you give up on these National Parks (all of which are AMAZING), I do want to point out that most tourists don’t go far beyond the front gate. In the 2.2 million acres that make up Yellowstone, for example, I am sure you can find a bit of solitude on the less-beaten hiking trails!
However, if you want to avoid the crowds completely, consider these amazing National Parks that you might not have even heard of – all of which have less than 1 million yearly visitors!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Location: Western Colorado
Yearly Visitors: 238,018
Why Go? Spectacular views of the canyon!
Crater Lake National Park
Yearly Visitors: 756,344
Why Go?To see the giant crater formed by the now-collapsed volcano and the cinder cone “Wizard Island” in the middle of the lake; the drive around the lake has great views of the park’s volcanic formations.
King’s Canyon National Park
Location: California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains
Yearly Visitors: 607,479
Why Go? See the giant sequoia trees without the crowds found in Sequoia National Park. King’s Canyon also has giant granite water walls in the canyon, amazing hiking trails, and lots of wildlife.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Yearly Visitors: 388,308
Why Go? Go sand boarding and sledding! There are also wetlands and alpine lakes nearby.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Location: North Dakota
Yearly Visitors: 753,880
Why Go? To see bison, elk, and prairie dogs; for the stunning Painted Canyon, and many great hiking trails.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Location: Northern California
Yearly Visitors: 536,068
Why Go? To avoid the crowds at Yellowstone but see amazing hydrothermal sites and bubbling mud pots.
Big Bend National Park
Yearly Visitors: 388,290
Why Go? To see the Santa Elena Canyon carved by the Rio Grande, visit the Langford Hot Springs, and to hike the Lost Mine Trail.
Great Basin National Park
Location: Nevada (near Utah border)
Yearly Visitors: 144,846
Why Go? Visit the Lehman Caves, walk the Bristlecone Trails, or hike to stunning lakes.
Canyonlands National Park
Yearly Visitors: 776,218
Why Go? To be awed by geologic features while still avoiding the crowds of the Grand Canyons; this is also a good spot for rock climbing!
North Cascades National Park
Location: Washington State
Yearly Visitors: 28,646
Why Go? Backpack in this huge wilderness with its inspiring conifer-covered mountains, glaciers, and clear lakes.
Conagree National Park
Location: South Carolina
Yearly Visitors: 143,843
Why Go? It’s the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the USA! There are boardwalks so you can walk through it.
Isle Royale National Park
Yearly Visitors: 24,966
Why Go? Located on an island in Lake Superior, no cars are allowed here so you’ll be able to enjoy the vast forests rich with wildlife in peace.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Yearly Visitors: 346,534
Why Go? Stunning glaciers, whale watching, the trip of a lifetime!
Voyageurs National Park
Yearly Visitors: 241,912
Why Go? Stunning lake, canoeing, fishing, and bird watching
White Sands National Park
Location: New Mexico
Yearly Visitors: 555,793
Why Go? To feel like you are on a different planet!
Sorry if I missed your favorite National Park. There are just too many good ones! What’s your favorite lesser-known national park? Let us know in the comments. 🙂
*Want to check out all 59 National Parks in the USA? Lonely Planet has a great guide. It was updated in 2016 and has lots of great eye-candy in it. 🙂 You can buy it here.
“Approaching Big Bend National Park, Alon” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Robert Hensley
“Trail into the abyss…Sahale Arm Trail,” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by i8seattle
“sequoia fog” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by henryalien
“Lassen Volcanic” (CC BY 2.0) by Theo Crazzolara
“Black Canyon of the Gunnison 960 x 800” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by Kanemojo
“Great Sand Dunes at Dawn” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by davidwynia
“Big Bull Moose” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by RTD Photography
“20160704_143931” (CC BY 2.0) by jck_photos
“Holgate Glacier, Kenai Fjords National P” (CC BY 2.0) by AlaskaNPS
“P5205540” (CC BY 2.0) by Hunter-Desportes
“Buck Canyon through Mesa Arch” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by JesseG8r
“Stella Lake, Great Basin NP, Nevada” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Fred Moore 1947
“Crater Lake From The Rim Visitor Center” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by ScottElliottSmithson
“Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt Natio” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by fritzmb
“White Sand National Park (523)” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by x020440
“20160704_121212” (CC BY 2.0) by jck_photos