Visiting some of the most remote places in the National Park Service didn’t get any easier during 2020. Even though roughly 237 million visitors spent time in a national park unit last year, the list of least visited national parks didn’t change much. No surprises that extreme remote wilderness still stays that way despite a global pandemic.
This month the National Park Service released the annual visitor statistics report and the list of the Top 10 least visited national parks in 2020. It showed a moderate drop off in visitors from previous years, but considering the barriers to travel, still a strong showing for the parks.
Big Changes in the Least Visited National Parks in 2020
Just like the list of most visited national parks last year, the pandemic led to some shake-ups from previous years.
While many of the national parks stayed the same, the visitor counts were much lower than in previous years. International travel restrictions also meant a newcomer showed up on this year’s list.
Check out our guide below to The Least Visited National Parks in 2020 to see where your favorite parks landed on this year’s list:
The Least Visited National Parks in 2020
#63 -- Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, Alaska
2020 Visitor Count:2,872
2019 Rank: #63/63
2019 Visitor Count: 10,518
For another year, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve maintains the top spot as the least visited national park in the National Park Service. Located north of the Arctic Circle in the heart of the Brooks Range, Gates is as remote as it gets.
There are no roads or trails here. Just thousands of miles of undeveloped wilderness. During our 2017 visit, we traveled by float plane to the park on one of our favorite (and wildest!) national park experiences ever!
#62 - National Park of American Samoa
2020 Visitor Count: 4,819
2019 Rank: #58/63
2019 Visitor Count: 60,006
One of the parks that saw the largest drop in visitor counts from the previous year was National Park of American Samoa located in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. Roughly 2,600 miles from Hawaii, this park saw 92% fewer visitors this year in part because of strict travel restrictions to keep COVID-19 outbreaks far away from the island.
While we haven’t been to the island paradise yet, when it’s safe to travel, we’ll be looking forward to adding it to our #parkchasing list!
#61 - Lake Clark National Park & Preserve, Alaska
2020 Visitor Count: 4,948
2019 Rank: #61
2019 Visitor Count: 17,157
Despite 12,000 fewer visitors, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska maintained the 3rd least visited national park slot for another year. Not surprising, since this remote park is only accessible by boat or plane.
Expect some of the world’s best salmon fishing to still be there when the travelers start returning this year.
#60 Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Alaska
2020 Visitor Count: 5,748
2019 Rank: #33
2019 Visitor Count: 672,087
For the first time in recent years, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve found its way onto the list of least visited national parks. Most of the 600,000+ visitors that typically travel to the park arrive by one of the famous Alaskan cruise lines. Since the park is only available by boat or air taxi, expect that 2021 will also be a lower visitation year. Most of the Alaskan cruise lines have already postponed travel for the 2021 season.
#59. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
2020 Visitor Count: 6,493
2019 Rank: #60
2019 Visitor Count: 26,410
While it wasn’t impossible to visit Isle Royale National Park last year, there weren’t many who made the trek out into the middle of Lake Superior’s icy waters to visit the park. Available by ferry boat or sea plane only, the park almost always appears on the list of least visited parks.
We highly recommend a visit to the park (since it’s not far from our base camp in Minneapolis-St. Paul). It’s one of the best kept secrets in the National Park Service!
#58 - Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
2020 Visitor Count: 11,185
2019 Rank: #62
2019 Visitor Count: 15,766
Another of Alaska’s national parks to make the list, Kobuk Valley is famous for it’s incredible caribou herds. It’s also one of the most remote places in the National Park Service. Available only by air taxi, more than 10,000 people still managed to squeeze in a visit last year.
In reality, most of those visits come from locals and native Alaskans who live in communities near Kobuk.
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#57 - Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska
2020 Visitor Count: 16,655
2019 Rank: #57
2019 Visitor Count: 74,518
Holding steady in the #57 of 63 slot for another year is another of Alaska’s parks. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is not only one of the least visited national parks, it also holds claim as the largest park in the National Park Service. This year, more than 16,000 people visited the park. While you can drive to one of the visitor’s centers, the majority of the park is remote wilderness available only by boat or air taxi.
Check out our stops when we visited Wrangell-St. Elias in 2017:
#56 - North Cascades National Park - Washington
2020 Visitor Count: 30,885
2019 Rank: #59
2019 Visitor Count: 38,208
Every year when we put together this list, North Cascades National Park in Washington is a bit of a surprise to us.
Located roughly 2 hours 10 minutes drive from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the park is the only one on the list without a major transportation barrier. More than 4.2 million people live in the Seattle area, so easily could travel to the park for day hiking or a weekend backpacking trip. It’s only 4 hours from Olympic National Park, which happens to be on the list of most visited national parks.
Yet it continues to remain one of the great untouched wilderness areas in the lower 48. We’re not sure what the story is here, but looking forward to a June 2021 trip to Washington to find out more ourselves!
#55 - Dry Tortugas National Park - Florida
2020 Visitor Count: 48,543
2019 Rank: #56
2019 Visitor Count: 79,200
All we can say about Dry Tortugas National Park off the coast of the Florida Keys is someday…someday…
We can’t wait to check out this island park available via ferry or float plane only. Every year when we make this list we talk about planning a trip. The photos are gorgeous and the weather is always sunny. Why not??
#54 Katmai National Park & Preserve - Alaska
2020 Visitor Count: 51,511
2019 Rank: #55
2019 Visitor Count: 84,167
The famous Brooks Falls bear watch was web-cam only this year as thousands of travelers cancelled plans to one of Alaska’s most famous national parks. Even though the park is only available by boat or air taxi, it’s one of the most well-known by Alaskan standards.
It was one of our favorite spots to take a virtual vacation during the pandemic (and hopefully on our travel list soon!)
How does this list compare?
Curious how the pandemic changed visitor counts in the National Park Service? Check out our Top 10 park lists from previous years: