Even though more than 297 million people visited a national park last year, there are still some places you can find wilderness, quiet, and solitude in the park system. If you’re looking for some inspiration for your next national park adventure, here’s our list of the Least Visited National Parks in 2021.
Changes in the Least Visited National Parks in 2021
Not surprisingly, the pandemic continues to create some disruptions and changes to the park visitor counts. Some of our favorite parks continue to be inaccessible or challenging to navigate to during ongoing pandemic restrictions.
Check out our guide below to The Least Visited National Parks in 2021 to see the remote and wildest places in the NPS:
The Least Visited National Parks in 2021
#54 - Great Basin National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 144,875
This is the first year in recent years that Nevada’s Great Basin National Park has made this list. The park is pretty remote; it takes a few hours to drive there from the closest major cities of Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. Visitors who do make the trip out to the park can enjoy hiking the 13,065-foot Wheeler Peak, do some backcountry camping or car camp in one of five developed campgrounds in the park. Great Basin is also known for its dark skies with excellent star viewing, as well as the Lehman Caves.
#55 - Glacier Bay National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 89,768
2020 Rank: #60/63
2020 Visitor Count: 5,748
Glacier Bay is another park that is best accessed by plane or boat… most notably, cruise ships. While traffic was up significantly from 2020, it still lags way behind historic levels.
Many of the 89,768 visitors to the park come via Alaskan cruises and they are treated to some incredible wildlife viewing of orcas, bears, sea lions, birds, harbor seals and mountain goats. Visitors can also adventure on one of the three hiking trails, go camping, kayaking, rafting or fishing.
#56 - Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 50,189
2020 Rank: #57/63
2020 Visitor Count: 16,655
The largest national park in the nation with 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias holds steady again on the list of least visited national parks in 2021. The park can be accessed both by air and by road. While there are no fuel options within the park boundaries, visitors can access the main visitor center by Highway 4.
Hiking and mountaineering on the glaciated peaks are some of the popular activities within the park, activities that are still difficult to coordinate for remote drop offs during pandemic times. For mountaineers, 7 of the 20 highest peaks in North America can be found within the park!
#57 - Isle Royale National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 25,844
2020 Rank: #59/63
2020 Visitor Count: 6,493
Isle Royale National Park continues to hold a spot on the list of least visited national parks in 2021, with a big increase in travelers from 6,000 in 2020 up to 25,000 last year. The island located in Lake Superior is only accessible to visitors from April 15-October 31. Visitors may take a ferry or private boat to the island. Once on Isle Royale, visitors can day hike or apply for a permit to do a multi-day backpacking trip (on our bucket list!)
For wildlife lovers, Isle Royale is best known as the home of a long-term ecological study on the predator-prey dynamics between the populations of wolves and moose on the island.
#58 - Katmai National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 24,764
2020 Rank: #54/63
2020 Visitor Count: 51,511
Katmai National Park was one of the few parks on this list to continue experiencing a decline in visitor counts from 2020. Dropping from #54 in 2020, Katmai saw about half as many visitors in 2021, likely due to ongoing travel restrictions and the difficulty planning so far in advance required by Alaskan parks.
Katmai is another of the Alaskan parks only accessible by plane or boat. Once in the park, there are some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities, including viewing some of the 2,200 brown bears that live in the park and frequent the Pacific coast for food. The Brooks Camp area of the park has roughly 5 miles of maintained hiking trails. Other popular activities in Katmai are kayaking, canoeing and rafting.
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#59 - Lake Clark National Park & Preserve
2021 Visitor Count: 18,278
2020 Rank: #61/63
2020 Visitor Count: 4,948
Not far from Katmai, you’ll also find another of Alaska’s remote and wild national parks.
Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park is another park that typically requires a small plane to access. However, the edge of the park touching the water allows access by boat from the coast of Cook Inlet. There are some developed and maintained trails in the park called the Tanalian Trails; adventurous visitors are also welcome to off-trail backpacking opportunities in the park. One of the most popular activities in Lake Clark National Park is bear viewing. A population of Alaskan brown bears can be observed by visitors while the bears congregate for feeding during salmon runs.
#60 - North Cascades National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 17,855
2020 Rank: #56
2020 Visitor Count:30,885
North Cascades National Park has always been a bit of a mystery for us. Why does this park end up on the list of least visited national parks in 2021 (and almost every year?)
Unlike the remote parks listed above, North Cascades National Park is within driving distance of a major city, Seattle. Yet it saw a decrease in visitors last year over 2020 by almost half.
This high-elevation park has limited accessibility in the winter, when conditions are too snowy for much hiking and driving. The best access to this mountainous park is in April through October, with great opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating and camping.
Tell us, please! What is it about this place that’s so remote?
#61 - Kobuk Valley National Park
2021 Visitor Count: 11,540
2020 Rank: #58/63
2020 Visitor Count: 11,185
Steady Eddy, that’s the name of the game for Kobuk Valley. This year the park had nearly identical visitor count as in 2020.
Access to this Alaskan park is limited to travel by airplane, snow machine or dogteam. Visitors can book a flight from either Bettles or Kotzebue, Alaska to explore this 1.7 million acre park. There are no services in the park, so bringing in your own gear is a must. Visitors have access to camping, hiking, floating the river (bring a collapsible boat or raft), and exploring the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes.
#62 - National Park of American Samoa
2021 Visitor Count: 8,495
2020 Rank: #62/63
2020 Visitor Count: 4,819
Pandemic-era visitor counts continue to climb to one of the most remote parks in the NPS, but still well below the 80,000+ that visited here before COVID. Protocols have made traveling to this remote chain of islands challenging; in 2021 the park required a 14-day quarantine in Hawaii and health clearance prior to traveling to the park. Most visitors fly to the islands via Hawaiian Airlines. We expect visitor counts will continue to change as these restrictions evolve.
Visitors to the National Park of American Samoa are in for one of the most unique experiences you can find in the national parks system. Located 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, the National Park of American Samoa is a chain of islands spanning 300 miles East to West. Visitors experience Samoan culture and can go snorkeling, hiking, beachwalking, and see tropical wildlife species.
#63 - Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
2021 Visitor Count: 7,362
2020 Rank: #63/63
2020 Visitor Count: 2,872
Not really a drumroll finish here…since we’ve been blogging about the least visited national parks for the past 5 years, Gates of the Arctic has always come out on top as the least-visited park in the nation. Visitor counts are back up to near 10,000 (average prior to the pandemic).
Gates of the Arctic National Park is an incredible place with limited access. In 2021, visitorship to the park averaged just over 20 people a day! A wilderness area that can only be accessed by airplane or hiking in, the park has no campsites, roads or trails. What it does have is 8.4 million acres of Alaskan wilderness and wildlife. For visitors planning to explore the park on foot, backcountry skills are a must to get through tough, boggy terrain and thick vegetation.
We will always be grateful for the chance we had to charter a private aircraft to cruise above the migrating caribou and meandering rivers in Gates. It’s unforgettable and completely undisturbed. A must-see for anyone looking for the ultimate definition of ‘wild.’
How does this list compare?
Curious how the pandemic changed visitor counts in the National Park Service? Check out our Top 10 Least Visited National Parks lists from 2018, 2019, and 2020.