Special Report

America's Least Popular National Parks

There are 423 parks in America’s National Park System, and though visitations have increased since the worst of the pandemic has passed, some continue to be overlooked by outdoor enthusiasts. (These are the largest and smallest National Parks and Recreation Areas in the U.S.)

To identify the least popular national parks in 2021, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the record of last year’s recreational visits published in the National Park Service’s annual visitation report, as well as NPS data for visits in 2017. The National Park Service aggregates visitation data for various government land designations and visitation purposes. Only National Parks and National Preserves were considered. Designations such as National Monuments and National Historic Sites, which are frequently contained within National Parks and are often limited to single structures, were excluded. Parks that changed their reporting practices were not comparable to previous years, and therefore were also excluded.

Though some of the best-known parks had record visitation in 2021, numbers across the entire National Park System remained below pre-pandemic totals. What this summer holds for the parks is another question. Beyond the lingering effects of the pandemic, visits will be limited by spikes in the cost of gasoline, now at record highs.

Click here to see America’s least visited national parks and preserves

Accessibility is the biggest drawback to the three least-visited parks, all in Alaska. A trip to Alaska’s Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, the least-popular park on the list, will reward the most stout-hearted visitor. The park lies at the continental crossroads that greatly influenced the distribution of life in the Western Hemisphere during the Pleistocene period. 

 Kobuk Valley National Park, the second-least visited park on the list, is very remote with no road access. Small planes drop off visitors near the park and they must then reach the park by foot or by boat. Noatak is one of North America’s largest mountain-ringed river basins with an intact ecosystem. The Noatak River is classified as a national wild and scenic river. (Here are some stunning photos of America’s largest attractions.)

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