Note to the Editor: Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that spotlights some of the most interesting topics in the world of travel. In March, we are going to the great outdoors.
America’s least visited national park is far from the shores of the US mainland. Almost 5,000 miles away, actually.
American Samoa National Park in the South Pacific is the only National Park Service site south of the equator. In 2022, it received just 1,887 visits, according to new visitation figures released this week by the National Park Service.
Compared to 2021, that number decreased by 78%. The park was closed due to Covid-19 last year, NPS said.
The national park stretches over three islands with tropical rainforests, volcanic slopes, pristine beaches and thousands of acres of marine habitat, and is steeped in rich culture.
“In line with the meaning of the Samoan word – ‘sacred earth’ – the park helps to protect fa’asamoa – customs, beliefs, and traditions of the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture,” says the park’s website.
The island park is far from the only uncrowded NPS site.
Nearly 400 of the 424 National Park Service sites include visitors. And only three quarters of all visits are to 64 sites. So yes enough of less visited spots to explore.
Even among the 63 natural expanses that have “national park” in their proper names, there are parks that have thousands or tens of thousands of visitors – far fewer than the nearly 13 million who visited Smoky Mountains National Park Major in 2022. was the most visited of the 63 national parks last year.
Five of the 15 least visited national parks in 2022 are in the vast state of Alaska – which covers 665,384 square miles.
But while they may be under-visited compared to other parks, visitor numbers increased significantly last year, with increases of 30% to 50% compared to 2021.
And one of Alaska’s least visited parks in 2021 – Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve – has made it off the list with a 500% increase in visitors, thanks to stronger return cruises.
As more and more hikers head out for the busy spring and summer seasons, the less-visited national parks have a lot to offer those venturing on the more well-worn trails.
1. American Samoa National Park – 1,887 recreational visits
Most parkers will need a pass to visit this location in a remote part of the South Pacific. Hawaiian Airlines offers direct flights to American Samoa from Honolulu twice a week. Covid-19 travel requirements were eased at the end of last year, and the first cruise ship in three years arrived in January.
The park has units on three islands and extends over 13,500 acres, 4,000 of which are marine acres on mostly coral reefs.
2. Gates of the Arctic National Park & PreserveAlaska – 9,457 recreational visits
With no roads, no trails, no cell service and no established campsites, this vast expanse is a true wilderness experience. Six Wild Rivers are designated in the park and preserve.
“Visitors can hike 8.4 million acres of outstanding natural beauty,” says the park’s website. Visitors must be self-sufficient, flexible and “able to self-extract and communicate, in case of emergency.” Come prepared.
3. Kobuk Valley National ParkAlaska – 16,925 recreational visits
There are no roads, campgrounds or entrance gates for human visitors to this 1.8 million acre expanse. Half a million caribou migrate through this park, crossing the Kobuk River and Onion Portage, according to the National Park Service. An 8,000-year tradition of caribou hunting continues here today.
4. Lake Clark National Park & PreserveAlaska – 18,187 recreational visits
Stretching over more than 4 million acres, the national park and preserve is home to three designated Wild Rivers and two National Natural Landmark Volcanoes. The land has 10,000 years of human history and preserves the ancestral homelands of the Dena’ina people.
5. Isle Royale National ParkMichigan – 25,454 recreational visits
A remote archipelago in Lake Superior, Isle Royale boasts 165 miles of trails and more than 30 campgrounds. It is open from mid-April to the end of October. Ferry and plane service usually runs from mid-May to late September, according to the NPS.
There are fewer mammal species here – only 18 – than on the mainland because animals must cross at least 14 miles of Lake Superior. Wolves and moose are among the notable animal inhabitants.
6. North Cascades National ParkWashington – 30,154 recreational visits
Peaks crowned by more than 300 glaciers tower over the alpine landscape. More than 1,600 plant species have been identified on this land that spans a temperate rainforest to a dry ponderosa pine ecosystem. There are more than 400 miles of tracks.
7. Katmai National Park & PreserveAlaska – 33,908 recreational visits
Katmai is an important habitat for thousands of brown bears. One of the top bear viewing spots in the world, according to the Park Service, there are approximately 2,200 brown bears in Katmai. Brooks Camp along the Brooks River is one of the most popular viewing locations to see bears feasting on salmon.
8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & PreserveAlaska – 65,236 recreational visits
America’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias encompasses 13.2 million acres — or about the size of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined, the Park Service says. Most of the park is backcountry, and visitor services are limited. There are some maintained trails in the Nabesna and McCarthy front areas.
9. Dry Tortugas National ParkFlorida – 78,488 recreational visits
About 70 miles (113 km) west of Key West, Dry Tortugas is mostly open water with seven small islands. Garden Key has one of the largest 19th century forts, Fort Jefferson. The park can be accessed by boat or plane and is home to almost 300 species of birds. Bush Key closes every year from February to September so that terns and brown knots can breed undisturbed.
10. Great Basin National Park, Nevada – 142,115 recreational visits
Mountain peaks meet hot desert valleys here. Great Basin National Park is home to 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, ancient pine trees, about 40 caves and a wide variety of plants and animals. The elevation ranges from 5,000 to 13,000 feet with hiking trails for all levels.
11. Virgin Islands National Park – 196,752 recreational visits
About two-thirds of the US Virgin Island of Saint John is a national park, with sandy beaches, rich marine life, petroglyphs from the indigenous Taino people and sites related to the island’s troubled history of slave labor. There are more than 20 trails in the park, usually busiest from November to April.
12. Congaree National ParkSouth Carolina – 204,522 recreational visits
The landscape of Congarry National Park is “defined by the presence of floods and flames,” says the Park Service.
Floodwaters from the Congaree and Wateree rivers regularly cover the park’s old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, while the upland pine forest relies on wildfires to clear competing vegetation. Canoeing and kayaking are popular ways to explore the park. There is a 15 mile marked canoe trail.
13. Guadalupe Mountains National ParkTexas – 219,987 recreational visits
This park contains the four highest peaks in Texas and the most extensive Permian fossil reef in the world. Guadalupe Mountains The Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness has more than 80 miles of trails including a hike in the Salt Basin Dunes that rise 100 feet from the desert floor.
14. Voyageurs National ParkMinnesota – 221,434 recreational visits
Billed as a “water, islands and sky” park, Voyageurs covers 218,055 acres – 84,000 of which are water. There are more than 500 islands and four large lakes, as well as more than two dozen smaller lakes in the park, which has the best boating experience. Voyageurs shares its northern border with Canada, and lucky visitors may even see the northern lights.
15. Pinnacles National Park, California – 275,023 recreational visits
Pinnacles were formed when volcanoes erupted around 23 million years ago. Talus caves and high rock spirea attract hikers and climbers; there are more than 30 miles of hiking trails and hundreds of climbing routes.
Although Pinnacles may be one of the 15 least-visited national parks, it gets very busy on weekends, holidays and during the spring, according to an announcement on the park’s website. Arrive early to beat the crowds.