Visiting parks is fun, and with summer vacation approaching, you might already be planning your next adventure. But with threats in the form of budget cuts and a changing climate, some travel destinations might not be the same in the years to come. The real tragedy is that parks that are already barely known won’t be remembered at all.
Out of 378 listed sites on the National Park Service’s website, the following parks represent the lower rungs when it comes to attracting visitors. Although these parks enjoyed a smattering of visits in 2018, their numbers were so low they qualified for 0.00% of the total number of visits, according to the NPS. Note that this list includes tourist attractions such as national recreation areas, national monuments and memorials in this gallery.
If you’re interested in discovering the lesser-known but just-as-special parks in the country, check out this list of the best national parks that are off the beaten path. Nearly every park is free, and all are destinations that should be getting more attention.
National Park of American Samoa
Visitors in 2018: 28,626
Significantly more tropical than some of the locales on this list (looking at you, Gates of the Arctic), National Park of American Samoa boasts gorgeous beaches across three islands — Tutuila, Ta’ū and Ofu — surrounded by pristine ocean.
One thing to note is that though the park is free, getting there most certainly is not. Once there, however, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities you can explore, such as snorkeling, swimming and hiking.
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Tallgrass Prairie National Park and Preserve, Kansas
Visitors in 2018: 27,715
Although vastly more popular than the least-visited park on this list by a difference of more than 27,500 visitors, Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas is on the lower half of the totem pole in terms of most-visited parks within the NPS directory. Too bad for the no-shows, because there’s plenty to do at this park.
You can hone your fishing skills at the catch-and-release preserves or take a guided tour across the prairie and check out the bison. If you prefer the solitude the plains offer, you can also do a solo backpacking trip through the scenic overlook trail. Unfortunately, camping is not allowed.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Visits in 2018: 25,798
Cost: $7 for a day pass, $60 for a seasonal pass (covers three people)
Surrounded by the waters of Lake Superior, visitors can expect the usual fare offered by lakeside serenity, such as swimming and camping. Historians might enjoy ambling about the park’s shore, trying to spot the locations of different shipwrecks. Traveling to the island involves boarding the Ranger III, a ship which departs from Houghton, Michigan, and lands at Rock Harbor.
Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 15,087
More than 5,000 years of human history imbue this sprawling Alaskan park. The 70 miles of shoreline is a testament to the changing world: 10,000 years ago, a grass plain occupied what is now ocean in the form of the Bering Land Bridge. Today, the Inupiat still live off the land. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, such as bird-watching or photography, among the cape’s 100-plus beaches.
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Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 14,937
Kobuk Valley features the Alaskan wilderness in full effect. The NPS notes that a valley visitor “isn’t your average tourist,” and you’ll find no road, gift shops or official campgrounds within the park. During your backcountry adventure, check out Paatitaaq, or Onion Portage, a strip of river where wild onions grow on the banks. You can even see caribou, depending on the time of year.
The park itself is free, but it’s hard to access. You’ll need to plan ahead to figure out logistics with air taxis, guided rafting outings and hunting.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 14,479
Cost: Free to enter; $65 per night to stay at the Priest Rock Public Use Cabin
The azure Lake Clark perfectly captures the essence of Alaska: beautiful isolation. The park is home to the Kijik (Qizhjeh) National Historic Landmark and Archeological District, where the Dena’ina people continue to live. You might even be able to experience some of the history first-hand, as the park is also a fertile archaeological site — but please don’t take anything with you.
As with some of the more isolated parks on this list, you’ll want to budget air travel into your trip to this one.
Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico
Visits in 2018: 10,860
Fort Union was the largest 19th-century military fort in the region, serving also as a trading outpost along the Santa Fe Trail, according to the NPS. And for over 40 years, the website reads, “Fort Union functioned as an agent of political and cultural change, whether desired or not, in New Mexico and throughout the Southwest.”
Nowadays, visitors can take in the fort’s history through guided tours, which includes a Civil War-styled artillery firing on Saturdays. And after a day outside, you can relax in nearby Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 9,591
Like most of the Alaskan parks on this list, good luck trying to get into the park itself with its lack of roads and trials. On the other hand, the NPS itself declares this park as “Alaska’s Ultimate Wilderness.” The park becomes nearly barren of human activity between November and March when the temperature fluctuates between -20 degrees Fahrenheit to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, backpacking, hiking and hunting are popular activities in not-sub-zero weather. Plus, hey, it’s free.
Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Bowie, Arizona
Visits in 2018: 8,401
Fort Bowie was the site of much violence regarding white settlers and the Chiricahua Apache in the late 1800s. Its bloodied history has given way to a tranquil desert destination, where visitors can experience the Fort Bowie Trail as well as a variety of flora and bird-watching. You can even get your goth on at the Fort Bowie Cemetery, established before the fort’s official completion and still remaining.
Ranger-led programs are available for large groups.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in Fritch, Texas
Visits in 2018: 7,415
Ever wanted to feel like a mammoth hunter? You can get an idea of the terrain they crossed at Alibates Flint Quarries in Texas (sans mammoths). This site was in use 13,000 years ago, as hunters believed they could acquire the best material for stone tools here, according to the NPS. While you’re here, you can also check out petroglyphs that adorn the park’s rocks.
For you snowbirds out there, note that there are no tours in the quarries during winter.
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Eads, Colorado
Visits in 2018: 6,006
The U.S. Army murdered hundreds of Native Americans on Nov. 29, 1864, in an event that would come to be known as the Sand Creek Massacre. Visitors can picnic and hike in the area. There’s also a repatriation area where visitors can pay their respects to the deceased.
Salt River Bay Ecological Preservation in Christiansted, Virgin Islands
Visits in 2018: 4,884
This Virgin Islands locale provides ample opportunities for both archaeologists and adventurers to enjoy themselves. Scuba, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking tours are all available. And the site’s archaeological digs include “ancient villages of fishers and farmers to Taino stone-lined ball courts, earthen forts, and historic agricultural plantations,” according to the NPS.
The Salt River Bay was visited by fewer than 5,000 people in 2018.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Nome, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 2,642
Bering was a big deal back in the Pleistocene Epoch when early peoples used it as a passageway into the Western Hemisphere. Nowadays its austere location renders it mostly inaccessible to visitors. However, travelers who do venture here can be rewarded with a dip in the Serpentine Hot Springs, accessible by small airplane, foot, bike or snowmobile.
Other activities you can enjoy include backpacking, hiking, biking, camping, climbing — all for free.
Yukon-Charley Rivers in Eagle, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 1,272
Cost: Free to visit the preserve; $80 ($10 for seniors) annual passes to more deeply explore the territory
Home to the Gold Rush boomtown of Eagle City, this national preserve guarantees a wild time should you choose to explore its waterways. The park actually houses three rivers: The Charley, Kandik and Nation. The preserve is so big that the state of New Jersey would fit in it.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial in Martinez, California
Visits in 2018: 653
Accidents happen. For example, 320 people blew themselves up in an ammunition mishap during World War II. And not even overseas, but in San Francisco. The incident was “WWII’s worst home front disaster,” according to the NPS. The memorial itself is actually located in Concord, providing visitors with a stellar view of the North Bay Area at no cost.
This non-park is nearby some of the East Bay’s most famous geographies, such as Skaggs Island, Mt. Diablo and, on the other side of the Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore.
Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, Texas
Visits in 2018: 330
Cost: Free; $12 for a river permit
The Rio Grande winds through miles of canyons, and the thrill of traveling down one of these prehistoric waterways can be yours for just $12. Visitors can explore the different canyon systems, which include Mariscal Canyon, Boquillas Canyon and the Lower Canyons.
Floaters will feel like they’re part of history, both modern and ancient. People used the land for centuries, but non-indigenous knowledge is less than 150 years old, according to the NPS: “Spanish people crossed the Rio Grande in the 16th and 17th centuries searching for gold, silver and fertile land. Comanche Indians crossed the river in the 19th century, traveling to and from Mexico with their raiding parties.”
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Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve in King Salmon, Alaska
Visits in 2018: 100
For Aniakchak National Monument, 100 is the loneliest number.
America’s best, least-visited park barely racked up triple-digit figures for tourists in 2018. And it’s a shame because there’s an abundance of natural beauty to explore and admire here. However, even the NPS concedes that the preserve’s “remote location and challenging weather conditions” contribute to its low turnout.
Also, there are bears.
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All parks sourced from the National Park Service’s Annual Park Ranking Report for Recreation Visits for 2018. Entrance fees are accurate as of March 2019.