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 bottom of the barrel 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 parks also include tourist attractions such as national recreation areas, national monuments, and memorials.
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.
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C.
Former President Barack Obama declared this a national monument as early as April 2016. This historic site acted as headquarters for the National Women’s Party for nearly a century. Nearly 200 years old, the house acts as a reminder that there is much work to do yet for equality.
The Belmont-Paul house received just over 9,000 visitors in 2018, making it the most visited park on this list.
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Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Bowie, Arizona
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.
Thomas Stone National Historic Site in Port Tobacco, Maryland
Thomas Stone was one of the 56 men to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Unfortunately, he didn’t have quite the razzle-dazzle as some other signees, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and so has passed into relative historical obscurity. His original estate still stands, though.
Visitors can explore the Stone house proper or amble about the grounds and discover the tobacco barn and corn crib, along with the family cemetery. The former slave plantation attracted over 8,200 visitors in 2018.
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Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in Fritch, Texas
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
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
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 enjoyed fewer than 5,000 visitors in 2018.
Eugene O'Neill House in Danville, California
This is the house of Eugene O’Neill, the noted American playwright who won the Nobel Prize for works that include “The Iceman Cometh,” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten.” Historians and literary buffs will be able to learn more about the author’s life here, although it might be in your best interest to reserve a tour, as only Saturdays are open for self-guided tours.
Nicodemus National Historic Site in Nicodemus, Kansas
Nicodemus is the oldest extant black settlement west of the Mississippi, according to the NPS.
“Formerly enslaved African Americans left Kentucky in organized colonies at the end of the of post-Civil War Reconstruction period to experience freedom in the ‘promised land’ of Kansas,” the website reads.
Besides the actual locale, visitors can explore Nicodemus’ deep-seated history through census records and interactive historical features.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Nome, Alaska
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.
Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia
A little over 2,000 people visited the house of “Polish freedom fighter” Thaddeus Kosciuszko in 2018. If you’re asking yourself, “Who’s Thaddeus Kosciuszko?” well, that explains the low turnout.
Visitors can learn “how this brilliant military engineer designed successful fortifications during the American Revolution. See the room where he received notable visitors such as Chief Little Turtle and Thomas Jefferson,” according to the NPS.
However, plan accordingly: The site is only open between April and October and even then only on weekends from noon to 4 p.m.
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Carter G. Woodson Home in Washington, D.C.
Dubbed “The Father of African American History,” Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s home is regrettably underserved when it comes to tourism. NPS logged fewer than 2,000 visitors in 2018. The son of former slaves, Woodson dedicated himself to preserving the history of black people who’d contributed to America’s history. He founded the academic publications “The Journal of Negro History” and “The Negro History Bulletin.”
Note the house is currently closed to the public as of April 2019.
Yukon-Charley Rivers in Eagle, Alaska
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
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 Bay Area at no cost.
The site logged only 653 visitors in 2018, but given the densely populated area it’s in, that number is suspiciously low.
Clara Barton National Historic Site in McLean, Virginia
Clara Barton founded the Red Cross in 1881. This is the house she grew up in, and touring it, unlike most medical care, is free. The house also includes a symbolic set of stained glass red cross windows, according to the NPS website.
Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park, Texas
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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Mary McLeod Bethune Council House Historic Site in Washington, D.C.
Mary Bethune’s townhouse served as the first headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women. The house was used as “a rallying point for national organizations and individuals who made the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.” Bethune herself was the first black woman to head a federal agency. She was also friends with fellow historic site-er Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve in King Salmon, Alaska
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.