Each year, over 300 million people embark on journeys to explore the wonders of US national parks. With the country's vast geographic diversity, it's no wonder the National Park Service was established to safeguard its natural beauty. From breathtaking mountain hikes to ancient canyons adorned with rock formations dating back millions of years, these parks offer endless marvels for adventurers. Yet, amid the stunning landscapes, bustling crowds and congested trails can sometimes detract from the experience. To address this, some popular parks have implemented maximum capacities and restricted access to certain areas. With a total of 63 national parks to choose from, deciding where to go can be daunting. That's why we've curated a list of the 9 most underrated national parks in the US—hidden gems that rival the beauty of the more frequented destinations but with significantly fewer crowds. To provide some baselines for just how crowded these parks can get, here are the visitor numbers for the last year for the top 5 most popular US national parks:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 13.29 million
  2. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.73 million
  3. Zion National Park: 4.62 million
  4. Yellowstone National Park: 4.50 million
  5. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.11 million

9 Most Underrated National Parks in the US

US national parks are some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the world, to beat the crowds we've compiled a list of some of the least visited US national parks. Each of these national parks brings in less than 1 million visitors per year, while still being mesmerizing natural wonders. In our guide we will include best times to visit, must see sites, and how many visitors each park gets per year.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Number of visitors per year: 140,000

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Great Basin National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the US despite its pristine dark skies and untouched landscapes.Here, adventurers can trek Nevada’s second tallest peak with minimal encounters, or marvel at the celestial wonders through stellar stargazing sessions, courtesy of the park's remote location. With alpine lakes, towering peaks, limestone caves, and ancient bristlecone pines under the brightest stars in the Lower 48, Great Basin National Park stands as a testament to Nevada's natural wonders. Curious about the park's namesake? The Great Basin encompasses vast expanses of Nevada and parts of neighboring states, characterized by basin and range province topography—a blend of wide valleys and lofty mountains.

Best Time to Visit:
Great Basin National Park shines brightest from late spring to early fall. Summer offers ideal hiking conditions, but keep in mind the high elevation can lead to chilly nights even in warmer months. Fall dazzles with vibrant foliage and fewer crowds, while winter transforms the landscape into a snowy wonderland, perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Must-See Sites:

  • Wheeler Peak: Scale Nevada's second tallest peak for stunning panoramic views and a thrilling alpine adventure.
  • Lehman Caves: Delve into the intricate passages of this ancient limestone cave system, adorned with fascinating formations.
  • Bristlecone Pine Grove: Encounter the world's oldest living trees, resilient sentinels standing for thousands of years amidst the harsh alpine environment.
  • Stella Observatory: Marvel at the cosmos from one of the park's designated stargazing spots, offering unrivaled views of the night sky.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Number of visitors per year: 80,000

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Located over 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is unique park unlike any other, with crystal-clear blue waters, a rich 200-year history, and untouched tropical environment. Getting here is an adventure in itself, as the park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, and amenities are minimal, making it essential to come prepared for your visit. While it may require some extra planning, the journey to Dry Tortugas promises unparalleled rewards for those seeking an off-the-grid escape. Once you arrive, the possibilities for exploration are endless. Snorkel through vibrant coral reefs, swim in the pristine waters, and embark on ranger-guided tours to uncover the park's fascinating history, including the imposing Fort Jefferson. For those with a thirst for adventure, activities like geocaching, fishing, and paddling await. Camping on the island offers a chance to immerse yourself fully in its natural beauty, while day visitors can fill their itinerary with exciting excursions and wildlife encounters.

Best Time to Visit:
Dry Tortugas National Park welcomes visitors year-round, with warm and sunny weather prevailing in every season. Winter brings milder temperatures and lower humidity, though it can be windier with rougher seas. Summer months are hot and humid, while hurricane season from June to November carries the risk of storms. Despite this, any time of year offers the opportunity for a memorable experience in this picturesque paradise.

Must-See Sites:

  • Garden Key: Home to historic Fort Jefferson and the main entry point for visitors.
  • Loggerhead Key: Explore pristine beaches and excellent snorkeling spots on this larger island.
  • Bush Key: During the breeding season (February to September), witness thousands of sooty terns and brown noddies nesting on this undeveloped island.
  • Coral Reefs: Dive or snorkel to discover vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life, a highlight of any visit to Dry Tortugas National Park.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Number of visitors per year: 300,000

Big Bend, Texas
Over a 4.5 hour from the nearest airport and biggest city (El Paso) the wilderness and nearly untouched space of Big Bend National Park commands both awe and respect. Covering over 800,000 acres of desert and mountains, Big Bend is not for the faint of heart. Here, the landscape is as rugged as it is breathtaking, with sharp, spiny flora and potentially venomous wildlife. The sun beats down relentlessly, sandstorms can arise unexpectedly, and flash floods are a real concern during rainy spells. But for those who dare to venture into its depths, Big Bend offers an unparalleled adventure.

Despite its dangers, Big Bend's allure is undeniable. The park encompasses a stunning expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert, punctuated by deep canyons, lush oases, and the towering peaks of the Chisos Mountains, some reaching heights of up to 8,000 feet. The Rio Grande River cuts a verdant swath through the desert, its waters carving a dramatic path towards the Gulf of Mexico. For those seeking solitude and adventure, Big Bend offers 150 miles of trails leading to magnificent vistas and remote wilderness.

Best Times to Visit:
For optimal weather and fewer crowds, consider visiting Big Bend in the fall or spring. Winter offers mild temperatures, but be prepared for occasional cold snaps. Summers are hot and humid, with the added risk of thunderstorms and flash floods.

Must-Sees:

  • Santa Elena Canyon: Marvel at the sheer limestone walls of this iconic canyon, carved by the Rio Grande.
  • Chisos Basin: Explore the heart of the park, surrounded by towering peaks and lush vegetation.
  • Emory Peak: Hike to the highest point in Big Bend for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Rio Grande Village Nature Trail: Take a leisurely stroll along this easy trail, ideal for birdwatching and wildlife spotting.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Number of visitors per year: 500,000

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

With flocks of people heading to the more popular national parks in California like Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic is often overlooked and remains the least visited national park in California. Located about a four-hour drive northeast of San Francisco, Lassen Volcanic National Park in Mineral, California, offers 100,000 acres of a diverse range of volcanic activity, from boiling mud pots to roaring fumaroles, all without the crowds typically found in more popular parks. One of the park's main attractions is Lassen Peak, one of the world's largest plug domes, which last erupted between 1914 and 1921. Visitors can marvel at this impressive volcano, along with four other volcano types found within the park, including shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome. For a more immersive experience, venture to Bumpass Hell, the park's largest hydrothermal area. Accessible via a three-mile trail during the summer and fall months, this area features a 16-acre basin of hydrothermal activity, providing a close-up view of the park's volcanic landscape.

Best Times to Visit:
For optimal weather and fewer crowds, plan your visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park during the summer and fall months, typically from June through October. This is when most trails and attractions are open, allowing for a full exploration of the park's volcanic wonders.

Must-Sees:

  • Lassen Peak: Marvel at one of the world's largest plug domes and witness the remnants of past volcanic activity.
  • Sulphur Works: Experience the park's hydrothermal activity up close, with vibrant colors and pungent scents.
  • Bumpass Hell: Explore the park's largest hydrothermal area via a scenic three-mile trail, offering a close-up view of boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles.
  • Terminal Geyser and Cold Boiling Lake: Witness unique natural phenomena, including a steam vent in the middle of a creek and a cool-water lake that bubbles like sparkling water.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Number of visitors per year: 900,000

Canyonlands National Park, Utah
One of the "Mighty Five" national parks in Utah, but often overlooked is Canyonlands National Park, a stunning hidden gem located near Moab, Utah. While Arches National Park may steal the spotlight with its iconic arches and bridges, Canyonlands offers a rugged desert landscape and breathtaking viewpoints that are equally unforgettable. Just minutes outside of Moab, visitors will find themselves immersed in a landscape of towering cliffs, deep canyons, and expansive vistas. Whether you're into biking, rafting, rock climbing, or exploring in a Jeep, Canyonlands has something for everyone, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Best Times to Visit:
For optimal weather and fewer crowds, consider visiting Canyonlands National Park during the spring or fall months, typically from March to May or September to November. During these times, temperatures are mild, and the park is less crowded, allowing for a more enjoyable experience.

Must-Sees:

  • Island in the Sky: Located close to Moab and Arches, this section of the park boasts iconic Grand Canyon-like views. Visitors can stand on the edge of sheer cliffs and gaze out into the vast expanse below.
  • The Needles: Situated at the bottom of the canyons, The Needles district offers wonderful hikes and a diverse array of landscapes to explore.
  • Horseshoe Canyon & The Maze: These backcountry destinations require off-roading and hiking but offer unparalleled solitude and breathtaking scenery.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Number of visitors per year: 400,000

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

In the heart of Southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park beckons visitors with its breathtaking beauty and natural wonders. From the lofty heights of its rim to the serene depths of its crystalline waters, Crater Lake offers an unparalleled experience of wonder and awe. At over 1,900 feet deep, Crater Lake is not only the deepest lake in America but also one of the deepest on Earth, boasting a mesmerizing blue hue that captivates all who behold it. Encircled by cliffs towering nearly 2,000 feet high, the lake sits within the caldera of Mount Mazama, a dormant volcano with a violent past. Visitors to Crater Lake can explore its pristine surroundings year-round, with opportunities for hiking, camping, picnicking, and sightseeing amidst old-growth forests and snow-capped peaks.

Best Times to Visit:
The most popular time to visit Crater Lake National Park is from July through mid-September when the weather is mild and precipitation is minimal. For those seeking solitude and winter adventure, the park is open year-round, with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities available during the colder months. Visitors should be prepared for changing weather conditions and extreme winter weather, especially from October through June.

Must-Sees:

  • Rim Drive: Experience breathtaking views of Crater Lake and its surrounding landscapes from various viewpoints along Rim Drive.
  • Cleetwood Cove Trail: Descend to the water's edge on this steep but rewarding trail for a close-up view of the lake's azure waters.
  • Wizard Island: Take a boat tour to this picturesque island within Crater Lake, offering opportunities for hiking and exploring its volcanic features.
  • Pinnacles Overlook: Marvel at the unique rock formations and panoramic vistas of the park's rugged terrain from this scenic overlook.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Number of visitors per year: 600,000

Roosevelt National Park. North Dakota

Forget the Badlands and explore the more rugged and less crowded Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Spanning 70,000 acres of prairie grasses, sagebrush, and vibrant painted canyons, this unique park offers a haven for wildlife amid its scenic beauty. As you explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park, keep your eyes peeled for the diverse array of wildlife that calls this area home. Bison, wild horses, bighorn sheep, and deer are just a few of the majestic creatures that roam freely throughout the park, often spotted near the banks of the Little Missouri River. For a chance to encounter wild horses up close, venture into the South Unit where sightings are more frequent. Despite its remote location, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a hidden gem that rewards intrepid travelers with its stunning natural beauty and abundant wildlife. From the rolling badlands to the winding rivers, this park showcases the untamed wilderness that inspired Teddy Roosevelt to become a conservationist and advocate for national parks.

Best Times to Visit:
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is best visited from late spring to early fall when the weather is mild and wildlife is most active. Summer months offer ideal conditions for hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives, although temperatures can be hot during the day. For a quieter experience, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall when crowds are fewer, and temperatures are more moderate.

Must-Sees:

  • Scenic Drives: Take a leisurely drive through the park's South and North Units, offering panoramic views of the badlands and opportunities for wildlife sightings.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Keep an eye out for bison, wild horses, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife along the park's scenic drives and hiking trails.
  • Oxbow Overlook: Enjoy breathtaking views of the badlands and the Little Missouri River from this scenic overlook in the North Unit.
  • Painted Canyon Overlook: Marvel at the colorful striations of the badlands and keep an eye out for wild horses along the trails at this popular overlook in the South Unit.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Number of visitors per year: 450,000

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The first national park established in Colorado is Mesa Verde National Park and it truly stands as a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the Ancestral Pueblo peoples. This national treasure encompasses more than 4,000 known archaeological sites dating back to A.D. 550, including the iconic cliff dwellings that are among the best-preserved sites in the United States.The star attractions of Mesa Verde are undoubtedly the cliff dwellings, which offer visitors a unique glimpse into the daily lives of the ancient inhabitants. These remarkable structures, built between 1190 and 1280, are nestled under the overhanging cliffs of Mesa Verde and range from one-room storage units to villages with over 150 rooms.

Best Times to Visit:
The best time to visit Mesa Verde National Park is during the spring and fall seasons when the weather is mild, and crowds are fewer. Summer months can be crowded, especially around popular sites like the cliff dwellings, so consider visiting early in the day or later in the afternoon to avoid the busiest times. Winter visits offer a unique experience with fewer crowds, but some facilities and tours may be closed or limited due to snow and ice.

Must-Sees:

  • Cliff Palace: Explore the largest cliff dwelling in North America and marvel at its intricate architecture and cultural significance.
  • Long House: Discover the well-preserved rooms and structures of this expansive cliff dwelling, offering insights into ancient Puebloan life.
  • Balcony House: Embark on an adventurous tour of this cliff dwelling, featuring narrow passages, steep stairs, and stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
  • Petroglyph Point Trail: Hike this scenic trail to view ancient petroglyphs and enjoy panoramic vistas of Mesa Verde's unique terrain.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Number of visitors per year: 750,000

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Located in southern New Mexico, White Sands National Park is a mesmerizing landscape of endless white sand dunes, stretching across more than 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. These stunning dunes, composed of gypsum sand, create a surreal and ethereal environment that captivates visitors with its stark beauty and unique geology.The park offers a variety of experiences for adventurers of all levels. From easy to extremely difficult trails, visitors can hike through the undulating dunes, immersing themselves in the ever-changing landscape. For those seeking thrills, designated areas offer the exhilarating opportunity to sled down the sandy slopes, adding an element of fun to the exploration. Established as a national monument in 1933 and redesignated as a national park in 2019, White Sands is a testament to the resilience of plants and animals that have adapted to this unique environment.

Best Times to Visit:
The best time to visit White Sands National Park is during the cooler months of the year, typically from October to April, when temperatures are milder and more comfortable for outdoor activities. Additionally, early mornings and late afternoons offer softer lighting and cooler temperatures, providing ideal conditions for hiking and photography.

Must-Sees:

  • Dune Field: Explore the vast expanse of white sand dunes, marveling at their wave-like formations and otherworldly beauty.
  • Alkali Flat Trail: Take a hike on one of the park's trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks, and discover the unique flora and fauna adapted to this desert environment.
  • Sledding: Experience the thrill of sledding down the sandy slopes in designated areas, adding an element of adventure to your visit.

Which Underrated National Park Will You Visit?

Discover the hidden wonders of America's national parks with an Experience gift card. Treat yourself or a loved one to an unforgettable adventure exploring lesser-known hikes, majestic canyons, volcanic landscapes, and more.

Gift the thrill of soaring above the breathtaking sand dunes of White Sands Park in New Mexico, where the world's largest gypsum dune field awaits. Or send a friend to a beach side hotel  in Key West, where they can embark on a ferry adventure to the remote paradise of Dry Tortugas National Park. For an unparalleled aerial view of mesmerizing rock formations, treat someone special to a helicopter ride above the awe-inspiring Canyonlands.

Whether it's hiking through ancient forests, exploring hidden caves, or witnessing wildlife in their natural habitats, an Experience gift card opens the door to unforgettable experiences in America's most stunning national parks. Start planning your next adventure today!