15 National Parks with Small Summer Crowds

Not to knock Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, Acadia, or Yellowstone, which are all glorious in their own right, but let’s face it, everyone wants to go there for summer vacation. Crowds take away from the experience, detracting from the overall tranquility and awesomeness. So if you’re looking to visit a National Park this summer, but have no desire to elbow your way through a crowd to snap a photo from the best viewpoint we’ve collected a list of some lesser known National Parks, Sites, and Monuments that are less crowded.

15 Less Crowded National Parks to Visit this Summer

Here are 15 National Parks and Sites to visit this summer if you aren't one for crowds. 

Katmai National Park & Preserve, King Salmon Alaska

If seeing a real live bear is on your bucket list, Katmai is for you!  According to the National Park website, the purpose of Katmai “is to protect, study, and interpret active volcanism surrounding the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, extensive coastal resources, habitats supporting a high concentration of salmon and brown bears, and an ongoing story of humans integrated with a dynamic subarctic ecosystem.” So while providing the perfect spot for research, Katmai also provides the perfect landscape for camping, hiking, and viewing wildlife. Be sure to check out the bear safety info before visiting. 

Getting there: Katmai cannot be accessed by car. You must take a plane or boat.

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North Cascades National Park, Washington

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of North Cascades. On August 25, you can check out the anniversary celebration, Music in the American Wild, which includes free performances and activities as a part of the NOCA50 celebration. Festivities will run from Tuesday, August 21 through Saturday, August 25. You can also explore abandoned mines and old hotels, as well as camp and hike.

Getting there: Less than 3 hours from Seattle

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Great Basin National Park, Baker NV

There is more to Nevada than Vegas. Take a ranger guided tour of Lehman Caves, which, although not overly crowded, you do need to book in advance. As of spring 2016, Great Basin has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park! Some of the darkest night skies in the US, which allows for some of the best stargazing in the country. There is an assortment of sky viewing activities including a star train, full moon hike, and solar telescope viewing.

Getting there: Located less than 4 hours south from Salt Lake City, and 4 hours 20 min from Las Vegas.

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Take in the beauteous landscape while hiking, rock climbing, and of course, camping. You will find a wide variety of animals including the yellow bellied marmot, Elk, rocky mt big horn sheep, mountain lion, black bear, and, the fastest bird in the world, a peregrine falcon. Click here for more information on the wildlife of Black Canyon. 

Getting there: While there is an airport in Gunnison, you may find better deals to Grand Junction, which is about an hour and a half away.Denver is a longer drive at just under 6 hours but a gorgeous one!

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Congaree National Park, Hopkins SC

The largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. There are 25 miles of trails, plus 2.4 miles of board walk for those who prefer a flatter terrain. On Saturdays there are ranger and volunteer guided tours. Try your hand at canoeing or kayaking on their marked canoe trails along the rivier. If you’re nervous about canoeing, they do offer guided canoe tours as well.

Getting there: Located just over a half hour from Columbia.

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Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West FL

This small group of islands 70 miles west of key west are anything but dry. Getting their name from the Portuguese word for Turtle, the “dry” was added at some point in the islands history, but this national park is best explored by water! Accessible only by ferry, private/chartered boat or seaplane, travel from island to island via kayak or paddleboard.

Getting there: ferries and planes leave from Key West. Key west is about  a 3 ½ hour drive from Miami.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Mosca CO

Did someone say sand sledding? Home of the tallest dunes in north America, you will be awed by these great dunes you may not have realized were even here. Aside from sand sledding, you can have hike and camp.

Getting there: Alamosa airport is 38 miles away, where you can get nonstop flights on Boutique Air from Denver. Denver is just over 3 ½ hour drive away, and Albuquerque is just under 4 hours.

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Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs AR

Nicknamed “The American Spa,” this is a more relaxing National Park. You can take a bath in the Fordyce Bathhouse, taking a break from reality in the water from the hot springs. Other activities include touring a historical bathhouse, strolling along bathhouse row and the grand promenade, or, of course, hiking along the 26 miles of trails.

Getting there: Little Rock is about an hour away.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora ND

 

Visit the land that inspired Theodore Roosevelt to care so passionately about preserving America’s beautiful landscapes. Roosevelt first visited here in 1883 as a young man, and later, dedicated his life to the conservation of land, earning him the nickname “Conservationist President." Camp, bike, canoe/kayak, horseback riding. Learn about the Bison Conservation project and getting up close and personal with bison and other wildlife.

Getting there: About a 2 hour drive from Bismark.

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Waco Mammoth National Monument, Waco TX

Established as a national park in 2015, Waco Mammoth was the site of is “the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths.” More of a museum than a park, you can view fossils of mammoths that lived 67,000 years ago at the archeological dig site. Learn about the animals that once roamed this land.

Getting there: Located under an hour and a half from Dallas/Fort Worth and just over an hour and a half from Austin.

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Cesar Chavez National Monument, Keene CA

Pay homage to co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association. A newer park still under development with new exhibits, programs, and services coming in the next few years, it should still be a stop on your lesser-visited parks tour, as it is an important piece of American history. Visit the graves of Chavez is buried in the Memorial Garden, and tour the nearby Desert Garden. Part of the Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz, the “home and workplace of the Chávez family and farmworker-movement organizations.”

Getting there: Keene CA is 2 hours north of LA.

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Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook AZ

There is no reason to fear a visit to the Petrified Forest, it gets its name from the large deposits of petrified wood found throughout its landscape. You’ll find plenty to do here, from camping, hiking, backpacking, and geocaching, a fun way to tour the park using a GPS app on your phone! Suggested itineraries on the National Park website are anywhere from an hour to more than a day.

Getting there: closest airports are Phoenix, or Albuquerque, both about a 3 hour drive from the park.

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Denali National Park, Alaska

Formerly known as McKinley National Park, Denali Peak is the highest point in North America. There are numerous ways to explore Denali: take a bus tour, cycle, hike. Check out the sled dog  demonstrations, or get spectacular views from a zipline.

Getting there: Unlike the other Alaskan parks we mentioned, you can actually get to Denali by car! There is one road that gets you there, which is accessible from both Fairbanks (2 hours) and Anchorage (5 hour drive).

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Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

After braving the crowds at Mt Rushmore National Monument, take the 50 minute drive south to Wind Cave, where you will find tranquility amongst the caves and surrounding 30 miles of hiking trails in one of America’s oldest national parks. Wind Cave is one of the longest caves in the world, where you can view the rare Boxwood mineral structure created by erosion in the mineral structure.

Getting there: An hour drive from Rapid City.

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Weir Farm National Historic Site, Wilton CT

Dubbed a “National Park for the Arts,” Weir Farm provides a unique experience you will be hard pressed to find at any other National Park. Originally home to impressionist artist J. Alden Weir, you can tour the house, walk the grounds, and get inspired for your own artistic aspirations. Check out the Art in the Park Annual Festival on August 25, take one of their art classes, or settle down on the grounds at anytime with your own art supplies.

Getting there: Weir Farm is located an hour and a half drive from Hartford.

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Above photos via TripAdvisor