1) Kobuk Valley
Far and away (no pun intended) the least visited of our national parks system, Kobuk Valley National Park attracted only 847 visitors in 2007. Located in the Arctic Circle, accessible only by foot, dogsled or snowmobile, and featuring exactly zero designated trails and roads, the park's title of least visited isn't really that surprising.
What Kobuk Valley lacks in user-friendliness, however, it more than makes up for in sand dunes and caribou. The park is also a great place to experience the anomaly of 24-hour daylight (but only for one month a year).
Note: Population figures in this feature are the latest estimates available from the National Park Service.
2) Lake Clark
Concentrating all the best that Alaskan wilderness has to offer into a single park, it is surprising Lake Clark National Park and Preservation had only 5,549 visitors in 2007. Lakes, active volcanoes, three mountain ranges, glaciers, waterfalls, arctic-like tundra and even a rainforest comprise this majestic park outside of Anchorage. Sled dog teams were the best way to travel around the area until the 1960s, but they have recently faced competition from snowmobiles.
At 6,297 square miles, Lake Clark National Park provides plenty of open space for your personal enjoyment. With an average of only 15 visitors per day, this means each visitor has 419 square miles of pristine national park to him or herself every day.
See why Lake Clark National Park is one of 8 endangered national parks.
3) American Samoa
How many national parks can boast a rain forest and a coral reef? The National Park of American Samoa is unlike any other park, and if you weren't one of the park's 6,774 lucky visitors in 2007 (which, statistically, you probably weren't), we suggest you check it out.
The park, which spans three islands, offers a chance to see some great wildlife, from flying foxes to humpback whales. Admission to the park is free, which is good news because you'll probably need to book a couple flights to get there and don't forget your passport. Sure, it's basically three-quarters of the way to Australia (a nonstop flight from Los Angeles takes about 10 hours), but the National Park of American Samoa is way cooler than one of those overcrowded touristy national parks.
4) Gates of the Arctic
Don't let Into the Wild scare you away from the almost-untouched-by-man natural beauty of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Considering it's roughly the size of Switzerland, it's surprising that only 10,942 people ventured through this Alaskan park in 2007.
Millennia of glaciation and erosion have carved out a breathtaking array of valleys, rivers, mountains and crystal-clear lakes. For an opportunity to enjoy tranquility like you've never experienced before, head north — far, far, north — to this park, where you're more likely to encounter a moose or caribou than another tourist.
5) Isle Royale
Isle Royale is a true hidden gem perhaps this is why Michigan's state gemstone (Isle Royale greenstone) is named after the remote little island that's closer to Canada than it is to the States. Isle Royale is the largest island in Lake Superior, the greatest of the Great Lakes. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, Isle Royale National Park attracted 15,973 visitors in 2007.
Due to its remoteness, the island is populated by only about one third of the mammals that are found on the mainland. Interestingly, it is the only known place where wolves and moose live together without bears. If you don't like crowds (or bears) pack up the seaplane and head to Isle Royale National Park.
6) North Cascades
Considering its size and location (which is inconvenient, to say the least) it's no surprise Alaska has so many parks on this list. While Alaskan national parks feature some truly amazing stuff, North Cascades National Park in Washington provides an opportunity to experience Alaska-like wilderness closer to home. In addition to bears, moose and cougars, the park has the most glaciers (more than 300 of them!) outside of Alaska. Sadly, that number is steadily decreasing as global warming continues to claim its victims, so go see them while you can.
Located in northern Washington, the park is popular among backpackers and hikers. Its 400 miles of trails also make it accessible to less-adventurous outdoor lovers. North Cascades National Park was enjoyed by 19,534 visitors in 2007.
7) Dry Tortugas
Looking for sunken pirate ships and lost treasure? Civil War history buff? Really into masonry? If any of these apply to you, then Dry Tortugas National Park is the park for you. Seventy miles west of Key West are the Dry Tortugas islands, so-called because they lack surface fresh water ("dry") and Ponce de Leon caught a lot of sea turtles ("tortugas") here in the 1500s.
The centerpiece of the park is Fort Jefferson, a behemoth brick fortress originally intended to protect the U.S. from Gulf Coast invaders (namely pirates), but also used as a Union stronghold during the Civil War. The fort, although never completed, is comprised of more than 16 million bricks, making it the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.
Dry Tortugas is also a great place to watch migratory birds in the spring. With almost 300 bird species in the park, birdwatchers are in for quite a treat. As the 60,895 people who visited the park in 2007 can attest, Dry Tortugas National Park offers some great history in an idyllic setting.
8) Wrangell-St. Elias
The largest of all the national parks, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is actually larger than nine states. It is almost impossible to understand the scope of this park without experiencing it firsthand. Glaciers and mountains — many of which could support their own national parks — are the only ones crowded here. The park's 13 million acres provide a sprawling remote destination that is actually pretty accessible, as far as Alaskan national parks go. With 61,085 visitors in 2007, the park is increasing in popularity so enjoy its majesty before the Yellowstone crowd catches wind of it.
For those who just need some room to breathe, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park offers an average of 124 square miles per visitor, per day. That's the size of the country of Malta — and it's all waiting for you at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Smoky Mountain National Park, the most popular in the national park system, only offers a measly 0.03 square miles to each visitor each day.
9) Great Basin
Think of tourist destinations in Nevada and the first place your mind likely goes is Las Vegas. But our 36th state has so much more to offer than just strippers and slot machines. Head toward the Utah border and you'll find Great Basin National Park, which attracted 81,364 visitors in 2007.
Thanks to an almost complete lack of civilization in these parts, the night skies of Great Basin National Park are among the darkest in the country. Think of the park as the yin to Las Vegas' yang. Flashing neon lights are replaced with awesome, naked-eye views of the starry night — a rare opportunity for many. It's estimated that two-thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyards, and as light pollution continues to worsen, chances to observe the cosmos as nature intended might be running out.
Katmai National Park in southern Alaska provides thrill seekers an opportunity to hike among 14 active volcanoes and the world's largest population of protected brown bears. Active volcanoes and thousands of brown bears not extreme enough for you? Well the National Park Service Website also warns visitors to expect only "some sunshine" and to "be prepared for stormy weather." And here's the kicker: it also offers the caveat that "light rain can last for days." Consider yourself warned.
With 82,634 visitors in 2007, Katmai National Park is the most visited of our least visited national parks.