Great places to visit, without the crowds
We all know the likes of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and, of course, the Grand Canyon, and there’s no denying that they’re some of the most breathtaking locations in the US.
But the one thing that can make visiting these national parks a little bit less special is the heaving crowds, especially in the last year, with record visitor numbers due to restrictions on international travel.
So if you want to try something different and experience one of the country’s lesser-known parks, which are your best bets?
We’ve analyzed Tripadvisor reviews of each national park in the USA against the latest visitor numbers to reveal the most underrated in the country.
To do so, we’ve looked at the best-reviewed parks with fewer than 1 million annual visitors (as well as the overrated parks with lots of visitors but low reviews!).
If you’re looking to see some of the best that the US has to offer, without having to fight through the crowds, why not book your airport hotel and give one of these underappreciated national parks a visit?
The USA’s most underrated national parks
1. Glacier Bay, Alaska
Total visitors: 5,748
% of “excellent” reviews: 92.9%
Given that it’s located way up in Alaska, it might not be surprising to see that Glacier Bay received just 5,748 visitors in 2020 (although bear in mind these numbers will have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic).
However, those who have visited this spectacular park are clearly in love with its majestic fjords and glaciers and snow-capped mountains, with 92.9% of the park’s reviews on Tripadvisor describing it as excellent!
2. Kenai Fjords, Alaska
Total visitors: 115,882
% of “excellent” reviews: 89.9%
Another Alaskan park takes second place, with Kenai Fjords receiving an average of 89.9% “excellent” reviews but just over 100,000 visitors a year.
Like Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords is pretty inaccessible from the continental USA, but the trip is well worth the journey, as home to the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the country, which is the source of at least 38 glaciers as well as multiple fjords.
3. Crater Lake, Oregon
Total visitors: 670,500
% of “excellent” reviews: 87.1%
While it attracts a few more visitors than the others that we’ve highlighted here, Crater Bay still saw fewer than a million visitors in 2020, so has to go down as one of the country’s most underrated parks, with 87.1% of reviews being excellent..
The park, located in Oregon, is home to the deepest lake in the US, giving it a beautiful deep blue color and clarity and it makes for a quieter alternative to the likes of Yellowstone and Yosemite.
The USA’s most overrated national parks
1. Indiana Dunes, Indiana
Total visitors: 2.3 million
% of “excellent” reviews: 51%
The Indiana Dunes are among the most visited national parks in the country, with 2.3 million visitors in 2020, yet it seems that not as many people were blown away by the lakefront park, with just 51% of people rating it as excellent.
The Dunes only became a national park in 2019 and many argue that they don’t really stand out too much from similar attractions around Lake Michigan which are likely to have much smaller crowds too.
2. Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
Total visitors: 2.8 million
% of “excellent” reviews: 54.8%
Cuyahoga Valley runs along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland in Northeast Ohio and draws just 2.8 million people a year, but just 54.8% of those rated the park as “excellent”.
While undoubtedly beautiful, perhaps Cuyahoga just doesn’t have the “wow” factors of the other popular parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone and covers just 30,000 acres, relatively small for such a well-visited park.
3. Hot Springs, Arkansas
Total visitors: 1.3 million
% of “excellent” reviews: 62.2%
Other than the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Hot Springs is the smallest national park in the country, but still attracts around 1.3 million visitors a year and while a respectable 62.2% of visitors rated it as excellent, that’s still a lot less than many of the other most popular parks.
Perhaps the most obvious explanation for this is that the hot springs themselves haven’t been preserved in their natural state in the wilderness, but rather turned into bathhouses in the spa city of the same name, so might not quite be the attraction that all visitors were hoping for.
We started by taking the number of recreation visitors in 2020 for each national park according to the National Park Service’s Annual Park Ranking Report.
We then roughly divided the parks into those that are more well-known, with more than a million visitors a year, and those that go a little more under the radar, with fewer than a million visitors.
We then analyzed each of the parks to find the % of Tripadvisor reviews left for each that rated the park as “excellent”, excluding parks with fewer than 100 reviews, as well as a handful that didn’t have Tripadvisor pages.