America’s big cities tend to steal the spotlight, but much of the nation consists of wide-open spaces: national parks, plains, deserts that stretch for hundreds of miles, and places where you might not see another person all day. According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau as of July 2021, America's population is 331.89 million people. However, population distribution varies greatly among the states. For every California, New York, and Florida, there are several states with relatively sparse populations. Read on to discover the 10 least populated states in the U.S.
New Hampshire might not be atop your list of places to consider when you want to get away, but with mountains, charming towns, and even a tiny bit (18 miles) of coastline, perhaps it should be. With an estimated 147 people per square mile, overcrowding is not going to be a problem in the Granite State. New Hampshire attracts tourists throughout the year: In the winter, explore 7,000 miles of snowmobiling trails, or in summer, head to the state’s many lakes for a dose of fresh air. Don’t forget the fall, when the region’s famous foliage decorates the state with rich golds, reds, and browns.
Maine’s popularity has grown in recent years, but even the biggest cities of Portland and Lewiston remain a far cry from the heavily-packed urban areas found elsewhere in the U.S. With approximately 43 people per square mile, the morning commute shouldn’t see any traffic in most parts of the state. Like its New England neighbors, Maine attracts flocks of tourists for leaf-viewing in the fall and then an array of snowy activities in the winter. Don’t overlook the warmer seasons here, though. Pleasant summer temperatures are ideal for visiting the picturesque lighthouses and beautiful state parks, not to mention tucking into some locally-caught lobster.
Population: 1,104, 271
Locals love Big Sky Country, not just for the magnificent scenery but also for the relative isolation. The population density in Montana is a mere seven people per square mile, one of the lowest in the U.S. — and residents like it that way. Despite the sparse population, or perhaps because of it, visitors to this sprawling state receive a warm welcome. In addition to impressive national parks like Yellowstone and Glacier, there are a wide variety of state parks to explore. Montana is also rich in history and culture, with a plethora of ghost towns, wildlife preserves, tribal reservations, and art galleries.
The smallest state in the U.S. by land area, with just 1,121 square miles, Rhode Island is more densely populated than the other states on this list. Even so, the population of the entire state barely tops 1 million, so it never feels too busy. While Rhode Island does have opportunities for skiing and other winter sports, its 400 miles of coastline is what attracts most tourists. It’s not called the Ocean State for nothing. Visitors come to wander along the beachfront, hit the surf, visit historic seaside mansions (especially in Newport), and wash down some local seafood with a craft beer.
According to recent estimates, Delaware’s population has now crossed the 1 million mark. It is one of the fastest-growing states largely because of its proximity to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Often overlooked as a tourist destination, Delaware fits a lot of attractions into its 1,982 square miles. The southern part of the state is known for its beaches and coastal recreation, while the northern and central parts offer hiking trails, historic homes, and rolling hills to discover. January’s annual Fire and Ice Festival combines the coast and the winter chill into a fantastic display of illuminated ice sculptures.
Only five states have a population of fewer than 1 million. Of these, South Dakota may have the most residents, but its 77,000-square-mile area means there are only about 11 people per square mile. Even so, there is much to see here. The state’s natural beauty shines in the impressive rock formations of the Badlands, while Mount Rushmore is one of the country’s most iconic landmarks. Elsewhere, the in-progress carving of Crazy Horse is breathtaking for its size and history.
Determined not to be outdone by its southern neighbor, North Dakota has an even sparser population. Prairie stretches as far as the eye can see, and many travelers see it as little more than a lengthy pass-through state. Yet within that seeming empty landscape are plenty of hidden gems. This was once the land of Lewis and Clark, and state parks and historic forts serve as reminders of westward expansion. North Dakota’s heritage centers pay tribute to both the native peoples and the Scandinavian immigrants who made their homes here. And while this may be one of the last places you’d consider for a winter trip, North Dakota has downhill and cross-country skiing options providing all the fun of larger resorts without the crowds.
With an area almost twice that of Texas but just a small fraction of the population, Alaska is known as “The Last Frontier.” A density of 1.2 people per square mile virtually ensures isolation for those hardy souls who seek it out. Visitors are attracted by the state’s rugged natural beauty, the varied wildlife, and the opportunity to witness the northern lights. In the few months when snow is not on the ground, hiking and biking trails offer magnificent vistas and a fascinating way to discover the rich history of the Gold Rush, the Russian occupation, and the state’s native peoples.
Of all the New England states, Vermont has the smallest population, but its 9,600 square miles are ripe with opportunities for outdoor lovers. Mountains provide hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, with a break for the famous foliage in between. It’s no wonder that the state is a popular escape for those seeking to flee the hustle and bustle of New York at weekends. Vermont is also proud of its colonial history, not to mention its selection of local foods. This is a great place to get your fill of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, maple syrup, cheese, beer, and wine.
Topping the list of least populated states in the U.S. is Wyoming. More than half of its massive land area is public land, a factor that cuts down on development (along with its notoriously cold winters). Yet, despite its lack of residents, Wyoming is home to two of the nation’s most popular national parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The call of the great outdoors makes this a favorite road trip destination throughout the year, although in winter you may have better luck getting around by snowmobile or dog sled.