Special Report

The Most Visited National Parks in the US

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As COVID-19 restrictions loosened from the height of the pandemic in 2020, Americans eagerly hit the road in 2021 to take in the beauty of one of the nation’s 423 national parks located in the U.S. and its territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. 

The National Park Service counted 297 million recreational trips to its sites in 2021, an increase of 25.3% or 60 million visits, from the previous year. The agency attributes the rise to a fewer COVID-19 protocols that opened the parks to more visitors. However, NPS points out that the number of visitations has yet to fully recover from pre-pandemic levels. (Not interested in parks? Here are the strangest tourist attraction in every state.)

When they decide to go to a national park, Americans certainly have plenty of beautiful and historic options from which to choose. Of the 423 sites, only 63 have National Park designations — and some of these parks prove to be more popular than others. 

To determine the most visited national parks, 24/7 Tempo reviewed statistics from the NPS’s Annual Park Ranking for Recreation Visits in 2021, listing all 63 national parks in order of recreational visits. NPS defines a recreation visit as one done purely to enjoy the park. A school trip, therefore, would be considered a recreation visit. Visits to the 63 national parks totaled about 92 million in 2021. The percentage of visits to each park is of that total.

Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee, the Great Smoky Mountains topped out as the most visited park by a large margin. Its 14 million million visitors gazed at its rolling mountains and abundant plant and animal life. 

Although the Great Smoky Mountains is located in the South, the Western U.S. placed four parks in the top five. Second place Zion National Park in Utah had more than 5 million visitors. Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado each welcomed more than 4 million visitors in 2021. 

If you’re looking for a national park a little less crowded, try the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska. It had 7,362 visitors. But those who went saw a virtually unchanged landscape. Just be prepared to make your own way without any trails or roads if you go visit. Here are the national sites no one wants to visit anymore.

Click here to see the most visited national parks in the US

Source: naturenps / Flickr

63. Gates of the Arctic, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 7,362 (or 0.01% of all NP visits)
> Known for: There are no roads or trails, park is virtually unchanged

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62. National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa
> Recreational visits, 2021: 8,495 (or 0.01% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Comprises seven South Pacific islands and atolls

Source: alaskanps / Flickr

61. Kobuk Valley, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 11,540 (or 0.01% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Caribou, sand dunes, the Kobuk River, Onion Portage

Source: SoisudaS / iStock via Getty Images

60. North Cascades, Washington
> Recreational visits, 2021: 17,855 (or 0.02% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Conifer-clad mountains, glaciers and lakes, as well as grizzly bears and wolves

Source: Wildnerdpix / iStock via Getty Images

59. Lake Clark, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 18,278 (or 0.02% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Volcanoes steam, bears forage, mountains, and turquoise lakes

58. Katmai, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 24,764 (or 0.02% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Brown bears and salmon

Source: photosbysixfive / iStock via Getty Images

57. Isle Royale, Michigan
> Recreational visits, 2021: 25,844 (or 0.03% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Being rugged and isolated, great for backpackers, boaters, and divers

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Source: troutnut / iStock via Getty Images

56. Wrangell-St. Elias, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 50,189 (or 0.05% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The park is the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined

Source: Dana Allen / iStock via Getty Images

55. Dry Tortugas, Florida
> Recreational visits, 2021: 83,817 (or 0.09% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The 19th-century Fort Jefferson, protected coral reefs

Source: Maridav / iStock via Getty Images

54. Glacier Bay, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 89,768 (or 0.10% of all NP visits)
> Known for: One of the world’s largest international protected areas, and having rugged mountains, glaciers, deep sheltered fjords

Source: Elizabeth M. Ruggiero / iStock via Getty Images

53. Great Basin, Nevada
> Recreational visits, 2021: 144,875 (or 0.16% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Ancient bristlecone pine groves, the 13,063-foot summit of Wheeler Peak

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52. Congaree, South Carolina
> Recreational visits, 2021: 215,181 (or 0.23% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the country

Source: 1111IESPDJ / E+ via Getty Images

51. Denali, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 229,521 (or 0.25% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Six million acres of wild land, divided by one ribbon of road

Source: BlueBarronPhoto / iStock via Getty Images

50. Voyageurs, Minnesota
> Recreational visits, 2021: 243,042 (or 0.26% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Forests, waterways and island-dotted Rainy, Kabetogama and Namakan lakes

Source: Ron and Patty Thomas / iStock via Getty Images

49. Guadalupe Mountains, Texas
> Recreational visits, 2021: 243,291 (or 0.26% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Canyons, desert and dunes, night skies

Source: dschnarrs / iStock via Getty Images

48. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado
> Recreational visits, 2021: 308,910 (or 0.33% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Being home to some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rock formations on the continent

Source: benedek / iStock via Getty Images

47. Channel Islands, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 319,252 (or 0.35% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth

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Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

46. Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands
> Recreational visits, 2021: 323,999 (or 0.35% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Coral reefs, forests, white sand beaches, and sea turtles

Source: NickLustPhotography / iStock via Getty Images

45. Pinnacles, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 348,857 (or 0.38% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Formed some 23 million years ago when multiple volcanoes erupted

Source: elan7t50 / iStock via Getty Images

44. Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
> Recreational visits, 2021: 349,244 (or 0.38% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Having at least 199 caves – of all sizes

Source: heyengel / iStock via Getty Images

43. Lassen Volcanic, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 359,635 (or 0.39% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Hydrothermal sites, bubbling mud pots, and views from the Lassen Peak Volcano

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Source: Wander Photography / iStock via Getty Images

42. Kenai Fjords, Alaska
> Recreational visits, 2021: 411,782 (or 0.45% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Outflowing glaciers, and coastal fjords and islands

Source: franckreporter / E+ via Getty Images

41. Redwood, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 435,879 (or 0.47% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The tallest trees on Earth

Source: ColorPlayer / iStock via Getty Images

40. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
> Recreational visits, 2021: 515,774 (or 0.56% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The longest known cave system in the world

Source: snoofek / iStock via Getty Images

39. Mesa Verde, Colorado
> Recreational visits, 2021: 548,477 (or 0.59% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, and protecting the heritage of 26 Pueblos and Tribes

Source: MargaretW / iStock via Getty Images

38. Kings Canyon, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 562,918 (or 0.63% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Deep valleys, skyscraping trees, and distinctive rock outcroppings

Source: Tim Speer / iStock via Getty Images

37. Big Bend, Texas
> Recreational visits, 2021: 581,220 (or 0.006% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, limestone cliffs, and clear dark night skies

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Source: encrier / iStock via Getty Images

36. Petrified Forest, Arizona
> Recreational visits, 2021: 590,334 (or 0.64% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Colorful petrified wood and petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock

Source: marekuliasz / iStock via Getty Images

35. Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
> Recreational visits, 2021: 602,613 (or 0.65% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The tallest dunes in North America

Source: Dendron / iStock via Getty Images

34. Crater Lake, Oregon
> Recreational visits, 2021: 647,751 (or 0.70% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the US and one of the most pristine on the planet

Source: stockphoto52 / iStock via Getty Images

33. Biscayne, Florida
> Recreational visits, 2021: 705,655 (or 0.76% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Shipwrecks, dive sites, and the Boca Chita Lighthouse

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Source: SergeYatunin / iStock via Getty Images

32. Wind Cave, South Dakota
> Recreational visits, 2021: 709,001 (or 0.77% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The Wind Cave, one of the longest and most complex caves in the world

31. White Sands, New Mexico
> Recreational visits, 2021: 782,469 (or 0.85% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Its glistening white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals, making up the world’s largest gypsum dunefield (275 square miles of desert)

Source: Jacob Boomsma / iStock via Getty Images

30. Theodore Roosevelt, North Dakota
> Recreational visits, 2021: 796,085 (or 0.86% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The colorful Painted Canyon and the Maltese Cross Cabin, where President Roosevelt once lived

Source: P_L_photography / iStock via Getty Images

29. Haleakala, Hawaii
> Recreational visits, 2021: 853,181 (or 0.92% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The dormant Haleakalā Volcano and endangered Hawaiian geese

Source: Don White / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

28. Canyonlands, Utah
> Recreational visits, 2021: 911,594 (or 0.99% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Dramatic canyons and buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries

Source: SimonSkafar / iStock via Getty Images

27. Everglades, Florida
> Recreational visits, 2021: 942,130 (or 1.02% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The park comprises 1.5-million-acre wetlands

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Source: lucky-photographer / iStock via Getty Images

26. Sequoia, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,059,548 (or 1.15% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world (by volume)

Source: ericfoltz / E+ via Getty Images

25. Saguaro, Arizona
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,079,786 (or 1.17% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Being home to America’s largest cacti, and having majestic desert sunsets

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

24. Gateway Arch, Missouri
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,145,081 (or 1.24% of all NP visits)
> Known for: The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West

Source: Alex Floston / iStock via Getty Images

23. Death Valley, California and Nevada
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,146,551 (or 1.24% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Record summer heat and being located below sea level

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Source: stevegeer / E+ via Getty Images

22. Badlands, South Dakota
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,224,226 (or 1.33% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Layered rock formations, steep canyons, and towering spires

Source: Eachat / iStock via Getty Images

21. Hawaii Volcanoes, Hawaii
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,262,747 (or 1.52% of all NP visits)
> Known for: KÄ«lauea and Mauna Loa – two of the world’s most active volcanoes

Source: benedek / iStock via Getty Images

20. Capitol Reef, Utah
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,405,353 (or 0.015% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Waterpocket Fold, a geologic wrinkle on earth, and very clear dark night skies

Source: beklaus / E+ via Getty Images

19. Shenandoah, Virginia
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,592,312 (or 1.73% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Cascading waterfalls, spectacular views, and fields of wildflowers

18. Mount Rainier, Washington
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,670,063 (or 1.81% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier is an active volcano and the most glaciated peak in the contiguous US

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

17. New River Gorge, West Virginia
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,682,720 (or 1.82% of all NP visits)
> Known for: New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent

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Source: jose1983 / iStock via Getty Images

16. Arches, Utah
> Recreational visits, 2021: 1,806,865 (or 1.96% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Having over 2,000 natural stone arches and stunning sunsets

Source: lucky-photographer / iStock via Getty Images

15. Bryce Canyon, Utah
> Recreational visits, 2021: 2,104,600 (or 2.28% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Having the greatest number of hoodoos – irregular columns of rock – on Earth

Source: zrfphoto / iStock via Getty Images

14. Hot Springs, Arkansas
> Recreational visits, 2021: 2,162,884 (or 2.34% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Ancient thermal springs and historic bathhouses

Source: LarryKnupp / iStock via Getty Images

13. Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio
> Recreational visits, 2021: 2,575,275 (or 2.79% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Native plants and wildlife, and the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal

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Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

12. Olympic, Washington
> Recreational visits, 2021: 2,718,925 (or 2.95% of all NP visits)
> Known for: A wide range of precipitation and elevation and over 70 miles of wild coastline

Source: Frank DeBonis / iStock via Getty Images

11. Joshua Tree, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 3,064,400 (or 3.32% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Two distinct desert ecosystems – the Mojave and the Colorado

Source: Jon Farmer / iStock via Getty Images

10. Glacier, Montana
> Recreational visits, 2021: 3,081,656 (or 3.34% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Melting glaciers, alpine meadows, carved valleys, and 700 miles of trails

Source: Jon Lauriat / iStock via Getty Images

9. Indiana Dunes, Indiana
> Recreational visits, 2021: 3,177,210 (or 3.44% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, prairies, and forests

Source: Bartfett / iStock via Getty Images

8. Yosemite, California
> Recreational visits, 2021: 3,287,595 (or 3.56% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Waterfalls, deep valleys, grand meadows, and ancient giant sequoias

Source: benedek / E+ via Getty Images

7. Grand Teton, Wyoming
> Recreational visits, 2021: 3,885,230 (or 4.21% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Rich with diverse wildlife, pristine lakes, and alpine terrain

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Source: James Griffiths Photography / iStock via Getty Images

6. Acadia, Maine
> Recreational visits, 2021: 4,069,098 (or 4.41% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline, the crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast

5. Rocky Mountain, Colorado
> Recreational visits, 2021: 4,434,848 (or 4.81% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Environment ranging from meadows to alpine lakes and towering mountain peaks

Source: jose1983 / iStock via Getty Images

4. Grand Canyon, Arizona
> Recreational visits, 2021: 4,532,677 (or 4.91% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Being one of the biggest canyons in the world, formed about five to six million years

Source: tiny-al / iStock via Getty Images

3. Yellowstone, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
> Recreational visits, 2021: 4,860,242 (or 5.27% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Unique hydrothermal and geologic features

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Source: Joecho-16 / iStock via Getty Images

2. Zion, Utah
> Recreational visits, 2021: 5,039,835 (or 5.46% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Massive sandstone cliffs of cream and pink, and paths pioneers have walked

Source: (c) Sean Board / iStock via Getty Images

1. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
> Recreational visits, 2021: 14,161,548 (or 15.35% of all NP visits)
> Known for: Diversity of plant and animal life, and ancient mountains

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