How many people visit America’s National Parks every year?

Sharing is caring!

National Parks are popular destinations for tourists and travelers. Discover how many visit US National Parks each year and the one with the most visitors.

By their very nature, National Parks easily attract a sizable number of visitors every year. Those who visit National Parks do so for a variety of reasons. Many individuals visit America’s National Parks because of their sheer beauty and unparalleled recreational activity opportunities. 

The National Parks had an incredible number of visitors in 2021. During that year, the National Parks received 297,115,406 visitors! 

You’re likely asking yourself, “What are some of the big reasons why the Parks receive such large visitation numbers?” “What specific activities are there to do that draw such large crowds?” and “What time of year is most popular to visit the Parks?”  

In this article, we’ll discuss the following:

  • Why do so many people visit America’s National Parks? 
  • Which National Parks get the most visitors?
  • What is the most popular time of year to visit the National Parks? 
how many people visit national parks each year annually
Visitors take in the view at Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo

Why do so many people visit America’s National Parks? 

The National Parks are often referred to as “America’s best idea,” and for a good reason. These Parks offer a large selection of enjoyable activities and opportunities for visitors with varying interests. 

The Parks offer the chance to see breathtaking scenery, captivating wildlife, important historical and archaeological sites, and endless outdoor recreational activities. There truly is something to do for everyone at our Nation’s National Parks. 

Breathtaking Scenery

The National Parks undoubtedly contain some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and diverse landscapes. 

The landscape is remarkable, from the wetlands of the everglades on the east coast to the prairies of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Great Plains to the towering Redwoods on California’s West Coast. 

Many visit the Parks simply to gaze their eyes on the scenery they offer. Scenic drives and photography are popular in the Parks.

Wildlife Viewing

The wildlife of America’s National Parks is equally as diverse and beautiful as its scenery. The nature seen at the Parks is not the kind you can see in your backyard. Rare, unique species are found throughout the country’s vast National Park System. 

Some examples include bison, grizzly bears, moose, and wolves, to name a few.

Historical and Archaeological Sites

Our Nation’s National Parks also preserve some important historical and archaeological sites. The Parks System offers visitors the chance to see National Battlefield Sites, historical buildings, and Native American cultural sites and ruins such as Mesa Verde National Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument

Recreational Activities

There is absolutely no shortage of outdoor recreational activities for Park visitors. Popular recreational activities include bicycling, camping, climbing, equestrianism, fishing, hiking, hunting, swimming, snowshoeing, kayaking, and more. This abundance of outdoor activities drives millions to visit the Parks. 

Visitors at Rocky Mountain National Park’s Alpine Visitor Center. NPS photo

Which National Parks Get the Most Visitors?

In 2021, forty-four parks set a record for recreation visits. Additionally, six parks broke a visitation record set the previous year in 2020. Some parks are naturally more popular than others and receive more foot traffic. 

The parks that attract the most visitors easily fall upon the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both of these are located in the Southeastern United States. 

Last year, the Blue Ridge Parkway saw over 15.9 visitors! Great Smoky Mountains National Park wasn’t far behind, receiving around 14.1 million visits! There are several reasons why these two parks are so popular.

One main reason for the popularity is that both parks do not charge an entrance fee. In fact, they are few of the only parks in the Nation to do so. Furthermore, both parks are located close to many people and are easily accessible for those living in surrounding areas. Around two-thirds of the Nation can get to the Parkway and Smoky Mountains within a day’s drive. 

Many people enjoy the Blue Ridge Parkway because of the beautiful brisk drives through the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s perfect for those who want to experience the mountains’ beauty without leaving their car. It’s frequently referred to as “America’s Favorite Drive.” The Parkway also connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Visitors enjoy a plethora of attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains. It offers 800 miles of hiking trails, scenic drives, rushing waterfalls, varied wildlife, and over 90 preserved historic structures. 

While these two parks are the most visited, there are also other extremely popular parks. Here’s a list of 2021’s 25 most visited parks:

  1. Blue Ridge Parkway: 15.9 million
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 14.1 million
  3. Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 13.7 million
  4. Gateway National Recreation Area: 9.1 million
  5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 7.6 million
  6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 6.8 million
  7. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6.4 million
  8. Lincoln Memorial: 5.8 million
  9. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 5.5 million
  10. Zion National Park: 5 million
  11. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 5 million
  12. Yellowstone National Park: 4.9 million
  13. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.5 million
  14. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.4 million
  15. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4.3 million
  16. Acadia National Park: 4 million
  17. Cape Cod National Seashore: 4 million
  18. Grand Teton National Park: 3.9 million
  19. World War II Memorial: 3.7 million
  20. Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 3.6 million
  21. Yosemite National Park: 3.3 million
  22. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area: 3.3 million
  23. Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 3.2 million
  24. Indiana Dunes National Park: 3.2 million
  25. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: 3.1 million
A portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

What is the most popular time of year to visit the National Parks?

Summer is definitely the most popular time of year to visit most National Parks. Summertime in the parks experiences high visitation numbers. This is for several good reasons:

  • Wildlife is the most prevalent and active. 
  • Water activities are easily accessible and highly popular.
  • The weather is favorable for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. 
  • Most children are on summer vacation during this time of year.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
An elk is seen at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. NPS photo

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the National Parks receive hundreds of millions of visitors every year. The Parks saw some 297,115,406 recreation visits in 2021 alone. This number continues to grow each year. People’s reasons for visiting the Parks are varied and well warranted.

The National Parks offer unparalleled outdoor recreational opportunities. Whether it’s hiking through a meadow or wooded forest, kayaking or swimming in a lake, or simply taking a leisurely drive through the mountains, there’s truly something to do for every family member. 

So what are you waiting for? Millions visit each year, so don’t be left out of the loop. Make a plan now to visit one of our Nation’s vast collections of National Parks! 

About Me

My husband and I have three precious daughters and live in the Kansas City, KS area. One of our favorite things to do is travel across the country visiting our extraordinary US National Parks!

Let us know what you think about our content and if you have any questions, suggestions, or have any favorite memories or tips you would like to share. We would love to hear from you!

Happy Travels! Sandy