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What’s the most popular national park in the US?

America’s national parks are some of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring natural wonders in the world. These parks not only showcase the country’s diverse landscapes and wildlife, but also serve as important conservation sites. In this blog post, we will delve into the beauty and significance of America’s national parks, highlighting some of the most popular and visited parks in the country.

The Top Contender: Yellowstone National Park

Old faithful geyser in yellowstone national park

Yellowstone National Park, established in 1872, holds the distinction of being the first national park in the United States, and in the entire world. Located primarily in Wyoming, with small sections extending into Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is renowned for its geothermal features, including the famous Old Faithful geyser.

The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk. Visitors can also explore the park’s numerous hiking trails, go fishing in its pristine lakes and rivers, or simply enjoy the stunning vistas of its mountains and valleys.

Yellowstone National Park attracts millions of visitors each year, with over 3 million people visiting in 2019 alone. Its popularity can be attributed to its unique features, such as the iconic Yellowstone Caldera, which is one of the largest active volcanic systems in the world. The park’s geothermal features, including hot springs and mud pots, also draw in visitors who are fascinated by the park’s geological wonders.

Runner-Up: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, is another popular destination for nature lovers. Established in 1934, it is the most visited national park in the United States, attracting over 12 million visitors in 2022.

The park is known for its stunning mountain landscapes, with the Great Smoky Mountains serving as a backdrop to its lush forests and cascading waterfalls. Visitors can explore over 800 miles of hiking trails, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail, or take a scenic drive along the park’s picturesque roads.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also home to a rich diversity of plant and animal species, making it a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. The park is particularly famous for its synchronous fireflies, which put on a mesmerizing light show during their mating season.

While it may be the most visited park, it’s also one of the most accessible, and closer to large cities than most other national parks. That means it naturally draws more visitors than other parks that are more expensive and time-consuming to visit. 

That doesn’t mean it’s not a popular park – it’s wildly popular by any metric you can think of. It’s just that we shouldn’t give it the “most popular” award based on visitors alone. That’s why it’s our runner-up.

Coincidentally, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was actually the first national park I ever visited. I’d hiked and camped in a lot of places – including hiking on different continents, but I didn’t find my way to a national park until Great Smoky Mountains became my honeymoon destination. Covid meant that my wife and I, who had originally planned a trip to Banff National Park in Canada, had to scramble for a replacement – and a few days hiking in the smokies proved to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Other Popular National Parks in the US

In addition to Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks, there are numerous other national parks in the United States that are worth exploring. Each park offers its own unique features and attractions, showcasing the country’s diverse landscapes and ecosystems.

One such park is Yosemite National Park in California, which is renowned for its towering granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, and ancient sequoia trees. Visitors to Yosemite can hike to iconic landmarks such as Half Dome and El Capitan, or marvel at the beauty of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.

Another popular national park is Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, which is famous for its awe-inspiring vistas of the mile-deep canyon carved by the Colorado River. Visitors can hike along the rim trails, take a helicopter tour for a bird’s-eye view of the canyon, or even go white-water rafting in the river below.

Other notable national parks include Zion National Park in Utah, known for its towering sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons, and Glacier National Park in Montana, which boasts stunning alpine meadows, pristine lakes, and over 700 miles of hiking trails.

The top 5 most-visited national parks in 2022 are as follows:

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 12.9 million visitors
  2. Grand Canyon National Park – 4.7 million visitors
  3. Zion National Park – 4.6 million visitors
  4. Rocky Mountain National Park – 4.3 million visitors
  5. Acadia National Park – 3.9 million visitors


The most visited national park in the US

While Yellowstone and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks are undoubtedly popular, the most visited national park in the United States is actually the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stretching for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers stunning views of the Appalachian Mountains and is a favorite destination for road trips and scenic drives.

The parkway is particularly famous for its vibrant fall foliage, with visitors flocking to the area in autumn to witness the breathtaking display of colors. In addition to its natural beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway also offers opportunities for hiking, camping, and wildlife viewing.

The Blue Ridge Parkway’s popularity can be attributed to its accessibility and the variety of attractions it offers. With numerous overlooks, picnic areas, and visitor centers along its route, it provides a convenient and enjoyable way for visitors to experience the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.

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