Top 5 Most Popular National Parks

Last Updated on August 8, 2020 by Janet Frost

Happy Holidays! and Welcome to our 12 Days of National Parks. Today we are going to take a closer look at the Top 5 Most Popular National Parks. As I explained in the series introduction, the National Park Service manages 419 “parks” but only 61 are actually designated as National Parks. We will look at the Top 5 of both designations.

Let’s Go Learn Things about the Most Popular National Parks…

Top 5 Most Popular National Parks

#1 The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Historic Cades Cabin in the Most Popular National Parks Great Smoky National Park
Cades Cabin in the Most Popular National Park, Great Smoky Mountains NP

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most visited National Park in 2018, with 11,421,200 visitors. Yes! That is over 11 million visitors. This National Park has been a perennial favorite for more than a decade. There are two major factors that explain this popularity.

First, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 522,427 beautiful acres, divided between North Carolina and Tennessee. This vast region is replete with forested mountain ranges, rushing streams, wetlands, valleys and peaks.

Secondly, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, found in the Appalachian Mountain Range, is within a day’s drive of the densely populated U.S. East Coast.

Learn More: Great Smoky Mtns NP UNESCO site

#2 Grand Canyon National Park

Many of you probably expected the Grand Canyon to be the most popular National Park. This Southwest U.S. icon is certainly on bucket lists around the world. The Grand Canyon National Park actually sees just about half as many visitors as the Great Smoky Mountains with 6,380,495 visitors. It is another UNESCO site and spans 277 river miles of the Colorado River. The South and North Rim teeter on the edge of this vast chasm.  South Rim sites are open year round and are the most visited. North Rim is a higher elevation with cooler temps and severe winter weather that closes the park from October-May.

Learn More: Grand Circle Road Trip and Celebrate on the North Rim

#3 Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado
Lily Lake and distant view of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain NP

Coming in at number 3 is the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the nation, with elevations from 7,860 feet to 14,259 feet. Sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet high makes this a mecca for peak baggers.

Learn More: Colorado Beercation

#4 Zion National Park

Most popular National Parks Zion NP

Zion National Park is one of the “Mighty 5” of Utah. It is the most popular of Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Bryce Canyon NP and Capitol Reef NP. The state of Utah has so many unique geological formations and diverse landscapes, it fills a lifetime bucket list all alone.

#5 Yellowstone National Park

Top 5 Most Popular National Parks
Photo credit Joseph Tomasello

Yellowstone National Park was the very first National Park set aside as public land in 1872, long before the National Park Service was created. This priceless sanctuary has thermal hot springs, dramatic canyons, streams lakes and unique wildlife.

Most Popular “Other Parks” in the NPS

The list below shares the most popular venues managed by the National Park Service. You will notice National Recreation Areas which typically include several different facilities within a large and diverse area. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is the most popular of all National Parks Service lands. It encompasses 60 coastal miles to the north and south of San Francisco, including the Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Muir Woods and Alcatraz Island.

  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, CA with 15,223,697 visitors
  • Blue Ridge Parkway connects Great Smoky Mountain NP in North Carolina to Shenandoah NP in Virginia
  • Gateway National Recreation Area in New York Harbor
  • Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Did any of these most popular National Parks tickle your fancy? Start making your plans to visit now. All the parks facilities fill up fast, but these popular ones obviously go fastest.

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