Are you a nature lover and on the hunt for the most visited US National Parks?
This guide lists the top twenty-five most popular US National Parks and gives reasons why you should visit each of them despite the crowds and popularity!
America’s National Parks is one of the greatest things about the country. There are currently 62 designated national parks but you may get different numbers depending on if a site lists national monuments, seashores, forests, battlefields, etc.
This guide focuses on the ones that have received the most tourists in recent years. Needless to say, popularity and visitor numbers change year to year, so if you have the opportunity to visit any of the US national parks- don’t hesitate and just do it!
These are the most popular US National Parks, including reasons to visit, most popular attractions and landmarks, and 2019 visitor numbers. Let us know your favorite US National Park in the comments!
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Most Visited US National Parks – The Map
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Most Popular US National Parks
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee and North Carolina
Visitor numbers (2019): 12.5 million
With verdant forests and the gorgeous nature of mountains and waterfalls, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has got a lot to offer to its visitors.
Being one of the most popular parks in the US (and the most visited US National Park in 2019) with more than 12 million visitors per year, this place is great for people who are up to do some hiking or camping in national parks, or just want to unwind from the noisy towns.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is relatively easy to reach with a car, and it is the getaway to the Appalachian Mountains. This gives hikers an opportunity to hike some sections of the Appalachian Trail, which promises to be a truly epic kind of experience.
Top attractions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, Ober Gatlinburg, Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Mount Le Conte, Oconaluftee Visitor Center, Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 5.97 million
Grand Canyon National Park is widely known worldwide with its eye-catching sights, geologic features, and comprehensive archeological history.
No matter which part of the canyon you decide to visit, the views and memories of it are going to feel epic. There are numerous hiking trails and viewpoints. One of them is Cape Royal on the North Rim, where many visitors go to enjoy the best sights of the location.
Another perk of Grand Canyon NP is that it is located so close to many other incredible sites. You are not far from the border of Utah (the gateway to Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’) and you’re also closed to renowned sites like Lake Powell and Monument Valley.
Top attractions in Grand Canyon National Park: Grand Canyon Village, Bright Angel Trail, Havasu Falls, Grand Canyon Railway, Rim Trail, Desert View Watchtower, Grand Canyon Visitor Center, South Kaibab Trail, West Rim Trail
3. Rocky Mountain National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 4.7 million
Rocky Mountain is a park that suggests its visitors experience America’s best and most famous mountain range. It has over 4 million visitors annually and is located in Colorado and is the most popular day trip from Denver.
It is only about an hour and a half from the capital city, giving visitors a chance to take a quick weekend break in Denver.
Having some really high peaks, the park is famous for its “thirteeners,” – the name coming from the heights of the mountains there, reaching over 13,000 feet.
If you’re a hiking enthusiast, go to Rocky Mountain National Park prepared with comfortable clothing and shoes to be able to get through some of the challenging trails, like Bear Lake and Emerald Lake Trail.
Top attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Ridge Road, Longs Peak, Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Alpine Visitor Center, Emerald Lake, Sprague Lake, Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, Old Fall River Road
4. Zion National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 4.5 million
Zion National Park is a picturesque location and is one of the most prominent and most beautiful spots in the Southwestern US. High peaks with some pinkish hues make this location remarkable for the more than 4.5 million guests who visit it in Utah each year.
The Narrows is an excellent example of what adventure can look like in Zion. It is a 16-mile pathway, going right through the Virgin River, where you can enjoy the sights of the canyon while also walking beside the river.
This place is also renowned as one of the world’s best places for canyoneering, hiking, wading, swimming, and rappelling.
Top attractions in Zion National Park: The Narrows, Angels Landing, Zion National Park Lodge, Emerald Pools Trail, Kolob Canyons, Canyon Overlook Trail, Weeping Rock, Observation Point Trail, Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
5. Yosemite National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 4.5 million
California’s Yosemite National Park is always on the list of famous locations in the US. Even though the place is usually crowded (more than 4 million visitors a year), the sights there are so worthwhile and should be visited at least once in a lifetime.
One of the most technical and hardest rock climbs, El Capitan (3,593 feet), is located in Yosemite. It is an excellent challenge for hikers, but in case you’re on the more passive side, you can still get on the top of El Capitan or other viewpoints and appreciate the outlooks from above.
Top attractions in Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, El Capitan, Vernal Falls, Bridalveil Falls, The Ahwahnee, Mariposa Grove
6. Yellowstone National Park
Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
Visitor numbers (2019): 4 million
Established in 1872 and located mostly in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is the oldest designated national park in the world and is one of the most beautiful ones in the United States.
Having more than 4 million annual visitors, Yellowstone National Park has many lakes, rivers, and mountains, all teeming with wildlife.
One thing that is really special about this place is that it is located on top of a geothermal hot spot, making it have the largest concentration of geysers in the world.
With its internationally-recognized geysers and many more amazing features and attractions, Yellowstone National Park is a genuine, must-see icon of the US.
Top attractions in Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone Caldera, Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful Inn, Morning Glory Pool
7. Acadia National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 3.4 million
Acadia National Park is yet another remarkable park (and one of the most visited US national parks!) located in the northeastern US. You’re most probably going to be left amazed by the breathtaking views of the ocean, forests, wildlife, trails for hiking or biking, a sandy beach, and many more Acadia offerings.
With more than 3.4 million visitors annually, this park can become a bit crowded during summer, but there is a lot to see and several things to do in Acadia in winter. In fact, you can enjoy a full-pack of winter tourism experience in Acadia during that time of the year.
One of the great things is that if you’re looking to get off the path a bit, you will find many of the best New England state parks close to Acadia – so you can combine them with a day at the Maine national park!
Top attractions in Acadia National Park: Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach, Jordan Pond, Park Loop Road, Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Carriage Road, Frenchman Bay, Thunder Hole, Precipice Trail
8. Grand Teton National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 3.4 million
Grand Teton National Park is situated 13,775 feet above sea level and one of the highlights of the state of Wyoming. This park is famous for its mountain scenery and extraordinary wildlife.
It is located south of Yellowstone National Park and north of Jackson, and the number of visitors is over 3.4 million annually.
Traveling to Grand Teton feels like a total throwback to the Old West. One of the most recognizable sights in the park is Jackson Hole, with its eye-catching vistas. Another prominent spot is Moose Village, which is part of a 43-mile scenic loop drive.
Top attractions in Grand Teton National Park: Jackson Hole, Jenny Lake, Jackson Hole skiing, Jackson Lake, Grand Targhee Resort, Jackson Lake Lodge, Signal Mountain, National Elk Refuge, Schwabacher Landing, Mount Moran, Hidden Falls, String Lake
9. Olympic National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 3.2 million
Olympic National Park was established in 1938 and is on the list of almost every top 10 national parks list. It is located in Washington in an effort to preserve some of its quickly disappearing primeval forests.
The park has a variety of atmospheres, ecosystems, and climates in it, and no matter what your interest is when visiting the park, you’ll most definitely find something for you!
For example, in Kalaloch Campground, you can drive right through a route adjacent to the Pacific Ocean and enjoy the sunset or walk near the beach.
Another option would be to visit the Hoh Rain Forest to have the benefit of visiting the evergreen forests (these forests get twelve feet of rain every year)!
The things to do here are aplenty, so make yourself acquainted with as many things as possible prior to your visit and plan ahead!
Top attractions in Olympic National Park: Hoh Rainforest, Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Ruby Beach, Sol Duc River and Falls, Lake Quinault, Marymere Falls, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Forest, Mount Olympus
10. Glacier National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 3 million
Spanning across over a million acres of land, Glacier National Park is located in northwestern Montana but it is so big that it reaches into Canada as well.
With sights reminiscent to that of the Swiss Alps despite being in the US, this Montana park needs to be near the top of your USA bucket list!
Glaciers formed this region, and 25 of them still exist in the park, although receding at a rapid rate. The number of annual visitors to Glacier National Park exceeds 3 million and it is also named “crown of the continent,” attributing to its unique and impressive mountain landscapes.
Top attractions in Glacier National Park: Lake McDonald, Logan Pass, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Saint Mary Lake, Grinnell Glacier, Avalanche Lake, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail, Iceberg Lake
11. Joshua Tree National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 2.98 million
Located near the famous Coachella Valley in California, Joshua Tree is one of the US’s big-name parks. This popular park is also one of the most accessible ones on this list, as it is just a 2-3 hour drive going east of Los Angeles (and near Palm Springs).
Joshua Tree National Park is a perfect location for exploring desert landscapes, along with huge, otherworldly-looking rocks.
This popular US national park also has some great hiking spots in the middle of the California desert.
There are over 100 miles of hiking trails in Joshua Tree National Park, as well as horse trails, ancient palm groves, panoramic views, and yet many more things to admire.
Top attractions in Joshua Tree National Park: Barker Dam, Skull Rock, Coachella Valley Preserve, Keys View, Cholla Cactus Garden, Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Lost Palms Oasis Trail, Ryan Mountain, Cottonwood Spring
12. Bryce Canyon National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 2.59 million
Bryce Canyon National Park is a 60 square-mile, comparably small national park in Utah. The canyons, which naturally formed in a very artistic and detailed manner, makes you think like you’re in a vast amphitheater waiting for sunset or sunrise to be the show for the day.
If you want to have an unforgettable experience, this park is an excellent choice to add to your Utah bucket list! It really is one of the best places to visit in Utah and can be combined with many other parks and epic locations in the state.
Top attractions in Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon National Park Sunrise Point, Navajo Loop Trail, Queens Garden Trail, Fairyland Loop Trail, Rim Trail, Inspiration Point, Bryce Amphitheater, Bryce Point, Rainbow Point
13. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 2.23 million
About 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga River banks between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, you will find Cuyahoga Valley National Park. In a part of the US known for blue-collar industry, this park unexpectedly incorporates cultural, historical, natural resources, and copious numbers of activities for those visiting.
With over 2.2 million visitors each year, Cuyahoga Valley is one of the most visited US national parks for outdoor enthusiasts as the park contains opportunities for hiking and biking (and much more!).
The hiking trails will lead you through wetlands, forests, and even to stunning waterfalls!
Top attractions in Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway, Brandywine Falls, Boston Mills and Brandywine Ski Areas, Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, Cuyahoga Valley Garden, Blue Hen Falls, Hale Farm and Village, Brecksville Reservation, Ledges Overlook and Trail, Bedford Reservation, Hinckley Lake, Everett Road Covered Bridge
14. Indiana Dunes National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 2.1 million
Indiana Dunes National Park doesn’t get enough love but it is one of the most visited US national parks.
The park spans 15 miles of Lake Michigan’s southern shore and is a fantastic place to enjoy the unique landscapes it is home to. You can admire the sandy dunes and beaches or view rare species of birds. It is also a wonderful place to fly kites or just sit down and have a picnic.
Another key feature of Indiana Dunes NP is that it has over 50 miles of trails that pass through wetlands, prairies, forests, and dunes.
Top attractions in Indiana Dunes National Park: Indiana Dunes State Park, Deep River Waterpark, Old Lighthouse Museum, Mount Baldy, Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, Friendship Botanic Gardens, Barker Mansion, Majestic Star Casino, West Beach
15. Gateway Arch National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 2 million
Gateway Arch National Park is located in lovely St. Louis, Missouri and the arch was built as a symbol of the city’s involvement and role in Westward Expansion in the US during the 19th-century.
Formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial until 2018, this park was built close to the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Sitting on 91-acres of land, you will find museums, greenery, and a lot more to do at Gateway Arch, which also happens to be the tallest structure in Missouri.
Top attractions in Gateway Arch National Park: Tram Ride, Museum at the Gateway Arch, Monument to the Dream film, Riverboat Cruise, Old Courthouse
16. Death Valley National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.74 million
Death Valley National Park is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States. It may not easily be visited during the summer months, but the rest of the year is a prime time to visit the popular US park.
Death Valley is situated along the California and Nevada border east of the Sierra Nevadas. While it may be thought of as just one large and dry landscape, there are actually many different environments within it – from salt-flats to sand dunes, badlands, canyons, and beyond!
There were Native Americans living on this land as early as 7000 BC and it remains one of the harshest landscapes on the planet today.
In addition to being one of the most visited US national parks, it is also a designated dark sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association, making it a world-class place for stargazing.
Top attractions in Death Valley National Park: Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, Telescope Peak, Racetrack Playa, Ubehebe Crater, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Darwin Falls, Titus Canyon
17. Arches National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.66 million
Located in the eastern part of Utah, Arches National Park is one of the most visited US National Parks.
What makes Arches NP so famous and unique? It is home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches and has the highest density of natural arches anywhere in the world. It truly is a mind-blowing place.
The park was designated in 1971 after spending over 40 years as a national monument. One of the most popular activities at Arches is rock climbing but it MUST be done with a permit as it is illegal to climb the rock formations there.
Hiking, biking, and camping are also popular things to do in Arches. It is one of the best national parks for backpacking, for sure!
Top attractions in Arches National Park: Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Devil’s Garden, Balanced Rock, Double Arch, Fiery Furnace, Slickrock Bike Trail, Corona Arch, Devil’s Garden Trailhead
18. Mount Rainier National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.5 million
Mount Rainier National Park is located in Washington and was the 5th national park in the US. Its main attraction is Mount Rainier itself, a 14,411-foot stratovolcano.
It is the highest point in the Cascade Range and surrounding it, you will find subalpine meadows, valleys, waterfalls, and many dense forests.
There are over 25 glaciers that are on the volcano and you can see all from the Wonderland Trail.
Top attractions in Mount Rainier National Park: Mount Rainier, Crystal Mountain, Narada Falls, Tipsoo Lake, Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Skyline Trail, Christine Falls, Mowich Lake
19. Hot Springs National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.47 million
Hot Springs National Park is the only national park in the United States that maintains a rare combination of lithology, geological structure, and water sources, producing the only high-quality non-volcanic geothermal springs.
Receiving just over 1.4 million visitors each year, this park is unusual with its ancient thermal springs, forested hiking trails, and gorgeous mountain views.
Many of the attractions in and around Hot Springs revolve around water, so it’s recommended to visit during the warmer months.
Top attractions in Hot Springs National Park (and nearby): Hot Springs Mountain Tower, Kenneth Adair Memorial Park, The Grand Promenade, Hot Springs, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Hot Springs Secret Cave, West Mountain Trail, Tiny Town
20. Shenandoah National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.42 million
One of the most visited US national parks is Shenandoah National Park located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.
It is a long and narrow park and sprawls across nearly 200,000 acres. It is known for its incredible hiking trails and vistas along Skyline Drive.
Shenandoah is also home to some fantastic waterfalls, wildflowers, and wildlife. It is not uncommon to see deer, various birds, and even black bears in the park.
While Shenandoah is epic during every season, it really is a standout US national park during the fall, when the leaves turn colorful hues of red, orange, and yellow.
Top attractions in Shenandoah National Park: Skyline Drive, Old Rag Mountain, Hawksbill Mountain, Whiteoak Canyon Trail, Stony Man, Dark Hollow Falls, Mary’s Rock, Grand Caverns, Shenandoah River State Park, Overall Run Falls, Rapidan Camp
21. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.37 million
With annual visitors closing in at around 1.4 million, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers its visitors incredible places to do some hiking or camping. Yes, sunny beaches are not the only worth-seeing thing the state of Hawaii offers!
You can visit this park, which encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes, named Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
Even though the volcanoes still active, they are being monitored closely, making it safe for tourists to have the possibility to appreciate the very unique landscapes of this national park. Visiting this Hawaii park is one of the best things to do in Hilo (and Kona) on the Big Island.
Top attractions in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Kilauea, Nahuku – Thurston Lava Tube, Halemaumau Crater, Chain of Craters Road, Kilauea Iki Crater, Pu’u O’o, Crater Rim Drive, Kilauea Iki Trail
22. Sequoia National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.25 million
Sequoia National Park is a California park known for its incredible sequoia trees. The park is home to the highest mountain in the contiguous US, Mount Whitney, as well as several other environments and landscapes throughout.
The giant sequoias are one of the main reasons visitors flock to the popular US national park and one of the most notable ones is General Sherman Tree, the largest tree (by volume) on the planet!
This US National Park is often visited along with nearby Kings Canyon National Park.
Top attractions in Sequoia National Park: General Sherman Tree, Mount Whitney, Giant Forest, Crystal Cave, Sequoia National Park Log Tunnel, Crescent Meadow Road, Generals Highway, High Sierra Trailhead, Moro Rock Trail, The Congress Trail, Pear Lake
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23. Capitol Reef National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.23 million
Capitol Reef National Park is yet another Utah National Park that is a popular destination in the United States.
Located in south-central Utah in the middle of red rock country, you can find this renowned national park teeming with cliffs, domes, canyons, and natural bridges. It might just be one of the most underrated US national parks!
The park is around 60 miles long and merely 6 miles wide on average. Established in 1971, it is mostly visited during the summer months but is a fantastic place to visit during any season.
Top attractions in Capitol Reef National Park: Water Pocket Fold, Hickman Bridge Trailhead, Capitol Gorge, Grand Washington, Hickman Natural Bridge, Capitol Reef, Fremont River, Cathedral Valley Road, Cohab Canyon, Goosenecks Overlook, Gifford Homestead, Temple of the Sun, Thousand Lake Mountain, Panorama Point, Cassidy Arch Trailhead
24. Everglades National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.1 million
If you’re visiting Florida, you must book a trip to Everglades National Park! This park is the largest tropical wilderness in the US and it attracts over a million people every year.
It is the 3rd largest national park in the US and it is a unique place in that it is also a World Heritage Site.
Everglades National Park is home to a variety of ecosystems but it is renowned for its swampy terrain, being home to many birds and alligators. It also contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere.
There are many activities you can participate in when visiting Everglades NP and you will notice that riding in an airboat is among the most popular. There are also many hiking and biking trails throughout the US national park.
Top attractions in Everglades National Park: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Robbie’s, Anhinga Trail, Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, Flamingo Visitor Center, Fruit & Spice Park, Shark Valley, Mahogany Hammock Trail, Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Loop Road Scenic Drive
25. Saguaro National Park
Visitor numbers (2019): 1.02 million
Saguaro National Park is a large national park in southern Arizona, right beside the state’s second-biggest city of Tucson.
The US national park is renowned for its saguaro cacti that saturate the park, as well as the many hiking trails and beautiful views.
Saguaro is split down the middle into two different sections, the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) and the Tucson Mountain District (TMD). TMD is west of Tucson and RMD is located to the east.
There are over 165 miles of hiking trails throughout the park and some of the other activities you can participate in is wilderness camping (only in RMD), horseback riding, and biking.
Top attractions in Saguaro National Park: Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucscon, Gates Pass, Rincon Mountain Visitor Center, Tucson Mountain Park, Wasson Peak, Agua Caliente Regional Park, Douglas Spring Trailhead, Tanque Verde Falls, Sweetwater Preserve Trailhead
Planning Your National Parks Trip?
Are you looking for the best times of the year to visit national parks? These guides break down our curated list of the best US national parks to visit in different months:
- Best national parks to visit in December
- Best national parks to visit in January
- Best national parks to visit in February
- Best national parks to visit in March
- Best national parks to visit in April
- Best national parks to visit in May
- Best national parks to visit in June
These parks are the most visited US National Parks that you definitely need to add to your USA bucket list! Have you been to any of them? Which National Park is your favorite?
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