Most Popular US National Park – Surprised?

I know you can google it but why don’t you guess?  Of the 59 US National Parks, which one is the most popular based on number of annual visitors?

My guess was Yellowstone National Park.  Established in 1872 and considered to be the world’s first national park, Yellowstone continues to impress visitors with bubbling mud pots, shooting geysers, and rainbow colored hot springs. Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming (with small portions in Idaho and Montana),  it is a mountainous region where pristine rivers run with trout, and grizzly bear, bison, and moose roam among ponderosa pine and in expansive valleys.  I’ve been there many times.  Wish I was there now, in fact! But it’s not the most popular as measured by annual number of visitors.

My second guess was the Grand Canyon, knowing that people travel from around the world to see one of nature’s greatest vistas.  I went there once too and it was grand indeed, though it doesn’t make my own favorites list. It’s too, I don’t know, grand.  Inaccessible. But it comes in at #2 on the list of most visited National Parks for 2015.

How about Yosemite with its world famous valley and enormous chunks of solid granite, El Capitan and Half Dome. Can you top that?

Well apparently you can, because Yosemite shows up as #4 on the list according to numbers published by the National Park Service.

How about Olympic National Park one of my own local favorites?

Or Glacier National Park in Montana?

No and No.  Okay then.  Which National Park comes in at #1?

Unless you googled it I suspect you didn’t guess correctly (though I am a westerner and may be biased.)

The winner for most visited National Park in the USA is:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park with 10.7 million annual visitors!!

Surprised?  I was.

I mean, aren’t the most gorgeous, jaw dropping sights in the US found in the west?  Well, yes, I believe so.  (See western bias mentioned above.)

Great Smoky Mountains straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The gentle, ancient mountains are covered with hardwood forests and filled with diverse plants and wildlife.  Fog hangs over the region like a blue, hazy smoke giving the mountains their name, and the historic, rustic, cabins of settlers remain. It is a beautiful area and I liked it a lot. But #1?  Grand Canyon which is #2 on the list isn’t even close, coming in at 5.5 million visitors. How can the number of visitors be almost double that of any others on the list?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Here’s my theory.  There are very few national parks on the eastern side of the country and Great Smoky Mountains NP is in close proximity to large population centers.  It is therefore the “go to” park for millions.   Yellowstone, on the other hand, is way out there, up in Wyoming which happens to be the least populous state in the union, and not on the way to anywhere. You have to really want to get there.

For the record here’s the official list of the 10 Most Visited National Parks for 2015 according to the National Park Service

  1. Great Smoky NP       10.712 million
  2. Grand Canyon NP      5.520 million
  3. Rocky Mountain NP   4.155 million
  4. Yosemite NP               4.150 million
  5. Yellowstone NP          4.097 million
  6. Zion NP                        3.648 million
  7. Olympic NP                 3.263 million
  8. Grand Teton NP          3.149 million
  9. Acadia NP                    2.811 million
  10. Glacier NP                 2.366 million

And here’s the list of my own current favorites:

  1. Yellowstone         Perhaps you could tell?
  2. Olympic                What can I say? I live in Washington State.
  3. Mt Rainier             Practically in my backyard.
  4. Glacier                  Wish I had more time.  Just go.
  5. Yosemite              You saw the pictures.
  6. Zion                       Yosemite in color.
  7. Redwoods            Perhaps the most beautiful trees in the world.
  8. Arches                   Red rock country!
  9. Great Smoky         Surprised it was #1 but it really is gorgeous.
  10. Saguaro               Love the cactus in the Arizona desert!

Finally, one more thing.  If you include the 400 plus sites administered by the US National Park Service (parks, monuments, historic sites, parkways, etc.) guess what tops the most visited list?  No need to google, I will give you the information right here, right now.  At over 15 million visitors a year, it’s the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway which runs from North Carolina to Virginia and is right next to ….  you guessed it, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As with the Smoky Mountains, it’s amazing to me that this is the most visited site in the National Park system.  But I’m sticking to my earlier theory.  This gorgeous parkway is in close proximity to major population centers of the east, accessible to millions and “on the way” to other places. We took the parkway once and I really did love it. If I made an expanded list that included all sites, it would definitely be near the top!

Of course this isn’t a competition and it doesn’t matter if your favorite parks ever show up on the Most Visited list.  I expect my personal list will continue to change and grow as I visit new parks and revisit the old, as old memories fade and new ones are created.  But I hope I have inspired you to go and see some of these national treasures.  Visit as many as you can.  Soon you’ll be making your own top 10 list and memories for a lifetime.

~ Susanne


11 Comments on “Most Popular US National Park – Surprised?

  1. When I lived in Montana I was a Glacier chauvinist. When I lived in western Washington I favored Rainier. Now l’m in Eastern Washington, and I favor the rivers!

    Your photos and the Parks are all beautiful!

    • Hi Lauren! Thank you for reading! Glacier is pretty high on my list too. I almost gave it my #2 spot, but then I had to give credit to my local favorites which I never tire of and visit over and over again!

      • I understand!

        I lived at Grand Canyon for a season in the 70s, but I was always working at the curio shop and never had a chance to hike around! I love the Canyon area, though. I lived in Texas and never got to Big Bend–a real regret–but I was too far away, in Houston.

        Now I look out on the basalt hills of the Snake River canyon, and it’s so peaceful.

      • I wouldnt be surprised if the Snake River area & Hells Canyon became a national park someday.. Though that might bring too many visitors and disturb the quiet you enjoy. I hope to get to Big Bend. I did make it to Guadalupe Mts in Texas when we visited Carlsbad Caverns. I had forgotten those!

      • 😦 thankfully jet boats aren’t usually allowed in national parks… But local residents would probably not appreciate any intrusion by the federal govt either.. I do appreciate what was set aside in the past for all to enjoy..

  2. I was surprised, Susanne. I have never visited any of them, but would have said Yosemite first, followed by Yellowstone. Who’d a thought it?
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Hi Pete. Yosemite is gorgeous. I really thought it would be Yellowstone.. But they are all pretty wonderful! thanks for reading! 🙂

    • Thank you so much! All the national parks are so amazing it’s hard to choose favorites.. But I think my top 10 list is a good place to start! 🙂

  3. Pingback: The Grand Canyon | Cats and Trails and Garden Tales

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