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The Most Visited National Parks

The national parks are seeing record crowds in recent years so we’ve listed the most visited national parks in America here.

In this post, we want to familiarize you with the most visited national parks in the United States. While you may not agree with this list, please keep in mind that it is based entirely on traffic to the national parks as reported by the National Park Service in 2020. If you’re someone who prefers the road less traveled then please check out our article on Fourth of July parks (and forests) where you can escape the crowds.


Why Listen to Us?

You should probably know that we didn’t just make this list up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands. We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.

the pattiz brothers more than just parks
Will (left) and Jim (right) of More Than Just Parks

We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers. Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.


Things to Know Before You Visit

Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Sunscreen: Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which we never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂

Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.

Insect Repellent: We carry around an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us as mosquitoes can be a bit crazy in the parks.

Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check before taking your pooch on your trip to the park!


Most Visited National Parks

Top Ten Most Visited US National Parks

great smoky mountains national park, most visited national parks
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Most Visited National Parks

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee & North Carolina

Visitation: 12.1 million (2020)

Description

One of the best national parks in America and the crown jewel of the eastern U.S. parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park protects a vast swath of the immense beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. These old mountains and forests and streams have a character about them that tends to invite one to slow down and imagine a world where this was what much of the eastern United States looked like. Herds of elk freely roam the park and bears, otters, deer, foxes, and woodpeckers are commonly sighted.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in the fall when the brilliant foliage is on full display. The month of October is the best time to see peak fall colors.

Best Things to Do:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a mecca for outdoor lovers. Along with its abundant wildflowers and wildlife, a few of our favorite things to see and do include visiting the stunning waterfalls along wooded trails along Grotto Falls, climbing Clingmans Dome or Chimney Tops, and taking a scenic drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. We also recommend visiting the educational exhibits, including historic structures from early settlers like those at Cades Cove.

Where to Stay
Relevant Links

yellowstone national park, most visited national parks
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone | Most Visited US National Parks

2. Yellowstone National Park

Location: Wyoming, Montana & Idaho

Visitation: 3.8 million

Description

Ah, Yellowstone National Park, the national park that started it all. Seeing the original national park rank outside of our list of the top 10 national parks in America is sure to raise some eyebrows, but hear us out. Yellowstone is an absolutely spectacular and magical national park. A landscape dotted with otherworldly thermal works, bison holdouts from a time when they ruled the prairie, a thriving wolf population, and an encapsulation of the great American west.

Yellowstone is the Disneyland of national parks complete with food courts, souvenir shops, resort villages, and more. Street traffic (and we’re not talking “bison jams”) due to the sheer amount of cars entering the park has become a real issue here. As a result, and despite it’s stunning beauty, but we recommend visiting in the off-season for the best experience.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Yellowstone is during the shoulder season when visitation is down. We like September when crowds are reduced and some fall foliage is popping throughout the park.

Best Things to Do

So many things. So little time. Of course, we recommend visiting Old Faithful, taking the magnificent Grand Canyon Rim hike, a whitewater rafting adventure if you’re willing to be a bit daring, taking the five-mile loop hike through the entire Upper Geyser Basin or just enjoying the endless views of mountains, geysers, canyons, rivers, lakes and so much more.

Where to Stay
Relevant Links

big bend zion national park
Zion National Park | Most Visited National Parks

3. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Visitation: 3.6 million

Description

Cue the furious Zion fans. Listen folks, we love Zion, but the truth is this park is an absolute mess right now. We hear a lot today about our national parks being “loved to death” and no park epitomizes this problem more than Zion. While the park is jaw-droppingly beautiful and home to world-class recreational opportunities, it’s also completely choked with tourists on every trail and crowding every vista. Buses, lottery systems, permits, closures, and still the crowds swarm like moths to a flame. What’s that old proverb? If you love it, let it go.

Best Time to Visit

If you are looking to avoid the crowds then the best time to visit Zion National Park is during the fall to see the spectacular foliage on full display and a tiny fraction of the summer crowds.

Where to Stay
Relevant Links

rocky mountain national park
Rocky Mountain National Park | Most Visited National Parks

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

Location: Colorado

Visitation: 3.3 million

Description

Tucked into the heart of Colorado’s Front Range, Rocky Mountain National Park spans more than 400 square miles of breathtaking mountain scenery. This national park is considered by many to be the crown jewel of the American Rockies and it’s no wonder why. Rocky Mountain is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, beaver, deer, black bear, eagles, marmots, mountain lions, and so much more. 

Best Time To Visit

We recommend going to see the magnificent fall colors from late-September to the beginning of October as well as elk rutting season. 

Where to Stay

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Grand Teton National Park | Most Visited US National Parks

5. Grand Teton National Park

Location: Wyoming

Visitation: 3.3 million

Description

Grand Teton National Park is truly iconic and, thanks to strong management and foresight, has been able to avoid the crowding more characteristic of it’s neighbor to the north, Yellowstone. Here you’ll find the spectacular Teton mountains, the winding Snake River, gorgeous lakes and valleys, and some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the entire national park system.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Grand Teton National Park is early July when wildlife is on the move and wildflowers are on full display.

Where to Stay

sunset grand canyon national park
Sunset At Grand Canyon National Park | Most Visited National Parks

6. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

Visitation: 2.9 million

Description

We could try to describe to you the singular beauty and majesty of one of the great wonders of the world or we could let one of America’s greatest presidents do it. We’re going to let President Theodore Roosevelt do it.

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Grand Canyon National Park is during the off-season like September and October when the park cools down and so does the visitation.

Where to Stay

most visited national parks, cuyahoga valley national park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Most Visited National Parks

7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Location: Ohio

Visitation: 2.8 million

Description

What was once a superfund cleanup site is now a beautiful national park (thank you, Jimmy Carter). Cuyahoga is a great place to spend a day and soak in the natural beauty of Ohio. It’s location near Cleveland makes it an easy stop for any park-lover to add on their trip to the city.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in the fall to see the spectacular fall foliage.

Where to Stay

acadia national park, most visited national parks
Bass Harbor Head Light At Acadia National Park

8. Acadia National Park

Location: Maine

Visitation: 2.7 million

Description

Along the rocky shores of Maine’s coast you’ll find this easternmost national park. Once the exclusive domain of the gilded age elite, a few civic-minded residents decided to make Acadia’s beauty available to all Americans by donating the land to the national park service – and boy are we glad they did. With rounded mountains, shimmering lakes (called ponds here) , rugged coastline, and forests dotted with old stone roads and trails this New England national park is a real treasure.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Acadia National Park is in the Fall when one of the most brilliant foliage displays in the world takes place. Mid to late October is best for peak fall foliage but you really can’t go wrong here.

Where to Stay:

olympic national park washington
Olympic National Park | Most Visited National Parks

9. Olympic National Park

Location: Washington

Visitation: 2.5 million

Description

Olympic National Park is the most diverse national park in America, hands down. This park has everything from lowland forests, striking mountain ranges, pristine alpine lakes, sparkling rivers, temperate rainforests (the largest in North America), iconic wildlife, and over 50 miles of wild coastline! Oh, and it’s a stones throw from Seattle! Olympic National Park truly has it all and without the crowds that have become so insidious in other US national parks in recent years – which is why we rank this Pacific Northwest gem as the best national park in America.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Olympic National Park is in the summer when precipitation is at a low, trails are melted out, temperatures are warm, and days are long. Specifically, the months of July and August are best but make sure to check for fires in the area prior to booking your trip (if possible).

Where To Stay

cholla cactus garden joshua tree national park, most visited national parks
Joshua Tree National Park | Most Visited US National Parks

10. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

Visitation: 2.4 million

Description

Oh Joshua Tree. Has any park been more idolized by musicians and pop-culture? What was once thought of as an interesting other-worldly filming location for old Hollywood television productions like Star Trek, is now every budding artist’s pilgrimage for photo shoots and experimental…well, anyway.

Alas, through all of its publicity Joshua Tree has not lost any of its beauty, and despite its crowds still provides plenty of space to explore it’s magical desert landscapes.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is during the cooler months of the year. We recommend fall and winter.

Where to Stay


Map of Most Visited National Parks


List of most visited national parks

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park 12.1 million
  2. Yellowstone National Park 3.8 million
  3. Zion National Park 3.6 million
  4. Rocky Mountain National Park 3.3 million
  5. Grand Teton National Park 3.3 million
  6. Grand Canyon National Park 2.9 million
  7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park 2.8 million
  8. Acadia National Park 2.7 million
  9. Olympic National Park 2.5 million
  10. Joshua Tree National Park 2.4 million

Leave us a comment below!

What do you think of this list? Any parks surprise you? Leave us a comment below!


See Our Full National Park Rankings

We actually ranked ALL 63 National Parks from best to worst using the same point system featured in this article here. Curious to see how California’s parks stack up against the rest of the parks nationwide? Click here!


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Catch up on all the latest posts from the crew at More Than Just Parks.

Tony Pattiz

Tony Pattiz is a retired history teacher currently researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.

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