Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in the USA in 2020 [+Infographic]

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We now know what the top 10 most popular national parks in the USA for 2020 are. Yes, it’s that time of year again. In March, the National Park Service published the official stats for the 2020 visitations in the National Park System of the country.

Hiking, backpacking, and exploring natural parks are among the most popular hobbies in the United States in recent years. Today (as of March 2021), there are 63 national parks in the National Park System (one more than the number last year). These amazing places in the great outdoors are perfect for an affordable vacation among beautiful natural landscapes, breathtaking sceneries, cultural and historical landmarks. If you want to learn more about the US national parks, we recommend National Geographic’s Atlas of the National Parks. It is a great read with fantastic photos, plenty of current information, and informative descriptions. 100 Parks, 5000 Ideas is another book that provides plenty of information about interesting destinations, things to do during your vacation, and helpful travel tips. For those who’d love to see photographs from various national parks, we recommend Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. This invaluable guide includes fantastic images, iconic landscapes, and location notes for each photograph from 62 national parks.

The National Park System attracted more than 237 million visitors in 2020 (the actual number of visitors is 237 064 332 as 28.66% of them or 67 931 703 are those who have visited various national parks) or a decrease of roughly 90 million visitors in comparison with 2019 (with 327 516 619 recreational visitors in total; national parks welcomed 89 815 063 or 27.42% of them). No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic was the main culprit for the dramatic drop in recreation visits. The only national park in the Top 10 that saw an increase in comparison to 2019 was the Cuyahoga Valley NP: the 2.76 million visitations meant an increase of more than 0.5 million than a year ago. Three more parks registered a single-digit decrease – Grand Teton NP, Great Smoky Mountains NP, and Yellowstone NP – 3.41%, 3.60%, and 5.32% respectively. Just like in 2019, Grand Canyon NP saw a decrease in welcoming outdoor lovers but this time it wasn’t a mere 6-7% drop but the decrease was a staggering 2.2 million people or 51.51%. Also, there was a significant decrease in the number of visits to the other six national parks as each of them welcomed between 20% and 30% fewer people.

Unsurprisingly, the most visited national park in the USA in 2020 was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with nearly 12.1 million visitations – more than the second (Yellowstone), third (Zion), and fourth (Rocky Mountain) most popular national parks combined. The least visited parks among the Top 10 most popular parks were Olympic National Park with 2.5 million annual visitations (23% less than the annual visitations in 2019) and Joshua Tree National Park with 2.4 million (19.71% less than the annual visitations in 2019). It’s worth noting that Yosemite NP dropped out of the Top 10 most visited US national parks as it, similarly to Grand Canyon, registered a decrease of roughly 50%. You can see the exact numbers as well as the difference between the numbers in 2020 and 2019 in the bar chart and the table below.

Annual Visitation Report By Years 2019-2020

Source: National Park Service Statistics

Table: Annual Visitation Report by Years: 2020 vs 2019 Comparison

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park welcomed 2 399 542 visitors in 2020 making it the tenth most visited national park in the USA for this year. This number means that the annual visitations decreased by nearly 20% between 2019 and 2020.

Joshua Tree National Park is an astounding place with amazing natural landscapes. Filled with desert adventure – sand dunes, dry lakes, granitic monoliths, and rugged mountains – it is a perfect place for those seeking wilderness and solitude. The national park is located in southeastern California, covers over 795 thousand acres, and includes parts of the Mojave Desert and the Sonoran Desert.

Joshua Tree preserves some of the nation’s wildest country as 85% or 585,000 of the park’s 795,000 acres are designated wilderness. Known for its plant diversity, 750 vascular plants call Joshua Tree home. Among them, many wildflowers, trees, shrubs, cacti, and other rare plants. 57 species of mammals (including mainly small animals such as bats, ground squirrels, and kangaroo rats; there are also bigger animals such as black bears, deer, mountain lyons, lynx, and coyotes), 250 species of birds (among them ospreys, golden eagles, red-tail and Cooper’s hawks, roadrunners, and black-throated sparrows), 46 species of reptiles (including lizards, snakes, and tortoises), several species of amphibians, tarantulas, scorpions, and 75 species of butterflies call Joshua Tree home.

Over 1180 km (734 miles) of trails make the Joshua Tree National Park a desert hiker’s paradise. It is a place for adventurous visitors who are not afraid of a wide range of conditions, abandoned mines, rattlesnakes, and flash floods. Extended hikes can be very dangerous because of the desert climate but day hikes are quite popular among outdoor lovers of all ages. The park is also among the nation’s premier climbing destinations, especially in winter. Rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping are among the most popular activities in Joshua Tree National Park. Unlike last year’s #10 Glacier where you should beware of mosquitos and flies and bring some repellent or Permethrin, having good-quality sunglasses and sunscreen is essential for your comfort. And one last thing – if you want to have an enjoyable experience, make sure that you visit the national park in early spring or late autumn when daytime temperatures are far from the extremes typical of desert summer or winter.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Joshua Tree: The Complete Guide

Hike The Parks: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Trails Map

9. Olympic NP – 2.5 million visitors

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park welcomed 2 499 177 visitors in 2020, which made it the ninth most visited national park in the country. Just a year before that, it attracted approximately 3.25 million visitors. This means that there was a 23% decrease in recreational visits between 2019 and 2020.

Famous for the diversity of ecosystems that coexist on the territory of the national park (thanks to the different features, climates, and conditions, including mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, and more than 70 miles of wild coastline), Olympic is located in northwestern Washington and covers nearly a million acres (922 650 to be exact).

Olympic national park has more than 800 km (500 miles) of hiking trails that vary from easy to challenging. Changing weather is typical for the park so take this into consideration when planning your hike. Keep in mind that, 95% of the national park is designated as wilderness. Thus avoid off-trail hiking and pack out all trash to preserve its wildness and character for future generations. Of course, there are many more things to do (other than backpacking in the park).

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Olympic National Park: A Natural History

Hiking Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park Trails Map

8. Acadia NP – 2.67 million visitors

Acadia National Park

The eighth most popular national park, Acadia, welcomed approximately 2.67 million visitors in 2020, roughly 770 000 less than the number of people who had visited it in 2019 when it welcomed 3.44 million visitors.

Located in Maine, Acadia National Park is the only national park in the northeastern United States. It encompasses around 49 000 acres. Due to the mountains, ocean coastline, woodlands, and wetlands, Acadia offers landscape and biological diversity.

More than 254 km (158 miles) of trails that vary from easy to rugged can be hiked in Acadia. Plenty of other activities ranging from swimming, boating, and fishing to rock climbing, snowshoeing, and skiing can also be practiced on the territory of the national park depending on the season and weather conditions.

For those interested in visiting Acadia NP, this complete guide and waterproof trail map will be of great use. The guide is a wonderful book – well-written and comprehensive – a must-have for anyone visiting Acadia. The trail map is an excellent map that covers all the trails (even some of those not particularly well-marked ones), shows terrain relief, bus stops, parking, and describes some bicycle loop tours. All these make it perfect for hiking, biking or driving trips in the area of Acadia National Park.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Lonely Planet Maine & Acadia National Park

Acadia: The Complete Guide

Acadia National Park Waterproof Trail Map

Acadia National Park Trails Map

7. Cuyahoga Valley NP – 2.76 million visitors

Cuyahoga valley national park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park welcomed just short of 2.76 million visitors in 2020, which made it the seventh most popular national park in the US. After 13th place in 2019, it rushed into the top 10 thanks to the 23% increase in the number of visitations.

The national park is located in northeastern Ohio and covers 33 000 acres. Unlike other national parks, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is in close proximity to large urban areas. Cuyahoga Valley is home to many different ecosystems such as wetlands, grasslands, forests, lakes and ponds as well as rivers and streams.

More than 200 km (125 miles) of hiking trails, ranging from easy to challenging, give you a chance to take a hike and experience Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Trail Guide Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park Handbook

6. Grand Canyon NP – 2.9 million visitors

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in the USA in 2018: Grand Canyon - Angels Window on the North Rim

After the record-breaking 2018, Grand Canyon National Park saw a decrease in the number of visits in 2019 and 2020. In 2019 it was still the second most popular national park in the US with nearly 6 million visits. This changed because the Grand Canyon NP attracted less than 2.9 million visitors in 2020 or more than a 50% decrease in the annual recreational visits between 2019 and 2020.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the USA, Grand Canyon National Park occupies around 1.22 million acres in northern Arizona. It’s probably one of the most famous and scenic national parks in the world. The immense size of the canyon (446 km length, up to 29 km width, 1.6 km depth) overwhelms millions of people from around the world each year.

Hiking the Grand Canyon is markedly different from hiking elsewhere. The rough terrain, as well as the hefty elevation changes, the desert environment, and unique climate, make hiking especially challenging. Thus, careful preparation for your day hikes as well as for your multi-day trips into the canyon is recommended. Winter hiking is spectacular, however, keep in mind that only the South Rim remains open. In addition, you’ll need appropriate hiking boots and a pair of crampons.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Lonely Planet Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon: The Complete Guide

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park: A Guide

Grand Canyon, North and South Rims Trails Map

5. Grand Teton NP – 3.29 million visitors

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park was the fifth most visited national park in the United States last year with 3 289 638 visitors. The decrease in the annual recreational visits for the 2019-2020 period was a bit more than 3.4% as the park attracted more than 3 405 614 visitors in 2019.

Located in the state of Wyoming (like another top 10 national park – Yellowstone), the national park encompasses 310 000 acres of diverse landscapes. The combination of piedmont lakes, glacial canyons, rock, snow, and ice make the national park perfect for hiking and camping, climbing and mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding. The 320 km (200 miles) of trails attract thousands of hikers and backpackers to the Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons are bug-free year-round and offer great views and scenic hikes through green meadows, diverse woodlands, and beautiful lakeshores. The hiking season runs roughly from June to October depending on elevation and weather conditions. Avoid hiking alone and night hiking, if possible, to avoid dangerous encounters with bears and other large animals.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Lonely Planet Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks

Hiking Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park Trails Map

4. Rocky Mountain NP – 3.31 million visitors

Rocky Mountain National Park

Last year was very different from the record-breaking 2019 when Rocky Mountain National Park attracted more than 4.67 million people. In 2020, 1.36 million fewer people or 29.23% less visited the national park famous for its scenic grandeur, watchable wildlife, and recreational opportunities. For those curious to learn more about Rocky Mountain NP as well as other famous national parks located in the West, see Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West. It is a comprehensive guide and a great tool for trip planning. Packed with beautiful photos, customizable itineraries, practical travel tips, and honest advice and recommendations, the book is a very helpful guide.

Established more than 100 years ago, Rocky Mountain National Park is located in north-central Colorado. It occupies 265 000 acres of spectacular mountain environments ranging from 2396m to 4346m. Sixty peaks over 3600 meters high, glacial cirques, sparkling lakes, and picturesque mountain views attract crowds of people from all over the world.

There are over 480 km (300 miles) of trails available for hiking and backpacking. The national park has a lot to offer to both those who would like to enjoy the beauty of the park in the warm months and to those who would prefer to relish the many advantages of winter hiking. Beware of the changing weather and the potential for avalanches. Always check out the weather forecast as well as the avalanche forecast when planning your hike. Additionally, if you decide to go for a high-altitude backpacking trip, learn more about the dangers associated with hiking at altitude.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Moon Rocky Mountain National Park: Hike, Camp, See Wildlife

Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Essential Guide

Rocky Mountain National Park Trails Map

3. Zion NP – 3.59 million visitors

Zion National Park

With more than 3.59 million visitors, Zion National Park was the third most visited national park in the US in 2020. It attracted almost 4.49 million visitors in 2019 or there was a decrease of around 900 000 recreational visits between 2020 and 2019.

Zion is the most heavily visited national park in Utah and is located in the southwestern part of the state. It covers 148 000 acres with 1500 meters of elevation change (from 1117m to 2660m). Zion is an area of astonishing biological diversity due to the unique geography, the variety of life zones, and the wide range of weather conditions in the national park.

You can explore over 150 km (90 miles) of trails that vary, from paved and flat river strolls to precarious cliff-side scrambles. The array of canyons makes Zion a great place for scrambling, rappelling, climbing and descending. Some of the most popular trails are located in Zion Canyon so beware of the hiking hazards such as flash floods and summer thunderstorms. If you want to learn more about the beauty and danger of Zion, we recommend a very interesting book called Deaths and Rescues in Zion National Park. The book is full of useful information and offers great life accounts and meaningful commentary.

Keep in mind that the park is packed from April to October. If you enjoy solitude, it is a good idea to visit the national park at some other time of the year.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Zion: The Complete Guide

Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks

Hike the Parks: Zion & Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park Trails Map

2. Yellowstone NP – 3.81 million visitors

Yellowstone National Park

Quite a popular destination for American and foreign hikers, adventurers and ordinary tourists, Yellowstone attracted 3 806 306 visitors in 2020 (compared to 4 020 288 in 2019). This number made it the second most popular national park in the US last year. Due to the huge fall of the annual visitations of other top 10 national parks, Yellowstone climbed up to 2nd place once again.

The national park is located in three different states (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho), with 96% of its territory in Wyoming. Yellowstone encompasses 2.2 million acres, which makes it one of the biggest and most diverse national parks in the US. The park is famous for the diverse terrain and the combination of geothermal fireworks, pristine glacial lakes, jagged mountains, open meadows, and deep canyons. All these have made Yellowstone a symbol of the great outdoors and a preferred destination for millions of people.

1770 km (1100 miles) of hiking trails are available for day hikes and overnight backpacking trips on the territory of the park. Except for its vastness and beauty, Yellowstone is famous for its mercurial weather. Thus be prepared for the possibility of extreme conditions and four seasons in a single day. Hiking in winter conditions is typical for Yellowstone National Park (at least for 9 months each year). Also, be prepared for afternoon thundershowers that make hiking in the rain a good possibility.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Fodor’s Compass American Guides: Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Frommer’s Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Hiking Yellowstone National Park: A Guide To More Than 100 Great Hikes

Yellowstone National Park Trails Map

1. Great Smoky Mountains NP – 12.1 million visitors

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in the USA in 2018: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Just like in 2017, 2018, and 2019 the Great Smoky Mountains was the most visited national park in the USA in 2020. With 12 095 720 visitors in 2020, this pristine natural area registered a decrease of 3.6% in comparison with the 12 547 743 million people that were welcomed in the park in 2019.

Great Smoky Mountains National park is located along the Tennessee-North Carolina line and covers 522 427 acres. The national park encompasses mountains, heavy hardwood forests, rushing rivers, pristine streams, and abundant waterfalls. Though the Great Smoky Mountains (also called the Salamander Capital of the World) are just a small part of the Appalachian Mountain Chain, they are home to an incredible diversity of species.

There are 1370 km (850 miles) of trails that crisscross the landscape. Hiking and backpacking are preferred choices for many visitors of the park and it can’t be different when 113 km (70 miles) of the world-famous Appalachian Trail are on the territory of the park. The trails stay open year-round, however, the forces of nature determine trail conditions. Keep this in mind when planning your hiking or backpacking trip. Also, take into account that in the Smoky Mountains most people travel less than 2.5 km (1.5 miles) per hour. For more up to date information and advice on what to see and do in the park, check out either Lonely Planet’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Moon’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Both books provide lots of relevant information and useful tips for a nice vacation trip to the national park.

Good guides and maps worth checking:

Lonely Planet’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Moon’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Top Trails: Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 50 Must-Do Hikes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Trails Map

Conclusion

Visiting one or more of the top 10 most popular national parks in the US during your next vacation can be a great reason to start hiking. Walking through beautiful landscapes and magnificent sceneries is an excellent opportunity to relax in nature. It’s a great way to find peace, regain your balance, and recharge your batteries amid impressive mountains and old-grown forests.

Now that you know the most visited national parks in the US in 2020, we’re curious to learn which one is your favorite national park. Why? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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