Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in the USA in 2019 [+Infographic]

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We now know what the top 10 most popular national parks in the USA for 2019 are. Yes, it’s that time of year again. A few days ago, the National Park Service published the official stats for the 2019 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 2020), there are 62 national parks in the National Park System. 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 the National Geographic’s Atlas of the National Parks (you can check it out on Amazon). 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.

The National Park System attracted more than 327.5 million visitors in 2019 (the actual number of visitors is 327 516 619 as 27.42% of them or 89 815 063 are those who have visited various national parks) or an increase of roughly 9 million visitors in comparison with 2018 (with 318 211 833 recreational visitors in total; national parks welcomed 84 122 421 or 26.44% of them). The Rocky Mountain GP saw record visits: 4.67 million. Both Yosemite NP and Great Smoky Mountains NP saw a (nearly) double-digit increase – 10.31% and 9.86% respectively. Grand Canyon NP saw a nearly 6.36% decrease in welcoming 5.97 million outdoor lovers.

Unsurprisingly, the most visited national park in the USA in 2019 was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with more than 12.5 million visitations – more than the second (Grand Canyon) and third (Rocky Mountain) most popular national parks combined. The least visited parks among the top 10 most popular parks were Olympic National Park with 3.2 million annual visitations (4.55% more than the annual visitations in 2018) and Glacier National Park with 3.05 million (2.85% more than the annual visitations in 2018). You can see the exact numbers as well as the difference between the numbers in 2019 and 2018 in the bar chart and the table below.

Annual Visitation Report By Years 2018-2019

Source: National Park Service Statistics

Table: Annual Visitation Report by Years: 2019 vs 2018 Comparison

Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park welcomed 3 049 839 visitors in 2019 making it the tenth most visited national park in the USA for this year. This number means that the annual visitations increased by nearly 3% between 2018 and 2019.

Glacier National Park is an astounding place where the earth’s forces have left their imprints on the landscape with rugged mountains, red pinnacles, spectacular glacier-carved basins, and waterfalls. A perfect place for those seeking wilderness and solitude, the national park is located in northwestern Montana and covers over a million acres.

In 1910, when Glacier was established, it had over 100 glaciers. However, during the course of the last century (and especially since 1966) and thanks mainly to climate change, this number has shrunk to 26 active glaciers today. Moreover, every glacier in the park is melting at an alarming rate affecting the entire ecosystem. Glacier preserves some of the nation’s wildest country. 71 species of mammals (including large and/or animals such as bears, wolves, wolverines, lynx, mountain lions, elk, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep), 276 species of birds (among them ospreys, bald and golden eagles, harlequin ducks, and northern hawk owls), native and invasive species of fish, as well as several species of reptiles and amphibians call Glacier home. The flora consists of 30 species that are endemic to the region as well as more than 1100 other species of plants.

Over 1180 km (734 miles) of trails make the Glacier National Park a hiker’s paradise. It is a place for adventurous visitors who are not afraid to explore the idyllic backcountry havens, impressive mountains, and century forests with huge hemlocks and western red cedars. White-water river rafting, horseback riding, fishing, kayaking, and boating are among the most popular activities in Glacier National Park. Many people have a great time by joining various ranger-led activities. Most of these activities are free of charge and are available in both summer (talks, walks, hikes, and boat tours) and winter (snowshoeing and opportunities for watching wildlife). Beware of mosquitos and flies and bring some repellent. There are also insect-killing repellents such as Permethrin that last for weeks after applying to your clothing, tents or sleeping bags.

9. Olympic NP – 3.25 million visitors

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park welcomed 3 245 806 visitors in 2019, which made it the ninth most visited national park in the country. Just a year before that, it attracted more than 3.1 million visitors. This means that there was a 4.55% increase in recreational visits between 2018 and 2019.

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).

8. Grand Teton NP – 3.41 million visitors

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park was the eighth most visited national park in the United States last year with 3 405 614 visitors. The decrease in the annual recreational visits for the 2018-2019 period was nearly 2.5% as the park attracted more than 3 491 000 visitors in 2018.

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.

7. Acadia NP – 3.44 million visitors

Acadia National Park

The seventh most popular national park, Acadia, welcomed approximately 3.44 million visitors in 2018, roughly 100 000 less than the number of people who had visited it in 2018 when it welcomed 3.54 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 200 km (125 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 (see on Amazon) and waterproof trail map (check it out on Amazon) 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.

6. Yellowstone NP – 4.02 million visitors

Yellowstone National Park

Quite a popular destination for American and foreign hikers, adventurers and ordinary tourists, Yellowstone attracted 4 020 288 visitors in 2019. This number made it the sixth most popular national park in the US last year. Due to the fall of the annual visitations of 2.3% (nearly 95 000), Yellowstone gave up its 5th place.

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.

5. Yosemite NP – 4.42 million visitors

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park welcomed just over 4.42 million visitors in 2019, which made it the fifth most popular national park in the US. It regained fifth place after losing it in 2018 when the park was sixth with a bit more than 4 million visitations.

The national park is located in the Western Sierra Nevada of Central California and covers 747 956 acres. Yosemite was the first federal land to be set aside as “any” kind of park in 1864. Famous for its dashing waterfalls, clear streams, and steep granite cliffs, the national park is considered by many one of the most spectacular places in the US.

More than 1300 km (800 miles) of trails give you a chance to take a hike and experience Yosemite just like John Muir (for those who don’t know much about him, see A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir) and the other pioneers did so more than a century ago. Keep in mind that like Olympia, 95% of Yosemite National park is designated as wilderness. Thus stay on trails as off-trail hiking is both dangerous and illegal. Camping, biking, boating, fishing, and rock climbing (the national park has an elevation range of nearly 3500m) are also extremely popular.

4. Zion NP – 4.49 million visitors

Zion National Park

With almost 4.49 million visitors, Zion National Park was the fourth most visited national park in the US in 2019. It attracted more than 4.32 million visitors in 2018 or there was an increase of around 170 000 recreational visits between 2019 and 2018.

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 (you can check it out on Amazon). 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 from October. If you enjoy solitude, it is a good idea to visit the national park at some other time of the year.

3. Rocky Mountain NP – 4.67 million visitors

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is among the parks that saw record visits in 2019. More than 4.67 million people flocked in 2019 making Rocky Mountain National Park the third most popular national park in the States last year. This number exceeds the previous record of 4.59 million visitors (in 2018) that 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 (you can check out the book on Amazon). 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.

2. Grand Canyon NP – 5.97 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. With nearly 6 million visitors, it was still the second most popular national park in the US last year. The park attracted more than 6.38 million visitors in 2018, which means a 6.36% decrease in the annual recreational visits between 2018 and 2019.

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.

1. Great Smoky Mountains NP – 12.55 million visitors

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

Just like in 2017 and 2018, the Great Smoky Mountains was the most visited national park in the USA in 2019. With 12.55 million visitors in 2019, this pristine natural area registered an increase of nearly 10% in comparison with the 11.42 million people that were welcomed in the park in 2018.

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.

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 2019, 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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