Post Summary: Find out which are the US’s Most Visited National Parks

I canceled visits to dozen-plus national parks and I avoid my local National Park due to the crowds so I was expecting National Park visitation to down as a whole this year. As I dug into the National Park Service’s 2020 Annual Visitor’s Statistics report I found some interesting things. Overall, 68 million people visited the 63 National Parks. That is a 25% decrease in total park visitors which makes sense given that the country was shut down for about 3 months. Most parks saw a decrease in visitation. The average decrease is about 32%

There is 1 new addition to this year’s most visited National Park. Cuyahoga Valley, Shenandoah, and Indiana Dunes all saw an increase in visitation. on this list saw The rest saw a decrease in visitation ranging from 3 million to just over 100,000. These are the 15 Most Visited National Parks in the US.

All visitation numbers and calculations in this post are from the National Park Service’s 2020 Annual Visitor’s Statistics report. Every year the NPS tracks the total number of visitors each park received and shares the most and least visited of their 419 units. This comprehensive document is released yearly by NPS and provides the visitation statistics for all 423 National Park Service units.

Click here to check out the least visited National Parks.

** This post focus on the most visited parks from the list of 63 that hold National Park.

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you! Read the full disclosure policy here

Wonder which US national parks are the most popular? Click HERE to learn about the 15 most visited national parks and a few tips to avoid the crowds.

Map of the Most Visited National Parks in 2020

Most Visited National Parks Placeholder
Most Visited National Parks

Fun Facts about 2020’s most visited National Parks

  • These 15 National Parks account for 70% of all National Park visits.
  • All of these National Parks are located within the Continental US
  • Four of the parks are located within several hours of one another
  • The one recently established National Parks are on this list
  • A half marathon occurs near the entrance of several of these parks
  • Several parks on this list were visited by Hollywood filmmakers

The 15 Most Visited National Parks in 2020

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina / Tennessee

12,095,720 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 1 (No change)

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located within parts of Tennessee and North Carolina. Internationally recognized for its picturesque autumn colors and historical structures, it is one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern US at 522,419 sq. miles.

Over 850 miles of trails and unpaved roads provided hiking experiences, with 70-miles of the Appalachian Trail included. Nearly 95% of the park is forested land with 36% of it predating the first European settlement.

The Smokies saw a drop of about a half-million visitors (4%) most of that drop is due to COVID park closures. Park visitation was on pace for matching or exceeding 2019 otherwise.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019112,547,743
2018111,421,200

2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming / Montana / Idaho

3,806,306 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 6 (Up 5 spots)

Yellowstone National Park is located within the state of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The first established National Park, Yellowstone is centered above the largest supervolcano on the continent. Millions of visitors gravitate towards Yellowstone’s collection of geothermal activities throughout the park. Deeper than a 10-story building and rich in the colors of the rainbow, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the country. Nearby, Old Faithful Geyser erupts approximately every 90-minutes, allowing visitors adequate time to visit the historic Old Faithful Inn.

Five entrance stations welcomes visitors to the park from the West, North, Northwest, East and to the South. First time visitors to Yellowstone should allow several days to fully enjoy the park.

Yellowstone saw a modest drop of 5% (two hundred thousand) visitors. Which given the park was closed for a month plus didn’t see bus loads of tourists is pretty impressive.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201964,020,288
201854,115,000

3. Zion National Park, Utah

3,591,254 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 4 (Up 1 spot)

Located in Southwestern Utah, Zion National Park is one of the Utah’s “Mighty 5” National Parks located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and Mojave Desert.

It is home to the famous Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Weeping Rock trails. The Narrows requires a permit to enter, while Angels Landing is not recommended for hikers experiencing fears of heights and drop-offs.

The park experiences its heaviest traffic during the summer months and can be well over 100 degrees.

A public transportation using propane-powered shuttles was introduced in 2000 to alleviate the high traffic congestion. The shuttles operate outside of the park, making 9-stops within the community of Springdale and drops-off just outside the entrance gate. The second shuttle system operates inside the park which scheduled stops beginning at the Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinawava,

Zion saw a 20% reduction in visitation. Most of this would be caused by the closure and limited shuttle space.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201944,488,268
201844,320,033

4. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

3,305,199 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 3 (Down 1 spot)

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Northern Colorado 65-miles Northwest of Denver. The park encompasses over 265,000 acres of Federal Land with an additional 235,00 acres of U.S. Forest Service wilderness.

The headwaters of the Colorado River begin in the Northwestern boundary of the park near the state of Wyoming.

There are five geographical regions located within the park: Big Meadows, Alpine, Wilderness, the Heart of the Park and the Backcountry region. Hiking, fishing and camping are popular among visitor activities in the park with over 100 designated wilderness camping sites.

Rocky Mountain National Park saw a 29% decrease in visitation. This is likely due to the shutdown combined with timed entry that capped park visitation at 75%.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201934,670,053
201834,590,493

5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

3,289,638 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 8 (Up 3 spots)

Grand Teton National Park is located in Northwestern Wyoming near Jackson Hole and 10-miles from the South Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Named after Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range at 13,775 feet, the park is home to multiple lakes, mountaineering, hiking, and the Snake River.

During the winter months, the park is home to cross-country skiing and snowshoe tours. The peaks of the Teton Range, visible for miles were created from ancient glaciers between 250,000 – 150,000 years ago. Native to the region, Huckleberries are a favorite among locals and visitors. It can be purchased in multiple forms including ice cream, licorice, jams and soda.

Grand Teton saw a slight dip in visitation probably related to the lack of international bus tours.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201983,405,614
201883,491,151

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

2,897,098 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 2 (Up 4 Spots)

The Grand Canyon National Park is located in Northwestern Arizona near the town of Williams. Considered one of the Wonders of the World, the park covered over 1.2 million acres of land.

The North Rim and South Rim are separated by the Colorado River that flows directly through the canyon. The South Rim provides many activities catering to visitors such as lodging, dining, and the visitor center. The Northern Rim is closed between December 1st through May 15th due to heavy snowfall in the area.

A complex transportation system is located within the South Rim. The Blue, Orange and Red shuttles connect visitors to Hermit’s Rest in the West, Yaki Point to the East with the Grand Canyon Village. The park offers a variety of activities including hiking trails, a collection of museums and observation points ideal for photography.

Grand Canyon saw one of the biggest traffic drops. 2020 saw 3 million less people visit this wonder of the world. Its probably a combination of international travel loss, lodging closures and COVID restrictions.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201925,974,411
201826,380,495

7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

2,755,628 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 13 (Up 6 Spots)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located mid-way between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. It is the only national park that originated as a national recreation area.

The 20-mile Towpath Trail follows a former section of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Hiking, running and cycling are popular daily activities. Many historical structures related to the former canal are located throughout the park.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park saw one of the biggest increases in visitation. About a half million more people visited this urban park.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019132,237,997
2018132,096,053

8. Acadia National Park, Maine

2,669,034 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 7 (No change)

Acadia National Park is located in Northeastern Maine near Bar Harbor. It was the first National Park east of the Mississippi and the only in Northeastern US.

The park features a 27-mile loop road that takes visitors along the coast to multiple scenic outlooks, and through forests to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Every September, the Acadia Night Sky Festival is celebrated, attracting speakers, photographers, and artists.

Acadia saw a modest 22% drop in visitation likely due to the 14 day mandatory quarantine in place during the early parts of COVID.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201973,437,286
201873,537,575

9. Olympic National Park, Washington

2,499,177 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 9 (No change)

Olympic National Park is located several hours West of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula. The park consists of three distinct ecosystems: Rugged coastline, temperate rainforest and glacial mountains.

Hiking and camping are popular activities among visitors. The winter season coats the park in snow attracting winter sports activities. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding are the most popular.

Olympic National Park is another park seeing a modest drop in visitation. Olympic had about 23% less visitors.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201993,245,806
201893,104,455

10. Joshua Tree National Park, California

2,399,542 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 11 (Up 1 Spot)

Joshua Tree National Park is located within the Coachella valley near the city of Palm Springs and Twentynine Palms. Originally declared a national monument in 1936, it was redesignated as a national park on October 31, 1994. Slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, the park is home to Joshua Tree forests and large rock formations that are popular among rock climbers.

Keys View. on the eastern boundaries of the park is an observation point notable for sunset viewing opportunities of the Coachella Valley and Mt. San Jacinto, home to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. 

Joshua Tree saw a small drop of 20% in visitation. This is due in part to the stricter COVID regulations in California.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019112,988,547
2018112,942,382

11. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

2,293,106 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 14 (Up 3 Spots)

Indiana Dunes National Park is located along 25-miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. It was elevated from a national lakeshore to the 61st national park on February 15, 2019. The park is Indiana’s first national park.

Recreation areas and day-use activities are popular within the park. Sandy beaches, sand dunes, and hiking trails are among the sought-after activities. The park contains 35 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Indiana Dunes saw a slight uptick in park visitors. This 7% increase in visitation to a newer national park likely would have been larger without COVID.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019142,134,285
2018151,756,079

12. Yosemite National Park, California

2,268,313 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 6 (Down 7 Spots)

Yosemite National Park is located in the Western Sierra Nevada and is California’s premiere National Park. Originally created by President Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864, the Yosemite Grant marked the first example of parkland being set aside for preservation and public use.

The park is rich in activities throughout the year. Hikers enjoy the challenging trek up the Yosemite Falls Trail and Mist Trail, rewarded with stunning views and picturesque waterfalls. Seasoned hikers will continue along the Mist Trail for several more miles for a unique challenge of hiking the Half Dome Cables, permit required.

The Yosemite Village area provides an extensive shuttle system that makes stops at several major hiking trailheads, the Visitor Center, Curry Village and the legendary Ahwahnee Hotel. The park can be enjoyed by visitors throughout the year. Spring season is the busiest, especially on the weekends while the waterfalls are at their peak.

Yosemite saw a massive 49% decrease in visitation. This isn’t surprising given they issuing a limited number of entrance passes for park entry or requiring lodging reservations for those entering the park.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
201954,422,861
201864,009,436

13. Glacier National Park, Montana

1,698,864 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 10 (Down 3 Spots)

Glacier National Park is located in Northwestern Montana along the US/Canadian border, encompassing over 1-million acres. Visitors entering the park from Canada by water or land must have a passport with them.

The major attraction in the park is the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The first road registered as a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Place, it connects the West and East Entrances, spanning 50-miles in length. The road made cinematic history in the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining along St. Mary Lake.

Two hundred waterfalls, a dozen large lakes, and twenty five glaciers are found within the park.

Glacier saw a 44% drop of visitation which isn’t bad considering about half the park entrances and campgrounds were closed for the summer.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019153,049,839
2018152,965,309

14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

1,666,265 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 20 (Up 6 Spots)

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southwestern Utah, not far from Zion National Park. Although it is named a canyon, the park is a collection of large natural amphitheaters rich in orange, red, and white colors. The park is accessible by a scenic drive with 13 viewpoints along the way. Natural arches, multiple established hiking trails and observation viewpoints highlight the park activities.

The unique geological structures, Hoodoos, formed through from weathering are located throughout the park. Sunrise over the Bryce Canyon amphitheater is one of the most photographed sights in a national park.

Shenandoah is the third park on this list to see an increase in visitation seeing an extra 17%. Urbanites from DC couldn’t wait to get away from the restrictive city lockdowns.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019201,425,507
2018201,264,880

15. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

1,464,655 Visitors in 2020

Rank in 2019: 12 (Down 3 Spots)

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southwestern Utah, not far from Zion National Park. Although it is named a canyon, the park is a collection of large natural amphitheaters rich in orange, red, and white colors.

The park is accessible by a scenic drive with 13 viewpoints along the way. Natural arches, multiple established hiking trails and observation viewpoints highlight the park activities. The unique geological structures, Hoodoos, formed through from weathering are located throughout the park.

Sunrise over the Bryce Canyon amphitheater is one of the most photographed sights in a national park.

Bryce saw about 44% drop in visitation. This is likely due to people cancelling trips not wanting to deal with the Zion shuttle reservations so they cancelled their trip to Bryce and Zion.

Previous years rankings and visitation :

YearRankVisitors
2019122,594,904
2018122,679,478

Pin to Save for Later: The 15 Most Visited National Parks in the US

Wonder which US national parks are the most popular? Click HERE to learn about the 15 most visited national parks and a few tips to avoid the crowds.
Robert was born and raised in Southern California. His developed his love for the outdoors during his youth where he spent his weekends backpacking through the forests of California. A self-taught photographer, he documents his life through the camera with aspirations of owning an online photography store in the future. He has traveled to 40 of the 50 states and 64 National Park Service sites, with the goal to visit them all.

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