These Are the Most Popular National Parks in the U.S.

Once again, Great Smoky Mountains is number one

East Entrance to Zion National Park

kellyvandellen / Getty Images

Famously called "America's best idea" by the novelist and historian Wallace Stegner, the U.S. National Park System offers families a wonderfully affordable way to visit America's most cherished and beautiful landscapes, view wildlife in their natural habitat, learn about geological and cultural history, and appreciate the great outdoors. 

Visitors flock to national parks in huge numbers, with the total number of visitors topping 297 million in 2021, an increase of 60 million compared to 2020. These are the top 20 most popular national parks, ranked in order of visitors.

01 of 20

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sunrise in the Smoky Mountains

Tony Barber / Moment / Getty Images

Address
United States
Phone +1 865-436-1200

The most-visited national park once again, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers 522,000 acres of land in North Carolina and Tennessee. It offers breathtaking scenery and wildlife viewing, and remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. Despite being the most visited national park, there are plenty of opportunities for seclusion, whether on a hike, a scenic drive or at a park campsite.

02 of 20

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

TripSavvy / Vince Fergus

Address
Utah, USA
Phone +1 435-772-3256

Utah's first national park is named after Zion Canyon. Cutting through red and tan sandstone, the canyon is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep. The park features massive sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and various plants and animals, including more than 270 bird species. Extreme sports enthusiasts will be entertained by the challenging rapids of the Virgin River or by scaling canyon walls. Many travelers combine a trip to ​Zion with Bryce Canyon National Park, 78 miles away.

03 of 20

Yellowstone National Park

Geyser

 TripSavvy / Vince Fergus 

Address
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA

Established in 1872 as the first U.S. national park, Yellowstone is arguably the most unique. Its 2.2 million acres fall mainly in Wyoming and sit atop one of the continent’s largest active supervolcanoes, whose 2-million-year history formed a diverse ecosystem of lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges and left a landscape dotted with thousands of geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles. Yellowstone is also a wonderful place to view wildlife, with its large wolf population and herds of bison, elk, antelope, and other animals.

04 of 20

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Address
Arizona, USA
Phone +1 928-638-7888

Arizona's legendary ​Grand Canyon National Park belongs on every person's bucket list. There are a variety of hikes and viewing platforms around the rim of the canyon. The SkyWalk, just outside the park in Grand Canyon West, is a top attraction run by the Hualapai Tribe. For a unique experience of the Grand Canyon, mule trips of various lengths are available, leaving from both the South Rim and North Rim.​ However, travelers with some grit and backpacking experience should consider a more extended trip from the rim to the canyon floor and back.

Continue to 5 of 20 below.
05 of 20

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Address
Colorado, USA
Phone +1 970-586-1206

Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles include mountain lakes, glaciers, and rolling meadows. There are more than 300 miles of hiking trails to explore along with wildflowers and wildlife like bighorn sheep and moose.​ Adventurous travelers can brave the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, which takes travelers to an elevation of 11,500 feet!

06 of 20

Acadia National Park

Schooner Head in Acadia National Park

www.cfwphotography.com / Getty Images

Address
Maine, USA
Phone +1 207-288-3338

This park on the rugged Maine coast is home to various plants and animals and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the coastal scenery. Families can explore the park with Acadia Quest, a scavenger hunt-like activity.

07 of 20

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Address
Wyoming, USA
Phone +1 307-739-3300

In northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Range and the northern Jackson Hole Valley. The park's 96,000 acres are filled with breathtaking vistas and are home to various wildlife like bears, moose, otters, and elk. There are several stand-out hiking trails, and a visit to one of the alpine lakes is an absolute must. Connected to Yellowstone by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, it's incredibly easy to visit both parks in one trip.​

08 of 20

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls

TripSavvy / Jess Macdonald

Address
California, USA
Phone +1 209-372-0200

Protected since 1864, ​Yosemite was California's first national park. It is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area. Considering that there are wildflowers and roaring waterfalls in spring, snowcapped trees in winter, and incredible hikes year-round, there's no bad time to visit Yosemite.

Continue to 9 of 20 below.
09 of 20

Indiana Dunes National Park

Lake Michigan Shoreline at Indiana Dunes National Park
EJ_Rodriquez / Getty Images

Stretching along 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and covering more than 15,000 acres, this midwestern park is ideal for relaxing on a beach, hiking the 50 miles of trails, and exploring the diverse ecosystem. The dunes are the main attraction with rare plants, creeks, Lake Michigan, and migratory birds. The national park is free to visit, so if there's an admission fee, you're at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Address
1215 N State Rd 49, Porter, IN 46304, USA
Phone +1 219-395-1882
10 of 20

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Address
Montana, USA
Phone +1 406-888-7800

This million-acre Montana wilderness contains two mountain ranges, more than 130 lakes, and thousands of plant and animal species. It is a jaw-droppingly beautiful wonderland of pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, spectacular lakes, and 700 miles of trails. The 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the most iconic scenic drives in America if you'd rather drive through the park. And in the summer, there are boat tours for yet another way to enjoy the splendor of Glacier National Park.

11 of 20

Joshua Tree National Park

Cacti in Joshua Tree

TripSavvy / Chris VR

Address
California, USA
Phone +1 760-367-5500

Named for the trees native to the park, 1,200-square-mile ​Joshua Tree National Park is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. Much of the park is wilderness and includes parts of two deserts, the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. There are 12 self-guided nature trails, some as short as a half-mile, perfect for young children.​ Ranger-led activities include guided wildflower walks, evening talks, and stargazing.

12 of 20

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Address
3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98362, USA
Phone +1 360-565-3130
4.4

Olympic National Park in Washington State is like three parks in one, taking you from breathtaking mountain vistas with meadows of wildflowers to colorful ocean tidepools and valleys of ancient forests. About 95 percent of the park is wilderness making this the perfect destination for people who want to connect with nature. Designed to be explored on foot, there are a variety of day hikes, with several kid-friendly hikes as well.

Continue to 13 of 20 below.
13 of 20

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park
lipika / iStock / Getty Images
Address
Ohio, USA
Phone +1 330-657-2752

Ohio's only national park preserves and reclaims the rural landscape along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland. Twenty miles of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail makes up the major trail through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has traveled through the park for more than 100 years and still is an excellent way to view the park's scenery. Families can hike or bike along the flat Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. Many families hike or bike one way and take the train back.

14 of 20

Hot Springs National Park

winding path with lush trees and stone walls on either side
zrfphoto / Getty Images

This national park is unique because it's more of an urban park than a secluded wilderness. Located right next to the city of Hot Springs, this is also the country's smallest national park, covering 5,550 acres. The main attractions here are the historic bathhouses and hot springs that the park was established to protect. There are a variety of short scenic hikes as well.

Address
369 Central Ave, Hot Springs, AR 71901, USA
Phone +1 501-620-6715
15 of 20

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

TripSavvy / Vince Fergus

Address
Utah, USA
Phone +1 435-834-5322

Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon at all. Instead, it is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters formed by hoodoos—tall, thin spires of rock up to 150 feet high. The red, orange and white colors of the rocks make for spectacular views throughout the park. You can explore the rock formations on a scenic drive or up close and personal on a hike.

16 of 20

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

TripSavvy / Alisha McDarris

Address
Utah, USA
Phone +1 435-719-2299

Located just outside Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is one of Utah's famed Mighty 5. It is known for its 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the famous Delicate Arch, and a wide variety of unique geological resources and formations.​ Arches is also a certified dark sky park, so it's the place to be for some unparalleled stargazing. Visitors can discover the park via a hike or enjoy some rock climbing.

Continue to 17 of 20 below.
17 of 20

New River Gorge National Park

Overlook of West Virginia green mountains in autumn fall at New River Gorge Bridge with closeup of metal structure and golden foliage
krblokhin / Getty Images

New River Gorge may be the newest national park, but it's home to one of the oldest rivers on Earth. The park covers more than 7,000 acres of West Virginia wilderness (with an additional 65,000 acres set aside for national preservation) and has drawn visitors for the beautiful vistas, rock climbing, rafting, and hunting. The now-iconic train tracks—visible from most park viewpoints—were first built in 1872, and the region was first known for its coal mines. Now, it's a recreational haven.

Address
162 Visitor Center Rd, Lansing, WV 25862, USA
Phone +1 304-574-2115
18 of 20

Mount Rainier National Park

Snow-covered mountain with evergreen trees in the foreground reflected in a body of water

Rene Frederick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Address
Washington, USA
Phone +1 360-569-2211

Dominated by its namesake volcano, which towers at 14,410 feet and last erupted in the 1800s, Rainier is America's fifth-oldest national park. Visit in the spring, and you'll witness cascading waterfalls; come in the summer, and wildflowers abound; or arrive in the fall when the foliage puts on a colorful show. The Citizen Ranger program for older kids and families includes self-guided quests and the chance to participate in the MeadoWatch scientific project.

19 of 20

Shenandoah National Park

giant tree in Shenandoah national park at sunset overlooking a forest in the distance

Carolyn Cochrane / Getty Images

Address
Virginia, USA
Phone +1 540-999-3500

Occupied by settlers for at least 100 years, Shenandoah National Park covers 200,000 acres of Virginia wilderness. The 105-mile Skyline Drive traces the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers many jumping-off points to see the beauty of this park. Beyond the scenic drive, you can explore the park's many offerings through hiking, biking, paddling, and horseback riding.​​ ​

20 of 20

Capitol Reef National Park

Hickman Bridge rock formation in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA
Peter Unger / Getty Images
Address
Utah, USA
Phone +1 435-425-3791

Breathtaking rock formations and desert landscapes are just the beginning of Capitol Reef National Park's many charms. There are also historic orchards, scenic driving routes, horseback rides, and stargazing. And that's on top of stellar hikes and rock climbing routes. The park is open year-round, but it's at its best in spring and early fall.

Tips for Visiting a National Park

  • If you plan to visit multiple parks in a 12-month period, consider buying a National Parks Annual Pass for $80.
  • The National Park Service's Find a Park tool is a wonderful planning device for locating parks, scenic trails, battlefields, and other treasures near your home or along your road trip route.
  • Before you go, explore the National Park Service's WebRangers site for kids, no matter which park you plan to visit. ​Junior Ranger programs are available at the parks. Details differ depending on the park, so check what's happening at the park you plan to visit before you go.
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America's 20 Most Popular National Parks