Approximately 237 million people visited American national parks in 2020, representing a 28% year-over-year decrease attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
To determine the most popular national parks in the United States, Stacker compiled data from the National Park Service on the number of recreational visits each site had in 2020.
President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 signed the act creating the National Park Service to leave natural and historic phenomenons “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” Since then, America’s national parks have welcomed visitors from around the world to experience some of the best the country has to offer and showcase the country’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Keep reading to discover the 50 most popular national parks in the United States, in reverse order from #50 to #1. And be sure to check with individuals parks before you visit to find out about ongoing, pandemic-related safety precautions at www.nps.gov/coronavirus.
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#50. Great Basin National Park
Located in Nevada, Great Basin National Park has both warm desert valleys and mountains that reach up to 13,000 feet. Visitors can see fossils, caves, rock formations, and even a glacier. Thanks to its wide elevation range, the park is home to a large spread of biodiversity, including 73 species of mammals, 238 species of birds, and more than 800 plant species.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 120,248
– Percent of total national park visits: .18%
#49. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas has the four highest peaks in the state and protects the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, making the park a geologist’s paradise. The Guadalupes were once home to the Mescalero Apache Native Americans, and pictographs from early settlers can still be seen in the park’s caves. At one point, the Guadalupe Mountains were all underwater in the Delaware Sea.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 151,256
– Percent of total national park visits: .22%
#48. Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park in California was born after several volcanoes erupted, forming the unique landscape of the park, which is packed with canyons, rock spires, and woodlands. When the park was established in 1908, it was only 2,060 acres, but has now grown to 26,000. Because of hot summer temperatures, Pinnacles is most popular in the winter months.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 165,740
– Percent of total national park visits: .24%
#47. Channel Islands National Park
The gorgeous Channel Islands National Park in California is comprised of five islands, each with a unique history. The northern islands were once home to the native Chumash people and eventually European explorers who harvested fish from the channel waters. The unique environment surrounding the islands contributes to a huge amount of biological diversity that represents 1,000 miles of the West Coast of North America.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 167,290
– Percent of total national park visits: .25%
#46. Virgin Islands National Park
Virgin Islands National Park comprises two-thirds of the island of St. John and almost all of nearby Hassel Island. First inhabited between 2,500 and 3,000 years ago, St. John was home to the Taino people, colonial Europeans, and enslaved Africans. Today the park offers stunning beaches, hikes to what were once plantations when sugar monopolized the economy, a bird-viewing deck overlooking a salt pond, and petroglyphs carved by the pre-Columbus Taino.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 167,540
– Percent of total national park visits: .25%
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#45. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Located in southern New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s 119 caves were born when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone millions of years ago, leaving behind a treasure trove of caverns. The Big Room in Carlsbad Cavern is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America and takes an hour and a half to cross, according to the National Park Service. Birders from around the globe flock to Rattlesnake Spring to see some of the 300 documented bird species.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 183,835
– Percent of total national park visits: .27%
#44. Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is 40% water, so many visitors navigate the park by boat. The park is known for its spectacular view of the stars, and the aurora borealis is sometimes visible. Moose, wolves, and black bears are just a few of the animals that call the park home year-round.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 263,091
– Percent of total national park visits: .39%
#43. Redwood National Park
While Redwood National Park in California is famous for the tallest trees on the planet, the park also protects coastline and prairies. Visitors can watch the gray whale migration at the Klamath River Overlook and walk on gray sands at Gold Bluffs Beach with remains from the state’s mining era. Animals including Roosevelt elk, California sea lions, eagles, and banana slugs call the park home.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 265,177
– Percent of total national park visits: .39%
#42. Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado protects nearly 5,000 archaeological sites that have preserved the history of the ancestral Pueblo people. They inhabited the land for almost 700 years, building dwellings into the cliffs and establishing communities before moving away. Visitors can both see and explore several of the cliff dwellings through tours and hiking trails.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 287,477
– Percent of total national park visits: .42%
#41. Mammoth Cave National Park
Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park is known for housing the world’s longest cave system, which stretches 400 miles. Though famous for its caves, the park also has more than 70 threatened or endangered species that include birds, crustaceans, and fish. It is believed that the first human entered Mammoth Cave 4,000 years ago.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 290,392
– Percent of total national park visits: .43%
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#40. Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park in Hawaii is home to a volcano with a 10,000-foot summit, and is the highest point on Maui. Native Hawaiians have lived on this land for more than 1,000 years, making this an important cultural site. According to the National Park Service, many of the legends surrounding Haleakala focus on the demigod Maui, and natives consider the summit to be the place where Maui snared the sun in order to slow its passage through the sky.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 319,147
– Percent of total national park visits: .47%
#39. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The canyons and rock spires at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado can reach a surface temperature of up to 120 degrees. Many of the desert creatures that call the park home use ephemeral pools in rocks as their main water source. Some of the canyon’s formations are up to 500 million years old, and contain sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous stones.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 341,620
– Percent of total national park visits: .50%
#38. Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is home to the gorgeous Painted Desert and Crystal Forest, where petrified logs shine with quartz crystals. The site in the park known as Newspaper Rock contains more than 650 petroglyphs between 650 and 2,000 years old. The landscape of the park features mesas and buttes created by erosion.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 384,483
– Percent of total national park visits: .57%
#37. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park in Texas offers spectacular views of the Chihuahuan Desert landscape as well as the Rio Grande. Visitors to the park can even enter Mexico through the park’s Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. Big Bend has more species of birds, bats, and cacti than any other national park in the United States.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 393,907
– Percent of total national park visits: .58%
#36. Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park located just next to Miami is an ocean-lover’s paradise, with crystal clear waters, colorful coral reefs, and more than 500 species of reef fish. Visitors also have the chance to spot manatees, sea turtles, and pelicans. Though the park comprises several islands, 95% of the park is actually water.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 402,770
– Percent of total national park visits: .59%
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#35. Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park in California boasts giant sequoia trees, a tall granite dome with sweeping views, and a marble cavern known as Crystal Cave. Because the park has an elevation gradient of more than 13,000 feet, it plays host to around 1,300 plant species and 300 animal species.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 415,077
– Percent of total national park visits: .61%
#34. White Sands National Park
The park is aptly named, featuring wavy white sands over nearly 300 square miles in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. This is the world’s largest gypsum dunefield, and the park preserves a major part of it. Visits can include the park’s historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Lucero Ranch on the shore of Lake Lucero and the White Sands Missile Range Museum and Trinity Site, where in 1945 the first atomic bomb was tested.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 415,383
– Percent of total national park visits: .61%
#33. Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota is famous for its rare boxwork cave formations that consist of paper-thin intersecting lines of calcite. Other unique formations include popcorn, frostwork, dogtooth spar crystals, and flowstone. Exploration of the cave began in 1881 when brothers Jesse and Tom Bingham discovered a small hole in the ground, which was the cave’s sole natural opening.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 448,405
– Percent of total national park visits: .66%
#32. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is famous for the tallest sand dunes in North America, that stretch 30 miles across. The park is also home to five alpine lakes, forests, meadows, and grasslands. Popular activities in the park include sand sledding and sand boarding as well as horseback riding and swimming in the Medano Creek.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 461,532
– Percent of total national park visits: .68%
#31. Gateway Arch National Park
Unlike many other national parks, the Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri is located in a major city and isn’t focused on preserving wildlife. The park contains the 630-foot Gateway Arch monument and St. Louis’ Old Courthouse. The courthouse was where the first two trials of the landmark Dred Scott case were held in 1847 and 1850. The arch is the nation’s tallest monument.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 486,021
– Percent of total national park visits: .72%
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#30. Canyonlands National Park
Utah’s Canyonlands National Park features a unique landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes formed by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Even though the park is considered a desert, its high elevation gives it a varying climate; temperatures here can fluctuate as much as 50 degrees in a day. This, combined with the low annual rainfall, make the park a perfect home for drought-resistant plants such as cacti, yuccas, and mosses.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 493,914
– Percent of total national park visits: .73%
#29. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Each rock at Lassen Volcanic National Park in California is a result of a volcanic eruption, given that the park has been volcanically active for 3 million years. The world’s four volcanic types—shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome—are all present at the park and located in close proximity to each other. Park visitors can also check out the park’s several fumaroles, mud pots, and boiling pools.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 542,274
– Percent of total national park visits: .80%
#28. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Located in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s dominating feature is the badlands, which are colorful, rolling hills consisting of rock that are millions of years old. Erosion and other natural processes like lightning strikes and prairie fires continue to shape the badlands today. The park is of course named for the U.S. president who first came to the Dakotas in 1883 to hunt bison.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 551,303
– Percent of total national park visits: .81%
#27. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
#26. Crater Lake National Park
#25. Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is of such biological importance that it is also a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and Wetland of International Importance. The park protects rare and endangered species, including the manatee, American crocodile, and Florida panther. Bird watching is a popular activity in the park, with blue herons, bald eagles, and red-shouldered hawks to spot.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 702,319
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.03%
#24. Saguaro National Park
As its name suggests, Saguaro National Park in Arizona protects giant saguaro cacti, a symbol of the American West. The average lifespan of one of these cacti is 125 years old, and it produces sweet fruits. The park is also home to a variety of animals, many of which can only be found in the southern part of the state, including kangaroo rats, roadrunners, and horned lizards.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 762,226
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.12%
#23. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park in California and was the first park established to protect a living organism: its native sequoia trees. Since World War II, Sequoia and Kings Canyon have been administered jointly. In 2014, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park for the first time in 100 years as part of a recovery effort for this endangered species.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 796,086
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.17%
#22. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada is home to the driest, lowest, and hottest spot in North America. The park was once home to a variety of different people, including the Timbisha Shoshone Native Americans, Chinese workers, the Basque people, and Japanese American internees, according to the National Park Service. Today, visitors can experience the park’s sand dunes, salt flats, and a dry lakebed known as the Racetrack Playa.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 820,023
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.21%
#21. Badlands National Park
The striking landscape of Badlands National Park in South Dakota contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds. At one point, it was home to the rhino and saber-toothed cat. The Badlands were formed nearly 70 million years ago by erosion and deposition of sediment when an ancient sea was located where today’s Great Plains are. Erosion will eventually entirely erase the Badlands.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 916,932
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.35%
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#20. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is famous for the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline extending almost 100 miles and considered a “wrinkle on the earth.” The fold was formed 50 to 70 million years ago as a warp in the Earth’s crust, and erosion has exposed the fold at the surface. The park has some of the darkest night skies in the United States, so much so that it has been designated an International Dark Sky Park.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 981,038
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.44%
#19. New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
New River Gorge National Park & Preserve consists of 70,000 acres along the New River, a whitewater river in southern West Virginia that despite its name is one of the oldest on the continent. From the Canyon Rim Visitor Center, the sides of the valley fall almost 900 feet into the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can go whitewater rafting or canoeing, rock climbing, bird watching, camping, hiking, or biking along an old railroad grade.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,054,374
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.55%
#18. Mount Rainier National Park
Located in Washington, Mount Rainier National Park is famous for housing the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. Mount Rainier is the highest volcano in the Cascade Range, and experiences about 20 small earthquakes a year. Some of the animals that visitors regularly spot at the park include mountain goats, ravens, elk, and black bears.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,160,754
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.71%
#17. Arches National Park
Arches National Park in Utah lives up to its name and has more than 2,000 natural stone arches, the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. These sandstone geological formations are the result of erosion and a thick layer of salt beneath the rock surface. The arches are impermanent, however; the 71-foot Wall Arch collapsed in 2008.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,238,083
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.82%
#16. Hot Springs National Park
Known as “The American Spa,” Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas has thermal waters with soothing properties. Typically, hot springs pop up in areas with volcanic activity and are rare in the central part of the continent. These hot springs are situated along a fault on the western side of Hot Springs Mountain.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,348,215
– Percent of total national park visits: 1.98%
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#15. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah has the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, pillars of rock left standing after erosion. Bryce Canyon contains a series of natural amphitheaters and bowls, the most famous being Bryce Amphitheater, which is full of the park’s iconic hoodoos. The park is one of three national parks to house the Grand Staircase geological formation, which is a giant sequence of sedimentary rock layers.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,464,655
– Percent of total national park visits: 2.16%
#14. Shenandoah National Park
Just 75 miles from the nation’s capital, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia showcases the Blue Ridge Mountains and is home to 90 perennial streams, many of which turn into cascading waterfalls. While many native species have been lost over time, today the park has more than 200 bird species, 50 mammal species, and more than 35 fish species, the National Park Service reports. The park is popular with hikers, with 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,666,265
– Percent of total national park visits: 2.45%
#13. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in Montana is responsible for housing streams that flow into the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson’s Bay. Because of this, it has become home to a variety of plants and animals, so much so that it has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. The park was carved from glaciers dating back 10,000 years, exposing bedrock that has helped scientists understand the Earth’s movement.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 1,698,864
– Percent of total national park visits: 2.50%
#12. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park in California is home to the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, the largest waterfall in North America. With 800 miles of hiking, there’s plenty to explore, including enormous granite mountains, such at Mt. Lyell, the park’s tallest point. Visitors can enjoy the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, the peaceful Hetch Hetchy Valley, and rock formations carved by ancient glaciers.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,268,313
– Percent of total national park visits: 3.34%
#11. Indiana Dunes National Park
With 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline for swimming, surfing, and paddling, beachgoers may forget they’re in Indiana. For those interested in hiking and biking, there are more than 50 miles of trails of varying difficulty through dunes, wetlands, forests, and prairies, with a handicap accessible trail at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk. Note that the only area with lifeguards present is West Beach—also the only site with a fee—during the summer months.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,293,106
– Percent of total national park visits: 3.38%
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#10. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park in California was named after its picturesque, spiky Joshua trees. Mormon immigrants named the trees after the biblical Joshua after noticing that the limbs looked as if they were outstretched in prayer. Many of the park’s animals, including the Scott’s orioles, wood rats, and desert night lizards, depend on the tree for food and shelter. Keys View in the park offers an incredible view of the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, and San Jacinto.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,399,542
– Percent of total national park visits: 3.53%
#9. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park in Washington has temperate rainforests, glacier-topped mountains, and more than 70 miles of coastline. The park was established in 1938 to protect some of the state’s quickly vanishing forests, and now protects one of the largest remaining blocks of temperate rainforest in the lower 48 states. Visitors to the park can see Mount Olympus, which stands 7,980 feet high, on a clear day.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,499,177
– Percent of total national park visits: 3.68%
#8. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park in Maine protects the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline in the United States, including Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the eastern coast of the country. Granite ridges in the park were formed by glaciers that measured up to 9,000 feet thick, and evidence of their presence is visible throughout the park.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,669,034
– Percent of total national park visits: 3.93%
#7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Near Cleveland and Akron, Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park preserves the beauty of the Cuyahoga River and showcases the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Popular attractions at the park include the 65-foot Brandywine Falls waterfall, Beaver Marsh, and the National Park Scenic train. The park is home to an astounding 900 plant species, 194 bird species, and almost two dozen reptile species.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,755,628
– Percent of total national park visits: 4.06%
#6. Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is synonymous with its world-famous canyon that is 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep. The park encompasses more than 1 million acres and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins. The Grand Canyon is considered one of the best examples of arid land erosion in the world. It has a rich and diverse fossil record, and the land offers a detailed record of three out of the four geological eras.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 2,897,098
– Percent of total national park visits: 4.26%
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#5. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming has a rich history beginning 11,000 years ago when nomadic paleo-Indians harvested berries, crafted stone tools, and fished in lakes, leaving behind evidence for historians. The weather in the park can get unbearably cold: The lowest temperature ever recorded was -63 degrees Fahrenheit. The center line of the 2017 solar eclipse was visible from the park, sending it into totality against the backdrop of its glacier-carved landscape.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 3,289,638
– Percent of total national park visits: 4.84%
#4. Rocky Mountain National Park
– Recreational visits in 2020: 3,305,199
– Percent of total national park visits: 4.87%
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is home to some of the highest mountains in the continental United States. Sixty mountain peaks measure in at more than 12,000 feet high, making the park a popular destination for hikers. Visitors can fish at more than 50 lakes and streams.
#3. Zion National Park
Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park and is famous for its landscape of giant colorful sandstone cliffs. Around 12,000 years ago, the first people to visit this land tracked mammoths, giant sloths, and camels until those animals died about 8,000 years ago, the National Park Service says. Because of the range in elevation in the park, it has more than 1,000 diverse plant species.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 3,591,254
– Percent of total national park visits: 5.29%
#2. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park spans three states: Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone has plenty to offer, including the famed Old Faithful geyser, Mt. Washburn, and the Mammoth Hot Springs. The park is one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth, making it home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 3,806,306
– Percent of total national park visits: 5.60%
#1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee is the most biodiverse park in the National Park system, with more than 19,000 documented species. The Smokies are among the oldest mountain ranges in the world. On average, more than 85 inches of rain falls in the park each year, fueling 2,100 miles of streams and rivers that flow through the park.
– Recreational visits in 2020: 12,095,720
– Percent of total national park visits: 17.81%
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Written by Hannah Lang. View this story on Stacker.