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Destination Feature: Top Ten Most Visited National Parks



Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (Over 12,937,633 million visitors in 2023)

America’s most visited park logged almost 13 million visitors in 2023, according to the National Parks Service — and for good reason. Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts 800 miles of hiking trails up rugged Appalachian Mountain peaks — 16 of them greater than 6,000 feet. 

Straddling the mountainous border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the park is traversed by rivers and streams that reveal countless waterfalls.  Part of the park’s appeal is the diversity of recreation available, from picnics and scenic drives to hiking and wildlife watching.

Founded in 1940, the park owes its creation, in part, to some of the best-known names in American conservation:  John D. Rockefeller Jr., who donated $5 million to the effort, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was in the White House when the park was dedicated.

There’s no bad time to visit the Smoky Mountains, but the spring and early summer profusion of wildflowers earned this park the nickname “Wildflower National Park.”  Fall “leaf peeping” through the park’s undulating ridges and its namesake mist can be magnificent.  For more information, go to https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm.



The Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Over 4.7 million visitors in 2023)

Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park It’s also generally included in every list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and represents the only U.S. site.   President Theodore Roosevelt preserved the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908, and it was designated a national park 11 years later.

You can see a zillion photos of the canyon, but it will still make your jaw drop to see the canyon in person.  Millions of years of geologic history have been laid bare by the Colorado River.  The colors everywhere in the canyon are breathtaking and shift with the angle of the sun.  The hiking and white-water rafting experiences are second-to-none.

If you want to see the more remote North Rim, visit between late May and early October, before heavy snows close the roads.  Most people stick to the more easily accessible South Rim, and they don’t regret it.  For more information, go to http://www.npca.org/parks/grand-canyon-national-park.html.



Zion National Park, Utah (Over 4.6 million visitors in 2023)

The creamy red cliffs of Zion Canyon, a 15-mile-long gash that reaches nearly half a mile into the earth at its deepest, is home to 271 bird species.  Zion - “place of refuge” in Hebrew - is a true sanctuary for wildlife, as well as for people.  Hikers, bicyclers, photographers and even equestrians can enjoy the 229-square-mile park, which is open year-round.  Wildflowers bloom in the spring, and the various foliages turn colors in the fall.

Originally preserved as Mukuntweap National Monument by President William Howard Taft in 1909, the park was renamed Zion in 1937 and became a park in 1956.  The park will celebrate the centennial of its preservation in 2009.  For more info, please visit: 



Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (Over 4.3 million visitors in 2023)

The Rockies make other U.S. Mountain chains seem like hills.  Nearly 2.9 million people visited Rocky Mountain National Park in 2007 to take in the grandeur of 60 mountains that top out above 12,000 feet.

Colorado’s mountains take your breath away – literally, at that altitude – and they reveal equally stunning alpine wildflower meadows, pristine lakes and streams, and impressive wildlife like bighorn sheep.

The Colorado River headwaters are in the park, as is the Continental Divide.  The original acreage of the park was designated in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.  Now 416 square miles, the park is encircled by national forests that expand further one’s impression of surrounding wilderness.

Many roads become impassible in winter, making late spring, summer and early fall the best times to visit.  For more information, please visit http://www.npca.org/parks/rocky-mountain-national-park.html.

 


Acadia National Park, Maine (Almost 4 million visitors in 2023)

More than 30,000 acres encompass a vast forest and a beautiful stretch of rocky shoreline.  The first federally protected land that would become the park was set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.  However, this is yet another park in the great legacy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated about one-third of the park’s acreage and is responsible for building the carriage roads now enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

Though the park is open year-round, much of it is inaccessible, and most visitor centers close during the winter.  For more information, please visit http://www.npca.org/parks/acadia-national-park.html.



Yosemite National Park, California (Over 3.6 million visitors in 2023)

At 1,200 square miles, the size of Yosemite National Park approaches that of Rhode Island.  Yosemite’s fierce granite cliffs make it a world-renowned destination for rock climbers, while its giant sequoia groves and scenery make it popular with hikers, bikers, families traveling by car, photographers, wildlife-watchers and more.  Everyone who visits finds something to love in the vast expanse of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

This Central California park was the third designated in the United States in 1890; however, its preservation traces its origins back to Abraham Lincoln, who signed a law guaranteeing the land’s protection in 1864 -- a foundational swipe of the pen that led to the establishment, decades later, of a national parks system.

The great naturalist, John Muir, helped popularize Yosemite.  Today, Yosemite is best known for its stunning waterfalls.  To appreciate them, the best time to visit is late May, when mountain snowmelt keeps the waterfalls flowing. Visitors at other times of the year won’t be disappointed, however.  For more information, please visit http://www.npca.org/parks/yosemite-national-park.html.



Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho (Over 3.2 million visitors in 2023)

Its geysers, its free-roaming bison and grizzly bears and its name made Yellowstone National Park the nation’s fourth-most popular in 2007.

Old Faithful, itself, is so popular, the roads leading to it can get jammed with cars.  Even in 1915, more than 1,000 cars visited the park.  About the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, the park is more than large enough to lose yourself, if you’re looking for a wilderness experience.

Established in 1872 in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, Yellowstone was America’s first national park; it was dedicated by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Many of the park’s roads close in the fall and winter, so spring and summer are the best times to visit for all but snow enthusiasts.  Old Faithful spouts -- reliably -- all year long, but you can’t reach it by road until mid-April from one side, or mid-May from another.  For more information, please visit http://www.npca.org/parks/yellowstone-national-park.html.



Joshua Tree National Park (Over 3 million visitors in 2023)

Joshua Tree National Park is a vast protected area in southern California. It's characterized by rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Named for the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. Keys View looks out over the Coachella Valley. Hiking trails weave through the boulders of Hidden Valley.

For more information, please visit https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm



Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio (Almost 3 million visitors in 2023)

The youngest park on our list, Cuyahoga Valley National Park was first protected as a national recreation area in 1974 and named a national park in 2000.

Attracted by the natural beauty of the 60-foot Brandywine Falls, as well as history embodied by a stretch of the Ohio and Erie Canal, nearly 2.5 million people visited the only national park in Ohio in 2007. The canal, completed in 1832, connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River and opened much of the state to development and industry.

Most of the park and its visitor centers are open year-round.  For more information, visit http://www.npca.org/parks/cuyahoga-valley-national-park.html



Glacier National Park, Montana (Almost 3 million visitors in 2023)

Glacier National Park is the center of one of the largest and most intact ecosystems in North America.  The views from the cliff-strewn Going-to-the-Sun Road over the Continental Divide make a visit worthwhile, but the experience from inside a car or one of the park’s famous Red Jammer buses is just the tip of the icefield. Glacier’s one million acres of turquoise alpine lakes, mountain goats and grizzly bears, craggy peaks, and, of course, glaciers are almost guaranteed to leave visitors speechless.  

For more information, please visit http://www.npca.org/parks/glacier-national-park.html.



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