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Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance sign; Jimmy Wayne photo.
The most visited park in the land; Jimmy Wayne photo.
I like data, I'm a bit of a nerd in that regard. One side of my brain likes the organic, unordered world of our natural national parks, but then the other side of my brain likes order and numbers and rankings. And so today, I present ranked visitation data for similar minded left-brained folks out there.


The National Park Service count people visiting the parks. Each park in the system has a method for figuring this out, which is actually a little more complex than clicking a counter every time a car drives past the entrance station. How do you separate recreation visits from, say, commuters which drive along a road that is managed by the park? Tough to answer, and that's why the NPS has statisticians on staff to figure it out. These statisticians once a year release a document that ranks all park units in the system based on visitation. Here is what they found for visits in 2006.


Top 10 Most Visited NPS Units RankPark NameVisitation 1Blue Ridge PKWY 18,953,4782Golden Gate NRA 13,486,8243Great Smoky Mountains NP 9,289,2154Gateway NRA 8,456,4565Lake Mead NRA 7,777,7536George Washington MEM PKWY 6,872,2137Natchez Trace PKWY 5,713,5838Delaware Water Gap NRA 5,254,2169Cape Cod NS 4,487,71610Grand Canyon NP 4,279,439


With 3 parkways and 4 recreation areas, that list doesn't necessarily represent the big, out-of-the-way destination parks that we typically picture when we think of a 'National Park'. And so, let me apply a filter to the data to isolate just the top ten National Parks.


Top 10 Most Visited National Parks RankPark NameVisitation1Great Smoky Mountains NP 9,289,2152Grand Canyon NP 4,279,4393Yosemite NP 3,242,6444Yellowstone NP 2,870,2955Olympic NP 2,749,1976Rocky Mountain NP 2,743,6767Zion NP 2,567,3508Cuyahoga Valley NP 2,468,8169Grand Teton NP 2,406,47610Acadia NP 2,083,588


These two 'top ten' lists look pretty similar to last year's numbers, but there has been some movement in the bottom ten parks. Want to avoid the crowds? Check out these least visited park units. Aniakchak had only 60 visitors last year! It has been noted though, counting must be tough at Aniakchak considering there are no permanent buildings (NPS or otherwise) at the monument. The only real way to get there is by float plane, and even that can be tricky I've been told. Counting down from 10 ...



  • NHS - National Historic Site
  • NM - National Monument
  • NMEM - National Memorial
  • NP - National Park
  • NPRES - National Preserve
  • NRA - National Recreation Area
  • PKWY - Parkway
  • W&SR - Wild Scenic & Recreational River


It somewhat surprises me that Grand Teton is almost 500,000 visits behind Yellowstone. They're so close that you'd think someone making a long trek to Yellowstone would factor in time to visit its next-door neighbor.

And I'm not sure it's fair to include the George Washington Memorial Parkway, as I believe it receives a lot of commuting traffic.

The Zion number seems a tad high, too, as there's only one small, six-mile-long canyon that lures the lion's share of the traffic, and you need to ride a shuttle bus to do that, unless you're staying at Zion Lodge. Of course, visit in July or August and I'm sure you'll think the overall number is a bit low.

I think Zion is a side trip from Las Vegas for some people. Something to do once you've lost all your money...

-- Jon

How do they figure totals on something like the GW Memorial Parkway? I've driven it many times and ridden on my bike alongside dozens more, and no one is counting that I know of. It's actually hard to believe given the sheer wall-to-wall commuter traffic that the total is that low. Why is something like that counted and not the National Mall?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Only one of the bottom 10 is a national park. Great Basin NP is very beautiful and a nice get away from the lights of Las Vegas. I had always heard that it is ranked very low in visitation, which is great for me. How does it compare with other national parks?

I'm always gut-punched when I read these kinds of stats. I'm unsure how Great Smoky Mountains survives hosting nine million people in the course of a year. Even with the majority being drive-throughs or tour buses, this is an unbelievable amount of footprints in that area. It would be staggering enough if we actually had funding in place to handle the pressure to the infrastructure and environment. But in these times when funding is ridiculously low...? How the hell is GSM still in one piece??

I was wondering why Frederick Law Olmsted NHS was a least visited park since it is in an urban, and one would assume fairly accessible, location. Is it related to the park closing? Per the NPS website: "Frederick Law Olmsted NHS is currently CLOSED to visitors in order to carry out a construction project involving park buildings, grounds and collections. The park anticipates reopening in 2010."

When did the park close??

Great observation Felicia -- there are a number of parks that simply shut down a big chunk of their operation once the Bush adminstration decided maintenance was the number one NPS priority. I've gone to a lot of parks in the past few years that were closed on a Monday or Tuesday, restricted their off-season hours greatly, or closed down the main attraction of the site (Hampton NHS historic home, Dinosaur NM visitor center, Frederick Douglass NHS, among others). All those excess FEMA trailers are being put to good use.

-- Jon Merryman

Even highly visited national parks have undervisited, and sometimes surprisingly accessible, components. We live an hour +/- from Rocky National Park, and last Saturday, four us hiked the Cow Creek Trail. It is on the east (i.e., metro Denver-Boulder-Fort Collins) side of the park, and temperatures in these Front Range cities were flirting with triple digits. The wildflowers are at their peak in mid- to late July. The trail is roughtly three miles one-way with a cooling waterfall at the end, the elevation gain a relatively modest thousand feet AND there is no entrance station at this trailhead -- meaning access is free. Even as shuttle buses are used to ferry people to the popular Bear Lake parking area, people wishing to climb 14,255-foot Longs Peak arrive before dawn to secure a parking space and cars snake nose-to-tail over Trail Ridge Road, we saw fewer than 30 people -- including one party of two and one party of three backpackers.

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