The United States has a proud history of preserving its natural beauty through national parks. Each year, millions of visitors flock to these 423 parks to admire the great American wilderness and its wildlife. But which are the most popular?
The parks are diverse in their appeal and attractions. Some exhibit the desert landscapes of the dry country, and others offer majestic forests, bears, and snow-covered mountains. Others are home to some essential historical and geological North American landmarks.
National Parks: A Legacy
Table of Contents
- National Parks: A Legacy
- 29 Most Popular National Parks in the United States
- 1. Acadia National Park, Maine
- 2. Arches National Park, Utah
- 3. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
- 4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- 5. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
- 6. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
- 7. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
- 8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
- 9. Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada
- 10. Everglades National Park, Florida
- 11. Glacier National Park, Montana
- 12. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- 13. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- 14. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee & North Carolina
- 15. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
- 16. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
- 17. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
- 18. Joshua Tree National Park, California
- 19. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
- 20. Olympic National Park, Washington
- 21. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
- 22. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- 23. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
- 24. Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park, California
- 25. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
- 26. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
- 27. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
- 28. Yosemite National Park
- 29. Zion National Park, Utah
- Frequently Asked Questions about America’s National Parks
- What is the most visited National Park in the United States?
- What is the top National Park in the United States?
- What are the top 5 rated national parks in the United States?
- Final Thoughts on the Most Popular National Parks in the US
The National Park Service was signed into legislation in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson. In doing so, the president created a legacy that would preserve the natural assets of the United States for generations to come.
Over the years, these parks have become essential getaways around the holidays for families, local travellers, and tourists. Naturally, the most sizable parks do enjoy an advantage when it comes to the number of visitors, but here are the parks that routinely draw the most people and rave reviews.
29 Most Popular National Parks in the United States
1. Acadia National Park, Maine
Maine has a number of unique attractions. In this case, Acadia National Park is located on an island, which is somewhat of a rarity when it comes to such parks. The Maine park offers the northeastern charms of the oceanside, wildlife like deer and bear, and forested woodlands.
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
Mount Penobscot and Cadillac Mountain are probably the most well-known landmarks. You’ll also enjoy the rocky beaches, though Bar Harbor is the easiest and most populous town at which to gather on your visit.
Acadia National Park receives around 4 million visitors per year.
2. Arches National Park, Utah
This beautiful wilderness park in Utah is known mostly for its incredible natural sandstone arches. There are about 2000 of them. One of the most famous is the Delicate Arch, which is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
Another one of the attractions is the Balanced Rock, which is right in the middle of the park. As a site for strange and wonderful geological phenomena, it’s not hard to see why this area was destined to become a national treasure.
Visitors recommend the cooler months for visiting the park, as the hottest part of the year regularly sees 100-degree days. This makes hiking around the park hard work.
Arches National Park receives around 1.3 million visitors per year.
3. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
The Badlands in South Dakota are visually stunning, offering rock formations, canyons, and desert landscapes. The park is also home to an extremely rich layer of fossils, which scientists are routinely digging up.
Image by Klaus Stebani from Pixabay
The Badlands Scenic Loop is worth driving, allowing you to see most of its essential features in about an hour. That is to say, it can take you an hour to drive it without stopping. But rest assured, you will want to stop often to take pictures and hike The Prairie Dog Town trail.
Badlands National Park receives about one million visitors per year.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
The beautiful spires of this Utah park are best viewed at either sunrise or sunset. These impressive rock formations are called hoodoos. They even form a natural amphitheater accessible from the Rim Trail hike path. Make a specific effort to get to Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point around sunset.
Image by MAlder from Pixabay
Bryce Canyon National Park receives around 1.5 million visitors per year.
5. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
As with the other Utah parks on this list, Canyonlands is known for its dramatic rock formations and vistas. Probably most notable is the unique Island in the Sky, a flat-topped mesa formation that seems somewhat surreal in its position.
Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay
Few realise that Canyonlands happens to be the biggest national park in Utah by area. Aside from the Island in the Sky, you can visit three other designated areas: The Needles, The Maze, and the Rivers. Bear in mind that these areas are less popular because of their remote location. Rest assured, though, that they are well worth the effort if you choose to go there.
Canyonlands National Park sees around a million visitors per year.
6. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
By now, you’ve probably picked up that Utah has a rich blessing of national parks. The landscape here certainly does invite long spells of appreciation from anyone who sees it. Capitol Reef’s main draw is the Waterpocket Fold, a literal wrinkle in the earth’s crust. This wrinkle is 100 miles long!
Image by Adam Derewecki from Pixabay
Other attractions include the Chimney Rock Pillar, the Hickman Bridge Arch, and the sandstone rock domes of Capitol Reef.
Capitol Reef receives 1.2 million visitors a year.
7. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Oregon is a beautiful state, so it’s no small feat to be described as one of the most beautiful and picturesque areas of that state. As the name suggests, the centrepiece of this stunning national park in the Cascade Mountains is Crater lake itself. It also happens to be the deepest lake in the continental United States.
Image by Art Bromage from Pixabay
There are lots of trails to hike around the lake area and through the surrounding forests. You can stop to view gorgeous waterfalls, wildlife, and superb lakeside scenery along the way. For a shorter visit, it is best to take the Rim Drive, a road circling the lake. Make a special note to view the Phantom Ship, a tiny island located in the lake itself.
Approximately half a million visitors head to Crater Lake National Park each year.
8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Visitors love to cycle or hike the trails and paths through the Cuyahoga Valley. The park’s main feature is the lovely Cuyahoga River, which provides you with Cuyahoga Falls, Brandywine Falls, Lake Warren, and Lake Arkona.
Image by Rusty Campbell from Pixabay
This national park’s popularity is surprising, given that it’s a relatively small park. Much of its appeal lies in its proximity to nearby Cleveland Ohio. This makes it an easy destination to get to.
Nearly three million people visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park annually.
9. Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada
Death Valley carries all the charm and mystical appeal one might expect from such a name. The national park in question may be the hottest and driest, and it’s undoubtedly one of the warmest places in the US in summer.
The most well-known landmarks in the park are Titus Canyon and its ghost town, the Badwater Basin. This basin is North America’s lowest land point. Other colourfully-named areas include the Devil’s Golf Course.
It is worth noting that this is the largest national park in the US outside of Alaska, drawing around 1.5 million visitors each year.
10. Everglades National Park, Florida
The Everglades in Florida provide visitors with the best experiences of semi-equatorial wetland wildlife. The Everglades is actually a large area covered in mangroves, sawgrass, and pinewoods. The wildlife here is abundant and notable for its unique species and habitat.
For example, the Everglades is the only known region on earth where alligators and crocodiles can be found sharing a habitat. There are also plenty of fascinating but endangered species clinging on for survival, which makes seeing the Everglades that much more important for the current generation.
Due to its geography, the best way to travel around Everglades National Park is by boat, which can be hired for day trips and the like.
A million people do the Everglades National Park experience each year.
11. Glacier National Park, Montana
Montana‘s Rocky Mountains is the home of Glacier National Park, which, obviously, displays the wonderful effect of glacier movement through its peaks and valleys. You can choose to see any of the 26 existing glaciers in the park. The park is immense, measuring over one million acres of land.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
So beautiful are its lakes, rivers, forests and mountains it has been nicknamed the Crown Jewel of the continent by many visitors. There are too many highlights to list, but among them, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-drive.
More than three million people visit the park annually.
12. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Everybody knows about the Grand Canyon and its national park. These legendary red rocks have been the subject of decades of study, admiration, and storytelling. Six million years went into creating these views, which extend over an area greater than the state of Rhode Island!
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
This geological phenomenon is so immense it actually influences weather patterns. One notable trait of the park is the deceptive terrain. To travel just ten miles in straight distance between the north and south rims, you have to traverse over 200 miles of road to get around the geography.
Fun fact: The most dangerous animal in the park by the number of attacks is the rock squirrel.
Nearly six million people visit the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona (or part of it) each year.
13. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Situated in Wyoming, Grand Teton boasts a legacy as part of a historical frontier state. The Jackson Hole Valley and Grand Teton mountain range form part of the park. The park attracts hikers, fishermen, and even enthusiastic mountaineers who wish to take advantage of its pretty cliffs.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
You’ll love the possibility of seeing both black bears and grizzlies on your visit here. Adding to the park’s popularity is its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, making it an easy double-benefit for your holiday planning.
Fun fact: Grand Teton is the only national park that has its own airport.
14. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee & North Carolina
Tennessee and North Carolina offer the legendary Great Smoky Mountains, familiar to music lovers because of its most famous native, Dolly Parton. The mountains are so named because it regularly carries a blanket of fog, which no doubt has contributed to an abundant plant and animal ecosphere.
Several natural and constructed attractions contribute to making this park into one of the most visited places in the entire United States. Within the park, the most popular activity is driving the Cades Cove Loop Road.
Image by AnnBoulais from Pixabay
Nearly 15 million people visit the Great Smoky Mountains every year.
15. Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
One of the country’s most important and fascinating cultural park experiences lies here at the Haleakalā National Park. Haleakalā means House of the Sun in the native language of the Hawaiian people, and the spark is certainly a place to feel that sentiment.
Image by Carol Baylis from Pixabay
You will want to drive to the summit of the mountain of Haleakalā, but don’t forget to explore the rest of the park. Hikes take you through a terrain strongly associated with spiritual history. It contains a wealth of history and lore, as well as rare and endangered animal species. Try sunrise tour for the best experience.
Haleakalā National Park sees 1.2 million visitors per year.
16. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
This incredible park is both an International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. One fascinating aspect of the park is the presence of two active volcanoes — Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. This park is great if you have an interest in volcanology, as the Crater Rim Drive is marked by centres and exhibits along the way.
Image by Tommy Beatty from Pixabay
At various times, the volcanoes offer views of lava and even small eruptions. There are also regularly active steam vents. Bear in mind that these conditions are closely monitored and walks and visits may sometimes be restricted for safety reasons. Take a guided tour for a rich and educational experience.
Hawai’i Volcanoes receive 1.3 million visitors per year.
17. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
The unique aspect of this park is its unusual geothermal activity. It is based in a town named Hot Springs in Arkansas. The entire area boasts hot mineral spring water that is both colourless and odourless, and the numerous bathhouses nearby serve as spas are for public use.
Image by Kristin Eisner from Pixabay
The waters are said to have healing properties, and have been used by humans in the area for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, according to legend. The hot waters make the park ideal for a visit all year round.
Despite being such a relatively small park, the area draws 1.5 million visitors annually.
18. Joshua Tree National Park, California
In the California desert, the famous and iconic Joshua Trees rise from the landscape. In 1994, the area was added to the national registry of protected parks. It is marked by visually stunning rock formations and Mojave and Colorado Desert vistas.
Image by night owl from Pixabay
Hike through iconic California landmarks like The Hidden Valley, and enjoy the big sky, especially in the evenings. This place is designated a Dark Sky Association park, ideal for amateur astronomers to observe a sky unimpeded by artificial light.
Annual visitors regularly number around three million.
19. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
This is another park around an active volcano and one that is considered to be the most active and volatile in the world. It also happens to be established upon the tallest mountain peak in the state of Washington.
Image by Alexander Antropov from Pixabay
This mountain is quite a challenge to climb as well. Park Services estimated that only half who attempt it succeed. However, you could simply opt to admire the waterfalls and abundant flora, rivers, and wildlife that the northern park offers.
Overall, the park attracts two million visitors per year on average.
20. Olympic National Park, Washington
People often ask which is better to visit, the aforementioned Mount Rainier National Park or this one?. Both are in Washington state. Olympic NP covers nearly a million acres and offers glacier-covered mountains and dense rainforests.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
As expected, climbers love the peaks and climbs, while hikers revel in the trails among the trees. The difference in ecosystems from area to area within the park is a fascinating sight. In fact, it is considered one of the most ecologically diverse parks in the entire US.
Nearly three million visitors enjoy this park’s charms each year.
21. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
The Petrified Forest is so named for the vast amounts of time-petrified wooden deposits that dot the relatively barren landscape of Arizona. Covering the counties of Navajo and Apache, the landscape itself is a vast range of beautiful mesas and rock formations.
Image by Jill Mackie from Pixabay
Another Arizona landmark found here is The Painted Desert. This is a stretch of the desert landscape that seems so colourful in the Arizona sun that it has been described as “painted”. The most popular hiking trail is Crystal Forest Trail. Due to the terrain, no cycling is allowed here.
Close to one million people visit the park each year.
22. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The beautiful region of northern Colorado is well worth visiting, especially for its pristine mountain regions, lakes, and forests. Longs Peak sits at 4,346m high, while 76 other peaks sit above 3650m. This makes the park one of the highest in the US in terms of elevation.
Image by Abhay Bharadwaj from Pixabay
Make no mistake, this is one of the most beautiful parks you can visit at any time of the year. Hike the trails to spot animal life and simply marvel at the glassy lakes. Driving? Take the Trail Ridge Road, which is one of the highest paved highways in the country.
The Rocky Mountain National park welcomes more than 4.5 million visitors each year.
23. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Essentially, Saguaro National Park is divided into two halves or zones, one on either side of Tucson City. On the east side, you can enjoy more hiking opportunities as it is larger. On the west side, there are more forested areas.
Bajada Loop Drive is a popular starting point on the west half, taking you past picnic areas and awesome viewpoints from which to admire the landscape. In the east, the Cactus Forest Loop is great for cyclists.
About a million people visit Saguaro National Park annually.
24. Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park, California
There is a tree in Sequoia that stands 275 feet tall. It is known as General Sherman and is just one of the super tall trees that form a major part of its attraction. There are also several hiking trails and beautiful viewing spots to enjoy.
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
Western Sierra trees found here became the first living organism to be protected by national parks. Today, Sequoia National Park is administered jointly with the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park. Many visitors take the opportunity to visit both when the occasion arises.
These two parks are generally considered as one attraction, given their proximity. On average, 1.5 million visitors come to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks each year.
25. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The Blue Ridge Mountains in the state of Virginia are home to the Shenandoah National Park, which forms part of the historic Appalachian Trail. Varied and vast, the park has forests, mountains, and wetlands to explore.
Image by radford wine from Pixabay
Shenandoah spans a relatively economical 200 000 acres and is luckily designed in such a way that most of its best bits can be seen in a relatively short time. Skyline Drive is the most popular road, taking around three hours and spanning 170km.
That said, taking a hike here is extremely rewarding. Choosing to camp here will allow you to experience the beautiful night sky as well, which is not to be missed.
Shenandoah National Park welcomes 1.5 million visitors per year.
26. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
As far as the preservation of the United States wilderness goes, few people are more revered for their efforts than President Theodore Roosevelt. This park is a living monument to his commitment to America’s natural wonders.
Image by G Poulsen from Pixabay
The North Dakota park offers a scenic loop drive, the famous Prairie Dog Town, bears, elk and wilderness that’ll take your breath away. The small town of Medora is a good stop on your way in and out. Aand most visitors recommend taking your time to simply slow down and marvel at what Roosevelt himself realised was likely to be humanity’s greatest treasure.
Just under a million people choose Theodore Roosevelt National Park as a destination every year.
27. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Yellowstone may be the most famous national park in the US, if not the world. You likely already know about the key attraction, Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts fairly regularly and makes for great photograph opportunities! The geyser can attract up to 2000 people per eruption, which happens every 60 to 110 minutes.
The 3500 square mile park is situated on top of a mega volcano system, providing the hot spring and geyser activity. Aside from that, there’s a wealth of wildlife activity, including bears, elk, bison, wolves, and many other species. Many families take summer vacation camping excursions in the park.
Image by Siegfried Poepperl from Pixabay
About five million people visit the park each year, most of whom come in July.
28. Yosemite National Park
If there’s a competitor for the most well-known national park by name, it may be Yosemite National Park. This California park is situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains and, like Sequoia National Park, shows off the immense Sequoia trees as its prize possession.
Aside from that, there are iconic stone monoliths jutting from the earth, waterfalls, and picturesque valleys to see. The rock formations appear to be on fire at certain times of the day due to the way the sunlight reflects off their surfaces.
The rocks are also the reason so many climbers choose to spend their holidays in this park over any other. As if that weren’t enough, Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest in the world, and it’s here in Yosemite that you can see a rainbow at night!
Yosemite became a national park in 1890. Around 3.5 million people visit Yosemite every year.
29. Zion National Park, Utah
The deep red Utah cliffs make Zion National Park unique and attractive in its own right. Between these rock formations and cliffs, The Virgin River winds, forming pools and waterfalls. Hiking here can involve sections of traversing the river, where it is shallow enough to wade through.
Image by David Mark from Pixabay
Try hiking to Emerald Pools for a break and possibly a dip. Otherwise, enjoy the hike through The Narrows or the challenging Subway Trail. Be advised that at certain times of the year, entry to the park is by shuttle bus only, which is free. Private cars entering the park are prohibited at this time.
Zion National Park sees 4.3 million visitors per year on average.
Frequently Asked Questions about America’s National Parks
What is the most visited National Park in the United States?
The Grand Canyon is the most visited national park in the United States.
What is the top National Park in the United States?
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States and probably has the most range on offer.
What are the top 5 rated national parks in the United States?
Glacier National Park
Final Thoughts on the Most Popular National Parks in the US
National parks offer an incredible opportunity to see your country in a new way. For the most part, they preserve essential parts of what makes the continent and the country so beautiful and engaging.
Many of the parks also offer important historical contexts for the events that shaped the nation. They are an opportunity to spend time out in nature, possibly to bond with family and friends in a new way. For more ideas for where to go and what to see in the US, consider visiting one of these 15 most beautiful states.
I covered all of the costs involved in the writing of this post on the most popular national parks in the United States. However, this post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.