Attendance at U.S. national parks increased dramatically last year. In fact, some of those parks even saw a record-breaking number of visitors.
Indeed, according to the National Park Service (NPS), more than 297 million people visited U.S. national parks in 2021, up 60 million from the 237 million visits logged in 2020.
Interestingly, in 2021, six national parks even broke visitation records they had set in 2020. Furthermore, 11 parks logged more than 5 million visits in 2021, which is equal to the number of parks with that many visits pre-pandemic in 2019. Numbers for 2020 were skewed because many parks were closed part of the year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places during the second year of the pandemic,” Chuck Sams, director of the NPS, said in a statement. “We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever experience you’re looking for in 2022, national parks are here to discover.”
As Sams mentioned, Yellowstone and Yosemite had a very high number of visitors last year. Keep reading to find out which other U.S. national parks were among the 10 most-visited in 2021.
10. Glacier National Park
Glacier, which the NPS calls the “Crown of the Continent,” is known for its rugged mountains, beautiful lakes, and more than 700 miles of scenic trails. One of the park’s most popular attractions is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, an almost 50-mile scenic road that makes its way through the park — even crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.
In 2021, 3.1 million people visited Glacier, the NPS reports. That means 2021 was the second-highest year for attendance at Glacier, falling only behind 2017 when a record 3.3 million people visited the park, NPS data shows.
9. Indiana Dunes National Park
There are 15 miles of sandy beach as well as 50 miles of trails through wetlands, prairies, rivers, and forests for visitors to explore at Indiana Dunes. The park, located in the southwest corner of Lake Michigan in northeast Indiana, is just 50 miles from Chicago.
In 2020, nearly 2.3 million people visited the park. In 2021, however, that number jumped dramatically to 3.2 million visitors.
8. Yosemite National Park
Seated in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite is known for its numerous waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, deep valleys, giant meadows, vast sections of wilderness, and an abundance of wildlife. The park’s most-crowded attraction is Yosemite Valley, which is only natural since it’s the best place to see the world-famous granite cliffs: Half Dome and El Capitan.
Almost 4.5 million visitors traveled to Yosemite in 2019. While visitation numbers were down dramatically in 2020 due to pandemic-related restrictions, visitation was back up again last year. Indeed, just under 3.3 million people visited Yosemite in 2021.
7. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton is home to 310,000 acres of valley floors, mountain meadows, alpine lakes, and peaks of the Teton Range. Consequently, the park — which is north of Jackson, Wyoming, and south of Yellowstone — is well known for its hiking, backcountry exploring, climbing, and mountaineering opportunities. Visitors also often see large animals, including elk, moose, bison, mule deer, and pronghorn.
Grand Teton is one of the national parks that set a new attendance record in 2021. In 2019, a record 3.4 million visitors traveled to Grand Teton. In 2021, however, the park set a new attendance record of just under 3.9 million visitors.
6. Acadia National Park
Called the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” by the NPS, Acadia is a 47,000-acre recreation area on the Atlantic Coast around 50 miles from Bangor, Maine. Visitors to the park, which is primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island, can see and enjoy 27 miles of historic motor roads, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads. Here, the most popular activities in the summer are biking, birdwatching, swimming, stargazing, and boating. In the winter, visitors travel to the park to hike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe.
Acadia is another national park that set a new attendance record last year. That’s because 4.1 million people visited Acadia in 2021.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to 76 mountains, each of which is more than 10,000 feet high. The park, which sits just outside Estes Park and is about a 2-hour drive from Denver, is also known for its 355 miles of hiking trails. Visitors frequently see bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and other wildlife.
In 2020, Rocky Mountain had 3.3 million visitors, which was down significantly from 4.7 million in 2019. In 2021, however, visitation nearly rebounded to pre-pandemic numbers. That’s because 4.4 million people visited Rocky Mountain last year.
4. Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is world famous for its hiking, backpacking, and, due to the magnificent vistas, photography and sightseeing. There are also 277 miles of the Colorado River within the park’s boundaries, so boating and rafting are also popular activities.
In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, 6 million people visited the Grand Canyon. In 2020, that number fell to 2.9 million visitors due to park closures. While still below the 2019 number, visitation increased noticeably in 2021 to 4.5 million.
3. Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
Yellowstone, the nation’s oldest national park, is known around the world for thermal features such as the Old Faithful geyser, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and wolves, bears, and other wildlife. The park, which was established on March 1, 1872, and is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, encompasses more than 2.2 million acres and has more than 900 miles of hiking trails.
Yellowstone is another national park that logged record-breaking attendance in 2021. That’s because 4.9 million people visited the park last year.
2. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is well known for rock climbing, river trips, and hiking trails because it’s home to the 15-mile-long Zion Canyon. Two of the park’s most-popular hiking trails are the Narrows and Angels Landing — a 5.4-mile-long (one-way) trail that has an elevation change of 1,488 feet and offers a view of the Zion Canyon 1,500 feet below.
In 2019, 4.5 million people visited Zion. That number fell to 3.6 million visitors in 2020, but it skyrocketed to 5 million visitors in 2021. That number, as you might expect, set a new park attendance record.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee, North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains has been the most-visited U.S. national park for several years in a row. In 2020, for instance, it was the most-visited U.S. national park, with 12.1 million visitors, which set a new attendance record. In 2021, Great Smoky Mountains set another attendance record because 14.1 million people visited the park. That makes it, once again, America’s most-visited national park.
One of the reasons the park receives so many visitors is that it is an easy drive from Atlanta, Charlotte, Asheville, Knoxville, Nashville, and Washington, D.C. Then again, Great Smoky Mountains also features more than 800 miles of hiking trails, what the park calls “cascading waterfalls,” and more than 500,000 acres of forest that’s home to a wide variety of wildlife — including approximately 1,500 black bears and more than 1,500 flowering plant species.
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