Attendance at U.S. national parks increased substantially in 2021 as COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions were lifted and people looked for activities they could enjoy outdoors. New research from the National Park Service shows visitation levels at America’s national parks in 2022 rivaled 2021’s attendance levels and, in some cases, even surpassed attendance logged in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
“People continue to seek a variety of national park travel experiences — to learn about American history and culture, get active, and enjoy breathtaking scenic views,” Chuck Sams, National Park Service director, said in a statement. “We’re excited to see our efforts to increase visitation to parks in the off-season and to parks that are less well-known paying off.”
Indeed, the National Park Service 2022 Visitation Report shows there were 312 million recreation visits to U.S. national parks in 2022 compared to 297 million recreation visits in 2021, which is a 5 percent increase. As the report notes, “visitation has essentially recovered to pre-pandemic levels.”
With that in mind, let’s get to it. Here are the 15 most visited U.S. national parks in 2022.
15. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, which is known for its scenic views and fantastic hiking, also has an 18-mile road bisecting the park – running from north to south. Along the way, you’ll find four of the park’s most popular scenic overlooks: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. What’s more, these points also serve as trailheads for some of the park’s most popular hiking trails. Then again, Bryce is also known for its wildlife and dark skies that make it a spectacular place for stargazing.
In 2022, just under 2.4 million people visited Bryce Canyon, according to the National Park Service. That number is up from 2021’s attendance of 2.1 million visitors, however it is still down from 2018. That’s because a park attendance record was set in 2018 when nearly 2.7 million visitors traveled to Bryce Canyon.
14. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park encompasses nearly a million acres, including a vast wilderness and more than 70 miles of wild coastline. What’s particularly noteworthy is that it has several distinct ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rainforests, lowland old-growth forest, and that stunning coast. Olympic also has 600 miles of trails that vary in length and difficulty.
Olympic National Park had just over 2.4 million visitors in 2022. That number is down slightly from 2021, when 2.7 million people visited the national park.
13. Hot Springs National Park
Located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the area now known as Hot Springs National Park was set aside by the federal government as a recreation area before it began creating national parks. Located in the Zig-Zag Mountains, a section of the Ouachita Mountains, the park — as its name implies — is known for its hot spring water that many people believe holds medicinal properties. In addition to the thermal springs, the park is known for 26 miles of hiking trails through the forest.
A new attendance record was set at Hot Springs in 2022 when more than 2.6 million people visited the national park. Amazingly, that new record tops the previous attendance record of almost 2.2 million visitors, which was set in 2021.
12. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton features 310,000 acres of valley floors, mountain meadows, alpine lakes, and peaks of the Teton Range. It’s no surprise then that 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 had slightly more than 2.8 million visitors in 2022. While that number is down substantially from 2021, it must be noted that the nearly 3.9 million visitors in 2021 set a new attendance record for Grand Teton.
11. 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 2022, slightly more than 2.8 million people visited Indiana Dunes. That can be compared with the 2021 tally, when just under 3.2 million people visited the park.
10. Glacier National Park
Glacier, which the National Park Service 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 2022, slightly more than 2.9 million people visited Glacier. While that number is down from 2021, when just under 3.1 million people visited Glacier, it must be noted that 2021 was also the second-highest year for attendance at the park.
9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Located just 22 miles from Cleveland, 113 miles from Pittsburgh, and 129 miles from Columbus, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley is a 33,000-acre span of forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Two of its most popular attractions are the 60-foot-tall Brandywine Falls waterfall and the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal. Since the trail is hard-packed, it’s accessible for people using wheelchairs, bicycles, and even pushing strollers.
In 2022, more than 2.9 million people visited Cuyahoga Valley. That number can be contrasted with the visitation count from 2021, when almost 2.6 million people visited the park.
8. Joshua Tree National Park
Located just 37 miles outside Palm Springs, California, Joshua Tree is incredibly popular. In fact, the park drew 3,058,294 visitors in 2022, down only marginally from the visitor count in 2021 of 3,064,400 people.
Visitors flock to the 800,000-acre park, which includes parts of both the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, to see its rugged landscape as well as enjoy activities such as hiking, camping, photography, rock climbing, and simply enjoying the desert scenery — including spectacular sunsets. Notably, the park is also home to most of the world’s Joshua trees, which explains its name.
7. 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 breathtaking Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and of course, its bison, wolves, bears, and other wildlife. The park, which was established on March 1, 1872, encompasses more than 2.2 million acres and has more than 900 miles of hiking trails.
Interestingly, nearly 3.3 million people visited Yellowstone in 2022, which is down substantially from 2021’s visitor count of nearly 4.9 million. Then again, it must be pointed out that 2021 was a record-breaking year for attendance at Yellowstone.
6. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite, which is located in California’s rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, features 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.
In 2022, nearly 3.7 million visitors traveled to Yosemite. While that number is up from the 2021 visitor tally of just under 3.3 million visitors, it still falls short of the pre-pandemic year of 2019 when almost 4.5 million visitors traveled to Yosemite.
5. Acadia National Park
Acadia, which the National Park Service calls the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” 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. As you’d expect, the most popular activities in the summer are biking, birdwatching, swimming, stargazing, and boating. On the other hand, in the winter, visitors travel to the park to hike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe.
In 2022, almost 4 million people visited Acadia. Interestingly, that number is only slightly off from the visitor tally of just under 4.1 million in 2021 — even though that number set a new attendance record at Acadia.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
There are 76 mountains in Rocky Mountain, and each of them 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 2022, 4.3 million people visited Rocky Mountain. That number is close to the 2021 tally of slightly more than 4.4 million and is only down slightly from the pre-pandemic year 2019’s tally of just under 4.7 million visitors. By the way, attendance at Rocky Mountain in 2019 set a new visitation record.
3. 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 spectacular view of the Zion Canyon 1,500 feet below.
In 2022, just short of 4.7 million people visited Zion. On the one hand, that number is down from the 5 million visitors that set a new attendance record at Zion in 2021, however it’s still higher than the 4.5 million count logged in the pre-pandemic year 2019.
2. 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 2022, more than 4.7 million people visited Grand Canyon National Park. While that visitor count is up from 2021, when 4.5 million people visited the park, it is still down noticeably from the 6 million visitors logged at Grand Canyon in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Tennessee, North Carolina
In 2022, once again, Great Smoky Mountains, was the most-visited U.S. national park. While its visitor count last year of nearly 13 million visitors is down somewhat from 2021, when a record breaking 14.1 million people visited Great Smoky Mountains, the 2022 visitation record does surpass the count of 12.5 million visitors logged in 2019.
Great Smoky Mountains owes much of its popularity to its 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.
On the other hand, another reason the park receives so many visitors is that it is an easy drive from Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.
While you’re thinking about U.S. national parks and possibly planning some trips, be sure to check out all of our national park content, including:
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