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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


Yosemite's numbers would be far higher if they didn't have the restrictions put upon it. These numbers are skewed in terms of true love for a park, at least for that park.

I have been going to the Smoky Mtns. for over 50 years.  Never get tired of them.  Going to Cades Cove takes you back in time.  It also gets you close to nature & the wildlife the Mountains have to offer.  If you get frustrated with traffice being backed-up due to the wildlife & have to honk to possibly make people move, I suggest you don't go.  The all the others that don't want the traffic try going earlier in the morning or later in the day when people are having dinner.  On my last trip, I went out to the Cove four times & never was disappointed - even with all the traffic.  The Smokies have a healing power & you feel so much better after being there.  Can't wait for my next visit.

Great Basin National Park is awesome!  Hardly anyone goes there so it is a great place to get away from it all.  There arent to many places to stay there but if you call ahead you can usually get one of the few motel rooms there.  The Lehman Cave system is at Great Basin and is a great cave tour.  The hike to the top of Wheeler Peak is an awesome hike with awesome views as well!  It is definitely worth a trip for a few days!

Glad to say my wife and I were 2 out of 2526 who visited Salt River Bay in 2006! A beautiful place to visit...


As someone who has spent a lot of time in our wonderful NP system, the most visited Parks are crowded if You stay in Your car. Get out and WALK, and You will find peace and quiet even in GSMNP. The best way to see Cades Cove is to park and walk the loop. It takes a while, 3 to 4 hours, if You stop and observe and take pictures, etc. But if You drive in the crowds, it will take You almost as long, and You won't get the exercise or the piece of mind. I realize everyone can't do it, but I am 67yo, and it is still an easy walk. Zion IS crowded, but if You go to Colob Canyon, You will have a hard time finding a neighbor. Same with Yellowstone, get away from Old Faithful and a few other spots, and the crowds get sparce. Remember, there are 2.25 million acres in Yellowstone. So,if there are 2.25 million people there, each one has an acre or about 45,000 sq ft of space. Thanks GOD for our NPS, and be thankful for the Rangers that are as a whole, one of the greatest groups of people in the USofA.

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

Bill, it wasn't just the Scot-Irish who were moved out. The Cherokee were evicted as well, and their connection with the land went back much longer.

I watched the Ken Burns series on the National Parks and was somewhat disturbed over the amount of attention paid to Yosemite and Yellowstone when, indeed, there are less visitors to those parks combined than to the Great Smoky Mountains alone. At the end of the series I thought that had I thrown a dime into a bucket everytime I heard the word "Yosemite," I would have had to paint my house 10,000 times to get enough buckets.

It is obvious that we need more National Parks east of the Mississippi.

I had not known, however, that money from children was used to pay for some of the property to make the park. Creating the Smokies is about displacing a people, the Scot-Irish who had inhabited the mountains for upwards of 200 years. I have known many people who were forced to move out of the area to make the park.

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