The Million Club: National Parks That Had More Than A Million Visits in 2010

Top: Blue Ridge Parkway. Bottom: Alcatraz, a key component of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Parkway photo by Ken Thomas via Wikipedia. Alcatraz photo copyright Lee W. Thomas.

There's something extra-special about visitor attractions that get more than a million visitors a year. Posting visitation numbers like that identify a place as a major attraction beyond all doubt. For purposes of this discussion, we'll use the term "Million Club" to denote visitor attractions that have qualified for membership in this elite group.

Listed below are 67 National Park System units that were members of the Million Club in 2010, ranked by reported annual attendance. I'm mindful of the difficulties inherent in deriving reasonably accurate visitation tallies for national parks, and have chosen to accept the visitation reported data as "reasonably accurate."

Not included on the Million Club list are National Capital Parks East (1,181,960 visitors) and National Capital Parks Central (1,363,389 visitors). Comparing visitation data for these agglomerations of NPS components with the visitation data for other members of the Million Club is just too confusing and even introduces some double counting. That said, you can certainly add them to the list if it pleases you.

THE MILLION CLUB: PARKS RANKED BY ATTENDANCE IN 2010

(1) Blue Ridge PKWY 14,517,118
(2) Golden Gate NRA 14,271,503
(3) Great Smoky Mountains NP 9,463,538
(4) Gateway NRA 8,820,757
(5) Lake Mead NRA 7,080,758
(6) George Washington Mem PKWY 6,925,099
(7) Lincoln Memorial 6,042,315
(8) Natchez Trace PKWY 5,910,950
(9) Delaware Water Gap NRA 5,285,761
(10) Vietnam Veterans MEM 4,555,371
(11) Cape Cod NS 4,653,706
(12) Grand Canyon NP 4,388,386
(13) Gulf Islands NS 4,283,747
(14) San Francisco Maritime NHP 4,130,970
(15) Castle Clinton NM 4,126,378
(16) Chesapeake & Ohio Canal NHP 4,111,238
(17) World War II Memorial 3,964,351
(18) Yosemite NP 3,901,408
(19) Statue of Liberty NM 3,833,288
(20) Independence NHP 3,751,007
(21) Yellowstone NP 3,640,185
(22) Colonial NHP 3,459,965
(23) Korean War Veterans Memorial 3,072,716
(24) Chattahoochee River NRA 3,011,393
(25 Rocky Mountain NP 2,955,821
(26) Olympic NP 2,844,563
(27) Grand Teton NP 2,669,374
(28) Zion NP 2,665,972
(29) Acadia NP 2,504,208
(30) Cuyahoga Valley NP 2,492,670
(31) Jefferson NEM 2,436,110
(32) Mount Rushmore NMEM 2,331,237
(33) Thomas Jefferson MEM 2,305,856
(34) Franklin Delano Roosevelt MEM 2,238,052
(35) Glacier NP 2,200,048
(36) Cape Hatteras NS 2,193,292
(37) Indiana Dunes NL 2,150,345
(38) Glen Canyon NRA 2,124,467
(39) Assateague Island NS 2,106,090
(40) Point Reyes NS 2,067,271
(41) Boston NHP 2,060,497
(42) Rock Creek Park 1,883,457
(43) Valley Forge NHP 1,617,511
(44) Amistad NRA 1,574,322
(45) Buffalo National River 1,545,599
(46) Kennesaw Mountain NBP 1,512,191
(47) Joshua Tree NP 1,434,976
(48) Ozark NSR 1,416,529
(49) World War II Valor in the Pacific NM 1,372,724
(50) Lake Roosevelt NRA 1,324,074
(51) Fort Point NHS 1,315,241
(52) Hot Springs NP 1,311,807
(53) San Antonio Missions NHP 1,304,690
(54) Hawaii Volcanoes NP 1,304,667
(55) Bryce Canyon NP 1,285,492
(56) Sleeping Bear Dunes NL 1,280,932
(57) Chickasaw NRA 1,253,637
(58) Shenandoah NP 1,253,386
(59) John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Mem PKWY 1,222,931
(60) Mount Rainier NP 1,191,754
(61) New River Gorge NR 1,151,213
(62) Haleakala NP 1,105,606
(63) San Juan NHS 1,105,252
(64) Minute Man NHP 1,073,748
(65) Gettysburg NMP 1,031,554
(66) Arches NP 1,014,405
(67) Sequoia NP 1,002,979

Here are a few facts about the Million Club. You are cordially invited to peruse this list yourself and see what other observations merit mention.

** The 67 parks comprising the Million Club attracted a total of 211.4 million visitors last year. Though representing just 17% of the Park System's 394 units, the Million Club parks accounted for 75% of last year's total attendance of 281.3 million.

** The concentration at the top is even more pronounced than that. Just the 10 leading Million Club parks accounted for almost 30% of total visitation, and the two top-ranked parks -- Blue Ridge Parkway and Golden Gate National Recreation Area -- alone accounted for a whopping 10%.

** Just 20 members of the Million Club are National Park-designated units. Nearly three out of four Million Club parks don't even have National Park as part of their name. I suspect that this fact is not widely known or appreciated.

** Crown jewels like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite get huge numbers of visitors, but their collective share of total attendance is not very big.

Comments

On the one hand, it's great that national parks are so popular. On the other, it's nice to see that many places that are not traditional national parks are getting heavy use. I hope the National Heritage Corridor system keeps receiving funding; and that it gets increases (cuts are more likely). It's alarming to hear about NPS budget cuts when the parks are in such need of funds to deal with the heavy demand and threats to their quality and sustainability.
I'm surprised Shenandoah NP didn't rank higher, being so close to DC, etc. It's one of my favorites.

Shenandoah—that's the one that hit me, Tony. I would have sworn that park would be a lot busier, especially due to proximity to DC. I always found Shen attractive in winter for cross country skiing and winter backpacking but recent times I've tried, road plowing hasn't been nearly as important as it once was (much less Big Meadows Lodge having a winter season--remember that?). With Skyline Drive closed, it's hard to get to the key winter attractions (unless things have changed). It's a little like the Blue Ridge Parkway and some other key Southern parks. The ultimate irony—with about as much extra funding as it costs to plow and maintain a less used part of a park out West in "snow country," you could ensure plowing of a few snowier spots in "the sunny South" and offer an entire region top notch access to winter recreation.

Which parks had the least number of visitors???

Does anyone know if there is a requirement regarding how many Law Enforcement Rangers are to be on duty at these parks with heavy visitation? On a recent trip to the Arizona Memorial, none were on duty.

Dear Anon of Sept. 7th--

This is a question that has puzzled park managers in the US and elsewhere for years: how many rangers per acre or hectare does one need to adequately protect the park and its visitors? Here are a few of the variables to consider:

1. What is the level of threat to the resources of the area? The higher the level, the more rangers one needs.
2. How easy is the access? If the park is isolated and difficult to reach as many parks in Latin America are, you need fewer rangers.
3. How difficult is it to get around in the park? The more difficulty, the fewer rangers.
4. What is the value of the principal resource? If you are protecting priceless historic resources, you need more. After all, if a condor dies, it is pretty sure that another will be born the following year. If you lose a piece of historic fabric, it is gone forever. You can duplicate it, but it isn't the real thing anymore.
5. How close is the park to a major urban area? Urban problems often spill over into nearby parks. If you are close to an urban area, it is likely you will need more rangers.
6. What does the park's budget permit you to hire?

Rick