10 US Parks, Most Visited for Good Reason

Did you know that there are 424 parks in the US National Park System? This translates into easy access to great recreation as well as education from anywhere in the United States. Furthermore, all including the most visited US Parks are hard at work providing essentials such as pristine air, water and soil.

In fact, preserving wild spaces has an incalculable impact on local ecosystems and the planet as a whole. To inspire you for your next trip, as well as help you test your knowledge, we’ve pulled together the 10 most frequented National Parks (source: NPS 2021 Visitation Report) aligned with great photos and key insights. See how many you recognise before checking the answers directly under each photo:

To learn more about these Parks and others around the world download the Pinpoint Where app from the iOS App Store.

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Photo of Linn Cove Viaduct in Blue Ridge Parkway, first of the 10 most visited US parks
Linn Cove Viaduct in Blue Ridge Parkway – NPS

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia

#1 US NPS Destination with 15.9 Million Visitors

Blue Ridge Parkway has been at the top of the 10 most visited US parks since 1904, with only four exceptions. This is in no small part due to the fact that it is America’s longest linear park. From end to end, it runs through Virginia and North Carolina. Along the way, it links Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In the photo above you can get a good impression of the park as seen from the Linn Cove Viaduct. One reason making the place so popular are the famous long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged Appalachian Highlands. Another is the easy access to some of the best hiking trails in the nation. Whether you’re looking for a short, easy walk or a more challenging trek, you’ll find it on the Parkway.

Photo of Clingmans Dome in Smoky Mountains Park in Winter, second of the 10 most visited US parks
Clingmans Dome Tower in Smoky Mountains Park in Winter – NPS

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee, USA

#2 US NPS Destination with 14.1 Million Visitors

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridge line of the Great Smoky Mountains. The second of the 10 most visited parks is part of the Appalachian Mountain chain. The park itself straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The location is famous for its great vistas of the highest mountains in eastern North America, including Mount Guyot, Mount Le Conte and Clingman’s Dome, as well as from their tops. For instance, the Observation Tower in the photo above rises 50 feet (15 m) from the Clingman’s Dome summit. Beyond that, the park is also world renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life and its Appalachian mountain culture. In fact, the sprawling park landscape encompasses lush forests as well as wildflowers blooming year round. The great range of recreational options listed above attracts tens of millions of visitors every year.

Photo of Crissy Field in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, third of the 10 most visited US parks
Crissy Field in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – NPS

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco & Marin, California

#3 US NPS Destination with 13.7 Million Visitors

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the third of the 10 most visited US parks, doesn’t look much like most national parks. Rather, it encompasses different sections across 80,000 acres north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge. In total, 37 distinct park sites, from Muir Woods to Fort Point and Alcatraz Island, are part of the system. As a result, more than 130 miles of trails, and 1,200 historic structures provide an abundance of diverse recreation opportunities. The park also includes two dozen historically and ecologically significant landscapes. One of them, Crissy Field in the photo above, successfully reintroduced tidal marshes next to a stunning walking trail and a great city beach.

Photo of Gateway National Park looking towards New York City, fourth of the 10 most visited US parks
Gateway National Park looking towards New York City – NPS

Gateway National Park, New York & New Jersey

#4 US NPS Destination with 9.1 Million Visitors

The fourth of the 10 most visited US parks is the Gateway National Recreation Area. The above photo shows Fort Wadsworth Overlook Battery in the foreground. The battery is a popular attraction within the recreation area, especially with the youth. Originally a United States military installation on Staten Island, this particular section is now part of the Staten Island Unit of the park. Spanning 27,000 acres in total, the recreation area reaches from Sandy Hook in New Jersey all the way to Breezy Point in New York City. This large area provides especially important recreational opportunities for the densely populated urban environment of NYC. It offers green spaces alternating with beaches, historic structures and cultural landscapes. Consequently, New Yorkers come often to enjoy the easy access to ocean swimming, bird watching, boating, hiking and camping. Luckily, the park is open every day for visitor enjoyment.

Photo showing a boat on Lake Mead National Recreation Area, fifth of the 10 most visited US parks
Boat on Lake Mead – DylanMoz

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada & Arizona

#5 US NPS Destination with 7.6 Million Visitors

The Lake Mead National Recreation Area follows the Colorado River from the westernmost boundary of Grand Canyon National Park to the cities of Laughlin, NV and Bullhead City, AZ. It includes all of Lake Mead as seen in the photo above, as well as the smaller Lake Mohave. The area lies just minutes from the Las Vegas city limits, benefiting locals and visitors alike. Furthermore, it is the third largest are the National Park Service operates outside Alaska. It spans 1.5 million acres—with three of America’s four desert ecosystems—the Mojave, Great Basin, and Sonoran deserts. More than 750 miles of shoreline invite you to enjoy a day at the beach, take a boat out and disappear for hours or nestle into a cove.

Photo showing North Bound Lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway at Spout Run
George Washington Memorial Parkway & Chain Bridge Aerial – Duane Lempke

Washington Memorial Parkway, Washington, D.C.

#6 US Destination with 6.8 Million Visitors

The visionaries of the George Washington Memorial Parkway designed the parkway for recreational driving. The above photo shows the North Bound Lanes of the Parkway and the Chain Bridge Aerial in the background. Because of its popularity, it came in as the sixth most visited destination in 2021. This is primarily the case, since the parkway links sites commemorating important episodes in American history with those preserving habitat for local wildlife. Nowadays, visitors can explore the many different destinations along the parkway through a wide range of activities: For the park’s history or wildlife, visitors can join a ranger-led program. For fun activities, check this list.
And last but not least, for music, see Fort Hunt Concerts and Netherlands Carillon Concerts.

Photo showing Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge, seventh of the 10 most visited US parks
Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge – JChilds

Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee

#7 US Destination with 6.4 Million Visitors

Natchez Trace Parkway is the seventh most visited destination in 2021. Impressively, the 444-mile scenic drive takes visitors through three states: AL, MS and TN. In doing so, it roughly follows the “Old Natchez Trace,” a historic travel corridor that dates back to the early 1700s. Traders in those days still floated their goods down the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez and then walked or rode horses to return home. Today, travellers have a much easier time travelling on the parkway by car, truck, RV, or motorcycle. For a more active experience, it’s lots of fun to ride a bike. Especially popular is its distinct Birdsong Hollow Bridge shown in the photo above, rising 155 feet over Tennessee.

Photo of an Aerial View of Lincoln Memorial, located in the eighth most visited US National parks
Lincoln Memorial Aerial View – upstateNYer

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

#8 US Destination with 5.8 Million visitors

Lincoln Memorial should be easily recognisable, even in the above aerial photo. After all, the eighth most visited US park is the shrine to the 16th president of the United States. Its popularity is in large part due to the fact that Lincoln is one of the most revered figures in American history. He had risen from obscurity to achieve greatness and guide the nation through critical times. This, only to lose his life on the very steps of this memorial. On site, Lincoln’s achievements are immortalised in marble: “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Since, the temple has also been the site of many famous speeches. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered “I Have a Dream” on its steps in 1963.

Photo of Lifeguard Stand on Pensacola Beach, located in the ninth of the most visited US parks
Pensacola Beach – Fede Casanova

Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi and Florida

#9 US Destination with 5.5 Million Visitors

Gulf Islands National Seashore, seen in the photo above, was the ninth most visited US destination in 2021 for good reason. Most importantly, there is the vastness of the 160 miles of beautiful shores stretching along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. In the above photo, a lifeguard seat on the famous white sand of Pensacola Beach nicely illustrates the attraction of the area. Initially, the NPS had established the entire seashore surrounding Mississippi and Florida to protect the barrier islands, maritime forests, historic forts, bayous, and marine habitat in 1971. Then, a wide range of recreational facilities was added to make it attractive for visitors for all ages to experience everything the Gulf Islands have to offer. Ever since, the area has been drawing Millions to its emerald coastal waters, magnificent white beaches, fertile marshes and historical landscapes each year.

Photo of the Zion National Park Towers of the Virgin, located in the tenth of the most frequented US National Parks
Towers of the Virgin: The Sundial (left), The Witch Head, Broken Tooth, Rotten Tooth, Altar of Sacrifice – NPS

Zion National Park, Utah

#10 US Destination with 5 Million Visitors

Last but not least, Zion National Park was the tenth most visited US destination in 2021 despite its remoteness. Established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the park encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the US. Highly distinct, it features high plateaus, a maze of sandstone canyons, and waterfalls with colourful hanging gardens. One great example are the Towers of the Virgin featured in the photo above. In fact, located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park stands out for its uniqueness. For one, a wide variety of life zones allow for an unusual plant and animal diversity. In addition, the park is famous for its stunning geology. Of all above listed attractions, Visitors stand most in awe of the brilliantly coloured Navajo sandstone canyons formed by extraordinary processes of erosion of the Colorado Plateau.

Did you like the above list?

How many of the parks did you recognise? Which have you already visited? Are there any you would like to see soon? It is hard to decide where to start. For one, the 10 most visited sites listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Secondly, with 423 national parks, recreation areas, parkways and memorials in total, there should be hundreds of parks attractive enough to be on your bucket list. It will be hard to see them all.

One way to overcome this challenge is to explore clusters of parks in one go. For instance, you could combine a visit to Redwoods State and National Parks with a visit to the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

For easy planning, the NPS offers a great website. You can search by state, activity and topic—augmented with the NPS App for iOS App Store or Android. The free apps will give you access up-to-date information about all 423 national parks.

Beyond that, to keep testing your knowledge, we also recommend the iOS app “PinPoint Where.”  For one, it allows you to check whether you recognise the most amazing sites in hundreds of categories. In addition, the app is not only educational but highly engaging. For instance, you can both get a great overview for each place with links to pertinent details, plus “fly” to places to see where each site is located vis-a-vis your whereabout. Of course, you can also mark those places you have already seen, save favourites, and even click through to book trips.