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Misty mountains, prismatic geysers, idyllic beaches, and towering spires – the national parks across the U.S. is a protected collection of some of the most naturally stunning and geologically diverse places in the world. I’ve been fortunate to visit many of them (29 of 63 and counting!) and love writing about my travels to each one (plus tips on how you can visit.)
In addition to being a writer, I am also a data nerd. As I’ve begun writing more about national parks across the American West (and beyond), I wanted to share some of the interesting stats and facts I’ve discovered.
Using the 2022 visitation data (released in February 2023), I built a spreadsheet and crunched the numbers to share the lists of the most visited national parks and the least visited national parks across the country.
Below you’ll find a list of the top 10 national parks by visitation numbers from 2022, including some that might surprise you.
In this post, I promote travel to national parks, nearly all of which are the traditional and/or sacred lands of many Native American and Indigenous groups. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published as a single post with the least-visited parks list in May 2021.
It was split into two posts and updated in March 2023 to reflect the latest year’s data.
The Most-Visited National Parks in 2022
Everyone wants to know: what are the most-visited national parks?
In 2022, pretty much the same ones as every other year! The top 10 most visited national parks were consistent from 2017-2019, and while there were some disruptions for 2020, the list is almost the same in 2022 as it was pre-pandemic.
Here’s a chart showing how each of the most visited national parks ranked compared to 2021, so you can get a sense of how the list moved around.
|Great Smoky Mountains National Park
|Grand Canyon National Park
|Zion National Park
|Rocky Mountain National Park
|Acadia National Park
|Yosemite National Park
|Yellowstone National Park
|Joshua Tree National Park
|Cuyahoga Valley National Park
|Glacier National Park
Now let’s dive into each park on the list in greater detail so you can get inspired to visit them all!
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC/TN – 12.9 million
Great Smoky Mountains is the most popular national park in the country – as it has been for decades! This is because it’s one of the national parks closest to major metropolitan areas all along the east coast. After a record year in 2021 (14.1 million!), Great Smoky Mountains saw a small decrease but still recorded its second-highest visitation ever with 12.9 million people visiting the park in 2022.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ – 4.7 million
Despite the fact that it takes the #2 spot in 2022, Grand Canyon National Park still hasn’t recovered to its pre-pandemic visitation levels. While visitation began to recover in 2021, visitation in 2022 was still only 75% of the maximum visitors that came to this iconic park at its peak visitation (2018).
All the numbers aside, the Grand Canyon is still stunning, and it’s still a great time to plan a trip – perhaps even more so this coming year as the park didn’t spike way above past visitation levels like other parks.
3. Zion National Park, UT – 4.7 million
Zion National Park – one of my favorite national parks – saw a slight decrease in visitation from 2021 to 2022; only 4.7 million people visited compared to an all-time peak visitation of 5 million the year before. That’s still above pre-pandemic numbers though – so Zion has become even more popular in the past five years.
As Zion is consistently in the top five most-visited parks, the NPS has been adjusting its access management plan accordingly to help preserve the natural resources here but still allow as many people to access it as safely as possible.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO – 4.3 million
I’ll be honest: the list of the most popular national parks surprises me every year. Having visited so many parks myself, I am occasionally surprised to learn that a park I consider “pretty good” is super popular – and Rocky Mountain National Park is one of them.
While visitation to RMNP dropped slightly year over year (4.3 million in 2022 compared with 4.4 million in 2021), that’s still a lot of people who made the mountainous journey to explore this park in 2022. These numbers are undoubtedly aided by the park’s proximity to Denver and other Colorado cities – and Coloradan’s love of the Great Outdoors!
Pro-tip: The other three Colorado national parks – Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison – fall in the middle of the pack, but make a great Colorado national parks road trip together with RMNP.
5. Acadia National Park, ME – 4.0 million
I love Acadia National Park! I was lucky to visit in 2019; I was one of the 3.4 million people that year. In the years since, Acadia has continued to grow in popularity (2020 aside, of course), and is now visited by nearly 4 million people every year!
Given that Acadia is a pretty seasonal park (typically open from May to September or so), it seems that many New Englanders were keen to explore their nearest national park despite the few short months it’s fully open to visitors.
Pro-tip: If you’re planning a trip to Acadia, you’ll want to stay in Bar Harbor, and I have a guide for that!
6. Yosemite National Park, CA – 3.7 million
After losing its spot in the top 10 during 2020, Yosemite National Park is back among the ranks of the most-visited parks in 2022. This is in line with (non-2020) years past, when Yosemite regularly ranks highly on the list.
Almost 3.7 million people made the journey to the Sierra Nevada’s Yosemite region last year, though this is still substantially lower than visitation in years past. I’m not sure why Yosemite hasn’t fully recovered as other parks have, but my guess is that it’s a combination of California’s more stringent pandemic protocols and the wildfires that keep affecting the park during the best months to visit (September and October).
7. Yellowstone National Park, WY – 3.3 million
Speaking of natural disasters affecting parks, Yellowstone National Park took a big hit in visitation in 2022, dropping 32% because of the landslides and flooding that affected several of the park entrances and made it literally impossible for people to visit.
Still, some 3.3 million people made the trip to this truly iconic park last year, which is no small number; this was probably a really nice year to visit (access issues aside) as Yellowstone saw an all-time record in 2021 of nearly 5 million visitors.
I still haven’t made it to Yellowstone myself, but one of these years, I’ll have photos and stories to share!
8. Joshua Tree National Park, CA – 3.1 million
Joshua Tree National Park is one of the parks that has begun to bop up and down off the top 10 list in the past few years; I think its increase in popularity is in part due to its close proximity to Los Angeles and all the people that live there. Some 3.1 million people made the journey to this otherworldly desert in 2022, putting it back on the list of most visited national parks after not making the list in 2021e.
9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH – 2.9 million
Guys, my local park is on the list of most visited national parks in 2022! If you weren’t aware, we now live in the Cleveland area, and our urban national park is understandably popular for visitors throughout the Rust Belt; some 2.9 million people visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park last year – way more than live in Cleveland, I can tell you!
Like Joshua Tree, Cuyahoga Valley is a newcomer to the top 10 list, it has been moving on and off the list in the past few years, and may become a consistent member of the bottom half in years to come.
I haven’t put together any guides to CVNP yet, but I’m planning another trip this year and will have some to share soon.
10. Glacier National Park, MT – 2.9 million
Glacier National Park has retained its spot at the bottom of the top 10 list of most visited national parks in 2022, which is understandable as it’s consistently one of most people’s favorite parks to visit. Some 2.9 million people visited in 2022, and probably feel the same way now.
Best of all? I’m going to be able to assess Glacier NP for myself as I have a trip planned in June 2023 – I can’t wait to see and share more about this park after my trip.
Which Parks Dropped Off the Top 10 List in 2022?
While many of the most-visited national parks in 2021 were the same as years past, there were a few movers and shakers that joined the list last year – and some who dropped off this year:
- Indiana Dunes National Park, IN (2.83 million) – After being named a national park in 2019, Indiana Dunes has seen visitation only go up. Indiana Dunes made the list in 2021 as 3.2 million people, but it didn’t make the list last year due to a small decrease in visitation.
- Grand Teton National Park, WY (2.80 million) – Though I’ve never been to either, I consider Grand Teton National Park the “little sister” of Yellowstone – so it’s no surprise to me that both consistently make the top 10 list for most-visited national parks. However, Grand Teton dropped off the top 10 list this year after making the list last year (with record visitation in 2021, this isn’t a big surprise).
Alas, these parks may or may not reclaim their spots in the top 10 next year… but I’ll be sure to update this post once the 2023 data is shared! Don’t forget to check out the list of least-visited National Parks, as well as my predictions for the next National Park! Have any questions about these most visited parks from 2022 data, or do you have a guess which park might crack the top 10 this year? Let me know in the comments!