The 424 sites administered by the National Park Service (NPS) continued to rebound from the pandemic last year and a perennial favorite once again landed in the top spot for a most visited site for 2022.
Almost 312 million recreation visits were logged by the NPS in 2022 which is closing in on the pre-pandemic 2019 numbers of roughly 327.5 million visits.
The NPS also labored in 2022 to avoid the long lines and temporary closings at many of the marquee parks that marred the 2021 experience for many.
“We’re excited to see our efforts to increase visitation to parks in the off-season and in parks that are less well-known paying off,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in an online statement last week.
“Many parks with record visitation in 2022 are on what we would call the road less traveled.”
With 63 national parks across its states and territories, the US has plenty of options when it comes to outdoor activities and exploration. Whether you want to immerse yourself in nature or discover some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, national parks have got your back.
Some of them, though, are usually much busier than others and if you’re looking to be away from everything and everyone for a spell, you might want to stay away from the most frequented ones. Last week, the National Park Service (NPS) released its latest annual visitation data which will help us (and you) decide where to plan your next hike, whether you’re looking for a communal vibe or a more secluded and isolated experience.
With almost 13 million visits last year, the Great Smoky Mountains remain undefeated when it comes to the most visitors of any national park. The park drew in slightly fewer visitors compared to its 2021 numbers, though, when it had 14.1 million recorded visits.
>> Related article: Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2021
The Grand Canyon came in second thanks to its iconic red landscape though it came quite a bit short of the Great Smoky Mountains’ popularity. In 2022, it racked up nearly 5 million visitors which is nearly 8 million short of the leading park.
Third on the list was Zion National Park. Located in Utah, it’s a great park to visit both in the winter and summer seasons and it offers a variety of trails to hike with gorgeous views and great terrain. According to the NPS, Zion welcomed 4,692,417 visitors in 2022.
Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2022
Just two sites—one a long, scenic parkway in the East and the other a recreational area in a populous West Coast metro—–accounted for around 10 percent of all visits to all sites. The top 10 for 2022:
1. Blue Ridge Parkway: 15,711,004 visits
2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 15,638,911 visits
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 12,937,633 visits
4. Gateway National Recreation Area: 8,728,291 visits
5. Lincoln Memorial: 7,825,397 visits
6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7,397,120 visits
7. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6,543,533 visits
8. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 5,685,155 visits
9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 5,578,226 visits
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 4,886,254 visits
>> Related article: Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2020
Top 10 most visited national parks in 2022
In breaking down just the headliner national parks vs. every NPS site which include monuments, memorials, battlefields, recreations areas and more, a familiar name once again tops the list for 2022:
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 12,937,633 visits
2. Grand Canyon National Park: 4,732,101 visits
3. Zion National Park: 4,692,417 visits
4. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4,300,424 visits
5. Acadia National Park: 3,970,260 visits
6. Yosemite National Park: 3,667,550 visits
7. Yellowstone National Park: 3,290,242 visits
8. Joshua Tree National Park: 3,058,294 visits
9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park: 2,913,312 visits
10. Glacier National Park: 2,908,458 visits
>> Related article: 21 of the Most Visited National Parks in America
As we mentioned earlier, though, you might be looking for less crowded parks to enjoy your own company and that of nature. These are the 10 least-visited national parks according to the numbers:
1. National Park of American Samoa: 1,887 visits
2. Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve: 9,457 visits
3. Kobuk Valley National Park: 16,925 visits
4. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve: 18,187 visits
5. Isle Royale National Park: 25,454 visits
6. North Cascades National Park: 30,154 visits
7. Katmai National Park & Preserve: 33,908 visits
8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve: 65,236 visits
9. Dry Tortugas National Park: 78,488 visits
10. Great Basin National Park: 142,115 visits
A few more tidbits
The NPS report is full of interesting insights into who goes where and why. A few highlights:
331 better chances at some solitude
Despite the NPS’ success at spreading out the throngs to less-visited places, a small number of sites continue to dominate. In fact, the top eight sites in the entire system accounted for a whopping 26 percent of all NPS recreational visits in 2022.
>> Related article: Plan Your Visit: Free Entrance Days in the National Parks for 2023
Meanwhile, 331 NPS sites accounted for just 25 percent of all visits.
That’s something to consider when you’re pondering where to go, especially if you’re not fond of crowds, full parking lots and signing up for reservations.
Types of parks people visit
It turns out Americans (and visitors to the US) are a pretty well-rounded bunch.
Some 38 percent of people go to recreational parks. Another 32 percent go to cultural and historical parks. And finally, 30 percent of folks go to nature parks, according to the NPS.
Astounding stats from the NPS
A total of 75 sites hosted 1 million or more recreational visits in 2022. The last place to nab a million or more was Badlands National Park in South Dakota with 1,006,809 visits.
NPS sites have enduring appeal. More than 15.7 billion (that’s billion with a ‘b’) have visited since 1904.
Campers unite! More than 13 million overnight visitations were logged in 2022.
The granddaddy of national parks and arguably the most famous, Yellowstone ranks only 25th in most visits of all NPS sites. It’s edged out by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial which was dedicated in 1997 in Washington, DC. Yellowstone is No. 7 among the 63 headliner national parks for 2022.
However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.