Yes, These Are the Most Visited National Parks in 2023

The new national park visitor numbers are in. The National Park Service says in 2023, 325.5 million people visited an NPS site including national parks, national historic sites, and more. In fact, last year saw an increase of 4 percent or about 13 million visitors from 2022.

If you joined the throngs of visitors flocking to a National Park Service (NPS) site in 2023, this next statistic likely won’t come as too much of a shock: Roughly 325.5 million recreation visits were paid to the more than 400 sites administered by the NPS last year, according to statistics released February 22 in its annual visitation report.

That’s a healthy increase of 13 million visits—or 4 percent—over 2022 as the system continues its long recovery from the pandemic (The peak year for recreation visits remains 2016 at 330.97 million).

“From Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park in Hawai’i to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, parks are attracting more visitors each year to learn about our shared history,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a news release.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Record-setting NPS destinations

20 sites—some well-known but others not household names—broke visitation records in 2023.

Among the more famous ones were Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million) and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (8.09 million).

But the list also includes spots such as Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho and Washington (18,358 visits), a concentration camp that held Americans of Japanese ancestry in World War II and Congaree National Park in South Carolina (250,114 visits) which features the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are the 20 NPS destinations that set records in 2023:

  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
  • Congaree National Park
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
  • John Muir National Historic Site
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park
  • Keweenaw National Historic Park
  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site
  • Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park
  • Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Memorial
  • Minidoka National Historic Site
  • Mojave National Preserve
  • New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
  • Nez Perce National Historic Park
  • Ninety Six National Historic Site  
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The NPS says despite these good national park visitor numbers, there were some struggles this year. Natural disasters caused headaches for many parks in 2023. Popular destinations like Death Valley National Park closed for long stretches last year after flooding tore up roadways.

What park are you hoping to visit in 2024?

As usual, a select few sites—the bulk of them perennials—proved to be the most popular.

Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2023

A mountainous roadway full of ever-changing seasonal scenery and sumptuous curves landed its usual No. 1 spot as the most visited site in the US National Park system and accounts for 5.15 percent of all visits in the system. The top 10 sites (numbers are rounded down):

1. Blue Ridge Parkway (16.75 million visits)
2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14.95 million)
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million)
4. Gateway National Recreation Area (8.70 million)
5. Gulf Islands National Seashore (8.27 million)
6. Lincoln Memorial (8.09 million)
7. George Washington Memorial Parkway (7.39 million)
8. Natchez Trace Parkway (6.78 million)
9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (5.79 million)
10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (5.20 million)

The sole new entry in 2023’s Top 10 is Glen Canyon Nayional Recreation Area in Arizona and Utah which suffered from extensive drought along with the rest of the Southwest in 2022.

Dropping out of the top 10 from 2022 is the emotionally charged and somber Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. which still landed a very respectable No. 12 ranking for 2023.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 10 most visited national parks in 2023

In compiling a list of just the headliner national parks vs. every NPS site (which include memorials, battlefields, recreation areas, and more), a familiar name yet again tops the list for 2023:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million)
2. Grand Canyon National Park (4.73 million)
3. Zion National Park (4.62 million)
4. Yellowstone National Park (4.50 million)
5. Rocky Mountain National Park (4.11 million)
6. Yosemite National Park (3.89 million)
7. Acadia National Park (3.87 million)
8. Grand Teton National Park (3.41 million)
9. Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million)
10. Olympic National Park (2.94 million)

Joshua Tree in California and Olympic in Washington state are the usurpers on the 2023 national parks list knocking out Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio and Glacier in Montana from their top 10 perches in the 2022 list.

While they garner much of the attention, national parks hosted only 28 percent of the total number of visitors to all various NPS components in 2023.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the summer season

Visitation habits to NPS sites are changing with people finding ways to bypass the traditional warm-weather peak.

The NPS said that “data shows that visitation is increasing in the more traditional off-seasons at many parks with more visits in the spring and fall than seen in years past.”

 “Our national parks tell our shared American story,” Sams said in the NPS release. “I’m glad visitors are finding hidden gems, exploring in the off-season and finding new ways to have a great time in our national parks.”

Hoping to check out a new national park (or parkway, or recreational area, or seashore, or some other site type) this year? There are five days left this year in which the NPS will waive entrance fees at sites that would otherwise have one.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2022

The number-one national park alone counted almost 13 million visitors last year

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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome