The 424 sites administered by the US National Park Service continued to rebound from the pandemic last year, and a perennial favorite once again landed in the top spot for 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 in March.
“Many parks with record visitation in 2022 are on what we would call ‘the road less traveled.’ “
Blue Ridge Parkway is not the road less traveled. In fact, it's the most popular site in the entire national park system. - Craig Zerbe/Adobe Stock
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% of all visits to all sites. The top 10 for 2022 (numbers are rounded):
1. Blue Ridge Parkway, 15.71 million visits
2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 15.64 million
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 12.94 million
4. Gateway National Recreation Area, 8.73 million
5. Lincoln Memorial, 7.83 million
6. George Washington Memorial Parkway, 7.4 million
7. Natchez Trace Parkway, 6.54 million
8. Gulf Islands National Seashore, 5.69 million
9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area, 5.58 million
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 4.89 million
Visitors hike the Mist Trail toward Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park in California. The park welcomed 3.67 million visitors in 2022. - Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images/FILE
In breaking down just the headliner national parks vs. every NPS site, which include memorials, battlefields, recreations areas and more, a familiar name once again tops the list for 2022:
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 12.94 million
2. Grand Canyon National Park, 4.73 million
3. Zion National Park, 4.69 million
4. Rocky Mountain National Park, 4.30 million
5. Acadia National Park, 3.97 million
6. Yosemite National Park, 3.67 million
7. Yellowstone National Park, 3.29 million
8. Joshua Tree National Park, 3.06 million
9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, 2.913 million
10. Glacier National Park, 2.908 million
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% of all NPS recreational visits in 2022.
Meanwhile, 331 NPS sites accounted for just 25% 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. Click here for the full rankings from most visits to least.
Types of parks people visit
It turns out Americans (and visitors to the United States) are a pretty well-rounded bunch.
Some 38% of people go to recreational parks. Another 32% go to cultural and historical parks. And finally, 30% of folks go to nature parks, according to the NPS.
Mori Point is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The area in California was the second most visited site in the entire park system in 2022. - Smith Collection/Gado/Archive Photos/Getty Images/FILE
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.
This article was first published on March 1, 2023, and updated in May.
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