The National Park Service Reveals Its Most Popular Sites of 2020
Blue Ridge Parkway snagged the number one spot, with over 14 million visitors.
The National Park Service (NPS) recently released 2020 visitation statistics from its 400-plus parks. Though the numbers decreased by 28% — mostly due to temporary park closures and capacity limits for social distancing — the National Park System still garnered more than 237 million visitors. Blue Ridge Parkway, the longest linear park in the country, snagged the number one spot for most-visited NPS site of the year.
Passing through 29 counties in Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway saw more than 14 million visitors in 2020. Part of its popularity stems from its location connecting Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park — the most-visited national park for several years running and the third most-visited park overall.
Although overall visitation dropped last year, the NPS reported that 15 parks experienced record numbers for recreational visitors. Five parks also broke previous records they had set in 2019.
"This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall well-being," said Shawn Benge, NPS deputy director, in a press statement. "Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much-needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health."
Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles, offering a scenic drive through the Appalachian Highlands with up-close views of the stunning mountains and pastoral landscapes. It's also home to hiking trails, campgrounds, and plenty of wildlife.
While the Blue Ridge Parkway received 14.1 million visitors, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area came in second, with 12.4 million visitors. Meanwhile, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a close third, with 12.1 million visitors. Those three sites were also the only ones to receive more than 10 million visitors for the year.
Listen to Travel + Leisure's "Let's Go Together" podcast for more inspiring stories and adventures celebrating inclusivity in travel!
Other parks that made the top 10 list include: Gateway National Recreation Area (8.4 million), Lake Mead National Recreation Area (8 million), George Washington Memorial Parkway (6.2 million), Natchez Trace Parkway (6.1 million), Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (4.9 million), Cape Cod National Seashore (4.1 million), and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (4.1 million).
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but she's always on the lookout for her next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.