This Sprawling UNESCO World Heritage Site Is Now America’s Most Popular National Park

This is America's most popular national park.
Photo: Getty Images

America is home to a range of national parks that each offer their own natural and cultural gems, but one park has been drawing in the highest number of visitors for several years in a row.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most popular national park in the U.S. for 2018, welcoming more than 11 million visitors, according to new annual visitation highlights from the National Park Service.

The park saw a total of 11,421,200 visitors in 2018, bringing in close to double the number of total visitors that went to the second most popular park — Grand Canyon National Park. Great Smoky Mountains was the most visited in 2017 as well, drawing in 11,388,893 visitors.

Bordering North Carolina and Tennessee, the national park is home to a range of natural attractions to explore along one of America’s oldest mountain ranges.

Often referred to as the Smokies thanks to the morning fog that is known to surround its peaks and valleys, the national park was established in the early 1900s to protect its diverse landscapes and wildlife, and the more than 90 historic structures that reside on its grounds today.

Its combination of roughly 1,500 black bears, over 200 varieties of birds, 65 different mammal species, and 67 native fish species with 700 miles of streams open for fishing make it a popular location for wildlife spotting, while its landscapes include everything from mountain terrain to hardwood forests and wetlands. It has five different types of forests alone.

Forests abound in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
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Such landscapes allow for activities that range from hiking and cycling to horseback riding, waterfall scouting, and foliage viewing from early- to mid-October.

It also stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, hosting almost as many trees as all of Europe and a relatively untouched landscape to give visitors a glimpse into what flora in the area looked like before our time, according to UNESCO representatives.

Last year was a popular one for the NPS overall, with its locations seeing a total of more than 300 million visitors, making 2018 the third biggest year in terms of recreational visits since representatives started tracking numbers in 1904.

Take a look at the most popular national parks from 2018 below:

Top 10 Most Popular National Parks:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park — 11,421,200 visits
2. Grand Canyon National Park — 6,380,495 visits
3. Rocky Mountain National Park — 4,590,493 visits
4. Zion National Park — 4,320,033 visits
5. Yellowstone National Park — 4,115,000 visits
6. Yosemite National Park — 4,009,436 visits
7. Acadia National Park — 3,537,575 visits
8. Grand Teton National Park — 3,491,151 visits
9. Olympic National Park — 3,104,455 visits
10. Glacier National Park — 2,965,309 visits

California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area took the top spot for the most popular national park service site, of which there are 418 in total. The site drew in 15,223,697 visitors in 2018, a slightly larger number than the second most popular location, Blue Ridge Parkway, with 14,690,418 visitors.

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is home to 19 different ecosystems that host more than 2,000 different plant and animal species, making it a natural playground for those in search of hikes filled with magnificent views. It also hosts beaches and plenty of open spaces for those looking to bring their dogs along for scenic strolls.

One of the coastal views at the Golden Gate Recreation Area.
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Meanwhile, the Blue Ridge Parkway is an ideal road trip spot with its 469 miles of scenic mountains and pastures.

It's also one of the drives NPS representatives recommend visitors looking to catch the fall foliage that adorns Great Smoky Mountains National Park take to see the colors in all their glory.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the third most popular NPS site overall as well. The top 10 most popular sites are highlighted below.

Top 10 Most Popular National Park Service Sites:

1. Golden Gate National Recreation Area —15,223,697 visits
2. Blue Ridge Parkway — 14,690,418 visits
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park — 11,421,200 visits
4. Gateway National Recreation Area — 9,243,305 visits
5. Lincoln Memorial — 7,804,683 visits
6. Lake Mead National Recreation Area — 7,578,958 visits
7. George Washington Memorial Parkway — 7,288,623 visits
8. Grand Canyon National Park — 6,380,495 visits
9. Natchez Trace Parkway — 6,362,439 visits
10. Vietnam Veterans Memorial— 4,719,148 visits

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