10 Best National Parks in the U.S. You Should Visit
These are the nation's most-visited national parks — for good reason.
Year after year, visitors flock to America’s national parks to bask in the country’s incredible natural beauty. In 2019, the National Park Service recorded over 327 million visits across sites like Golden Gate National Recreation Area — the most popular with 15 million visits last year — and national parks. From sea to shining sea, the U.S. contains a stunning array of diverse landscapes, from dramatic canyons and vast deserts to snowy mountain peaks and verdant valleys. When it comes to choosing the best national parks in the U.S., we think the visitor numbers speak for themselves.
While all 62 national parks are worth visiting, the top 10 most-visited ones are truly some of the nation’s best, with bucket-list destinations like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite making the cut. Of course, if you want to avoid the crowds, you can always check out the least-visited national parks. They offer all of the beauty with a fraction of the visitors, so you have room to roam.
Here are the top 10 most-visited national parks in the U.S.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Number of Visitors: 12.5 million
Coming in at the top spot with a whopping 12.5 million visitors, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the country’s most-visited national park. Crossing North Carolina and Tennessee, this park is known for its wildlife, waterfalls, and fog-covered mountains. It’s worth visiting year-round for scenic views and outdoor activities like hiking, but the park really shines in autumn, when its trees put on a vibrant display of red, orange, and gold foliage.
2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Number of Visitors: 5.97 million
Often referred to as one of the world’s natural wonders, the immense Grand Canyon is a breathtaking sight, so it’s no surprise that Grand Canyon National Park is the country’s second most-visited national park. Visitors can spend their days here hiking along the canyon’s walls, rafting down the Colorado River, taking in the views on a scenic car or train ride, and learning about Native American culture and history.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Number of Visitors: 4.7 million
Covering 415 mountainous square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most-visited. Here, visitors can spot a variety of wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, moose, bats, and many others (all from a safe distance, of course), and explore the park’s many hiking trails. Rocky Mountain National Park also has a number of scenic drives for visitors who want to see the park’s alpine forests, wildflower-covered meadows, and more without leaving their cars.
4. Zion National Park, Utah
Number of Visitors: 4.5 million
Utah is home to some of the country’s best national parks, including Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands, but Utah’s first — and most popular — national park is Zion National Park. Dramatic cliffs and canyons shape this impressive landscape, and visitors can enjoy hiking, climbing, biking, birding, and stargazing during their time here.
5. Yosemite National Park, California
Number of Visitors: 4.4 million
One of the oldest national parks in the U.S., Yosemite National Park is also one of the most visited. It’s known for the towering granite formations of El Capitan and Half Dome as well as the waterfalls, wildlife, and ancient sequoias that you can find in the park. Spring is the best time to visit to see the waterfalls in their full form, although the park is open year-round. Plan to camp overnight in Yosemite to fully immerse yourself in this incredible park.
6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Number of Visitors: 4 million
The world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, and in 2019, it attracted four million visitors. Throughout its 2.2 million acres, visitors can find a range of unique hydrothermal attractions, including Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful geyser, and Grand Prismatic Spring, as well as waterfalls, lakes, and wildlife.
7. Acadia National Park, Maine
Number of Visitors: 3.4 million
Located on Maine’s rocky Atlantic coastline, Acadia National Park saw over three million visitors in 2019. Visitors can explore the park by car on 27 miles of historic motor roads or by foot on 158 miles of hiking trails. Most of the national park is located on Mount Desert Island, where visitors will find the scenic Park Loop Road and picturesque trails perfect for bird-watching just a short distance from the charming town of Bar Harbor.
8. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Number of Visitors: 3.4 million
The jagged peaks of the incredible Teton Range tower above Grand Teton National Park, the second Wyoming park to make the list. (Consider visiting Grand Teton and Yellowstone in one road trip.) Incredible mountains meet alpine lakes and lush valleys at this national park, where visitors can enjoy mountaineering, hiking, boating, and fishing. Keep an eye out for bison, elk, beavers, moose, and more wildlife when you visit.
9. Olympic National Park, Washington
Number of Visitors: 3.2 million
Over in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park draws millions of visitors each year. Within its nearly one million acres of park land, visitors will find a number of unique landscapes and ecosystems to explore, like temperate rain forests, a rocky Pacific coastline, and high mountain peaks, including Mount Olympus. Stargazing, hiking, boating, and more are among the park’s popular activities.
10. Glacier National Park, Montana
Number of Visitors: 3 million
Glaciers, lakes, mountains, and meadows fill the picturesque landscape at Glacier National Park in Montana.The iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road is a must-visit; the road partially closes during the winter due to the weather, but it’s typically fully open in June or July, and if you visit during the summer, be sure to keep an eye out for wildflowers.
Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her adventures on Instagram @elizabetheverywhere.