With international travel mostly canceled in 2020, Americans turned to exploring closer to home and soaking up nature and remote landscapes. Venturing out to national parks was perhaps the safest option to leave the house and travel while avoiding gatherings and enclosed spaces. According to the National Parks Service, national parks hosted over 237 million visitors last year. Fifteen of the 63 US national parks saw a record number of visitors in 2020, and five broke their personal record for tourist visits from 2019 even amid the pandemic.
“This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall well being. Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health,” said National Parks Service Deputy Director Shawn Benge. Although restrictions remained in place, such as wearing masks and physically distancing, Americans were eager to set out on a road trip. Here are the most-visited national parks in 2020.
10. Joshua Tree National Park, California
With 2.4 million visitors in 2020, Joshua Tree National Park was a popular destination. Offering some of the best spots to stargaze along with dozens of hiking trails, this park draws plenty of nature enthusiasts not just from California but from the entire United States.
9. Olympic National Park, Washington
With temperate rainforests and rocky beaches, Olympic National Park takes the second to last spot in the top 10 most-visited national parks of 2020. Drawing 2.5 million visitors, the park is a great place for swimming, kayaking, hiking, and camping.
8. Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park is consistently one of America’s most-visited parks. Last year it hosted a total of 2.7 million tourists eager to immerse themselves in its natural beauty. With typical New England lighthouses scattered throughout the park, this is a lovely escape from city life. Hiking the summit of Cadillac Mountain, one of the park’s best-known spots, is the perfect weekend activity that rewards whoever takes it on with stunning panoramas
7. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
With cascading waterfalls and great trails, Cuyahoga Valley National Park drew 2.8 million visitors in 2020 beating its own record. As a popular escape from Columbus, Cleveland, and Pittsburg, this park offers the perfect setting to unwind and disconnect while staying close to home.
6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park used to top the chart for the last 30 years, but in 2020, it slipped to number six in 2020 with 2.9 million visitors. Even so, this is one of America’s most impressive natural wonders with jaw-dropping cliffs, roaring waterfalls, trails for all levels of hikers, and stunning pink sunsets.
5. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
With not one but two parks in the top 10, Wyoming is certainly being recognized for its views. Grand Teton National Park hosted a total of 3.3 million visitors last year, tying with Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. This is arguably one of the best places in America to see wildlife in its natural habitat as Grand Teton is known for its abundance of buffalo. The park is ideal for outdoor adventures all year round, offering adrenaline activities such as rafting and skiing.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
In 2020, 3.3 million Americans chose to head over to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park to get a front-row view of the park’s clear, glassy lakes and lush vegetation. The park closed fully for the month of April and partially in May yet still managed to make it to the top 10.
3. Zion National Park, Utah
The title for the third most-visited park in the US last year went to Utah’s Zion National Park with 3.6 million — only 200,000 short from second place. This is a true outdoor lover’s paradise with ample hiking and biking trails.
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
In 2020, Yellowstone National Park saw 3.8 million visitors. This is a significant win for the Wyoming park because in 2019, it was number six in popularity, skyrocketing to the top three in just a year. Best known for its thermal features, the park is incredibly photogenic and is rich in wildlife such as wolves, bears, bison, elk, and mule deer.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Visited by 12.1 million people in 2020, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is famous for its stunning foliage and firefly season. That’s right — the park is home to over 19 different types of fireflies that come out between May 30 and June 6 for mating season, lighting up all 800 square miles of the park with their bioluminescent bodies.